Friday, December 21, 2007

You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch

A while ago a long-time PJMB reader pointed me to a great run-down of how the APA works, called "How the APA Stole Christmas." Then, because my organization skillz are so mad, I forgot to post about it. (NS, I owe you an e-mail!) Lucky for me, a few days ago the author of the piece, Carl Elliot, who works on bioethics in Minnesota, reminded me about it. There's a lot in it I want to come back to at some point, and you should go read the whole thing, but for now I'll give you a little taste. Elliot writes that the schedule of the APA
has the virtue of simplicity and predictability, but its simplicity and predictability are also the reason why it inflicts such psychic distress. The APA holds job interviews between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, thus ruining the holidays for everyone involved. Job applicants must leave family gatherings early or skip them entirely. Even Christmas dinner is ruined by the anticipation of the distress to come.

"Ruining the holidays for everyone." No doubt. And to be clear, the holidays aren't just the time we get to see our friends and family. They're the time we get off from teaching in order to get some actual work done. Right now, I'm blowing day after day on interview prep, instead of finally--at long last--getting back to my dissertation.

Friends, family, and philosophy. A guy like me wouldn't ask for much more in life than that. And the APA fucks it all up.


Anonymous said...

Here here!

Excellent piece. Thanks for the link.

I get the sense that a shift *may be* beginning--a few schools that have done APA interviews in the past are now moving directly to the on-campus phase.

I for one would endorse a change in that direction. What do the rest of you think?
SC members: any chance this idea could catch on at your schools?

M.A. program faculty member said...


I have some sympathy to the "expensive vivid noise" argument wrt the APA. (I.e., the argument that you spend a ton of money going to the APA in order to get unreliable information that has a large impact on your thinking, so you're better off skipping that stage entirely.)


(1) I've sat in on APA interviews that have allowed us to rule out people who otherwise (based on their paper applications) would have been near the top of our list--and while these impressions *could* be unreliable, when I think back on some of these particular cases, I don't think so. Interview impressions can be vivid, but most interviewers (I hope) are smart enough not to weigh them too heavily, esp. when 'bad' performances are probably just due to nerves and don't spring from any serious underlying problem.

(2) Even if 10-20% of departments decide to skip the APA--and we won't get anywhere above that range any time soon--it wouldn't make any difference for most people as far as the Eastern APA screwing up their winter break.

A prof who is interviewing at APA said...

“Right now, I'm blowing day after day on interview prep, instead of finally--at long last--getting back to my dissertation.”

I have no sympathy for you...and you are a real whiner and complainer.

If you had yourself organized properly, the researching and writing of your dissertation would be a fluid process which would end naturally and prepping for your interviews should be not that had, since all the work you have been doing all these years is leading up to this moment – get your act together. It’s candidates like you who just BORE me to death at APA.

incredulous said...

This "prof" can't be serious, right? Please tell me he's a character from Piled Higher & Deeper or something....

Anonymous said...

To "a prof who is interviewing at apa" [but who should not be due to his being a complete knob and out of touch with reality]:

First off, you are an obnoxious jerk.

Second of all, many philosophy grad students are facing their first academic interview ever. So they are prepping for something entirely different, so there is great anxiety and worry; it's thus easy to see why someone would go to great lengths to prepare (and even over-prepare). Third, one's whole professional career is at stake. It's not like they can go look in the want ads again next week if they fuck up interviews at the APA. This is it. One week, and that's (essentially) it for the year. So the pressure is pretty insane.

Furthermore, you are clearly completely out of touch with the process of preparing for interviews; clearly you cannot possibly be part of the exhausting process of "mocks" that most of us have undergone and the endless critiques our faculty members provide of our responses. We might give the very same pleasing answers in our mocks that we do in defending our dissertations or proposals, but faculty are more critical now of those (otherwise excellent) answers, or encourage us to think of different sorts of considerations because our interviewers will see things differently than they (or we) do, or think of different worries about our work. Oftentimes these mocks expose us to faculty with whom we have not worked and so we often face different questions than those posed by our committee; this is extremely valuable, but also time-consuming. Plus we have to talk a whole heck of a lot about teaching with many places, which is no small feat, since often our interviews are with schools that are quite different, in many relevant ways for teaching, from our own institution. I know people (mostly from my ph.d. dept) who were asked to do up to 3 mocks in this job season. In one season b/c faculty were not sure all kinks were ironed out, someone did 4 mocks. That person got 4 flyouts and a top-15 job.

Whatever you make of it, interviews are absolutely not all about whatever naturally arises from one's research. I'd really love to know where you get the idea that interviews are that way. Can you possibly have been in an interview in the recent past and still hold that view? Either you are a top research school savant who could be completely indifferent to the concerns that most of us have faced in interviews (including many of us who come from top-5 or 10 schools), or you are a faculty member at a small school that never enters the process of preparing grad students for these interviews, and you entered the profession at a time when this process didn't exist or didn't matter, or you are simply an indifferent fuck who loves being in power over the powerless. Why don't you go spit on some animals at the shelter, too?

