Wednesday, October 10, 2012

[Untitled Post on Narrowing the Applicant Field]

In comments, anon 12:08 asks:
I have an off-topic question for people who have served on search/hiring committees. We hear a lot about how many applications hiring departments get--the numbers are in the hundreds. Of these, how many make it past the initial screening process, and on what basis? What percentage of applications are immediately binned, and why? No doubt the answers to these questions will vary greatly from one search to the next, but I'm just curious about whether the huge numbers we hear about are all (or mostly) coming from applicants who are qualified, or if many of them are on fishing expeditions, applying for every and any job, irrespective of fit.
Anon 5:25 responds:
On the first cut, I remove applications that don't have the relevant AOS/AOC, or no teaching experience or an incomplete file (for example writing sample or letters of recommendation missing or in one case last year, we received just letters of recommendation for one person but nothing else at all). Last year, one-third of the applications were tossed out in the first round for one or more of those reasons. Oh yes and if you have the wrong school in your cover letter or talk lovingly about our grad program when we don't have one, it is unlikely you will survive the first cut.
I'm pretty interested in hearing from more people. What say you, Smoking Search Committee Members?

--Mr. Zero

[Update: I guess I forgot to title this post. Whoops-a-daisy.]


Anonymous said...

When I've been on SC's I never thought of it as "making a cut". Those who didn't advance to the next round were always, in principle and in practice, eligible for reconsideration. Sometimes it takes a committee a few weeks of reading files and discussing the search to figure out exactly what they're looking for. Sometimes you feel like your long list is unsatisfactory, so you go back to see if you missed someone. Sometimes you get a late-breaking piece of info about a particular candidate. Etc.

That said, we certainly didn't read the ENTIRE file for every candidate, so there were definitely some heuristics that were used to justify setting some aside. Here are some that we all seemed to agree on, though we didn't discuss them ahead of time:

--PhD is in a field other than philosophy
--candidate already has tenure and we can't make a tenured offer (exception: we have reason to believe candidate will take a demotion)
--file is egregiously incomplete
--dept wants an "analytic" philosopher and candidate clearly does "continental" philosophy
--some candidates from Europe are hard to evaluate, e.g., we don't know their PhD granting department, have never heard of any of their letter-writers, the letters are short, they've never taught American-style courses, AND all of this is not mitigated by other glowing aspects of the dossier
--candidate is 4th or earlier year of grad school (very green) with little teaching experience, no publications, AND no evidence in letters or materials that they have written even half of their diss yet let alone are prepared to hit the ground running with a research program
--candidate's research interests too closely match an existing member of the department (redundancy)
--candidate works on a topic that members of the SC do not favor (e.g., they think it is a pseudo-problem, or is boring, or is outdated, or they just have some professional prejudice against it)
--candidate matches the AOS broadly construed but the SC has a more specific idea of what they're looking for and the candidate doesn't fit with it
--member of SC knows or has met the candidate and had a very bad impression (this is rarely decisive)

Those are the ones that come to mind. (For what it's worth I'm a PhD-granting R1, not highly ranked.)

zombie said...

There's an interesting account of a search, and the elimination process, here:

It's not in philosophy, but in math (so the prequisite of a post-doc doesn't apply), but I imagine many of the specifics are the same.

Anonymous said...

On the SC I was on, about 75% got cut on the first go round due to lack of fit or a clear lack of adequate qualifications -- not enough pubs, no pubs, sucky pubs, clearly still grad students lacking professional polish, sucky letters, etc.

So only about 25% of the apps got even more than a cursory glance.

This experience lines up about right with my experience refereeing papers too.

IMO only about 25% of the people doing philosophy should even be on the job market.

Anonymous said...

I was involved in two searches at a once-ranked, Ph.D.-granting R1.

The SC did not see incomplete files. A department secretary collected documents as they arrived in the mail. She passed completed files on to the SC.

The head of our SC (each time) asked each of us to put together a ranked list of our top-20 candidates. For me, no one was cut, exactly. I was looking for the best 20 in the applications.

The department was actively seeking to raise its profile at the time. They were seeking to become a department known for X.

Given this, I put most weight on (a) training in X, and (b) good publication record in X. I also considered (c) whether some candidate's work on X complemented the department's work on X.


(a) I looked for evidence of training in X: a dissertation, significant course work, or publications on X. Having the right AOS was important.

(b) Good publications on X. Refereed journal articles were most compelling to me. Since many of us on the SC worked on aspects of X, the SC had some familiarity with the relevant journals and the issues candidates dealt with in their work.

(c) Complementing the department's work on X. Candidate should not overlap too much with others in department. Candidate should not work on aspects of X too far removed from the department's interest in X.

I did not spend much time at all reading cover letters or letters of recommendation. Teaching experience was not really important to most of the SC. The SC assumed the candidates could become decent teachers, if they weren't decent already. Pedigree mattered to some SC members, though no one made a big deal of it. Even those interested in pedigree thought publications and fit mattered more.

Anonymous said...

Another question: when does this officially become a bad year for JFP? Perhaps my impression is mistaken, but the range of jobs available seems pretty poor.

Anonymous said...

I'm with 7:04. This is the worst JFP I've ever seen by far. Hopefully it's because it's so early and there are many schools that will but haven't yet posted their ads.

Sorry that this is off topic. I'm very interested in the topic. Please carry on.

Anonymous said...

I hope the standards applied by 3:51 are not that widespread. As a candidate seeking admittance to the profession, being required already to have professional polish would be really "sucky."

Anonymous said...

I teach at a SLAC. In the first round, we typically read only the cover letter, CV, and letters of recommendation. That is usually enough to tell us whether the person is an interesting candidate who is qualified for the position. I'd say that roughly 2/3 – 3/4 of the candidates don't make it past this first round. And, yes, you need to be “polished” to get through to the second round, even if you are fresh on the market. Hopefully, that’s part of the professional development you get in graduate school…

Anonymous said...

8:50 here. I didn't mean to suggest that some level of professional polish shouldn't be necessary, but only that I hoped that the requirement that one have multiple publications in good journals was not that widespread. Of course some graduates students are able to meet this requirement--but fewer than 25%, I would guess, and often for reasons having nothing to do with ability or promise. I've looked at enough departments to know that having more than one good publication is not necessary to get the job and, in some cases, even to get tenure. Now that the job market is in the sewer, however, standards have gone up, and it's more than a little scary--that's why it's helpful to know what kinds of standards are being applied.

SLAC-er said...

From two recent searches at a highly-ranked college: Only about 15% get tossed straightaway. The vast majority seem like interesting people doing interesting work. We look for good teachers, so some evidence of creativity in the classroom and recognition that TAing a few sections of Intro is different from carrying a full teaching load on your own. Some evidence of a research program is important for us, but we definitely don't throw out people for lack of publications.

It's difficult to learn to read applications. Most people's best writing looks pretty cool. Almost all your letters are very strong. Often what makes the difference to getting on the short list is something small and unpredictable in advance.

For both recent searches, if we ran the search ten times, we'd come up with ten different folks. (Our two hires have been excellent.) Though I know the literature on interview fallacies and such, the interview is really where we can distinguish people. But the short list could vary so widely than even getting to an interview appears nearly arbitrary.

