Writing school-specific cover letters is a pain, and asking applicants to write an essay on the topic of "What special qualities I would bring to your department" is moronic. But I've heard that some schools that aren't in the Leiter top 50 toss files out based solely on the cover letter: if it's generic, the file goes. At first, I was scandalized. They might be eliminating loads of good candidates! But they're not worried about eliminating good candidates. They know that, with 100 or 200 (or 300 or 400 or 500) files, they won't have trouble finding 12 candidates who are good enough. And what they're looking for are 12 candidates who are good enough and who actually show some interest in the job. So what they're doing isn't crazy. (Yes, you could show interest at the interview. But why should they wait until then? They can find 12 people who, before the interview, have evinced particular interest.)
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Listen, search committees. I know you want to see us candidates making an effort to show you how well we'd fit in at your school. You want to see the thought we've put in to our applications for your department. After all, you don't want to hire just anyone. You want to hire someone who wants to be there. Fair enough.
And you know what? We will put that thought in. I swear to fucking god, we will put many hours of thought into figuring out how we'll fit into your department and your school. But we're not going to do it right now, okay? Because right now, all our thought's going into figuring out who we need to talk to get our hands on our old course evals, how to get the secretary to mail our letters today and not next week, and whether or not we can ignore the increasingly pissy e-mails about our unpaid tuition for another month, because this month we're dropping a few Benjamins at the post office.
Give me an APA interview. Then I'll address your department's description and your university's mission statement.
Monday, October 29, 2007
While I don't mind the work itself, I do mind the obscene amount of time it seems to take. I really do have better things to spend my time on. (Like, oh, say, finishing the dissertation. Fuuuuuuck. The dissertation.) Which is why I kind of threw up in my mouth a little bit when a friend of mine told me that his dept's secretaries take care of all their mailing for them. Now, said friend's dept is admittedly a lot more Leiterrific than mine. But I'd thought the perks of coming from a fancypants program were supposed to be limited to things like name-brand recognition and big-name letter-writers and posh funding and non-exploitative teaching responsibilities. Now I find out these fuckers get all their secretarial work taken care of too? WTF? How common is this?
No wonder they're getting all the fucking jobs.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
The massive batch hasn't happened. I've been working on research statements for close to two weeks now, and I just can't get them done. Every postdoc application needs its own version. But that's not the worst of it. The worst of it is, I work on stuff so obscure that the October JFP has exactly zero jobs asking for what I do. That means I'm applying to a lot of jobs meant for people with AOSs that aren't mine. In fact, besides open jobs, I'm applying to jobs for three, very different AOSs, none of which are exactly me. So for the jobs with these different AOSs, I'm trying to use different research statements to, um, let's say, emphasize the side of my interests that best fits the job. Except open jobs, which are getting the real me.
So I've been writing four different research statements, revising them, and revising them again. Some early deadlines meant I had to put some applications in the mail this weekend, but I'm still not done.
So. Now I'm aiming for next weekend. We'll see. I want this stage to be over.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
So between envelopes, the cost of express-posting my last, late application for an exotic, international postdoc I'm not going to get, and a baker's dozen of regular applications, I dropped $88.80 today. That brings my total for the year to $221.02. It's starting to hurt.
Friday, October 26, 2007
The fact is, a lot of people I care a lot about are going to end up fucked by this beast. That really fucking sucks.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Yeah, maybe, I guess. But the thing I'm suspicious of here is Teaching! Experience!. It's all fine and good for departments to talk about developing their grad students' teaching skills, but in a lot of places that ends up looking like indentured labor in the hot, dirty mines of "Contemporary Moral Issues" and baby logic. And that way lies an extra year or two in grad school and a very short CV when you finally hit the market.
