Sunday, March 27, 2011

I shoulda known better

I wrote:
I was as ignorant as a newborn babe when I first went on the job market three years ago (with a supremely lousy and unhelpful placement advisor), and this blog was an invaluable source of information.

To which Anonymous responded:
Mind sharing what things in particular you were ignorant of 3 years ago, that you now know, that you wish you had known? I can guess, but I'm still curious of the specifics. And what sort of help didn't your placement advisor give that you wish they had? Again, I can guess, but I'm still curious.
My ignorance was pretty comprehensive (I'm not kidding when I say "newborn babe." I knew practically nothing. Lockean blank slate.), and I'm not sure that this list will be especially edifying for many readers of this blog.

Things about the job market that I was ignorant of three years ago:
  • I did not know how much pedigree matters. (I did not go to a posh school)
  • I did not know how much publications matter. (I had no peer-reviewed papers, but I had book reviews and an encyclopedia entry and a few invited talks)
  • I did not know how to put together a proper job dossier
  • I did not know that there is a whole class of schools that I should not bother applying to
  • I did not know how little my years of teaching experience would count in the absence of pubs and pedigree
  • I didn't know (no one knew) that the market that first year (and every year after) would be historically bad in the wake of a national financial catastrophe

Things my placement advisor should have (but did not) tell me:
  • How to construct a cover letter, CV, teaching statement, research statement, evidence of teaching effectiveness (learning this a full year before I went on the market would have been helpful)
  • Which jobs to not bother applying to and why
  • That only applying to schools where I really, really wanted to work was foolish -- you have to apply for lots and lots and lots of jobs. (By my estimation, I got interviews for roughly ten percent of the jobs I applied for this year -- so 90% tossed me in the bin.)
  • That looking for a philosophy job is really expensive
  • Why my belief that I'd be able to find a job that first year was excessively optimistic
  • How really, really hard it is to get a TT job

All of this can be summed up as: My department has pretty piss poor placement advisement. It does very, very little to prepare students for the job market. It is very much DIY.

I learned, and I managed to find out a lot of these things from other sources:
1) I discovered that other, better schools have useful placement info and advice online for their grads
2) I got help and advice from friends and other profs in my dept (including some I didn't know personally). One in particular, who was a brand new hire, gave me very substantive help.
3) I got lots of information from this blog

I also got lucky, and my first year out, I got two interviews. One was for a job I was clearly underqualified for. The other was for a post doc, which I got. That was a hugely lucky break, and I strongly encourage everyone on the market to apply for post docs, especially if you have deficits (pedigree, scant publication record) to make up for. (And not just US post docs -- any postdoc that gives you time to write papers and get published is valuable.) Post docs are getting competitive too, just like the rest of the market, but getting one is like manna from heaven: time to devote to research and getting published, money to go to conferences.

What I wish I knew then, that I know now:
  • I wish someone at my grad school had sat me down, explained how important it is to get a paper published, and explained to me how to get a paper published. The most I ever got was "you should submit this paper somewhere." Maybe I should have been more inquisitive, and maybe I would have been if someone had said "your future career depends on it." (And maybe this is the difference between a really great grad program, and a merely good program.) Boys and girls, get published. Get published in the best journals you can, but get published. I've had five papers accepted in the last year, another five commentaries, and five conferences. It got me five interviews (Maybe my lucky number is five), two campus interviews, and one job.
  • I wish I had known that APA would be a complete waste of time and money for me. I had interviews, but never got a second look after any of them. I did much better with phone interviews, and flyouts with no first interviews. But that's just me. Other people obviously get jobs after APA interviews.
  • CV-building matters a lot. It took me 2 years after grad school to get enough publications, conferences, and other non-teaching experience to be taken seriously as a job candidate. I feel like it took me 3 job seasons to really refine my dossier -- to figure out what to put in there and what not, to write a good cover letter that sells my strengths, to write a really compelling research and teaching statement. (And having all that stuff in the can made it a lot easier for me to apply for jobs this year, and to apply for a lot more of them.) Some of that is because it just took me that long to have something to sell. Those people who can hit the ground running straight out of grad school, and land a TT job in their first season must be amazing philosophers.
One thing I hoped would help me, which did help me:
I have an interesting side career. It's not a lucrative side career (the employment prospects are even worse than philosophy), but it's one that has made me regionally famous, and I was able to build fun, interesting, and popular philosophy courses around it. It has been valuable for building my CV. My new department told me it was one of the things about me they were interested in. If you have interests (who doesn't?): literature, graphic novels, computer games, economics, sports, Fringe -- whatever -- exploit them! They add desirable interdiciplinarity to your CV, and a lot of philosophy departments, needing to justify their existence in these budget-slashing times, are looking for ways to appeal to a broader college audience by offering classes with interdisciplinary appeal.

