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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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If you administer assessments through Canvas, Blackboard, or some other online system, there are usually ways to design certain assessments (or portions of assessments) to be auto-graded by the system. Granted, not all instructors may be fans of multiple choice questions, true/false questions, matching sections, fill-in-the-blank questions, etc., but in certain contexts, these questions can give you some useful insights about what students know. That's especially true if you're good at writing distractors -- wrong answers that sound plausible to those who aren't super familiar with the material. For large classes, auto-graded assessments can save a LOT of time, and they can be given fairly frequently without burying you in additional work.
I think this is definitely something grad students should bear in mind. They should also be aware that it's possible for their Plan B to result in a dead end. In my own case, I was taking some advanced statistics classes on the side toward the end of my graduate career to facilitate a career alternative, but in the second of these courses, I discovered that I absolutely hated doing it and wanted no part of a career focused on that subject area. At that point, I dropped the course and focused on my dissertation for the remainder of grad school. That being said, I also had a Plan C based on my study of technical communication that I did between getting my B.A. and starting a Ph.D. program, so I wasn't banking on statistics as my sole avenue for non-academic employment.
If nothing else, I think this blog has helped a lot of grad students who simply don't have realistic expectations about the job market, the dissertation, professional life after grad school, etc., to get a better handle about what they will need to do to complete their grad programs and have a non-negligible chance on the job market. That, at least, is how I perceive my own contributions. I write primarily for people who need accurate information about these matters so they can decide whether the pursuit of a long-term career in philosophy is right for them. I also basically agree with Dr. Job Seeker above that the standards for the job market had already been elevated dramatically long before the Cocoon existed. I was being advised in 2009 that if I went to grad school, I should expect to need publications to secure a job afterward. The Cocoon came around in 2012. The other factor is that lots of the advice offered is easy to understand but hard to execute. For instance, lots of grad students want to publish articles and are trying, but acceptance nonetheless eludes them.
I want to echo Michel's comment that the best sources of information about the quality of advising in a program are the advanced graduate students. Either strike up a conversation with them during the visit or send them emails after your visit has concluded. (Usually, you'll have to do some of the correspondence via email because you'll only meet a fraction of the grad students on your visit.)
One complication to these structured interviews is that you can be asked questions that seem pretty far out of left field. In every interview of this type I've had, there have always been 1-2 questions that I have never been asked before and that don't turn up on the typical "common interview question" lists. It can be hard to prep for those situations. There have also been several where there are technical problems with the connection, which has affected how the interview proceeds and how I have to moderate the time I take to answer questions. (In each case, it was something on the hiring committees side that was amiss.) That's also pretty hard to prep for.
It's also worth noting that you can partition at the level of your weekly schedule rather than your daily schedule. I recall completing my MA thesis primarily by designating Thursdays and Sundays as writing days. I work on the thesis for 6-8 hours those days and do virtually no other work. This was a very effective way to lock down on that project since I found it difficult to make any substantive progress in 1 or 2 hour blocks. Obviously, this kind of partitioning is harder to do after graduate school (when you often have a heavier teaching load), but if you luck out and have all your teaching scheduled on just 2 or 3 days a week, then it's still possible.
When I receive an R&R, I make changes based on all of each reviewer's individual concerns -- regardless of the reviewer's overall verdict -- unless (1) the reviewers contradict one another or (2) the comment relies on a gross misinterpretation of my argument. With regard to (1), I explain which reviewer I am siding with and why. With regard to (2), I explain the misinterpretation and (if possible) alter the manuscript to make the contours of my argument clearer. Thus far, this strategy has been successful for all 6 R&R verdicts I have received.
This reminds me a bit of Cal Newport's material on this subject. (He teaches computer science and runs the popular blog "Study Hacks".) Cal is also a big advocate of structured daily planning. Here's one representative post about the subject: Personally, I've never been able to hold fast to a rigid daily plan, but I certainly endorse the first two features of goal-setting that you mention. Vague goals that are very far off in the future don't tend to be motivating. They need to be concrete (so that they have clear conditions for failure and success), and they need to be relatively short term so that you don't keep putting off progress. I will add that imposing artificial deadlines (for example, by targeting a CFP for a journal or conference) can aid in staying on task with various projects in the absence of a rigid daily schedule.
Thanks, Michael. That's very helpful.
Hi Amanda, So first, the letters that I wrote as a grad student were not for philosophy graduate school. In fact, I have never been asked to write a letter for a graduate philosophy program. Letters I wrote as an ABD grad student were for (1) jobs the students were applying for, (2) applications for scholarships or other academic awards, and (3) law school. Some of these job and scholarship apps were successful. The law school letter was written for the best student I ever had: he had taken multiple courses from me, and I wrote a very detailed account of our interactions and the skills he had that would not show up merely in his transcripts, LSAT scores, etc. Anyway, that student got into a bunch of excellent law programs and later listed me as a character reference for the Bar Exam. Maybe my letter made no difference to the outcome, but the evidence would suggest my letter didn't hurt his chances either -- it's not clear to me he would have been better off with a far less detailed letter from a faculty member that barely knew him, and he told me as much in person when we discussed the matter. By "best results," I just mean that the letters do not read like great endorsements. If I were reading them, I would think that they sent the subtle message that the student wasn't a great pick -- since letters of rec are often embellished, "decent" letters come across as being weak.
I had the same problem that Josh seems to be experiencing when I was early in my teaching career. Generally, it was a spring semester phenomenon and occurred after student came back from spring break -- no one wants to get back to work after a week off, and the improving weather makes them want to get outside rather than spend their days cooped up in a classroom talking philosophy. Here are two strategies to counter it. First, save at least one really interesting topic for the last third of the course. Whatever you're most passionate about, save those two weeks for the last month of class. As a concrete example, I am saving apatheism (a topic I have published on) for the last month of my philosophy of religion course this semester. Second, to reiterate a point made by D, design the course so that it has an arc of sorts and culminates to something meaningful at the end of the term. If done effectively, this keeps students engaged because they want to see how the course will end. If you discover things are going badly in a particular semester despite trying to do these things, then I'd recommend trying to break up the routine. Take a week where you do something different to try to jar students out of their intellectual lethargy.
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.