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Trevor Hedberg
Tampa, FL
Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of South Florida
Interests: Philosophy, Reading, Writing, Editing, Teaching, Website Design, Tennis, NBA, Anime, Video Games
Recent Activity
I'll add to Recent hire's comment that I think checking the job market wiki is an unnecessary way to spend one's time, and doing so usually just creates more stress. (Plus, as has been pointed out here on other posts, the information there is usually pretty inaccurate.) I never checked it once during my first time on the market, and I suspect that lessened the stress and anxiety considerably.
Amanda -- I've heard a great deal of conflicting advice about this. The most common position among those who have given me job market advice is that you should apply to all positions that you can make a plausible case for. The rationale is that the selection process is so random and the margin between qualified candidates so small that you don't really know how you'll fare. You may make the first cut in "long shot" positions and be passed over for all the positions that (to you) seem like an ideal match. That said, I'm sure there's a limit here. I know plenty of people who have gone so far as to apply for positions that are clearly not in their AOS and for which they have no publications or dissertation research to support their claim that it is their AOS. At a minimum, I think this practice should be avoided. Beyond that, I'm uncertain what other limits (if any) to recommend. Determining how much to limit the scope of your search is a tough call. If I develop a clear position on this topic, I might write up a full post on it at some point in the future.
@lategrad -- That's a good strategy when things work out that way. (It did happen to me once: I got invited to review a book that was on my dissertation reading list anyway.) The problem, as you suggest, is that you'll be limited in how often your commitments mesh in this way. I suppose that proper planning with respect to choice of dissertation topic and such could increase the likelihood of achieving this overlap, but there is so much unpredictability in when opportunities arise, how long journal review times take, etc., that I expect it would still be really hard to avoid the core problem.
As we'll see at some point in the near future, this strategy differs an awful lot from the ones I adopted while working on my dissertation. The goal-oriented strategy always struck me as more effective at the monthly or weekly levels but too rigid to be effectively implemented at the level of daily scheduling. Or at least that's been my experience: I know very few people who have been able to implement it at the level of precision described here. Maybe in the summer -- when outside obligations are minimal -- that's doable, but new things pop up almost every week during the semester that would impede the kind of scheduling depicted here.
One solution to this problem would be for more journals to adopt standards like the Australasian Journal of Philosophy -- where the standards for acceptance go up proportionally to the paper's length, such that a 15,000-word paper would have to effectively be as good as two independent 7500-word papers to justify being published. But an alternative solution would be for a few journals to emerge that specialized in publishing longer pieces of philosophy -- journals that, say, had a word minimum of 10,000 words. These would effectively fill the opposite niche of journals like Ratio and Analysis, which are clearly designed for pieces that are shorter than average. I'm not sure that would necessarily be the best solution, but I think it's at least worth considering.
I applied to 90 jobs last year and submitted research statements about 25-30% of the time. I think Michel X. has it right: what's required for a job application depends in large part on what kind of institution and position you are applying for.
I am not convinced that there is any great benefit created by a philosophy jobs wiki. Often the information that gets posted is false or misleading. And even when the information is accurate, it usually only serves as a source of psychological frustration. I never checked the wiki last year and will never check one in future searches. You'll learn about the interviews you got (and didn't get) eventually, regardless of whether they get posted to a wiki. Most faculty with whom I have interacted strongly advise not checking the wiki, including several who checked the wiki obsessively out of either anxiety or curiosity when they were on the market themselves. If anyone affiliated with this blog were going to undertake the project of maintaining a job wiki, I'd want to hear a substantive explanation of why such a resource would actually be helpful for job candidates rather than just an unnecessary source of stress and misinformation.
I looked into some general "Plan B" options the year before I made my first job market push. Here are a few things that might be worth doing if you're serious about setting up a non-academic Plan B: 1. Try to take a course or two outside your department that are relevant to a non-academic career you wouldn't mind or that teach marketable skills (e.g., statistics). It may be preferable to do this in the summer, since doing it then will not interfere with the normal duties of the semester. 2. Make a LinkedIn profile and update it periodically. 3. Work with folks at your institution's career development center to convert your academic CV to a viable resume. 4. Investigate online resources aimed at helping you find a career, such as beyondacademia.org or goodbyeacademia.com. Sites like these are more numerous than you might expect. Hopefully, that's enough to get you started.