Having been on the market full-bore for eight years, I understand the temptation to fret over details of one's application. But the best way to put yourself in good position is to be an interesting person doing interesting work.

Best of luck! (And so much of it is luck. Perhaps not at the R1s; I don't know. But at most places, I think it is.)

zombie said...

8:50 said: "As a candidate seeking admittance to the profession, being required already to have professional polish would be really 'sucky.'"

Unfortunately, some departments (like the one I graduated from) do a really poor job of preparing (polishing) their grads for the job market. I suspect that having that polish is more important than ever. I cringe when I think about how truly sucky my dossier was my first year out (although I still got a few interviews). The good news is that the job market experience itself, even if unsuccessful, can help you hone your skills and gain a little polish.

Anonymous said...

sorry, but what exactly constitutes professional "polish"?

Anonymous said...

Uh oh. I had better start hounding my advisor and explain that it's not "okay" if his/her letter is late.

Anonymous said...


In my department, we also look for "professional polish," but by that we mean that we want to talk to a colleague, someone who is ready to join the professional ranks. It's amazing how many grad students are finishing PhDs and have little to no idea about what is happening outside their own department, or are terrified of working without the direct supervision of an advisor (to give just 2 examples of someone who lacks "professional polish"). For us, "professional polish" is not defined by how many publications you have, but rather by your ability to engage in thoughtful discussion about your work (research and teaching), your ability to take risks without having your work cleared by an advisory figure, and your ability (and this is key) to connect your research to your teaching in a meaningful way.

Anonymous said...

Come on guys, now you're whining about sounding professional to get a professional job? And you're expecting your schools to do this for you? Get off your fucking whiny asses and learn something instead of expecting it to be handed to you on a silver platter. And yes, I agree, 25% was being overly generous. Do you really think you all deserve a job in philosophy just because you went to fucking grad school? Get over yourselves! Think about it: how often do you get asked to referee a paper that should just be thrown in the trash? Well, if you think their work should be thrown in the trash, do you think they deserve a job as a professional philosopher? I certainly don't. Now, are you sure you're not one of them? Given the odds...

Not even Rawls, who allows for free riders, would listen to your sorry asses!

This blog used to be interesting when PGOAT was around. Now, even when it addresses a useful topic, I am embarrassed by the attitudes of my cohorts, and it makes me want to kill myself. Why am I bothering, then, you might ask? Why not just turn the page?

Well, because I like to amuse myself from time to time on my 17 hour days, and sometimes, well, there's an aspect of schadenfraude to reading this thing, and well, sometimes I just like to call 'em like I see 'em and let the chips fall where they may.

Thanks for the 10 minutes of masochistic amusement. I do not wish you all the best of luck.

Patty said...

From a CC perspective...

First, we didn't even look at incomplete files, although our requirements were lower -- an application, a grad transcript, CV and cover letter.

The numbers have varied, but in every search I've been on (philosophy or other disciplines) at least 25% of the candidates didn't meet the minimum requirements listed in the posting. Some searches were as high as 50%.... you'd be surprised at how many JDs think they can teach philosophy at a community college...

The next step is more complicated because it's not objective... we generally look for a combination of teaching students at our level and breadth of coursework. We're a small department and we need folks who are well-rounded. For me, those two factors will move a person up in the rankings.

The final list of interviews is developed at a committee meeting in which we all more or less pitch for our favorites and share our reasons why someone else may not be in our top 20 list. Much of that comes down to information gained via the CV and cover letter.

Fritz Allhoff said...

I'd say we cut down to 50 or so pretty quickly, looking at:

2. Location of Ph.D.
3. Publications.

Teaching experience really doesn't matter. Letters of recommendation don't matter till top 50. Writing sample doesn't matter till top 10. We're an M.A. program, not a Ph.D., but it's still about research potential.

I agree w/ anon @ 351a that only 25% of people should be on the market at all. The 75% of applications that get trashed straightaway are clearly either mindblowingly arrogant or completely delusional to think they could compete for tenure-track jobs at an M.A. program. It's not only a waste of their postage, it's a complete annoyance to the search committees, though not for more than 30 seconds... ;)

Anonymous said...

I have served on a number of search committees. In my teaching-oriented institution we also focus on CVs and cover letters in the first instance, then look at teaching materials, the writing sample, and recommendations.

Here are some of the reasons why I did not select candidates:

1. The cover letter refers to the wrong institution or university system campus (I have seen this numerous times - if you are not sufficiently interested even to get the institution right, why should we consider you?)
2. The CV or letter do not specify the AOS/AOC we need, and/or there is not enough evidence that the candidate can teach what we need them to teach. NB: sometimes candidates with the right experience do not mention in the CV and the letter that they have experience directly relevant to the job at our school, and bury this information in some other part of their file. Put the most relevant information where the committee can find it easily.
3. The candidate's materials do not include some key piece of information requested (their materials are incomplete)
4. The candidate is applying for a teaching position and they spend all their time in their letter talking about their research
5. The candidate cannot sensibly discuss their pedagogical approach, methods of assessment, or overcoming challenges in teaching philosophy

Here are some reasons why I did hire specific candidates:

1. Every part of the candidate's materials convinced us that they were applying for - and were genuinely interested in - the specific job at our school, not just any job (yes, the market is in an appalling state, and yes, we are a small and poor teaching institution, but this is a job we think is worth doing)
2. This impression was consistently reinforced at interview
3. The candidate could teach what we needed them to teach, and had the experience and/or skills necessary to flourish in our institution
4. The candidate consistently showed that they care about working with students, that they are able to do so efficiently, and also that they are able to encourage and mentor our specific student population
5. The candidate could communicate effectively and clearly (NB - if you have never done a phone or on-campus interview, please practice interview skills with a trusted senior colleague - some people look wonderful on paper, yet cannot answer simple questions clearly, which immediately makes us wonder how on earth they would communicate effectively with our students)
6. Nobody got any sense that the candidate would act in a discriminatory or confrontational manner (e.g. unprofessionally) in the workplace

Anonymous said...


In a thread last year, I got jumped on for complaining that the SC I was serving on rejected applications that reference the wrong institution. I agree with you; it's a pretty important detail. If you can't be bothered to properly cut-and-paste, why should I waste my time with your letter?

I was told by the chorus to give applicants the benefit of the doubt, to overlook my pointless and petty objection to what might otherwise be a wonderful application. I then had to listen to people explain why they should be allowed to send out a form letter to apply to al the jobs.

Then, not unexpectedly, a few months later I got to watch a thread where the chorus complained about getting form letters from SCs when rejected.

Word advice to job seekers: the details matter. Why? Not because we want to find petty reasons to reject you. But because we want someone who recognizes the importance of details, who attends to their materials - application, tenure, publication, teaching, etc. - with a keen eye for detail. You think that's asking too much? So be it. Bt I can promise you that your fellow job seekers might not feel the same way. And they will have an egde.

Anonymous said...

Attention to detail and the last word of the post is a typo? Hilarious

Ben said...

I'm struck by "PhD is in a field other than philosophy" in the first comment. How widespread is this?