I'm not really sure I'm disagreeing with Potthast here. We all want to be the best teachers we can. (Um, with the exception of a few people who really don't give a fuck.) But it's sort of hard to evaluate his suggestion without a better sense of what he thinks grad student should be doing, and how much time they should spend doing it.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
I mean, I know no one's really gong to start looking at applications until December, so there really is no reason to spend the money on the fast mail. But still, it really feels like I ought to get stuff in by the deadline. No?
Monday, October 22, 2007
One of the things that goes into your teaching portfolio is crap from your students' course evaluation forms. As in, some percentage of students rated you "above average," some percentage rated you "average", and some percentage rated you "asshole." Now, I need to get these things from my department secretary, and she needs to get them from the freshman composition program I was teaching in last year. Fine, except for no particular reason, the freshman comp people wouldn't send them over. So, that's a problem.
I was talking through this with my department secretary the other day, trying to figure out what I could do to get the forms sent over, and we got to talking about the people in the freshman comp program. She's convinced they're bad news. In fact, she's convinced they're like a house in a movie she just saw. Not a regular house, mind you, but a robot house. A robot house that seems like a really great idea, what with the way it turns off the lights when you leave the room and sets the oven for your roast beef or whatever. Apparently, the robot house can even talk. But it's not really a good idea, is it? Robots never are. Because it falls in the love with the woman who lives in the house, locks her husband outside its robot doors, and tries to impregnate her. That's what the robot house does.
You following? Me neither. I was trying to figure it out as I stood there in the office listening to the secretary tell me about the very real dangers of a robot house. Which is to say, the very real dangers of the freshmen comp program people, because after all, they're like the robot house.
The point is, I stood there listening to this for about a half hour, because I needed to track down my course eval forms. No dice. A half hour of robot houses and I'm still nowhere on that front.
While we're talking about transcripts again, and in case anyone missed it, Inside the Philosophy Factory gave us her take on why her department asks for graduate (note: graduate) transcripts from job candidates. Fair enough, though I'm still not shelling out for official ones
Saturday, October 20, 2007
First, I'd been assuming there'd be no downsides to sending applications to the best departments, but Robert's pushed back on that assumption. Maybe sending out less-than-outstanding applications can hurt candidates the way giving mediocre presentations or publishing mediocre work in mediocre journals can hurt people. Maybe, but how exactly? Especially if your department's not pushing your application very hard at that top school, it's going to get looked at for a few minutes by one, maybe two people. Maybe they'll read your writing sample, and maybe, to push this line a little harder, having the best people in the field see your underdeveloped work could hurt you. Again, maybe. But will it hurt so badly they wouldn't give your work another look after you'd got in good enough shape to appear in a decent journal? Which, remember, is what you'd have to do anyway to have a real shot at getting so much as a flyback from their department?
To take the opposite view, there are senior faculty in my department who say it can hurt to not apply to the best departments, even though we have no chance at getting those jobs. These profs' thinking is, it can hurt a candidate with middle-tier schools if it somehow gets around that the student's department didn't think they had a shot at the top-tier.
In any case, I need to think about the possible harms of applying a little more. As of yet, I'm not convinced.
Another idea people have is, somehow limiting the jobs students can apply for will help them get jobs. Anon. 7:43 is dead-on right about the importance of a very hands-on placement process in getting people jobs. But after people have been mentored throughout graduate school about producing good work and worked their way into the profession with presentations and maybe a publication or two, after they've had their CVs, writings samples, abstracts, and teaching portfolios vetted by the relevant senior and junior faculty, after even their letters have been vetted by trusted senior faculty, and after their profs have made calls to all the friends they honestly think should give their student an interview--if they've done all that hands-on stuff, what's the extra help of not letting students apply to Princeton?
John T. has a different take on how limiting the schools students can apply to can actually help them get jobs. One idea seems to be that departments can better influence another department's search process if they present a unified front with respect to a student's candidacy. But as Anon. 2:51 points out, besides offering honest assessments of different students' work, profs can tell their friends about the differences in students' interests and hope one or another candidate will appeal to the search committee as a possible fit for what they're looking for.