Elizabeth and Pendaran -- thanks for the suggestions. I think that your points are related: the lack of external validation during graduate school is in part tied to the frequency with which your work will be criticized and rejected. People who do not handle this well are definitely not going to enjoy graduate school in philosophy or the time on the job market that usually follows one's graduate studies. Something about this should probably be added as #9 on the list above. I don't think this is as central as #1 or #2 because some graduate students will develop the required mental resilience toward rejection as their graduate studies progress.
A deep enjoyment of writing philosophy does not require enjoying it in all cases or enjoying absolutely every aspect of it. (In fact, I'm not sure anything that I deeply enjoy could meet such a high standard.) But it does require that there be a strong and steadfast interest in writing philosophy -- one that is not easily overwhelmed by other things. As far as how common this characteristic is, I would say most, if not all, of the professors who supervised my graduate studies had it. And I met many folks at department colloquiums and conferences who seemed to have it. It doesn't require being elated about developing your ideas in writing (though I do know a few people like that); I suspect it manifests more often as a calmer, subtler passion. In my own case, my enjoyment of writing stems far more from the long-term gratification achieved at the completion of a project than anything that is done along the way. (That part of the process can be, as "UK reader" states, a grind.) Thus, I would not say that writing philosophy always makes me "happy" but would say that it is something I value and that I enjoy. This might amount to a weaker criterion than the way "O" was reading it, and I can see how the original post might not provide enough explanation on this point. But I stand by the main thrust of that section: I think graduate students who like to write philosophy and are committed to doing so are overwhelmingly more likely to complete their programs and enjoy the experience than both those who are lukewarm about writing philosophy and (especially) those who dislike writing philosophy.
I think this last bit of advice -- only go to top 25 programs or top 10 programs in your specialty -- is too strong. Lots of unranked or low-ranked programs have good placement records, and while some high prestige schools may only hire from other high prestige departments, low prestige schools are often wary of hiring from high prestige departments because they perceive such candidates as flight risks -- they worry that the candidate will try to get a job at another institution shortly after being hired, and so they don't want to gamble on such a candidate. Bottom line: I think placement record should be considered in addition to a program's ranking when you're evaluating what programs to apply to.
Marcus, I'm not sure it is within most graduate students' power to alter their outlook on philosophy in the way you describe. A disillusioned attitude will probably manifest gradually over the course of a few years in the program. Some students can and do escape that mindset, but a lot of them don't: it's very difficult to dislodge attitudes that get ingrained that deeply. So if I were in the position of giving a grad student in those circumstances candid advice, I would strongly encourage them to consider their options beyond philosophy and not just continue on in the hopes that an attitude adjustment will solve the problem or that things will otherwise get better. Continuing along is risky, and the more one invests in the program, the more psychologically difficult it will be to leave the program later if things continue to go badly. So you're right that there are more options available to disillusioned grad students than leaving the program. But in the overwhelming majority of cases, that's still the advice that I would give them.
The introduction to Russ Shafer-Landau's _The Fundamentals of Ethics_ has worked fairly well in the last two ethics courses I have taught. It has a lot of terms that will be new to students, though, so I recommend splitting up the material over at least 2 class sessions and unpacking the concepts in depth. If your university library has a copy of this book on hand, it might be worth a look.
I would propose there is at least one more group of grad students that could be added to this list, though they might overlap a bit with some of the other categories. An appropriate label might be the "disillusioned." These are grad students who lose their love for philosophy during graduate school or otherwise come to dislike philosophy as it is done in an academic setting. I've run into quite a few of these folks over the years, and as one might expect, as their loathing of graduate school increases, they tend to struggle more. For these folks -- in contrast to most of the other groups you describe -- I think the right move is for them to leave their graduate program and to pursue a career outside of philosophy. In practice, I've seen this often result in taking a terminal MA instead of seeing a PhD through to its conclusion. Where members of this group get into the most trouble, from what I've seen, is when they continue along with their graduate studies despite hating it (e.g., because of their investment in the program up to that point or because they believe they have no other career options). Often, after many years of toil, they find themselves set up with low odds of landing a job that they may not really want anyway. Philosophy faculty are often not well-positioned to help grad students find non-academic careers, but at a minimum, I think this group is helped when they feel like leaving their respective programs is not viewed by the faculty as a failure or disappointment. A little reassurance and encouragement can go a long way in such cases.
