Sunday, September 9, 2007

I've Been Everything You Want to Be, I'm the Cult of Personality

I've talked before about how your advisor's reputation affects the your prospects on the market. No doubt with those considerations in mind, a well-placed departmental source points me to this passage from Leiter's old piece in the Chronicle:
Far too many students attach themselves to professionally marginal faculty members, who may happen to be charismatic or congenial or who seem to loom large in local departmental affairs. No matter how good their subsequent work, these students will be at an enormous disadvantage when it comes to getting a job. What matters isn’t how important and impressive your advisor looks in Austin or Madison or Berkeley or New Haven. What matters is how he is perceived in the profession at large.

When I was new in my department, some of the best senior students got killed on the job market because they fell into the orbit of Evil Columbo. With breadcrumbs and bits of sandwich meat falling out of his mouth, he told them not to bother engaging with recent work on their dissertation topics, because, well, what did anyone younger than him have to say anyway? And he told them search committees wouldn't care about publications, since real philosophers don't need some journal referee to tell them what's good work and what's not.

The man doesn't have a clue, but the force of his personality's stopped some fuck-off smart people from seeing that.


Jon Cogburn said...

The bad thing is that you have to balance Leiter's advice with the need to work with somebody with whom you can finish. The Ph.D graduation rate at my alma-mater is somewhere between ten and twenty percent. Certain professors had very high rates for their students and certain professors had abysmal rates.

Maybe for top-tier positions working with a star is one of the most important things, but for the vast majority of the places getting hired is mostly a matter of: (1) what you've published, (2) your ability to present yourself as a dynamic teacher that will gladly teach whatever they want taught, and (3) strange political factors that have nothing to do with the candidate (e.g. (a) if the boozers in the department are politically strong, it's whether they think you'd be good to have a drink with, (b) if the religious people are strong, then it's whether you can approximate an old person's idea of a young person (i.e. the earnest young man thing).)

In the regard of publications I think graduate education in philosophy is often really bad. How hard would it be to have a period after the qualifier and prior to defense where your committee helps you to get three papers under review? At the jerky schools this would be one more way to get rid of students, but if there are enough decent professors then the students would get a lot of help with writing, submitting, and rewriting papers for publications. This is another way that Leiter is mistaken. Helping students to get published is much more helpful than the star power on a professor's signatrue.

Himself said...

I don't really understand the 'Evil Columbo' comment in respect of the Leiter quote - is Evil Columbo a repected guy in the field or the local demagogue?

Jon Cogburn said...

I thought he was both.

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

Ah, yeah, sorry for being unclear. EC is a forceful enough personality that *some* people locally consider him really important. Others locally think he's completely out of touch with, and marginal in the profession. Since I'm in that second camp, I'm inclined to think that non-locally, nobody thinks about him at all. . . .