Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Advice For New Hires

I realize this is a little late, for which I apologize. You know how it is--you get busy, and then you fall behind, and so you get busier, and then you fall a little more behind, and then you look around and it's been two weeks since you posted anything on your blog. Shit.

Anyways, there was a relatively recent exchange starting about here that warrants further discussion. Anon 6:16 said (this is long, but worth reading in full),

After a number of years on the job (and several search committees), I feel comfortable saying that one reason so many people end up unhappy is that they were unprepared for what a full-time job as an academic requires. Grad school is wonderful in many ways: the teaching load is low, the service expectations are almost non-existent, and one is encouraged to spend most of one's time in research. Further, while conferences and publications are celebrated, they are not required. (That is, I have never heard of a grad student losing funding because he/she was not publishing.) Because of this, many graduates become frustrated very quickly when they realize that the job is not at all like grad school.

Recent hires (and I've noticed this in my program, other programs at my university, and other universities) are often unprepared for certain aspects of the job. Advising students (which requires learning how the major, the minor, and the college gen-ed programs all work) is both new and time-consuming for new faculty. As is service. Both of these are - for the first few years - a huge time-suck, and many get frustrated at how this works takes away from the parts of the job people are expecting (teaching and research).

But just as importantly, even if one is prepared for the teaching, new hires (particularly at my school, with a 4/4 load, or a SLAC with a 3/3 load) often end up teaching more courses/semester on the job than in grad school. So one must spend more time on teaching, *and* find time to sit on the department curriculum committee, meet with the faculty senate, and schedule 20 advising appointments just when you finish grading midterms. Additionally, one is often preparing new courses for the first couple of years (especially in small departments, where one is expected to cover more areas). Though this is no less the case at research schools; even if one is hired to a sweet 2/2 load at an R1, one may still find oneself preparing a graduate seminar for the first time (which, while fun, still takes time).

And additionally, one must research. Not that one should research, but one must research. Unlike grad school, research on the job is most certainly tied to your funding: publish or perish. This is true for all levels. "Teaching schools" may have lower publication requirements for tenure and promotion, but those requirements are still higher than what one found in grad school. In grad school, presenting at conferences and publishing articles was a job well done; in a TT position, they are how you survive reappointment. And given that many people want to publish their way into a better job, they are taking on R1 publishing expectations in addition to all the advising, service, and additional work on teaching expected of new hires.

In my first two years on the job, it didn't matter where in the country I was, because most of my time was spent in the office anyway. Rural Mississippi or mid-town Manhattan wouldn't have mattered; I spent more than 12 hours a day on campus. Yes, location will matter in the long run, but in those first few years on campus, most new hires are run so ragged that they have no idea where they are anyway.

Good schools do what they can to minimize this culture shock: no advising first year, reduced teaching load first year, easy committee assignments at first, etc. Even still, it's a huge change, and one that few PhD programs seem to prepare their graduates for. I think it's a shame that hD programs don't do a better job of preparing grads for the jobs they are sending students out to. It's frustrating that so many grad programs assume that they only job worth getting is a TT job in the field, and then turn a blind eye to what such jobs will actually require of their graduates.

Then, Squid Pro Quo said,

Anon 6:16 makes several excellent points - especially about the transition from grad school to teaching a 3/3 or 4/4 load. This is why I strongly disagree w/Dr. Kelsky's claim that there's no point in teaching more than 3 courses in grad school. I taught or TA-ed for 8 courses in graduate school, and have found that experience invaluable now that I'm teaching a 3/3 load. Having lots of teaching experience as a grad student enables you to know how to quickly and effectively design syllabi, grade, lesson plan, etc. All this experience has made the adjustment to a 3/3 teaching load much smoother for me.

And then 6:16 replied (in part),

Maybe we could have a thread based on 7:15's comment? That is, for those who have recently been hired (and have spent at least one year in that job), what do you wish you knew ahead of time? What kinds of training/preparation/etc. was helpful for the transition, or would have been helpful? [...] Similarly, what should hiring departments do? In my department, new hires have a year off from advising and are given easy committee assignments at first. In the second year, new hires are given advisees. In the third year, they are expected to branch out from department service to university service. But even with this system, the shock to many new hires is still profound.

