Tuesday, January 8, 2008

What's in a Name?

Michael Cholbi's got a useful post up about what his department's looking for from candidates on teaching-related stuff. Since I assume people lucky enough to get fly-backs are going to more questions about their teaching, this is timely stuff.

Cholbi's got some questions his department asks their candidates. Here's one: "What are some specific methods or approaches that you use in your classes to enhance student learning?" Holy fuck. If that question's the headlights of an on-coming semi, you can call me Bambi.

And he's also got some good advice about why we shouldn't just answer teaching questions by rattling off our proposed course content. I certainly tend to answer teaching questions by machine-gunning out authors' names. And I do it because last year, it's exactly what my senior faculty told me to do during a train-wreck of a mock interview. I was rambling on and on about teaching goals for some course, and a chorus of senior profs started yelling, "Just name names!" or something to that effect. And probably for a lot of departments, that'd be just what they're looking for. But, Cholbi's good enough to remind us, not all. So go read.


Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

How to answer the teaching methods question...

Focus on helping them learn to "do" philosophy, not just recall positions and the associated philosopher...

That means active learning stuff (google "active learning" for more info..).

Things like peer paper exchanges help them to see the mistakes of others while learning to give criticism.

Presentations help them to formulate and defend ideas.

Classroom discussion techniques like "think, pair, share" where you put up a discussion question an they have 2 minutes to think quietly on their own answer, pair with someone near them to discuss for 4-5 minutes and then have a classroom discussion about the question, getting input from the pairs.

monkey said...

There is a good book that will help you talk intelligently about teaching:

Mckeachie's Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers

tt assprof said...

This is a tough line of questioning for people with little teaching experience, and SC's should be aware of that so long as they know you have little teaching experience.

(1) It's good to make clear what you believe to be the appropriate content of the course. So I don't think there's anything wrong with rattling off names, articles and books. But do so in sequence, justifying your selections as you go along.

For instance, for epistemology: "I would start off with Plato and Ayer, just to set up the relevant historical context and motivate the problems. Then I would get into Gettier, etc."

But Cholbi is right if he meant that wouldn't be enough.

(2) If you have never taught a course on your own, think about the professors for whom you've TA'd, then think about which techniques seemed to have worked for them. Then say something like, "I thought what G did in that class had a good deal of impact, and I've always wanted to try that out myself to see if it would work as well." Then talk about what seemed to work for you when you led a discussion session, etc.

(3) If you've had little experience teaching on your own, I see no problem with owning up to that, and saying that you'd like to spend the first year or so experimenting with different techniques. I think that's just being honest, and I think most SC's will look upon it kindly.

Again, for those of you with little teaching experience, (2) would be more important than (1) at SLAC's and other teaching-intensive joints. But it may be that (1) is more important than (2) at research places, and hence the reaction of your mock interviewers.

For those of you with some teaching experience, (2) needs to be modified into:

(2') Introduction of some novel teaching technique that you found to have worked superbly. But be honest about it.

One thing about older human beings is that they tend to be able to spot bullshit in surprisingly acute ways.

The Headmaster said...

I say Bullshit like there is no tomorrow. These questions are the kind of questions that search committees for actual teaching jobs would ask actual teachers with actual teaching degrees, and so the only proper choice is to exchange bullshit for bullshit. I mean, really, you think these folks are going to call you out on pedagogical theories or be able to spot your bullshit?!

Skim the aforementioned Teachy McTeacherson's book, borrow liberally from that, and snow, snow your way to a TT job!

Mr. Zero said...

To the headmaster: I guess I do think they'll be able to spot my bullshit. I guess I think bullshit is generally pretty easy to spot; it's usually obviously bullshit. And if you're going to take the time to craft a bullshit answer whose bullshit level is not detectible, why not just craft an actual answer instead?

But for everybody else, suppose I were to be asked a question like Cholbi's #3, which asks how you deal with a diverse student population. In the comments there, gazza says something like, that's a bullshit question that your dean makes you put in there. I treat all my students the same.

