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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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Philjobs is probably the best place to get data on this topic, but it's a sure bet that there are going to be limitations about what you can infer from the information that's on there. A lot of schools -- especially community colleges -- do not advertise on Philjobs, and those colleges do have tenure-track positions (or the equivalent). The trends of who they hire could be different than what's listed above. Also, I think this graphical representation is not as useful as strict percentages would be. It looks like about 1/3 of TT jobs in the data set are taken by people fresh out of graduate school, 1/6 by people who have been out of grad school for 1 year, and the rest by people who have been out of graduate school by two years or more. This graph also creates the impression that your circumstances become more hopeless the longer you are on the market, but I think that inference should be resisted. People often go off the market after a few years because they get tired of moving around the country, they want to start a family and need greater financial stability, they grow weary of academia, or some other idiosyncratic personal reason. In all such cases, they might eventually have success if they keep at it, but circumstances make it impractical or unwise for them to do so. My suspicion is that the distribution is caused in large part because there are so many fewer people on the market 3+ years post-PhD than those who are fresh out of graduate school.
To clarify (since I realize now that recency bias also has a meaning in economics that is very different from what I said above), what I meant by "recency bias" is the tendency for people to recall things that happened more recently with greater clarity than those that happened further in the past. This is one of the two components of the "Serial-position Effect." The first of these is the primacy effect (which Marcus mentioned in his original post), and the second is the recency effect (which is what I was alluding to). People remember items that are first and last in a sequence the best.
This question came up at a postdoc meeting I had last year. While it was interdisciplinary across the humanities, I was struck that there was no consensus. Some thought it might be advantageous to apply early; some thought it wasn't advantageous at all; some even thought it was better to apply later in the process. Those in this last camp essentially appealed to recency bias (though they did not use that term): if you have a standout application that arrives to the committee rather late in the game, that will resonate more strongly with them than the standout files they may have looked out weeks (or months) ago. In most cases, these decisions are made over a long period of time, so there's definitely a chance that committee members will partially forget the strength of a file that they read weeks before the deadline. For what it's worth, my sense on this whole matter is that it's just a crapshoot and not something that applicants should worry about. The better reason to apply early is so that you don't get overwhelmed by, for instance, trying to submit 10 applications in a 2-day span to beat a cluster of deadlines.
Teaching-focused job applications will usually require sample syllabi, teaching evaluations, or a combination of both. Syllabi for courses you have actually taught are going to be more polished and valuable than merely hypothetical syllabi (for a course you might teach), and teaching evaluations for your own courses are vastly more valuable to search committees than assessments of how well you can lead a Friday discussion section. So, in general, the solo teaching experience would be more valuable. But if the person in question already has significant solo teaching experience and wants to use this GTA position as a chance to familiarize the professor mentioned with their teaching -- presumably so that this person can write the teaching-focused letter in their future job market dossier -- that might be the one scenario where it could be more beneficial to take the GTA position instead.
I'd recommend two of James Lang's books: _Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning_ and _Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty_
I think the bigger concern with the "10 papers under review" standard is that most people will not be able to juggle 10 publishable ideas at the same time. I know plenty of people who publish a steady stream of work but very few who have that many works-in-progress at the same time. It takes a long time to nurture an idea into a paper that stands a real chance of being published, and I worry that aspiring to have 10 papers under review at all times will lead people to pursue a quantity-over-quality strategy that is counterproductive. Often, a more balanced approach -- one that involves consistently submitting material for review but also investing significant time in revising and polishing work -- will yield better results overall. Also, there has never been a point in my career thus far where I have simultaneously had 10 papers in my possession that were all worth publishing. Some ideas just don't pan out, and others wind up failing to advance the literature in a meaningful way. If you only have 4-6 publishable ideas on tap at one time, you're not likely to be throwing 10 papers at journals.
Thanks for your note, Suzanne. I hope your daughter is able to pull out of the spell in the same way that I did, but it takes time. Tough to climb out of that pit once you've fallen down so far.
Toggle Commented Jun 20, 2019 on The Shadow Self at The Philosophers' Cocoon
I think the student posing the question should be aware that the harsh realities of the job market and the isolating, difficult nature of graduate work could destroy their love of philosophy. Or it could send them on a collision course with mental illness. The sad truth is that a lot of people in academia are not very happy, and should this student find themselves in a position where they are no longer enamored with pursuing professorial life, they will need to guard against the sunk cost fallacy and other factors that could make it psychologically difficult for them to alter their career trajectory. For this reason, I think part of managing expectations is not getting too attached to pursuing an academic career and going to graduate school primarily for the experience of doing so rather than for the potential career that may (or may not) follow.
Whether or not one decides to share their recent work on social media, I think it's definitely worth your time to create multiple ways for people to find your work once it's published. Maintain an active PhilPapers profile and make sure your submissions are indexed properly (e.g., proper keywords, full abstract, accurate citation). Upload penultimate drafts to to Have links to your published papers on your personal website. Just increasing the accessibility of your work goes a long way toward getting others to engage with it. That being said, I also think notifying other interested scholars of a recent publication is perfectly fine. Doing it too often can certainly seem self-aggrandizing and desperate, but I think you'd have to be doing that an awful lot or doing it in a particularly narcissistic way to get under others' skin.
Thanks for the feedback, everyone. It's sad that this is such a common experience, but it reiterates the need to speak up about the matter and thinking about the ways we can create a supportive environment for those in need.
Toggle Commented May 20, 2019 on The Shadow Self at The Philosophers' Cocoon
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: