Sunday, August 31, 2014

The answer is, "Yes. Some of them have been."

(Update: This already went up and people already saw it, so whatever, here it is again. But, if I had to do it again, I would've just said something like, "Presented without comment." I think quite a bit of it goes without saying. But maybe not. Some graduate students are apparently picking up the more strident vocabulary of the most-trafficked philosophy blogger and 39% of self-selected respondents so far think that blogs have had a very negative effect on the profession. Please note I don't speak for any of the blogs I link to or for my co-bloggers here.

Later update: Please see my comments below. It's easy to overestimate the reach or influence of any particular blog; I didn't mean to imply that any positive changes happening now are because of some blog posts. The changes that have been effected in the past years were initiated and started by people long before any blog existed and are carried out by some people who couldn't care less about the philosophy blogosphere. Those changes are perhaps more visible now because of blogs, but people have been working on these issues out of the blogging "spotlight" for a long time. I do think, however, that the discussions about and publicizing of that hard work started long before blogs existed has been good for the profession.)

Leiter recently posted a poll asking, "Have blogs been good for the philosophy profession?" He was prompted to post this poll after a graduate student wrote in:
I get the impression that blogs are on the whole having a deleterious effect on the balance of power in the profession. The opinionated know-nothings (and insincere posturers) that we now have to pay attention to that seem to have some influence on professional organizations, departmental policies, and professional events (e.g., the Gendered Conference Campaign) would never have had this much influence without the distorting effect of blogs/social media.
Leiter takes his graduate student correspondent to raise "a legitimate issue."*

If you're having a hard time unpacking all this, here's my stab at a translation manual:
Blogs...on the whole = Feminist Philosophers; anyone who has expressed some solidarity with FP at some point, e.g. this blog, DailyNous, NewAPPS, Digressions & Impressions, or are nice/supportive for people at the beginning of their careers, e.g. Philosophers' Cocoon; but, most importantly: any blog that moderates comments  (see also entries for "opinionated know-nothings" and "insincere posturers")
Having a deleterious effect on the balance of power in the profession = Tenured professors (of which an exceptionally large percentage are white and male and who still control hiring decisions and rankings) can't do whatever they want anymore (like publicly make sweeping judgments about entire sub-disciplines or genders or minorities) without sometimes getting called out by early-career folk (adjuncts, VAPs, graduate students, etc.); also: the dearth of women and minorities in philosophy is being taken seriously; also (likely not widespread): they can't date students anymore (or start projects with grad students of questionable pedagogical value)
Opinionated know-nothings = People with opinions I think are nonsense since I disagree with them or they make me uncomfortable (disagreement theory of meaning)
Insincere posturers = People who I think are insincere because they make moral claims related to the philosophy profession that I disagree with/make me uncomfortable (more specifically, Eric Schliesser, since Leiter once claimed that there's just no way Schliesser could believe all his posturing) 
We now have to pay attention to = I don't know how to close tabs in my browser 
That seem to have some influence on professional organizations, departmental policies, and professional events = Thanks, in part [late edit: only in part and probably a very small part(!); we shouldn't forget all the wonderful work done by people at journals, in departments, at the APA, at conferences, and elsewhere that are making change happen at the ground-level], to those opinionated know-nothings and insincere posturers, professional organizations are now fulfilling their most basic duties; department policies now take climate issues seriously; and professional events can't only just invite men to their conferences (see entry for "having a deleterious effect on the balance of power in the profession") 
Distorting effect of blogs/social media = Over the better part of the last decade, through outside work and some luck, blogs I disagree with (see entries for "opinionated know-nothings" and "insincere posturers") get more traffic than I think they deserve; moreover, this traffic doesn't indicate fairly widespread consensus among members of the profession about the importance of some issues, but instead represents a few loudmouths blowing things WAY out of proportion; if they didn't moderate comments, this distorting effect would be clear
Legitimate issue [for the profession] = An issue that affects Leiter and his blog directly 
I await the results of the poll and subsequent discussion for further comment.

-- Jaded, Ph.D.

*This graduate student has to be trolling Leiter, right? (Or they are both trolling all of us.)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Gathering information about first-round interviews

DailyNous picked up Asst.Prof. at a Canadian School's argument concerning the moral impermissibility of first-round interviews* and Zombie's post about the benefits (and drawbacks) of Skype/Video-Conferencing.**

With this in mind, I'm trying to gather information about the first-round interviewing practices of search committees this year. I have set up a form where search committees and job candidates can post information about first-round interviews. I hope to keep track of search committee interview practices: Skype, Eastern-APA, choice of Skype or Eastern-APA, or no first-round interviews.

Please think about filling the form out if you have information. (Note that something similar, and more in-depth, was carried out in 2011 by "Young Philosopher." It's worth looking at the results again!)

In the next few months, I’ll also look to collect information from job candidates about their plans to attend the Eastern-APA, their reasons for attending or not attending, and, if they are attending, how much they are spending to attend (and whether or not they have departmental support).***

--Jaded, Ph.D.

