Thursday, May 31, 2007

I Wanna Thank You Falettinme be Mice Elf Agin

Just to follow up on my post yesterday about crazy advice from old people, let me tell you a story about the Old-World Septuagenarian. We had this one conversation over and over again at every single placement meeting in the fall. He'd look at my CV, look at my AOSs and AOCs, and then tell me I had to put M&E as either an AOS or AOC. (Note to lay readers: "M&E" means "metaphysics and epistemology.") I'd hem and haw, and just try to talk about something else, because, well, I don't do M&E. It would be a straight-up lie to say I had an AOS or AOC in M&E.

But the Old-World Septuagenarian figured that everybody has to have an AOS or an AOC in either M&E or ethics. And since I don't do ethics, I'd better say I have at least an AOC in M&E. I had to get my supervisor explicitly to clear my M&E-less CV, which of course he agreed made perfect sense for me. Then, at every placement meeting after that, the Old-World Septuagenarian woud tell me I needed M&E as at least an AOC, and I'd have to remind him that my supervisor had cleared my CV. Each time, he wouldn't quite believe and he'd psush the point. And I'd hem and haw and just try to talk about something else.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I Hope I Die Before I Get Old

Leiter's got a thread going right now about how job candidates should think about their AOCs. I guess the first obvious point about the discussion is that there's pretty clearly some real confusion about them. It gives a sense of the feeling I had last year, when every last detail about my application meant getting wildly contradictory advice from different people.

But there's something else I want to touch on. Check out this advice, from the fanciest of fancy-pants, big-name philosophers, Gilbert Harman:
You don't have to use the labels "Areas of Specialization" or "Areas of Competence" on your CV. You can describe yourself in whatever way seems best.

As some people in the thread say much more politely than I will here, oh yes, you do have to use those labels. Harman, if we can trust Wikipedia, is in his 69th year. He still thinks about the job market the way it was back in the day. No need to address the exact specifications a job ad in the JFP is asking for. "You can just describe yourself in whatever way seems best."

This sort of advice is infuriating. You get advice from out of touch senior faculty that has to be wrong. But you can't tell them to STFU, because at least at private universities, they can still have grad students shot.

If I Were Smart, I Wouldn't Have a Heart

Thinking again about my conversation with S this weekend, I was reminded of something I talked about with an acquaintance at last year's APA. We were talking about the advantages of getting a job at a good undergraduate college or a department with a terminal MA program, as opposed to a department with a full-on PhD program.

For a lot people, getting a job in a smaller deparment seems less impressive than getting a job in a department that produces its own PhDs. But the advantage would be the feeling that your teaching really contributed to the profession. You'd have smart students, and every once in a while, you'd get to send one of those smart students off to a really good PhD program, where if they made it through, they'd have a chance of staying in philosophy. And what you wouldn't have is just as important. You wouldn't have to deal with watching class after class of PhD students all come to realize they'll never be able to do what they thought they were training to do. You wouldn't have to deal with your own complicity in that.

This a serious issue for me, because I'll never work in a top-20 department, and I'll probably never work in a top-50 department.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

How Could I Still Be So in Love When I Know, We've Been Had?

I ran into S this weekend. He's an old friend from my program. He's been adjuncting in a department that has a graduate program, but not one that's in the 50 ranked on Leiter's list. (In fact, it doesn't even get an honorable mention, or whatever Leiter's also-ran cataegory is.) It's one of these PhD programs where if it disappeared, no one in the profession would notice.

S told me about watching the attitudes of grad students in his department change as they make their way through the program. When they start getting ready to hit the job market, it slowly dawns on them that it's all pretend, make-believe, bullshit, and that they've been had. They realize they will never work in philosophy, and the goal they've been working towards for the past five or six or seven years is a mirage.

