Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hitchcock on Serving on a Search Committee

In a recent comment here, Christopher Hitchcock says some important things about search committees, how they function, and how they ought to function. I reproduce the comment in full here:

Let me follow up on one thread of this discussion where some unpleasantries were exchanged. Again, I am only drawing on my own experience conducting searches.

When I am involved in a search, I am genuinely interested in finding the best candidate for the position. That involves making as accurate an evaluation as possible of the candidate's research (actual and potential) and other qualities as a colleague. I do not think that it serves this purpose to treat the process like the compulsories of Olympic figure skating. (Oh, she wobbled on the landing, that's a .2 deduction. Oh, the candidate had parsley on her tooth, that's a .3 deduction.) I would be very surprised if most other don't proceed in the same way. (When I was on the job market in the 90's, one of my fellow job-seekers discovered that s/he had submitted a writing sample with "Freeedom" in the title. It did not seem to do any harm. One distinguished senior philosopher sent him/her a funny short essay on the importance of distinguishing true 'freeedom' from mere 'freedom'.)

That said, I think it would help all job seekers to have some sense of what it is like on the other side. Conducting a search is a full-time job for six weeks. Even with all of that, we can afford to read the writing samples of about 25% of the applicants. This means that we have to eliminate the majority of candidates before we even look at the writing samples. So we definitely read the files looking for reasons to throw them on the discard pile.

I have been involved in about 8 searches in past 10 years. During that time, I have read the work of a lot of young philosophers. There are many excellent philosophers whose work I first got to know through this process. I admire and respect them. Unfortunately, even among those whose work I admire and enjoy, the vast majority will not get job offers from us.

That was the lead up to a confession. When I and my colleagues are immersed in files, pretty much every waking moment spent sorting through the pile, it is as natural to talk about them as it is to, e.g. complain about the weather or the republicans in congress. Sometimes we say things that are disrespectful of the candidates or make jokes at their expense. I recognize that this is not ideal behavior, and I would be mortified if any of these got back to the candidates. But it is pretty much impossible to work that hard, become that immersed in the process, and always comport oneself with the utmost seriousness of purpose. (Many of you may be familiar with this from grading stacks of papers.) But I do make every effort not to let such joking affect our treatment of the candidates, or evaluation of their work.

Good luck to those of you applying for jobs, I wish you well.


I think that the phenomenon to which professor Hitchcock alludes is unavoidably human and something to which job-seekers themselves are not immune. We here at the Smoker are, after all, fond of mocking job ads and rejection letters. And I think it is basically harmless if it is successfully compartmentalized in the manner in which Hitchcock suggests.

However, I worry that it is often not successfully compartmentalized. Over the years, people claiming to be search committee members have written in comments on this blog and its immediate ancestor about how such things as typos, copy-and-paste errors, spelling errors, and what they perceive to be the applicant's attitude about the various job-market procedures function for them as criteria for automatic rejection. To take Prof. Hitchcock's grading analogy, it is one thing to complain about a student's spelling errors and to take those spelling errors into account when assigning a grade. But it's something else altogether to say, Anyone who would spell 'catigoracle emparative" that way doesn't care enough about my class to deserve an A.

--Mr. Zero

51 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mr or Mrs. Aero*,

You're 100% right. The problem is, what can we do about it? We can't shame anyone for it and nobody will own up to it.


*intentional

Rebecca Kukla said...

I'll confess, though it is a bit embarrassing: I was the job candidate who had 'Freeedom' in my writing sample title. This story is totally true, and one of my favorites - I am actually kind of pleased that someone else remembered it. I got offers anyhow (though, I admit, not from the school where the *very* famous professor who write the essay about my typo works/worked). I guess the moral is that what is stressing the crap out of you now will make for good stories eventually. Good luck, everyone :)

Anonymous said...

Mr. Zero,

Uh... I'm sorry, but if your scenario involves a class on Kant, I fully agree that no student who writes "catigoracle emparative" should get an A. Or a B.

