Thursday, August 30, 2007
HFS. I said I wasn't going to drink tonight. Clearly that's not going to happen now.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
As deadlines get closer, the flat-out contradictory advice starts to make me insane.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
But what caught my eye was this:
I paid too little attention to the research side of my vita. Because publications tended to count less than did good teaching evaluations when I went after short-term appointments, I began to treat my scholarship as a luxury rather than as a career necessity.
I can't imagine a better way to put the catch-22 you face as an adjunct. To get short-term job security, you need to do work that makes long-term job security less likely.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
But what details? One of Weatherson's commentors, philosopher Josh Glasgow, offers some great, great information and advice for people thinking of going to programs ranked below the top-20.
Here's Glasgow on how the job market works :
Your initial job options will likely be different than those had by PhDs from more prominent institutions. The most obvious manifestation of this fact is that, while there are a few notable exceptions, almost all PhDs from non-ranked or low-ranked programs will have to start their careers in unappealing or fixed-term (though full time) jobs, and then, if possible, work their way up to more appealing, tenure-track jobs. I had to do four years in such jobs. . .
There's a lot of candor here, and it's just what prospectives need. He's saying, you can't reasonably expect to get a tenure-tracked job right out of your program. You can expect to get various temporary gigs, and there's a good chance they'll be sort of crappy. (He talks about having a nine course per year teaching load.) And you might have to do that for three or four or five years. And even then, it's possible for you to move up to a tenure-tracked job, but not guaranteed.
PhDs from non-top ranked programs therefore also can predict having even less choice about where to live. I personally have found this depressing, though I’m happy to now be gainfully employed in beautiful New Zealand. . . . The point, again, is that there is an increased likelihood of having to make some sacrifices the lower down the rankings you go, but also that this fact doesn’t mean that going to grad school is a bad idea.
He's got a more optimistic tone here than I'd have, but he's also got real information. He's saying, your scramble for a job is going to mean you don't get choose where you live. And that can be depressing. Do you like seeing your family more than once or twice a year? Do you have a partner who can't pick up and follow you wherever you need to go? If you want a tenure-tracked job, you can't reasonably expect to get one near your family or your partner.
The thing is, if I'm not supposed to parse the website the way I was, I can't figure how to parse it so that it makes much sense at all. The way I think I'm supposed to read it, it's still seriously misleading. But it's so obscure, it's really hard to say.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
The thing I notice about a lot of advice out there for prospective grad students is how vague it is. Not vague in general, mind you, but vague about advice for people thinking of going to programs not in the top-20 or so. (So not vague in general--just vague for the overwhelming majority of prospectives.)
To get a sense of what I mean, let me point back to that old Weatherson post I was talking about the other day. I was bitching about how his advice has a generally optimistic tone, when he draws his actual reasons for optimism from a completely unrepresentative sample of job market success stories. Of course, Weatherson knows he's doing that, so after hammering the optimism he winds his way around to emphasizing "that no one ever has to decide to go to grad school as such." Which is to say, when a prospective is trying to decide whether or not to go to grad school, she should consider going to some programs--the ones with good placement records--but not others. Okay, so far so good.
But then, what's the advice for people looking at departments below the top-15 or top-20? Weatherson says:
At that stage, it is a very good idea to reconsider how strongly you want to go to graduate school. Going somewhere that you might well not enjoy, that might not lead to much of a career, is a real gamble.
Going somewhere that "might" not lead to a career in philosophy is a "gamble"? Uh, yeah. And a rose is rose. True, but prospectives can't do anything more useful with the first claim than botanists can with the second. Whatever. Let's push on.
Of course there are very few schools from where no one has had a successful career, so it’s not like you have to give up if you don’t get into a top school. But you should go in with eyes wide open, or not go in at all.
Yes. You should go in with "eyes wide open." But what are you looking for with your wide-open eyes? Well, one thing is schools with shitty placement records. Okay, good. Suppose I only get into departments in the bottom half of the Leiter report and their placement records are spotty. How do I think about that? Back to Weatherson:
And you’d have to think very hard before going somewhere without tuition wavers, or adequate stipends. But again, those are the kinds of decisions that should be made in the light of your specific possibilities, not in virtue of generic data about what humanities graduate school in general is like.