Kissin' the Ring, Buffalo Wings, Honkin' Your Horn, Internet Porn

Just to follow up on Saturday's post about distributing mp3s to my class, there's some good suggestions in comments. If I could post an mp3 to Blackboard, the obnoxious off-the-shelf platform for class websites that my school uses, it'd at least be pass protected, and so that might take care of the RIAA. Of course, that would also mean bothering to have a course Blackboard site, which is a major downside, since course websites are principally a means of making instructors do more work and students do less. ("Can you post your lectures notes?" "I lost my assignment. Can you post it?" "I can't log on for some reason. Can you e-mail me the readings?")

But for the music, it might just be the ticket.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Everywhere I Go, Kids Wanna Rock

I know two very simple things you can do to push your student evals through the roof, and make your students write those oh-so-rare teaching portfolio-worthy comments. One, bring candy to class on Hallowe'en and Valentine's Day. Two, have your students watch movies and listen to music that's relevant (or even just "relevant") to the philosophy they're doing in your class. (No, not in class. Even I'm not that much of a whore. Besides, class time is for listening to my own voice.)

In the fall I'll be teaching a course with a lot of potential for both high- and pop-cultural tie-ins, so bring on those teaching evals. The first time I taught the course, I had a few movies and TV shows on the syllabus as "optional viewing." This time around I also want to add some music. But here's the thing. Am I allowed to, say, e-mail an mp3 to the class list? I mean, the class is going to be full of college kids (as college classes often are), so only the weirdo loners aren't already going to have "Cashmir Pulaski Day" on their iPods. Still, I feel like the instructor ought to make sure these things are avialable to everybody, just in case. But I also feel like the instructor shouldn't tempt the RIAA to break his knees.

Friday, May 25, 2007

And Don't Get Caught on the Wrong Side of That Line

I came across this quote yesterday, and it's been stuck in my head since:

There are more than 110 Ph.D.-granting programs in philosophy in the United States. If the majority of them were closed, there would be only a slight loss to the profession; if the weakest third of them were closed, there would be no loss at all, and, in fact, a net increase in human happiness. . . .

That's Leiter, talking about the number of PhD programs in the US in relation to the job market. He's saying, if you could make the bottom third of PhD programs in the US--nearly 40 programs--just disappear, the profession wouldn't notice. Everybody would still have all the new hires they needed. He's saying, for almost all of the grads from those programs, they will never find jobs. (Leiter again: "there are surely PhD programs where "one in five" would overstate your prospects. . .")

God damn.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Communication Breakdown

That piece from the Village Voice I mentioned yesterday was about the changing academic job market, and graduate student unionization as a response to those changes. As some you might already know, it recently became illegal for graduate students at private universities to form unions. That was a fight the Columbia students described in the Village Voice article lost.

Now, the main argument used publicly by anti-unionization people in academia--at Columbia and other places--was that grad school isn't work exactly. It's an apprenticeship. The teaching we do isn't cheap labor for the department. It's Teaching Experience! The research assistance work isn't cheap labor for our supervisors. It's Photocopying Experience! So, this line of thinking goes, it doesn't make any sense to see grad school as the kind of work that needs to be protected by any collective bargaining unit.

In this context, it's interesting to look at the reaction of some philosophers to that Village Voice article. A lot of people seemed to think it was "inflammatory." And here's one grad student's thoughts about why it's inflammatory:

But the worst part of the article is how dreary it makes grad school seem. What student advisers need to impress upon undergrads thinking of doing a PhD is that they must regard grad school as an end in itself, not merely as a means. It is most certainly not a long and arduous apprenticeship that naturally terminates in one's being admitted to the guild.

Look, this guy didn't get the idea of grad-school-in-philosophy-as-an-end-in-itself on his own. It's just plain responsible for advisors to tell students they absolutely cannot expect to get a job when you're done grad school. But how does that square with the idea of grad school as professional training, an idea that was supposed to justify denying students the right to organize?