Anonymous said...

For every SC member who wants to toss applications for spelling errors, there's another who reads right over them without a second thought. It happens, and there's nothing that applicants can do to change that. It's really not something that applicants should, in my opinion, be worrying about.

What's more important to me is clarity. If your CV is a hot mess, it's not worth my time. If your CV isn't clear about what you've done and when, we're done. You would be amazed at how poorly constructed some CVs are. Same with the letter. Remember that we are reading lots of these. Make them easy to follow. Your long, flowery, ambiguous run-on sentences should be checked at the door. No bonus points for poetry. This is a business document; treat it as such.

And one point I cannot stress enough: please be kind to your readers' eyes. We are reading many pages of documents, over a period of several weeks, on top of the other work we are doing...and some of us need reading glasses as it is. What this means is that we are often reading these at the end of the day, when we are already tired. Use a reasonable font size. Allow for reasonable margins. I'd much rather read a 3 pg letter that is in a readable font than a 2 pg letter that crams everything in there by using tiny type. If you've made it to the stage were I actually read your letter, I'm more likely to read 3 readable pages than 2 pages I have to squint to see clearly. I can forgive misspelling a word; I might not even notice an extra e in the middle of a word. But I will get very cranky if your letter is in Times New Roman with a 9-pt. font and 1/4 inch margins.

Anonymous said...

So I was the one who mentioned that some of the search committee members, which may or may not have included myself, snickered about a very long rambling pointless cover letter one time during a search. As Hitchcock notes, this is normal. And no, we did not throw the damned thing out of the pile because of it. How stupid would that be? As I recall, that candidate was eliminated because it wasn't really in our area (you would be surprised how many candidates that were a complete misfit applied and were eliminated on those grounds alone). Job candidates who think that this doesn't happen or expect it not to need to grow up. Your parents do have sex! Professors are actually human beings! So are you. Get over yourself.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Asshole

Mr. Zero said...

I fully agree that no student who writes "catigoracle emparative" should get an A. Or a B.

I agree that it's a strike against the paper/exam (more so against a paper than an exam), but seriously. There are learning disabilities that make it hard for people to spell stuff but which don't entail that the student is dumb or doesn't know the material.

Anonymous said...

When posters here make fun of rejection letters or job ads, that is an instance of the powerless mocking the powerful.It is entirely different from the reverse situation, which Hitchcock defends.
I also wonder about the applicants who make Hitchcock and his colleagues chortle. Are they predominantly female? I'd bet my life on it.

Anonymous said...

"Sometimes we say things that are disrespectful of the candidates or make jokes at their expense....But it is pretty much impossible to work that hard, become that immersed in the process, and always comport oneself with the utmost seriousness of purpose."

Yes, utmost seriousness is an impossible standard. But why should this give SC folks a permission to make jokes about applicants? A lighthearted approach is fully compatible with a respectful, understanding attitude.
My spouse has served on many searches (not in philosophy); light joking about candidates, he says, would not be "professional" and so is not tolerated in his department. If laughter is needed because work is hard, one can laugh about...well, so many other things...New Yorker cartoons anyone?

Anonymous said...

Are they predominantly female? I'd bet my life on it.

Whereas I, who know Chris, would bet my house against it. (How do you like those odds?)

Christopher Hitchcock said...

To Anonymous Sept. 26, 9:06 A.M. I am not defending it. I simply said that it happens, and is psychologically almost unavoidable.

I fully agree that any jokes, etc., about the gender ethnicity, appearance etc. of a candidate (or anyone else for that matter) are unacceptable. I am talking about jokes at the expense of the candidate who writes a paper about Hume's theory of 'casual relations'. But I was also expressing the opinion that such a person might nonetheless be an amazing philosopher, and any SC would be silly not to try to look past such a thing. For my part, it is not just an issue of fairness, but of grubby self-interest to make as fair and accurate an assessment as possible in the time permitted.