I should say, in the interests of disclosure, that my doctorate was done in a Politics department, yet the two jobs I've since had have both been in Philosophy. I know other people who've made the same transition (i.e. I can name at least three from my former programme).

Further, I can imagine candidates with degrees in maths, linguistics, etc being suitable for appointment in a particular AOS of Philosophy.

It seems to me that if one's working in political philosophy, which department one was actually a student in can be little more than an institutional technicality. Certainly in my case my funding came from the UK's Arts and Humanities Research Council, rather than social sciences - i.e. the government funding bodies considered my course to be 'philosophy' rather than 'political science' despite my departmental affiliation.

William James said...

"You think that's asking too much? So be it. Bt I can promise you that your fellow job seekers might not feel the same way. And they will have an egde."

Love the irony there.

Anonymous said...

The people who pay close attention to details have an egde.

What can I say bt, supreb porady?

kromo said...

I teach at a PhD-granting department. I've been on more than a couple of search committees.

We typically cut down to about 60 looking mainly at publications and letters. AOS/AOC is not usually especially important, since we are generally fairly open (we just need someone to teach philosophy of science, say, and not any very specific topics). I don't think we get a lot of applications from people with completely misfitted AOS.

At the next round we usually place a lot of weight on the writing samples.

It would never occur to me to disqualify someone because she put the wrong institution name in her cover letter. I barely even read the cover letters, and I make lots of silly (and sometimes humorous) mistakes myself in email and even manuscripts. I honestly find it surprising that philosophers care about that stuff. But it's certainly useful to know.

Anonymous said...

6:07 here again.

In sympathy with 6:59: details are important, but maybe I should explain my point in greater detail.

Candidates making this mistake often write the name of a nearby campus, not our campus. These candidates then proceed to write a letter of application as if we were this other, research-focused, campus. This shows us that the candidate did not read the job advertisement carefully, or research our institution, before applying; but it also suggests to us that the candidate is not really interested in this specific job, but in some other job in which research is more of a priority than teaching.

As a search committee member, I understand that everyone applying wants to get a job. I myself stood in line at the job placement room at the APA, feeling absolutely desperate, and trying to pretend otherwise. But our institution needs to hire someone who wants and is qualified for this specific job. If a candidate does not get the name of the institution right and their letter is written to some other institution with different values and priorities, then I have little reason to believe that they really understand anything of what the job for which they are applying involves.

My institution can't afford to hire someone who doesn't want to do this particular job. We need to hire someone who will bring energy and enthusiasm to this position, and who will be able to handle its challenges effectively.

Anonymous said...


I agree that if someone is stupid enough to customize a letter attending to the wrong institution, they should be kicked. That really is a idiotic error.

However, there is another kind of error that occurs that I think is less egregious. If you write a generic cover letter, which for many places, is sufficient, and forget to copy and paste a new name or something, I think that's forgiveable.


Anonymous said...

Professor Allhoff (if I may),

We do not send you our applications in hopes of serious consideration. As you say, this would clearly indicate that our characters or cognitive capacities are profoundly defective (for what else could it possibly mean?). Rather, we hope only that our portfolios, and by extension our persons, should in some small way be ennobled by your rarefied glance. But who could have dreamed of a full 30 seconds? You are too generous!

Anonymous said...

@Anon 3:29:

If you're so wonderful, maybe you should learn to spell "Schadenfreude".

Anonymous said...

I weep for our profession now that I see vitriolic pedants like Anon 3:29 are in it. They may even be in positions of serious consequence like SC's. Perhaps it is because people like him/her that so many, really so many brilliant scholars are out of work. To my fellow job seekers let me advise this: do NOT take any crap from pompous douchebags like 3:29! Instead, you can look for jobs in Asia and the developing countries. The universities there are on the rise while those in the west are on decline. Perhaps again because of people like 3:29...

Anonymous said...

Whoops. Typo. Maybe you should learn to stop being such a tight ass.

Anonymous said...


I am embarrassed at the sense of entitlement and utter self-importance of my cohorts. And really, I mean, seriously, do you think that everyone who goes to grad school deserves to be a professional philosopher?

I agree that the job market is so crappy now that not even those who deserve the jobs are getting them. But I've seen the utter lack of quality of so much work being done that I just wish they would get out of the way so that the element of luck involved would favor only the deserving.

And this is not vitriol. It's just called brutal honesty.

ps: if you have been on the market for a while and are not being encouraged or getting positive feedback or being told that you made the short list at several places, you should likely bow out now.

Anonymous said...

Have you heard of the Amistad phenomenon? The oppressed become the worst oppressors. It is definitely at work in the Philosophy job market. If you had a tough time on the job market, you make the lives of well-meaning candidates hell just to pump up your wounded ego. Once I heard the chair of a department say that a candidate should be on the market at least three years before being seriously considered for a TT position. His rationale? It took him five years on the market to finally score a TT job. Their suffering should be similar to his.

Anonymous said...

If it is really true that only 25% of the people on the market really should be on it, then maybe we need to stop admitting so many students into Ph.D. programs, and maybe programs need to do a better job training people.

(As if this weren't fucking obvious.)

Anonymous said...

One thing that hasn't been mentioned much has been pedigree. As someone who has been on the market a couple of years now, and who knows a ton of people on the market, it has been my distinct impression that pedigree bias is the most widespread form of bias in the profession.

I admire Prof. Allhof at 5:41 for just owning up to it and admitting that he trims down the list by where people attended grad school.

But no one else has mentioned it, and all of you are anonymous. So, let's have it. Do you promote people for getting Ph.D.s at "elite" universities or the school with the "right fit"? And, if so, why?

It's a genuine question. My view is that pedigree is irrelevant, and all use of pedigree in considering applications is unjustified. But I'm curious as to whether folks use it.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:11pm writes: "My view is that pedigree is irrelevant, and all use of pedigree in considering applications is unjustified. But I'm curious as to whether folks use it."

My experience has been that the people who go to the top programs are more reliably better at philosophy and better informed about what it happening in philosophy than people at lower ranked programs. I say this as someone who went to a barely ranked program. Some ideas as to why: (1) it is much harder to get into the top programs so the raw input is better and more reliably so (and this means better people on average as co-grad students - a huge deal), (2) the pressure to work hard and learn the most you can is on average greater at the best schools, and (3) the professors at the best schools are more reliably tops and very involved in their areas (often at the "cutting edge" for whatever that is worth).

These factors all point towards it being reasonable to think that someone coming out of Princeton or Rutgers is probably good enough to merit "close consideration" regardless of where they fall in their class, while someone from a low ranked school might, but might not, be worth the time investment.

This would not license simply tossing people from lower ranked places into the "ignore & recycle" pile, but I can see being a bit skeptical about people from lower ranked schools -- e.g. looking right away for a good adviser/rec letter writer or a solid publication before devoting "close consideration" time to such a candidate.

Reviewing applications is like grading - people want heuristics. And this might not be a defective one. But maybe I have a false assumption or am missing something...

Anonymous said...

As someone from a lower ranked program (bottom 5 of PGR) who made it to the campus interview stage for four different jobs and each time got beat out by someone with pedigree (from top 10 program), I am extremely bitter about pedigree and how people use it. The people I lost to had no pubs. I at least had one at the time.