Update: Links fixed! Sorry about that. My copying & pasting skillz are, shall we say, less than mad. --PGS

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy

I just stumbled across this old piece from the Village Voice. Get a load of the lede:
Here's an exciting career opportunity you won't see in the classified ads. For the first six to 10 years, it pays less than $20,000 and demands superhuman levels of commitment in a Dickensian environment. Forget about marriage, a mortgage, or even Thanksgiving dinners, as the focus of your entire life narrows to the production, to exacting specifications, of a 300-page document less than a dozen people will read. Then it's time for advancement: Apply to 50 far-flung, undesirable locations, with a 30 to 40 percent chance of being offered any position at all. You may end up living 100 miles from your spouse and commuting to three different work locations a week. You may end up $50,000 in debt, with no health insurance, feeding your kids with food stamps. If you are the luckiest out of every five entrants, you may win the profession's ultimate prize: A comfortable middle-class job, for the rest of your life, with summers off.

I'd say less than three people are going to read my dissertation, but maybe that's okay, since it's only going to be about 250 pages. If I had kids, though, I'd be feeding them with foodstamps.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Early Bird Catches the Fuckin' Worm

Check out this post from last year by Gualtiero Piccinini, a philosophy prof whose department had just done a job search when he wrote the post. Here's his take on what makes a good application package:

1. Your awards and teaching experience won't help your application. But it'll count against you if you don't have all that stuff.

2. Your writing sample won't help your application, since no one will read it (unless you're a finalist).

3. Your APA interview--if you're lucky enough to make it onto that short-list--won't help your application. Apparently, even before the interview, everybody's already got you pigeon-holed.

4. Letters of recommendation from people outside your department won't help your application much.

5. Having more than the required number of letters won't help your application much.

6. Having done conference presentations won't help your application much.

Wow. So apparently almost nothing can actually help your application. Almost nothing. So what does help?

7. Publications in the best journals in the business might help your application.

Okay, well, I guess that makes sense. Surely getting something published in J.Phil would be good, right? Except, no, not even that is as important as something else.

8. "The rank of your institution and department counts more than you might think. . . . If your program is not highly ranked, that counts against you regardless of whether you’ve published in J. Phil."

And just to keep things focused on what's important:

9. "The fame of your advisor and letter writers count for more than you might think. The bigger the name, the more meaningful the letter is assumed to be."

Awesome! So really, the only thing that can actually help your application is going to grad school in a really prestigious department with really famous people in it. Nothing you do in the course of your graduate training is as important as something that's determined before you even start grad school.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Working for the Man Every Night and Day

I was clearing up my desk a little today and ended up poking through the May issue of the JFP. And lookee what I found. Auburn's looking to make some one-year appointments where the course load is four classes a semester. But wait, here's where it gets good: "salary is $30,000". A 4/4 for the princely sum of 30K? I'd be a fool not to apply!

Here's my favorite part, though. "Women and minorities are encouraged to apply." Yeah, this job sounds perfect for women and minorities. Because, you know, they're used to getting exploited.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Drive On, Until I Get There

Okay, it's starting to sink in how badly I need to get this dissertation under control. Unless I get it mostly done over the summer, the job market--dealing with applications, not to mention my actual job prospects--is really going to suck. (Plus, my supervisor would probably sell me to to a Saudi sheik to be turned into a harem eunuch, and then he'd blow the money on next year's prospective grad students.)

So, my pledge. I will not read the new Harry Potter book until I have at least four chapters drafted.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Letters I've Written, Never Meaning to Send

So I'm sitting here in a coffee shop trying to get some writing done. Or more accurately, I'm really just trying to plan some writing, and even that's not happening. See, the work I've been doing for the past while has to do a few different things. I might end up turning some of it into a job talk, and part of it'll certainly be its own essay at some point. But right now, I'm getting set to write this stuff up as a chapter of my dissertation.

The problem is, it's the chapter that's really nothing but a random salad of background material for later chapters. I can't leave parts out just because they don't fit into any nice, compelling narrative thread that could tie the chapter together. It's all got to be in there to set up the next two chapters.

So here's where I'm stuck. How do I transition from one part of the chapter to a completely unrelated part of the chapter? "Meanwhile, back in the Fortress of Solitude. . . ." Or maybe I should just make the key section heading, "Segue!" I'm getting desperate here. Seriously.

