Wednesday, January 4, 2012

How to Deal (Or Something Like That)

I spent some time at the APA meeting thinking about whether I would have been enjoying myself if I had been there without any interviews. I continue to think that going to the E-APA without interviews is a waste of time and money, but some people disagreed. Some of these people said that you should go because going will cause you learn to deal with rejection; or else not going means you can't deal with rejection, and if you can't deal with rejection you're some kind of weakling who doesn't belong in this line of work. Or something. I continue to think that, whatever my problem is, it's not that I'm a weakling or that I otherwise can't deal with rejection. I think that anon 12:11 got it exactly right:

Those who are framing the issue in terms of "dealing with rejection" are completely missing the point.

If I send out 100 applications, get 99 PFOs, and 1 job; then I would be ecstatic. As a job market candidate, what I'm most concerned about is not avoiding or minimizing rejection; rather, I'm most concerned about securing the opportunity to do professionally the teaching and research I've been trained to do for the past ten years of my life. That's completely different from the experience of having a paper rejected.

There are candidates who had the misfortune of going on the market for the first time back when things blew up in 2008. These are people who know how to persevere. Every year they publish or otherwise further their research; they design and teach new courses to improve their teaching portfolios; they apply for jobs; sometimes they get interviews, sometimes they don't. These are people who are used to getting knocked down, and they know how to get back up. Telling those candidates that they "need to learn how to deal with rejection" is incredibly fucked-up and condescending.


This resonated with me because I've been on the market since before things blew up in '08. I've consequently been rejected hundreds of times. Almost all the jobs I've ever applied for have declined to interview me; almost all the search committees who did interview me took a pass. Including all the tenure-track ones. In that time I've had a lot of chances to really hone my skills. I don't want to brag, but I have gotten to be a pretty awesome rejection-dealer. I go out every year, get no offers, and I'm ready to try again next time. Dealing with rejection is not my problem.*

And so I feel qualified to say that one thing that I really do find helpful in dealing with rejection is this: don't make things harder on yourself than they need to be. Don't make rejection harder to deal with than it already is. If staying away from the APA makes it easier (or possible) for you to be ready to attack the market again in the spring, then you should stay away without feeling like the desire to do so is evidence of some character flaw. Do whatever you need to do.

Of course, maybe staying away from the APA doesn't help you. Maybe you get energized by the fog of misery, stress, and failure. Maybe it just doesn't matter to you. That's possible. And if that describes you, by all means feel free to ignore my advice. Do what you want. But I find the APA-with-no-interview experience to be intensely miserable, and I don't see the point in putting yourself through an intensely miserable experience just to prove that you can handle it.

--Mr. Zero

*The rejections themselves are.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

I went to the APA with no interviews and had a jolly time (note: I'm one of those who advocated in favor of going without any interviews). I'm not exaggerating. Maybe it's my "sunny disposition" (though I don't know anyone who would say that of me!), it maybe it's the fact that I have a relatively stable VAP position and so am not desperate. In any case, I not only had a good time (went to some great talks, ran into some old friends). Perhaps more importantly, I think I did some important networking. I had two great discussions with "bigwigs" I'd never meet before, and I think I might even be able to get a rec from one of them next year. Who knows? Money aside, I still think the potential benefits of attending outweigh those of staying home.

Anonymous said...

"... I've been on the market since before things blew up in '08."

I'm not sure how to ask this without sounding like I'm making a snide personal attack (I'm really not), but I'll try.

How many years of being on the job market without an offer are evidence that one ought to try for another job? Unless one has a position as an adjunct or a post-doc, wouldn't four years of looking for a job be evidence that perhaps one ought to try a different career?

At least, it seems like it would in many fields. Since you're still on the market, what do you think makes academic philosophy different (and what can someone who has been on the market for four years do to remain an attractive candidate)?

Mr. Zero said...

Money aside, I still think the potential benefits of attending outweigh those of staying home.

Two things: I'm not really sure what the 'money aside' clause is doing here. If you're saying that it's worth it only if you ignore the fact that 3 nights at the conference hotel (at the group rate of $169.00 plus a room tax of $24.51 plus an in-room slow internet fee of $12.95) runs $619.38, plus air fare (in my case just over $300), plus the cost of eating every meal out, plus incidentals, totals well over a thousand dollars, then I guess you're right. But I find charges adding up to a thousand dollars hard to ignore. Maybe I'm a weirdo.

