Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hitchcock on Serving on a Search Committee

In a recent comment here, Christopher Hitchcock says some important things about search committees, how they function, and how they ought to function. I reproduce the comment in full here:

Let me follow up on one thread of this discussion where some unpleasantries were exchanged. Again, I am only drawing on my own experience conducting searches.

When I am involved in a search, I am genuinely interested in finding the best candidate for the position. That involves making as accurate an evaluation as possible of the candidate's research (actual and potential) and other qualities as a colleague. I do not think that it serves this purpose to treat the process like the compulsories of Olympic figure skating. (Oh, she wobbled on the landing, that's a .2 deduction. Oh, the candidate had parsley on her tooth, that's a .3 deduction.) I would be very surprised if most other don't proceed in the same way. (When I was on the job market in the 90's, one of my fellow job-seekers discovered that s/he had submitted a writing sample with "Freeedom" in the title. It did not seem to do any harm. One distinguished senior philosopher sent him/her a funny short essay on the importance of distinguishing true 'freeedom' from mere 'freedom'.)

That said, I think it would help all job seekers to have some sense of what it is like on the other side. Conducting a search is a full-time job for six weeks. Even with all of that, we can afford to read the writing samples of about 25% of the applicants. This means that we have to eliminate the majority of candidates before we even look at the writing samples. So we definitely read the files looking for reasons to throw them on the discard pile.

I have been involved in about 8 searches in past 10 years. During that time, I have read the work of a lot of young philosophers. There are many excellent philosophers whose work I first got to know through this process. I admire and respect them. Unfortunately, even among those whose work I admire and enjoy, the vast majority will not get job offers from us.

That was the lead up to a confession. When I and my colleagues are immersed in files, pretty much every waking moment spent sorting through the pile, it is as natural to talk about them as it is to, e.g. complain about the weather or the republicans in congress. Sometimes we say things that are disrespectful of the candidates or make jokes at their expense. I recognize that this is not ideal behavior, and I would be mortified if any of these got back to the candidates. But it is pretty much impossible to work that hard, become that immersed in the process, and always comport oneself with the utmost seriousness of purpose. (Many of you may be familiar with this from grading stacks of papers.) But I do make every effort not to let such joking affect our treatment of the candidates, or evaluation of their work.

Good luck to those of you applying for jobs, I wish you well.

I think that the phenomenon to which professor Hitchcock alludes is unavoidably human and something to which job-seekers themselves are not immune. We here at the Smoker are, after all, fond of mocking job ads and rejection letters. And I think it is basically harmless if it is successfully compartmentalized in the manner in which Hitchcock suggests.

However, I worry that it is often not successfully compartmentalized. Over the years, people claiming to be search committee members have written in comments on this blog and its immediate ancestor about how such things as typos, copy-and-paste errors, spelling errors, and what they perceive to be the applicant's attitude about the various job-market procedures function for them as criteria for automatic rejection. To take Prof. Hitchcock's grading analogy, it is one thing to complain about a student's spelling errors and to take those spelling errors into account when assigning a grade. But it's something else altogether to say, Anyone who would spell 'catigoracle emparative" that way doesn't care enough about my class to deserve an A.

--Mr. Zero

Sunday, September 25, 2011

why you should try to be interesting

Another link with an interesting take by Mark Lance:

If nothing else, worth reading it for the apt baseball analogy.

-- Second Suitor

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Brooks Advice on Publishing in Philosophy

Because he's right, it's always a good read:

Side note: Sure my submission got rejected, but I'm happy to recommend the Journal of Moral Philosophy as a quick, professional unit. One of the good ones.

-- Second Suitor

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How to Assemble a Tenure-Track Job Application

Interesting discussion going on at NewAPPS about how to put together a dossier that will make the first cut. Mohan Matthen asks search committee members how they make the first cut here, and discusses the results of the discussion here.

Important things that applicants can control include cover letters, the research statement, and teaching materials including evals, sample syllabuses, and a letter from someone who has seen you teach.

--Mr. Zero

The New Jobs Site

Sure does look nice and work well, doesn't it?

Thanks again to David Morrow and Chris Sula for setting it up. It really is a wonderful thing you've done.

--Mr. Zero

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Worst Defense of APA Interviews In The World

I was rereading the recent comment thread at Leiter about whether or not APA interviews are worth it, and was struck by this comment:

Suppose a dept. moves entirely to video conference interviews or forgoes interviews altogether. Some candidates for the job will likely be at the APA anyhow, and some members of the search cmte. might be too. A candidate might go to a dept.'s table at the Smoker and talk to a member of the search cmte. and get a leg up that way. How could this worry be alleviated? Options:

1. No one from the search cmte goes to the APA. (This might not be possible, and it's an odd result.)
2. No one from the search cmte talk to job candidates at the APA. (This can end up creating some really awkward situations.)
3. All the interviews and the decisions about whom to bring to campus be made before the APA. This is perhaps the best solution, but it might not always be so easy to do, depending on a lot of scheduling factors.