The first thing is, no. You should not "think very hard" about going somewhere that's going to charge you tuition and not pay you enough to live.* You should not "think very hard" about committing yourself to paying back student loan debt while moving from 30k one-year to 30k one-year, all while you're trying to get a tenure-tracked job. Don't you know the last Republican Congress made it way harder to declare personal bankruptcy? If you only get in to programs that make you pay tuition and don't pay you enough to live, do not go to graduate school.
But second, forget tuition and livable stipends for a second. Suppose you get into a program that'll give you both of those things. But also suppose it's in the bottom half of the rankings and it's got a spotty placement record. Then what? The advice here is to "think very hard." Okay, but think very hard about what? What considerations should you be weighing? What hard realities should you be facing? Besides placement stats, what information do you need to make this decision with your "eyes wide open"? Weatherson doesn't really say.
For the majority of prospectives, there's no real advice here. There's just empty words.
* The possible exceptions here are terminal MA programs that take no more than a couple of years, which programs I think are all kinds of awesome.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
When I called moving companies last week to get estimates about my impending move, one of them asked me what I did for a living, and then what field I was in. I told him, then asked why he wanted to know. "Books," he said, darkly. "Always so many &%$# books."Yep. Always so many fucking books.
Update: Someone responds to that story with this one:
When I moved and mentioned to the mover that I am an academic he literally said "Ka-ching!" All those books add a lot of extra weight.
Of course, there's no analogous sound for the money us grad students spend to move, since pizza and beer don't really make noise.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Now, part of Weatherson's disagreement with the Dean comes from a different assessment of the job market, since he thinks "the job market is, at least for a lot of grad students, much better than the horror stories you’ll find on blogs suggest." Weatherson's reasons for the rosy assessment? "Here, for instance, are the placement records for recent years of the philosophy departments at"--wait for it--"Princeton, Rutgers, NYU and MIT, four of the best East Coast philosophy programs." Ah, yes. We should feel good about the market because most grads from the best 10-15% of departments manage to find jobs.
To his credit, Weatherson knows this alone isn't a useful indication of what the market's like and so can't be the basis for advising most prospective undergrads. When I have a chance, I want to come back to his advice for people thinking of going to programs in the other 85%.
For now, though, I want to stay focussed on this tendecy to talk about the market in optimistic tones because people from top-10 or top-20 departments mostly get jobs. In short, this is insane. What would people say about the job market for lawyers if only grads from the top 10-15% of law schools could expect to find semi-permanent work as lawyers in their first couple of years out of school? Or what about doctors or b-school grads? My guess is, they'd say that's a terrible job market.
The point is, the optimistic tone ("Go to Grad School!") is deeply misleading to undergrads. Most of them have no idea what the academic job market is like. Why should they? It's weird, and not like other job markets. They hear the optimism and process it in terms of what they do know, even if what they know isn't at all like the academic job market. Surely those of us who undergrads ask for advice should give it to them in ways that aren't so misleading.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
The more I think about it, the more I can't shake the sense that the profession's extreme status consciousness is partly to blame here. What would make someone think it makes sense to just discount the existence of candidates from lower-ranked or non-ranked departments? Well, maybe it's the same thing that at the APA makes them look at those candidates more like they're ugly furniture than real human beings.
Competition for jobs may be fierce, but it is not hopeless. This past academic year, 1997-98, departments at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Michigan, Minnesota, and Northwestern all hired rookie candidates -- though in each case the candidate hired came from one of the top 15 graduate programs in the field.
Um, okay. So the very best candidates from the very best departments got jobs. What to conclude from this?
That's the first point worth making: Overall job-market statistics are misleading, because they reflect not only how the graduates of top programs fare, but also how the graduates of less-distinguished programs fare.
