Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Survivor: Campus Visit

If you're prepping for your first fly-outs, you may have questions. Here's some logistical advice from past years:
  • The campus visit is a strange beast, a one or two day gauntlet of job interviews and social calls, with some harrowing, high pressure philosophy thrown in. You'll meet with various deans, and lots of faculty, and students. You'll be continuously shuttled from one thing to the next, with very little down time in between. You'll be dined (not often wined -- many university policies don't permit putting alcohol on the tab) more often than you can bear. The worst of the meals is breakfast -- to my mind, if you want to know what kind of colleague someone might be, don't evaluate them before they've had caffeine. (Advice: if your hotel room has a coffee maker, use it, even if it makes lousy coffee, just for the medicinal benefits.) You might give a talk, you might be asked to do a teaching demo. Or both.
  •  The campus visit is also an opportunity to learn about the school. You can get a sense of the campus culture, and of the department. Don't think like someone who is desperate to get a job, any job, but rather like someone who might be sold on this particular job. Hopefully, the people you're interacting with are of a mind to sell you. Ask questions about the students, about campus life, about what it's like to live there. You will need to exhibit at least minimal chit-chat skills, because you'll be doing lots of it while people are walking you around campus, driving you to the airport or restaurants, etc. A five minute walk becomes much longer when filled with awkward silence. 
  • Take granola bars and portable snacks, especially if you have dietary restrictions. The days are really long, and being hungry makes you cranky. 
  • Have at least two pairs of good pants, especially if you're going to a wintry clime where the odds of getting mud/snow/salt on your pants are high (which is everywhere this year). Take a carry-on so nothing gets lost in transit. 
  • Be polite. Practice a firm but not debilitating handshake -- you'll be shaking lots of hands. (Seriously, I hate it when people crush my hand!) Be very nice to the department secretary/admin assistant. They know where the bodies are kept.
  • If you require accommodation for particular needs (a lactating mom might need time to go pump, or you might have dietary restrictions, or need time for religious observance, or whatever), you're better off saying something in advance than trying to sneak off to TCB. You don't really want to do anything during your visit that will give someone a reason to think you're up to something suspicious (drugs! booze! World of Warcraft!). Better to have the awkward conversation ahead of time than to find yourself trying to compensate for unexplained behavior. Obviously, some departments will be more friendly/understanding about special needs than others, but it's worth remembering that if you're hired, you'll be working with these people for a while, so maybe it's better to know in advance if they don't play well with others.
  • Some departments ask their candidates to pay for their flight and accommodations and seek reimbursement. It's kinda lousy, but it happens. (At least you get to book your own flight, which can be easier. I had a fly-out once where the layover involved landing at one airport and flying out of another airport, in NYC, which was not feasible, according to the helpful clerk who changed the flight for me.) Some places require that you submit paper tickets for reimbursement, so you might want to get those instead of using your phone.
  • Take small bills so you can grab a drink or something from a vending machine.
  • Take copies of your dossier, including course syllabi, just in case. They might tell you in advance what courses you'd be expected to teach if hired, and you can think about those and work up spec syllabi if you have time.
  • Ask in advance for a detailed schedule of what you'll be doing, when, and with whom. Get as much info as you can about the teaching demo (will it be a class, an audience, will it be in a classroom, will there be tech available), the job talk, etc. 
  • When talking to deans and administrators and such, keep in mind that many of them are really academics, and would like you to know that. I found they often wanted to "talk shop" with me about philosophy, in addition to talking about the nuts and bolts of the school. Which is to say, speak to them as you would speak to potential colleagues.
  • I think the general consensus about issues like spousal accommodation is that talkng about those should wait until you have an offer. I suppose that might include not inquiring about policies until then as well, although some schools will volunteer that kind of info as part of their "sales pitch"
  • You'll sometimes meet with someone from HR to talk about benefits, so you might think about questions for them.
  • I went to a meeting with a job candidate recently and observed that he sometimes deflected questions about "how would you teach X" by asking questions about whether doing Y would be of interest to the department or the students. He also asked specific questions of faculty, like "How do you integrate Z into courses?" or "Is there support for doing A?" It made him sound thoughtful and interested, rather than like someone just answering standard questions with standard answers and trying to please. (He was offered the job, too.)
  • Before you go, look up the people you'll be meeting in the department, but also the deans and administrators. You never know when some little bit of trivial knowledge (hey, we both grew up in Omaha!) might be fodder for a good convo, or at least make you memorable (in a good way)
  • Anything critical like your job talk or teaching demo slides should be copied onto a USB stick, copied to the Cloud, copied to Google Drive, tattooed on your hand, emailed to yourself, etc. If you're using a Mac, convert stuff to a PC friendly format. I'm paranoid about that kind of thing, but I've had TSA drop my laptop on the floor. Print your lecture notes, etc.
  • Be ready to improvise should technology fail during a talk or teaching demo. (Hence, have printed notes.)
tl;dr: be prepared.

Oh yeah, enjoy. You're one of a very select few.

Anything else?



Anonymous said...

One bit of advice is to make sure to interact with all of the faculty in your dept. during the day. It may be that the chair serves as your host, and you feel comfortable talking with them individually as the day goes on. But the chair is only one person and the vote will be done by the whole department. Worth keeping in mind.

Anonymous said...

As an SLAC chair and frequent search committee member:

1. Don't be arrogant, or even hint at it, no matter what others do. All it takes is for one SC member to come to dislike you personally and that's it for you. This is particularly important at an SLAC with an interdisciplinary search committee. Philosophers have a bad reputation for arrogance, so people are overly sensitive to looking for signs of it. Doesn't matter if it's fair or not, it's reality.

2. Be energetic at all times. Hard to keep this up in a two day gauntlet of meetings, but the 10th meeting could be far more important than the 2nd one. Remember that generally the order of meetings means nothing - it's a function of availability. So treat each one as the most important one, and say the same exact things you said in the last one with the same level of enthusiasm.

3. Ask lots of questions about the environment (teaching, research, service, community). Not with a "just how demanding is this job, anyway?" spin, but with a plan to connect to those details wherever possible in conversation and show how you "fit". I know that "fit" causes people in forums like this one to go into apoplectic fits (can't be nailed down, it's unfair, not a reliable indicator of success, etc), but at an SLAC, fit means everything - whether people like it or not. They may like your research, and think you're a good teacher, but they think the same about the other two candidates too. Demonstrate fit. They want to know if they want to work with you for 25 years. Don't forget that.

Anonymous said...

Don't use tech. Avoid it at all costs.

There's a fairly good chance that you will have technical difficulties. While they may not be your fault, it's still your presentation, and you don't want to be remembered as the applicant who couldn't figure out how to manage the tech.

Use handouts. This gives everyone something to take notes on, and also leaves behind a tactile reminder of you and your presentation. There's a chance they will be interviewing multiple people in a short amount of time, and many won't have read the application file. Give them something physical to remember your presentation and to make notes on.

I know some people like the shiny of tech, but for a job interview, in an unfamiliar environment that you have no control over, you should minimize the chances for you to fail.

Anonymous said...

On the topic of campus visits, but also on the perennial topic of whether humble institutions should bring in candidates from the top R1s: our SLAC brought in a candidate some folks might think of as above our station. The candidate asked, at a meeting with the department, "So, do you really have to do all of your own grading?"

It's the kind of thing that will keep folks from similar places off our next list.

Fritz Allhoff said...

Have fun and be cool; remember that they're hiring a colleague and not just a smart person. Being the best philosopher is neither necessary nor sufficient to get hired. A lot of time the finalists are all pretty close in terms of talent and it comes down to being a personal call. So be smart, but also be someone they want to spend 30 years with. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

For those having experience with two-day campus visits: How were your two days scheduled? Were things more spread out than a typical one day visit or were there more meetings crammed into your time there?

Anonymous said...

Advice on spousal accommodations after five years of experience at three places: My advice is *not* to mention it or even hint at it. If they give you the pitch about how friendly they are and how they love to work with spouses, then try to gauge their seriousness. If they seem pretty sincere, then you can bring it up. But its a risk. If they are willing to work with you, then it is actually helpful to know in advance. But most places in my experience are not willing to make any real accommodation at least at first. Many places just don't want to deal with it.

Your best chance is if there is a formal policy in place that can be found on the website. In this case, you are on pretty good grounds because they may have money stashed away for this kind of thing (e.g., Grinnell). But without a publicized formal policy it is a complicated mess.