But John T. and others also have something else in mind, something about the psychology of search committees. John talks about a department wanting to be taken seriously when they tell a top-tier department, "This is the best student we've had in a decade." Fair enough, they should want to be taken seriously. But it seems like the best way to do that would be not to say a student's the best in a decade unless they're actually the best in a decade. Problem solved.
Along similar lines, Anon. 9:25 asks why anyone should expect their letter writers to say they're qualified for a job at a top-tier school. The answer is, of course, no one reasonable should expect that. But there's no problem here unless there are profs who tailor-up dishonestly inflated letters specifically for top-tier schools. If a prof writes a letter that just gives a useful description and honest assessment of a student's work, where's the problem?
I feel like I must be missing the thrust of what John and others were talking about with this business about being sensative to the psychology of the search committee. I have to admit, I'm somewhat suspicious it has something to do with a willingness dishonestly to inflate assessments of a student for some audience but not for others. If it's not that, I'm all ears as to what it really is.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Some departments in philosophy won't let their students apply for really high-powered jobs. The departments insist on approving their students' list of jobs to apply for, and even if someone's AOS is in philosophy of mind and AOCs are language and logic, the department won't let them apply for, say, a top-10 job for an AOS in mind with AOCs in language and logic.
This seems like a bad idea for at least a couple of reasons. One, we all know people who've got interviews way out of their league. No, they didn't get the jobs. But the interviews sharpened them up for other interviews, the ones that did get them jobs. Why the fuck would you rule out the possibility of your candidates getting that experience? Two, I know search committees have to wade through a swamp of applications, and they might appreciate having fewer to go through. But really, if I were trying to make a hire, I'd want that decision to get made by, you know, me and my department. If anyone knows a good reason for this practice, I'd like to hear it.
But it's not just that this seems like a bad idea. I haven't been able to put my finger on why exactly, but something here disgusts me. It makes me want to fucking puke. Look, we all know most of us have exactly no shot at those jobs. We know that. So you might say, "No harm, no foul," right? But that's not the fucking point. The point is, what does it say to your students? It says you'd rather their CVs never got seen by anyone you think is really great. It says they're like that girl you were sleeping with who was cute enough to keep your bed warm in the winter, but too dumb or déclassé to meet your colleagues or friends. It says they're like your kid when you wouldn't let him try out for soccer, because you think he's too small to be any good.
If you think your own students are shit, that's your problem. N years in school, a dissertation and a PhD are enough dues paid to earn us the right to fail on our own fucking terms.
Anon. 7:40 suggests that maybe they're just supposed to verify that people who claim to have their degrees in hand really do, which might make sense. But shouldn't people's letters make that sort of thing clear? And then Anon. 8:34 reports that their department really did seriously look at the GPAs of their job candidates. That astounds me. What possible interest could those grades be when you have CVs, letters, and writing samples to get a sense of who people are?
Now another theory, and one I think might bear out in a lot cases, is that transcripts are required by human resources robots, to borrow Sisyphus's phrase. I have a growing appreciation for the way HR people fuck this process up for pretty much everyone, but I'll leave that for another day.
In the meantime, let me just pass along Inside the Philosophy Factory's suggestion that people send along a note with their unofficial transcripts saying they'll be happy to send official ones if they're needed.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Anyway, my office mates and I were talking over the lunch table about something I've mentioned before--schools that want transcripts with our applications. There's even (at least) one department in the JFP that's asking for undergrad transcripts. Sweet Jesus, that's idiotic. Some people in this Chronicle thread say we should suck it up and send official transcripts.
