Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Vol. 193 Web "Only" Ads

The vol. 193 web "only" ads are being updated from the bottom. I don't like it. Put the newest ads at the top.

I do kind of like how you can click an ad and see it all by its lonesome. Although I'm not 100% sure what practical utility this function might have. But I thought I'd try to mention a positive instead of complaining all the time.

--Mr. Zero

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Advertising For Your Class, For Real This Time

Yesterday's post on advertising for your class was not, of course, really about advertising for your class. I have been persuaded that it would be worth having a post that actually was about how to keep your courses from getting cancelled by advertising for them.

As I mentioned yesterday, I have a tiny bit of experience with this sort of thing, from grad school and people I went to grad school with. However, it is not at all clear to me that the posters we were putting up were very effective. It seemed to me that there was no clear relationship between the posters and cancellations. One of my friends had the idea to aim his poster at people who'd failed [notorious professor X's] intro class and to suggest that the summer-school version would be easier, but this person was made to take the posters down after an uncomfortable discussion with the department chair. Although we didn't get to see how it worked, the suggestion of easiness is one potentially effective strategy.

Another thing I often see, mostly in the class-advertisement posters around my current campus, is that they try to make the class seem like it would be fun (in addition to being easy). These posters are for classes in other departments, though, where they can make up a class on the study of some pop-cultural topic that is marginally amenable to academic study. So, like, a class on Calvin and Hobbes as literature or anthropology or something. These classes seem like they'd be pretty fun, and also like they wouldn't be too tough. And you also sort of get the idea that this might be the only opportunity to take it. But they also seem like there's a better-than-average chance that the class is total bullshit--that it's not of any academic value whatsoever. And I guess I wouldn't be willing to make this kind of suggestion in order to attract students. I wouldn't want to be the guy who runs easy, potentially worthless classes for the sake of enrollment. And I wouldn't want to attract the kind of student who is attracted to easy, potentially worthless classes.

And I also don't have any hard data about these classes: I don't know anything about how full they get, how often they get cancelled, or whether the ads themselves are effective.

All this is a kind of long-winded way of saying that I don't know very much about how to make an effective ad for a philosophy course. It seems to me that some effective ways to increase enrollment might include making the class seem fun, easy, frivolous, and unique. But I'm not at all convinced that this is helpful in any way.

However, I can say that, in my somewhat limited experience, the best way to increase enrollments and to make sure your classes don't get cancelled is to make them required for something. In the departments I been associated with, the core gen ed requirements are very popular. Major requirements are somewhat less so, but still popular. Courses that serve as prerequisites for other popular majors and degree programs are also very popular. Straight-up electives can be a tough sell.

What say you, Smokers?

--Mr. Zero

Monday, February 27, 2012

Advertising For Your Class

When I was in grad school, none of the faculty taught any summer school; summer courses were the exclusive domain of the graduate students. And since there were a lot of us, competition could get pretty stiff--it wasn't at all unusual for classes to be cancelled due to low enrollment. As a result of this, there was a real incentive to advertise for your summer courses, and for those advertisements to make the courses seem interesting, relevant, and worthwhile to people with little background, experience, or prior interest in philosophical topics. People would put posters up around campus with funny slogans and pictures and stuff, trying to attract students.

But (while I was there, at least) nobody ever thought to advertise his course by putting himself in a photo surrounded by a bunch of barely-dressed women in schoolgirl outfits. And if somebody did do that, my sense is that the person would have been made to take the posters down immediately, had an unpleasant discussion with the department chair, and been thought of by the department at large as having behaved foolishly (to say the least).

It is also my sense that this person would have to have been a fucking moron. It's pretty obvious, I think, that that kind of thing isn't appropriate for an advertisement for a university-level philosophy class. And it's pretty obvious that for every person who would be attracted to the course on the basis of something like that, there's at least one who would be turned off in a big way. And it's pretty obvious that the people who would be turned off by it would have a pretty solid point. And so I think it's pretty obvious that it would be a piss-poor advertisement qua advertisement, apart from the disrespect for women in general such a thing might display.

Just an observation, for no particular reason.

--Mr. Zero

View #5


As always, the first person to guess which campus this is wins the right to brag about it. Signed comments are preferred, although you have the right to win without taking credit. Once somebody gets it, I'll announce the winner, confirm the campus, and credit the submitter.

Update (2-28-12): Our submitter sent in a daytime version of the same view. It's better lit, though less lovely. Taken at 12:42 pm local time:

Update (2-29-12):Pound Foolish, taking the hint, gets it. The view is sunset from Prince Lucien Campbell Hall, University of Oregon, submitted by Phil Mayo.