Christopher Hitchcock said...

To Anonymous Sept. 29, 9:43 A.M.

I agree that in a perfect world, this is how I would behave. My point was that when you are so busy that you don't have time to read New Yorker cartoons (and even if you did, none of your colleagues would have, for the same reason), it is psychologically natural to laugh about whatever you happen to have at hand.

But I also wanted to temper that observation by expressing my respect for job candidates, and even my appreciation of the opportunity to read some terrific philosophy that I might not otherwise have come across.

Mr. Zero said...

To be clear, I published the comment alleging gender-based mocking of job candidates on the part of Prof. Hitchcock not because I thought it had any merit--indeed, it seemed to me that the thoughtfulness and self-awareness displayed in Prof. Hitchcock's comment told against the "sexist jokes" hypothesis (which is not to say that such self-awareness is incompatible with sexist jokes)--but out of a general respect for gender issues.

Anonymous said...

How is it showing respect for gender issues to publish a moronic comment that happens to bring up gender issues?

Anonymous said...

I think CH's comments here are hugely edifying with regard to crafting writing samples.

I've been on the market twice before this year, and I've run the spectrum from totally paranoid to almost blasé. (Somewhere in between is confidence, which helps get jobs). I've never thought of my writing sample as a chance to share philosophy; I've always thought of it as one more box to check, hurdle to cross, or site of potential success or failure.

If I rework my sample with the aim of sharing philosophy (in the way that best reflects upon me as a philosopher), I suspect it will be a much more effective document.

I realize that not every committee member share's CH's views, and I realize that not every sample merits being viewed this way. But CH's comments give applicants something to aim for-- especially those applicants who are revamping dissertation chapters into samples.

Mr. Zero said...

How is it showing respect for gender issues to publish a moronic comment that happens to bring up gender issues?

Taken at face value, as an accusation against Prof. Hitchcock, it is not. But I think you could take it more generally, as a representation of a broader tendency to marginalize people based on gender etc. Although I realize that this "general" reading is not really contained in the text.

Christopher Hitchcock said...

To Anonymous Sept 29, 11:24 A.M.

Thank you for that, you made my day.

Part of what I wanted to convey was that for every candidate I have offered a job, there are twenty that I've later corresponded with, offered feedback on papers, invited to conferences, and even co-authored with, whom I first 'met' via job application. Even unsuccessful applications can help your career as networking tools.

Anonymous said...

I'm a female philosopher who also knows Chris Hitchcock well, and I doubt he'd have any tendency to mock female candidates more than male candidates.

I'd also like to note that when he interviewed me back in the day when I was on the market, he was the best, nicest and most thoughtful person by far to talk with during my campus visit. I didn't get the job. But nowadays, whenever we are at the same conference I always try to spend some time talking with him. He's great.

Anonymous said...

[i]Part of what I wanted to convey was that for every candidate I have offered a job, there are twenty that I've later corresponded with, offered feedback on papers, invited to conferences, and even co-authored with, whom I first 'met' via job application. Even unsuccessful applications can help your career as networking tools.[/i]

Shudders at the realization that the opposite is true too....that should be the best argument EVER against going on the market too soon.

Anonymous said...

ps: Zero, you must have a tt job, otherwise you would understand why I have the opinion I do about book reviews. Maybe if you are first year in a PhD program you might want to write a book review, but book reviews on a person's CV who is applying for a job? Not the best foot Zero, not the best foot.

YFNA

Anonymous said...

Whoops. Last comment should be on the other post. What an ass?

wv: misplain (what happens when philosophers in reading one another's comments in a casual context do not apply the principle of charity), e.g., ZERO misplained that YFNA thought that there were no benefits to conferencing.

Anonymous said...

