Thursday, November 26, 2009

All Hail The Turkey King!!!

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fitting in Fitness

As the holiday season approaches, I am reminded of one area of my now year-old life as a visiting assistant professor of philosophy in which I have entirely failed: exercise. In the olden days, when my teaching duties included one class or less, I was a somewhat avid cyclist. Nowadays my bicycle has been repurposed as wall art: I think of it as a sculpture entitled, "A Constant Reminder of How Out of Shape You Are." If I'm not teaching, I feel like I should be doing something that will help me snag a tenure-track position, such as physically applying for jobs or writing kick-ass philosophy papers. And if I'm not doing that, I feel like I ought to be doing something to keep me from becoming divorced. I never, ever feel as though I have time for exercise. As a result, I hardly ever exercise. As a result, what little exercise I manage to fit in is extremely unpleasant. As a result, I get around to it less and less often. As a result, my sculpture gets more and more meaningful. It's a vicious regress.

--Mr. Zero

Thursday, November 19, 2009

APA Adopts New Anti-Discrimination Policy

The APA has adopted the following anti-discrimination policy.

The American Philosophical Association rejects as unethical all forms of discrimination based on race, color, religion, political convictions, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identification or age, whether in graduate admissions, appointments, retention, promotion and tenure, manuscript evaluation, salary determination, or other professional activities in which APA members characteristically participate. This includes both discrimination on the basis of status and discrimination on the basis of conduct integrally connected to that status, where "integrally connected" means (a) the conduct is a normal and predictable expression of the status (e.g., sexual conduct expressive of a sexual orientation), or (b) the conduct is something that only a person with that status could engage in (e.g., pregnancy), or (c) the proscription of that conduct is historically and routinely connected with invidious discrimination against the status (e.g., interracial marriage). At the same time, the APA recognizes the special commitments and roles of institutions with a religious affiliation; and it is not inconsistent with the APA's position against discrimination to adopt religious affiliation as a criterion in graduate admissions or employment policies when this is directly related to the school's religious affiliation or purpose, so long as these policies are made known to members of the philosophical community and so long as the criteria for such religious affiliation do not discriminate against persons according to the other attributes listed in this statement. Advertisers in Jobs for Philosophers are expected to comply with this fundamental commitment of the APA, which is not to be taken to preclude explicitly stated affirmative action initiatives.

Details here. Thanks to Charles Hermes for drafting the petition, and to Alastair Norcross for presenting the petition to the APA this spring. And to the APA for doing the right thing.

--Mr. Zero

What's the Point of Conference Comments?

Like a lot of people, I periodically comment on the work of others at conferences. At a recent conference, I noticed an odd pattern. At a typical conference, the talks consist of four main parts: A) the main presenter presents her work; B) the commenter presents some comments, criticisms, or suggestions; C) the main presenter responds to the comments; D) the audience members discuss the paper with the main presenter.

The odd pattern was that part (D) often proceeds as if parts (B) and (C) never happened. Nobody asks the commenter any questions. Nobody mentions anything the commenter said in questions addressed to the main presenter.* If somebody confides that he's nervous about giving comments, I tell him not to worry because nobody pays any attention to the comments. This seems weird, since standard operating procedure is to employ commentators, and almost every conference does it. I started to wonder, though, what the point was. Would we lose anything if we got rid of comments at conferences altogether?

As it happens, I recently attended a conference that did not make use of prepared commentary--that did away with parts (B) and (C) of the standard formula. It seemed to me that the quality of the discussions were not harmed by this fact; the absence of commentators seemed to make no difference in the overall discussion whatsoever. What did seem to be affected was the number of people at the conference. It had the feel of a really small, 1-day conference, even though it was a multi-day several-concurrent-sessions kind of a deal. Maybe that's not bad: there's something to be said for intimacy. But usually you want a lot of people at your session if you're a main presenter. So one nice thing about having commentators is that it doubles the amount of people who attend the conference without doubling the amount of sessions.

--Mr. Zero

*There are exceptions. This typically indicates a problem with the main paper. I've seen this occur only in cases in which the main presenter was responding in a specific and narrow way to some other paper, the author of the other paper served as commentator, and the commentator's paper was way better or more interesting than the main presenter's paper.

This was an exaggeration, but was not hyperbole.