But fuck that. In philosophy we apply to a fuck of a lot of jobs. Ethics and social/political people have over 100 jobs to apply for in this year's JFP. But official transcipts cost money. Sending them to every school that asks for them would mean spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars. And that's not going to happen. Crappily printed copies of the webpage that lists my grades are going to have to do.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
That, screwing around with the little bits of job market bullshit that never seem to end, and a couple hours dealing with a floundering fall semester freshman who's freaking out about writing the first essay in her life that's actually hard--all that, and a day goes by without me getting more than a single sucky paragraph closer to putting shit in the mail.
In happier news, Beirut's new album is living up to the hype.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
I don't know the exact figure, but I know I spent over $800 on the whole process last year. I know I dropped way over $300 on postage. That was over 80 applications sent, way too many of them sent late at night by priority mail. I also had to get a sport coat, since the only one I owned was this tan ultra-suede jacket from the 70s--a sweet, sweet jacket to be sure, but not exactly right for the semi-conservative job market. Throw in a new shirt, since I knew I'd sweat through my only other one, and a tie to go with the jacket and shirt, and that was another $250 at a Thanksgiving week sale. Then close to $150 for three nights at the hotel in DC during the APA--that was splitting the room three ways at the "cheap" graduate student rate. Then there was getting to and from the APA. And then all the little things, like APA fees and envelopes and labels.
I want to spend a lot less than that this year. I don't need another jacket. And I really, really don't want to send so many applications at the last minute.
But still, the costs are already adding up. Between some criminal fucking postdoc application fees and the postage costs of not being ready well in advance of a handful of early deadlines, I've already spent $132.22.
Also, Rob Helpy-Chalk responds with,
Why would the APA spend any time making life easier for people who are powerless? What are job candidates going to do, post grouchy blog entries?
Well, yes. That's exactly what we're going to do.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Anyway, one of my office mates and I were just talking about how unreadable the JFP is. It's a spectacularly badly edited document. First, there isn't a standard format for the ads. Yeah, I know total standardization would be impossible. But fuck that. Would it kill departments doing tenure-track searches to all start their ads with the ranks, AOSs, AOCs, and deadlines of their searches? In that order, and in a list rather than a rambling, relative clause-laden sentence? Look, it's easy:
Rank: Assistant professor (tenure-track). AOS: Open. AOC: M&E and History preferred. Deadline: Nov. 1, 2007.
Then the ad could say whatever else needed to be said, and no one would have to do a close reading of the whole 350 words to find the deadline. Wouldn't that be nice?
But even worse, have you noticed how there's ads doubled-up in the web-only additions? Take Cornell. It looks like they've got one job that's numbered both 55 and 444. Doesn't that shit get any copy-editting? Come on.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
My emphasis on "hard-money position." My emphasis, because what the fuck does that mean? Does anyone know what that means? Maybe it's just me, but I think it sounds like some kind of porn thing. "Lance, Hailee--you two ready for the hard-money position?
OF MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE . Baylor College of Medicine's Center for Medical Ethics seeks to appoint a tenure-track Assistant Professor to a hard-money position with a very competitive salary in a research intensive environment with modest teaching requirements. Houston, TX
Friday, October 12, 2007
As commentors in Leiter's thread point out, when you start reading through the ads, you see things like eight or ten numbers assigned to general humanities postdocs, none of which will necessarily go to philosophers. And there seem to be a lot of ads for non-tenure-track jobs--both visiting and adjunct jobs.
It's pretty fucked up to see Marist College advertising in the JFP for ten--count 'em, ten--adjunct jobs. As Eric over in Leiter's thread says, "that's 10 of the positions in the issue which are nothing more than trolls for slaves."
My school's last president used to say the president is the CEO of the university. Now we're going to see just how much like a Wal-Mart a college can get.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
One thing really jumped out at me on that first read through. A lot of departments look like they're doing the same searches they did last year, which I guess means they didn't make a hire. Some of those jobs are ones I applied for last year, and now it looks like I'll be applying for them again. I have to say, I really, really want to write a cover letter that says, "You fucked up when you didn't give me an interview last year, didn't you? Well, don't fuck it up this year. Fucktards."