If, on the other hand, 'money aside' means that the high cost of attending the E-APA doesn't matter, then I disagree with you and I think you're nuts.

The other thing is, suppose I wouldn't have gone if I hadn't had interviews. Suppose I wouldn't have had a jolly time if I'd gone without having any interviews. Suppose I know this because I tried it before. Would you say that I must be too psychologically weak to be well-suited to this profession? Would you say that I'm either stupid or a fragile neurotic? Because that's what various people in the previous thread say, and that's what this post is responding to. Fritz McDonald, for example, says that it is miserable, and that people (everyone?) should go anyways in order to develop the capacity to deal with rejection and have a thick skin.

So, where I get confused is, if you went and had a nice time, you aren't the kind of person Prof. McDonald is talking about--jolly times do not thicken the skin. And you're also not the kind of person I'm talking to (see the final paragraph in the post above). I'm talking to people who would not have had a fun time if they attended the conference without interviews. I'm speaking as someone who has been on the market for a long time and has a proven track record of dealing with vast amounts of rejection. My advice is, don't make yourself more miserable than you have to. I stand by this advice.

Mr. Zero said...

How many years of being on the job market without an offer are evidence that one ought to try for another job?

I don't really know. I keep trying because of the fact that apart from the job hunt, my career is going really well. I like writing philosophy papers, and I think I write good ones; I've been able to place these papers in good and progressively better journals; my teaching is going well; I enjoy hanging out and talking about philosophy with the friends and colleagues I've met through philosophy. Each year I've been on the market I've attracted more attention, from better schools, than the year prior.

I've given a lot of thought to the "when is enough enough" question, and I don't have a firm answer or a general way to tell. Right now, the most precise answer I can give for myself is, not yet.

Anonymous said...

I'm only in my second year out of grad school... But I've been thinking about the "when is enough enough?" question.

Here's what I don't get, why is not having a TT-line evidence that you should even be asking that question?

I get that tenure is awesome. I really want tenure. You'd be a fool to not want tenure, in this profession. I also get that many non-TT positions have so much job insecurity that it's reasonable to ask the question. If, every year, you face unemployment and the prospect of moving across the country for merely nine more months of employment, it makes sense to ask.

But, suppose you're in a stable visiting position. Suppose you like your job, even. Suppose you have a reasonable course load. Why should someone, in a position like that, be asking themselves "when is enough enough?"

I'm getting so sick of everything in our profession being pointed towards tenure. Yes, tenure's great. But, there are fewer TT lines and more visiting positions. I hate how so much makes it seem like the only way to be a real, employed philosopher is to have a TT line. Why is there this assumption that you must not be really in the profession, unless you're TT?

Anonymous said...

How many years of being on the job market without an offer are evidence that one ought to try for another job?

Actually landing a tenure-track job is not the only indicator of one's likelihood for landing a tenure-track job.

If you know people who both 1) have been on the market longer than you and 2) have landed a tenure-track job (perhaps even a fabulous job), then that's one reason to persevere.

If you consistently get interviews, or if you're getting better at securing interviews, then that's a second reason to keep at it.

If you've been a finalist for one or more jobs, then that's a third reason.

Anonymous said...

I would add to this that there are certain stresses that non-TT people avoid - those involved with getting tenure. On many days I would actually prefer a good non-TT but permanent job over the "all-or-nothing" situation of my upcoming tenure review. It's a little sad that there aren't more reasonably good non-TT permanent jobs in the states. Tenure-track is only wonderful because tenure is wonderful.

Anonymous said...

