Monday, September 16, 2013

Applying Out After A Postdoc

In comments here, an anonymous Smoker writes: 
I am about to go on the job market for the first time post PhD. I have had one year of a postdoc, but I imagine others who have spent two or three years on a postdoc have the same question.  
Are there any differences between what search committees will expect from my job app now and what they expected a year ago? What mistakes might I avoid as I prepare for the market this year? 
Thanks for your help in advance.
This is just a guess, but my guess is that the search committees will expect you to have some good publications--on the assumption that your postdoc is a research-oriented one, which may not be the case. If it's a teaching postdoc, I have no idea what they'll be looking for. Good evals? idk. Probably letters from your chair and other colleagues about your teaching. Not sure what else.

Of course, if you're only one year into your postdoc, it might not be reasonable for them to expect you to have a bunch of publications. After all, it takes a lot of time to get a publication. You have to write it, and then you have to send it out, and then they have to pester the delinquent referee, and even the best paper might still get rejected, and then you have to send it out again, and so on. It can take a long time. And the search committee might realize this, and they might even allow this realization to inform their expectations for your file. If they did that, they'd probably look for a highly solid writing sample. They'd probably also look for a well-developed research statement that sounded like it had clear, compelling descriptions of a lot of pretty fully-baked papers. (How many is "a lot"? idk.) You'd probably also want some letters from one or more of your current colleagues that discuss your research in detail, and in particular how awesome it is.

That's my $0.02, anyway. What say you, Smokers?

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

I'd also like to know if there are differences in what is expected from a person coming out of a few years in a TT job (especially in a smallish department where no one really works in your area/has a huge name that would make a letter from them really valuable).

Anonymous said...

Zero is pretty much right in his response. I'd like to add that I expect a publication. You should have something in press, if not in print. This may seem unfair, but if you want to point to your post-doc as a reason why you are better than other applicants, then you need to show me how your research profile is more advanced than someone coming straight out of a PhD program.

And from the first comment:

"I'd also like to know if there are differences in what is expected from a person coming out of a few years in a TT job"

If you have spent a few years in a TT job, you have been a professional for a few years now. That means you are expected to have a stronger application in all areas; you need to demonstrate that your research profile, your teaching profile, and your service profile are all years' more advanced that the ABDs who are applying to the same job. If you want those years to count at my university, you have to show how you have been just as productive as your future colleagues at my university. If you are, say, 3 years into a TT job, you will be judged against my current colleagues who are 3 years into their jobs here.

"especially in a smallish department where no one really works in your area/has a huge name that would make a letter from them really valuable"

This isn't relevant, not to me anyway. You'll want a letter from someone in your current department that speaks to your contributions to that department, certainly. But you will also want a letter from someone in the field. If there is no "big name" at your school, get a letter from a "big name" elsewhere. If you have been developing a strong enough research profile, that shouldn't be much of a problem. If you haven't been, and can't secure such a letter, you may want to rethink your application (particularly if you are applying to a school that is more highly ranked, and populated with "bigger" names).

Now, I'm assuming that you are applying to a more prestigious school, in which case you need to demonstrate why you belong at such an institution based on the quality of the work you have done. Whatever school you are applying to, you'll want to demonstrate that your X number of years at your current school translates to X number of years there. If my school expects X number of articles by the 3rd year review, and you are applying after 3 years elsewhere, that's the standard you are being judged against. This may sound unfair, but think about your competition: When we hire ABDs/newly-minted PhDs, we are hiring based on promise. We expect them, based on that promise, to be able to hit those marks. You, being X number of years out, don't have the same benefit. You are now being judged on performance, and your future promise (in our minds) will be tied to that performance. If you can't demonstrate that X years in the game equals X years in my program, why should we hire you instead of a new PhD whose promise suggests he/she might be able to hit those marks? You possess experience, it is true; now, show us what that experience has translated into professionally.

(I assumed that you would be asking for your years at your current university to count toward tenure at your new job. Sometimes, people who apply after a few years in a TT job suggest that they are willing to start the tenure clock over again. This does not appeal to me, or many people I know. We're not looking for a scholar who wants to reset the tenure clock and hope to start over. A job at my university is not your chance at a "do-over.")

zombie said...