What now? Overall job market stats are somehow misleading because they reflect the overall job-market? Would they be less misleading if they just ignored candidates from lower-ranked schools? This is sort of like conservatives saying that if you can afford good health insurance, American has the best healthcare on the world. I mean, yeah. If you ignore the 40 million or so uninsured people, you can argue
As I say, this is sort of out of place in Leiter's piece, which is otherwise really good. And as I've said before, I think Leiter's a lot better than most at trying to give prospective grad students a candid take on the job market. But still, this one paragraph captures a weird strain of bad faith that's out there. (You can see it lurking on the sidelines of this Brian Weatherson post.)
Monday, August 20, 2007
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Herbert A. Millington
Chair - Search Committee
412A Clarkson Hall
College Hill, MA 34109
Dear Professor Millington,
Thank you for your letter of March 16. After careful consideration, I regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer me an assistant professor position in your department.
This year I have been particularly fortunate in receiving an unusually large number of rejection letters. With such a varied and promising field of candidates it is impossible for me to accept all refusals.
Despite Whitson's outstanding qualifications and previous experience in rejecting applicants, I find that your rejection does not meet my needs at this time. Therefore, I will assume the position of assistant professor in your department this August. I look forward to seeing you then.
Best of luck in rejecting future applicants.
Chris L. Jensen
Holy shit, that's funny.
Update [Sept. 1, 2007]: Welcome, philosophers! If you'd like to read more reactions to rejection letters, click here and here, and if you want more self-absorbed commentary on the job market (with swear words and jokes!), click here.
When looking at resumes and job applications of other philosophers (I'm finishing up a Ph.D in philosophy) we often make fun of the ones that list way too many areas of competence. At a certain point, there's a worry that anybody who thought they were competent in that many areas might not even know what competence is.
Yikes. That's pretty hard-ass. I'd just assume the person was full of shit about what areas they were competent in. It hadn't even occurred to me they might be full of shit about the very idea of competence.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
How the fuck is a prospective student supposed to make a decent decision about grad school with shit like this thrown in her face?
Update: Maybe it's not actually a straight-up lie. More here.
Having been both in the philosophy job market and in academia, there are a lot of things I'd rather do, of which I'll provide a brief sample, for context: cut off bits of my fingertips while chopping onions; stab myself in the knee repeatedly with a dull Ticonderoga (Lauren: I've done that! Me: I think most people have); drop my 1928 Underwood No. 5 typewriter (which weighs about 25 punds) on my left foot, then drop my 1935 Royal "H" model typewriter (which weighs about 30 pounds) on my left foot.
Funny stuff. Actually, if you click through and read the whole post, you'll see it's not so much funny as sort of terrifying. It's the sobering reflections of a guy who's been trapped by a heavy teaching load in a place he never really wanted to live. He's been there for nine years.
Oh god, here come the howling fantods.
It reminds me of something an old professor of mine told me sometime before last year's market. He said, "you're the candidate no one's looking for." The guy wasn't being an asshole. He just knows how obscure my work is and he was trying to tell me what to expect from the market. And he was right. For the most part, I was the candidate no one's looking for.
I'll never be a department's first choice. I guess what that means is, if I get the kind of job I want, it'll be because I'm a consensus third choice.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Someone--not a random dinner companion, but, oh, I don't know, maybe the single philosopher on his committee--needs to tell him he'll never work in philosophy. That's some astonishingly irresponsible supervision.
Monday, August 13, 2007
- "The Longer You Wait," Richmond Fontaine
- "Service and Repair" (Live in Roskilde), Calexico
- "How Do You Slow This Thing Down," The Gothic Archies
- "The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us!," Sufjan Stevens
- "Teardrop," Massive Attack
- "Datura," Tori Amos
- "Alright," Kinne Starr
- "Mirrorball," Everything but the Girl
- "You're Not Alone," Olive
- "Dwr Budr," Orbital
- "It's a Fire," Portishead
- "An Ending (Ascent)," Brian Eno.
Yeah, yeah, it tilts a little towards smooth adult contemporary. Bite me. After 10 hours of gritting my teeth with the effort of not beating Evil Columbo's face into a bloody paste, I wasn't exactly in the mood to unwind with a Rage Aginst the Machine anti-globalization dance party.