Sorry, just ranting.

Anonymous said...

In general I care about evaluating individual candidates, not programs. Specifically, I care about how well candidates meet the criteria for the specific job for which we are hiring.

I have seen great candidates from top programs who would be wonderful in research or teaching focused positions, but I have seen - in about equal number - candidates from top programs who, most unfortunately, interviewed horribly and left us with grave doubts about their efficacy in any area, including in an area that has not yet been mentioned much: service. I have also seen candidates from lower ranked programs who were amazing: innovative teachers and very talented, imaginative, scholars.

I think that a doctoral program tells committee members some helpful things about the background and training of a candidate, and about their calibre as a scholar of philosophy. But I also think that the program does not necessarily tell committee members all that much about the candidate's capacity to work effectively in a specific institution, and that it does not determine who the best candidate is.

Anonymous 6:07pm

Anonymous said...

I basically agree with 12:46.

There's a further question, though. If you look at the other parts of the dossier, does pedigree add any information? Or do other things, like publications, writing sample, various kinds of experience, screen off the evidence that pedigree provides?

I have no idea what the answer is. My only point is that even if you agree with 12:46, as I do, there's still another question to be answered before we know whether it's a good idea to use pedigree information in your job search.

Anonymous said...

No idea how much this is like what any other department does, but here's been our practice. We're a four-or-five-person department in the midwest, undergrad only in philosophy, at a regionally ranked, comprehensive school, with a 3-3 load.

Files are available for review by all the full-time faculty. In the end, not every file is reviewed by everyone, as a practical consequence of the process followed.

Each application is scored by each reviewer as (roughly) "yes, definitely consider," "yes, probably consider," "eh, maybe," or "no." Once a file has two "no" ratings, the other reviewers are likely to do triage and skip it unless they have copious free time or something else draws them to it.

"No" ratings will be for not actually being in philosophy, not being plausibly in the fields advertised, having rotten evaluations or scary letters.

We don't mechanically calculate the scores. Instead, the whole department meets to discuss every single application. If even one person wants to advocate for an applicant, the applicant gets a hearing. Sometimes, one "yes" can get a candidate far into the discussion. On at least one occasion, it got a candidate an interview. It was not a good use of the search committee's time, in the end.

After significant discussion, we're down from hundreds to a few tens. At that point, there are going to be particular questions or worries about some candidates, and we'll look to answer them. Perhaps someone will give the written work an especially close read. Perhaps someone will call the placement director or a referee to clarify something. (Maybe it's ambiguous whether the applicant had sole responsibility for a particular course, for example.) In a final meeting or meetings, we would winnow the list from tens to ten to fifteen. The chair would go about setting up interviews at APA with those who were interested.

Each search, one or two would decline. These were often more heavily research-oriented applicants who maybe applied to us as a "safety school" but ended up comfortable enough with their prospects not to exert time and effort talking with us. Each search we would interview at least one candidate who seemed raw or inexperienced as a teacher but showed some other promise that struck us. Those were great conversations at the meetings. Never did they end up in a fly out.

Those who got interviews were in the heart of what was advertised, showed evidence they cared about teaching and had developed some talent for it, had some sort of research agenda (though perhaps little to show for it, as yet), and were very often interesting in some other way. (A small department looks to do more than one with the few hires it gets to make.) Those who got fly outs came off in interviews as knowledgeable, communicated well (which suggested prospects for success in the classroom), and didn't do really stupid things like totally ignore the woman who was on the interview team. (Blew my mind.)

Anonymous said...

I'm at a barely ranked Leiter school, on the market for the first time. I used to be bitter about pedigree and I might get bitter again, but I have friends and acquaintances at a lot of good places, and those folks are sharp. On average, way sharper than friends I have at my own and similar programs. There's a few of us diamonds in the rough (smiley face), but I understand taking pedigree seriously.

If you do the numbers (like Carolyn Dicey-Jennings did for last year), the one thing that stands out is pedigree. it ain't pubs - high ranking folk publish as much as low-ranking folks, and people of all sorts get jobs without pubs. But way more TT jobs last year went to top20 folk than to 21-40 folk or lower. Totally makes sense.

The one thing I worry about is getting to the interview stage and *then* getting discounted because I don't have the sheen of fame or because the department needs to impress a dean or something. This surely happens, it goes well-beyond the nice heuristic that pedigree provides, and it'll suck if it happens to me.

Anonymous said...

For those of you at schools where teaching experience is important, what kinds of things are you looking for? For example, if in addition to my TAing experience I've taught one or two courses on my own, is that sufficient teaching experience for being given serious consideration? Also, do you favor depth or breadth of experience? If I've taught 20 sections of logic, does that make me more impressive than the person who has taught logic twice? What if I've taught four completely different courses? Would that be the best scenario? I'm not asking these questions sarcastically or anything like that. It's just that as a future job marketeer, I'd like to get a feel for what people think about this.

Anonymous said...

Dear 4:12 and those who rely on pedigree in making hiring decisions,

A job portfolio contains a CV, writing sample, teaching evaluations, letters of recommendation, etc. In the presence of these other documents, I fail to see the predictive value of institutional pedigree at all. When a graduate student from Princeton who has no publications, no professional presentations, and only one complete chapter of a dissertation is awarded a job for which there were thirty candidates who had all of the above, something is wrong with the profession. And this happens routinely. It is fair to be bitter. The practice prevents the quick rise of talented philosophers, and instead, it perpetuates an unfair elitism in the profession.

I admit that, in the absence of any information except pedigree, I would prefer to hire a student from a Leiterrific school. On average, those folks are sharp, as 4:12 says. There is no search committee, however, that operates in the absence of other more reliable information for predicting success.

Anonymous said...

4:12PM: One worry I do have is that even if I have great pubs, administrators and departments worry about how their "rosters" look. That issue is unfair. If you think pedigree is completely a fair method for a first cut, take a look at the lit in Soc, FWIW, on the concept of "cultural baggage." I don't know how to fix this problem. But I agree that there is likely more variance in lower ranked departments, but in my experience, the best of the departments even at lower ranked schools, are still competitive with the best at higher ranked schools. Or at least, often enough, that pedigree shouldn't be a definitive deciding factor in whether to cut a candidate. This comports with what I've been told, in confidence, of course, about my competitors at various jobs I have had.


Anonymous said...


What makes you think such hiring results are the product of pedigree alone rather than letters that encode pedigree?

Anonymous said...

When a graduate student from Princeton who has no publications, no professional presentations, and only one complete chapter of a dissertation is awarded a job for which there were thirty candidates who had all of the above, something is wrong with the profession.

I don't know whether that's true. For one thing, I doubt this happens more than once in a long while. I do know of one case similar (not involving Princeton), but as a matter of fact time has shown that this department was quite right to have hired the guy with blazing letters from a tip-top department even though his dissertation was only half done. He didn't stick -- he was hired away by another, more Leiteriffic department, but he's a no-doubt star now.

You also note,
A job portfolio contains a CV, writing sample, teaching evaluations, letters of recommendation, etc.

