Sunday, December 30, 2007

I'm So Tired, My Mind is on the Blink

Well, I don't know about anyone else, but last night's smoker sucked for me. After one of my profs told me and my officemates that a glass of wine cost $10, I didn't even bother figuring out what the cost of a beer was.

But worse, my schmoozing sucked ass. I had a discrete eye on a couple of departments' tables all night and the people I wanted to talk to were just never free. In comments, "Right Said Fred" says about the smoker, "Meet some people. Talk about your work. Terrifying." Well, sort of, yeah. When you're lining up with another dozen or so candidates desperate as you to meet those people, and when you've been told that how well you talk about your work that night could possibly affect whether or not you'll have a paycheck in September--then, yeah it is sort of terrifying. Or if not terrifying, then at least really, really shitty.


Anonymous said...

I keep wanting to reach for a sports analogy. Some athletes want the ball. End of the game, pressure on, they want the chance to win. Others, they don't want the ball -- "what if I screw up?," "eek, my future paycheck/scholarship is riding on how I do!" etc.

Seems to me that the APA is a bit analogous. You're like high-performance athletes, with years of elite intellectual training. What you do is write and talk philosophy. Now the pressure is on, and you need to impress the search committee. Your September paychecks are riding on it.

Some people are terrified. Others are exhilarated. They want the ball. They love their work, they love philosophy, and they're ready to talk about it with whoever, whenever. It wouldn't surprise me if these people do better on the job market.

Anonymous said...

So, sticking with that analogy: if the people at your target table are never free, you should try to steal the ball.

I can't say that I did that myself, but it happened to me. Mid conversation another candidate waltzed right in and introduced herself. The committee member I was talking to didn't seem to mind at all. Keeping in mind, of course, that many are intoxicated--so if you rudely steal the ball from a competitor, the refs are too drunk to think badly of you for it.

Anonymous said...

A perfect case in point!

While others are sleeping in, dithering about whether to have a cup of coffee, and wasting time commenting on blogs, she's probably down in the hotel gym shooting philosophical three pointers ...

The only thing you could've done would've been to destroy her views right then and there, in front of the intoxicated committee member.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there's a divide between people who "want the ball" and are exhilarated vs. people who "don't want the ball" and are terrified. I'm lucky enough to be a student at a good research university where I get to talk to smart, interested people about my work frequently, both members of our faculty and people who visit to give talks. I always enjoy doing so, and I've been enjoying doing so at the APA. At the same time, I've been experiencing this mysterious stomach flu that leaves me unable to digest anything other than bananas and toast. (The room service guys have been making what they think are funny jokes at my expense every morning, before they hand me a ridiculous bill for bananas and toast.) The flu may be due to the bizarre organic turkey my sister served our family on Christmas, but it may also have something to do with the pressures of the APA.

The APA is a chance to do something we all like to do: talk about the philosophy we find interesting. But there are also a lot of important things riding on the outcome for many people, not just their egos but whether they're going to be able to support their family, live in the same city as their spouse, etc. So it's perfectly reasonable that the experience should be both exhilarating and terrifying---precisely what's been described on this blog. One hears stories all the time about superstar athletes who throw up before every game, or great actors who are terrified every time they go on. There's no reason that philosophers who "want the ball" should be any different.

Anyway, I'm done with all my interviews now. Maybe I'll treat myself by putting some butter on my toast.

Anonymous said...

You didn't ask me for advice, but I'm going to give it to you anyway.

I was on the job market ten years ago. Went to the Eastern APA twice: 1996 (my last year of graduate school) and 1997 (my first year out). Had one interview each time. Didn't get a call back. I gave up and became a lawyer.

Those two trips to the APA were without question two of the most awful experiences in my life. And schmoozing at the smoker was probably the worst part of the whole thing. So I know what you've just been through. My advice is, if god forbid you don't get a call back this year, don't throw in the towel just yet. I'm pretty sure everybody else I went to grad school with who finished ended up getting a decent job eventually (though it took a few years in some cases). And I was in a department that's never exactly had stellar rankings on PGR.

So, as terrible as the process is, just remember you're doing this for a reason. You have a gift and a passion for philosophy, you deserve a job and you will get one if you stick it out. It's just that in the meantime you're going to have to put up with a whole lot of jackasses and bullshit experiences.

Anonymous said...

To Ballhandler:


I got sick over the holidays too. But in my case, I think it was some bad Saag Paneer. Ugh.

