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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
Glad you put this together. I'll be very interested to see the results.
It's not about academic writing, but I have always found Stephen King's _On Writing_ to be a great resource in this regard. Many of the general rules he discusses will make your writing clearer and more focused if you follow them in your own work, whether it's fiction or non-fiction. As for more philosophy-specific writing guides, there are quite a few floating around online. I recently came across this one from Harvard: If these turn out to be too basic to suit the inquirer's needs, then I think Marcus is right: the most likely thing that's needed is just more practice. There aren't many shortcuts to getting better at writing: you get better at it gradually over time.
I almost feel like this inquiry is addressing me specifically since I have endorsed both those views in written posts on the Cocoon -- both (1) prospective students should consider attrition rates in their choice of grad program and (2) it is not a sign of failure to pursue a non-academic career (even if that means deciding not to finish the PhD). My thought behind (1) is that prospective grad students usually have the goal of finishing their PhD, and so it makes sense to go to a program where that is more likely to happen, other things equal. But their values could change along the way to the PhD (a journey that is likely to last 6-8 years), and in that case, I'd say it's okay for them to switch trajectories. So that's the support for (2). But Mike's right that there's a potential tension in these views, since programs with low attrition rates might have them because they are less supportive of students pursuing non-academic careers. I suppose overall you would want a program that has a low attrition rate but where you would still be supported by the faculty if you elected, say, to take a terminal MA and pursue a non-academic career. But given the information that's available, that combination could be hard to find. I'd say prospective students should still aim for programs with low attrition rates -- in part because I think leaving a PhD program after with no degree after many years of study is the least desirable outcome. Even if one doesn't use the PhD for an academic job, I still think it's worth getting for its own sake. (Perhaps I am influenced by my father's time as a part-time student pursuing an MA in history -- over 30 years later, he still regrets not finishing the degree.) I'd say prospective students should try to inquire with current or former grad students about how the department deals with cases of attrition and how it's perceived. I suspect getting accurate information about that through reported numbers and metrics (such as those listed above) would be difficult even if they were implemented across a lot of programs, but I have generally found that grad students are willing to respond to emails and share their experiences pretty regularly.
I'd be remiss not to mention the series of posts I have done here (spanning several years) on the topic of work-life balance. Here area couple notable entries: Part 1 -- Part 5 -- Part 9 -- Even after all the thought I've given this topic, I still think the single most important thing is getting 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Lack of sleep just makes everything else harder and less enjoyable. Also, regarding the screen exposure point above, it is true that people can have their circadian rhythm disrupted by the blue light emitted by computer monitors and television screens, but there are apps for phones and computers that change the hue of the light so that this effect is avoided. Lamplight and candle light do not cause this effect, so light that is similar in color to those light sources should not make it harder to fall asleep. Here's a program I use that alters the color of my computer monitor at night:
I know one person who might fit the bill: my old grad school comrade Roger Turner teaches at Walter State Community College and has published several articles in metaphysics (in venues like Phil Studies and Pacific Philosophical Quarterly) since taking that post. Here's his website:
I just get a "Page Not Found" error. Is this the right link?
Marcus -- you may be right, but I think determining what solution is most practical is complicated. There would be significant transition costs to such a dramatic overhaul (as there always are when making a radical reform). I am particularly uncertain what the impact would be for early career scholars. Would peer-reviewed publications become somewhat less valuable? Would people who had stronger personal connections with big-name philosophers be more likely to get their pre-published work notably discussed, especially before this system became a universally practiced norm? Would this means of getting feedback on one's work disincentivize people from submitting to conferences as a means of getting similar feedback? If so, to what extent would that be a bad thing? Thus, it's worth considering whether the current system could simply be tweaked or modified to ameliorate the problems. The Velleman and Sinhababu proposals are examples of that since they leave the basic structure of peer review largely in tact. I suspect that a milder change to the status quo would be easier to implement and also be more likely to gain widespread support from the profession at large than a complete overhaul of the whole system.
The bulk of the problem with the current peer review system boils down to journals being overwhelmed with too many submissions. (That is actually the only issue that Velleman discusses in the Daily Nous post of his that you link to.) That's what leads to long turnaround times and most other undesirable outcomes. Any full discussion of reform should consider whether there would be ways to alleviate this problem without transitioning to a full-scale overhaul of the system that's currently in place. Velleman's own suggestions involved essentially not allowing graduate students to publish at all. I echo the thoughts of many commentators on that post in thinking that this solution would be a step in the wrong direction, but it's at worth considering what options for reform are available. Neil Sinhababu's proposal was to significantly increase the number of available journals. Details here: I imagine there are also other directions we could go, though I cannot recall any other open discussions about the possibilities right offhand.