*As some commenters in the threads above pointed out, Leiter inexplicably tweeted that this was "Yet more evidence for Ayer's theory of moral language." I wonder what all those times that Leiter and his guest-bloggers discussed the benefits and burdens of Skype interviews (and, if not explicitly, implicitly, the obligations of search committees to their schools and to candidates) are evidence for. (Click those links! Lotsa good, meaningful discussion at them.) Anyway. I pointed out that the main claims of the post appear truth-evaluable, including the moral principle.

**See also this 2010 (!!!!) post from Mr. Zero.

***In the meantime, check out some of the comments at DailyNous. DCH has (what seems to me) a compelling response to Dan Werner's defense of Eastern-APA interviews. And, in light of all the times job candidates are told, "You're interviewing the search committee too," Anon. 7:20, says 
I’m starting to come to the view that requiring APA interviews for the first round reflects such a profound disrespect for candidates, that I wouldn’t want to work in that kind of department anyway.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Avoid these grad (and career) traps!

Justin at DailyNous (still love that pun) points our attention to a post he shared last week by Daniel Silvermint about potentially-paralyzing, self-sabotaging thoughts many students encounter in grad school. Daniel called them Grad Traps; he writes:
I’m helping out at my department’s orientation for new grads...and I wanted to distribute a list of Grad Traps, or ways in which we burden ourselves early in our careers with thoughts and habits that make work and life harder....When such traps go unacknowledged, grads have an incentive to hide and conceal their struggles, for fear of being considered not as good as others. But if these kinds of traps are both common and avoidable, then an environment that openly acknowledges them is worth having.
Starting grad school? Read them. In the middle of grad school? Read them. Early or mid-career? Read them. I did and I quickly recognized that I am still prone to fall into a few of the same traps (#s 15 and 16 especially; getting better though, getting better).

While I survived grad school without this list, the surviving might've been easier with it. If you have anything to add, you can comment over at the original post.

-- Jaded, Ph.D.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

On the supposed drawbacks of Skype interviews (an inference built on anecdata)

In light of the previous thread, it seems like a good time for this.

I had four video interviews during the last job season. Three by Skype, and one by another video thing. Adobe something. They were all quite different experiences, which got me to thinking about some of the alleged shortcomings of Skype interviews. (For the record, two Skype-ing schools gave me the option to interview in person at APA, and the others conducted only video interviews.)

1. Non-Skype (no APA). Pain in the ass set-up involving downloading new software and going through a whole rigamarole, with a clunky, non-intuitive interface. Which, everybody has Skype, so why bother? It was no better than Skype in terms of image/sound quality. The chair explicitly asked interviewees to use headphones (supposedly to avoid echo and feedback), so I really couldn't hear myself speaking very well.

The committee sat in a U around a rectangular arrangement of tables, and the camera was at the opposite end of the room (the candidate's end, as it were), so they were all fairly tiny. Because of some glitchiness with the initial connection (no sound, etc.), I was afraid to switch to full screen lest I disturb the delicate balance (plus my camera is on my laptop, so even full screen is not that big), so the tiny Lego people problem was compounded by that. Given how persnickety they were in terms of demands for the candidates, you'd think they could have had a better set-up on their end. As for the interview itself, it was lousy. Boring, bored, rote questions, one per committee member, with no follow-up questions. None. It was like they were going through the motions (and maybe they were. Maybe they just weren't that into me as a candidate to begin with). Results: They sent me a PFO a few weeks later, so I give them marks for punctuality.

2. Skype. (APA option) Very professional set-up with a guy running the camera in a conference room clearly set up for video conferencing. Committee sitting on one side of a long table, facing the camera. Camera zoomed in on each member as s/he spoke, making the whole eye contact thing much easier, and making it feel like more of a conversation. One SC member showed up late, but managed to join the conversation. Friendly SC; chair started off by praising my writing sample (nice!). Good, chatty interview with interesting questions.

This is the right way to do Skype, if you ask me, and not qualitatively worse than an in person interview. But not all schools have this kind of set-up available. Mine sure doesn't. Results: Campus visit.

3. Skype. (APA option) Technical difficulties, with committee actually conducting the interview from APA, on a laptop, all crowded around a hotel table. Technical glitches, fuzzy picture, freezy screen (probably due to typically lousy hotel wifi), hard to hear or see clearly at times, a couple of people slightly off-camera and leaning in (which was kind of funny, and gave the whole thing a more freewheeling feel). Nonetheless, it was a good, engaged, friendly committee asking great questions, and a really good conversation. Everyone cool with the fact that technical problems happen, and sometimes you have to repeat yourself. Results: Campus visit.

(Fourth search was temporarily suspended, so nothing to report, except an uneventful Skype interview that went well, I think.)