Of all the interviews I've had (about 15, so not a huge sample size), I don't think any of them were full constituted by a discussion that was a natural culmination of my research work/dissertation ideas. Perhaps a rare one is. But most of them are not, and those are the ones that require all the work.

It's really sad that I have to review all this for you. I'm glad I don't need to prep for interviews right now, or else I'd be pissed that you are such a fucking knob and that I wasted my time explaining obvious shit to you. But since there are things I'd rather be doing, I'll leave you with this piece of juvenalia: Fuck you.

Anonymous said...

Two suggestions. Start the meetings Jan. 3rd. Hold the meetings in a city in Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, or Arkansas. We'd have a location in the middle that is cheap and will have decent weather.

Anonymous said...

I second that! Giving up a peaceful, relaxing holiday break sucks ass.

Anonymous said...

The MLA voted recently to move the date of their December conference... maybe we'll be next?

My non-academic friends think this timing is insane...

Anonymous said...

"prepping for your interviews should be not that had"

Yeah baby, apwiiaap, it shouldn't be that hard, either.

But you're not a prof.

I'm going to miss this shit.

Remus lupin, abd said...

I actually like the date of the APA. It's in the one time slot when you can be absolutely sure that nobody has any classes to teach. Maybe Jan. 3 or something would do that too.

Okay, I'm biased because I have lots of friends in the Baltimore area and this means I get to spend New Years' with them :)

Philosophy Prof said...

It's hard to say, prof-who-is-interviewing-at-apa (1) could be a snoot who went straight from ivy to ivy to ivy, and who thinks that he/she somehow merits all of the resources/skills that allowed that, or perhaps he (2) never had to go through a glutted job market, or perhaps he (3) is very gifted and is some kind of stoic superman, or perhaps he (4) is just a jerk, but whichever of these may be the case (perhaps some combination) it's not clear that his comments are relevant to the non(1)-(4) crowd. I do think that I have received some referee reports from this person, however, as the tone sounds so familiar, though of course in philosophy this could be almost anyone. In my own case the single-best thing about getting tenure has been not having to be responsive to such people.

Anonymous said...

If the comments by "A prof who is interviewing at APA" dont convince everyone that interviewing at APA is a stupid waste of time, I don't know what would. And yes, this is the sort of thing that makes me thank the baby fucking jesus that I have tenure.

juniorperson said...

'If you had yourself organized properly, the researching and writing of your dissertation would be a fluid process which would end naturally..."

Maybe I'm just not a very good writer, or philosopher, but this certainly wasn't my experience with my diss., and it's certainly not my experience with writing now. My writing goes in fits and starts. I get blocked, and then spend time on exegesis just to keep going; I figure out a new way to approach what I'm working on, and shoot ahead; I work out where someone else's argument went wrong, and shoot ahead; I realise my arguments are mistaken, or weak, or need clarification, and so have to go back and revise them. This isn't a smooth process, and its finishing point isn't a natural and predictable one.

Since I suspect that the same is true for others, too, I wouldn't be too disheartened if you don't fit into "a prof"'s neat box.

anon. 9.14: Please, NOT Louisiana or Arkansas!!!! Ever, for anything! While we're at it, let's nix Mississippi and Oklahoma, too!

juniorperson said...

And Alabama.

Anonymous said...

all right, jerk-offs...the nixing of Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi??? i can't take this slight against my home territories, so pardon me if I demure...God forbid we should have an APA conference somewhere with slightly-above-freezing temperatures...somewhere without the necessity of such excess items as scarves, trench-coats, rain-slickers, snow shovels and ice-scrapers. in short, piss off. i'll take anywhere in the South any day of the week. and, proverbially, twice on Sundays.

and i'm right in line with those who'd have the APA meetings in January. in fact, any time in January would preferable to this post-Christmas madness.

recent hire said...

Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama all suck as potential APA destinations because 90% of everyone will have to make at least one stop, maybe two, to fly there. Being in the middle of the country isn't much help. (Admittedly, Baltimore isn't great either.) Dallas or Houston or Atlanta would probably be better in this respect, although I hate all those airports and the one time I went to an APA in Atlanta it was cold anyway.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Old Fart here again.

Interviews are mostly noisy not informational. Mostly the interview committee -- especially if it has any degree of non-overlap with the search committee, which is sometimes the case at larger places- will not have read closely your writing sample or your dissertation abstract. That will often lead to their asking many not very deep questions about your work, on the basis of the little spiel you give them in the beginning. There will also often be interesting group dynamics within the interviewing group about which you will be clueless, but they may not be.

Imagine the crotchety perhaps somewhat clueless professor X who keeps pressing you on some inane point. You think to yourself "what an inane stupid point, why does X keep pushing me on this???" The others in the room are fully aware of how crotchety and clueless X is. What they're looking for from you is how you handle X, whether you can gracefully shut X up and move on, whether you can make lemonade out of the lemon that professor X is handing you.