Also, and this is important, nothing counts at all unless it is in writing. Nothing. It doesn't matter. Promises mean nothing unless they are written down. Twice we have been informally promised things that have not happened.

zombie said...

"It's the kind of thing that will keep folks from similar places off our next list."

Sigh. So unfair when jerks pee in the pool.

zombie said...

4:33: My experience was this:
I was picked up at airport on day 1 by faculty member. Taken to local coffee shop, then hotel.
A few hours of rest, then dinner with a group at a restaurant. Back to hotel.
Day 2: full day of group and individual meetings, and breakfast, lunch, dinner with different people/groups. Also a job talk, walking tour of campus.
Day 3: Taken into neighboring town for local color community event, lunch with another faculty member, driving tour of the area, then airport in the afternoon.
It was exhausting.

Anonymous said...

"So unfair when jerks pee in the pool."

In fact, it's not clear who's the bigger jerk in that story.

Anonymous said...

"The candidate asked, at a meeting with the department, "So, do you really have to do all of your own grading?"

It's the kind of thing that will keep folks from similar places off our next list."

Here's something that people on the market need to remember: you are a representative of your institution, for good and for ill. If your program has earned a reputation, that reputation will follow you.

We often like to think this only applies to the positive reputation(s) associated with our programs: history of strong researchers, well-prepared candidates, notoriously strong in some particular area of study, etc. By the same token, if your program has earned a reputation for arrogant applicants, obtuse teachers, etc., that stink follows you.

Anonymous said...


I'd say that the person who interviews for a job at an SLAC and wonders whether they will be doing their own grading is probably in need of a serious reality check, or at the very least in need of a serious infusion of humility.

Happily, though, and speaking from experience as a search committee member, I can report that such people typically live in bubbles and so very quickly out themselves. This makes them very easy to reject as candidates.

zombie said...

Ignorance about who does the grading might be understandable if, e.g., the candidate went to a research university as an undergrad and grad. I went to a SLAC as an undergrad, so I know full well that my profs graded my work -- that kind of environment is its own kind of bubble, one where you and your profs are on friendly (perhaps first name) terms, you can chat and socialize, etc.
Possibly someone who went to a school with a grad program only ever encountered TAs as an undergrad, and then served as a TA as a grad. His/her experience is that TAs do the grading in undergrad work.
This points out, perhaps, a deficit in the way PhDs are trained in R1s, if you're only trained to be a researcher, and teaching/grading is secondary scut work. Perhaps part of prepping candidates for the market, given the reality of the market, is that some of them have to be explicitly told that teaching and grading are IMPORTANT at many schools. I never received any formal training in pedagogy as a grad (but at least I came in knowing who does the grading), and scant prep for the job market.

All that said, I've applied to MANY SLACs over the years, and not one of them ever gave me so much as a first-round interview, so I guess my SLAC experience was not sufficient.

Anonymous said...


I used tech for some of my on-campus visits. BOTH times I decided to use it, it went great. The key is that one is prepared for, and knows how to quickly manage, problems. I became an expert on this particular tech, so I knew how to troubleshoot quickly. Also, if it totally failed, my presentation wasn't totally dependent on it, and I had the emergency plan to abandon it if I had to (and people would hardly know that anything had gone wrong).

That's better advice than "don't use tech," particularly if one's teaching demo--for example--incorporates tech, because one's teaching does. Teach/present like you normally do. Just be overprepared for things going wrong.

Anonymous said...

On the Tech question -- I know a community college that prides itself on its tech. A candidate that did *not* use tech during their teaching demo would be at a serious disadvantage (perhaps fatal.) They expect it. So be a bit careful. Some places really want stuff like that.

Christopher Hitchcock said...

1. Don't be afraid to communicate with the head of the search committee, or whoever your contact person is, in advance of your visit. You can ask her/him which of two talks might work better, whether it would be OK to give a talk based on your writing sample or you should do something different, how likely it is that there will be technical problems if you use powerpoint, whom you will be meeting with, etc.

2. A very effective conversational gambit is: "tell me about your work". Show interest in their work, ask questions. You don't need to be an expert in what they do, just show enthusiasm, and a willingness to be a sounding board for ideas.

Anonymous said...

And I'd say the guy who every candidate from my school off his next list because someone from a similar place asked a clueless question needs a serious infusion of not-jerk.

Anonymous said...

"A very effective conversational gambit is: "tell me about your work"."

A much more effective gambit is: "I see you work in [x], can you tell me about your current work?"

The more you ask the members of the department what they work on, the faster it becomes evident that you didn't do any prep work on them before the interview.

Anonymous said...

I'm in my second position now, and if I were to do it all over again, I'd ask tougher questions of the Deans and Vice Presidents. I'd ask about enrollment statistics for the school and the area; I'd ask about accreditation and how they handle that; I'd ask about the financial health of the school and the school's commitment to the program I was interviewing for. I would couch all of these in terms of the "national conversations" occurring about these issues.

Anonymous said...

"And I'd say the guy who every candidate from my school off his next list because someone from a similar place asked a clueless question needs a serious infusion of not-jerk."

Yeah, you really don't understand the market, do you?

Here's the deal: every committee gets to hire one person, sometimes from a pile of 100-300 applicants. One. Everyone else gets rejected. How do committees narrow things down? By looking for reason to reject people. Search committees are not looking at the pile of applications and hoping to identify the best applicant (either in terms of fit, or promise, etc.). At least not at first.

Last time I served on a search, I identified nearly 90 applicants who could easily have been on our list of candidates to interview. We got to interview 10. Roughly 80 applicants - all of whom were qualified for the job, had appropriate teaching experience, had published in the field - had to be rejected. So how do you thin the pile?

Sometimes, you think "these following schools have a good track record of training teachers," and then you focus on those schools. Especially if you work at a "teaching college." Similarly, if some schools have a reputation for producing applicants who are "out of touch," then maybe you cut applicants from those schools. Maybe because you still have 50+ applications to cut, you pull out files from similar schools, or schools with similar reputations.

But I'm sure this is all entirely unfair. I'm certain you have a better, more fair way to reject fully qualified applicants. I, for one, am all ears. Lots of people reading this blog have been rejected for jobs they are fully qualified for. What are the more legitimate reasons for choosing not to interview someone who is fully qualified for the job you're hiring for?

Anonymous said...

8:09, I know all that – I’ve served on many search committees. Nothing you say excuses the pure jerkishness, and for that matter the pure stupidity, of excluding all candidates from anyplace similar to a school who last year had a candidate who asked one clueless question.
Any idiot can see this. It would be like refusing to consider anyone from Oxford (or Cambridge) because Colin McGinn is such a schmuck.

And, by the way, your comment pretty clearly indicates that you are a condescending, self-important douche bag, so if only I knew where you got your PhD I would summarily reject all candidates from that institution and any institution like it. I mean, if only I knew… and I were a complete idiot.

Anonymous said...

I attended a non-Leiteriffic program and grade my students' work. As a person, however, who has made jokes that fall flat -- couldn't the comment about "you grade all your own work?" have been a joke that fell flat?

I wasn't there, of course, so I can't read the tone. But I'm enough of a goofball to make a joke like that. I would say it even though I'm perfectly aware you do your own grading at SLACs, and even if I was totally fine with that.

Perhaps the reason I'm a goofball who makes jokes that fall flat is reason not to hire me. It shouldn't tarnish my poor home institution, however.

Anonymous said...

@7:42. Yep, I had the same thought. The lesson, I think, is that you have to be really careful about what kind of jokes you make and when you make them...

Anonymous said...

"I'm certain you have a better, more fair way to reject fully qualified applicants. I, for one, am all ears."

I suppose you could 1) distribute those 90 applications amongst 3-4 faculty, 2) give them a few weeks to read each file and assess them on their merits, 3) pick 4-5 files they think most merit further attention by the rest of the SC.

If a SC member can't carefully read, say, 20 files over 3-4 weeks and rank them based on their merits (and I'm excluding biases based on affiliation as a merit here), then something is seriously FUBAR.

Anonymous said...

"I suppose you could 1) distribute those 90 applications amongst 3-4 faculty, 2) give them a few weeks to read each file and assess them on their merits, 3) pick 4-5 files they think most merit further attention by the rest of the SC."

How do you determine what merits further attention? What's the criteria?

In my scenario, they *all* merit further attention. But you cannot give them all further attention. You must reject applicants whose applications merit further attention. How do you make the cuts?

Just saying "select ones that merit further attention" is how the process already works. It seems are quibbling over details. I'd like those details please.

