Friday, September 3, 2010

Will It Really Take Longer For Your Ph.D. to Go Stale Now?

The conventional wisdom appears to be that because the super shitty economy has been causing a below-average number of people to get jobs every year for the past several years, it is going to take longer for our Ph.D.s to go stale. That is, future search committees are going to see that we've had trouble getting jobs, but they're not going to hold it against us because they'll understand that we were caught up in the recession. It's not us, it's George Bush, they'll say.

I have found myself wondering (and worrying) whether this is really true. For one thing, it's not as though there are no new Ph.D.s being produced during this time. A lot of these newer Ph.D.s will have less teaching experience and fewer publications than I have, but they'll definitely seem fresher. Not jaded and worn out. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. And someone who finishes her dissertation, doesn't defend it, and stays in grad school for a couple of extra years is going to have more time to devote to publishing than me.

And it's not as though nobody is getting jobs right now. There have been people getting hired the last couple of years, just not as many as usual. Maybe future search committees will think that the hot-shots got hired and whoever was left over must be some kind of a cold-shot. Now, a smart, diligent search committee might play moneyball and try to find a talented person who'd been overlooked by an inefficient job market; but a lazy search committee might not. And everyone I know hates being on search committees.

I don't know. This is more doomy-gloomy than I want to be right now. But I've been wondering and worrying about this for a while, and I wonder what the Smokers have to say.

--Mr. Zero

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think Mr. Zero is right to question what he calls the conventional wisdom. I would add that it is wrong to assume that people on search committees (or faculty members who will play a role in hiring decisions in general) will adjust their views on the basis of the current facts of the market (even if it seems rational to do so). Some will be sensitive to those facts and perhaps change their views, but many A) will ignore the facts and/or B) are old and set in their ways.

Anonymous said...

it seems to me that lots of faculty base their judgments on the market that *they* faced, or the market as they saw it the last time they hired someone. so basically they have no idea, and shouldn't be trusted to make decisions that reflect the "market" as it actually is.

Xenophon said...

There have always been good people who had trouble on the market, but I think the idea that a PhD goes stale was supported by the fact that there weren't TOO many of those folks, and they on the whole weren't really top class (because it's hard to be competitive research-wise when you have to keep applying for jobs, moving, etc.)

But as the number of good, underemployed people rises, and consequently the number of REALLY good, underemployed people rises, I think it's harder to ignore the reality, even if you're lucky enough to have had an easy time of it. And with news of tenured professors getting fired, I think a lot of people on search committees are starting to wonder what would happen if they were out on the street.

Now, if you're looking for a job at an R1, you'd better get straight out of school, TT or postdoc, or at the very least VAP. But for teaching schools, the decision is driven by other factors, which can include: how do they think you really feel about living in rural Wyoming, how do you feel about a 4-4 load, what are the odds they'll have to replace you in three years. I also think that there are departments that prefer more "seasoned" candidates, at least to some extent, you know, more teaching experience, more experience in a variety of institutions, etc.

Of course, there's a difference between "seasoned" and "old," and I suspect that one a person hits their 40s, the odds of landing (or wanting) a TT position go way down. So how long it takes to go stale may depend in part on the age when a person gets the PhD. If you graduate at 28, you might have 5-10 years when you can be a potential TT candidate. If you graduate at 38, you might have 3-4 years.

Anonymous said...

I don't buy any of this stuff. I'm over 40, and my PhD was four years old when I went on the market last year. I got lots of interviews, and multiple attractive offers.

Just one person, of course. It is possible that some departments were turned off by age and time from degree. But there is no reason to think so. And it is just as possible that other departments took age and other work done in the interim to be a positive.

We know it's a bad few years in a generally very competitive market, and we know that everybody's chances at getting a job/good job/a certain number of interviews decrease as a result. But we don't know whether there are some groups whose chances decrease more than other groups (though the most accomplished folks from the very best programs probably still have very high chances of getting some offer).

Anonymous said...

Anon. 10:18:

I find myself curious about what you did during those four years - was it a post-doc, or some 3-year VAP, or was it non-academic work? I think that makes a big difference.

Anonymous said...

Zero is right. Search committees will still assume that there is something wrong with people who have been out for a while without a TT job. On the web site of one professional association ( I won't say which) I saw this helpful hint from one faculty member: she said she was "very suspicious" of ANY period of unemployment on a CV. She continued by saying, "It's better to say that you worked at McDonald's for one year than to put nothing for that year."
Isn't it nice that search committees think Ph.D.s should be working at McDonald's?

ABD said...

You know, we philosophers like to think of ourselves as more rational than most, I bet. Yet it is hardly rational to hold it against someone that he or she has periods of unemployment on his or her CV in this climate. Hell, even BEFORE the economy collapsed, it hardly would have been rational to do that.

I don't understand us. WTF.

Anonymous said...

In my limited, non-R1 experience, most search committee members are willing to assume that you don't have a tt job because the market is horrible. They do look for evidence that suggests other explanations, but that's the initial assumption in my experience.