I have been on the market as long as you, Mr. Zero, can add my personal reflections. I hope it works out for you this year. If you are (like me) not from a Leiterrific department, the odds are heavily against you. I have tried almost everything humanly possible. All this takes hard work, especially without mentoring. Placement services or job advice at my department was non-existent (literally). First, try to publish in the best journals. Initially, I wrote in non-prestigious (but still peer-reviewed, professional) journals. Then, about a year post-PhD, I started to publish in the top specialist journals in my two AOS . Last year, I managed to publish in a top-10 general journal. Now I have things under review at top-5 journals and a book manuscript at a top academic publisher.
I work hard at my teaching. I went from being a not so good teacher who did not know what to expect from students to a favorite teacher of many students.
I have gone to conferences, shaped long-term networks with well-known philosophers in my field, got a postdoc at a very prestigious (top-5) Leiter school. But since my PhD is not from that school, I don't know how much it counts. Each year I have a few interviews, but this is not the main reason to keep on going.
I persevere because I love my job. I love both the teaching and the research. I love it when I have an in-depth discussion with a small group of students. I am genuinely pleased when students write excellent papers or do excellent exams that indicate that my teaching has helped shape them intellectually, give them more tools to develop into critical thinkers. The thrill of writing papers, the sudden insight that you can have when wrestling with a problem, then to see how it all fits neatly, and then seeing that paper accepted at a good journal or conference, it's a joy that doesn't wear of. By contrast, I have become better at rejection. If I get a rejection letter from a journal, I look at the referee reports (if available), redraft the paper, and resend it within two weeks.
Given that I'm not on a TT, I can do pretty much what I want, research-wise. I don't need to worry that co-authoring is going to ruin my chances of getting tenure, so I collaborate frequently, with different people. I don't need to worry whether my department colleagues like me, I don't need to do an effort to please them since my job is temporary and non-renewable.
My only worry is that I'm the main breadwinner and I have a responsibility to my partner and child. We move every couple of years. This is stressful to my family.
In the end, I will have to make a choice between my love for philosophy and my duty towards my family. Perhaps the fact that I continue to have interviews helps me to justify my decision why I remain in academia.

Anonymous said...

Tenure-track is only wonderful because tenure is wonderful.

No. Really?! "Stable visiting position" is an oxymoron. It might be stable now, but you just don't get the same kind of guarantee as tenure. When there are budget cuts, you'd be the first to go. There is, admittedly, more job security than day laborers, but nowhere as much as tenured professors.

I've gotten interviews, I've been a finalist. Yet, when the wiki goes up that I've not been offered a flyout to my dream-job-of-the-year again, I still feel devastated.

Mr. Zero said...

...there are certain stresses that non-TT people avoid - those involved with getting tenure. On many days I would actually prefer a good non-TT but permanent job over the "all-or-nothing" situation of my upcoming tenure review.

This sort of thing comes up periodically here on the blog, and all I can say is that the stress of applying for tenure must be incredibly intense, because it routinely causes people to say crazy things like this.

As anon 7:18 points out, there is literally no such thing as a permanent but non-tenure-track job in this business. The other name for "permanent faculty" is "tenure track"; if you're not tenure track then you're not permanent, and you have to undergo tenure review if you want the permanence.

The alternative is a fixed-term job that you must reapply for every so often--usually every year. That is, you have to apply for your own job each year. And if they don't like you for any reason, they can just give the job to somebody else. And the job can evaporate at the drop of a hat.

Non-TT positions are usually on a 9-month pay schedule, so one can't count on having any income at all during the summer. And tenure-track salaries are higher: newly-hired tenure-track faculty in my department make almost $25,000 a year more than I do. Twenty-five thousand dollars. That's because TT-people here make a little above average, and non-TT people make a little below average, but still. Twenty. Five. Thousand. Dollars.

Tenure-track jobs have additional advantages: more autonomy with respect to teaching; more opportunities to teach at the upper-division and (possibly) graduate levels; the possibility of meaningful promotions and substantial raises; and a voting interest in the department.

So, yeah. Applying for tenure is a drag. You know what else is a drag? Satisfying the requirements for tenure at your institution and being ineligible to apply for it. The principal benefit of a tenure-track job is tenure, but so what? Tenure is absolutely worth it. That's why everyone wants a tenure-track job, why we're all fighting tooth and claw to get one, and why nobody who posts comments like the one at 4:20 would ever actually drop out of a tenure-track line and into a tenure-ineligible line. The people who say things like this are fantasizing about an imaginary type of job where they can have the permanence and stability of tenure without having to endure the stress of applying for it.

Anonymous said...

To return to the original topic, this year was my first on the market, and it was my first trip to the E-APA. I gave a talk, so I still had a reason to go when I turned up interviewless. Still, the talk went well and I got to maintain some valuable connections.

Overall, attending without an interview did demystify the process. "The Smoker" doesn't strike fear in my heart now that I've gone and had a beer there (the no-interview perk; they should name a special cocktail after us, or just distribute hemlock).