Oh, this is one of those blog posts where the title sets you up for disappointment. I was imagining Alfred's taxidermied body wheeled in, Bentham-style.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi YNFA,

I think you might have posted this last thing in the wrong thread. Anyways, you write:

Maybe if you are first year in a PhD program you might want to write a book review, but book reviews on a person's CV who is applying for a job? Not the best foot Zero, not the best foot.

I didn't say it was the best foot, and neither did Brooks. He's not saying that book reviews will cause search committees to go weak in the knees from desire. He's not saying search committees will swoon. He's saying it's a good way to ramp up into publishing by learning how to deal with editors and gearing your writing towards an audience other than your professors and fellow seminarians.

Now look. Maybe you don't need this ramp. Maybe your professors grade you down when your seminar papers look like seminar papers instead of publishable journal articles. If so, good for you. Don't write a book review. Publish your publishable seminar papers, which will look better on your CV, impress the search committees, and help your career more. That's fine, and I haven't disputed that point, and as far as I can see, neither has Brooks. I didn't write a book review, either. And I definitely wouldn't consider taking the time to write one now, at this point in my career.

But the idea that book reviews look bad on your CV, that writing one is an intrinsically bad idea, that search committees will hold it against you if you do, is pure bullshit.

Anonymous said...

My point is that in this climate, no one without a tt job has time to waste on doing a book review. No one has time to waste on anything that is not going to wow a job search committee. I am not saying that writing a book review might teach you something, I am saying that in this current job market, it would be ill-advised to do a book review instead of going full bore on your own work. Surely, ZERO, you can't deny that. Have you been on the market lately?

YFNA

zombie said...

Your CV would look weaker if you only had book reviews on it. But book reviews have their place on a CV. Even famous philosophers do it!

Just don't pretend they're more than they are, and you're fine. Which is to say, book reviews should be identified as such on your CV, and not listed with your other publications. Likewise blogging, online pubs, etc. Not padding your CV is generally prudent.

Now I feel bad I never got interviewed by CH.

Anonymous said...

Book reviews are only a waste of time when they are bad book reviews, or positive reviews of bad books. (That is, don't write a review just to blow smoke up someone's ass.)

Book reviews serve a useful and important function. And not everyone can do them well.

Christopher Hitchcock said...

To Anonymous Sept 29, 5:56 P.M.

Thank you so much for the kind words. This reminds me of one of the jokes we like to tell.

Once there was a candidate whose schedule left him/her with an extra day in the L.A. area. I asked him/her if there was anything s/he'd like to do. So it turned out this candidate was (a) an outdoors person, and (b) culinarily adventurous. So we went hiking. We walked about 7 miles, and needless to say, the candidate was constantly waiting for me to catch up, huffing and puffing. Then we went to a Oaxacan restaurant and ordered crickets.

To this day, when a candidate is coming to campus, we joke about sending them on forced marches and making them eat bugs. (A metaphor for having to meet with us and all our colleagues, and answer questions from out of left field.)

carolynsd said...

I would think book reviews demonstrate a commitment to the field of philosophy. Clearly there is an imbalance of philosophy books and philosophy readers. A book review might show that one cares about and understands the work of other philosophers. I can imagine being on the other side of the table and being impressed by someone's thoughtful review of some one or the other difficult new book. It shows that he or she is digging in deep.

On the other hand, I don't really know what it is like to be on the other side of the interviewing table. I am also woefully out of touch with the current philosophy climate, especially when it comes to what I perceive as a lack of intellectual generosity and depth. Thus, it may well be that what most other philosophers want in a colleague is someone who has written numerous critical articles on such and such trendy topics. For my part, a candidate would only need to show an interest and ability to publish (as well as an interest and ability to teach and to otherwise develop the field of philosophy, of philosophic knowledge). I can imagine preferring a candidate who had written little but seemed to be genuine in his or her attempts to further our understanding of a particular problem over a candidate who had written many papers, even in good journals, that felt contrived (along with a cv that demonstrated an imbalanced commitment to displaying personal merit).

Anonymous said...