Thanks again to Phil M. for submitting; thanks to all the guessers for guessing; and let's keep those submissions coming. Let us look out your window, Smokers.

--Mr. Zero

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Oh My God the JFP is a Disaster

As several people have pointed out, the February JFP is up, and it sucks. 30 jobs in the print edition, a couple more in the web "only" ads. They have added a search function to the web "onlies," but not to the print edition (that I can see, anyways).

Several people have also asked for a "Plan B" thread. Let's have this serve double-duty. Although I periodically find myself wishing for a viable plan B, I have no idea what it would be. I therefore have no advice whatsoever. Sorry I can't be more helpful.

--Mr. Zero

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

M&M conference

By popular demand, an M&M conference. If you didn't get the job, what went wrong? If you did well this year, what went right? What can be done to improve your outcomes next year?

A number of people have posted a question along these lines:

How do you improve your chances for next year on the job market if you're stuck at your PhD granting institution?

This year, I was lucky enough to land a few first-round interviews and a couple on campus ones as well. However, I'm nearly certain I won't get a job.

Since my publication and presentation records, I think, are not at issue (I have around 7 or 8 papers in good journals) and I also have a decent amount of teaching experience, I'm not sure the best way to improve my portfolio for next year. Another pub won't hurt, I imagine, but I'm not sure it will help either.
In many cases, the questions came from people who had several first-round interviews. Getting several interviews is good. It's great. The job market, as you have heard ad nauseum, is incredibly competitive. I've heard from SC members (in multiple discliplines) that the calibre of candidates right now is extremely high. So if you got several interviews, you are in very good company. This is, of course, cold comfort if it did not result in you getting a job. But perhaps cold comfort is better than none at all.

I came from a so-so department (modestly ranked in my AOS). I was lucky enough in my first year to land a postdoc that required no fewer than 4 pubs a year, which means I went from next to none to having a half dozen by my third year on the market. During that postdoc, I developed a coherent and original research program. I think those factors made a huge difference in my getting significantly more first round interviews in my third year. It did not hurt that it was a decent year for jobs in my AOS. I ended up getting interviews for about 10% of the jobs I applied for. Out of that, 2 on-campus interviews.

What I think got me a TT job, however, was that unpredictable and difficult-to-quantify matter of "fit." In addition to my AOS, I had desirable AOCs, a research program and a relevant and unusual side career (developed over more than a decade) that were attractive across the university's disciplines and departments, plus interdisciplinary postdoc experience. Which is to say, I fit in several different slots for the university, which is something most philosophers would not have been able to do for this particular job. "Fit," unfortunately, is not necessarily something you can control. How you fit in a department or job may be something that is difficult to glean in advance, although knowing as much as you can about the school and department, and the research of its faculty (not just in your department, but across the unversity), can help. (If you know someone who knows someone at the dept in question, ask them for help and information.) Your idea of where you fit may be quite different from where others think you fit. I now work at a research unversity. I always saw myself (from the minute I entered college), teaching at a SLAC. I never got a single interview at a SLAC. Apparently SCs did not view me as SLAC material, and research schools viewed me as research material. How you fit is, to some extent, also a matter of luck, a felicitous combination of the right job in the right place at the right time. Getting a first-round interview means you at least look like you'll fit. Your interviews are where you have to demonstrate your fit -- that you'll be a decent, interesting colleague, a good teacher, a successful researcher, someone who can get tenure at the particular institution.

But your failure to get a job, after several interviews, may only mean that some other candidate was just a little better than you in one or more of several criteria. The differences can be small enough to be barely significant to the SC -- such that, if candidate #1 declines an offer, they'll be just as happy to offer the job to #2. (I can attest to this from discussions with SC members who are hiring this year. It is really interesting to be sitting on the other side of the hiring table.) Which is to say, there may be nothing much you can do to enhance your chances if you're already a desirable candidate. Short of killing the competition. Which would be wrong.

Generally, we think that if what you're doing is not meeting with success, there's something wrong with what you're doing, and you should change it. I don't think that advice necessarily holds for candidates who got several job interviews, unless there is some obvious shortcoming that sabotages in-person interviews, like horrendous hygiene or abysmal interpersonal skills. If you are not getting any interviews at all, you're probably in a better position to make some changes that could improve your prospects next year.

As a practical suggestion, seek out the most recently hired professor in your department, and ask them for help, now, when they have time and you're in a position to get ready for next fall. I got no useful advice from the placement director in my dept, and conflicting advice from other faculty, but I received a tremendous amount of help from a junior faculty member who came to the dept years after I finished classes, who did not know me personally at all, but was recently hired and keen to help. Find someone like that.

The floor is open.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Wacky Student Time: Conditionals

Over the last four or five years, I've noticed that an increasing proportion of students demonstrate an increasingly difficult time understanding how conditionals work. To the point where a huge proportion of them now seem incapable of understanding sentences of the form "if P, then Q". They act as though it means the same thing as plain old "P and Q".

This causes problems. For one thing, it makes it hard for them to understand, in a general way, what in the hell is going on with things. It's as though they see the world as a series of fundamentally unconnected, independent occurrences. They see two facts sitting there by themselves, and it doesn't occur to them that they might have anything to do with each other—that they might be somehow connected. (And I find it very hard to believe that this accurately reflects how they see the world. It can't be that they don't see a connection between the drinking and the drunkenness, for example. They can't see the drunkenness as unconnected with the drinking. Can they? They can't.)

For another thing—and this is where the confusion really makes itself known—it causes problems when they try to explain how the philosophers we study defend arguments in which they employ conditional premises. Which is almost all of them. And it causes real trouble when they try to defend a conditional that comes up in the context of an argument in the form of modus tollens. In that case, they're trying to explain why some person thinks that "P and Q" is true, when they know that the very next thing is to explain why the same person thinks Q if false. They tie themselves into highly confused, contradictory knots.

Relatedly, students often find it hard to explain how to defend a premise when the student him- or herself believes that the premise is false. That is, they find it hard to explain why someone would think that P is true when they think (or maybe they even know) that P is false. I think this is closely related to the conditionals thing. They don't realize that you can use P even if you don't believe that P. Maybe there are interesting hypotheticals involving P; maybe Socrates believed that P; maybe reasonable people disagree about P. But they can't see it, or at least they act like they don't. If they believe that P is false, they find it impossible to consider what things would be like if it were true, or why someone else might disagree with them.

I think this is pretty strange. Right? I don't really remember when I learned that if/then sentences don't just mean that P is true and so is Q; that they assert some kind of connection between P and Q. But I think I don't remember because it's so obvious that this is what it means that I didn't find it noteworthy (or else it happened so long ago that I forgot about it). So, I guess the question is, how can these students be so oblivious to something that's at once so obvious and so crucial to understanding how the world works?

--Mr. Zero

Thursday, February 16, 2012

One of these days, I'm gonna get myself organazized.

I have a lot of articles in pdf form. Probably close to a thousand of them. I've kinda got them organized in folders, but I'm increasingly finding it unwieldy, especially when I need to find an article. The searchability of pdfs tucked into folders is pretty limited. So I end up downloading the same articles multiple times. Such a terrible waste of pixels. I need an easier, better, more searchable way to archive this stuff, preferably one that lets me search keywords and content, without my having to actually do any work keywording and stuff. Something that would also make it easier to cite and reference would be fab. I used DevonThink when I worked on my diss years ago, but it required too much effort, and didn't work very well, so I got nowhere with it. Suggestions?


p.s. I'm a Mac.
p.p.s. That's not my office. My office has no windows.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Now what?

Questions have been coming up in various threads about waiting for offers, giving up on waiting for offers, giving up on a job in philosophy, etc. Some of you might (must) be getting offers, and have questions about accepting them, asking for more, etc. This is an open thread for such questions. Ask 'em if you got 'em.


Friday, February 10, 2012

View #4

A bit of winter. 8:19am.

As always, the first person to guess which campus this is wins the right to brag about it. Signed comments are preferred, although you have the right to win without taking credit. Once somebody gets it, I'll announce the winner, confirm the campus, and credit the submitter.

Update, Monday morning: I'm calling it. It seems like this view was the toughest one so far. We're looking at a view from Northern Michigan University, Marquette, MI, submitted by Antony Aumann. But Chrono, who didn't realize that whoever guessed UCLA was kidding, gets an honorable mention for the closest guess, Western Michigan. (Although, looking at the map, it seems that Minnesota-Duluth is closer to Marquette than Kalamazoo is. But I don't think that's what "closest guess" means.)

Thanks for playing everybody, and better luck next time.

--Mr. Zero

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Non-Tenure Track Working Conditions

John Protevi at NewAPPS writes:

In reaction to Michael Bérubé's recent work pushing the MLA, of which he is now President, toward greater activity in support of NTT (non-tenure track) faculty, Josh Boldt has created a crowdsourced document on NTT working conditions. Please have a look at it, whether you are NTT or TT, and enter relevant data if you have it.

Please read Prof. Bérubé's post at Crooked Timber (here, again), and please do what Prof. Protevi says.

--Mr. Zero

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My Hero

Maybe this has been around before--it seems vaguely familiar. But anyways, I saw this here a couple of days ago and was inspired.