Obviously, "reputation of program/similar programs" is unfair. For good or ill, it's unfair to tarnish an applicant with an institutional reputation. So let's decide on what would be more fair. I'm open to your suggestions.

Anonymous said...



Do with that information what you will.

Anonymous said...

This is 4:11, not the same person as 8:09

I doubt I'd go so far as to rule out candidates from the school of the person who made such a comment, but the comment would clearly weigh against that candidate. Maybe it was a poor joke (a truly bad one) or maybe it was ignorance. But if another candidate is similar, all thing being equal, the clueless (and insensitive) candidate is not going to get my vote. Worse yet, if the candidate is openly arrogant and dismissive of the work of teaching, the sooner we get him/her back on the plane and back to his/her home, the better.

I think the point I made originally is the central one: don't be arrogant, be energetic, and seek to connect to the life of the university in ways that demonstrate fit. A failure in any one of these three ways can be the end of a candidacy.

Anonymous said...


That's what SC do. However, frequently the top 10 candidates or so are all great. Any of them will do "on paper". But there's more to a tenure track job than what's on paper. There's fit. You may not like that, but that's reality. There is a lot to being a faculty member, particularly at an SLAC, that goes beyond how many articles you've written, or even how good a teacher you are. Faculty work is very complicated nowadays, and doing it successfully requires that the right candidate fit into that picture just so.

I realize that many people are under the impression that this should be a system that could ideally be done by a computer - adding publications, ranking the journals, assessing preparation for courses etc and then spitting out the answer, but the reality of the SLAC world (which is the vast majority of jobs) is that we're hiring human beings, not mere article producers or classroom discussion facilitators.

Anonymous said...

8:48: no shit, sherlock. No faculty search committee ever thought of that solution, just spending more time on files.

Maybe you don't get how many utterly fantastic people there are on the market. Utterly fantastic. You can spends weeks and weeks poring over those job applications (which, by the way, are like comparing apples and oranges, since so many people put them together so differently), and not find a tidy pile of 4-5. We wish.

Anonymous said...


Maybe you don't get how many utterly fantastic SCs there are out there. There are SCs that have the experience, expertise, and energy to read 20 files and rank them on scholarship, teaching, and fit.

Anonymous said...

"Maybe you don't get how many utterly fantastic SCs there are out there. There are SCs that have the experience, expertise, and energy to read 20 files and rank them on scholarship, teaching, and fit."

OK. How do they do it?

Also, please define the non-subjective criteria that are used in determining fit.

zombie said...

Bottom line: more great candidates than jobs.
No perfect way to make the cuts.
A lot of very well-qualified candidates will come away empty-handed.
Be your best self ever! (to quote O) The rest is beyond your control.

crispus said...

The way we do it, at my department, is that once we have it narrowed down to a reasonable number, we vote. The voting system isn't perfect, but I think it's better than tossing out some people because they came from Princeton, where the douche bag got his degree, for example. That's just stupid.

An awful lot of SC members comment here in an unbearably smug, condescending tone. It's disgusting. I've met you, and I've met the grad students who aren't getting jobs, and believe me, you really don't know as much more than them as you think you do.

Anonymous said...

"once we have it narrowed down to a reasonable number"

Oh, narrowing it down to a reasonable number? Why don't other people think of that?

More SCs should simply narrow down the pile.

I hope they are paying attention.

Anonymous said...

How long do sc's usually take to get back to you after a flyout? If you don't hear within a couple of weeks, do you just suppose you didn't get it?

crispus said...

7:57, you want to know how to do the first round of narrowing down, is that it?

We divide up the pile so each committee member uses her or his own criteria for narrowing. I use easy criteria to eliminate about half (not really the right AOS, relatively weak letters, no evidence of teaching ability). Then I have to do the hard work of evaluating the writing, to get it down to a manageable number.

Nice job illustrating my point about condescending assholes, by the way.

Anonymous said...

My preferred solution is to find candidates that are good enough and then use a random number generator to narrow down. I think much of the lottery political system's virtues apply too. See http://aeon.co/magazine/living-together/forget-elections-lets-pick-reps-by-lottery/ !!!

zombie said...

2:59 -- Typically, there will be about 2-4 fly-outs. You might be the first or the last. After the last, the SC has to meet, discuss, decide. (Sometimes in consultation with the whole dept.) The dept chair has to approve (altho the chair might be on the committee, so this step could be skipped). The dean/administration has to approve. Then the offer will go out. The "chosen one" has a couple of weeks to accept or decline (although this can be extended if they have, e.g. other interviews happening, or other offers to consider). If the first choice declines (it happens), the dept may go to the second choice. So, the process could stretch out to more than a month, plausibly.

So no, a couple of weeks doesn't tell you you're out of the running.

Anonymous said...

I don't see any condescension here. What I see is a lot of hard and true advice about the SC process, and how to avoid screwing it up. At worst, I see some frustration on the part of SC members with (as usually happens in these threads) being told how to do SC work, or with demands to justify the process, or with complaints that the justifications don't meet some degree of philosophical muster, or whatever.

In the end, the job market is very tough. There are far, far, far more qualified applications than jobs. SC work is difficult to perform. In the end, hiring decisions are not capable of being captured by a precise formula, due in part by the fact that you're hiring a human being, not a robot, and because the nature of faculty work in SLACs particularly is very complex nowadays, and often idiosyncratic to the nature of the specific institution.

So, if you get the on campus for an SLAC, realize that you're more in the "we're looking for the right human being/colleague/university citizen" phase, than in the "we want to figure out if you're an acceptable philosopher stage" (you wouldn't be on campus otherwise). So don't be arrogant, display lots of energy and interest, and ask a ton of questions so that you can do your best to try to connect your passions to the unique features of that institution. If you get the job, it's because you fit the institution, if not, it's because someone else did more than you did, not because you couldn't teach the courses, or publish sufficient articles.

All that said, good luck!

Anonymous said...

"I use easy criteria to eliminate about half (not really the right AOS, relatively weak letters, no evidence of teaching ability). Then I have to do the hard work of evaluating the writing, to get it down to a manageable number."

So of the entire pile of applicants, roughly half can be tossed for not being good enough right off the bat. The rest are judged solely by the writing sample.

This is good to know. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Off topic a bit. But just got a "double-blind" PFO from Postdoc in ethics at Stanford. The salutation was "Dear Applicant" and it was signed "Anna" with no last name. They are really setting the standard in impersonal, clinical, soul-crushing rejection.

zombie said...

The "Dear Applicant" on the PFO is pretty common. I only really find those dispiriting after I've had an interview and made some personal contact.

crispus said...

9:02, not solely by writing sample. How did you draw that conclusion from what I actually wrote?


I don't see any condescension here.

Is that because you didn’t read any of these, below, or because you don’t think they are condescending?

“You may not like that, but that's reality.”

“I realize that many people are under the impression that this should be a system that could ideally be done by a computer”

"I'm certain you have a better, more fair way to reject fully qualified applicants. I, for one, am all ears."

Anonymous said...

On a different note: someone just put University College London in the "First Round Interviews Scheduled" category on the wiki.

Does this mean that they actually scheduled their first interviews (which were supposed to be on campus), or that they have moved to their version of Round 1 (which was to request writing samples)?

We already know they moved to their version of Round 1 and sent out some PFOs. So does anyone know if they've made a further move?

Anonymous said...

A bit of advice, for those lucky enough to be getting campus interviews: Your primary function is to demonstrate why you are a good fit *for that school.* You are being invited to campus so that you can be road-tested for the job. Yes, it's imprecise, and yes, most of what you are asked to do in no way guarantees that you can do the job in the long run. Ignore all that. Focus instead on showing the department why *that department* should hire you.

Do your research. Know the department before showing up. Have some sense of who everyone, and what they are working on. Know their curriculum (provided it's available through their department webpage). Have a general sense of the institution, its identity, and the surrounding area.

You are highly trained researchers; don't disappoint by not doing your research for the last stage of the process.

Just as the search committee - and most of the faculty and administrative personnel you will interact with - has done their research on you, do your part to sound prepared.

This may seem obvious, but every year I hear stories from colleagues about finalists who show up to campus without having done any such work. And have seen this in my own program, on our last search.

Applicants often like to think - and are often coached to believe - that the job market is about them. It is not. It's about the hiring programs. The job market exists so that departments can staff their programs, not so that individuals can find work. Use your campus interview to show how you can help the institution, how you can help serve their needs.

Anonymous said...