He's saying that we should do interviews at the APA so as to eliminate the possibility of a candidate gaining an unfair advantage over her competitors by going to the APA meeting and chatting with someone from the search committee who also happened to be there. I mean, there are problems, and then there are problems.

--Mr. Zero

Monday, September 19, 2011

New "Supplement" to the JFP

David Morrow, who is awesome, writes:

Chris Sula and I have revamped the Phylo site to create an actual jobs board to (ahem) supplement the JFP. The URL is the same as the old wiki: As of today, we'll start accepting job postings in that space from departmental representatives only. Following Harry Brighouse's advice, we'll also require a link to an external site (e.g., an announcement on the department's web site) to verify each post's authenticity. We're moving the job wiki to People will still be able to post unofficial updates there. We're still in the process of updating the wiki software to play nicely with the jobs board, but it will be up well before anyone needs to post status updates. In the meantime, watch the main jobs board to find out about job openings..

This is super awesome. I'm sure I don't speak only for myself when I say how grateful I am to David and Chris for doing this. Thank you both.

It also seems to me that in order for this to work, it has to be well-publicized. So job-seekers everywhere would appreciate it if Smokers with blogs of their own, or who post to the various philosophy listserves, etc, would help spread the word.

--Mr. Zero

Friday, September 16, 2011

The two-body problem

When I was offered my job last spring, the chair told me that the University had a spousal hiring program, and encouraged me to utilize it, if needed. (I didn't need -- my spouse is not an academic, and has a work-at-home career). At a party recently, someone in the dept mentioned that spousal hiring used to be a really big issue for the department and the University. (This makes sense -- there are few other places nearby where a spouse could get any job, let alone an academic job.) As I get to know my colleagues, I see that there are quite a few couples in the dept, so the likelihood is that there has been a lot of spousal hiring over the years. Which has made me think about the practice.

A little over a third of academics are married to other academics (I don't know if legally unmarried same-sex couples are included in that figure) according to this interesting defense of spousal hires over at the Chronicle. Those couples, just like everyone else, chose their professions, chose whom they married, etc. But if you spend your early adulthood on a university campus pursuing a PhD, chances are good the people you're going to meet and fall in love with will also be academics.

It is also the case that we don't live in a world of single-income families for the most part. Couples have dual careers. Requiring that one half of a dual career couple sacrifice his or her career so the other can get a job doesn't seem like a good way to encourage your new hire to stay put. Likewise, forcing couples and families to live apart, or endure very long commutes, would not encourage your new hire to fully engage with and be a part of the department, college or university community. (I have friends for whom this is a significant issue -- including a couple in philosophy now living thousands of miles apart.) So, spousal hires would seem like a useful tool for faculty recruitment and retention. And since any spouse hired for a TT position would still have to meet the requirements of tenure, the qualifications of the "trailing spouse" puts reasonable constraints on spousal hiring. (Obviously there must be spousal hiring concerns with nonacademic spouses as well.)

As someone fresh off the job market, I know how hard it is to get a TT job, and how scarce those jobs are. I can't help but feel a little resentful of the possibility that someone got a job through some form of spousal "cronyism." But I'm not convinced that spousal hiring is really unfair, or that it has ever disadvantaged me, or that it's bad for academia. The comments to the Chronicle essay, OTOH, are pretty overwhelmingly negative, filled with resentment and invective. They seem largely founded on the belief that a spousal hire takes a job away from some other, more deserving person. Or that trailing spouses are all drunks and scoundrels. There's a less heated and more nuanced discussion here.

One issue that comes up a lot on discussion boards (like here, here and here) is how to approach the issue of spousal hiring if you are a job applicant. Few job ads say anything about spousal hires. Undoubtedly, some schools and departments are more open to them than others. (If I had to guess, I would guess philosophy departments are less open than others. But it's a guess.) With some institutions experiencing severe budgetary restraints, they are probably not even possible in many cases. So, the current economic and job climate in academe (and in general) makes spousal hiring a more urgent problem for job seekers and hiring departments alike, while at the same time, it (perhaps) becomes less likely. (If anyone knows of any recent numbers on spousal hires, I'd like to know about them.)

From a job seeker's perspective, it strikes me that the right time for this issue to be raised is when an offer is made. I can't see a reason for a job applicant to show his or her hand at the application stage, or even at the interview stage. As a job applicant, I didn't apply for jobs in locations that were unacceptable to me and my family. I didn't apply for jobs in places where I wouldn't want to raise my kid. If I was hoping for a job where a spouse could also find meaningful work and make a decent living, that would have put further limits on the jobs I applied for. But it doesn't strike me that it's on me (or my spouse, who may also be on the market) to disclose upfront that I'm looking for a spousal accommodation. The risk for hiring departments at schools that do not or cannot accommodate spousal hires is that they'll make an offer that's turned down. But that's always a risk for them, right? Candidates can turn down jobs (or so the legends say) for any number of reasons.

