Friday, May 29, 2009

Late Friday night comparisons

I hope people are paying attention to the steam shooting from the ears of the bloviating Right (rounded up and soundly derided here) about Judge Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court and remember it during the next job cycle when they are tempted to chalk up the success of one or another candidate (or their own lack of it) to race or gender.


Somewhat non-philosophical postscript: The usual Leftish suspects are having a field day calling bullshit on the Right.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Plans for future research

In addition to worrying about my writing sample, I've been revamping my research statement. When I first drafted it, I was given the advice that I should keep it focused on a narrow set of problems in my AOS, so that it seems like I really have a well-developed, well-thought-out research program involving a set of closely-related problems in a way that emphasizes the fact that I am a specialist in my advertised area of specialization. That seems basically right to me.

But I know this guy who's an Averroes scholar, and he told me a story about his successful on-campus interview. It seemed to him that he got the job at the moment he stressed that he wasn't just an Averroes scholar; that he also had interests in contemporary metaphysics and applied ethics. According to him, this is when they realized that he was well-rounded and not "narrow." That makes me wonder whether I shouldn't try to use my research statement to indicate my "broadness."

Maybe there's a difference between the Averroes scholar and me. Maybe Averroes scholarship is inherently more narrow than my AOS, and indicating "broadness" in my research statement will signal a lack of seriousness, or that I'm some kind of a flighty dabbler. Or maybe the research statement should indicate narrowness, and then I can surprise them with my broadness when i get to campus. I don't know. Do you?

--Mr. Zero

Friday, May 22, 2009

Thinking with the learned, speaking with the vulgar

Fellow Smoker Zombie asks the following question:
Does anyone have a "layman's" version of their diss/research, for non-philosophers who ask about it? Since I've got a postdoc fellowship starting in the fall, I've had occasion to tell people outside of philosophy that I'm starting a new job, relocatiing, etc. Many ask what I'll be doing, and what it's about, and I realize I need a really short and non-jargony, soundbitey explanation. Likewise when people ask me what my diss was about. Or do you just talk until their eyes glaze over and they start to back away slowly...
The strategy I take when the vulgar ask about what I do or what my dissertation is about is to first sigh loudly and with resignation (not exasperation), then adopt a decidedly non-excited tone and talk very haltingly (and with fingers running through hair) to indicate just how fucking hard it is to formulate my very complicated project so that they can understand. Now, if that doesn't completely put them off from asking any other questions, I'll drop a few names that they probably heard of, but know nothing about. This gives the other person an opening to pretend to know what's going on, nod interestedly, and go back to talking about the weather or my fantasy baseball team.

But, I somehow doubt that is the the advice Zombie is looking for, and it's certainly not the proper way to interact socially with someone else. So, let's help Zombie out, what strategies do you adopt when you talk with the lay about your work?


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Best study timer ever

This is a timer attached to a ball and chain that locks you in place to do work.  Ultimate study timer?

-- Second Suitor

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Using the same writing sample over again

For those of us who will be on the market in the fall, it's time to start thinking about what to use for a writing sample. The paper I used last year is one I'm pretty proud of. I've presented it a couple of times, had nothing but positive feedback on it, I've continued to revise it over the past year, and I've gotten it to a point where I think it's a really good paper. Of course, when I used it last year, I got absolutely nowhere with it. So I wonder if it's good, other things being equal, to use a different writing sample each year you're on the job market. I wonder if it's bad, other things being equal, to use the same one over again. Will I signal that I'm out of ideas or something? What gives?

--Mr. Zero

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Don't give up, don't ever give up..

Problem: we'll probably have a shrunken job market next year (I'm guessing with fewer jobs canceled) . 

Solution: expand the job market.  See, you're thinking that the 'job market' refers to the job market for academic philosophy jobs.  Once you include administrative positions, there are many more jobs to apply for.  Sure you have to 1/2 turn your back on the field you've been studying for the last 7 years.  But I'm guessing they have job security and it may help you choose where you get to live.  [If you're taking the idea seriously remember that a CV is different than a resume.]

I'm not throwing in the towel or anything.  I'm just tossing it out there.