Cholbi says, Yeah, the dean made us put that one in there. But I think it's legit; we have students at a wide range of prepared-ness levels and a lot of ESL students, and that presents a challenge for teachers here, and we like to know how candidates will deal with it.

I guess my question is, is it OK to ask for more detail in the face of a question like that? I mean, I think gazza is kind of right: it would be wrong to treat black students differently from white students, for example. Assuming that the black students need extra help because they're black is offensive and awful. But Cholbi's right, too: teaching students who aren't ready for college, or students who are new to the English language is challenging. So, is it OK to say, "look, I don't know who you're talking about, so I can't answer your question. Who are we talking about?" or something like that?

Anonymous said...

I think it's kind of sad that people have put so little thought into their teaching that they'd have to bullshit their way through this question. If you've never taught a course yourself, or TA-ed for a course where you had a lot of face time with students, okay, you're screwed.

But do you mean to tell me that you don't HAVE methods or approaches that you use to enhance student learning? If you've put any thought at all into your courses or your interaction with students, then this question should be a walk in the park. And if you haven't, then you deserve to bomb the question AND not get the job.

There's always the possibility that you've thought about your teaching, but you haven't prepared to answer specific questions about it. But for cryin' out loud, what did you think they were going to ask you? You can't blame everything on bad coaching.

Even if you can't figure out potential questions from adopting the perspective of a prospective employer, it's not like there aren't two million websites out there devoted to helping the clueless and jobless hone their interviewing skills. A quick perusal should give you the basic format for the twenty-plus most likely questions you can expect in any job interview, and a bit of extrapolation will give you all the academy-specific variations you're likely to need.

Anonymous said...

I read religiously the Mckeachie book before this year's APA, and actually responded to some of the teaching questions I got using McKeachie's pedagogical advice. Each interview, I thought, went fairly well. But all of the places I interviewed with have since called people for fly-outs. So, there is no snow, snow, snowing my way to a TT job this year, I guess.

Anonymous said...

I keep hearing "what was your worst teaching experience?" is a likely question for interviews - that would be a great post. Besides the usual schadenfreude enjoyed here, I've found through experience that I have trouble remembering the bad parts of teaching until I'm complaining with friends. I don't know if that's optimism or blocking painful experiences.

Janet D. Stemwedel said...

I actually posted something (here) that speaks a little to this issue (and other stuff that I think can help in campus interviews).

The short version:

We like candidates who have actual strategies for interacting with actual students and engaging them in the material. These strategies needn't all be road-tested, but it's good if they have some connection to reality.

We also like students who have taken the time to find out about the actual student population they are likely to encounter at our school, and about how they might engage that population (rather than a classroom full of perfect instantiations of the Platonic form of philosophy student).

And, we like to see how candidates draw on their own experience -- as solo-instructors, as TAs, even as students -- to inform their thinking about how to create good learning conditions for students and good teaching conditions for themselves. (In other words, any pedagogical plan that would require your labor 24/7 is likely to burn you out, which would be bad).

Anonymous said...

These kinds of teaching questions can be important. I always thought the "how would you teach a diverse student body" question was silly until I started teaching a diverse student body, and realized that some of the people I work with strongly dislike teaching a diverse student body. This isn't pernicious in the sense that my colleagues are racist, but rather in the sense that they (and sometimes me too, to be honest) lack patience for students from unacademic backgrounds -- by this I mean students who were never encouraged to take AP courses, or went to community colleges, or don't value reading, or are struggling with ESL, etc. Some people have just never encountered that student population. So I really do want to know if candidate knows what he/she is getting into at this otherwise kick-ass job.

Also, some candidates I interviewed at the APA actually screwed up their answers to teaching questions in very bad ways. Having recently been on the market myself, I recognized that these screw-ups were entirely avoidable. They just resulted from poor preparation, disdain for teaching, or something. I felt sorry for the candidates, but there's no way we could move forward with those candidates given some of the answers we heard.

Think of it this way: many interviewers won't care too much what you say in response to teaching questions, but you're not responding to those folks; you're responding to the folks who are listening and do care. Always pitch to them.