One often neglected aspect of deciding on a PhD program is the financial support you'll get. I don't just mean whether you have a position as a teaching assistant. I mean the combination of your current aid, the cost of living in the area, and the opportunities for additional aid (e.g., fellowships, summer teaching) in the future. If you incur a lot of debt during graduate school, it makes the job search that much more stressful because it puts more pressure on you to find a stable, tenure-track job more quickly. Additionally, if you have to adjunct at other places to increase your income, that will likely increase your time to degree or decrease the amount of time that you can devote to your own research (which could hurt your marketability in the long run).
My summer doesn't really seem to have a pattern anymore. It used to be that I'd work hard through May and June and then devote most of July to vacation time. But lately, I've been too exhausted at the end of May to not take a week or two away from work. The only real constant is that I prioritize coming back mentally fresh in the fall, which is probably why my fall semesters are usually more productive than my spring semesters.
One thing that should be acknowledged is that you're likely to have an online presence even if you do everything in your power not to. Publishing papers, presenting at conferences, being interviewed, having students review your teaching, etc., will all leave an online footprint of some sort. If you don't do anything to cultivate your online presence, then you're at the mercy of Google algorithms regarding what people are likely to find. This could be problematic if, say, the first result is a not-so-flattering RateMyProfessors page. If you take the time to maintain a PhilPapers profile, develop a personal website, or otherwise manage your online presence, then your managed pages and profiles are more likely to appear at the top of the search results, and thus, prying eyes will be more likely to find accurate information about who you are and what you do.
I've had considerable success using Zootopia to teach about moral psychology and implicit bias. The film's top quality and absolutely loaded with examples of various psychological phenomena that hinder sound moral judgment. You can read more about how I used it in some prior courses here: One of my other big successes has been using the South Park episode "You Have 0 Friends" to teach about friendship in the social media age. As the title suggests, it's South Park's take on Facebook. The episode is only 20 minutes, so you can watch the whole thing in class, discuss it, and then connect it to the relevant reading for the day (which in my case is typically a selection from Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics). I'd also recommend looking at the recent film Get Out, which was a masterclass social commentary on race. And if you want a short story that captures the deontology / consequentialism divide, Ursula Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" gets mentioned frequently.
Here are some general rules I've followed in this process (with short explanations): 1. When I get a detailed list of comments, I read them immediately and then stow them away for at least a week. Then I reread them and decide what to do with them. When we first get comments -- especially when we get rejected -- we are often frustrated or disappointed. That's not a good state of mind to evaluate the comments objectively. I have found it helpful to let those feelings pass and kick around the ideas for a while before making any decisions about what to do. 2. If I genuinely believe the reviewer has found a significant weakness in the paper, I make a change. I'd feel intellectually irresponsible if I deliberately resubmitted a paper that contained a glaring weakness in the argument that I knew about. 3. If I am unsure whether a single reviewer's comments have merit, then I generally don't make the suggested changes unless they're very minor. 4. If multiple reviewers find a problem with the same portion of the paper, I change that portion of the paper. I have actually had this happen many times. Usually, the reviewers have different suggestions for the paper but agree that there's a specific problem that needs to be fixed. 5. I generally don't expand a paper when I revise it after rejection. I trim certain sections to expand others or retool already existing sections. Usually, I already have a list of potential venues for the paper and have a word limit I'm working with. Massive expansion to the word count is something I only undertake when I have an R&R in hand.
@Chris -- one of the main points against student bashing made in that article by John Gottcent is that it's hypocritical. He argues that many of the same complaints we lodge against students could also be lodged against faculty members. Remembering that can indeed be a helpful strategy for empathizing with our students' circumstances.
Writing cover letters seems like one aspect of dossier preparation about which there is no agreement. I have been read or been told all of the following in the last few years: (1) You need to go into detail in your cover letter. (2) Long cover letters are a turnoff for committee members. (3) You need to tailor your cover letter to the institution. (4) You will not know enough about the faculty preferences or program needs to accurately tailor your letter, and some will view it as brown-nosing. (5) Cover letters are an extremely important part of the application. (6) Cover letters are rarely read and carry little weight in your application. It's a nightmare trying to deduce which perspective (if any) is the most accurate. Generally, I've thus far treated letters similarly to my personal statement from graduate school applications: I lay out my relevant experience, qualifications, research interests, etc., and let the committee decide if I'm worth interviewing. Is that the right approach? I really don't know, though it seemed to work during my first run on the market.
@SM -- The main reason I wasn't reading much literature wasn't really a time issue. The problem was that I would spend long work days reading and writing philosophy, and doing either of those things in my free time felt too much like work. This changed significantly when I wasn't doing coursework anymore and so was not required to read 200-300 pages of philosophy every week. (Strictly speaking, you can just skip assigned readings from time to time, but that wasn't a habit I wanted to develop.)
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.