The only times I've seen the "must be something wrong with him/her" assumption is when the candidate had the CV of an associate professor but still didn't have a tt position.

Anonymous said...

At this state school with R1 ambitions and mass education reality, we like 'em a bit on the stale side.

In my experience, they're less of a babysitting project for senior faculty and have solid independent teaching experience from day 1.

So keep your stale chins up.

KateNorlock said...

I really think stale-ness is nowhere near the biggest problem, or even much worth worrying at all. I don't hate serving on searches, indeed I enjoy it, but when I do it, I never see files of people who strike me as cold-shots or stale. On the contrary, what I get are hundreds of excellent applications. It's a hirer's market and the competition is several scores of people who are Ph.D.s, good researchers, good teachers, and it's heartbreaking to see how many truly fine applicants there are. The reality is that with the recent economic crash, this will be even more the case. So many are called. So few can be chosen. Staleness is not the thing to attend to.

Anonymous said...

Kate is right. Most job-searchers today far outstrip their counterparts 30 years ago in terms of publications, degrees earned, teaching experience, teaching ability and desire to achieve a high level of productivity and excellence. Tenured faculty should fear that their graduate training will go stale. From what I have seen, most of the old-timers got tenure and became deadwood, unwilling to produce and more concerned with taking vacations to see their grandchildren than doing serious research.

Glaucon said...

It's great to see that the stereotype of lazy, tenured faculty is alive and well -- even among (would-be) academics! In my neck of the woods, perpetuating that one has become the province of ignorant blowhards and politicians. I'm sure they'll be glad for the help, 7:34.

zombie said...

It would make sense to think that some "stale" PhDs are stale just because of the crummy job market. I'm just gonna assume that search committees know as well as the rest of us that this is the case. Their budgets are being slashed, and they know that they're lucky to get the money to make a hire.

And I'm hoping fervently that being over 40 isn't going to disqualify me among those over 40 search committee members.

But how much difference will one factor make? For the next several years (forever?), at least, the supply of philosophers will continue to outstrip the demand. For one reason or another, many good philosophers will not get jobs in academe.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes when we refer to a stale dissertation we are talking about the fact that the candidate didn't get a job in a very timely fashion. Even though this isn't really stale in any legitimate sense of the word, it's what Zero in his post seems to hope committee members will forgive. I suspect that Zero is right. One would have to be seriously divorced from current realities to not recognize that good candidates will fail to get jobs right away in this climate.

There is, however, another sense of "stale" in play here. Research becomes dated pretty quickly. I finished my Ph.D. in the late 1990's and within 5 or 6 years, many of the new students in my Ph.D. program were on to different things altogether (even when working on the same broad issues with the same faculty members, etc.). My guess is that at least some SC members will prefer more recent Ph.D.'s to folks that have been out for four or five years, even though their failure to get a job is no fault of their own.

Anonymous said...

Is there a certain amount of time where being a graduate student goes stale? I am going to take 9 years to finish. And I have non-academic reasons for taking so long but not the sort of reasons that really fit on a cover letter or that I am going to have my advisor write about in a recommendation. Does hiding out in grad school because of the bad economy also hurt you?

Anonymous said...

what's the perception of tenured folk out there? My perception is that many remain involved, and that as an empirical matter the institution of tenure is more than justified. Some, though, especially at the less fancy schools I've attended/visited/know about, definitely give up or begin doing the philosophy of the bizarrely arcane.

Anonymous said...

The idea that PhDs won't go stale as quickly is nonsense. Your Ph.D. will go stale just as quickly, if not quicker.

Forget about this.

Again, just do your work and hope you get lucky. It's a waste of time to worry about anything else.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:08 is truly wise on this one.

I love it.

So call me Philo908.

Anonymous said...

I don't have tenure, but I plan to start working on philosophy of the bizarrely arcane immediately.

Anonymous said...

My guess is that Philosophy of the Bizarrely Arcane will be this fall's surprise hit AOS.

zombie said...

If you mean aesthetics, then yes, indeedy.

Anonymous said...

Hey what's P.G.O.A.T. up to these days? I miss her.

Anonymous said...

i really miss P.G.O.A.T too. can we have a quick update on the old team? just to know that they're doing fine, or roughly how they're doing?

Anonymous said...

I'll be on a search committee this year (unless it gets cancelled--but surely things like that don't ever happen...). Anyway, to my mind there's no such thing as stale. You can be one year out or ten--all that matters is that you did something in that time.

PhD three years ago: show me three years worth of work (ie a couple of pubs, some things in the works, a presentation or two etc...)

Don't tell me that your move and 4-4 VAP meant you couldn't work, because the 3-3 isn't that much easier, and the 2-2 has lots of other side work that comes with it too. The fact is even with a 4-4 you've got a month off at winter and 4 in the summer. So each year you've got 5 months to get work done. Just fill in the gaps.

If you are 4 years out and have done nothing, that's what we expect you to do if we hire you, and it's the reason we won't be asking to see you at the APA.