Thursday, November 8, 2007

All the things we ever did were always confidential.

We've got a special treat for you tonight here at PJMB. A guest poster! I’ll let Inside Man introduce himself. --PGOAT.

So I’ve been reading PGS and friends gripe, in a sympathy-eliciting sort of way, about how hard it is to get hired. I’m not trying to get hired this year. (I already have a job, thank you very much.) But my department is trying to hire this year, and I’m on the M&E search committee. So I thought it was time for someone to gripe, in a sympathy-eliciting sort of way, about how hard it is to hire. But I realize that it will be well-nigh impossible to elicit sympathy, from those who are trying to get hired, for those who are trying to hire. So I won’t try to elicit sympathy. Instead, I thought I would do something else: namely, induce panic, despair, angst, ennui, etc. by telling those who are trying to get hired what those who are trying to hire actually do.

I’m at a Leiterespectable department that has aspirations of being Leiterrific. Our deadline was last week, and we’ve received hundreds of applications. We’ll be holding a series of meetings over the next month to come up with a list of a dozen or so candidates that we want to interview at the APA. The first step is to rule out all but 50 or so of the applications. Each file will get looked at by more than one committee member. We’re responsible like that. But on what basis do you think that we will rule out all but 50 or so of the applications? I’ll give you a clue: it doesn’t involve reading any writing samples. It’s not that we’re not required to read any writing samples. Nor is it that some irresponsible committee members won’t read writing samples. It’s that we’re all encouraged not to read any part of any candidate's writing sample at this stage.

That’s right, boys and girls. I know you’ve been slaving away at your writing samples for months now. I just wanted to tell you that, if other departments are anything like ours, chances are that most of the departments that reject you will reject you without reading your work. (Whether this is better, or worse, than being rejected by someone who has read your work, I don’t know.) You may get indignant if you like. I’m just here to tell you how things actually work.

Don’t shoot the messenger. If you shoot the messenger, I won’t come back and tell you about all the other horrible things that we do.

--Inside Man


Anonymous said...

Surely this cant surprise anyone. I mean, do you really want hiring committees to make their decisions based on reading writing samples when they are, in fact, reading more than 50 such samples? Would it be remotely possible to read more than 50 writing samples with sufficient care to make this a useful indicator of applicant quality?

I would say not.

Anonymous said...

So what is it, Inside Man?

Like anon 7:12, I never expected a committee to read all the writing samples. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that the letters don't get read, either. Do the CVs get read -- beyond the first page?

Anonymous said...

Let me guess. Dept and diss advisor weed out the vast majority of applications. So if you are top 10 plus famous advisor you're in. If you are top 20 plus super famous advisor you have a chance. If you are top 30 plus super super famous advisor you might have a chance. Other than that, you're out.

Anonymous said...

Hey leiterespectable guy, you never told us how you will rule out all but 50 applications. Is it a secret? Will it involve the
Leiter Report?

Anonymous said...

How much do publications matter? For example, would having several respectable publications be sufficient to at least get one into the round of 50, even if one is coming from a lower ranked program (say, bottom 25)?

Anonymous said...

I would like to know whether you will be taken seriously if you are from an unranked program but you have a JP article and very strong letters but from non-famous people.

Anonymous said...

Quick question: I'm not going on the job market this year. However, I was sent an unsolicited letter by a certain university strongly suggesting that I apply for a tenure track job? Is this unsual? Are such letters sent to others who are not actually on the job market? Apparently, someone recommended me. What should i do?

Anonymous said...

anon 9:10

It seems obvious to me. If you like the place apply, apply, apply. I've been approached like this. Although it was at a conference. Guess what, I am applying. I don't think the invitation guarantees anything, there still maybe someone better than you out there that will apply.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:10 pm: maybe someone recommended you or maybe you have a strong web appearance. Either way they have obviously examined your CV carefully before they approached you. This means that there will have a very good chance of you getting the job (unless you suck at interviewing).

Anonymous said...

I knew it was a good idea to put that super sexy picture on my CV...