One thing worth noting is that many of the jobs listed as "Open" are not really open in my view. Often, they come with caveats like "strong preference for feminist philosophy and/or history of modern philosophy" or something similar. I applied to a lot of jobs that were listed as open but had such preferences for ethics-oriented subject areas. I'm doubtful that 1/4 of the jobs listed over the past year are really "open" in the fullest sense.
I would propose an amendment to #3. Rather than not having to feel like you're succeeding, you simply have to feel like success is not defined by the ratio of successes to failures. In fact, ideally I imagine you wouldn't give any weight to failures: all that would matter is the total number of successes. To illustrate what I mean, imagine going to an empty gym to practice free throws. You could set two different kinds of goals to structure your practice. One would be to shoot a set amount and shoot a certain percentage (e.g., make 80 out of 100 attempts). Another would be to simply aim for making a total number of baskets. In the second case, the number of misses doesn't directly affect whether your practice was successful -- whether it took you 150, 200, or 300 attempts to make 100 free throws doesn't affect whether you met your goal. If you made 100 free throws during your session, then you succeeded. In academia, I think you have to adopt a standard of success similar to what's depicted in the second case if you want to maintain a feeling of being successful. If doesn't matter how many failures you accumulate; what matters is your total number of successes. So going 2/5 on successful journal submissions is not as good as going 4/20 on them. No one cares about the number of rejections you get, so you have to adopt an attitude of not caring about them either. That's easier said than done, but it's possible.
I want to endorse the advice given by anonymous in the last few comments. This is my first year on the job market, and I have never been to the wiki once. I know many people who check it regularly, and their reactions to it have been universally negative. Moreover, I have been told my many people, including multiple placement directors, that the information on the wiki is often inaccurate for many reasons. I'm not sure what benefit checking the wiki is supposed to provide, but it seems to only serve as a source of despair and distraction. I would never advise job candidates to spend time on it.
In my experience on the market, postdocs usually require more specific tailoring than other types of applications. They almost always request either (1) a detailed cover letter that explains your reasons for applying for the fellowship and how you would contribute to the fellowship's broader goals or (2) a detailed description -- 1000-1500 words -- of the project you would undertake while you had the fellowship. Some will have additional idiosyncratic requirements. On my understanding, it is also relatively common for postdoc applications to be evaluated by non-philosophers, especially when the position is open to applicants from a wide variety of disciplines. That means that you often need to make your cover letter and project description accessible to those without any significant background in philosophy.
I agree with unrulyhyperion and KC. This blog occupies a unique niche. I think that the blog should be kept tailored toward graduate students and other early career philosophers. The reasons you mention for expansion are admirable, but I worry too much might be compromised in the process. Moreover, this blog would lose a good deal of its unique appeal. I'm sure this question will be revisited again in the future, and perhaps it will be more appropriate once the main contributors have aged. Right now, however, I'd vote against expansion.
Neil, thanks for replying. I suspect a lot of our disagreement may come down to the issue of whether the "Extreme Quality" approach is preferable to the alternatives. I suspect I am somewhere near the middle of the Extreme Quality and Extreme Quantity poles myself. It would be interesting if someone from the other end of the spectrum -- an Extreme Quantity devotee -- were to write a guide like this. I'd be quite curious to see what the differences would be, both in writing strategy and outlook on the value of philosophical writing.