Anonymous said...

i've taken an enormous number of philosophy courses by now. some of them were great, and some of them sucked. some of them were so great that they inspired me to want to do philosophy, and to spend the bloom of my youth grinding through grad school. but, for the courses that were great: was their greatness attributable to innovative teaching "techniques"? was it attributable to "methods" of "enhancing learning?" i doubt it. my great courses were great because my teachers conveyed a love and knowledge of the subject matter, and a genuine concern to share that love and knowledge with their students. they did this by: lecturing, answering questions, leading discussions, and writing thoughtful comments on my papers. the same exact shit, in other words, that teachers have been doing forever. what made them better than other teachers was just that they did these things better. they were just funnier, smarter, more imaginative, more incisive in their comments, and more available to meet outside of class. they had a superior mastery of their subject matter. interviewers who are looking for candidates to explain their "strategy" for being smarter, more imaginative, more incisive, and more caring, to me, just seem to miss the point, and only encourage candidates to waste everyone's time by spouting pedagogical horseshit.

Universalizability4EVR said...

Here's a question worth pondering:

Don't all these tips from SC members--which I, for one, have found enormously helpful--run the risk of undermining future searches?

The worry is something like this. PJMB has become extremely popular in our community. So lots and lots of grad students are reading it. Now, it's a sad truth that many of the grad students who will end up at teaching-oriented SLACs are not all that interested in teaching per se, nor are they especially good at it. (Witness all the comments to the effect that "they asked me what teaching methods I have found effective, and I had no idea what to say.") This isn't meant to be a criticism; it's just an obvious truth: some people have a passion for teaching and are quite good at it, others dislike it and are terrible, and others are somewhere in between in terms of passion and quality.

My suggestion is akin to Anon 4:47's: if someone belongs on the non-teaching end of that spectrum, and he or she is interviewing for a teaching job, then it is not in the school's best interest to hire that person. Furthermore, it seems likely that folks who are good at teaching are probably much better at answering the teaching-type questions we've been discussing. So why on earth are SC members going to all the trouble on this blog of helping lousy teachers fake it? Isn't it likely that all this advice will make it harder for SCs to tell the difference between applicants who really care about teaching and those who don't? And doesn't that make it more likely that SCs will make bad decisions about whom to hire?

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:52 -

You are absolutley right.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:52 is probably right that pedagogical methods are overemphasized to some degree. But she or he is mistaken to call pedagogy "horseshit." What Anon 9:52 doesn't seem to have noticed is that not every student in an undergraduate philosophy course is the sort of person who will go on to pursue philosophy as a career. Lots of people HATE doing philosophy--or at least, think they do when the course starts.

If you have any interest in being able to reach that sort of person--of whom there are plenty!--you'd better do some hard thinking about your teaching strategies.

Or, I guess, you can blame the students for failing to take advantage of your office hours, for being bored to tears by the course assignments, and/or for not appreciating your remarkable charm and wit. But I bet my interviews at SLACs will go better than yours.

Anonymous said...

I agree with this last comment about this thread undermining the search. I found all the questions mentioned EXTREMELY EASY to answer -- of course I have thought about my worst teaching experience, and of course I have lots of techniques I've tried to engage students, etc. No one at the APA asked me these questions, but if they had I could have rocked the question. I'm concerned that threads like this make it harder for those who genuinely care about teaching, and have put effort into thinking about it, to distinguish themselves from those for whom teaching is but a chore.

In a sense, I'm not that worried, because I think it is much harder to bullshit on these questions than one might think. But still....

Anonymous said...

I agree with the last two comments.
I would add that Anon 9:52 is the laughable example of someone who doesnt really understand that teaching is about more than preaching to the fawning group of sycophants that praise 9:52 in the classes that 9:52 TA's.

Anonymous said...

To everyone who's afraid this blog is giving away too much, two responses: first, if it's going to result in more people learning what they should have learned about teaching, but didn't, in grad school, and/or alter people's views of teaching for the better, isn't this a good thing? Also, schools have plenty of ways to identify bs-ers from people who really care about teaching, for example teaching demos during the on-campus stage. So chill.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:52--

Anon 9:52 is still dead right. The qualities [s]he mentions are admired by students universally, not just by future graduate students.