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:10, 9:37. I'm going to ask this and hope no one's offended. Do you have desirable demographic characteristics? That would include both personally, and also in terms of your AOS. Because I know it's a competitive landscape for schools trying to find faculty who are in short supply. And many academics find ourselves largely interchangeable cogs

Anonymous said...

9:10. I'm not offended. I do have "desirable demographic characteristics" (that's a clever way to put it). I knew they couldn't actually have wanted me because someone told them I was any good. I was somewhat afraid of that. There's the 500 lb. gorilla in the room. It should be no surprise that a school that could easily receive 300 app. for one position would only reach out to someone like me, because they want a "diversity" hire. Ho hum. Thanks for all the advice. I suppose I will apply and see what happens.

Anonymous said...

Awoke to find a journal rejection this morning ... If my writing sample gets rejected once more -- and with one more dumb-ass report that reveals the reviewer's failure to grasp ... [don't get me started] -- I'm going to fucking hurt ... something. My computer maybe. FUCK!

Sorry. What I meant to sweetly ask Inside Guy was, "How much do publications count in a SC's initial culling?"

Bobcat said...

I spoke to a well-known philosopher at a Leiteriffic school. He told me a story of a person who applied to his school from a non-top 25 school (might have been top 50, though), and this person's rec letters said he/she was the best person ever to graduate from their philosophy program. This Leiterriffic guy was the only person to look at his/her writing sample. And this only because he reads more applications than the norm. Anyway, the punchline: he passed on him/her.

Anonymous said...

I am 9:37 anon. I am a demographically desirable hire.

However, while this might help me a bit on the market, there is weird stuff too. A lot of places use us to pad their stats for human resources. That means they need to have some of us black, brown and/or female (you all realize how very few of us there are, right?) people in the pool, but they have no intention of giving us a shot at the job as we are not leiterrific enough for them.

Anonymous said...

I guess 9:10 was offended after all, the reply sounds ironic. I was wondering how common this is, but figured it would be hard for you to answer a question like "how common is this" (your reply might rely on n=1, and therefore be hard to generalize from). Or I could have asked you "are you that fucking good". Maybe you are. I don't know you. But I figured you'd know if you were in a group that's particularly desired, so that seemed the easiest question to answer.

Being desired for other reasons than being good doesn't mean a person isn't good (I assume departments don't consciously go after people who they know are lousy scholars and teachers), so there's no reason to assume there's an ulterior motive in the question. It's a way to get in the door. And we all want to get in the door.

Anonymous said...

To Anons 7:12 and 7:18

I guess I was naive. When I was applying for jobs out of grad school, some years ago, it didn't occur to me that chances were that at most places no one would even look at my writing sample. Of course, not all writing samples get read; and, of course, not all get read carefully. But I figured someone would at least look, you know, at the title or something.

I read, or at least skim, letters. And I look at CVs to see where the candidate has gone to school, who's on their committee, and whether they've published (and, if so, where).

To Anons 7:31 and 7:34

There's no algorithm, and different committee members are free to evaluate applications on whatever basis they please. But you can bet that views about the quality of the program and of the advisor come into play, and you can bet that, outside of one's area, Leiter rankings inform one's views about the quality of the program.

To Anons 7:50, 8:13, and 5:39

Obviously, publications can help a lot. The less Leiterrific your program is, the more they matter. If you're from a Leiterrific program and your world-famous letter-writers say "Best person on the market this year in field X, one of the best 3 people on the market this year in any field" (and there are letters like that), then it doesn't matter that you haven't published. If you're from a non-Leiterrific program, and you have good letters from people we haven't heard of (or whose judgment we can't evaluate), then publications are going to matter a lot -- if they're in respectable places. But there are no guarantees. I wouldn't be surprised if more than 50 of our applicants had respectable publications. And I know that some applicants who have several respectable publications (and even some outstanding publications) won't make it to the next round, because whoever looked at their file wasn't excited by their project, or didn't think they'd be a good fit for our department, or whatever.

Inside Man

Anonymous said...

Inside Man,

Curious about one of the possible criteria just mentioned: "wasn't excited by their project".

I guess I never thought about this much, but from what you say, it is possible to pick a topic or carry on about a burning question in a way that turns off search committee members. Is that right? Never mind whether the philosophical substance is good, if the topic doesn't excite someone, someone who in fact may not realize that this is a hot topic or central topic to the AOS, then too bad. You didn't say that it was a criterion that you use, but how is this a factor.