If laughter is needed because work is hard, one can laugh about...well, so many other things...New Yorker cartoons anyone?

False. New Yorker cartoons are never funny.

Neil said...

If a book is in you area and even moderately good, why wouldn't you review it? You need to read it anyway, right? You need to think about the arguments anyway, right? Why not take the opportunity to get the book free, and spend the extra 2 or 3 hours to turn those thoughts into prose? They're not journal articles, but you won't write any articles if you're not reading the literature.

Anonymous said...

A question:

Where does everyone recommend listing those things that are not quite book reviews but not quite independent research articles?

Let's say you've written a 20 page critical essay on a recent book that spends roughly half the time summarizing important arguments and half the time critiquing or pointing to alternatives. Further, imagine (for my selfish sake) that this is forthcoming in a reputable (Tier 2) journal.

Where does that go? Listing it as a book review seems to downplay the work but listing it as independent research doesn't seem right either.

zombie said...

Anon 4:47: if it is published, call it what it is called in the journal. If they call it a review, it's a review.

Anonymous said...

I'll chime in on the book review front as a recent SC member in a well-ranked Leiter program.

Like it or not, a book review is worth nil when it comes to hiring decisions. For a TT job, SCs are looking for evidence of creativity, originality, and brilliance, rather than a sense of duty toward the profession. Yes, famous philosophers do book reviews. They can afford it, too, as they no longer need to prove themselves in a cut-throat job market.

Bottom line: The payoff of a good book review is definitely not worth the time and effort it takes to write one.

Rebecca Kukla said...

Neil @2:50 pm. 2-3 hours???? Have you actually done a book review?

Chairephon said...

Anonymous: you could always put it in its own section--"Critical Note" or some such--between publications and ordinary book reviews.

Carolyn Suchy-Dicey said...

To Anonymous (September 30, 2011 10:33 PM):

I appreciate the matter of fact tone that you use, and find the information helpful. So thanks for that.

On the other hand, you say:
"For a TT job, SCs are looking for evidence of creativity, originality, and brilliance, rather than a sense of duty toward the profession."

Aren't you a little disturbed by this? I am not sure if I share the same basic view of what is possible with most other people, but I consider it possible to make progress on most philosophical problems (although those solutions may lead to more problems). I also consider it much more likely that a problem will be solved by many philosophers than by a single philosopher working alone. It seems improbable to me that a philosopher would make real progress without appreciating the many conceptual possibilities that have already arisen. In light of those assumptions, it disturbs me to think that philosophers would be no more interested in candidates who are committed to the field of philosophy than to candidates who fly solo. I may be naively committed to the sciences, but I think one strength of the sciences is their social structure: they are committed to sharing work and to building on the body of scientific knowledge, such that it is in the APA(the other APA)'s code of ethics to keep data/information on methods and to make it accessible to scientists who might require it. The idea that all one needs to do philosophy is one's own mind seems myopic, at best. Perhaps our very world views are different and you find philosophy to be closer to the arts, perhaps literature, than to the sciences. In that case, I could understand thinking that all one can hope for is a brilliant few who live apart from the world of philosophy and philosophical ideas. For my own part, although I sometimes enjoy philosophy of this variety, I prefer engaging professionally with those who seem to be speaking more directly about our shared body of knowledge and how to develop it.

I know that this is taking us far afield of the original thread and am not even sure if this worry is best directed at you, but it is a developing concern of mine and one I would be interested in hearing your thoughts about, especially if you think you have an argument in the other direction.

Ben said...

@Rebecca:

Neil didn't say it took 2-3 hours to do a book review, he said *extra* 2-3 hours. This was premised on the assumption that you need to read the book and think about its arguments anyway.

On that basis, 2-3 hours might be a reasonable estimate of how long it would take to turn those thoughts into a 1500 word review. Obviously, your mileage may vary, and the time taken will also depend on what's required of the review. In my experience, they can be between 400 and 2500 words and may or may not be reviewed.