Crispus -

No, I don't find those condescending. I find them honest and helpful. As an applicant, I'd prefer not to listen to BS, but rather to know how things work. I'd rather that applicants have a real understanding of the market. There are many applicants who do not like that searches work in certain ways, or that fit matters greatly in the tail end of a search. I've read many of these types of threads. Many applicants think these things should not matter, and that things should be solely based on what's on their CVs. Instead of altering their thinking, they focus on explaining why SC should change their ways.

This is understandable, especially in a lousy job market, but it's not true and so not helpful. So it's best to disabuse yourself of unhelpful approaches, and reframe one's understanding of how hiring works, what the needs of their future employers are, and how SLAC faculty work looks nowadays.

Of course, an applicant can reject all of that, and decide that these things should not matter, that such SC are not operating ideally, or whatever - but this is not going to help you much on the market.

At the end of the day, this is about getting jobs, right?

Anonymous said...

My department thinks of our search a little differently from the way 3:01 has put things. In our last one, for example, we brought four candidates to campus, and we all did try to sell them on our department. They were all fantastic candidates (we would have been happy to go deeper than four if we had to), and we expected all of them to get other good offers -- and three of them did.

I have no idea whether the candidates did research on our department. I assume they looked at our web site to see what we all work on (and look like). But when one of them came to chat in my office and asked me what exactly I did, I wasn't offended and I didn't think he was arrogant. I still remember our conversation, which was really interesting -- I do ethics and he does philosophy of science but we found a remarkably fruitful point of intersection in our current research. (He took the other offer he got, though, so maybe I did a bad job selling.)

It's a tough process. I hope search committees and departments don't make it harder by reading motives and signs of bad character into the perfectly ordinary things that perfectly ordinary philosophers (if there are such things) do in highly stressful situations.

Anonymous said...

"9:02, not solely by writing sample. How did you draw that conclusion from what I actually wrote?"

From what you wrote: "I use easy criteria to eliminate about half (not really the right AOS, relatively weak letters, no evidence of teaching ability). Then I have to do the hard work of evaluating the writing, to get it down to a manageable number."

Perhaps what you meant to write was: "Then I have to do the hard work of evaluating the writing [and other aspects I'm choosing not to mention], to get it down to a manageable number." You have already eliminated people based on AOS, weak letters, and no evidence of teaching. If you're using criteria other than those three you have already eliminated applicants for, as well as the writing sample, what are those criteria?

crispus said...


For the second narrowing-down, I use the writing sample and the things I've already read in the earlier round. The letters, evidence about teaching, AOS, AOC. But, since I had already mentioned those, it seemed unnecessary to mention them again.

I meant to write what I in fact wrote. Honestly, it doesn't seem hard to understand at all.

Okay, then I think you might have a kind of tone-deafness to condescension.

Anonymous said...


3:01 here. I never claimed that not doing research would suggest that the applicant is "arrogant." That you didn't read an applicant that way is commendable. But we both know that some people will, and it's best to avoid such a misunderstanding.

The goal, as 6:29 points out, is to get jobs. I still maintain that one's chances of getting a job improve if one has researched the department and is better prepared at the interview. That some people get jobs despite not being so prepared doesn't diminish the value of my advice: being prepared is always preferable to being unprepared.

Anonymous said...


Sometimes people have writing available that isn't their writing sample. For example, if I see that someone has a publication that wasn't the writing sample, I can google the title of the paper and click on one of the various search results (the paper usually comes up on one of the first two hits).

Anonymous said...


Is it generally considered fair to judge applicants by materials not presented in their applications?

I didn't realize that SCs might search for all my available scholarship as part of my application. Perhaps SCs should note that this is an acceptable practice in the field.

Anonymous said...


Yes, SCs will often consider published materials that are not presented in your application. Once you are short-listed for a position, you can basically count on at least some committee members reading several of your papers.

You seem to indicate that you think this practice is unfair? Can you say a bit more about why you think so? IMHO, this is just a committee doing good research about the candidates.

Anonymous said...

8:01 - it seems very strange to me to think that there is anything wrong with looking at all material a candidate has written, whether or not it is in the application. I don't have the time to pour over multiple writing samples when figuring out who to interview, but by the time we have our candidates down to 3-4, I'll look at more of their writing if it's published. After all, publishing something indicates that you are willing for the rest of the world to see your work...

Anonymous said...


I've never been told by a SC at a school I applied to, but my department has made it clear to the grad students that (i) they read old papers of their applicants and (ii) we should expect everything of ours that is accessible to be fair game at the later stages of an application process. I think the debates about posting papers online--e.g. on websites--also supports this.

Anonymous said...

Come on people. Of course everything you've done is fair game when folks are deciding whether or not to hire you. Let's get serious about this or just pack up and go home now.

zombie said...

Yeah, one aspect of "fit" is how well your research complements or duplicates what other people in the dept are doing, whether it fills holes for the dept, etc. So you should expect the SC to be looking at your work as a whole. They can look at anything they can find online too, so mind your ps and qs.

Anonymous said...

here is something a job candidate did this semester (i'm on a search committee):

failed to respond to emailed set of objections (a few pages long) to the writing sample

i'm sorry, but that just makes it seem as though the candidate has little interest in the position.

Anonymous said...

You emailed the candidate objections to the writing sample?

Huh. Did you, maybe, let the candidate know in advance that you were going to do that, and why? It seems a little weird. You might have trouble getting the candidate you want if you do things like that.

(Or was that a joke? Now it seems like a joke.)

Anonymous said...


Or little interest in professional development.

Anonymous said...

@8:11 You might want to be sure the candidate actually got the email before drawing a conclusion that s/he isn't interested in the job.

Also, some very sought-after candidates' schedules are absolutely jam-packed with fly-outs this time of year. Perhaps they are putting off a response until they have enough time to think about the objections properly?

Or, they might think the email full of objections is a chance for an interesting discussion with another philosopher who is interested, and not think of it as somehow intrinsically tied to their prospects at your particular job posting. It's not exactly like sending emails full of criticisms is a "standard" part of the interviewing/vetting process.

Anonymous said...

8:11 Must be joking.

Anonymous said...


You crazy! There's a time and a place. You chose the wrong ones, or, possibly, gave one potential future colleague all the info s/he needed to know about you and your department. Honestly, sometimes it's like you forgot that there's a person behind all of those application papers.

Anonymous said...

I don't see what's so outrageous about sending an email with objections to a job candidate. But I do agree with 7:38 that, assuming you are really interested in landing the candidate, you should probably verify before assuming the candidate is ignoring your dear objections. I have found three acceptance emails to conferences and journals in my spam folder. Fortunately, I happened to check at the last minute for the conferences. If I hadn't, they would have scheduled an empty seat.

This seems like a no brainer: if you're on an SC and you really want the candidate, verify before assuming they're ignoring you. If you're a candidate waiting for a response, check the spam box.

zombie said...

"failed to respond to emailed set of objections (a few pages long) to the writing sample"

Huh. I don't know what I'd do in that kind of situation, but I'm not sure I would interpret the email to mean that I was expected or obligated to respond. Unless I was explicitly told to do so, in which case I would think it rather pushy. I might interpret it to mean that the sender just thought my WS to be rather deficient. In which case, I guess, I would reply with something along the lines of "thanks for the comments. They've given me something to think about." But I rather doubt I would do something along the lines of a revise and resubmit.

Was this a candidate chosen for a fly-out or first-round?

Anonymous said...

To the SC member who sent objections to a candidate's writing sample via e-mail:

First, if this really happened, could you please explain which part of the job will involve responding to inane objections to one's writing sample? Before you point out that one might have to respond to r/r requests or at conferences, just think about what you're saying (i.e. those contexts are nothing like this context). Also, do you think it is possible that your objections were actually quite stupid and the candidate didn't want to make you feel stupid (or more likely: couldn't because it would hurt his/her job prospects). Honestly, the audacity of this is mind-boggling.

Second, what the !@#! is wrong with you?

Anonymous said...

I really don't see the problem with sending objections about a paper to an applicant. This is, far as I can tell, fairly standard practice in a other contexts, such as submission to a conference or a journal.

Personally, I don't like when people list their job talks as "papers presented." This is one reason why. However, many in the field disagree with me, and claim that as the applicant was invited to speak on philosophical matters to a philosophical community, then it is a paper presented.

Stands to reason that if the field at large accepts this, then there should be no objection to treating these works as professional papers, subject to review and possible objections.

Also, I think this is a fine tool to add to SC's toolboxes; this can give some indication of how applicants handle objections to their work.

I really don't see how this is unfair, fails to reflect professional standards in the field, of fails to provide useful information in the hiring process.