Trying to teach a subject or practice to people who can't be brought to take an interest in it by the things 9:52 mentions, or at least to see why someone else might--to me that doesn't feel like teaching the subject or practice in question.

Nor do I mean that as a put-down: why should everyone have a taste for study (any more than for sports or music)? Of course lots of people have good reasons to go to college: social reasons, economic reasons, recreational reasons. But why think all or most of these will (or should!) also have an interest in learning history, science, philosophy, what have you?

Anon 10:52 said...

Anon 12:35--

Some of us have this crazy idea that philosophy is intriniscally valuable, and we seek to persuade others of this truth, and that's part of why we're passionate about teaching it in the first place, and we are open to the possibility that thinking hard about pedagogy might actually make us better at such persuasion.

But you're right; that's probably stupid to think. Nonetheless, I still have this hunch that my SLAC interviews are gonna be better than yours...

Anon 10:52

tt assprof said...

Why some SC's may be genuinely interested in hearing about your pedagogical techniques.

Most SCs--in fact, almost all--represent places that have GE requirements.

Most students who take a philosophy course to satisfy a GE requirement have no interest in philosophy coming in.

Many, however, do walk away with at least enhanced interest.

Also, a chief criterion for funding a department has to do with the number of majors, minors, and the number of students choosing philosophy to fill a GE requirement as opposed to another humanities course at least perceived to be comparable.

I think the combination of such GE and funding considerations is what motivates a lot of SC's to be concerned about whether you are a good enough teacher, i.e., someone who can secure return customers.

Further, by tradition (and I mean the 2500 year old one), we're supposed to be the best teachers at any university. At least in my experience, so only anecdotally, this norm gets satisfied by philosophers. At most places where I've worked, or interviewed, etc., the philosophers have enjoyed a good reputation as teachers. If an SC enjoys that reputation, they're gonna make damn sure to preserve it.

So it's prudent to take pedagogical considerations seriously, prep for them; and I stand by my earlier statement that, bullshit is easier to spot than you may think.

Anonymous said...

i'm still inclined to disagree with 9:52.
i don't think he's being a sycophant or a jerk, i just don't think he's giving a fair shake to the question about method.

his (or her, i guess) descriptions of inspiring, brilliant teachers certainly ring true. and i'm sure he/she was the kind of student that gets a lot out of teachers like that. a student who is ready to fall in love with a course, and can appreciate a teacher who loves it, too.

i just think that's too much of a special case, in two ways.
1) because (as a previous response pointed out), most students are not like 9:52. they are not just waiting to fall in love with philosophy, and may not be able to follow all the brilliance of a brilliant teacher. but they deserve solid content delivery all the same; they deserve to be taught.

2) because most teachers cannot pull off brilliant all the time, and even when they look brilliant to part of the class, they may be looking non-brilliant to another part.

i mean--methods suck, i grant you. it's far better when teaching is just a spontaneous cosmic meeting of two minds, and everything clicks and the violins play.

but then there's the workaday world, and people who want to be somewhere else, and people who don't click with each other.

we have traffic regulations because drivers have different agendas and different abilities and different things on their mind. i mean, it sucks, really--perfect drivers wouldn't need regulations, and it would just be like fred and ginger on wheels, effortless mingling and instant recognition of how to negotiate traffic so everyone got where they were going without collisions.

i'm just saying--i agree pedagogical method is a second-best to divine inspiration. but divine inspiration is really, really rare. and for the rest, we have to use methods.