For what it's worth, I agree with Neil. If the book's one you ought to read anyway, then a review's a small price for getting it free and a line on your CV to boot.

Neil said...

Rebecca, I have done many many book reviews. I have reviewed for newspapers, magazines, online sites (eg, Metapsychology online), medical journals and many philosophy journals. When you read a book carefully, you take some notes (right?), in my case, mainly a few jottings in the margin. You also get an overall impression of the book. When you review the book - unless you are writing a critical essay, in which case (a) it takes much longer but (b) there is no question it should be on your cv - you write down your general impression, describing where it fits in the literature, and you briefly put forward an argument or two (if it is bad, you give one or two main reasons why it is bad; if it excellent you say why, though you might also mention a problem that occured to you; if it is middling you balance critical comments with praise). That takes 2 or 3 hours. No? Perhaps you can do it quicker, but I can't.

Anonymous said...

Hi Carolyn,

Anon 10:33 here.

I appreciate the matter of fact tone that you use, and find the information helpful. So thanks for that.

On the other hand, you say:
"For a TT job, SCs are looking for evidence of creativity, originality, and brilliance, rather than a sense of duty toward the profession."

Aren't you a little disturbed by this?


I'm not. Note that I didn't say we don't care whether you engage with the literature, with other philosophers, or with the sciences, if any, that border on your subdiscipline. We pretty much take that for granted (if you don't, it will show very quickly in your writing sample, for instance). Thus a book review, if well done and in a reputable venue, proves a point that we've already granted you.

Given that it is really hard to do a book review well, and takes a lot of time (2-3 hours in addition to the mere reading of the book strikes me as virtually impossible, unless it's a very short and boring book), my advice remains: Use your time more wisely and try to write another research paper.

Anonymous said...

"Use your time more wisely and try to write another research paper."

Of course, you do recognize that it takes so much more time to write a research paper than a book review, right?

If one is reading and taking detailed notes on a book for one's research paper (say, for the writing sample sent to your SC), and one decides to then write a review of that book, how exactly is that a waste of time? Much of the intellectual work is already being done for the sake of a research paper. And writing a book review doesn't take nearly as much time as developing a separate research paper.

Do you honestly look at applicants who write book reviews (especially on books related to their areas of specialization) and wish they had not wasted their time? Do you think to yourself, "well, instead of that book review, she should have written another research paper"?

Carolyn Suchy-Dicey said...

In that case, I find the advice to be reasonable, especially given how difficult it is to write and publish good research.

Anonymous said...

One point that seems to have been missed in all of the comments about the value of reviewing books is that--at least in my experience--reviews are almost always solicited by editors of the relevant journals, and to be asked to review a book suggests that at least someone thinks that you are qualified to do so. This doesn't mean that for search committees a book review will count for more than, or even equally to, a refereed article, but it still implies that the peson who writes the review will do so because she is recognized as expert enough to comment in a worthwhile fashion on the book--and that should count for something.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:33 here again, in response to Anon 7:12.

Look here, let's keep two issues separate.

1) My original post was merely descriptive. Its gist was: Nobody cares about book reviews written by TT applicants. Like it or not, that's how it is. On that basis, I gave the advice, which you may of course take or leave, to concentrate on research papers rather than reviews.

2) In response to Carolyn's question, I made it clear that I, personally, find this a reasonable attitude for a SC to take. We (I'm talking about a top 50 department here; it may be different elsewhere) are looking for the next star, not for someone who is merely able to absorb the literature and comment intelligently on what others have written. Virtually any applicant can do that. Give us a chance to evaluate your originality, not your studiousness.

Neil said...