Anonymous said...

This year I received several emails from professors with questions/objections to my writing sample or job talk. It was very difficult to respond because (a) in some cases the objections were misguided, (b) I did not want to propel the conversation into a long email chain, and (c) I nevertheless wanted to please or satisfy them with an answer, since I am a candidate in a very tight market. But this resulted in my spending 10-12 hours doing post-interview and post-visit email correspondence. It is unreasonable to ask a candidate to do this while the market is still underway (he/she is probably still doing flyouts). Therefore, it is unreasonable to include this as an expected part of the hiring process. (It should be obvious that the context of conference/journal submission is completely different.) If a faculty has a burning question, the interview/campus visit is the time to ask it. Imagine if every faculty at every school they are considering started engaging in such a practice. A candidate cannot afford to not answer or answer briefly, so the faculty should not ask. This practice should be discouraged.

Anonymous said...

On the issue of an email from a SC member to a candidate containing objections to the writing sample:

It seems like the questions of whether it is acceptable for the SC member to do this, and whether it is strange for the candidate not to respond depend on several details about the email that were not mentioned.

If the email was civil, and the SC member indicated that they were not just writing to let the candidate know of problems with the paper, but asking for the candidates thoughts about the questions/objections, then I see no problem with the email being written, and find it strange that a candidate would not either respond or write back saying why they were unable to respond.

If the email was not civil, or if it was framed simply as providing the candidate with objections to her view or criticisms of her paper without indicating that it was written by the SC member in his/her role as a SC member, then I can imagine a candidate not *realising* that the email was intended as an opportunity to provide more resources for the SC in their decisions.

I also think the stage of the search at which the email was written matters. If the candidate had already been invited to interview or to campus (or had already interviewed or been to campus) then the only excuse for not responding would be that the email was abusive or rude. At this stage, it should be clear to the candidate that the SC member is seeking information from the candidate, not simply putting objections to the paper on the record.

Finally, I'm a bit confused by all the outrage at the idea that a candidate should be asked to respond to objections to his/her work (even not very good ones). As a candidate myself, I would be happy to receive objections/questions by email (assuming, again, the email was civil): I would be grateful that the SC member had taken the time to read my paper carefully, and had given me the opportunity to convince them of its merit, rather than excluding my file from consideration. (Maybe I'm overly optimistic, but I would assume in such a case that, if a SC member bothered to spend her time writing me an email, then she wasn't doing so simply to let me know she thought my work to be deficient...)

3:46 said...

I'm 3:46, and I'm pretty happy to see that the general sentiment is that the comment about emailed objections sounds like a joke. Whew. So I'm not the crazy one.

To 11:29,
It's not unfair to email the objections; it's just weird. But as you obviously know, it's not exactly standard practice, so it's kind of nuts to hold it against someone if s/he doesn't respond.

In real life, when I was on the job market, I think my reaction would have been similar to zombie's. (Although I think I would also have been turned off.)

zombie said...

11:29 -- one difference is this: When you present a paper at a job talk, you are engaging in a conversation with other people who are present. Likewise at a conference.
When you are submitting a paper to a journal, you are subjecting it to review, and you are expected to respond to reviewer comments in a revision of your paper -- not in a personal email.
When I ask friends/colleagues to read a paper for me, I expect comments, and we may engage in some back and forth. I really don't think that's what anyone is doing when they submit a writing sample.
Finally, just imagine that you, some lucky job applicant, got dozens of these emails, all demanding that you respond to the objections. It would be a full time job responding to them. And suppose you think some of those objections are stupid or missing the point -- how are you to honestly respond to them?

Anonymous said...

8:04 here. Actually I'm thankful that 8:11 has brought this up here because it now looks like this wasn't a joke but is something applicants have to reckon with these days (at least 1:43 confirms it). That helps, because if I had got that email without the benefit of knowing about this practice (and it's purpose hadn't been explained), I would have been at a loss to make sense of it.

As was mentioned before, if the SC has questions on the writing sample or talk, the on-campus is the time and place to ask. It's unreasonable to expect applicants to engage in several pages long objections before or after the on-campus *as part of the application process*. One reason is that the depth or length of responses you get from applicants is not comparable. Some may have lots of time on their hands, others need to go back to teaching, family, whatever. Without that additional information, how could an SC form any meaningful, comparative view of the applicants' abilities to respond to written criticism? I find it hard to believe that the collective wisdom of an SC hasn't come up with a consideration like this. So, to hold a poor response against an applicant strikes me as utterly unreasonable and foolish.

If a SC member finds the sample so engaging as to ask questions for personal benefit, then I'd be delighted, but that's a different matter altogether.

I guess the other reason I found it baffling is that it adds another layer on top of increasingly byzantine demands. Sure, perhaps it would also be helpful to have the applicant sketch out an impromptu grant application or their next paper. You cannot come up with anything under pressure? Sorry, someone else will!

Anonymous said...

As a job candidate, I'd much rather have the search committee email me asking about objections they have with my writing sample or job talk rather than simply dismiss me because of problems they had with one or the other. At least then I'd have a chance to defend my position.

Anonymous said...

Asking a candidate to respond to objections based on a writing sample they submitted for a job may not be without philosophical merit, but it is entirely without any sort of class, empathy, or purpose.

Simply put, there is nothing that in any way assesses a candidate's suitability for a job from doing this. Period.

And by this token, can I send objections to and expect comments from people in the department I am interviewing in? From experience, I've interviewed at lots of departments where people had published things I would find objectionable (sometimes even stupid).

But I realized that these publications had little to do with the everyday life of a department, the quality of these people as philosophers (sometimes yes, sometimes no), or--most importantly--as colleagues.

Honestly, this strikes me as so arrogantly stupid and inane that it seems only contemporary philosophers could have come up with it (who are, obvious to anyone who spends _any_ time in any other disciplines, some of most boorish and often dumbest people in academia).

Anonymous said...

Expecting a candidate to respond to objections to their writing sample, even if done nicely, is insane. At the very least, it suggests a complete lack of consideration on the part of the SC member in regards to a potential future colleague. Yes, it's a bad market, but that doesn't mean those on it have an obligation to acquiesce to any bizarre request an SC can think of. This is one such request. SC's must realize (and if they don't, that's further indication this might not be a great place to work) that candidates are probably in one of two positions after an interview or fly out. First, they might be hanging all of their hopes on this particular job. Thus a request (?) - surprise! - to respond to a bunch of objections to a writing sample they've probably already discussed with you at length (and when they thought they could finally breath a sigh of relief!) is likely to initiate a complete nervous breakdown. Second, they might be killing it on the market, and are thus in the middle of the insane juggling act that is multiple fly outs (the most stressful gauntlet of one's philosophical life), teaching obligations, all the normal research habits they're supposed to be magically keeping up with, the many other professional obligations of their current job, and perhaps trying to find five minutes somewhere to spend time with other non-philosophy human beings they actually like so they don't lose their mind. Either way, it's a dick move.

Never mind the fact that, unless your comments are brilliant, you're placing them in an impossible situation. "Impress me with your philosophical acumen and ability to respond to criticism while still managing to stroke my ego and tell me how smart my completely off the mark objections are." I mean, seriously, c'mon. Being on the market is awful enough as it is without nonsense like this.

Anonymous said...

"Asking a candidate to respond to objections based on a writing sample they submitted for a job may not be without philosophical merit, but it is entirely without any sort of class, empathy, or purpose."

-So philosophical merit is of secondary concern when hiring a philosopher?

"Simply put, there is nothing that in any way assesses a candidate's suitability for a job from doing this. Period."

-The production of philosophy and the ability to handle objections from professional philosophers is not part of being a professional philosopher?

"And by this token, can I send objections to and expect comments from people in the department I am interviewing in?"

-Sure. But of course, you can send such unsolicited comments to anyone, at any time, regarding their scholarship. Whether they choose to respond to you is up to them.

"From experience, I've interviewed at lots of departments where people had published things I would find objectionable (sometimes even stupid)."

-OK. So tell them. That you don't has everything to do with you, and nothing to do with them.

"But I realized that these publications had little to do with the everyday life of a department, the quality of these people as philosophers (sometimes yes, sometimes no), or--most importantly--as colleagues."

-You likely also realized that they were not applying to you for anything. Why should they care what you think?

"Honestly, this strikes me as so arrogantly stupid and inane that it seems only contemporary philosophers could have come up with it"

-Knowing that it was done by contemporary philosophers probably also helped you realize that contemporary philosophers came up with it.