As the job season is upon us, I'm interested to know what the Smokers think or have experienced, and if you're part of an academic couple, how you're dealing with the two-body problem as a job applicant.


Another Dog on the Pile

I know everyone already knows this, but boy is that new APA website a complete piece of shit.

  • It frequently goes offline. (As anon 4:00AM points out, it is offline right now.)

  • The items on the menu bar are indistinguishable. You can't tell where one item stops and the next starts.

  • There's (still, in 2011) no way to pay your dues online.

  • There's (still, in 2011) no way to register for conferences online. (Right? I'd like to verify this, but, alas, the website is down.)

  • The JFP ad-submission system is fucked up and doesn't function, which has caused the publication of the October JFP to be delayed.

  • The JFP itself is somewhat hidden. And, apparently, some members in good standing are unable to see it at all.

  • The online paper-submission system for the Pacific Division Meeting is so poorly designed that it is nearly impossible to use successfully. I have never seen a submission system with such a counterintuitive set of procedures--you have to press the "back" button before you can press a "submit" button. And, of course, there is no clear set of instructions.

  • The other divisions, of course, do not seem to have online paper-submission systems at all. (I'd like to verify this, but, alas, the website is down.)

  • The administration doesn't respond to emails about this.

What in the fuck? Seriously. What. In. The. Fuck. The incompetence of this organization is simply amazing. It lacks even the most basic abilities required by a professional organization. Can I join and pay my dues online? No. Can I post a job ad online? No. Can I look at the jobs newsletter online? No. Can I submit a paper to one of your meetings online? No. Can we get a navigable website? No. Can I at least look at your website? No. Can I get a reply to my email about what in the fuck is going on? No.

--Mr. Zero

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Guilty until proven innocent

I'm at a new school this fall. I really like my students. They seem like a great bunch. Lively, engaged, thoughtful. Their first paper is due in a couple of weeks. The university has made Turnitin available. I've never used it before, although I've caught my share of plagiarized papers over the years. I now have a Turnitin account, but I have misgivings about using it. I guess because I feel like I am essentially accusing my students of being (at least) potential plagiarists even though I currently have no reason to think any of them are or would be plagiarists. It strikes me as being like overzealous airport security -- treat everyone like a potential criminal in order to (presumably) catch the rare miscreant. But at what cost?

Compounding my sense of unease (or irony) is that I'm teaching an Ethics class.

So, I'm interested in knowing about your experience using Turnitin. Is it worth the effort? Does it work? Do the benefits outweigh the potential harm? Does it make you feel like a mall cop?


Reluctantly Crouched at the Starting Line (As Usual)

It's getting to be that time of year again, and I've been busy preparing my application documents for another miserable job-market season. I had a relatively successful year this past year in terms of writing and publishing, and so I was able to move a bunch of stuff out of my "statement of current research projects" and add a bunch of new stuff in, which basically required me to rewrite the entire document from scratch. I've also changed strategy slightly in that I'm trying to sell myself more aggressively this year (not that I would have described my prior strategy as "passive"), and so I've had to rewrite a bunch of other material that could otherwise have stayed basically the same. It seems to me that my file is stronger now than it has ever been. I don't exactly feel great about my chances or anything, given the realities of the job market situation, but I also feel that, given the realities of my (heavy) courseload and (negligible) research support, I have done everything that it is possible to do to make myself into a strong candidate--and that I am a strong candidate. But I suppose we'll see.

How are the Smokers preparing for the job market this year?

--Mr. Zero

Thursday, September 1, 2011


An anonymous Smoker writes:

I am a 49-year-old philosopher who has recently successfully defended his PhD at a Western European (non-UK) philosophy department.

My reading committee agreed that the PhD was excellent, worthy to be published as a book. I have a strong publication record of some 15 papers in good general and specialist journals, including PhilStudies, Journal of Aesthetics & Art Criticism, Biology & Philosophy, Dialectica, Synthese, and 6 more in edited book volumes. I am also an enthusiastic and effective teacher.
Yet I find now that I am being turned down for postdocs within my university and for postdocs organized by the national research foundation of my country, in favor of younger candidates whose publication record is at best equivalent to mine, or in many cases, inferior. Even a small travel grant that has a baseline chance of success of 80 % has been rejected, because the committee "have a preference for younger candidates" (a direct translation of their policy, which can be found online). I suspect that few departments would be willing to hire a 49-year-old in a tenure track position, but I am baffled as to why my age should play a role for positions that offer 3 or at most 6 years of postdoc experience (these positions cannot be turned into a TT position and cannot be extended).

Why is ageism still an accepted form of bigotry? There is so much talk of letting people work longer to combat the costs associated with an aging population, but if you decide to go to college again in your late thirties (as I did) you are severely penalized, even if you are a successful PhD student.

Any thoughts from people in the same situation? How do you surmount ageism? How do you deal with it in application materials?

What say you, Smokers?

--Mr. Zero