Yes. So, in turn: CV, right, which elements are you thinking of? Writing sample, but we're talking about making an initial round of cuts so there is no way the writing samples are going to be read carefully. Teaching evaluations, sure, for SLAC or other teaching-emphasis jobs, if you trust student teaching evaluations. And letters, yes, but those are very highly institution-embedded as well. That is, if you're looking at who wrote the letters as well as what they say, you are indeed using pedigree.

So, I'm not convinced that pedigree should be no factor in the initial cuts. It's one among many, but not irrelevant.

Anonymous said...


Yep, I share the 'roster' worry. Suppose I have as good a pub record as Joe Pedigree (or better), good letters from outside well-known people, have the dissertation almost done, teaching experience, professional conferences, I smell nice, and etc. Why does it feel ridiculous to send an app to a very selective SLAC or to a Leiterrific PhD granting department? Because I would be such an anomaly on the rosters at these places. I'm worried these schools feel the same way. It's not a big worry, but I suppose I deemed it worthy of two smoker comments.


Anonymous said...

I'm at a reasonably strong SLAC that is located in a very livable region and carries a 2/3 teaching load. For what it's worth, here are some of my observations from having served on SCs here.

1. Pedigree doesn't seem to play much of a role in trimming our application pool. The one place where pedigree does seem to make a difference is that the faculty at more highly ranked PhD-granting institutions are more likely to write particularly effective letters. I wonder if this is explained in part by the fact that they get more practice, but I don't know.

2. Since we're an undergraduate teaching institution, promise of teaching excellence plays a large role in our decisions. However, in answer to 5:48's query concerning what, specifically, we look for, nothing particularly helpful is coming to mind. There's a lot of variation in the candidates we end up finding attractive. All they seem to have in common is that they've somehow managed to show some enthusiasm for teaching in their application (and, yes, they've taught at least one or two classes on their own). The best way to demonstrate enthusiasm is to have actually spent a substantial amount of time thinking about teaching. This is hard to fake. Grad students who have spent very little time reflecting on teaching don't suddenly switch it on. You really end up looking like you're wearing someone else's clothes.

3. I've written this before (on this blog), years ago, but what surprised me most during my first SC experience was the difference between absolutely fantastic letters of recommendation and letters that are even better. Almost every candidate's letters are ridiculously fantastic. I completely understand why candidates who have seen their letters insist that they have great letters and that it is not the reason they aren't landing interviews. Much less common, however, are letters that positively glow. Most of the candidates we ended up getting very excited about (and these candidates also always turned out to have several other APA and on-campus interviews) had at least one, maybe two or even three, positively glowing letters.

Anonymous said...

I do know of one case similar (not involving Princeton), but as a matter of fact time has shown that this department was quite right to have hired the guy with blazing letters from a tip-top department even though his dissertation was only half done. He didn't stick -- he was hired away by another, more Leiteriffic department, but he's a no-doubt star now.

It's not obvious to me that this is particularly telling. The explanation for this individual's success may lie primarily in the fact that he was hired by a strong research institution at the outset. The rich do indeed get richer. He may have had no more untapped potential than other less pedigreed candidates. Landing a job at strong research institution tends to pave the way for continued success: Lighter teaching loads, teaching graduate seminars on one's own research to smart graduate students, lots of opportunities to get feedback on one's work by smart, engaged colleagues, and so on.

That's not to say that the case you describe isn't a genuine instance of the best person getting the job. It's just to say that, in general, the future success of candidates doesn't entirely vindicate the techniques that are used by most institutions for thinning their application pools.

Anonymous said...

8:45 here:

YES, I do think everyone who was good enough to get a phd in philosophy should AT LEAST HAVE THE OPTION of being a professional philosopher!!!! otherwise, what's really the damn point of it all? do you honestly think that going to grad school in philosophy is no more serious than a damned hobby!!!

By the way, this is only my second year on the market and I've made short lists and had interviews, so it is OK if I just yet stay in the market oh your worshipfulness?!?!

Anonymous said...

1:24PM: Do you believe that everyone that gets an MBA ought to have the option of being a CEO? Or what about everyone who gets their law degree, should they all have the option of being lawyers? Isn't the bar exam supposed to weed out the people who made it through law school, but just aren't up to snuff? Entitlement, entitlement, entitlement. Boring! Go spend some time on the street and see how entitled you feel after that.

Unless you're a complete moron, you should know that doing a PhD in Philosophy is risky, all on its own. And no, I don't think just getting the PhD entitles you to be a pro philosopher. Sorry. I've seen too much crappy work to believe that.

What do you mean by "have the option?" You do have the option to compete of course. We all have that. Is the competition fair? No. It's a competition that favors those already privileged, which sucks. There is a level of caprice and luck. But if we get rid of the bad ones, then presumably, that will no longer happen, since only good people would be getting jobs, and that couldn't plausibly be said to be due to luck.

One thing I would like to see is for departments to stop admitting so many grad students, if they can.

If you're getting interviews, keep going. I was just saying that if you've been on the market for say five years and are not making the short list at any tt places, it might be time to go.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I'm 12:11 (the one who originally mentioned pedigree). I just wanted to thank people for discussing the issue in a thoughtful way.

I'm still not by any means convinced that pedigree is relevant, but I do feel like I got a better sense for why people think it's reasonable to use it as one factor.

Anonymous said...

ps: yes yes we should also try to control for privilege somehow. I don't have a clue how to do that though.

I have an opinion about all this yes, because I've seen too much crap going around, and then I see someone who does crap get lucky somehow and get a job. Now THAT is not fair.

Hell, for all I know, I might be one of 'em.

Anonymous said...

9:30, yes, good point.
And I do think it's a factor (visibility, research support). But in the case I'm thinking of, at least, it's just not plausible that the thirty (or however many) candidates he was competing with would have been stars of the same magnitude had they only gotten the good job.


i know, right? said...

√Go spend some time on the street and see how entitled you feel after that.

I know, right?
Or, in prison! Let's see how entitled you feel after you've spend a few years in prison. Or, try being a leper. Then I bet you won't feel so entitled, as a leper! Entitled to leprosy, maybe!

Anonymous said...

With the mention of pedigree, we should also keep in mind how (undergraduate) pedigree affects one's chances of getting into prestigious graduate schools. There have been studies (I forget where I read them) showing that pedigree goes all the way down. So the mere fact that someone comes from a top ten school reflects, in part, that they got a BA from a pedigreed undergraduate institution. Again, not necessarily representative of talent.

Anonymous said...

Now that the job market is in full swing, can we get some tenured folks on here to say dickish things about the PhD candidates struggling to find work? It would be great if they are best known for their work editing anthologies. (100% of the torture apologists I've met in the business are in the 75%. We wouldn't hire them.)

Anonymous said...

1:24 PM here:

2:13 PM said: "Do you believe that everyone that gets an MBA ought to have the option of being a CEO?"

Comparing the MBA with the PhD is simply committing the fallacy of false analogy! I can't believe you can with a straight face compare 2-3 years of mostly taking courses to 5-6 years of taking courses, doing research, and presenting research at conferences and perhaps also publishing. So, this does not deserve any further response.

But, generally degrading the PhD in philosophy is not going to help anybody. I simply do not believe shoeing our colleagues from the field is going to make things better for anyone. Enough is enough! NOONE has or should have the right to decide who gets to stay in and who is booted out!!!!