When I was in grad school, I taught at most one class at a time, and was responsible for maybe 50 students per semester. I made myself pretty much always highly available to them. For example, I'd answer emails immediately whenever they came in, even if it was pretty late at night or on the weekend, and I'd offer to read and comment on their exam study-guide practice essays, which, since I employ blue-book essay exams, could be as much as eight or ten essays per student who took me up on it.

Nowadays--and this connects with some stuff Second Suitor was talking about the other day--I generally teach four classes at a time, with two or three preps, and am responsible for at least 200 students. This is a lot more work, and I can't do that stuff anymore. I generally always respond to every email (once in a while one slips through the cracks), but if it comes in after I've started working on/eating dinner or watching baseball, it's going to wait until morning. And if it comes in on the weekend, it might wait until Monday. And while I'm happy to answer specific questions about the study guide, I don't offer to read whole study guides and say what all is wrong with it, and I decline any such requests.

I guess what I'm getting at is, because the teaching duties of my VAP job involve a lot more work than my grad school teaching duties (duh), I've found that I have to put a wall around them. This is partly to protect my personal life, so that my wife knows that I'm spending the evenings with her and not my students. But it also protects other aspects of my professional life, since I also need to spend time writing papers, refereeing, and staying current on the literature. And I did not find that I needed any such wall in grad school.

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

I wonder what people think about the moral status of MZ's grad-school teaching behavior. Required? Supererogatory? Permissible-but-Suberogatory-Not-To? I'd suggest, actually, that this sort of thing may in many situations (maybe not Zero's) be closer to suberegotary - not impermissible, but worse than morally neutral.

This is, first, because in many situations being that available to students is allowing yourself to be exploited; and you have a responsibility to yourself not to allow that. Second, going 'above and beyond' in this way puts pressure on your peers to go above and beyond too. And some of them may (justifiably) not want to do that; others may want to but won't be able to for reasons outside their control.

A lot depends on the situation, of course - these reasons are less forceful, and there are more forceful reasons on the other side, when the students in question are less advantaged

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I'm the one who posted that first long comment, and I'm glad this is getting its own thread, so thank you.

And you're right that you have to put up a wall to protect your personal life as well as your professional life. One truism about the job (whether it's part-time or full-time, TT or not, etc.) is that the job will take as much time as you want to give it. Do you want to meet with all 200 students individually for every paper? No. But could you try? Sure. And this is where people start to burn out. My department hired someone last year, and in her first year, she's ready to burn out. She insists that she can give the same attention to her students now as when she was in grad school, despite teaching twice as many classes, more than twice as many students, and two new preps, in addition to her service load. It's killing her.

Anonymous said...

anon 6:16 gets my early years in a TT position exactly right. I thought I was prepared, since I came from a family of academics, since I did more teaching (and more service even) than my classmates in grad school, and since I had been an undergrad in the same sort of university that hired me. I quickly discovered how clueless I was.

Let me just focus on one part of the job--advising. This might sound easy: you just tell 'em what the requirements are and offer some guidance about course selection and post-graduation options in a quick meeting once each semester, say. But that's 10% of the job in my university. The other 90% involves no interaction with the student at all. Instead, it's all paperwork and data entry labor, very little of it simple and straightforward, and a lot of interaction with diverse administrative departments, and where mistakes can mean exposing the university to lawsuits.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 9:14's assessment of mz's grad student teaching behavior, which was also my grad student teaching behavior, as worse than morally neutral. I agree with all of 9:14's reasons for that assessment, but would add that maybe the most important reason is that its absence would encourage students to be more responsible, something they should learn in college.

I think the fact that so many grad students and others behave this way is one of the negative consequences of having teaching be evaluated by hiring and promotion committees through student evaluation reports. This encourages teachers to be doormats, grade too easy, and generally not be tough. This is a bad thing.

Michael Huemer used to have a nice paper on his website -- maybe he still does, I didn't check -- making basically this point about evals.

CTS said...


I don't understand your use of 'supererogatory.' You seem to be using it as meaning 'ok but not preferable,' whereas it means 'beyond minimum duty.' So, it means doing what is aspirational - better than required.

Anonymous said...

I suspect that current graduate students--at least those that have read the writing on the wall and realized that getting a TT job now requires so much more than it did in the past--will be better prepared for the early years of being a junior faculty member. Now that the prevailing wisdom is that one probably needs multiple publications--some even top-tiered publications--and evidence of teaching excellence (and breadth), serious grad students are having to engage in a perpetual process of course design and writing for publication, all the while trying to complete a dissertation. So my suspicion is that those people who get TT jobs today are going to be better prepared for the heavy workload than new hires were before the economic meltdown.