That was long. Thanks for reading (or skimming) it to the end.

I'll turn it over to you, Smokers. What things do you wish you knew about looking for a job in philosophy? What things do you wish your placement advisor(s) had told you?


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I Am Not My Brain

I thought this was funny:

From xkcd. The alt text reads, "Socrates could've saved himself a lot of trouble if he'd just brought a flashlight, tranquilizer gun, and a bunch of rescue harnesses."

--Mr. Zero

Monday, March 21, 2011

Coming to America

This question came over the wire from one of our colleagues across the pond:

I'm an early career UK philosopher, and I'm extremely lucky to be taking up a TT position in the USA in August. My campaign for employment was greatly helped by reading the Smoker, so many thanks for that.

I'm writing to ask for you and your readers' advice about some cultural differences in teaching practices, in the hope that a bit of crowd-sourcing can help me to adjust my teaching style to better serve my American students.

Many of you may know that the way classes are taught in the UK is quite a bit different than in the US. Over here most courses involve a lecture component (usually two 50 minute lectures a week, all students present) and a student-centred discussion/tutorial component (usually one 50 minute session every week from week 3 onwards, with anywhere up to 20 students in each group).

At my new school in the US, I'll be teaching two 75 minute sessions per week, both of them with all of the students present (with about 40-50 in each class). Now, I'm acutely aware of the need to keep things lively and dynamic. Talking at students for 75 solid minutes is bound to be pretty useless, pedagogically speaking, never mind deeply exhausting for me. I'm told and have often read that most people's attention spans are between 25 and 45 minutes, and that active learning and participation generally works a lot better than passive. So here's my basic question: how do you carve up those 150 minutes a week? How do you keep things active, lively and interesting with large groups and long classes?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not entirely clueless, presumably one can break the class up into small groups for discussion (then have them report back), stage debates, give in-class tests or writing assignments, have a break half-way through, stop regularly for questions, etc. Is this all there is to it? Or do people have other innovative techniques for keeping students engaged and learning? Is there a particularly good way to structure long classes, to string together these sorts of techniques? And finally, are there perhaps any fellow Brits with experience of both countries who can advise me about adjusting to the US M.O.?

I really appreciate any comments, even if it's to say that my question is somehow ill-founded - as a metaphysician, I'm more than accustomed to that sort of response.

Thanks for your time and all your inspiring contributions to our profession.
There's no mention about whether these are undergrad or grad level classes.

Jump in.


Friday, March 18, 2011

The Minimum Requirements

A pseudonymous Smoker writes in with the following story:

after having me out to an on-campus interview, the school then sent me a PFO from their HR department which reads:

"Dear Sir or Madam" (they couldn't even plug my name in there)
"Thank you for giving us the opportunity to interview you for the position of Assistant Professor of Philosophy. Although your background and credentials are impressive, they do not meet the minimum requirements for the position."

The letter is signed by the "Business Coordinator" (so not even someone in the department).

What does that even mean? And out of all of the hundreds of applicants you had, you managed to select three to come out and interview for the position - and at least one of them didn't even "meet the minimum requirements for the position"??? Thanks for wasting my time? And for the super-personal post-on-campus-interview PFO?


Seriously, indeed.

--Mr. Zero

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hell Freezes Over II

You can file this in the "never give up, never surrender!" category: I am very, very happy to report that I have been hired for a tenure track position at a research university. I'll be teaching what I love, in a department that looks to be very congenial, collegial, and welcoming, with good opportunities for me to pursue my own research interests. It's a better school than the one I graduated from. I don't think I can call this one a "dream job," (I had an interview for my dream job -- so close! -- but didn't get it), but I feel very, very fortunate.

I gotta tell you, dear Smokers, that I received a lot of sound advice and moral support on this blog over the years. I was as ignorant as a newborn babe when I first went on the job market three years ago (with a supremely lousy and unhelpful placement advisor), and this blog was an invaluable source of information. Thank you, and keep up the good work!

Anyone else have an announcement? Jump in.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Is that Hell freezing over?

Yesterday's post contained a fat envelope from APA. Ordinarily, this would get recycled unopened. Yesterday, I opened it. Buncha ballots on blue and yellow cards, and then...

A white sheet of paper that says: Survey on Meeting Dates.

Well, whaddayaknow.

The Eastern Division Executive Committee plans to conduct a survey on whether to change the dates of the meeting from the traditional December 27-30 slot. It is well known that there is widespread dissatisfaction with the traditional dates; less obvious is whether there are any other specific dates that would be widely favored, although this question has recently been discussed on several blogs. The survey will offer various possible alternative dates... The goal will therefore be to assess not only whether other specific dates are more popular than the traditional dates, but also whether the Eastern division meetings should continue to have in-person job interviews as one of their central functions.

The survey is expected in the second half of 2011, and the letter notes that it will affect future meetings "several years into the future," beyond the ones which have already been booked. It takes a long time to turn around the Titanic.

What say you, Smokers?


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust

I recently heard from a trusted but unofficial source that the school that flew me out offered the job to someone else, and that this person plans to accept.

Here's why this is killing me inside. It's not just that this was a good school in a nice area with a favorable courseload, although those were all very nice things. It's that it's not just a job. When I moved to the city I now live in for the job I now have, I literally did not care where it was. I didn't care what the elementary schools were like. I didn't care if there was a major league baseball team or a good French restaurant or whatever, because I didn't think I'd be here for very long. I wasn't going to end up here, so it didn't matter whether it was a good place to end up or not.

I feel very differently about the tenure track, though. I'm not an ambitious person. I don't have a desire to bounce around and "move up" and be some kind of hot shot. I would like to be respected, sure. I would like to be moderately known as someone who produces quality work. But I don't want to be the next Rawls (if Rawls had been an ambitious hotshot who moved around a lot) or something.

And so when I go to this campus visit, I'm not thinking about it as a stopover on the way to my real dream. I'm thinking about it as potentially the last place I'll ever work. I'm thinking about it as the place where I might spend my entire career. I'm thinking about the city I might live in for the rest of my life. And where my wife will spend this time, too. And where we'll have kids, and where those kids will grow up. This affects a lot more than just me. And maybe it's a mistake to think about that stuff, but it's hard to avoid when you're touring the campus and there's this sense of possibility in the air and all your potential colleagues are telling you what a great place to work and live and raise kids this is. It's hard not to hope under these conditions.

And then they offer the job to someone else, and you have no choice but to let go of those hopes and start wondering what will be in the JFP when October rolls around. Again.

Of course, it's not over till it's over, and as far as I know it's not totally over. It could be that their first choice is waiting on a potentially better offer and will turn them down if it comes through. And it could be that they liked me only slightly less than that person. And it could be that as soon as that happens they'll turn right around and happily offer the job to me. But I think I'm being generous when I put the probability of that happening at .005.

I've never come this close to getting a tenure-track job before, and my overall feeling is that it totally sucks. But I will say this: at the very least, I got a free trip to a nice place where all anyone wanted to talk about was me and my research and how great I am. And that was very nice.

--Mr. Zero

P.S. God damn it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Writing on the Board

In comments, Nonscriptor asks:

I'm thinking about trying an intro course in which I write very little on the board and mostly just lecture very slowly. Here's my inspiration:

I give short-essay format exams in some intro level classes. Many questions have the form, "What is X's argument that P? [Insert follow-up question here.]" Follow-up questions include things like "What would X say about Y?" and "Explain at least one objection to that argument and how X could meet it."

Many of my students ... respond by writing down, as nearly verbatim as they can remember, everything that I wrote on the board about the general topic, but nothing else, even when what I wrote on the board doesn't actually answer the question.

I'm hoping that if I remove the note-taking crutch of writing down all and only the things that I wrote down, students may be forced to think about what I'm saying when they take notes. Some will probably crash and burn, of course, which worries me.

Has anyone ever tried anything like this? Any advice?

I don't write on the board much. I find that the more time I spend with my back to them, the more of them fall asleep. (Instead, I provide detailed handouts--the problem there is that the students then take all their notes right on the handout, which leads to tiny, poorly organized notes squeezed in between the arguments, principles, definitions, etc. It's not good when they do that. I tell them not to, but they do it anyway.)

What say you, Smokers?

--Mr. Zero

"The Ashtray Argument"

Errol Morris has a fun story here about his Princeton days with chain-smoking, Kripke-hating Thomas Kuhn as mentor.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Another Weird Thing My Students Do

We've been talking about weird things undergraduates do lately. Here's another weird thing undergraduates do.