Friday, May 18, 2007

He Wanders Alone Knowing Something Ain't Right

A friend of mine is thinking about hitting the market this year. He's never been to the APA, and the other night I was trying to explain what the atmosphere is like. The anxiety becomes as much a part of the hotel as its heat and A/C. You walk in the front entrance and you walk straight into the anxiety. The only way to leave it behind is to get out of the hotel.

I was trying to explain this to my friend, and I remembered something a junior prof in my department told me last year at the APA. When she arrived at the hotel, she started to freak out. As soon as she walked in, the anxiety hit her and she started to freak out. She kept herself together by repeating over and over, "I have a job. I have a job. I have a job. I have job." And indeed she did. But even with a job, the anxiety hanging in the hotel air put her on edge.

And what about those of us looking for jobs? What do we tell ourselves to keep our shit together?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Rocking the Passive Voice VIII

How long’s it been since we did one of these, huh? Too long. So let’s see what we can do for fans of the passive voice.

I am sorry to inform you that you were not placed on the short list for this position.

That’s it. That’s the PFO sentence. But this letter is dated in late April. If “short-list” means the people they interviewed at the APA, I already know I didn’t make it onto the list. Those interviews were in December for fuck’s sake. And if it means the people they brought out for campus interviews, I already know that too. Because I didn’t get a first-round interview, did I?

What is it about writing these letters that turns philosophers into semi-coherent retards?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

No Time for a Summer Friend

How does a grad student measure the passing of time? This week saw the year's first iced coffees. That means summer's here.

It's really time to get moving on that dissertation.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Here's the Resume, For the Day, You Know the Flav, Skin Out

It's late, I'm listening to some sweet early-90s rock and roll, and a thought I had way back in October has just come back to me. One time I was wandering around in Staples, more or less lost, looking for the box of envelopes I needed to mail my application packages, when I got stuck looking at a huge shelf displaying resume paper. Do you have any idea how many different kinds of resume paper there are? Some of it's some nice fucking paper, too. Taupe, with little brown flecks and shit, a tasteful light blue, whatever.

I started wondering about getting some to print my CV on. But that lasted for about two seconds before I realized how stupid that would be. Philosophers aren't going to get fooled by that shit, are they? "Oo! This guy's CV feels so heavy! He must be doing good work." That would be idiotic. I ended up going with the crappy light-weight paper we get from the department secretary.

But standing there in Staples, I thought about the people who do get fooled by the nice paper. They must be out there, right? Out there in the non-academic world I keep hearing so much about? So, when Buck McBuckson, the John Deere Southwestern regional sales co-ordinator, gets resumes from fresh-faced, young tractor salesmen, does he say to himself, "Fuck, those are some nice little brown flecks. They make me want to a buy tractor from this guy." It's got to happen some of the time, right? Or people wouldn't buy that crap and Staples wouldn't sell it.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

I Wish You Were There to See It, When I Scored a Hat Trick on the Team that Called You a Fucking Queer

Let me come back to the question about discriminatory hiring practices for a moment. That thread Leiter has going is really about what the APA can do to put a lid on discrimination. For my money, the answer is sort of paradoxical, because the APA could do a lot more than it does, but ultimately can't do anything.

The APA has rules against discrimination, of course. But they're hardly enforced. Schools or departments that break the rules suffer the cruel, cruel punishment of. . . having an asterisk put next to their names in their JFP ads. Woo! Asterisks! Because nothing says you take a problem seriously like a tiny typographical mark. As lots of people in the Leiter thread suggest, the least the APA could do would be to bar these schools from advertising in the JFP. They're breaking the APA's own rules, for fuck's sake.