Now suppose you do a great job handling the crotchety but clueless X. X's colleagues are impressed. They may think you are smooth and clever. They may even think you're deep.

Alternatively, imagine that you don't handle X so well that day. Maybe X gets you flustered and throws you off your game. Maybe X causes you to be distracted. Maybe X's colleagues don't really realize how clueless X is. Maybe they think X has hit on some deep point that points to some catering hole in your approach. They sort of keep piling on. Now, you've blown your interview.

But now ask yourself have the committeed in the two scenarios I've imagined really gained much pertinent information about you? Is the information gained in scenario 1 more reliable information about you than the information gained in scenario 2?

My own view is that both scenarios are noisy. It's just that in the first the noise favored the candidate, while in scenario 2 the noise works against the candidate. In this connection, I should say that I tell my own students -- I have a good number on the market this year -- that they should think of the art of being a good interviewee as the art of introducing favorable noise and blocking the introduction of unfavorable noise.

That's what the professor who insisted that you shouldn't have to prepare for interviews was missing. If the interview situation wasn't simply and utterly noisy, then he would have a point. But to the extent that interviews are simply and utterly noisy, he doesn't have a point.

Is there a way to cut down on the noise?

Maybe somewhat. You could have the interview committee really read the writing sample and dissertation abstract in advance. The committee could come prepared with well thought out questions about the work. Then it would be more like a real philosophical conversation, in which the mutual background knowledge of the what's in the writing sample and abstract would make it less like that the discussion got sidetracked into stupid inane tangents.

This would be a lot more work for the committees, but it would lessen the need for the candidates to perfect the delicate art of introducing lovely noise and keeping out unlovely noise.

Short of that, I say that you should keep preparing for your interviews, keep practicing your spiel, keep repeating it to different people, let them interrupt you, tell some of them to act like clueless A-holes, etc. Learn to direct the discussion in ways that you want it to go, firmly but politely. Etc, etc.

Again, good luck to you all in these highly stressful times.

Anonymous said...

that should have been "cratering" hole or maybe "gaping hole" or maybe "crater-like hole" in the above. Not sure what a catering hole would be -- though I'm pretty sure wouldn't want to fall into one.

Old Fart

Anonymous said...

Why can't the eastern APA be in the South? A simple answer: Bowl Games. Every major southern city hosts a bowl game between Christmas and New Years (and really isn't it something to delight in that academics and college athletes suffer a similar fate?) When I went on the market, the APA was in Atlanta, and though it did seem a cruel form of torture to have me explaining what the APA was all about to alums of LSU and the ESPN production crew I met in the elevator, the fact that the other half of the hotel was preoccupied with the Peach Bowl was mildly amusing.

Anonymous said...

Isn't LSU hiring this year? If so, maybe explaining the APA to their alums. could be useful practice!

Serious question, as I don't subscribe to JFP: *Is* LSU hiring, and, if so, in what area? Is Tulane hiring too?

(Reposted as posted first on wrong thread!)

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:10pm...I stand corrected - absolutely EXCELLENT point. The APA meetings probably should _not_ be in the South...Bowl games are much more important, and SEC fans shouldn't have to fight with philosophers for hotel rooms.

Anonymous said...

I think the fact that this is the APA Eastern gives good reason to discount places like Texas or New Mexico. As for the South, it was in Atlanta a few years ago.

Anonymous said...

The bowl games in the Dallas/FW area are on 12/31 and 1/1. We'd have the run of Dallas on 1/2. We'd have Christmas and New Years back, Dallas has good weather, it is inexpensive, there are decent restaurants, and most people can get cheap Southwest flights. Also, I have two couches up for grabs.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:35,

I take it that part of the problem with the Eastern division meetings is that it is primarily there for job purposes and the fact that it is tucked away in cold, hard to reach, and expensive cities in the East is hard to rationalize given that the Eastern is really about the jobs.

Anonymous said...

One rationale for having the job fair on the east coast is that there is a higher concentration of colleges and universities here than in other parts of the country. I live within an easy bike ride of five colleges or universities, and within driving distance of maybe one or two hundred.

One problem with having the job fair out west is this: population centers get farther apart the further west you go. If it were in Dallas, everyone who doesn't live in Houston, Austin, or San Antonio would have to either drive for a solid 12 hours or else fly. New Mexico is worse.

I live six hours from Baltimore, so I admit I am biased. But even if I lived out west and the job fair were moved, the chances that it would be moved in a way that would help me are negligible. If I lived in Minnesota and it were moved to Texas, I'd still have to fly. If I lived in Seattle and it were moved to LA, I'd still have to fly. Where-ever it is, everyone who isn't from right around there would have to fly.

However, I fucking hate the fact that it's between christmas and new years. My family lives out west, and I am not with them. Because of the APA.

Anonymous said...

The reason the interviews are at the Eastern division meeting is because the Eastern division meeting is at the right time of year for it. The other meetings are too late for round one jobs. They might be able to push it into January a bit, but it couldn't go too far. A fair number of schools start up again in early January.