Anonymous said...

"If you're from a Leiterrific program and your world-famous letter-writers say "Best person on the market this year in field X, one of the best 3 people on the market this year in any field" (and there are letters like that), then it doesn't matter that you haven't published."

Am I alone in thinking that a comment like that is almost certainly unjustified? Has the letter writer in question actually met, interviewed, read the work of, etc., everyone on the job market, or even everyone on the job market who is such that s/he might reasonably be 'the best on the market'. Obviously not. Which makes me wonder if such letters are written by blowhard fools.

Anonymous said...

replying to anon 11:15 AM

"Best person on the market this year in field X, one of the best 3 people on the market this year in any field"

I took this to mean that the letter writer is referring to those on the market in his/her department only. So let's say I am Terry Irwin at Cornell (which I am not), then I can fairly say that Ms. Dumbledore is the best Ancient candidate from Cornell on the market this year, and that I also (perhaps less fairly) consider her one of the top three overall candidates that Cornell is putting on the market this year, regardless of field.

Anonymous said...

"I took this to mean that the letter writer is referring to those on the market in his/her department only."

No, it wouldn't necessarily mean that.

"Has the letter writer in question actually met, interviewed, read the work of, etc., everyone on the job market, or even everyone on the job market who is such that s/he might reasonably be 'the best on the market'. Obviously not. Which makes me wonder if such letters are written by blowhard fools."

Suppose I read lots of job files last year. When I'm writing a letter for candidate X, couldn't I compare X to all those people whose files I read last year, and judge that X is better? And couldn't I reasonably judge that X will be among the top handful of candidates this year on that basis?

Anonymous said...

"Suppose I read lots of job files last year. When I'm writing a letter for candidate X, couldn't I compare X to all those people whose files I read last year, and judge that X is better? And couldn't I reasonably judge that X will be among the top handful of candidates this year on that basis?"

Two points: first, the letter writer said 'best on the market this year', which is a much stronger claim than 'among the top handful' (moreover, 'one of the best three' is narrower than among the top handful of candidates as well, since the latter quantity broadens easily to six or seven).

Second, that point aside: I still don't think the claim is justified. Did you do an open search? Were many files discarded before the writing samples were read on some basis other than merit (e.g., fit with department's research or teaching requirements)? Did your department attract applications from all the best candidates last year? (Not necessarily, since many top assistant professorships are filled by people already in TT positions, who apply selectively and not necessarily to every top program.) Is there really that good reason to believe that if Smith is now better than everyone who applied for jobs last year, Smith will be better than everyone who applied this year? I doubt it -- again, the letter writer doesn't know who will be on the market this year (both as ABD and as TT applying elsewhere).

But all that aside: it is still hubris (of the kind that foolish blowhards suffer) to think that one is really qualified to tell who is the very best, _even where one to have read the files, writing samples, etc._. (Who is willing to confidently assert, for instance, that so and so is the best philosopher of the past 100 years? Not very many people, I hope!)

Anonymous said...

I think this debate about whether faculty at top programs can honestly describe a student in the terms "top x on the market" has a very simple answer: they can't. structurally, no individual can have that knowledge. if they nevertheless do so, it's an abuse of power; if their comment is taken literally, it's a damn shame.

Anonymous said...

Inside man, what's an excellent publication (as opposed to a respectable one)? My guess is that a JP (Journal of Phil), Mind or PR (Philosopical Review) publications are the only excellent publications. Is that right? Suppose you have one or two excellent pubs but you're from an unranked department and have great letters from non-famous people. Are you in or not (at a leiterespectable department)?

Anonymous said...

Inside Man, here is a question for you: Is there any evidence that students from Leiterific departments do better in the long run (in terms of publications, service and teaching) than students from Leiterespectable department (or lower than that)? Or do you merely want to hire them because you'd prefer if it said "Princeton" or "Rutgers" on your department webpage?

Anonymous said...