But then, that's not going to stop the discrimination, is it? Schools that want to hate Teh Gay can just set up their own e-mail lists or websites or whatever to post job ads. And still, there's all the discrimination that goes on in subtler, but no less powerful, ways. (In an APA interview for an ethics job, a bunch of old white guys all just happen to get a more comfy vibe from the white guy who talks a lot about S's pro tanto reasons for φ-ing than they do from the young black woman who talks about analytic moral philosophy's inadequacy accounting for how oppression is experienced.) If a department's discrimination is even a little more subtle than explicit Not-Gay certificates, how can the APA even keep track of it? It's hopeless.

Of course, that's no excuse for not taking unambiguous symbolic measures like barring known discriminatory departments from advertising in the JFP. Symbols have meaning after all, and the APA could at least have the balls to show it really means it when it says discrimination against GLBTQ people is a bad thing.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

But this one goes to 11.

We've had some discussion in the past about the death sentence that is the massive teaching loads at some schools. I'll not beat this dead horse too much more, I promise. But I just have to show you all an especially egregious instance of the wonderful possibilities in exploitation that just came across my desk:
The Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of [Somewhere You Really Don't Want to Live, Believe Me] invites applications for a one-year Academic Staff position (Lecturer, not tenure track) in Philosophy for 2007-2008 (beginning August 27th). This is a temporary position to teach nine course sections. ... Areas of specialization and competence are open. An ABD in philosophy is required, a Ph.D. and teaching experience are preferred. A complete application packet (consisting of a letter of application, curriculum vita, three recent letters of recommendation, and copies of all undergraduate and graduate transcripts) should be sent to [bla bla bla bla....]

Notice that this is a position to teach NINE FUCKING COURSES. Nine. Is that even humanly possible? I have my doubts. It's certainly not possible to teach that many courses well.
Even if you're doubling up on some preps, there are only so many damn hours in the day. Good luck getting out of there alive, poor sad bastard desperate ABD who takes this one.

[Moment of silence.]

In other news, check out what the "complete application packet" consists of. All the usual stuff--CV, letters of recommendation, (though notice they don't even pretend to be interested in the candidate's research: there's no request for a writing sample on there)--and COPIES OF ALL UNDERGRADUATE AND GRADUATE TRANSCRIPTS. Wow. Awesome. It's bad enough that a lot of places want grad transcripts. But undergrad? WTF? Way to broadcast your insecurity in judging your colleagues' philosophical ability, search committee. Good work.

The only thing to do is hope they get the candidate they deserve, really.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Don't Forget What Your Good Book Said

I got lost in my own snark yesterday before I could make the point I meant to make, and now it looks like the point will have to wait another day, since there's a couple of things to deal with in yesterday's comments.

To answer Anon's question, oh yeah, explcit discrimination on the basis of Teh Gay is totally, totally legal. As PJMB friend (and authority on matters theological) NS points out, if the institution is private, they can discriminate on some pretty sketchy grounds. Remember, Bob Jones University* barred interracial dating among its students until 2000. I.e., black kids could get kicked out of school for holding hands with a white girl. When when they dropped the ban on interracial dating, they did so for purely political reasons, not legal ones. So, yeah, discrimination against GLBTQ people? Totally legal.

As for NS's larger point, this sort of discrimination is actually uncharacteristic of (I'd say) the majority of religious schools looking for philosophers. You read through the fine print of the different ads in the JFP and you get a sense for how to read between the lines.

For example, when you see something about "a learning community founded on the principles of Jesuit (or Franciscan, or Benedictine, or whatever) scholarship", that's a good thing. It's an especially good sign when they say explicitly that they're welcoming to people of all faiths, although where that leaves us atheists is an open question.

But when you're reading through a job ad and you see something like, "Wheaton College is an evangelical protestant Christian liberal arts college whose faculty members affirm a Statement of Faith and the moral and lifestyle expectations of our Community Covenant"--when you read all that, that's bad. Really bad. Because you can bet their "moral and lifestyle expectations" are going to have a lot to do with old white guys telling everyone else who they have sex with. Or even who they can date.

*BJU. Heh.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

If You Should Fall in Love With Me, How Bad Could it Be?