That said, with the demystification accomplished, I would NOT want to attend without an interview again (talk or no talk). Nearly all the old friends I ran into assumed that I had interviews--plural!--so I had to keep finding ways to dodge the topic, or tell them without embarrassing them or myself. Somehow I hadn't expected that assumption to be so pervasive, but of course it makes sense; that's why most people on the market are at there. So anyway, that's my compromise take on the choice--go once if you're like me in dreading the unknown, but don't go again without reason.

Anonymous said...

1. I don't think the idea was that tenure-track jobs are undesirable or that non-tenure-track jobs are preferable. I think the idea was supposed to be simply relief at not having to worry about that right now.

2. I might be wrong, and it might be one of those actual jobs (despite claims to the contrary above) that are neither temporary nor tenure-track. Some institutions do not engage in the tenure system. When you're hired, you're told that you'll have a review in five years. It's not reapplying and competing with any applicants who also want the job. It's evaluation. If they like you, you continue for another five or seven years or maybe ten. Every so often (and the length tends to increase each time) you have to be evaluated, but it's nothing like the kind of thing done for tenure at most tenure-observing institutions.

I could imagine someone being glad to work under that system instead of the tenure system. But I do think it's what I said above. I'd be happy to be corrected. Either way, I don't think it's the claim that it's better to be an adjunct or to keep moving from VAP to VAP than to get a tenure-track job.

Anonymous said...

Having a tenure-track position is surely better than a visiting position. I agree with everything Zero said above on that score. (Well, most everything. Many tenured and TT positions are also on a 9-month schedule.)

But I will also say this: Going up for tenure was (for me) a thousand times worse than the job market. It was just awful.

I do love my job. I mean really love it. I truly lucked out, both in getting the job and in keeping it (getting tenure). But that's just it, a lot of my ending up here was luck. Many friends of mine from graduate school were just as talented, dedicated, and diligent -- in some cases, clearly more so -- and they did not survive either the job market or the tenure process. I maintain an enormous amount of respect and affection for higher education. I think a humanities education is a wonderful thing to have. But I have much less respect and very little affection for profession academics. I now advise undergraduates against going to graduate school. How could it possibly be morally responsible for me to put them in the way of the bus I watched squash too many friends and acquaintances? It's obscene.

Anonymous said...

"As anon 7:18 points out, there is literally no such thing as a permanent but non-tenure-track job in this business."

I am an Assistant Professor in the U.S. with a permanent, non-tenure-track job. Also, in Europe (from what I understand) most places do not have tenure.

Anonymous said...

@ 1:31pm

How permanent? For example, if the department needs to cut one existing faculty line. Would you, or an academically younger tenure-track faculty, go first?

Also, obviously tenure above means "tenure-equivalent" in countries where there's no such thing as tenure. Lectureships (eq. Assistant Professorship) in the UK seems tenure-like to me.

A tenured person said...

On the issue of the stresses of tenure: I'm surprised to hear people say that the tenure process is that stressful. It wasn't for me, or for most philosophers I know. Your department should provide ample feedback along the way to indicate what you need to do to be assured of tenure, where you need to improve, etc. In other words, if tenure evaluation is stressful because of the uncertainty, then your department (or institution) is doing it wrong. Tenure candidates should be virtually certain (95%+, say) whether they'll get tenure when they apply for it.

Anonymous said...

I just got tenure, and I certainly don't live in 5:20's world either. I don't actually know what it would be to live in that world -- a world in which one knew with near certainty whether one would get tenure when one went up for it.

The problem is that the most important factor -- the external letters -- is not only beyond one's control but to a significant extent beyond the control of the tenuring department. If the external letters are weak, if even (say) two of them are weak (out of eight to ten), the department may well have to deny tenure to someone whose tenure case they previously regarded as a slam-dunk. I've seen it happen. And I've seen it almost happen, the department struggling mightily to save the case.

As the tenure candidate, you have no idea which dozen or so philosophers will be asked to assess you -- except that it won't be anyone with whom you've worked or anyone who could be counted on as an ally. It's nearly as bad as having your entire career determined by a single steaming pile of anonymous referees' reports. ('Nearly' as bad, because the referees aren't anonymous to your colleagues, so presumably they have some incentive to be better behaved than your typical journal referee.)

Your entire professional life hangs in the balance, and you have no idea who is doing the assessing. The odds are perhaps better than the job market, but the mechanism is (I found) far more stressful.