As for the sports analogies proffered by a couple different anonymouses, that sounds very plausible to me -- how to maximize one's competitive advantage in a setting such as the APA. The thing is, I know that's just not me. Maybe that means I don't get an APA job. Ultimately, I'm fine with that; I don't want to get there destroying another person's views in what is by many accounts a sadistic cocktail party. (I'm sure it's not so bad for some candidates and some departments.)

And this is not to cast judgment on those of you who can play that game; it, no doubt, has it's merits for screening for certain sorts for competitive academic jobs.

Anonymous said...

PGS: I had the exact same experience as you at last night's smoker, except that, having only had one interview, I only had one table to hover around and yes, it was mobbed all night – I put in an hour of hovering and called it quits.

Sure, it can work if you rush and steal the ball. Or it could make you come off as an arrogant prick. I think there's enough scope to fuck up at the smoker that it's barely worth bothering. Even if everyone nods and smiles at the time, it doesn't mean they're not later going to say "oh that guy? He's an arrogant prick. Let's go with that woman who hovered around the table and didn't interject. She won't buck when we ask her to fill in for classes while I'm on leave next year."

Anonymous said...

I was in Boston on a job search committee two years ago for a small liberal arts college. I would be surprised if the smoker tilts anything one way or another. I have yet to meet anyone who doesn't understand what an artificial environment it is or put much stock in it.
As for the first comment, and the sports has been my experience that the types of people who 'want the ball' at crunch time are pricks and talk too much in social situations.
I think that knowing the work of your interview committee well enough to ask them interesting questions that can then be related to your own work is probably a good strategy. If you can do this in a natural, non-sycophantic way then you might actually relax and have a decent conversation. Of course, academia breeds sycophants.
For the large majority of departments, one unstated criterion that contributes to selection for an interview committee is 'Would I mind encountering this person day in and day out, working on committees and generally be able to engage in all of the dimensions of departmental life with them.'
Whether or not succeeding at this requires the kind of 'give me the ball' chutzpah mentioned, I don't know. I do know that I fucked up my first interview badly due to nerves and overstrategizing and was so pissed at what a prick one of the committee members had been that my attitude towards my next interview was "Fuck it. I have nothing to lose if this is the way this profession is. Either it's full of pricks who I don't want to work with and I don't get a job and do something else that pays much better or I just act like myself, relax, engage the people to the degree I can and if it doesn't work, what can I do?" That second interview went smashingly and I ended up getting the job.
The fact is, the holy grail of a tt job, while nice, isn't necessarily going to make you happy. And it will probably make you unhappy in the difficult transition from being a big fish at a great institution to being a first year schmuck at an ok one surrounded by people either filled with narcissistic resentment at how academia isn't giving them what they want or driven by competitive anxieties that make the working environment more like a ward for neurotics than a university.
Still, I feel for all of the grad students who end up descending into that ring of hell that is known as the Eastern APA. I hope we all continue to remember how dehumanizing the experience is for EVERYONE involved and change our hiring practices as soon as is practically feasible.
After you all get jobs of course.

Anonymous said...

So it looks like everyone may agree that to SOME disturbing degree or other, the APA interviewing process may not be an adequate mechanism for selecting the top 3-5 candidates from a line-up of 12-17. So IF that is the case, perhaps the better step is to save the money and torture for all involved and fly 6-8 to campus. I guess the real question underlying this suggestion is this: how much, really, do the interviews alter your pre-APA ranking where this alteration is genuinely due to substantive factors and not just the candidiate fucking up because of the hellhole that you're all in? Add a few phone interviews if there is a question about whether the candidate deserves to make the flyout list. I know this question has been beat to death, but is there is anyone out there who really thinks that the benefits of the APA outweight the negatives?

Anonymous said...

On the question of whether the benefits outweight the negatives, it's worth asking what are the alternatives. One is Princeton-style; by how many departments could really make decisions that way? A second is to jump straight to fly outs. But fly outs are a massive investment of time on the part of both the committee and the candidate, and excessively painful for both when the candidate is clearly not a fit, which one might discover 15 minutes into a two day campus visit. A third option are phone interviews: but then wouldn't we all be complaining about how artificial they are and about how hard it is to do well in such an interview compared to an in-person interview?

I think departments should: opt for longer APA interviews -- a good 50 minutes at least -- and get rid of the smoker.

Anonymous said...

That sports analogy is retarded.

Here's a better one: if the job-seekers are basketball players then the smoker is like this ritual they have to go through to get jobs playing basketball--which doesn't actually involve playing basketball. The closest it gets to the game is complimenting other people on their ball-handling skills, how beautiful their balls are; also ensuring people that you have handled plenty of balls in the past, oh, how you have handled some absolutely gorgeous balls, and would love to do that in the future, and look how happy you are just be around other ball-players, etc. etc.