"(who are, obvious to anyone who spends _any_ time in any other disciplines, some of most boorish and often dumbest people in academia). "

-And yet most people reading this blog are desperately trying to join their ranks after having spent years of their lives learning from them. Fools, the lot of them.

Anonymous said...

This is the original (OG) 1/29 4:11

i'm not sure if submitting comments on a sample as a part of the process is normal - we don't do that at my institution. I can see where this request (or implied request) can be burdensome on the candidate. That said:

a). If you think you should not have to reply because the SC members are morons who ask non-sensical questions about your sample, or don't deserve a reply, or wouldn't understand your responses anyway, then see my #1 in the 4:11 post. I suspect that if this is your view, it will likely seep out in other ways too, in situations that are not really unreasonable. That's not good.

b) If it were me, I would reply with responses over not responding at all, the latter of which makes little sense to me. I might even reply immediately, suggesting that you would be happy to reply, but that there are other demands on your schedule that would need to be worked around. Once the SC replies with a deadline, I'd make the responses that my time (honestly) permits, being gracious in response and thankful for the opportunity to exchange thoughts on the paper.

In the end, remember that you are now finishing at least 6 years of tireless work towards a degree. This isn't the time to put up boundaries to workload. If you get the job, the requests will continue to fly in - you'll be expected to not just publish and teach, but perform lots of service and other kinds of institution specific work in order to get tenure. And then you'll be expected to do the same to be promoted to full professor. The demands, reasonable or not, will continue.

In the end, the point is to get the job.

zombie said...

"In the end, remember that you are now finishing at least 6 years of tireless work towards a degree. This isn't the time to put up boundaries to workload. If you get the job, the requests will continue to fly in - you'll be expected to not just publish and teach, but perform lots of service and other kinds of institution specific work in order to get tenure. And then you'll be expected to do the same to be promoted to full professor. The demands, reasonable or not, will continue."

Those TT demands are not quite the same, for one important reason: the power dynamic between SC and applicants is completely different, and overwhelmingly in favor of the SC. Sure, those on the TT will ultimately have to pass that tenure test, but they'll do it in an atmosphere where they are colleagues and equals, not people desperately searching for a job, in a position that no one in their right mind would think is equal.

There is a time and place for discussing/objecting to the WS, and everybody knows it. That time and place is the campus fly-out. Even the first round interview. Or, you know, IN PRINT after the writing sample has been published, so your paper can be subjected to the same peer-review scrutiny. Doing it in an email is excessively demanding, and not just because of "boundaries to workload." It implies that the applicant is on the level of a student, not a potential colleague. If you don't like the replies, will you send another round of objections? How about a phone call?

I also have to wonder about the workload of the person sending these objections. We have frequently discussed on this blog how time-consuming being on an SC can be. Who on an SC has time for this crap?

Anonymous said...

There is nothing wrong with department members emailing candidates with questions or comments on writing samples and job talks. Period. Talking with folks about your work should come easy by the time you are on the market, and it is perfectly reasonable for department members to be interested in your work and interested in talking with you about your work - after all, they are thinking about offering you a position in their department! Enjoy the attention, learn to handle multiple responsibilities, and seriously move on folks...

Anonymous said...

I would just like to note that I find the extreme confidence in both positions somewhat amusing.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing wrong with department members emailing candidates with questions or comments on writing samples and job talks. Period.

Yeah, the thing is, others have pointed out some things wrong with it. I guess it would be too much to ask you to respond to those.

Anonymous said...

I think the real problems with SC members sending questions (or objections, or whatever) about a candidate's work have been articulated. I'll note the ones that stand out to me:

The time/place for doing this is during the interviews, whether first round or on-campus. If you're not on the SC, wait until the candidate gets to the on-campus stage (if they're lucky enough) *and* they're meeting with you (or having lunch, dinner, or whatever social time to interact).

It puts the candidate in a horrible position of having very little time or attention to be able to pay to all of the demands of the job market, their research (which they probably had to shut down for the market), their teaching, and their other service requirements. And having little time or attention to be able to pay means that they probably can't give the questioner the attention they want or feel they deserve.

It also puts the candidate in a shitty position of quite probably receiving some stupid questions. These things happen. We've all had it happen! But you're adding minefields for this candidate: you surely don't do this for *all* candidates, right? So you're putting an unfair burden on this candidate.

Finally, you can ALWAYS ask them your questions after the job market process. Your questions aren't that pressing.

Anonymous said...

I'm the 8:11 person on a SC who said that a candidate should respond to an email regarding the WS.

First, I know for sure that the candidate received the email, as he/she emailed me back right away saying he/she would respond.

Second, I did it after the fly-out.

Third, I asked the questions via email because when I had the chance to ask the questions during the campus visit, something came up to prevent it (and it wasn't my fault; it was the candidate's problem).

Fourth, for God's sake: if you can't deal with questions about your WS what the hell are you doing on the job market? Your WS should be something you know inside and out. You should be prepared to answer detailed questions about it without too much trouble. And if you can't think of a decent response to some question, how about saying 'I can't think of a good response for that one'?

Fifth, if my questions were stupid, well, get used to fielding stupid questions. Tell me my questions are confused for such-and-such reason. I'm a grownup and can take criticism.

Sixth, commentators are correct that this is not SOP. But it's not bizarre either. I got these emails every time I was on the market.

Anonymous said...

here is something a job candidate did this semester

This semester? So, really, it's entirely possible the candidate hasn't responded to you yet. A busy job candidate doesn't sit down and begin working on replies to your pages of objections immediately (or, wait, for all we know, she has begun), and you're already bitching about on The Smoker.

I got these emails every time I was on the market.

I like this. It sounds like the sort of justifications fraternities give for continuing to employ hazing rituals.

and it wasn't my fault; it was the candidate's problem


Anonymous said...

Hi 811!

I assume you are a professional philosopher. It is a pitty that you couldn't bring yourself to actually levy reasons in your response. They amounted, essentially, to an 'argument clinic' style "No it isn't."

You still don't seem to realize the undo burden you've imposed. Unless your vote on the hiring committee rests entirely on these responses, you really could have put aside your selfish desire to have your thoughts responded to until AFTER you have made your offer. If you choose to hire this person, you'll have a long time to engage her/him. If you don't choose to hire him/her...don't be surprised if you don't get a response. This is just about common sense.

Anonymous said...

This is the 8:11 SC jerk again!

My reasons for emailing the question to the candidate are as follows:

1. I am trying to assess the candidate’s research potential RP (for obvious reasons).

2. At this stage in his/her career, one of the best ways to do that is examine the WS and ask questions about it.

3. This is particularly important in this case because the SC is comparing the RPs of the candidates and there are more doubts about the RP of this candidate than the others who had campus visits.

4. As I mentioned in a previous post, for reasons having to do with the candidate, I was unable to ask the questions during the campus visit. There was a time slot all planned out for this discussion, but life interfered.

5. So, I emailed the questions to him/her.

I’m not emailing the questions out of some selfish desire to talk philosophy with a good philosopher. I’m doing it solely because I need to make a decision about a job offer.

Among other things, that means the questions are time sensitive: the offer has to be made relatively soon, so I need the feedback soon. It has been well over two weeks since I received the promise from the candidate to reply to the questions. Surely the candidate knows that responding to the questions is a good way to enhance his/her candidacy so that he/she has a better chance to land the offer? Isn’t that pretty obvious? ‘I just got some questions about my WS from the SC; this is a chance to show them I can handle detailed questions about my work’. Clearly, offering a response after the offer decision has been made will mean the opportunity slipped by.

Finally, let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill: even if I don’t get the promised reply, this is not going to mean he/she is out of consideration! It’s not a black mark on his/her candidacy. Instead, it’s a missed opportunity for him/her: a member of the SC has some doubts about the RP via the WS and was looking for some evidence that the candidate had good responses to those doubts.

Anonymous said...

Finally, let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill: even if I don’t get the promised reply, this is not going to mean he/she is out of consideration! It’s not a black mark on his/her candidacy.

So, you think it makes it seem like the candidate is not interested in the position, but that's not a black mark against his/her candidacy.


Anonymous said...

Please don't misunderstand me. I meant: it is evidence that he/she is not interested in the position when:

(a) he/she said he/she would respond

(b) he/she does not respond for two weeks.

It is defeasible evidence for sure! And it has not played a large role in our decision making. But it is evidence nonetheless: just consider (a) and (b)!