Anonymous said...

(I am 12:59, the one who originally said going up for tenure was stressful).

Like 7:15, I don't occupy a world where one knows (or is reasonably sure) that one will get tenure. And 7:15 paints a picture that is familiar to me. Most people I know who were denied tenure were unpleasantly surprised. And many people I know felt the stress I did during the process, even when it turned out fine.

However, I am also acquainted with many people who, like 5:20, weren't too worried about it. This is all to say that is it unlikely we're going to figure out what the norm is by sharing our anecdotal evidence. I hope we don't go down that path. My original point wasn't to put my experience forward as the norm. But I think it was reasonable for 5:20 to read me this way and want to provide a counterbalance. After all, it isn't exactly in the best taste to share horror stories about tenure on a blog devoted mainly to allowing job candidates to air their thoughts, anxieties, and grievances.

So let me just add this. Despite the fact that going up for tenure was difficult (for me), having a job and being a professor (both before and after tenure) is and has been great. It's been worth the agony (again, for me at least.) You all have every right to hope for and to get a TT-position. I wish you all success.

And keep blogging. I believe that this forum has likely made a real impact on how the profession will treat its junior members in the future.

Anonymous said...

1:31 here -- 3:42 said:

"How permanent? For example, if the department needs to cut one existing faculty line. Would you, or an academically younger tenure-track faculty, go first?"

Very permanent. There is no tenure at the college I work for.

Anonymous said...

[I]t isn't exactly in the best taste to share horror stories about tenure on a blog devoted mainly to allowing job candidates to air their thoughts, anxieties, and grievances.

Fair enough, 9:21. (I'm 7:15.)

But it might be useful if I put my remarks in context by noting that I read this blog because I've thought of myself as 'on the market' throughout the tenure-track -- not because I was actually applying for jobs but simply in response to the insecurities inherent in the tenuring process. (The only advice I ever got about my tenurability was 'Publish as much high quality stuff as possible and we'll see how it looks when you go up.' Given the role played by exernal letters, I don't see how my colleagues could have honestly said anything else.)

In my experience at least (and the experiences of most of my grad-school colleagues with whom I've kept in touch), one can't really think of oneself as off the market (however little one wants to move) till one has survived this process.

BunnyHugger said...

Mr. Zero said, referring to a non-TT position:

"And if they don't like you for any reason, they can just give the job to somebody else."

Mr. Zero, most of what you said about non-TT positions is true. Certainly, a position which would eventually reward one for years of good service with tenure is desirable both pragmatically and ethically. However, non-TT jobs can offer somewhat better security than what you are granting. I have for some years now been non-TT. At my institution, as is the case at many others, there is a union of such employees. How much such unions are actually able to accomplish no doubt varies.

I would not say my contract is fantastic, but it does contain language that states that there is a presumption of renewal and a review procedure in the case of dismissal for cause. In my department, the bylaws state that the review committee must include a non-TT person.

Non-TT employment is going to be the future for most academics, as little as I enjoy saying it. Not all of us are going to get the ideal TT job, and those of us that don't are not necessarily undeserving. I think that, in light of these realities, the unionizing of non-TT faculty in order to fight for more "humane" contracts is important and worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

Given that fly outs are coming soon, can we start a new thread on fly out experiences? What to expect, when to start negotiating, what not to do, etc.?

Anonymous said...

BunnyHuggers wrote: However, non-TT jobs can offer somewhat better security than what you are granting.

This is something of a tangent, but I think it's worth distinguishing between decent jobs that are not tenure-track and crappy jobs—especially when discussing tenure with non-academics. I think lots of academics equate "non-TT" jobs with the crappy stereotypical adjunct job: low pay, no job security, and little or no opportunity for advancement (within the same institution). Making ends meet on such jobs sometimes requires teaching an extremely heavy teaching load, sometimes at more than one institution. These are jobs that, I take it, most of us take only because we are holding out hope for a better paying, more stable position.

In my experience, when academics complain to non-academics about the replacement of tenured/tenure-track faculty with non-TT faculty, they don't realize that the replacement is often of good jobs with crappy jobs. They think we're complaining about the replacement of good TT jobs with good non-TT jobs. I agree with BunnyHugger that non-TT jobs are the future of academia—unfortunately for us, and perhaps for the academy. The question is whether those are good non-TT jobs or crappy ones.