Having poster sessions is also an efficient way of increasing attendance. And I suspect that posters, though less efficient, are better than commentary, since posters are intrinsically more interesting. When I did a poster, I had lots of good discussions about it outside of the poster session itself; I've never really had a discussion about some commentary I was giving.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Positive Interview Stories

A long while back, Plato Potatoes wrote in to ask for a post on interviews that went well.
It would be interesting to read some short narrative stories of job interviews that went great. The specifics would be appreciated. Say, how X answered the question about Y with a reference to Z, in a manner so impressive that the interviewers simultaneously fell off their chairs. It would be interesting to hear, too, what the successful interviewees themselves thought was particularly fetching about their own answers; the time they "clicked" with the committee and so on.
I don't have much experience with successful APA interviews. My best interview was over the phone, and was for the job I have now. The interviewer called me and wanted to interview right then, but I was on the highway driving home from a weekend out of town. She asked if it was a good time; I asked if she could call me back in a couple of hours. (I don't know why I said a couple of hours--I was way more than two hours from home.) I found a coffee shop with WiFi in order to look up the job ad and did the interview in the car in the parking lot.

One thing that helped me with that interview was that it was not my first interview. I'd had some practice answering interview questions in an actual interview setting. Another thing that I strongly suspect was helpful was that I didn't have my materials handy. On the phone, where they can't see you, there is a tendency to make excessive use of your notes. I couldn't make use of my notes at all in this one. I suspect that, as a result, I came off as more natural.

A final thing that helped, and I suspect that this is the most important, is that we saw eye-to-eye on how to teach intro. I have a sort of philosophy of philosophy that I picked up from my teachers at college and grad school, and this philosophy meshes well with the culture of my department. I am a pretty good fit here. You try to represent yourself in the best possible light, but at a certain point, you just have to say, take it or leave it. Also, it was getting pretty late in the VAP hiring season, and I think they were a little desperate.

How about you guys?

--Mr. Zero

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Rocking the passive voice I

With due deference to the old venture, we begin this year's round of rejections.

From Filosofer PhD, the story of their first PFO:
I am excited to report that I have received my first official rejection letter of the season. (From a summer ad, not a fall ad.) Kudos to this institution for informing me promptly that I'm not on their shortlist, but shame on them for the passive voice:

While you were not placed on the shortlist it was our experience that a good number of the applicants were clearly academics with the training and ability to satisfy the professional requirements we had for the position.

What I really like here is the phrase "a good number of the applicants were clearly academics." Well, that's good, I guess! Of course, they didn't tell me whether I myself was among those who are clearly academics, but I'm going to console myself with the thought that I probably was.
In this spirit, my first PFO (which didn't even mention whether I am an academic or not; should I be concerned?!?!):
I am very sorry to have to tell you that your application has been unsuccessful. We received an overwhelming response to the advertisement with 160 applications received; an incredibly high number were exceptional applications and the selection process has not been easy.

I should like to take this opportunity to thank you for your interest in this vacancy and to wish you well in the future
Well, at least they're equal opportunity with the use of their passive voice [Update: As pointed out, I'm wrong about the passive voice being used in my PFO; oops. Still...only inanimate objects seem responsible.] . Almost makes me think no applicants or selection committees had any role at all in this process: just applications and ghostly selection processes.

Though, I'll take those well-wishes any day. I need them.

-- Jaded Dissertator

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Whatever Happened With that Nondiscrimination Petition?

Earlier this year, you might recall, we made a big fuss about how the APA refuses to honor its non-discrimination policy, which clearly bans the use of sexual orientation in decisions concerning hiring and retention, among other things. There was a motion presented at the Pacific Division business meeting to ask the Board of Officers and National Office to enforce its policy as it currently stands or revise its policy to reflect its actual refusal to protect gay and lesbian philosophers from discriminatory hiring practices.

Looking at the minutes of the APA's most recent national board meeting, though, I don't see this issue mentioned anywhere. Anybody know what the status of this thing is? Should we be planning to present another motion at the E-APA in December?

--Mr. Zero

Interfolio Can Do Letters of Recommendation

Frank from Interfolio wrote to me today and asked me to let you know that Interfolio can do letters of recommendation now. He says,

We've also observed that an increasing number of search committees are asking applicants to submit recommendations to a web site (often managed by the HR Dept). I'm writing to let you know that Interfolio can now accommodate web upload requests of specific letters.

