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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
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No problem, Craig. Graduate students should definitely seek multiple perspectives on the various aspects of graduate school -- not just mine -- since variation in personal experience surely plays a big role in the advice one is prone to offer. But I'm still trying to support my recommendations with good reasons. I'm glad it seems helpful.
One factor that should be noted is AOS. If you have an AOS like Ethics or Social / Political, then you probably have more leeway to narrow your search because there are generally more jobs in those areas than others. But if you've got an AOS in metaphysics or formal epistemology, you might not really have the option to narrow your search a whole lot. If there are only 20 jobs in your AOS advertised all year, then I'd recommend applying to all of them.
In a lot of cases, the problem isn't that departments intentionally mislead people with information like this. I expect that's what happened here. The fact that the department approved a credit transfer in the past does give some reason to think they would do it in this case, which is what the DGS reported. But most likely the past case was significantly different from the current one in ways that weren't obvious. Or perhaps the members of the department just voted differently. Maybe there were new hires that were not at the institution (and thus did not vote) when the prior case was decided. These things happen, unfortunately. At this point, I think the only thing to do would be to plug along at the current institution. I gather that the programs must have been judged similar in quality by the inquiring reader if this issue was the deciding factor in which one ought to be chosen, so I don't think it'd be worth the costs of trying to transfer somewhere else.
While I doubt that virtually anyone gets short-listed for a job on the basis of their conference participation, I wouldn't be surprised at all if some people are moved to the discard pile when their track record indicates a lack of conference participation. It would likely be taken as a lack of engagement with the broader scholarly community. Now, of course, it might turn out that this isn't true, as it might be in the original poster's case. Maybe there's other evidence of engagement with the scholarly community on one's CV. The problem is that search committee members are only going to look at your CV for 10-15 seconds (maybe less) on the first pass, since they are likely confronted with a stack of hundreds of applications. It would be very strange to see a CV without any conference presentations listed, so I would think this sort of omission would draw a committee member's attention, and it would be difficult for a committee member in that position -- given the size of the stack and the razor thin margin between most of the applicants -- not to toss out the application right there.
The worry that the comment captures isn't a total myth. I heard it described in the following way by one of my letter writers from last year's job cycle. When we do philosophy, our inquiry is ideally guided by a desire to discover the truth -- or at least to achieve some greater understanding of the subject matter in question. If you're only using philosophy as a means of trying to convince others to support causes that you deem morally good, then there's a concern that your philosophical work is not appropriately objective or impartial. Your personal interest in a given cause might be contaminating your arguments. You might be less charitable to opposition, for example. My letter writer thought there was a balance to strike here. We all have our own views and causes that we think are morally important, and this obviously influences how we conduct our personal and professional lives. Yet in the context of academic philosophy this has to also be tempered with a fair acknowledgement of the views of peers who disagree with us and a duty not to descend into mere sophistry (i.e., using philosophical rhetoric to support and promote our own views at the expense of even-handed discussion of the subject matter). Striking this balance can be difficult in practice, of course, but it's doable. I think the cases that are most interesting to consider is how the balance is struck in the classroom and the extent to which we promote causes to our students. That particular issue is one I was actually planning to address in a future post, once my dissertation series is concluded.
Thanks for clarifying, Amanda. I am not sure whether that approach to dissertations would be a viable option in my graduate program. I'm guessing it would depend on the advisor. In any event, it's not a choice I ever faced, so the choice between writing a bookish manuscript or a series of papers isn't one that I have given much thought to. I suspect that most of the content in this series of posts will be more relevant to those writing manuscript-style dissertations than those who write a series of papers instead.
Amanda, while it may be true that the dissertation stage went smoother for you than most, I still wonder if you aren't exaggerating a bit. My dissertation was more than 75,000 words. (I do know people who wrote dissertations close to 40,000 words that still passed, but my advisor specifically said that anything less than 200 pages, which would be between 60,000 and 65,000 words was "too thin" in his eyes.) While I have heard of some people approaching dissertation chapters like standalone papers, to equate writing the dissertation to writing "a few papers" just doesn't seem accurate, even if things do go relatively well. A few article length papers would only equate to about 1/3 the length of my dissertation, and the dissertation has to have some general cohesiveness among its chapters (whereas standalone articles don't have to be connected to one another). I recall that your dissertation was shorter -- about 57,000 words -- but that still seems way too long to equate it to writing a few papers. Maybe I'm missing something here: you may have produced something closer to a stitched collection of quality papers (something "lategrad" mentioned in comments on Part 2) than the manuscript I wrote. Program requirements obviously vary. It may also be the case that you are one of the rare cases of someone who found the dissertation to be easier than other parts of graduate school. I have met others for whom this is true: they usually had their difficult times at other stages of graduate school. In any case, I do think it is advantageous for one to be able to approach the dissertation as if it's just another project to complete -- perhaps as a super long paper -- but that's easier said than done, since it is very different from the other things you do in graduate school and since its timing presents other unique problems.
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.