If the candidate just couldn't muster the time to address the questions on the WS (after two weeks), then an email saying so would be appropriate.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

To the SC member who posted the original comment: I'm one of the folks who was somewhat horrified by the original comment. But, my purpose in this follow up is not to call you a jerk. Rather, if this request was really an opportunity to help the candidate assuage doubts about their research potential, why not email them a quick follow up? In light of all of the comments here, I'm sure you can see how a stressed out, burnt out candidate on the market might not be sure what the *right* way to respond to your email is. We are constantly stressed out about this, and since, as you admit, your request is not standard practice, they probably feel like they're in the weeds here. Why not assume the most charitable interpretation of their lack of a reply: they don't have time for the lengthy, thoughtful reply they would like to send (I would not have time for this right now, in between fly outs, the start of the new semester, and other obligations, even though I feel I know my WS "inside and out"), and they do not want to send an offhand one. It is also reasonable to suppose that they have no idea how important you take their response to be, and are erring on the side of caution by not responding (maybe thinking: at this point, better to just wait and see if I get an offer before responding, don't want to rock the boat, so to speak).

It seems to me that an excellent, responsible, and enthusiastic candidate could be in just this position. So, why not just shoot them a quick, pleasant follow up, letting them know you are *very interested* in their responses if they are able to get to them soon. This still leaves the candidate in a tough spot, but if you really are trying to help them strengthen their case then it seems like the right (and humane!) thing to do. Give them another shot, in light of the many reasons cited above that you've put them (perhaps in an effort to be helpful) in a difficult position.

Unless they're a candidate for a job I want and am waiting to hear from. In that case, screw 'em.

Anonymous said...

5:00 PM might be the both the best and most civil comment I have ever read on this blog.

Anonymous said...

Dear 5:00,

Those are helpful thoughts and suggestions.

I'm hesitant, though, because as many have pointed out, it's a stressful time for candidates. Adding a friendly 'Hey there! You haven't replied to the email' ... well, can it be done in such a way as to not put too much pressure on the candidate?

In addition, it seems borderline paternalistic or perhaps pushy to say to someone you barely know 'Hey you said you were gonna reply but you didn't'.

Anonymous said...

5:00 here - of course, I'm just thinking in terms of damage control here. If the SC member is already put off by the lack of response, then better the candidate get some sense of this than not. I'd rather be aware of the pressure on me (even if it sort of stinks or might even be unfair) than have no idea a job I want might hang on whether or not I respond. Sunk costs and all that.

Anonymous said...


Seriously, do we need to write the email for you? You don't need to be paternalistic about it at all.

Something that expresses: Hey, I'm really interested in your thoughts, but I'm sure you're very busy, and it's a stressful time. So why don't you get back to me in a few months, when things have hopefully calmed down.

Anonymous said...

Fourth, for God's sake: if you can't deal with questions about your WS what the hell are you doing on the job market?

This is exactly right. You want people to read your work. You want people to respond to your work -- even critically, because almost all philosophical response is to some extent critical.

Don't have time to respond as well as you'd like? Say so. Thank the person for the comments and questions and politely explain why you can't answer them yet. Or why you can only give them a quick response. But you know what? If you really want the job, find the time.

The simple fact is that how well you respond to objections about your work is a crucial measure of your philosophical ability. You will be put in this position throughout your career. I am a full professor at a top department, and I always try to respond to people who demonstrate that they've read my work by sending me questions or objections, unsolicited. Of course some get longer and more thoughtful responses than others, and I'm not saying I haven't ever written a "thanks but don't expect anything more" response.

And yes: If you are a job applicant, the people hiring have something that you want, which they may or may not offer to you. If you want to call that having power over you, fine. That's how things are in every respect of the job search. In this case you've got a chance to help yourself get what you want -- by doing philosophy! What you claim to want to do with your life. Seize it.

Anonymous said...

you wrote this as a suggested email:

... why don't you get back to me in a few months, when things have hopefully calmed down...

which tells me you haven't been paying attention to the time issue.

in any case, it's too late now; the offer decision has been made.

Anonymous said...


You assume that it's my job to write this email for you. I was following the story...it's up to YOU to fill in the details. It's clear that you're inept at forming even the most basic of emails on this matter, though. It really is a wonder you got to where you are in the profession.

Anonymous said...

Really, 10:11? 9:15 said long ago that the window for response was short. So when you suggest that getting back in a few months is appropriate it does suggest you weren't paying attention...or maybe you've chosen to ignore a point that was important to the discussion. Now, there's no need to start launching personal attacks just because you've been called out on that error. For example, 9:15 might be an exceptional philosopher regardless of his view about a candidate's obligation to respond to email objections. There are people here on both sides who seem *positive* they're right about this. Also, being on a search committee doesn't suggest 9:15 has gotten very far in the profession anyhow. None of this is helpful. The thread devolved soon after it was created. PS I'm actually not 9:15...

Anonymous said...

HOW is the window short? How?

The SC member may *want* an answer in a short window, but many of us have been arguing that that's totally unrealistic.

But fine. Focus on that, rather than their inability to write their own tactful emails.

Anonymous said...

I am also not 9:15.

Mods, could we *please* have a new thread for the usual pointless angsting and asking for updates on who's heard what from whom?

Anonymous said...

5:46 -- that's _golden_! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Sound to me like the SC (or someone on the SC) had an issue with the candidate's sample, not problems large enough to knock the candidate down in ranking (for that member or for the SC as a whole). In such a situation, it seems that the other candidates are ranked higher, and so will get the job all things being equal. So, the request to respond to questions was a way to give the candidate a chance to push back up in ranking (for SC or for that member).

That said, if that's what's going on, sounds to me like the SC is doing the candidate a favor, because the only way they are getting the job is if the other candidate(s) drop out of the search.

If I were the candidate, I'd appreciate that request, even if it is burdensome time-wise. The SC is not going to delay the search to give me more time, particularly if the other candidates are ranked higher. When push comes to scheduling shove, they will simply make the offer to the other candidates.

Sounds like the SC was doing the right thing to me.

zombie said...

7:36 -- I think the issue here is that in the initial posting about this, it was not clear that the candidate would know why the email was being sent. (But maybe they did.) Surely any of us would like an additional chance to impress the SC, but it was not clear that the candidate knew that this was the purpose of the email.

However, I would still worry about this situation in this way: having recently been through a "grilling" about a paper, it is a very fresh in my mind, and it is a different experience than one where you are sitting down to think about written questions/objections and responding to them. Being able to think fast and well in a conversation about your work is more like the experience one might have at a conference, or a classroom experience, where you might be responding to student questions. Doing that well is certainly a skill related to thinking and writing well, but it is not exactly the same thing. So... are all the candidates being judged by the same criteria in this search? Was there some reason someone decided that this particular candidate warranted the extra help that the email you suugest would give them? People fail at fly-outs, just like people fail at first-round interviews, or the first cut. That's part of the process. The playing field may be un-level in various ways, but one of the ways that (I had thought) it WAS level was that candidates are basically given the same opportunities to succeed and/or fail. (To the extent that humans beings can successfully perform this feat of fairness and impartiality.)

Anonymous said...

Zombie --

7:36 here again. It might be that the candidate didn't know - I don't recall what the poster said. But if it was the case (as was my impression at the time) that the candidate's rank had dropped, then the candidate was out of the running if the other candidates accepted. Now that's not something you can say as an SC member to a candidate, but a well meaning SC might simply give the candidate a chance to move back up. My impression was that if the other candidates refused, this candidate would likely still get an offer. It was just a matter of ranking. So I guess here my reply would be that given the inability to state these things (hey, you're not #1 at the moment, or even #2, but you could be if you answer these!), this is the best the SC can do.

I don't doubt the issue of comparing live questions to written ones (to an extent). But in this case, the candidate isn't being treated unfairly - he/she is #3 (my impression). In the absence of questions asked here, the candidate stays at #3. If the candidate answers successfully, perhaps higher. So the candidate can only be helped. So I don't see this as a case where the candidate is being treated unfairly (if I'm reading the situation right). If anything, the candidate is being given a chance to rise in the ranks, or stay where he/she is given the inability to have the discussion in a live face to face manner (at that point).

Hopefully that makes sense.

Anonymous said...

I've read enough of this blog to know that there is a certain faction of readers/commenters who feel that the job search process has little to nothing to do with the practice of philosophy: applicants are rejected for typos in application materials, prestige bias is rampant, interviews are at best imperfect means of gathering information, etc.

One way to look at the request by the member of the SC is to see it in terms of the practice of philosophy. This is what philosophers do: they think, they write, they share, they address criticism and concerns, they refine.