This is a new capability and we're trying to get the word out as quickly as possible since we're right in the middle of the application season. There has been a fair amount of frustration this year with the new HR systems and online applications, and both applicants and search committees have reported being overburdened and confused about the right way to submit letters to the web site. The new Interfolio feature streamlines their process significantly, and costs applicants about the same as a regular delivery (starting at $4).

I don't vouch for interfolio, and I don't know how well this will work. Also, it seems pretty pricey. But whatever. I thought I'd pass the message along.

--Mr. Zero

Monday, November 9, 2009

The New Wiki Versus the Old Wiki

We've been seeing some complaints about the new wiki in comments. Anon 6:00 presents a fairly comprehensive list of problems:

1. There is no stored history. If someone reports information, and someone else removes the information, there is no record of the report. I’ve reported application acknowledgements that have been removed, for no good reason (as far as I can tell). Someone else I know reported an interview request that was also removed.

2. There is no way to report requests for further information. A lot of schools do a first cut, and then request further information from the survivors. I’m sure many of us would like to know which schools have done this. I’m aware of two such requests, but I’m unable to post either.

3. There is no way to guess how many interviews a school has scheduled, nor whether they are scheduling all of their interviews at once or not. On other wikis, it is sometimes possible to work this out on the basis of the number of interview requests reported, and the dates.

4. There is none of the extra information that helps to determine how reliable a report is. For example: multiple reports of the same piece of information from different ip addresses, reports by ip addresses that have provided reliable/unreliable information in the past, et cetera.

There are four possible solutions: a) the administrators of the new wiki could modify it in a way that resolves the problems; b) someone could restart the old wiki; c) (a) and (b); d) neither (a) nor (b). I am actually somewhat sympathetic to the suggestion that these wikis are a net evil and should be abolished. However, it is clear that not everyone agrees (or is willing to stop torturing themselves with wikis), so I say, let a thousand wikis bloom.

--Mr. Zero

Update: Another new wiki has materialized at

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The November JFP is Online

It is.

131 listings total. Last year's November issue had 188.

--Mr. Zero

Update: There are also some web ads up, which you can view by applying the secret algorithm to the October web ad page. This brings the total up to 203.

Late Update: This is pretty terrible.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Thom Brooks's Publishing Advice

I missed this when it first happened, but Thom Brooks has posted a revised edition if his excellent essay on publishing advice. Scope it out.

--Mr. Zero

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

T-Minus 3 Days

The November JFP comes out on Friday. There are, as I understand it, two main predictions about its quality: 1. it will be substantially better than the October issue (but not as good as a normal November issue), because a lot of deans have approved job ads but not in time for them to run in October; and 2. that it will be just as bad as or worse than the October issue, because the economy is still super fucked up. Spiros is pessimistic. I am cautiously optimistic, by which I mean that I am pessimistic but I wish I was optimistic.

In any case, I'll be sitting here on Thursday trying not to think about it while simultaneously refreshing the anticipated URL in an obsessive manner. I'll let you know what happens.

--Mr. Zero

Monday, November 2, 2009

eBook Readers for Scholars

There's been a bunch of discussion about some forthcoming ebook readers on Wide Scope, here, here, and here. I would like to get one of these things; sometimes I worry that I might miss the actual books and stuff, but then I think about how much I don't miss the shelves full of CDs that were replaced by my ipod, and how much I don't miss carrying CDs around, and how nice it is not to have to plan ahead and anticipate what my listening desires will be (particularly if I am traveling), and I realize that this will not be a problem.

But (apart from being broke) the dealbreaker for me is the apparent inability to support annotations for scholarly content. The capability to make annotations and marginal notes is critical. I'd say about 60% of the value of reading something is that I create a record of having read it which I can then store in my archives for future reference. Subsequent read-throughs are guided and informed by this record, and my thinking about the issues takes off from this starting point--the thinking I have already done. Until there is an ereader that allows me to write in the e-margins of my e-journal articles, I will be forced to keep printing them out and doing it the old-fashioned way.

--Mr. Zero.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sunday Comics

(Click the pic to make it groooooow.)

Choose carefully. And remember to use the weapons you earn wisely, though don't discount the standard phi gun.

-- JD