The only thing to do is put pressure on SC's, for example we can also ask them to release their reasons for hiring decisions. I cna hear you saying that this is foolishly idealistic. That's what they said about people who wanted to go to the moon or build a flying machine. Yes, I do think that SC's should release their reasons for hiring decisions and I won't apologize for it...

Anonymous said...

So the mere fact that someone comes from a top ten school reflects, in part, that they got a BA from a pedigreed undergraduate institution. Again, not necessarily representative of talent.

So what? I don't get it.
Writing good papers is also correlated with getting a BA from a "pedigreed undergraduate institution" (I think -- not really sure what that term means). So, we should not pay any attention to whether our candidate writes good papers, because it "reflects" something that is "not necessarily representative of talent"?

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:13: Believe it or not, this is 3:51AM speaking.

I often worry about how to formulate AA for these reasons. How to remove bias at the top level, if it goes all the way down? Do we hire the slightly less qualified candidate because they are slightly less qualified because of the all-the-way-down problem and just need an opportunity to shine, or what?

And this is a serious issue. I've heard about some of the more sophisticated members of SC's worrying about this very thing. Indeed, one SC I know did this very thing: hired the slightly less qualified candidate.

That's definitely a more radical version of AA than the when-equally-qualified version. And forget about the diversity-for-diversity's-sake version of AA, which I don't agree with.

See? I am not a flat-footed moron after all!

And this is all consistent with my thinking that, even if all things were equal, that a lot of people doing philosophy just aren't up to snuff, and should be doing something else.

And, I am still sick of the whining and sense of entitlement, since I suspect much of it is coming from those already with a leg up to begin with, all things considered, but maybe I'm wrong.

Anonymous said...

Alright, fine, take getting the MD then. Whatever. Good lord, it is not that hard to get PhD in philosophy. Once you get in, and you do the work, you're pretty much guaranteed the PhD, right? I mean there is a lot of pressure on schools not to fail people out of the program in philosophy for reasons I don't fully understand, though I am sure someone here will enlighten me. Getting the PhD takes about as long as getting an MD counting all the residency requirements and whatnot. It's much harder getting an MD than a PhD in philosophy IMO (even the MCAT is A LOT harder than the GRE). It should be harder than just having a good work ethic to get the PhD in philosophy, but since it isn't, the weeding out happens afterwards on the job market -- that's tragic yes. In fact, I think that grad programs need to be more proactive and honest with their students about the quality of their work, and institute more enforced policies about being terminated from the program. Defending is a joke. Grades in grad school are a joke, everyone gets A's. If we have democratic intuitions about who should know about philosophy, that's fine, but I still don't want to pair that with also getting to be a professional philosopher. IMO there's a lot of responsibility that goes into that.

Besides, if you are doing what love, namely, philosophy, getting the PhD is not really WORK, now is it? How many people actually get work in the field in which they are trained? I don't know the stats, but I'm guessing there's a lot who don't. Why should we be any different?

And, really, how many people get to do what they love as work ever? Not many.

I realize there is a lot of unfairness in the way things go down and I'm all for making things fair, but given the sorry state of the standards for getting the PhD in philosophy, I don't believe that everyone should be employed as professional philosophers.

I mean, seriously, have any of you done any refereeing? If you have, you know what I am talking about. Maybe I've just been unlucky, but the stuff I have seen is mostly atrocious. And, I am not an irresponsible referee: I am not dogmatic; I take the project in its own terms; I write responsible comments; I do within a month, etc.

Whoops. I am procrastinating again. Back to work for the day, I hope!

Anonymous said...

The 75% of applications that get trashed straightaway are clearly either mindblowingly arrogant or completely delusional to think they could compete for tenure-track jobs at an M.A. program. It's not only a waste of their postage, it's a complete annoyance to the search committees, though not for more than 30 seconds... ;)

I guess it's useful to be reminded that our profession is full of such arrogant assholes (no, not the applicants). At any rate, at least we got the masterful responses from 7:30 and 5:59 in response to this comment.

Anonymous said...


"Once you get in, and you do the work, you're pretty much guaranteed the PhD, right?"


Is this sort of opinion representative? I sure hope not, because at least in the programs with which I'm directly familiar, students are certainly not guaranteed a degree upon admission. In fact, at a few of the places I have in mind (yes, these are top programs I'm thinking about), students are constantly evaluated during their first three years in order to determine whether it is reasonable to expect that they'll produce top quality work later in the program. As you can imagine, not everyone makes it.

Anonymous said...

I graduated from a Ph.D. program ranked very close to the bottom of the PGR. We have roughly 40% attrition.

"Guaranteed" my ass.

Anonymous said...

9:52AM: I know it's common practice to have evals of grads. They did this every year at my institution too, but there was hardly ever a case of a grad being eliminated from the program by dismissal. There's been only one case of this that I've heard of, and it was for pretty gross misconduct. But now, I'm curious, did this happen a lot where you were? Did a lot of people get kicked out in the first three years? I'd actually like to hear more about the policies of other grad programs on this too.

Anonymous said...

Attrition is not quality control numbnuts.

Is it just me or is this bot-checking getting a little too smart for its own good?

Anonymous said...

Now that the job market is in full swing, can we get some tenured folks on here to say dickish things about the PhD candidates struggling to find work? It would be great if they are best known for their work editing anthologies. (100% of the torture apologists I've met in the business are in the 75%. We wouldn't hire them.)


Anonymous said...

Anon. 7:20 AM: "Once you get in, and you do the work, you're pretty much guaranteed the PhD, right?"

Anon. 9:52 AM: "... not everyone makes it."

Anon. 10:42 AM: "I graduated from a Ph.D. program ranked very close to the bottom of the PGR. We have roughly 40% attrition."

This is puzzling. I am sure the first two claims are true, and I trust the third anonymous commenter to be telling the truth as well. Since all three of you are right, why do the latter two represent themselves as disagreeing with the first?

I did my graduate work at Oxford, where it's a lot more common for people to fail their viva (dissertation defense) or an earlier qualifying paper than at comparably ranked programs in the US. Yet I do not know of one person who failed out of the PhD (DPhil) program because their work was not good enough -- in fact, I don't know of one person who failed out of the program, period (I've heard of people failing vivas, but they were all allowed to repeat and passed on the 2nd try). I know lots of current and former grad students in the US as well, and I have never heard of someone failing out of a US program because of the quality of their work. I've heard of people getting kicked out of programs because they didn't do the work expected of them and lied about it to their supervisors, missed university-imposed deadlines, etc., but never because they did the work on schedule and it was judged to be not good enough. Why might it be that I haven't heard of it happening? Probably because it's pretty rare.

Yes, if you get into a PhD program and you do the work, you're pretty much guaranteed a PhD. Does someone actually disagree with this claim? I mean the claim Anon. 7:20 made. Not some claim he/she didn't make about attrition rates or about people never failing out of programs.

By the way, this word verification thing is out of control!

Anonymous said...