This post raises a question that has been on my mind: why ask all the applicants to submit material that is not going to be relevant for the first cut? Why not just ask for a cv and a cover letter and then request more material from the 50 or so who make the first cut?

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:50 again. Thanks for the information Inside Man.

Another question: how much do the specialty rankings in the PGR matter? They are a relatively recent addition to the people give them as much weight yet as the overall rankings?

Anonymous said...

Good question, anon 6:34 (BTW: any reason for the anonymous posters not choosing the "other" identity and selecting a moniker).

My department is ranked in a decent position in my field but doesn't register at all on the Philosophical Gourmet. Does that count for nothing? Isn't it enough to work with someone very well-recognized in your field?

Anonymous said...

Anon. 7:50 again: I didn't even see the "other" option (I don't post much to blogs). I'm in a similar situation non-leiter guy: my program is ranked overall, but only in the 30s, but in the specialty rankings for my AOS, it's ranked higher.

I think if a decent amount of weight is placed on the specialty rankings, I'd feel better about all of the weight placed on the PGR in general (and not just for selfish reasons).

Anonymous said...

If I understand it right, Leiter's rational in ranking programs by the quality of the faculty is that it provides grad students with (1) the best training and (2) the best chance at getting a job.

About training, he writes, "You can’t get excellent training except from excellent philosophers . . . Excellent philosophers model how high quality philosophy is done. They can give better comments on written work because they are more philosophically acute."

About jobs, he says, "With rare exceptions, only philosophers with established reputations in an area of specialization can get students good jobs in that area."

So, it seems that someone coming from an even unranked program but who works with an excellent philosopher in that student's AOS should be the kind of person for whom Inside Man and his colleagues are looking. So, this should mean that the specialty rankings and the student's AOS are the most important factor--i.e. they are being trained by the excellent philosophers in their fields and they are getting letters of recommendation from these philosophers.

Anonymous said...

rational = rationale


Anonymous said...

Thanks to non-leiter guy for the techno tip.

To Anon 8:31

Suppose testimony is a hot or central topic in epistemology. I might not know that it is or, even if I do know, I might not care; I might think that it shouldn't be or that work on the topic is generally not good. Or I might, for no particular reason, happen to prefer having as a colleague someone who works on apriori warrant. So I might end up taking a closer look at the apriori warrant candidate and deciding not to take a closer look at the testimony candidate.

To Anon 9:31

I think there are five excellent journals: _Phil Review_, _JPhil_, _Mind_, _Nous_, and _PPR_. But I'm not sure there's a consensus on this. I haven't had a careful look at many files yet, but already I suspect that there are two candidates with at least one excellent publication who won't make it to the next round. (One is from a Leiterrific school. The other is not.) I can confirm this later.

I plan to post something on Leiter rankings -- and perhaps letters -- later.

Anonymous said...

Inside Man, we greatly appreciate these insights and are indebted to you for them. In so far as possible, keep 'em coming!

Anxious on the Market

Anonymous said...

There are more than 5 excellent journals. Inside man's 5 are certainly all excellent, but many would see Philosophy and Public Affairs, Philosophy of Science, and some of the other top-tier (but still general) specialist journals as equally good or better to Mind and PPR.

When we are looking at CVs here (middle ranked Leiter), we look for two things in a publication: peer review and originality (i.e. not the 27th round of an ongoing debate in Analysis). Highly selective publications are great, but, frankly, just about any publication is really hard to get these days. So we are interested to see that people have them and that they suggest a fruitful research program. Try to keep your papers in journals and out of edited collections as, even when they are peer reviewed, they always smell of non-peer review.

My advice for graduate students trying to publish for the job market is to *not* send a paper to JPhil or Phil Review. They take way too long. Find a really solid journal with a reasonable turnaround time (ask your junior faculty for their experiences) and send it there. For most students, the cost of waiting 6 months to a year is too high, even if your ideas are awesome. (And if you are ready to publish "Two Concepts of Rules, and your advisors know it, where you publish won't make a difference. My advice is for the rest of us.)

Anonymous said...

Johnny Cash's advice about publishing is very, very good.

Is there a list anywhere that details journal acceptance rates and turnaround times?