So, yeah, the technical issues that can be a problem with Skype happen. Although it seems they can be remedied by having a professional set-up and good connection. But even when you don't have that, and there are glitches, it's still possible to have a good interview. Both of my Skype interviews were, I would say, equally good despite substantial differences in the technical set-up and tech quality. From my limited and admittedly anecdotal experience, and contrary to the conventional wisdom,  I don't think the technical difficulties result in an overall disadvantage for Skypees as compared to in-person interviewees. I infer this from the fact that both schools I Skyped with also did APA interviews. I assume also that getting a fly-out means the Skype interview went well. And given the financial and time costs associated with going to APA, Skype is hands-down the better way to go for job candidates. I appreciated having the option of doing the interviews via Skype. I've had far, far, far worse experiences with in-person interviews at APA.

That said, there's a benefit in doing some extra prep to optimize the Skype experience. My prep: My laptop has a good camera, but I bought a good quality USB microphone for optimal sound (I record videos for my online courses, so I wasn't buying it exclusively for interviews.)  It's possible some schools have decent USB mics available. I asked and mine did not. I interviewed from my office where I have a reliable ethernet connection (recommend this over wifi, b/c Skype is not very forgiving of wifi fluctuations). I brought a small lamp from home and put it on my desk to improve the lighting (overhead fluorescent tubes). I propped my laptop on a thick book to improve the angle, and checked the background (all books), and uncluttered my desk enough to hint that I'm productive, but not a disorganized mess. I cleaned up my office so there wouldn't be a lot of visual junk and stuff behind me. I printed out the names and photos of the committee members, and tacked it to the wall behind my laptop, so I could look at it without noticeably looking away. Also put a few notes for myself up there. I tested the image/sound/background by Skyping with a friend beforehand. And the usual stuff -- dressing as if it was an in-person, maintaining eye contact with the camera (not the screen, which is hard to do!), learning as much as I could about the school, department, and committee, etc. Also, on the assumption that the committees might be doing multiple interviews in a day, I picked interview times that were shortly after lunch, or (second choice) shortly after breakfast, because of this study.

I suspect, and hope, that more and more interviews will be conducted via Skype or somesuch (but not that Adobe crap), which is a good thing. Chime in here if you have anecdotes of your own.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

APA interviews are morally impermissible

Since we're already talking about the job market (I'm with Zombie, holy crap!), Asst.Prof. at a Canadian School writes in to remind us of the significant hardships APA interviews impose on job seekers. There's not much for me to add; I wholeheartedly agree (and I aired my views last APA go-around). Here's Asst.Prof. at a Canadian School's take:
It’s the middle of the summer, so no one wants to think about searches for new tenure track hires. But now’s the time to talk about something important -- before those searches start.

APA interviews are really expensive for job candidates. This isn’t news, but it’s worth doing the math again. Flights can easily run to $500 for candidates on the West Coast. If people are coming from the UK or Canada, it’s closer to $800. I don’t even want to think about Australia or Asia. Then there’s hotel costs, which even if you bunk with a bunch of friends in one room, is probably going to run past $100. So we’re talking about $500, $600, or a lot more for candidates to go the APA. 
That price might have been one thing in the olden days, when everyone got ten interviews at their first APA, and then got a job, and never had to deal with the job market ever again. Back then, the APA was a one-time cost. But that’s not the world we live in now. Now people spend three, four, or five years on the market before they get permanent jobs. They go to APAs where they have one interview -- a one-in-12 shot at a job. And then they do it again the next year. And then again the year after that, and the year after that. At that point, they’ve spent $2000 or $3000 just trying to get a job.

That bears repeating: candidates can easily spend well over $2000 going to APAs for interviews.

For a grad student? For an adjunct? For some postdocs and VAPs? That is way too much money. It’s two or three months’ rent. It’s health insurance. Grad students, adjuncts, and other part-timers are the most economically marginalized, most economically vulnerable members of our discipline. To impose those costs on them is to impose on them a considerable hardship.

Now, you could argue that in the olden days, there was just no way to avoid APA interviews. Search committees had to get a first look at people before they made up their minds about who to bring out to campus. That would be a bad argument for at least two reasons I can think of, but it’s an argument you could make.

But now there’s Skype. Really. It’s a real thing and it works. I know, I know, it can be glitchy, and even when it’s not, it’s not the same as an IRL meeting.

But how much better than a Skype interview is an APA interview? So much better that it justifies forcing some adjunct to spend $500 she could have spent on her kids’ Christmas presents? Or her health insurance? Or her rent?

To recap: APA interviews impose a considerable economic hardship on the most economically vulnerable members of our discipline. And since there’s Skype, they impose that hardship for no reason at all. But to impose a considerable hardship on the weakest and poorest among us -- for no reason at all -- is an injustice. It is morally impermissible.

That point deserves to be put in the second person. If your department is hiring this year, and if you let your department do APA interviews, you are committing an injustice. You are forcing economically vulnerable people to spend way more money than they can afford, in order to have a one-in-12 shot at your job. And you’re doing it for no good reason at all. That is a despicable thing to do.

So what should you do? Easy. Don’t do APA interviews. Just refuse. Don’t wring your hands this year and think maybe you’ll skip the APA next time around. Don’t wait for the APA to come up with some new policy. Don’t wait for a few other departments to start skipping the APA before you do. Just do it yourself. Do it this year.
Abolish APA interviews.

-- Jaded, Ph.D.