I finished my PhD at a top 30 program within the last couple of years. This particular program tends to admit a large number of students: 8-12 every year. In my six years there, I can think of quite a few people who left the program to go into other lines of work. I can also think of quite a few people who got to the ABD stage and just never finished the dissertation for one reason or another.

I can think of exactly one person in those six years who was asked to leave the program because the faculty didn't find his/her work up to snuff. So that's one student out of roughly sixty students who entered the program over those six years.

Maybe my program is unique, but anecdotes I've heard from other programs leads me to believe that this very low failure rate is the norm.

Anonymous said...

Some anecdotal evidence that sometimes, institutional pedigree is not a reliable indicator of smarts:

A friend of mine organized a graduate conference which received several submissions from grad students in top-10 Leiteriffic programs. Almost none of the Leiterrific students' papers were accepted. In fact, some of these submissions were pretty awful (very poor knowledge about current literature in the field, sloppy work, etc).

You might think this is irrelevant because grad conference submissions are refereed by (a) grad students (b) who aren't well-published in relevant areas. Well, neither (a) nor (b) are true of this one. The review process was top-notch.

Institutional pedigree often correlates with smarts. Many kids in Leiterrific programs are ridiculously good at philosophy. But some are pretty bad at it.

Anonymous said...

I frankly think you're all misconstruing "failing out." Yes, very few people get told to leave a program because their work sucks. But those people who leave for another line of work, and those perennial ABDs who never finish? Sorry, they've FAILED OUT. Their work was not good enough, so they either said to hell with it for another line of work or can't complete a decent dissertation. Most good programs have about a 50% graduation rate per cohort. Those 50% who don't finish failed out. That's a lot of people.

Anonymous said...

Here's a question I probably should have asked when I was in graduate school, but never did: how many graduate students actually submit their work to graduate conferences? I never submitted any work to graduate conferences, thinking that if I had something good to say, I should say it at the professional conferences in my field. But maybe I was just passing up some easy (or at least easier) lines for my CV.

Anonymous said...

This is Anon 5:48 again.

In general, I don't think of those students who left for other lines of work or who didn't finish the dissertation as having failed out. "Failing out" has the connotation of not being capable of doing the work; but at least when it comes to the former students I'm thinking of, many of them clearly had sufficient ability to get the PhD if they had just put in the time. But instead some of them had health problems, or chose to start a family, or got a really good non-academic job offer that they decided they couldn't pass up, etc. They didn't leave because they couldn't hack it; they left because they decided the time investment simply wasn't worth it. Why assume they left because their work sucked?

7:20's claim was that nearly anyone who got accepted to grad school could get the PhD if they were just willing to put in the time. And my anecdotal experience at least gives me no reason to doubt that he/she is correct.

Anonymous said...


I submitted to many graduate conferences and got into some. They are actually quite selective - the one at my program would receive ca. 100 papers for 6 spots; one I participated in in NYC had received >200 applications for 4 spots. Compare this to, e.g., the Pacific APA, which as a 30% acceptance rate.

Having done both APA colloquium sessions and grad conferences, I found the latter to be much more useful, substantively, for improving the work. Typically you get a 1.5 or 2 hour session, as opposed to 1 (for an APA colloquium). This, along with dinners etc., leaves much more time to discuss your work with others than you get at the APA. If we're comparing generalist conferences, then, I think you get more philosophically out of (good) grad conferences than at least the most prominent professional conference opportunities. Specialist professional conferences may be a different matter - I myself don't have the experience to say.

I'd be curious to hear why people think about how these look on CVs; as compared, e.g., to APA presentations, or presentations at more specialized conferences. (New thread? Or maybe this has been covered ...)

Anonymous said...

"Here's a question I probably should have asked when I was in graduate school, but never did: how many graduate students actually submit their work to graduate conferences? I never submitted any work to graduate conferences, thinking that if I had something good to say, I should say it at the professional conferences in my field. But maybe I was just passing up some easy (or at least easier) lines for my CV."

My $.02 on this. I don't know if presentations themselves count for much of anything on the CV. Someone told me in grad school that a paper at the APA was almost as good as a publication, but I had about 5 of those when I went on the market and I couldn't get a single interview. (This was five or six years ago, so not getting an interview sort of meant something.) What presentation lines on a CV can do is reassure a search committee that you're active in research and that you've jumped through some hoops that would polish you up professionally (i.e., you've developed some conferencing skills and presentational skills that can be useful for your future research and teaching). If that's what the lines are there for, I don't see why you wouldn't go to grad conferences unless it's an issue of resource allocation and you think you'll get just that much more bang from your buck going pro. Another advantage of grad conferences is networking. Again, if you have the means, it's worth going. I met some really good grad students from other programs that I've been friends with since and that's been helpful for my career. Also, my experience had been that it's easier to network with faculty at grad conferences than professional conferences.

So, I think that if you have the means to go to more grad conferences, you should go. Maybe you shouldn't go to grad conferences instead of professional conferences, but they have a value.

Anonymous said...


My 2 cents: Having worked on the committee for a very selective graduate conference (generally hundreds of submissions for a few spots) and having presented at three or four graduate conferences at Leiterrific schools, I can say three things:

1. You may write a great paper, and there may be no student at the graduate program running the conference who is competent to review and/or comment on your paper. That means that, if your paper is accepted, you might not get any type of informed feedback at the conference, and moreover, there's a good chance your paper will be rejected for silly reasons with no comments whatsoever.

2. Large professional conferences are also a crap shoot. Some times you get great feedback. Other times, you will speak in a room of three people while 12 parallel sessions are running with prestigious speakers who you would have liked to hear yourself. The primary value of large conferences, at least to me, has been to learn about new topics in philosophy that were not discussed in my graduate program and to let me see the current direction of the field.

3. The best conference, IMHO, are small, specialized ones in your area. Often times, they are called "workshops." They are better for developing meaningful relationships with other philosophers and for getting substantial and informed criticism.

You may think such workshops are less prestigious, but as a previous commenter notes, I'm doubtful any search committee really cares about how many presentations you've done. They want to see that you're active in your area, and they recognize that they may not know the best conferences in your field.

Best of luck.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:01 PM: Anon 3:49 PM here.

"I frankly think you're all misconstruing "failing out." Yes, very few people get told to leave a program because their work sucks. But those people who leave for another line of work, and those perennial ABDs who never finish? Sorry, they've FAILED OUT. Their work was not good enough."

How do hell do you know their work would not have been good enough if they'd actually done it -- that is, completed and submitted a dissertation on schedule? The commenter you all think you're disagreeing said this: *if* you do the work [I assume (s)he meant completing all the requirements on schedule], then you're pretty much guaranteed a PhD. No one disagrees with this, as far as I can tell.

Now you can decide that "fail out" means something different in your idiolect than it does in mine, but there's no disagreement over substance -- except for the claim you make (for which there is no evidence) that the people who leave graduate programs for other fields or drop out for some other reason do so because their "work was not good enough". I don't know whether that's true and neither do you, but my anecdotal evidence tells me that the people who drop out usually do so because they (1) realize they're probably not going to get a job, so deem the investment of time not to be worth it (2), realize that they just don't enjoy doing philosophy, (3) start families, (4) get just-barely passing grades and no encouragement from their supervisors which communicates to them that they don't belong in philosophy. *Only* in case (4) do we have any reason to think that the people dropping out could not have produced a passing dissertation, but even in that case -- again, my anecdotal evidence strongly suggests -- it's more likely than not that they would have gotten a PhD had they done the work. Because I do know of multiple examples of people who just ignored all the discouragement and went on to write and submit dissertations anyway. Every one of them passed.