My claim that book reviews are little extra work over and above reading the damn thing entails 9:53's (2): given that they are little extra work, SCs shouldn't put much weight on them. But there need not be a tradeoff between reviewing and writing substantive papers, as 9:53 suggests. First, knowing that you are writing for publication may motivate you to read more carefully, think more deeply and develop your ideas better. I have written several papers that used ideas that I generated through reviewing. Second, book reviewing cultivates useful skills: you need to be able to summarize other people's research, situate their work in the literature, and so on. You need to learn to write clearly and concisely (several people have said that 2-3 hours extra over and above reading is 'virtually impossible'. Perhaps it is for them: they might be the people who most need to practice these skills). Beyond a certain point, the returns will be negative, but up to that point, reviewing should be useful for your research even though it isn't going to contribute useful lines for the CV.

Anonymous said...

YFNA here. This is a comment on a post from the Hitchcock thread. It says:

My claim that book reviews are little extra work over and above reading the damn thing entails 9:53's (2): given that they are little extra work, SCs shouldn't put much weight on them. But there need not be a tradeoff between reviewing and writing substantive papers, as 9:53 suggests. First, knowing that you are writing for publication may motivate you to read more carefully, think more deeply and develop your ideas better. I have written several papers that used ideas that I generated through reviewing. Second, book reviewing cultivates useful skills: you need to be able to summarize other people's research, situate their work in the literature, and so on. You need to learn to write clearly and concisely (several people have said that 2-3 hours extra over and above reading is 'virtually impossible'. Perhaps it is for them: they might be the people who most need to practice these skills). Beyond a certain point, the returns will be negative, but up to that point, reviewing should be useful for your research even though it isn't going to contribute useful lines for the CV.

I don't think that whether book reviews are useful or good for *something* is what is at issue and I feel like people have been talking past each other a lot on this issue, including myself (YFNA) and ZERO.

Let me clarify my position on book reviews: if you really want the best shot you can get at getting a job in this market, assuming it continues to be harsh for the next few years, then it behooves you to learn how to publish your own work as efficiently as possible, assuming that search committees are primarily interested in your original work. Assuming this is the case, if there is any way for you to get the skills you need to publish your own work in some way more efficient than writing a book review, you should do that instead of writing a book review.

Call me "dense," but I personally think that the most efficient way to learn how to publish your own work is to come at it directly right away. That may be wrong. I don't have the time to do an empirical study. It's a hunch. Do with it what you will. I think it's a hunch of the kind that acting upon it is less risky than acting upon others. At least, for myself, I feel safer puttin' my eggs in that basket than in the book review basket.

However, in some cases, say, if doing a book review is part and parcel of what you need to know to develop your own original views, then there is no net loss in doing so. So why not?

I do maintain though that if the choice truly is between doing a book review or working on your own publications, you should, in this market, assuming you are "careerist" in the sense of not wanting to be a Nomad, or live in debt anymore, do your own work.

This was all I ever meant to be defending.

@Ben: yes, I do have time to spend on blogging, since there are only so many brain cells a day I can commit to doing straight up hard-core philosophy? Is this a surprise. Again, this misunderstands me. I am saying that I should spend the time that I can on phil on doing my own research, not on book reviews. And I do that. That is perfectly consistent with my thinking that I shouldn't spend such time on book reviews, and that I should take some down time to write what I guess are inflammatory comments on this blog :)

YFNA

Christopher Hitchcock said...

Looks like the thread has been hijacked. Well, if you can't beat'em, join'em.

There are really two separate issues here. I agree with other posters that a book review on your CV won't count for much, at least at a research-oriented school.

But that is not the only reason for trying to publish things while in grad school. Another is that it is good to have early experience dealing with the publishing 'industry'. While I was in grad school, I think I got ten rejections before finally getting a paper accepted. I published a couple of short 'critical discussions' of other papers, and published a couple of papers in some lower tier journals. I don't think these counted for anything when I was on the job market, but I learned a lot from the process.

Here are some examples of the kinds of things I learned:

1. Timeliness and perceived interest in the topic counts for a lot, especially for discussion pieces. It is easier to publish a decent critique of a paper that came out one year ago, than a brilliant critique of a paper that came out ten years ago (unless it has become very influential in the meantime). This is something I didn't get in graduate seminars, which (very reasonably) emphasized critical and interpretive skills without worrying about whether the issue is 'current', or whether my ideas were novel.