Understanding why the playlist drifts from alt-country to 90s electronica is left as an exercise to the reader.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Well, seek and ye shall find! There are so many fucking PFOs in my collection, I'm sure I've got at least one of every kind. So here's some sweet "unable" action:
Many thanks for your interest in the advertised tenure-track position in the Department of [Blah, Blah, Blah]. Our search process is now complete, and we are unable to offer you a position at this time. We are grateful for the opportunity to consider your credentials, and wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.
[Blah, Blah, Blah].
First, it's always nice to see the effort they've put into personalizing the form e-mail. "Hello." Last time I checked, that wasn't my fucking name. And this comes from a department with a pretty serious reputation for various kinds of formal philosophy. You'd think there'd be someone around who could figure out the mail merge. I guess not, though. Apparently, they're all still learning how to do e-mails.
But of course here's the real action: "Our search process is now complete, and we are unable to offer you a position at this time." I suppose in some sense they would be unable to offer me a position if they've finished their search process and hired someone. It's not like their deans are likely to let them hire me on top of whoever else they got. But then again, they don't actually say they've hired anyone. Is the search now complete because it was unsuccessful and called off? We might never know.
But suppose they did hire someone. Then really, that little "unable" claim is complete and total bullshit. (I know. I'm as shocked as you are.) There wasn't any unstoppable power keeping them from hiring me instead of whoever else they hired. So in fact, the the truth is the exact opposite of what they say: they we perfectly able to give me a job. They just chose not to. Why not just fucking say that? Is it so hard to own up to?
Saturday, August 11, 2007
The American Philosophical Association first entered my life when I was twenty years old. I was finishing undergraduate school and had been admitted to a graduate school. I received a letter from them...
What did the letter say?. . . .
The letter was a sort of warning about jobs. I am sure it was carefully, and cautiously worded.
But I took it as a death sentence. I interpreted it as a message saying that at the end of my graduate career I would not have a job.
It was the bad old days, and an undergrad thinking about grad school had no reasonable expectation they could get a job at the end of a PhD. Back in the day, the APA took some reponsibility in making sure would-be grad students understood that.
Leiter says of the 300-plus PhDs granted in 1995-1996, only 17 people had tenure-track jobs by 1998 in the the US top-50 and peer departments abroad. I guess the first thing to say is, I'm not quite sure what that means. I mean, what happened to the PhDs granted in 1997 and 1998? Are we supposed to infer that none of those guys had jobs by 1998? I have no idea. But still, bracket that quibble, because holy fuck. 17 hires in three years? Jesus H. Christ, that's a bad market.
By contrast, if I'm counting right, there were 36 junior hires at the US top-50 and peer departments abroad last year. No doubt, that's a better market than the 90s.
But as I've mentioned before, a lot of people who were around in the bad old days look at those numbers and say the job market is good period, not just good relative to the bad old days. But aren't we still talking about a job market where for every 100 new PhDs, there's less than a dozen jobs in the better departments in the English-speaking world? How is that good, exactly?
Thursday, August 9, 2007
Sorry folks. I can't believe how much I suck. PGS asks me to cover his hardworking ass for one measly day, and I can't manage to come up with a single interesting thing to natter at you all about. I just don't have the blogging chops, dudes.
Grrr. Arrgh. I'm a bad, bad man. If any of the prospective employers on this year's market were to have any clue about just how much I suck, I'd be screwed. Thank god for pseudonymity, eh?
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
I just opened a rather curt rejection letter, US mail. Dime a dozen, of course, but this one had something in it that makes it stand WAY out. Usually reject letters are one-page affairs, with nothing else, but this one page reject letter was accompanied by a full-color, glossy advertisement for the school, an ad for soliciting students.
Holy shit. That's really fucking tacky, isn't it? "Um, could you just do this one thing for us? Could you find a spot on a bulletin board in your lounge for this little ad? That'd be great. Thanks so much. And then go fuck yourself, because we're not giving you a job."
Would it be petty to just throw the ad out in the recycling bin? Sure it would. But do I think getting stone-cold rejected by absolutely everybody earns you the right to be a little petty? Yes I do.
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
We have now filled the position that you applied for in our department. We want to thank you for sending us your materials and wish you the best in your future career.