--Mr. Zero

Friday, February 3, 2012

Distributive justice

Consider the principle of charity. Here's a nice description of the principle from Gary Hatfield in his guidebook to Descartes' Meditations (the adverbs are central):
The principle of charity advises us not to take the easy way out by quickly deciding that a text is incoherent or contains deplorably weak arguments.
Let's adjust this for our purposes:
The principle of charity advises us to engage our interlocutors earnestly.
Put positively, earnest engagement might involve:
Listening in an attempt to understand both methodology and content (What's being argued for and why argue in that way?). Plausibly interpreting claims admitting of multiple interpretations. Noting any unclear formulations of claims or arguments and attempting to make them clearer. Taking all (reasonable) questions seriously.
Put negatively, earnest engagement most importantly involves:
Not resorting to unconsidered charges of incoherence, unclarity, uninterestingness, or weakness of argument without an active attempt at positive earnest engagement.
More specifically:
Not interrupting. Not making (certain types of) faces. Not actively displaying disinterest.*
One reason to employ the principle of charity in both its positive and negative formulations is that many younger folks - current company included - have impostor syndrome. And, I've recently decided that impostor syndrome in philosophy is as much due to certain sociological facts about academic philosophy as it is due to certain psychological facts about individuals.

Exaggerated, puzzled looks and rolled eyes in private conversation or during questions at public talks aggravate impostor syndrome symptoms. As do nasty comments from reviewers: "This paper is fundamentally confused." "This paper employs fancy argumentation for something that's painfully obvious."

At best, puzzled looks, rolled eyes, and claims of 'fundamental confusions' or 'painful obviousness' distract from possibly meaningful criticisms; they disguise attempts at earnest engagement. At worst, these behaviors indicate a real disrespect for the principle of charity and one's philosophical interlocutor.

Encouragement is important, sure. But, so is criticism that engages and takes ideas seriously. Real conversation in which questions are asked freely and philosophical terrain is genuinely explored without fear of attack or charges of unclarity or ignorance or being fundamentally wrong-headed is important. In other words: Doing earnest, engaged philosophy is important.

The things listed above are important not just because it makes others feel better about themselves, it's important because philosophy is at its best when the principle of charity is employed. When the principle isn't employed, philosophical practice suffers.

We might lay it down as a general principle that:
Those who fail to engage in sustained and directed philosophical practice - practice that certainly involves criticism and being told that one's views are wrong or unclear - without being dicks are bad professional philosophers.**
Back to the principle of charity.

I think application of the principle of charity should satisfy something like a philosophical version of Rawls's difference principle.
(a) Application of the principle of charity should be as ready and free in the case of our junior colleagues as it is in the case of our senior colleagues; and (b) Senior colleagues should make a special effort to apply it in the case of junior colleagues.***
I don't think that the principle of charity is applied this way very often. In practice, I find that the principle of charity is applied is more readily and freely in conversations between senior members of the profession with one another. Or, between especially precocious junior colleagues and senior colleagues.

I don't think it's readily and freely applied in conversations with those colleagues who might benefit most of all from its application, e.g., the less learned, less experienced, less adept at speaking in public. That's wrong. It fosters impostor syndrome.

Perhaps, in the end, this is all just a long way of saying:
When you don't understand something or someone, consider the possibility that it might be as much you, as it is them.****

-- JD

*Broadly or narrowly construed. Side note: Even if philosophically motivated, your interest in a problem or disinterest in a problem does not free you from the principle of charity. (However, I do think that - principle of charity aside - we do ourselves no favors when we fail to motivate or frame our projects to those (everyone) who care about our projects less than we do or know very little about our fields.)

**If someone is wrong, tell them they're wrong. Rhetorical flourishes and liberal adverb use don't make them any wronger; nor do they lend force to arguments. While I grant that someone can be confused about a fundamental issue or misinterpret a position such that the original point is lost, I think adverbs aren't proper substitutes for good arguments.

*** I'll leave it up to y'all how the principle might be formulated in the case of blind-review. As a first stab, we might think that there's an obligation to leave remarks for future improvement on poorly written, unclear papers (in the same way we might do for students). For example, "This paper would benefit from a stronger organizational structure. More signposts, etc." "The author might think about considering [X's views, arguments]."

****To be clear: I'm claiming that everyone starts with an equal claim of being subject to the principle of charity. There may be certain things we do to lose that right, but those cases are few and far between. Let's just try to understand each other, okay?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The View of Your Window

I don't think people are going to get this one.

Good luck!

Update: Somewhat improbably, chobbs nails it. Penn State Hazelton. Submitted by Shane. Thanks for submitting, and thanks for playing.

--Mr. Zero