But more importantly, I wonder how many people complaining about this practice have also complained about not being given the chance to respond to criticism of their work. I know that, if I had such an opportunity during any of my failed job applications, I would have taken it. And I would have been glad for the opportunity.

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone,

This is the SC member who emailed the candidate questions.

1. Please don’t forget that time is of the essence: SCs have to make the hiring decision pronto after the campus visits. The candidate does not have the luxury of waiting a couple weeks to reply.

2. What made me question the interest that the candidate had for the position was this: he/she emailed me back promising to respond to my questions and never followed up (by ‘never’ I meant two weeks; it’s been something like three now, with no reply); the person struck me as being extremely mature, competent, personable, and politically savvy; someone with those credentials who doesn’t follow up probably isn’t terribly interested in the position—especially since I’m confident he/she will get multiple offers from places “above” my place of employment.

3. I emailed the candidate the questions because the SC had doubts about the research potential (from the WS) and this was a way to see if those doubts could be answered in a positive way. So, yes: the idea was to give him/her a chance to improve the ranking—based on the quality of his/her responses to questions about the WS.

4. By the way, the candidate was not #1 on the SC’s list, but I was trying to judge who gets the #2 spot.

5. The idea that SCs make decisions based on things like typos et cetera is just wildly out of sync with my experience. I’ve been on many SCs and each time it is like teaching an extra course: over the span of two months I spend dozens and dozens of hours poring over the materials and other relevant material. I think I’m pretty typical in that respect. Next to tenure decisions, hiring decisions are just about the most important ones we make. I am atypical, I suppose, in putting very little weight on the interviews or job talks.

Anonymous said...

Re #1: Then you should have made it clear to the candidate that *that's* why you were asking. The candidate may have just interpreted the questions as something "out of protocol" for most departments, and thought that time was not "of the essence." So maybe you just didn't properly communicate what role your questions had in their job chances.

If I were asked questions like that, I may have responded with something like: "Thanks for the thoughtful questions. Things are extremely busy for me at the moment, and I want to give your questions due time and attention. Could I get back to you in a few weeks?"

If you had doubts about the candidate's research potential...did they not already have publications? If they didn't, and their writing sample left doubts about their research potential...why were they even in the top 3?

More likely, I suppose, they have some publications but they didn't want to send in a publication, and so submitted something in progress? Is that right? If so, then maybe the SC is judging them on the wrong sort of thing: in progress papers tend to be lower quality than finished, published pieces because...well...the publication/review process tends to improve papers.

Anonymous said...

In defense of the SC member in question:

I doubt the SC member meant that they had doubts about the candidate as a researcher at all, but rather in the context of the final rankings for the last 3 finalists. It wasn't a question of "should the applicant be seriously considered at all?" but rather "should the applicant be #2 or #3?"

I'm also not clear why the applicant would say that he/she would get back to the SC within two weeks if he/she thought it might not be important to actually do so. Again, the SC cannot say "we're trying to decide whether you are #2 or #3" but if I am the candidate and I say "I'll get back to you in 2 weeks" then I'm going to do that, even if I have no idea why the SC is asking for the information. If I believe that I may not meet the commitment for whatever reason, I wouldn't offer one.

Again, it's hard for me to see that the candidate in this case was wronged in any way. On the basis of their file, he/she was #3. Without a response, he/she stays at #3.

Anonymous said...

This is the SC guy again.

9:16 has a good point: since in my email I never said anything like ‘I hope to hear your response soon’, perhaps the candidate didn’t know that my email and his/her response had much of anything to do with the hiring decision. So it would be okay to reply after a few weeks.

But really?

If you get a detailed philosophical email from a SC member isn’t it pretty obvious that if you do well in your response it could very easily bump you up in the ranking? I thought it would be fairly obvious that this is an opportunity to boost one’s chances at landing the job.

And my defender 5:41 is correct: there was no doubt that the candidate in question will be successful at research; the question was how to compare the candidates’ research potential.

Anonymous said...

I'm really surprised that the reaction from most commenters here is that "it's too demanding to have to respond". How many flyouts are people getting?? I thought this blog was about how you spend months putting together applications and then don't even get to have the dignity of a PFO. Here is a concrete engagement with your actual work. Assuming this candidate has at most 3 flyouts, (s)he can't take a couple hours to write a reply or (failing that) suggest "it would be easier for me to discuss your thoughtful comments by phone".

This is this candidate's one of maybe 4 chances at the job lottery and this behavior seems to me pretty wrongheaded. Call in sick to one of your classes you are adjuncting for $1000 a semester to increase your chances of getting into the profession? Seems like an easy trade-off.

Anonymous said...

Last year I had 4 flyouts, pulled out of some searches, and attended all the APA conferences. I was *ragged* by the end of it. There were 5 week straight where I was travelling. 2 flyouts, C-APA, 2 more flyouts. Each Wed-Sat or Thurs-Sat I was travelling. Oh, and I was teaching two courses (including a big one with 150 students). Research was out of the question. I wouldn't have had much time to answer an email like this.

Anonymous said...

"Last year I had 4 flyouts, pulled out of some searches, and attended all the APA conferences. I was *ragged* by the end of it. There were 5 week straight where I was travelling. 2 flyouts, C-APA, 2 more flyouts. Each Wed-Sat or Thurs-Sat I was travelling. Oh, and I was teaching two courses (including a big one with 150 students). Research was out of the question. I wouldn't have had much time to answer an email like this."

A whole TWO COURSES? How did you manage to survive?

This is the best humble-brag of the season.

Anonymous said...

This isn't the oppression olympics 7:33, grow up.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone heard anything about the Stanford (McCoy) post-docs?

Anonymous said...

This is the SC person again.

9:40 says he/she wouldn't have had time to respond. Two points on that matter.

First, it should not take very long to respond to some queries about your fucking WS--the thing you have thought about for several years, off and on. No more than an hour folks. You honestly don't have time for that--an hour or so to boost your candidacy in a direct way by discussing your research? Really??

Second, let's say you really don't have that time. The candidate SAID he/she would respond but never did so and never offered any 'I know I promised but things are insane on my end and I can't afford an hour or so'. Did he/she forget all about it? That's hard to imagine given how competent the candidate is. Did he/she just blow it off?

Anonymous said...


Of course it is. Many here just assume that the gold has already been awarded to the poor, overworked finalist who is too busy to reply to an email about his own work.

Anonymous said...

I'm 12:37 and think 9:40 was mostly responding to me. I'm still not convinced...

I'm assuming that one will be on the job market perhaps 5-6 years total in their entire career. To be *ragged* for a month during those years is tough, sure, but so tough that you would blow your chances for a job?

I really don't get it. I left the profession after grad school and now have a corporate job. I have months like that described by 9:40 half the months out of the year... I do it just for the paycheck.

The idea that you can't do that for your chance to get a tenure track job is amazing to me.

Anonymous said...

Hi 8:12, they have scheduled skype interviews and plan to make final decisions by the end of this week. I suspect that those of us who haven't heard anything yet are out of the running, but one never knows, of course.

Anonymous said...

Any news from Birkbeck?

Anonymous said...

not only no news from birkbeck, but also no request for letters. i thought about just having the letters sent, but thought better of it as they do seem to say they will send a request.

any news from cambridge (open, but with some wide preferences)?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads up, 2:16PM.

Did you hear about McCoy scheduling interviews for both positions/post-docs, or only for one?

FWIW: A couple of weeks ago, they sent out an email blast about the research position. It said that they'd try to have decisions made by the middle of Feb, but it didn't mention interviews. It also said that the teaching post-doc pool was being handled separately. Other than that, I've not heard anything at all about the teaching positions.

Anonymous said...

6:51, I think it's only one.

Anonymous said...

Anyone know the status of Tulane?

Anonymous said...

The humanities post-doc at Tulane? Word over at the academic jobs wiki is that they've scheduled on campus interviews for the finalists.

Anonymous said...

Offers seem to be pouring in these days.

Anonymous said...

According to the wiki, a number of positions have been filled. When does Leiter usually start up the post for announcements?

zombie said...

Leiter's thread started Feb 15 last year. So, any day now.

Anonymous said...

On Stanford's McCoy center postdocs:

I have just received an email stating that "Our review process is moving more slowly than expected, and I thank you for your patience. I will write again with an update on your application as soon as I can."

So, while 2:16 may know something I don't, maybe don't give up hope yet?

Anonymous said...

PFOs up to my ankles today.

Anonymous said...

The jobs wiki seems down...