Anonymous said...


As long as current grad students keep believing that, they will continually be surprised by the workload.

But hey, maybe things will change. Maybe this new crop of people not teaching 4/4 loads while not advising and not serving on multiple committees will fare better than those in the past who also didn't do any of those things.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this thread.

I got my PhD from a Leiter-ranked place in 2009. My first job was a VAP at a Lieter-riffic place. The biggest difference that I noticed between my grad experience and the grad experience of those at the higher-ranked place was that they seemed to receive an education in being a professional philosopher that I didn't seem to get. I don't think they were necessarily better prepared to teach + research + do committee work + advise undergrads than I was (not that I had to worry about some of that stuff myself). But they were encouraged to ask questions during colloquia in a way that we were not. They were encouraged to share their work with one another and with others in their fields in a way we were not. They were expected to work all the time in a way we were not (though my profs would probably deny this and though many of us did work all the time anyway). They were also told how to work and what to read in a way we were not. They were expected and encouraged to talk to experts in their fields and they were introduced to experts in their fields regularly.

I think part of the difference was due to the fact that philosophers who get R1 jobs obviously know something about how to be successful professional philosophers and they pass down what they know. Many of the folks in our department who are at that level (and who are particularly politically savvy) give good advice, especially when it comes to job market stuff, so some of my fellow grad students got (and are getting) a taste of what I saw, but there was such a striking 'cultural' difference between the 2 departments. There's a very hands-off attitude about so many things around here (I'm now VAP-ping back at my alma mater) that at one time I thought was a good thing, but I now think is not really helping anyone.

It's true that the job will take as much time as you want to give it. But I don't think that aspect of it surprised me as much as the disconnection between what I thought it took to do good research and to get published and what I now think it takes. Sure, I was unprepared for how much time it takes to teach a course the first time, during the regular semester (I taught quite a bit in the summer during grad school), but I think I knew it would be tough and I was constantly aware that I was spending more time on teaching and with students than those around me, though the R1 where I was has some of the best philosophy teachers anywhere. Those first 2 years would have been much easier on me if I had had a more realistic picture of what I was in for professionally.

Anonymous said...

I agree that grad student teachers probably spend more time on their classes then full time faculty. This seems to be true of course prep, meeting with students, email responses, grading, and some other things.

Although this time commitment is not sustainable in a full-time job, it may not be all bad during grad school. As earlier posts indicate, it can yield higher student evaluations which have pragmatic value on the job market. Further, from a moral perspective, it can compensate for certain shortcomings beginning teachers have. During the semesters when I began teaching, my lectures and grading skills were not as sharp as they are now. In some sense, I made up for this by spending more time answering student questions, giving comments on papers, etc. This may be part of the general thought that graduate student teachers have less book knowledge and teaching experience than full time professors, but are "more passionate" about teaching.

This being said, it is of course very important for grad students to find time for their own work. This will often require limiting the time spent on teaching.

Anonymous said...

90% of philosophy instructors, at the very least, couldn't teach their way out of a paper bag. For most of us, the level of positive influence we can have on the world through teaching is vastly greater than the level of positive influence we can have on the world through publishing.

Most students who come to our classes have exactly one realistic opportunity to turn from mindless drones into thoughtful citizens, and this is it (thanks to the incredibly poor education they receive elsewhere, including in the primary and secondary schools). If we take on the responsibility of teaching them and blow it, it's difficult to see what can justify our existence (unless we are Peter Singer and making a big change in the world through writing, etc.)

So yes, 11:49, it is slightly more "moral" for grad students with teaching shortcomings to devote time to trying to be less shitty in other ways, prior to their becoming shitty through short-changing their students by shifting their priorities away from their considerable moral obligations toward all future students. This minimally decent move, as you say, "may not be all bad", both for its secondary moral reasons and (primarily) because it is self-serving through its "pragmatic value."

But yeah, we should only limit the way we fuck over our students to a limited extent, even in grad school, as you rightly emphasize at the end. After all, this is a business: why else go into philosophy?

Anonymous said...

On the topic of new hires, does anyone have advice about what to do when your contracts have a gap that leaves you without health insurance? I will have approximately a two month gap this summer, but COBRA benefits under my previous position are in excess of $1000/month for my husband and I. We only want some high deductible emergency/hospitalization only insurance for those 2 months.