Leiter's got a thread going with some semi-interesting comments in it. A grad student from FL State found himself part of the way into the hiring process with some armpit calling itself "Westmount College" when they asked him to sign a form promising as a condition of employment that he would never, ever have sex with another dude. Wisely, he withdrew his application.

The thing is, this isn't unheard of in the philosophy job market. It's SOP for a lot of the little, evangelical Bible colleges. But as near as I can tell, this sort of thing is unique to academia. Of course, there's a lot of discrimination out there for all kinds of people, but do any non-academics ever actually have to sign Not-Gay Certificates? Maybe, but I don't know who they are.

For me, the real questions here are about the practical details of the Not-Gay Certificate. What do "faculty" at these shitty, little fundie "colleges" do with their Not-Gay Certificates? Do they hang them in their offices alongside their PhDs? It'd be cool if they had ceremonies at the beginning of each year to welcome their new Not-Gay "faculty"--sort of like matriculation, except less about academics and more about making sure your cock doesn't end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead of wearing their academic gowns, they could wear something unmistakably heterosexual, like biker gear or maybe a cowboy outfit.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

I'm on a Ride and I Want to Get Off, But They Won't Slow Down the Roundabout

My grandmother is a very sweet old lady, but because she has Alzheimer's our conversations often have something of a cyclical form. She'll ask me a question and I'll answer it. Then she'll think of another question, which I'll answer. She'll think of another question again, and I'll answer that one too. But then, that last question will bring her back to the first one, which she'll ask, and I'll answer, again. Then on to question number two. Etc. It's not at all a bad way to spend an afternoon visit, all things considered. My sister and I call these conversational loops.

Thinking about nth Year's post yesterday made me realize I've been having something like conversational loops with a lot of my family--cousins, aunts, uncles who insist on playing air tuba to mark the end of a satisfying meal--as well a lot of my friends.

It's finishing my degree and getting a job. People ask me when I'm going to be finishing, and I tell them I'll be finishing in the fall. Then they ask when I'll get a job, and I say, hopefully after I finish. Then a year passes. (Admittedly, that's longer than the two minutes that brings my grandmother back to the start of her loop. Be that as it may.) A year passes, and people ask me when I'm going to be finishing. I tell them I'll be finishing in the fall. Then they ask me when I'm going to get a job, and I say, hopefully after I finish.

My grandmother can do this for hours. I'm not sure how long I can stretch it out, though.

Update: Yes, air tuba. When this particular uncle's done eating a big dinner, he pushes his chair back from the table, puffs out his cheeks, and starts making starts making low tooting noises to the tune of whatever. Hard to explain the job market to that kind of guy.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Are We There Yet?

An elderly relative recently asked me how much longer I’d be in school. I told her that I would finish when I got a job, and that I didn't know when that would be. She was too polite to tell me that I’d given a peculiar answer. She knows that business, law, and medical students can tell you exactly when their 2-, 3-, and 4-year programs will be over. Why couldn’t I give a similarly straight-forward response?

My impression is that, in many graduate programs, the degree drives the job search. Medical students are going to take the MD, regardless of which residency they get (or whether they get one at all). Not me. With one dissertation chapter written, I applied for a few jobs this past year. Just for fun. And I even got an interview for a job I would have taken. When I didn't get any offers, I decided not to finish the degree this year. And I don't plan on finishing it before next year's job market, either.

This talk about delaying the degree may sound odd, even lazy, to some people. But, there is good reason to do it. I've got a couple more years on the graduate student gravy-train (including $20k+, health insurance, and limited teaching responsibilities). With a PhD in-hand, I'd be ineligible for this largess, and would have to adjunct like crazy to pay the bills. And those years of adjuncting would leave me no time to write and, consequently, little hope of ever getting a decent job.

And I’m still hoping to get a decent job. Over the next year, I want to share with you about my (terribly interesting) struggle to get a full-time philosophy gig. Next time I’ll post about some of my experiences from last year’s attempt.