-- Second Suitor

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Whacky student time

As the semester winds down, I thought we could tell stories about our students. Here's an example: I have this student who, for a borderline legitimate reason, didn't take the midterm for a long time. Then he says to me, "would it be OK if I didn't take the exam at all, and just take the final, and have it count twice?" I never had a request like that before, and have no idea why he thought I'd go for it. Anyways, I said no.

What whacky things are your students doing in a last-ditch effort to save their grades?

--Mr. Zero

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Communication breakdown (pt. 1)

I had been working on a post recently about how the adoption of the burning armchair by the Experimental Philosophers is symptomatic of larger collegiality and communication issues between philosophers. I was going to note how their logo, no matter how lighthearted, serves to frame the debate they want to have about philosophical methodology in combative and aggressive terms and how this just prompts their interlocutors to respond in kind.

As such, the opportunity to have what could be an important and new (actually, probably renewed from the '50s - '60s) debate about the course and nature of philosophy is often missed. Points are lost or purposefully ignored, arguments become less about substance and more about style, and an unwillingness to engage or understand the opposing project is engendered.

But, then I remembered how much I've always been amused by how Hume ends the Enquiry by, more or less cheekily, advocating the burning of books. And it was this remembrance of Hume that made me realize I was, perhaps, reading a bit too much about the collegiality of the profession as a whole into the burning armchair imagery.

Certain movements have a long history of selling their projects by declaring in grand, polemical terms the end of a certain type of philosophical methodology and the birth of an entirely novel and awesome approach to philosophy (examples abound; just think about the long history of empiricism). It's just what those who are really super-excited and confident about their projects do. Such excitement and (over)selling is part of what's cute about philosophy and sometimes it's part of what makes it fun.

And while it may not create an atmosphere that is especially amenable to being taken seriously by one's opponent, the burning armchair isn't symptomatic of larger issues. They don't mean anything by it other than trying to create a splash by dropping a polemical bomb. It creates a problem, but it's personal, namely, what do Experimental Philosophers have to do to get read charitably by their opponents after dropping said bomb?

So, the post, as previously conceived, was scrapped.

But, even if the particular example I chose for the earlier post didn't exactly work, I do think that professional philosophy has some real collegiality issues. There are certain accepted ways of talking to and about one another's work (of which examples will be given in a later post) that are embarrassing and stifle debate. And the idea many seem to have that philosophy is more hand-to-hand combat between positions fighting for their lives and less forceful dialectical nudging certainly also serves to create a hostile academic environment.

Of course, maybe I'm too sensitive or don't have a sense of humor or am naivé about what constitutes vigorous philosophical debate. Yeah, maybe I am all those things and blah blah glass houses, but, still, to be continued.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Temporal Gappiness in Philosophy Careers

In comments, Cross the Breeze asks,
I've had a bunch of interviews and short-lists and jobs cancelled out from under me etc but still don't have anything for next year. It's a strange situation: to come so close one minute to having a dream job and then staring at having nothing for fall the next. Now I'm not sure if it's worth trying again: a gap on the CV won't look too good. Or is this worry overstated (I can't seem to get a straight answer on this)?
My sense is that it will probably look somewhat bad, maybe even pretty bad, but not so bad that it's definitely not worth trying again. Anybody else got any ideas?

--Mr. Zero

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Your students on Facebook

I just got a friend request from a student. He's not failing or anything--though the last time a student friended me, he was totally flunking--but I didn't recognize the kid's profile picture, or the kid's name right away (I do have 200 students, okay?), and had to check my class roster in order to confirm the "student" hypothesis.

The first time this happened, I drafted a long email explaining why I thought maintaining a certain professional distance was important and stuff, but then I ended up not sending it and just ignoring the request. Since then, "operation ignore" has been my basic strategy for handing students on Facebook. What do other people do?

--Mr. Zero

Friday, May 1, 2009

Maybe I'm spending too much of my time starting up clubs and putting on plays; I should probably be trying harder to score chicks

At certain times, I wonder if I should even bother trying to publish my philosophical work and if, instead, I should focus on posting more here at the Smoker. I mean, regardless of what people think about this here venture, the modest number of visitors Team Smoker pulls in is sure to exceed the number of people who would read anything I published in a decent journal.

And when you discover that you and your teammates' blog is the first hit on Google when the search is "shit fuck my dissertation" that feeling just gets exacerbated.

"Shit, fuck my dissertation." Sounds about right.