In my introductory classes, I often have my students write little essays in which I pick an argument we've discussed in class, ask them to state it in a clear way, give some sort of justification for each of its premises, and then give an evaluation in which they present an objection to the argument and explain how it works. This is usually something we've already talked about, too. So, after we've read the sixth Meditation and discussed it in class, the assignment might say, "Explain mind-body dualism, then state, explain, and evaluate Descartes's conceivability argument for this view." Nothing weird so far, I don't think.

But I've noticed that a small but substantial minority of students sort of freak out at this point, especially early in the semester. I get a bunch of emails from students who are worried about plagiarism, and so they don't want to copy arguments and definitions and stuff from the handouts. And I get a bunch of emails asking if I want them to make up their own argument for mind-body dualism. And, relatedly, I get quite a few papers that don't contain anything that remotely resembles anything that Descartes ever said, ever. When I ask the author of the paper about it, I often hear the same stuff about how they were worried about plagiarism and they thought I wanted them to make up their own argument.

I think this is really weird. It is really weird, right? The purpose of in-class handouts is to serve as a guide to understanding the material. Why wouldn't I want my students to make use of them in completing their writing assignments? Are there really teachers out there who would bust students for plagiarizing the handouts they hand out in class?

And why would I want my intro-level students to make up their own Descartes's argument for dualism? Why wouldn't I want to use an assignment like that to check for comprehension of the material we've been discussing in class? And why wouldn't the fact that I say I want them to discuss Descartes's argument for dualism be a clue that I don't want them to make up their own?

Plus, it's hard to make up your own philosophical argument. These are students who have literally no background in philosophy whatsoever. Why would I make them do something so difficult so soon? (Of course, it's possible that my students don't realize that it's difficult, or if they do they don't realize what a reasonable guy I am.)

I think this is so fucking weird. I mean, if you were taking an evolutionary biology class, and you had been talking about Gould's theory of punctuated equilibrium, and in the context of that discussion there was an assignment to state and explain Gould's theory of punctuated equilibrium and address some related controversies, nobody thinks you're supposed to make up and explain your own Gould's theory of punctuated equilibrium. Do they?

--Mr. Zero

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Isn't this kinda rubbing my nose in it?

I got one of those thanks but no thanks emails today. It starts out by announcing how pleased the department in question is that So-and-So from the School That is WAY More Prestigious than my school has accepted the department's offer of a position. Then it goes on to thank me for my "willingness to share [my] work" with them at the APA interview.

It's not a surprise, at this point, that I didn't get the job. I didn't even get the campus interview. And it's not that I wish So-and-So any ill. I really don't. I am sincerely happy for So-and-So. I'm damn happy when any of us gets a job these days. And it's not like I probably couldn't have found out who was hired if I wanted to (it could be posted on Leiter's thread, for instance). What I question is the etiquette, or the propriety, of starting a rejection letter by identifying the "winner" and informing me of how pleased the department is to have hired him. That just seems like sending me a card to tell me I'm not invited to your party.


This One Was My Fault

I had a student scheduled to take a make-up exam this morning. She showed up on time, I set her up in this little side room we have for students to take rescheduled exams in, and she took the exam. She finished pretty quickly, and I graded it as soon as she left. She did terrible. Like, F-minus. Really bad.

I go to record the grade in my gradebook when I realize that she was there for an intro phil exam and I had given her the intro ethics test. (I have another make-up exam scheduled this afternoon.) I gave her the wrong exam, and that's why she flunked. My bad. In my defense, I am responsible for nearly 200 students and I am barely capable of being organized.

So, obviously, I emailed her right away and apologized profusely, and asked when she could schedule a make-up for the make-up. Then I apologized some more.

But what I don't get is, why didn't she say anything? I mean, none of the questions would have looked the least bit familiar. There is literally no connection between the material on the test in front of her and the subject matter of her class, apart from some logic stuff that goes into every lower-division class I teach. Maybe she figured that I know what I'm doing, and so it must be her fault if she didn't recognize anything. Shows what she knows.

And the really weird thing is, she got some stuff right. Like, really right. Although the exam was a disaster overall, she was able to state some theories and arguments very clearly, just like they are on the handout. Eerie. So much so I triple-checked the gradebook against the name and student ID on the exam.

It's all very weird. And it's all my fault. Shit.

--Mr. Zero