I think it's very helpful for grad students and other early career scholars to have access to resources like this. Concise writing guides are very helpful: even if one does not agree with the strategies the author uses, they provide some alternative methods to consider and often raise important questions about what we ought to aim for as philosophical writers. In this respect, I thank Neil for sharing this with us. Nevertheless, I think it's worth voicing a few points of disagreement. First, I think the "Ambition" standard is too high, though not because I think it is arrogant or too unrealistic. It's because I think it is often perfectly appropriate for philosophical writing to have a more modest goal. Some papers are tightly focused around a specific argument in a relatively niche debate, so they are not likely to be "profoundly significant" (p. 5). Many published reply pieces are even more narrowly focused than this. And so long as these papers advance the philosophical dialogue, I think the their modest aims are appropriate. Second, I think the "Rigor" standard is too high. I have difficulty understanding how one would present "conclusive" evidence for one's thesis (p. 6). I understand the description Neil provides, of course, but this is philosophy: theories and positions are virtually never refuted by "conclusive" evidence according to the standards that are presented. Perhaps the idea is that this is the ideal we should strive for rather than one we will actually realize. But I'm not sure such an ideal is always worth pursuing. Sometimes, when one treads uncharted philosophical territory -- e.g., trying to defend a view that no one has yet defended, trying to make a new argument for a familiar view -- it seems appropriate to allow, perhaps even encourage, the presentation of the argument even if it clearly has some controversial premises or other unresolved weaknesses. Once the argument becomes known, perhaps others can improve and refine it further. I worry that aspiring to the standard Neil advocates might encourage people to forego presenting novel arguments because the author will feel the evidence in their favor is not strong enough. Third, as a practical concern, I'm not sure the Extreme Quality approach is viable for graduate students in relatively undistinguished programs. There's fairly strong evidence that students from such programs need publications to be competitive on the job market. Following the Extreme Quality approach will, other things equal, result in producing fewer papers that one can submit to journals. Perhaps one of them will hit at a top-tier venue, but the acceptance rates of the best journals are quite low, so for many at these institutions, I expect that either the Extreme Quantity approach or an intermediary between Extreme Quality and Extreme Quantity will be a safer and smarter choice. As Neil acknowledges, it is possible to opt for both Extreme Quality and Extreme Quantity, but I don't think this is a realistic aspiration for many graduate students. Finally, as a biographical note, I cannot get much of anything done in a single hour of isolated writing time. Neil's approach of reserving one hour every single day to write would be a disaster for me. It takes me too much time for me to warm up and reenter the realm of the paper (or dissertation chapter) -- usually 30-45 minutes to really get into a flow. Thus, my own writing regiment involves blocks of 3-4 hours of uninterrupted time to work, and I try to manage 3 of these blocks per week. (My optimal amount of writing time is 5-6 hours, usually split by a short lunch break, but that much uninterrupted time for writing is almost impossible to secure except on an empty weekend or holiday.) The strategy of writing every day is common in the profession, but I suspect there are some for whom alternative approaches will work better.
Jerry, I also incorporate rewrites and exam retakes into my courses, but I hadn't made this connection to how it could impact the frequency of borderline cases and how students feel about them. It sounds like our overall outlooks on these issues are quite similar.
Michel X, I have known professors who handle it that way, but I worry that strategy just pushes the issue back a bit. If you round all scores, then you run into a similar problem with a student who makes something near an 89.4%: how confident can we really be that this student didn't make the magic 89.5% threshold and shouldn't get the bump up? Part of the reason I like my system is that the students have control of their fates in these circumstances, and it doesn't come down solely to my fine-grained judgments on a few assessments.
From my own experience, I'm not sure about how great Risk #2 really is: "Few, or no, people may read or engage with your work." A few years ago, David Palmer and I published a piece on the ethics of marketing in the Journal of Business Ethics. Now that's a good place to publish business ethics, but it's not going to show up on any top-20 lists for philosophy journals. I have published other papers since then, including an epistemology paper in Synthese (which routinely makes recent versions of these top-20 lists), but the statistics I've got from academia.edu and PhilPapers indicate that this paper on marketing ethics has been read and downloaded far more than my others. I even got interviewed by someone from Inside Science about it last year in connection with marketing cancer research. Obviously, this is just one set of personal experiences, but I have heard of other cases like this in applied ethics. Offhand, I recall Tim Bayne and Neil Levy having a similar experience with their "Amputees by Choice" that got published in the Journal of Applied Philosophy: it was much more widely read than most of their other works. Maybe applied ethics is unique in this respect because it has the potential to appeal to non-philosophers in ways that, say, traditional metaphysics and epistemology do not. I get that the claim being made is supposed to be a general rule rather than an absolute principle, but I suspect that the extent to which it is true will vary a lot depending on the subfield in which one is publishing.
This advice is consistent with what I was told the very first time I received advice on tackling an R&R. I've had several, and although some of them had required multiple revisions, I have so far always succeeded in turning those R&Rs into publications. So there's a little anecdotal evidence that this advice is on target.