Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Even Birds Stop to Drop Their Turds, On the Freakshow, Even Geeks, Even Other Freaks, Hate the Freakshow

Following up on Job Cogburn's post about the job market cycle, here's a great line from John Symons about the Eastern APA: "because of the job process, the Eastern meeting has a bizarre and depressing freakshow quality." No doubt.

The depressing part is something we're all about here at PJMB, but I feel like maybe I've neglected just how bizarre it is. So for grad students or civilians who've never been, let me tell you about something deeply fucking weird.

The better departments interview in hotel suites, but most departments can't afford that. So instead, they interview at a table--a crappy, folding banquet table in the middle of a massive corporate hotel ballroom filled with hundreds of crappy folding banquet tables, each with its own philosophy department doing its own interviews for hours and hours.

So you arrive at the room at 2:55 for your 3:00 interviews, and you stand at the side of the room with all the other people waiting for their 3:00 interviews, everybody looking on from the wall, and everybody feeling like the girl at the eighth grade dance whose orthodontic headgear meant she couldn't even bob her head in time to the Rick Astley without drawing all the wrong kinds of attention to herself.

When your watch says it's 3:00, you start to wind your way between the tables, with luck aiming in the direction of the one your interview's at. But the tables are really close to each other. Like, maybe there's six or seven feet between people's chairs. So you're trying get your game on, and you keep hearing random little things about Sidgwick and Kierkegaard and structural realism.

But the noise is only really a problem when you manage find your table, shake everybody's hand and get into your interview. Then you keep hearing the loud guy interviewing six feet behind you talking about mereology, and that's really fucking distracting. But the distractions aren't just auditory, because the room gets so hot someone opens the fire escape door, which lets in a bunch of pigeons. So you're trying to answer a question about how you'd teach a course on something you don't know anything about, and out of the corner of your eye you keep seeing tables off to your left getting dive-bombed by greasy birds who spend their whole lives eating out of corporate hotel dumpsters. Some rambling old senior prof is asking you a question and all you can process is "blah blah blah" because you can't stop thinking, "Oh fuck, is that nasty flying rat going to fucking shit on me?"

But the worst distraction is the scale of it all. It's weird and bizarre and unreal. You can't look up without seeing hundreds and hundreds of philosophers in every direction. You can't look up without thinking, you're treading water in the middle of an ocean of desperation and socially awkward chit-chat.

11 comments:

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

You paint such a perfect picure of the scene it is both funny and depressing. Of course, you left out the part where the hotel catches on fire and you run into the same people in the lobby in their footie pajamas with their TA girlfriends in the middle of the night...

Anonymous said...

Ouch. Giant helpings of uncomfortable, all around.

Anonymous said...

This is a small point, but are you sure the tables are folding? I thought they were big, round, fixed-top tables. Hmmmm...maybe this year I'll investigate.

Jon Cogburn said...

Bertrand Russell thought one of the main benefits of studying philosophy was epistemic humility. I think another one is a heightened sense of the absurd.

Part of what increases the nervously-bobbing-your-headgear-entombed-face-to-bad-80s-rock feel of the whole thing is the fact that the waiting job candidates are all dressed up while the interviewers are not. Also the room itself feels like an institutional cafeteria, which radically increases the likelihood of post traumatic high school flashbacks at worse, or at least memories of all the times in HBO's Oz when somebody gets shanked over a tray of prison gruel.

The first time I interviewed in the cafeteria, I could hear the people the next table over better than I could the interviewers. The guy picked to drill me about research mumbled for a couple of minutes about his views about the relationship between implicated and explicit content that he'd published in the mid seventies. I hadn't read his paper, and I could not understand what he was saying (albeit the person the next table over had very interesting views about nominalism and modal structuralism). The person who drilled me about teaching was clear, but all she did was say that the way I wanted to teach a logic class was wrong. She and the mumbler took up about ten minutes, at which point the third guy said, "Do you have any questions for us?" I wanted to ask if I'd blown the interview or if they hadn't intended to give me a chance in the first place, but instead I asked about the students and city. The entire ordeal (including waiting nervously outside the room) lasted about twenty minutes.

The Manhattan I got in the bar down the block lacked bitters, was made with dry vermouth, and was on the rocks. But it still tasted like freedom. I'd forgotten to take my name-tag off and at one point the bartender pointed at it and asked me if I was in town selling something. When I said "myself" he comped me a shot of whiskey and said, "and here's to yourself." And so the Lord did not destroy Sodom that day.

Jon Cogburn said...

oops,

that was supposed to be "nervously bobbing your headgear entombed face to bad 80s rock"

languagepolice said...

Oh, I like this blog...Something tells me this is only going to get better as we get closer to December.

As a PhD candidate, I might just be too much of a dork to even get an invite to the dance (headgear, bad hair, annoying laugh). Still, I really like the images of dive-bombing pidgeons, profs in their PJs, and the one righteous bartender...I wonder if Baltimore will escape destruction as well this year...

Anonymous said...

I certainly recognize the ridiculous and uncomfortable aspects of the interview process. But I also want to say that last year, my first time on the market, I had no bad experiences with the committees interviewing me, and several of them made a concerted effort to put me at ease. Of course, there were also awkward moments (especially visiting departments at the smoker when the interview was not great), but all in all my experience was much better than I had expected from hearing the horror-stories.

I guess I just want first-timers to know that it's not always a freak-show.

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

Yeah, the big, round fixed-top tables are the ones I'm thinking of. But I'm pretty sure their legs fold up. In fact, I'm pretty sure we got to see lots of them with their legs folded up and all stacked together last year, when we all got herded into the smoker room in the middle of the night because of the fire. . . .

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

Anon 5:09 -- Fair enough. I also had an interview with one dept in particular last year that went out of their way to put me at ease. But ultimately, there was nothing they do about the *weirdness*--at times, really distracting weirdness--of that giant room.

Anonymous said...

Same anon as before here. I agree about interviews in the big room. I did pretty well at blocking out distractions, but I think that's just because nervousness tends to make me focus on what I need to do, while I know that for other people nerves just make them aware of everything else going on around them.

Fontana said...

You know, it would be hilariously apt if we got onto a long digression about the nature of table legs while discussing abject human misery.