*Maybe* it's true that the people who drop out are also people who drop out typically would not have gotten the PhD if they'd completed the requirements, but that is a pretty bold conjecture!

Anonymous said...

This is certainly relevant to hiring issues (particularly the pedigree/publication discussions that always appear):

A quotation from the recent study discussed in the above article:

"Indeed, compared with references to achievement (e.g., "this person has won an award for his work"), references to potential (e.g., "this person could win an award for his work") appear to stimulate greater interest and processing, which can translate into more favorable reactions. This tendency creates a phenomenon whereby the potential to be good at
something can be preferred over actually being good at that very same thing. We document this preference for potential in laboratory and field experiments, using targets ranging from athletes to comedians to graduate school applicants and measures ranging from salary allocations to online ad clicks to admission decisions."

Anonymous said...

If 'doing the work' just means doing everything that's required for the degree, then it's hard to argue agains the view that if one does the work, then one is pretty much guaranteed the degree. However, 'doing the work' isn't as easy as it sounds. It doesn't just mean writing so-so papers, and there are a lot of steps the dissertation has to go through in order to be considered done. To be sure, time is the biggest obstacle to doing the work, but doing philosophy requires a lot of thinking. I may be alone here, but I sometimes worry about whether I'm capable of doing the kind of thinking that will be required of me in order to get the work done. This shit ain't easy, folks.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:49 PM here again:

"I sometimes worry about whether I'm capable of doing the kind of thinking that will be required of me in order to get the work done"

That seems to me to be normal. Many, maybe even most, graduate students worry about that. I worried about it. Then I submitted and defended and realized how low the standard was.

Really, the standard is this: if you have enough material for two publishable papers, you have enough for a PhD. And "publishable" is a very low threshold -- if you're an ABD, you already have at least two publishable papers, because that's what it takes to get to be an ABD. The papers you write for graduate seminars are supposed to be publishable (with a bit of additional work). If you can get into a grad program, you are virtually guaranteed to pass the coursework requirement if you do the work (your writing sample will already have been good enough to be a term paper); and if you pass that, then you already have, in nearly every case, sufficient material for a passing dissertation.

Anonymous said...


Wow, my graduate experience was very different. I worked my ass off on each chapter of my dissertation--publishable meant *publishable in a leading journal*. My chapter one has over ten different versions (not drafts mind you, but versions--where each version had multiple drafts). In fact, I'm lowballing the number because the real number would be completely unbelievable to most people.

The point: PhD work can vary wildly.

CTS said...


I had several pals in grad school who left philosophy (as a career) for reasons other than thinking they could not do the work.

Indeed, two of those closest to me left because (a) she wanted to make serious money and to not spend all her time with philosophers and (b) he hated the idea of having to go wherever the jobs might be rather than having a career that allowed him some choice as to where he lived.

I think this idea - most prevalent among philosophers as far as I can tell - that leaving academe means being a failure is both false and pernicious. It is even more the latter in a job-scarce environment.

You know what? You might have all it takes and just decide to do something different with your life. Being an academic philosopher, however wonderful for those of us who are doing it, is neither proof of genius nor morally superior to all other choices.

Anonymous said...

@4:25PM: Well, at least some grad schools are doing their jobs :)

Anonymous said...

I'm a grad student at a Leiter 7-12 programme. I know several people who were asked to leave after their MA defence at the end of their second year, because their MA wasn't up to snuff. The department never seems to fail anyone's MA, but they do use it as a weed-out.

Anonymous said...

I've been on several tenure-track and visiting/lecturer search committees. We require a 3-3 load but the pay is above average. I remove anyone with an off-topic AOS or incomplete file, or anyone who attended an institution with which I'm unfamiliar, though I do not insist on ranked institutions. I do not automatically reject those without a Ph.D. or publication, if letters give strong evidence that they're close to defending and the research program is strong. Lack of teaching experience is a bigger red flag, because the first few years here will be crazy and he might have a hard time being successful.

Then I examine the AOCs to see a) if they would be helpful to us, and b) if there is good evidence the candidate can teach these things on day 1. (People often speculate a bit in the AOC area, and it's nice to know they aren't telling you what you want to hear, only to change it as soon as they have freedom to teach something else.) I pass by anyone who teaches areas too closely matched to what we already offer, since we need breadth; however, my colleagues often prefer candidates who are essentially clones of themselves, with some twist that may be marked as a sufficient difference. Nobody could look at our web page and figure out what we truly want, unfortunately.

Then I go back to the remaining files and scrutinize each for a few minutes. That may sound terribly quick, but with hundreds of applicants that's a huge job. I know that my colleagues will reject anyone who shows any research interest in topics they consider fishy (e.g. anything outside the main core of analytic metaphysics, epistemology, language, or phil math). Metaethics is ok if we're hiring for exclusively for ethics. As a result, I try to pay attention to candidates who fall outside these norms but for whom I could still make a good case. I seek impressive dissertation, recommendations, publications, or teaching experience that I can use to argue for their inclusion in our group "short list". Once I'm down to this smaller group, I read at least a few pages of all the writing samples, and look at any teaching evals submitted, since I have found that our best interviewees and new hires have had a combination of strong writing sample and glowing teaching evals. I don't read the whole writing sample until someone is on the short list (which has a few dozen candidates) after the committee meets.

I closely examine the handful of people that I predict (correctly) will be preferred by my colleagues. I will be blunt: I search these files for evidence that the person in question is enthusiastic about teaching and non-dogmatic about philosophy. Our dept. doesn't need anyone who is narrow minded about what philosophy is. I don't want to mentor that person for years only to find out that he has no regard for the good work some of his other colleagues do, and will make decisions that narrow the options of students rather than expanding them. I don't need him going around campus sharing his disciplinary snobbery with people from other disciplines who will judge us accordingly. I like seeing comments in letters along the lines of: "Joe is an affable, kind person who gets along easily with everyone, does all kinds of work we dump on him without complaining, and everyone wants to have him as a TA." In short, accidentally hiring an asshole would be a disaster, and I'm looking for evidence that you won't become impossible to work with someday.

My process is nothing like what most of my colleagues do. Their ideal candidate is someone who went to a top 10 or maybe top 20 department, does metaphysics and epistemology, or maybe phil lang or math, who expresses an inexplicable interest in teaching-only (no research!) in some area that would be "useful", like Business Ethics or Computing Ethics. You may also note that everyone above is a He; sad reality is that we only hire Hes.

Anonymous said...

Few want to admit that pedigree matters. Compare the most recent ranking of departments on Leiter with the departments that placed students in post-doc or on tenure tracks in this year's listing on Leiter (or any other list), last year's list, etc. Pedigree is Huge. Do you honestly think your chances are anywhere as good if you went to, say, Kansas as they are if you went to Rutgers? You don't think that affects how many on SCs approach an application?