Sunday, April 28, 2013

Applying for post-docs

Several notices about post doc fellowship applications have landed in my email inbox this week. Deadlines are looming. Those of you still searching for employment for the coming school year might be thinking about applying for a post doc. It seems to me, although I have no data to back it up, that there are a lot more post docs for philosophers out there these days, especially if you're willing and able to leave the country for a few years.

I had a post doc research fellowship that started the summer after I graduated. I firmly believe it made a huge difference for my job prospects, for several reasons:

1) I went to a good, but not great, not Leiterrific grad school (ranked in my AOS, but just outside the top 20). My post doc gave me a modest pedigree. 
2) My grad program wasn't so hot on mentoring. My post doc PI was awesome as a mentor, and took that role very seriously.
3) The post doc was pretty demanding about publications, so I went from 0 to 8+ during my two years. Add to that good mentoring about publishing, conferences, etc. That aspect of it was invaluable, and not something that I, realistically, could have done on my own.
4) Although mine was a research fellowship, in my second year I was asked to teach a grad course as a sabbatical replacement, which enhanced my teaching portfolio (which had previously been a lot of undergrad courses).
5) I had really good, multidisciplinary networking opportunities (funding for conferences, lots of interesting people at the university, etc.), and had excellent colleagues who are now lasting friends and collaborators. Of all the jobs I've had, my post doc was the Best. Job. Ever.

On the down side, the post doc meant packing up my family and relocating for two years, and then doing it all over again when the post doc ended. The payoff was that I did dramatically better in my final year on the market than in my first two years, and I landed a TT job, and I think that's largely attributable to my post doc experience. An unforeseen side effect of the post doc: I always saw myself teaching at a SLAC, but I never had a single interview with a SLAC. Only research schools seemed to be interested, and I suspect that was a consequence of having had a research fellowship. I can't speak to how teaching fellowships might affect one's profile.

Needless to say, I endorse post docs as a career enhancement, but also as a paying job that serves as a useful bridge between grad school and a permanent job. Some of the postings I've seen this year actually pay very well (one in Australia was over $90K, one at a state school in the US was $65K -- those are both well above starting salaries for assistant profs). It's possible to go from one post doc to another, although some have time limits (5 years post degree is typical).

Applying for research fellowships is not very different than applying for a TT job. The dossier is typically pretty similar, although you may be asked to specifically address how your research will be furthered by the faculty at the host institution. You may also be required to have a research agenda that's defined by the fellowship or the funding grant. References, writing sample, CV, cover letter.

If you have questions about applying, or about post docs in general, ask 'em. If you have advice about post docs -- post it.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Rise of the Planet of the Adjuncts

From this story in The Atlantic:
College faculties have grown considerably over the years, and as the AAUP notes, the ranks of the tenured and tenure-track professoriate are up 26 percent since 1975. Part-time appointments, however, have exploded by 300 percent. The proportions vary depending on the kind of school you're talking about. At public four-year colleges, about 64 percent of teaching staff were full-time as of 2009. At private four-year schools, about 49 percent were, and at community colleges, only about 30 percent were. But the big story across academia is broadly the same: if it were a move, it'd be called "Rise of the Adjuncts." 

Over three decades, the number of adjuncts has steadily increased. Some of that surely reflects the growing number of grad students, but there's some kind of feedback loop at work here, no? More grad students means more students seeking funding, more students adjuncting, more classes being taught by grad students... With abundant cheap labor available, schools have little incentive to spring for TT lines, and every incentive to increase the numbers of grad students, leading to more students seeking funding, more adjuncts teaching classes... And now we're in a situation where supply greatly outpaces demand for PhDs. Smokers here claim it is harder to get VAP and adjunct positions now. Given the supply vs. demand situation, that would not be surprising, at least on the above reading of the data. But over at Crooked Timber, Michael Berube says it's not that simple. He argues there are two distinct labor markets, a national market for TT jobs (PhD required), and a regional/local market for adjunct jobs (mostly held by MAs): 
according to the 2004 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty, 65.2% of non-tenure-track faculty members hold the MA as their highest degree—57.3% in four-year institutions, 76.2% in two-year institutions. There are many factors affecting the working conditions of adjuncts, but the production of PhDs isn’t one of the major ones. 
When I left adjuncting for a fellowship, in 2009, the state U where I worked was about to cut back on adjuncts. Not because they were planning a TT hire (that had also been canceled by the economic calamity of 2008), but because of budget cuts to higher ed. Have adjunct positions rebounded since then, or remained at reduced levels? Clearly, the numbers show more contingent faculty than ever. But the data above doesn't indicate who is filling those jobs. Are VAP/adjunct jobs harder to come by or more competitive than they used to be? Or is it just that for PhDs, they're harder to come by?


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Formality, Grad Students, and the Atlantic Ocean

An "Expat Grad Student" writes with the following question:

I realize that this is not really in your wheelhouse, but I am going to be staring a my PhD in the US/Canada in the autumn and was hoping your readers would  clear something up that I have been wondering about. I am American, but I did my bachelors and terminal MA in a small, but well regarded department in the UK where, by the time of my MA I was on a first name basis with all of the academic staff in the department - in fact, all of the grad students were. Furthermore, most of the lecturers were happy to discuss anything relating to philosophy whenever they were not in the middle of anything else. It was also not uncommon for profs, grad students and even some undergrads to go to the pub and socialize or drink a fair amount at department events (Holiday party, etc.)

I realize that there is a great variation in departments even in the same area, but I am under the impression that things are a bit more formal this side of the pond. Am I correct in this assumption? Either way I would be grateful for any guidance as to what to expect with regard to  departmental culture.

I can speak with genuine authority about only a few departments, but it seems to me that this is occasionally but not generally true. The master's degree program I was involved with was somewhat formal--professors wanted to be called “doctor”; office doors were generally kept closed; etc--but the faculty was generally approachable and were more than happy to discuss philosophy (and other stuff) with us. There wasn't much in the way of going out to bars with faculty, but there was plenty of going out to bars without them. And philosophy was almost always a principal topic of discussion at these outings. (Not that I think that the fact that I was discussing philosophy with MA students instead of my program's faculty didn't matter. It mattered. But the fact that I was always sober whenever I would discuss philosophy my professors also mattered, I think.)

The atmosphere at my Ph.D.-granting department was much more informal. Everyone used first names; office doors were almost always open; faculty were much more open to meeting off-campus and outside the department. Faculty didn't tend to accompany us to the bars, but in a lot of cases, I chalk that up to differences in lifestyle than any kind of formality or desire to create or maintain distance between the grad students and the faculty. When you get old and/or have a family and stuff, you generally don't go out to bars as much. I don't, anyways. But the faculty at my Ph.D. school were much more approachable and less interested in maintaining an air of formality than the faculty at my MA school were. I was more comfortable with them as a result. I saw them more often, and they were easier to talk to. That probably made them easier to learn from.

My Ph.D. school still sort of seems like it was more formal than Expat's school in the UK. However, I'm not at all sure it's generally true that North American departments are more “formal” or uptight than their UK counterparts. Maybe Americans are generally more uptight in some ways and less so in others. I don't know. But I strongly suspect that informality, in the sense of faculty getting drunk at your parties, is only loosely connected to the quality of the education you'll get from them. I suspect that informality in the sense of faculty being approachable and generous with their time, thoughts, and criticism is much more important. And I suspect that North American philosophers are no less approachable than their UK counterparts.

--Mr. Zero