My own experience has been that APQ is very good, with excellent referee comments, turnaround times, and editorial feedback; the same goes for its sister journal PAQ.

Anecdotally, *Mind* takes ages to review stuff, as does the (way less prestigious!) *Journal of Value Inquiry*--which will also require you to rewrite your paper completely using its weird house style.

InsideMan--what's your view of book reviews? Positive, negative, or neutral? Just wondering...

My 2c.

Anonymous said...


There is a wiki that catalogues turn around time for journals along with some other info (if you google "philosophy journal wiki" it is the first result). I know I've seen acceptance rate data somewhere but can't remember where...maybe the APA compiles this somewhere?

Anonymous said...

Yes there is (well, sorta):

Anonymous said...

Yay, thank you!

Anonymous said...

Of course, *Ethics* is also a fantastic journal (and with the lowest acceptance rate).

Anonymous said...

So what's wrong with Leiterific student with Leiterific publication? Why didn't he make it?

Anonymous said...

"Desirable demographic characteristics"??? WTF? LOL. Was it ever an advantage being a women? Surely not.

Anonymous said...

Like Anon 5:23, I'm also wondering why the Leiterific person with the excellent publication isn't going to make the first cut. Terrible teaching? A time bomb in the letters?

This is part of what makes the process so crazy/frustrating, from the applicant's side of the fence. It seems like the stars are all lining up for you, and then you get blindsided anyway.

Anonymous said...

Hi, perhaps some of you are unaware of Shin-Kap Han's paper "Solidarity and hierarchy in academic job markets". Kieran Healy discusses it at
Money quote:

"there are self-reproducing departmental status systems within disciplines. Job candidates in all disciplines are exchanged in a well-defined manner between three classes of departments. Class I departments, at the top, exchange students amongst themselves and supply lower-tier departments with students but do not hire from them. Class II departments are on the “semi-periphery,” generally exchanging candidates with each other (though there is a hierarchical element to this) and also sending students to Class III departments, which never place students outside of their class and usually do not hire students from within their class.

"This broad structure applies to all disciplines, though some draw sharper boundaries than others between Classes I and II."

Anonymous said...

Having sat in on a few searches, I shoudl also add that the letters and CV can give a pretty good idea of a candidate's areas of interest, and this is often enough to rule out most applicants to any given job. If a school is hiring in, say, "ethics", they may have something much more specific in mind, say, "contemporary analytic metaethics" so that once it becomes clear that they have plenty of candidates who are actually in that area, candidates whose approach is less analytic, more historical, or verges more towards social and political philosophy may be ruled out. In much the same way, a department advertising in "Philosophy of language" may have no interest, or exclusive interest, in candidates whose work is seriously informed by contemporary linguistics.

I've seen plenty of files from Leiter-top-ten schools be dismissed without their writing samples being read for roughly this reason.

Just what exactly schools are looking for can be surprisingly hard to guess from their add, so I always encourage our students to cast as wide a net as possible (as I did myself), but also recognize that most of those applications won't be taken are in the right area.

Anonymous said...

Obviously, publications can help a lot. The less Leiterrific your program is, the more they matter.

Just wanted to agree with what Inside Man said about this, and the rest of the paragraph. (Speaking only for my personal practice at a Research II-type school.) Elaborating a little, the letters that really weigh heavily from Leiterriffic departments are things like "Our best student in five years" and like that. And publications here aren't just the top 5 journals or whatever -- something like Phil Studies or [A,P,null] Phil Quarterly will help you will help you (though more obscure journals might not).

And this is all for the cut before the samples get read. Leiteriffic person with publications might not get interviewed because someone didn't like the sample. Also, I use the letters and the dissertation abstract to get a sense of the project even if I'm not reading the sample yet.

Oh, and from experience going on the market, I suspect that being out of grad school longer outweighs publishing more, at least past the first year or two. Which completely sucks.

Anonymous said...

Just to be clear why publications matter in evaluating applications: departments want to be able to tenure the person they hire. Publications are essential to tenure. If you have a PhD from a top tier PhD program, the assumption is (and letters confirm) that you will have been trained to have what it takes to publish. The less well known the program, the more external evidence will be needed of publishing ability. That has been my experience, at least.