2. Submitting papers can be something of a crapshoot. If your paper gets rejected, read the critical comments from the referees. (I usually found I had to wait a week or so after getting a rejection to calm down before I could read and process any comments.) Sometimes you will get helpful feedback. Sometimes you will get a kind of indirect evidence about places where the paper isn't clear, by means of the referees' misunderstandings. But if the criticisms don't ring true, just send the paper right back out to another journal. Keep trying and don't get discouraged. (And yes, I still get papers rejected, and it still takes me a week to calm down before I can read the comments.)

3. If you are submitting a research paper, respond to potential objections. Err on the side of including such responses, even if the objection doesn't strike you as even superficially promising. If you include such a response unnecessarily, your paper will be accepted and you will be asked to shorten it. If you omit such a response, and a referee thinks of the objection and finds it plausible, your paper will get rejected. That is an oversimplification, but it is closer to the truth than the opposite.

Happy publishing!

Anonymous said...

Should a statement of research just state the basic arguments of future research or should you go into the detail of saying in "Adventures with Grue" I will argue...and I have already presented a preliminary version of this at the Easter APA.." I can't tell if I am piling on needless detail and look silly or whether that is what you are supposed to do. I have looked at a number of examples online and people seem to do both. Thanks!

Christopher Hitchcock said...

To Anonymous Oct. 2, 6:01,

There was a lot of discussion of this following the earlier post about how to assemble a job application.

Asstro said...

God this is the silliest discussion in the world.

Look, book reviews are fine things to do, and I would encourage grad students to do them, for exactly the same reasons that Thom Brooks says they're good to do. Conferences are also fine things to do for similar reasons...as are reading books and teaching undergraduate courses and taking tangential courses and writing assigned papers and giving presentations to your friends or your spouse or yourself in the mirror.

No, an SC doesn't give a rat's bolus if you've given a paper at a conference or taken a class or read your homework, but they care that you're doing philosophy well. Writing a book review is a good way to get experience with publishing, as Zero and Brooks say. It's a good way to write a short piece and have it placed somewhere. It's a good way to open a discussion with another philosopher. It's a good way to challenge yourself to think a little more critically than you otherwise might. It's a good way to keep yourself in check; to put your interpretation out into the ether; to subject yourself to the apparent scrutiny of outside parties, even if it's also true that nobody really reads book reviews except the author and his fawning mother.

So for fuck's sake, write some damned book reviews and go to some damned conferences and participate in the damned profession, because all of that participation in the profession is a great way to become a very good professional philosopher... and it is _that_ that we care about, not whether you have lines on your CV for each and every time that you've stroked the back of a monkey.

Last night I sat on an airplane next to a pharmacology grad student who was complaining about all the drugs and prescription information she had to memorize; about all of the chemistry she had to learn; because, you know, you can always just look on the back of the packaging and there's so much more fun stuff to do.

Those arguing against participating in the profession by writing book reviews -- because, you know, you should only do stuff that will lead to non-marginal gains in the probability of you landing a tt job -- sound a little bit like her to me.

Anonymous said...

I think this whole book review discussion is missing the point. The real problem with writing book reviews is that it takes away precious time from complaining pseudonymously about what a waste of time it is to write book reviews.

Anonymous said...

I do now have a serious question: how long after you've graduated do you stop including in your app materials your diss abstract? I think it's time for me, but I am not sure. Thoughts anyone?

Got a TT job said...

My first two years on the job market, I included my dissertation description (the first year I hadn't yet finished the dissertation, the second year I'd just finished it a few months prior). For my third (successful)year, I no longer included my dissertation description; instead, I had a generic "research statement" that included parts of what I'd done in my dissertation (but I didn't call it that) and also explained my post-dissertation research (integrated into one statement).