I can see that letter having downsides, though.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
I was late for class.
(In any case, the official link is supposed to be going up today. And the hardcopies are probably already in the mail.)
An early bit of optimism: there are almost exactly as many jobs as last year. The doomsayers who've been predicting a crash in the job market--i.e., a big downturn in the number of available jobs--have been proven wrong for another year. Phew. Thank fucking god. I'm gonna need all the help I can get.
Monday, October 8, 2007
However. I do have a blurb that's even shorter than that. It's not for the job market. It's not even really for academics. It's for the situations (which Dr. J aptly calls "quagmires") where civilians think politeness demands they ask what my research is about. The blurb I have for that? Seven words longs. I can bust that out and then suavely segue to more convivial subjects with nothing so much as a, "Could you please pass guacamole?"
Sunday, October 7, 2007
This is the postdoc application I wish I was sending instead of the application packages that chewed up another one of my weekends.
Maybe I could send this one to Bob Jones U.?
Friday, October 5, 2007
So anyway, I had to get out of there after I finished my tacos, and now I'm stuck in a coffee shop trying to hammer out the three sentence dissertation abstract for the front page of my CV. Here's how the work goes. I work on a single sentence for half an hour, and then I e-mail it to my supervisor, the Professor. Then the Professor e-mails me back to tell me it blows and to start over. Then I start over. I work on the same sentence for another half hour and e-mail it to the Professor. He e-mails me back to say it blows less, but still blows, so I need to start over. Etc.
I've been working on the same sentence for about five hours now. But it is starting to blow less.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Of course, some of that still goes on. Everyone's waiting for a big pile of updates to the APA's on-line job listings sometime next week. But already being able to see some job ads sort of takes the edge off the anxiety. People going on the job market are already thinking about particular jobs they're going to be applying for, and thinking about how to tweak their application packages for a few specific departments.
People, that is, except me. Why? Because I'm awesome, that's why. So awesome that until two days ago 'd totally blanked on renewing my APA membership. So now, my old password for the APA's website doesn't work and I can't see the jobs. Like I said: awesome.
So until I get my new password--which for some reason has to be sent by snail mail--I'm living like people did back in the day. Waiting.
Update: Um, it looks like I'm facing a serious threat of disrupted domestic harmony unless I add that, in fact, it wasn't me who took care of renewing my APA membership, but the Future Dr. Mrs. Dr. PGS. God knows, if I had to do it myself, it still wouldn't be done.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
This grad student starts of by considering the cliche, "Things are never as bad as they seem; they could always be worse." Now, the trick is, how are we supposed to read that little semi-colon? It's sort of inviting us to read it as an abbreviated explicative transition, isn't it? Or some sort of logical relation? "Things are never as bad as they seem--after all, they could always be worse." "Things are never as bad as they seem because they could always be worse." The first claim is the one that needs some explanation--because, really, things really do seem pretty bad, so why should I believe they're not that bad? So then the second claim looks like it's supposed to give just the explanation needed.
But it doesn't. The semi-colon's a total non sequitur. As the job market illustrates in soul-grinding vividness, things are as bad as they seem and it can still get a lot worse.
Monday, October 1, 2007
We regret to inform you, however, that you did not make our list of finalists.
This sentence was constructed with stunning artfulness. It's as passive as any sentence with the passive voice. (Who's decision was it not to put me on the finalist list? Who's responsible for telling me to fuck off?) And yet the sentence doesn't actually use the passive voice. This could be a revolution in PFO style.
But then the letter goes and blows all that painstakingly crafted passivity, when it says,
We. . . . hope that our decision will not discourage you as you continue on in the job market process.
Their decision? You mean, it didn't just happen? How'd they let that tiny ray of honesty find it's way out of the letter?
Oh, and for the record, this PFO didn't discourage me at all. I mean, the other 85 pushed me into a months-long depression, but this one made me feel like a million fucking bucks.