Let Me Introduce to You, The Act You've Known for All These Years

It's my great pleasure to tell you we'll be getting some fresh legs on the field here at PJMB. In fact, this very afternoon (if I've got that right), we'll be joined by long-time PJMB friend and office mate, nth Year. (Some of you might remember nth Year as the very gracious host of my birthday party last year.)

In some ways, nth Year had a different experience on the job market this last year than I did, so I for one am excited to see what he has to say.

Monday, May 7, 2007

A Hundred Billion Castaways, Looking for a Home

This is a telling read. A bunch of philosophy grad students were surveyed about a bunch of things, and here's a little of what they had to say.

You should ask yourself whether you would want a doctoral degree in your field of study even if you could not get a job directly applicable to what you got your degree in? If you would not want the degree without the assurance of a job in your field you should probably not go to grad school.

Be very clear and realistic about your employment opportunities after graduating, both within and without academia.

Reconsider your decision to pursue a Ph.D. The job market in most fields is poorer than your professors will lead you to believe.

The funny thing is--in the philosophy job market sense of "funny"--these aren't reponses to a question about the job market. Nope, these are supposed to be about "what doctoral study entails." Turns out doctoral study entails a lot of job market-related freaking out.

Bonus comedy: "Also, in writing your dissertation, prepare to be alone."

From Whence my Help Comes

So. You need to write a teaching philosophy and send it along in your teaching portfolio. But your placement chair won’t tell you what a teaching philosophy is, and even if he did, the secretary wouldn’t let you send it with your portfolio. What do you do?

Well, when you’re sitting in the placement meeting where your situation is getting explained to you, you keep one eye on the white knuckles and fists of your usually genial office mate. Because he looks like he wants to take a swing at the Old World Septuagenarian, and you don’t think the old man could survive a hard punch in the face.

But also, you talk to junior faculty, since they’ve had to do this shit themselves in a not too distant past. As it turned out, my office mates and me had all been thinking along those lines and talking to different junior profs, and they—the junior profs—had the idea to have a little meeting of their own. So one afternoon, three members of the junior faculty sat down with those of us on the job market and told us what we needed to know.

They explained that a teaching philosophy should, ideally, do three things: emphasize the specific experience we have; emphasize the goals we have for teaching the specific sub-disciplines we teach; and above all else, not sound like every other teaching statement. (“My goal in teaching philosophy is to critically engage students critically in order to provide them with the critical resources to foster their critical thinking skills, so they can engage critically with critical challenges they’ll face blah, blah, critically blah.”)

That meeting, and others like it with the junior faculty, saved my fucking sanity. That’s why it’s such good news that there’s going to be a junior prof on the placement committee with coming year.

More on this, and more on why I heart junior faculty, later.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Wait for Me

I've mentioned before how stunned I am at how long it takes to get a paper though a journal's review process, even just to get it rejected. Well, I was at a party last night talking to a guy who was bitching about how long it's taking him to get this one paper published. It's been rejected by a couple of journals, and he's been revising it after each rejection. He's still revising it now.

I asked him when he first sent the paper out to the first journal it was rejected from. 2003, apparently. Holy fuck.

Friday, May 4, 2007

I Hope I Die Before I Get Old

Alright, after last night's celebratory binge of pizza and beer, we're back to our regularly scheduled programing. If you missed the first two installments of the teaching portfolio saga, they're here and here.

Where were we? Old World Septagenarian had assured me and my office mates that teaching philosophies probably weren't strictly necessary. Well, we learned otherwise when we got our hands on the year's first issue of the JFP a couple of weeks after that first placement meeting. Many, many ads called specifically for teaching philosophies. Since apparently me and office mates are too fucking stupid to learn simple lessons after bad experiences, we decided to bring this little hitch up with Old-World Septagenarian and Evil Columbo at the next placement meeting. It didn't go well.

Evil Columbo laughed, made jokes at our expense, and spilled food on himself, which he does pretty much whenever he eats, because he's a disgusting, disgusting human being. Old World Septagenarian's response was less revolting to look at, but no less useless. He just told us again to go talk to the department secretary about what she sends out. Clearly he hadn't bothered to find this out after the last meeting and he still had no real idea what teaching portfolios or teaching philosophies were.