Some of the players are exhilarated. They love talking about balls. Others are frustrated about having to go through this stupid exercise, and terrified because this isn't what they're good at and has nothing to do with what they've trained for.

Anonymous said...

What should I say if I only enjoy handling my own balls?

Anonymous said...

My comment will probably irritate many of the frazzled folks who've just returned from the APA, but here goes.

While I can agree that interviewing isn't fun, what about everything else at the conference? So you spend 3 or 4 hours practicing your spiel and answering inane questions in a job interview, then you spend the next two days attending wonderful lectures by some of the most respected philosophers, meeting and talking with other philosophers, and browsing the vast collection of all the latest philosophy books in the book display hall.

I'd rather take a three day vacation at the APA surrounded by the thing I love most i.e., all things philosophy -- than lounging on any beach in Acapulco.

Anonymous said...

I agree that smoker performance probably doesn't make very much difference to your prospects. (Sorry, I ought to have offered this thought a few days ago, but I've only just stumbled on this blog.)

And I don't see why lots of other departments could go 'Princeton style'. I dearly wish mine would, but I can never convince more than a couple of my colleagues.

Finally, to the last-but-me commenter (5:55 pm), sure, the non-market stuff really is great. But it's so badly tainted by the job market that it's very difficult to enjoy. I think it took me about five years (after my job search ended, successfully) before I could have any fun at an Eastern meeting. But now I do like them -- and you didn't mention the pleasure of catching up with old friends, or being introduced to someone whose work you'd been admiring.

Anonymous said...

Instead of the sporting analogy, it seems this dance is more like dating: one is trying to put one’s best foot forward; trying to charm one’s companion with one’s wit, grace, and intelligence; trying to discover whether this department/institution is one worthy of building a lasting relationship.

This means the encounter is reciprocal. My date and I are sizing each other up--the interviewer is the interviewee. One may, after all, be spending a considerable amount of time together in the coming years. One will have all one’s faults and strengths examined in yearly tenure reviews. One will likely spend more time with one’s colleagues than one’s significant other. Is the lowly shop boy capable of making one happy? Or, can one only be happy if one courts the cutest and most prestigious?

I suggest approaching these interviews not with anxiety and acquiescence but with the sincere desire to learn whether you want to be with this institution. Are the institution and your prospective colleagues willing and capable to meet your needs? Are they what you really want in a working relationship? Will they make you happy?

Steve Peterson said...

I have to agree with anon @ 3:41 -- it's like you've trained all your life, honed your body to throw the perfect pitch, studied the hitters, and are finally ready to go, then they give you the ball -

- and it's a basketball.

The smoker and interview are a good way to get away from all that focus on CV, publications, your actual philosophical writing, and instead get a chance to see how charming you are, your gender and ethnicity, how tall the men are and what weight the women are...

Anonymous said...

"I suggest approaching these interviews not with anxiety and acquiescence but with the sincere desire to learn whether you want to be with this institution. Are the institution and your prospective colleagues willing and capable to meet your needs? Are they what you really want in a working relationship? Will they make you happy?"

That would be the attitude to take--if it were possible. You might as well tell a concubine to meet her potential lord with this attitude.

Anonymous said...

The APA table situation = job candidate cock-blocking.

However, somewhat uncharacteristically, at a table on Saturday night, another candidate and I had a productive and interesting conversation with one of the faculty members who was present. And then I talked globalization and evolutionary theory with the department's philosopher of science.

But this exception merely proves the rule: APA smoker tables = job candidate cock-blocking.

Anonymous said...

What other stuff at the conference? When you spend 6 hours a day interviewing, there's no time to go to talks. You don't even look at the program, because you don't want to know what you're missing.

No job candidate who came to schmooze me increased their chances. But maybe that's because no job candidate came to schmooze me. (Okay, so maybe I shouldn't have spent so much time hanging out at my grad school's table catching up with people I hadn't seen in years.) Still, to the job candidate who I told "Find me at the smoker. I want to talk to you about X" at the end of their interview and who didn't come talk to me (and who couldn't be found at their school's table either), let me just say, "What am I? Chopped liver?"

Anonymous said...

Inside man,

I'll talk to you. Please, like me. Interview me.

Anonymous said...

To Inside Man:

I was addressing the interviewees who were complaining about how bad the APA experience is, not the interviewers. Obviously, interviewers don't have time to enjoy the actual conference, but at least they have TT jobs and are getting paid for being there so they really don't have much to complain about.

All I was suggesting was that the interviewees should put in their few hours of stress about the interviews then enjoy the rest of the conference.

I know, easier said than done!