[blah blah blah]
Professor and Chair
Of course, there's no actual passive voice here, but don't let that fool you. This PFO goes Beyond the Passive Voice. It's so fucking passive is doesn't even say I'm being rejected. Mining that little nugget of information is left as an exercise to the reader. I'd say they should have the balls to tell it to my face, but they don't even need that, for fuck's sake. All they need is the balls to tell it to me in a fucking e-mail.
Also, just because you capitalize the "a" in "Applicant," that doesn't make it a name, much less my name. If you want me to really feel your "best wishes" in my future career? You might want to get your secretary to figure out how to do a fucking mail merge.
Sunday, August 5, 2007
I've mentioned before how obscure my area of philosophy is. For example, there was exactly one job ad in last year's JFP looking for someone like me. So the job prospects sort of suck ass--even by philosophy job market standards.
Well, last week I e-mailed a guy I know who does what I do. I wanted to see if he was interested in getting a symposium proposal together for a conference. (I figured there might be some strength in numbers.) I just got his reply. He's bailed out of academia and he's teaching English in the third world. Which is to say, the job prospects for people in philosophy who do what I do are basically the same as for aimless 21-year-olds lit majors.
I'm going to back to my beer now.
Saturday, August 4, 2007
Well, here's a couple of complete no-fucking-brainers I was too stupid to figure out for myself last year. This wiki tells me to put my damn name as a header on every page I send in with my application package. Yeah, all the pages of my CV are stapled together and my name's on the front. But those pages won't be stapled together when whoever's photocopying them is done. Also, these people in Buffalo say (warning: big pdf) you should always use the past and present tense--and never the future--when you're talking about your teaching. I guess that makes you seem more experienced. Sounds like a worthwhile ploy.
I give myself even odds on remembering to do either one of those things.
Friday, August 3, 2007
Anyway, I can't imagine a webpage is all that useful on the market, but maybe it makes it marginally easier for search committees to see who you are. So I guess I should do it. But I'm procrastinating, because a webpage will mean I have to update my CV, and I don't like doing that too often. If that seems weird, let me farm out the explanation to another grad student in philosophy, Lily of the Valley:
Working on my CV made me feel like crap. I'm updating and revising my CV in preparation to send out a lot of applications for the next academic year. I am anything but convinced that I have a lot going for me in getting a teaching position at a university for next year. Where are my non-existent putblications? Where is any evidence that I've been attending conferences and participating in panel reviews? Nowhere! I'm doomed. But, I need a job!
Oh, man. You know what sucks? Sitting down to update your CV and realizing you've got nothing to do except push back the date you "expect" to finish your PhD by a year. I want to avoid that at all costs. Of course, the obvious way to avoid it is actually to produce some work, but it turns out that's sort of hard. So instead, my strategy's always been to just avoid updating my CV for as long as possible. Then when I finally get around to it, hopefully I've got something to add.
So no webpage for me. At least not yet.
Thursday, August 2, 2007
So for the top-50 departments in the US last year, 25 junior people got jobs. Whether you think that's good or bad's got to depend on your perspective. Compared to the bad old days in the 80s and 90s, it's got to look like a pretty good market. But for a grad student with pipedreams of working in a top-50 department someday? One job for every two states in the union doesn't make me feel good.
Unambiguously good news, though, is the near gender parity in junior hires--13 guys to an even dozen women. I'd be surprised if you found that rough parity in departments below the top-50, but these numbers are still encouraging. Maybe someday before I die philosophy won't be such a sausage party.
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
I'm pretty frustrated at how long this is taking. When I sent the paper off last November, I knew there was a good chance I wouldn't be able to say the paper was forthcoming even in a year's time. If it got rejected, I'd have to start all over, revising it and sending it somewhere else. But I figured even if the decision was revise and resubmit, I'd at least have a shot of having it on my CV for this coming year's job market. But now there's no time for that either. So now, if I want the paper on my CV this fall, I need them to accept it outright.
The odds of this paper being on my CV in time for the job market are getting longer and longer.
Update: I just got an autoreply saying it might be "up to two weeks" before I get a real reply. I got the same autoreply to my last e-mail. That was five weeks ago.