As I'd figured, the secretary didn't send out anything like a teaching philosophy. But, I thought to myself, I can solve this problem. If--if--I can figure out what the fuck a teaching philosophy is, I can write one. And then, I'll just give it to the sectretary and she can slip it into the package of other crap she sends out. That'll work, right?

Wrong. Because the secretary refused to send anything out unless its inclusion in the teaching portfolio was cleared by the Old World Septagenarian. For his part, he kept insisting the secretary took care of this stuff, and so we shouldn't be asking him about it.

Let me pull the lens back here. Old World Septagenarian was telling me and my office mates that it wasn't his job to give us any advice about producing a required piece of our application packages. But he was the placement director. It was no one else's job but his.

Next time: From whence my helps comes.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Happy We'll Be, Beyond the Sea

Huge news. You remember that one-year the future Dr. Mrs. Dr. PGS interviewed for? Well, she got it. This is so great I can't even tell you how great it is. I'm actually sort of in shock right now. The job's at a fancy-pants liberal arts college in the 'burbs outside my city, which means she's going to be moving here. We haven't been able to live together since we started grad school. But that's all over, at least for a year. No more shitty airport food! No more shitty airport atmosphere! No more gigantic backpacks full of books causing serious back pain! Yay!

I'll get back to my teaching portfolio saga tomorrow (there's a couple of comments I've been thinking about), but right now, it's time to start some beer drinkin'.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

I Think of All the Education that I Missed

When I reconnected with my office mates after labor day last year, we started talking about how we had no idea how to put together our teaching portfolios. The thing to do, we figured, would be to bring it up at the first meeting with the placement committee.

The placement committee is the group of faculty members in charge of quarterbacking the department's efforts to get us jobs. Last year, it consisted of two senior profs, who I'll call Old-World Septagenarian and Evil Columbo, for reasons I'll get into another time. What my office mates and I hadn't anticipated was the possiblity that both these guys would have absolutely no fucking idea what a teaching portfolio was. They were only dimly aware that they even existed. Worse still, they didn't care to learn anything about them either.

When we forced the issue--which we did, repeatedly--the Old-World Septagenarian told us he thought the department secretary sent something out for us. In fact, this was the answer we got when we asked any member of the senior faculty. (Except, that is, for Evil Columbo, who would just tell us, busting with arrogant pride, that he didn't know anything about them, and he didn't even read them when he was going through applications when our department was hiring. He was such a helpful part of the process.)

But this response about the secretary made no sense. She couldn't send out individualized teaching philosophies. Still, the Old-World Septagenarian insisted whatever this teaching business was about, the sectretary took care of it. If there was anything like an individualized teaching philosophy the secretary didn't send, then it probably wasn't necessary. None of this stuff was our problem.

Of course, that turned out to be wrong. Very wrong. My teaching portfolio really was my problem. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Teacher, Teacher, Can You Teach Me?

Let me tell you about one part of the application package that philosophy people have to put together when they're going on the market. Actually, it's more like several pieces. Job posts in the JFP typically ask for "evidence of teaching excellence" or some shit like that. Of course, I have no idea if they ever get evidence of teaching excellence, but what they do get are teaching portfolios.

What a teaching portfolio consists of is not something that's very well defined, and I'm not going to define it very well right now. In the fall, when I was putting my applications together, I knew exactly two things about what my teaching portfolio needed. First, it needed a my "teaching philosophy." But what the fuck is that? Good question. You might even say the question, when it comes to teaching philosophies. Second, it needed something drawn from the student evaluations I get at the end of every course I teach. Okay, but what? The forms themselves? A summary of them? Student comments?

Trying to answer these questions turned out to be one of the most stressful parts of putting my application package together, since it involved senior faculty bullshit so absurd it would have freaked out Kafka. I'll tell you a story about it tomorrow.