I concur with Zero, and I'll just add that in my own experience of being on the market while a postdoc, I was basically snubbed by SLACs and found that only research schools were interested. I had always, always imagined myself teaching at a SLAC someday, but I guess having a research postdoc made me a different candidate in the eyes of SCs. If you have aspirations to teach at a SLAC (or, heck, just want to be considered for those jobs!) you'll probably need some extra attention to the teaching areas in your dossier. My teaching letter and evals were a couple years old by the time I was two years into the postdoc.

Anonymous said...


Out of curiosity, how popular were you with SLACs your first time on the market?

That is, are you sure it was the post-doc that sunk you? From what I have seen, post-docs don't necessarily hurt such applications (judging by what little I have seen on the market myself).

Anonymous said...

zombie has said this before. if it generalizes, I'm a bit bummed. SLAC was long my aim, now I'm luckily in a research post-doc. The teaching dossier will get attention, but will it matter? [I say to no one in particular]

Anonymous said...

I once served on a search committee at a SLAC, and we did tend to snub the research post-doc people. Why? The research post-doc suggests that you’re very serious about…well, research. While this is a good thing, the SLAC-ers generally want professors that will also be involved with the lives of their students, which could involve supervising student organizations, attending student events, and generally being awesome with undergraduates.

If you really want a SLAC job, it might help to make it clear in your letter. What is special about the particular SLAC to which you’re applying? Why do you want to work at a SLAC – did you go to one and have a really great experience there? What is your favorite thing about working with undergraduates, as opposed to graduate students or research partners? Sometimes, just making your intentions painfully obvious can go a long way toward getting the committee to look more closely at your application.

Anonymous said...

I think one thing that the search committee will want to see is that you've, in some sense, moved on from your PhD. This doesn't mean having a bunch of publications, it's more about how you sell yourself. There's a tendency in one's first year on the market to use the dissertation as a sort of research lynch-pin in research statements and such. I think that's okay when you're ABD or have just been awarded the PhD but a year into your postdoc I would not talk about your PhD unless asked a direct question about it.

Anonymous said...

Anecdotal evidence, small sample size, take it for what it's worth:

In my years in a PhD program, I knew 3 people ahead of me who all landed SLAC jobs (2 after defending, one ABD). All three noted that they tailored their applications to those specific schools, mentioning things like their historic mission, how they would contribute to special programs on campus, etc. (Yes, they did such tailoring for all SLACs they applied to.)

We were all told by our placement director that such tailoring helps, because many SLACs like to know that applicants are familiar with their college, mission, history, etc. (For instance, if you are applying to a women's college, or a historically black institute, you should absolutely make note of that. Catholic college often specifically ask for a statement about their religious mission. Other SLACs have other markers of identity.) We were also told by many people (including those who landed jobs at research universities) that it's pointless and time-consuming to do such work, and SLACs shouldn't expect special treatment, and should just accept the general letters of application that applicants produce.

The way I see it, if there's some way to give yourself an edge in the application process, then do it. But not tailoring one's letters just to make a point seems idiotic, especially given the market situation.

For what it's worth, I did such tailoring, had one interview at a SLAC, and landed a job at a small state school.

zombie said...

4:44 -- I wasn't popular at all my first time out on the market. With SLACs or anyone else. I did marginally better my second year.

I really did try to tailor my dossier to SLACs my last year on the market. I went to a tiny SLAC as an undergrad, and loved it. I did some adjuncting at a SLAC. Always saw myself in a place like that. Perhaps I just didn't make my case very well.

But I do think it might require some extra effort to sell yourself to a SLAC if your post doc makes you look more research oriented. The usual caveats apply to anecdotal evidence.

Anonymous said...

How do you know what to change no your CV (in 'Teaching Experience,' 'Dissertation Abstract' (both short and long), and Research Statement) if you're going back on the market after a year or two at your first job (be it a VAP or TT)?

How do you balance looking like you're stale or just using an old dossier vs. presenting whatever strengths may be in your dissertation description, list of courses taught (they start to get very long!), etc.?

Anonymous said...

Completely unrelated question: Say a university advertises two positions, one open and one in, say, aesthetics. I have seen this a few times so far this year. Say my AOS is aesthetics. Do I apply for both positions or just the one in my AOC? I would like to maximize my chances. Perhaps there are two committees. The committee in my AOS may not like my work on Aesthetics, but the other one might for reasons relating to other work I have done. What think you? Is it worth it?

Anonymous said...


I would say it depends on the institution. If the department is large enough that they might be able to absorb two people with the AOS, then apply for both. Otherwise, go for the one in your AOS.

Anonymous said...

So another question about postdocs:
Do you guys have the sense that its harder to publish in philosophy than it is in some other fields like history and the social sciences? And if so, do you think the committees that make decisions on postdocs take this into account? I'm two years out and applied for a postdoc where I'm competing against people in a number of fields (there are multiple awards but as always competition is tight). I wasn't able to dig up the CVs of philosophers who've gotten this in the past, but I saw some from historians and anthropologists and they generally had a huge number of publications, i.e. five or six in peer reviewed journals. I've got three one of which is in one of the top 5 journals in my field and I'm just wondering whether I'm out of my league here or not.

Anonymous said...

1:20 - My advice is to just go for it anyway. You can ponder about the ease of publishing in different fields, but the question is whether you are going to apply for the position or not....and why wouldn't you?? You don't even have a chance if you don't at least try.

Anonymous said...

"Do you guys have the sense that its harder to publish in philosophy than it is in some other fields like history and the social sciences?"

Yes. I am constantly under the impression that it's much, much harder to publish in Philosophy than in other fields.

On a related note, my AOS is by far the hardest discipline in Philosophy to publish in, without question. Similarly, all the jobs I am applying to are the hardest ones to get, and should I ever get one, I have no doubt that I will also face the most difficult tenure standards in the field.

zombie said...

1:20: I don't know how hard it is to publish in other fields, but if you look at the CVs of people in other disciplines, I think you're more likely to see lots of co-authored papers (especially true in the sciences). So, if you're not the sole author of a paper, I suspect your numbers would be far higher without the work load being significantly greater. There just aren't as many co-authored papers in philosophy.

zombie said...

9:11: If you've been in a position, your recent research productivity would (I hope) prevent you being perceived as stale. I think the consensus is that after you've been in a position, you should make your CV look like a professor's CV, and not like a grad student's. So take the details about the diss and grad committee off. Make sure your pubs, conferences and courses are up to date, add stuff like service to the university and profession, etc. You have presumably developed as a teacher and a researcher, so rewrite your teaching/research statements to reflect your greater maturity, etc.

Anonymous said...

This is person who posted about the postdoc at 1:20 again. Re 11:40:I did apply for exactly the reason you cite, but I'm just wondering if I have any realistic shot at getting it. Which I suppose is stupid. I wish I were capable of putting in the the application and not thinking about it again until I actually got the decision. After all, obsessing about your odds doesn't do anything productive at all. But I certainly don't have the ability to do that and if anyone here does I'd love for them to tell me how they do it.

Anonymous said...

"I'm just wondering if I have any realistic shot at getting it."

No. But that's because, in this job market, getting a job is itself unrealistic.

Anonymous said...

I forgot what the cross next to the name of a school means in the new phil jobs/APA site? Does it mean anything? I couldn't find a symbol key anywhere.

Anonymous said...

Censure, I think.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous 10.3 8:44:
The little cross next to a school's name indicates that it has been formally censured by the AAUP. This is a practice that the APA carried over to PhilJobs this year. In most cases the censure is for violations of academic freedom; in other cases it's for unfair labor practices. Sometimes these notifications are helpful, othertimes not so much. The entire SUNY system (the nation's largest state university system) remains under censure for a number of retrenchments of tenured faculty without sufficient documentation of financial exigency from 1974 -- nearly 40 years ago.

zombie said...


What does the dagger symbol (†) mean?

The dagger refers to a job at an institution under censure by the AAUP or the APA. You can find a complete list of AAUP censured institutions and APA censured institutions on the APA website. You can also visit the AAUP website for information about specific cases.

It's on the help page of philjobs.