and if someone asks you what your teaching methods are, and you say, 'divine inspiration', then they're going to think you haven't taught much, or taught much variety of students.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:52, I find it odd that you believe the best teachers would also be the best at answering questions about teaching. Someone can be exceedingly talented at, say, painting, wood carving, or swimming, but nonetheless have an exceedingly difficult time *explaining* what it is that they do. Teaching is an art, not a science, and as such it is difficult to formulate in precise programmatic terms. There are those that have it and those that don't (though fortunately teaching skills can improve with time and practice). It seems to me that answers given by candidates should be weighed against other evidence: reports of class observations by higher ranking faculty members, student evaluations (not a bad idea to include a representative sampling of these in job packets), letters of recommendation, etc. Sometimes I despair that English only has one word for knowledge, whereas the Greeks had a whole array of words: episteme, phronesis, gnosis, sophia, techne, etc. These different shades of knowledge also cultivated an awareness of different epistemic structures that are often missing in our own contemporary discussions of knowledge and learning (as can be painfully seen in assumptions surrounding education reform at the secondary level in the United States).

I will say that I concur with Anon 9:52. I'm generally suspicious of calls for "innovative teaching". These strike me as buzzwords promulgated by administrative and Ed.D. types to put on annual reports to impress legislators and the board of trustees. It seems to me that effective teaching methods haven't changed much: lecture, class discussion, mastery of material, useful and cogent comments on assignments, well designed assignments, etc. In my experience, the defining marks of a good teacher are empathy (i.e., the ability to situate oneself in terms of the student and explain things in such a way as to take into account their ignorance or what they need to know), humor, passion for the subject, and constant acquisition of new knowledge in the subject. Personally I've found group assignments and peer review exercises to be of exceedingly limited pedagogical value, but this might have to do with my student population or a failure on my part to effectively implement such exercises.

Anonymous said...

Yes: smart, caring, charismatic folks are better teachers than apathetic bumbling assholes. But good teaching is not merely a function of personality and natural ability; effort also plays a big role.

The question under discussion allows you to demonstrate (or not) that you've put in some effort. Assuming that interviewers can filter out the bullshit, answers will be indicative of, if not good teaching, then of the potential for it.

Good teachers try hard, because that's part of caring. Bad teachers who try hard will usually get better. Bad teachers who don't even try will never be good. Instead, they'll whine about the futility of trying.

Ever heard someone say, "I'm just not good at math?" These are the folks who one day, not so long ago, could be heard complaining about mathematical horseshit.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:35
Yes. And that is the heart of the problem.
How do you reach students in a classroom where most, if not all of the students dont want to be there? Now make it a class of 40 and give yourself a 4/4 teaching load. In that situation it is helpful to get beyond the basics.
Sure it would be nice to tell all of the students who dont have any reasons for taking philosophy to kiss off.
But if that happens, a lot of philosophers will not be teaching.

Further, my experience as a teacher is that lots of students really come to love philosophy, like it or even tolerate it if you can reach them.

Yes 9:52 is right in alot of ways that it takes passion and energy, care, humor, excitement, etc to reach students, but it is also helpful to understand the pedagogical techniques and that have been established to work in those environments.

And there are lots of pedagogical techniques that address those issues that get beyond the naive sentiments expressed by 9:52.

Anonymous said...

FYI, Finalists are already turning down on-campus interviews, so there may be some more invites going out even for jobs that seemed closed...

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I despair that English only has one word for knowledge, whereas the Greeks had a whole array of words: episteme, phronesis, gnosis, sophia, techne, etc.

The words you've chosen aren't different words for what we call knowledge in English. It would be extremely misleading to translate several of those words as knowledge. English does have lots of words that can be used to translate the wide range of things in that list (e.g. wisdom, art, skill), and we have adjectives to make the kinds of distinctions the Greeks made by switching the noun or making some other modification in a case where it really is two different kinds of knowledge (e.g. knowledge by acquaintance, know-how, propositional knowledge).

Anonymous said...

On a slightly different topic, do any of the faculty here have advice about the job talk? How heavily does it weigh in your estimation of the candidate's philosophical ability relative to, say, the writing sample? If the job talk is terrible, does the candidate still have a chance?

Anonymous said...

What should I make of the fact that a school I interviewed with at the APA told me, at the interview, that they wouldn't be making decisions until the third week of January, possibily even closer to February, but someone just listed a flyout?

option 1: the school changed it's mind, and somehow got the committee together two weeks early

option 2: someone is lying

in some ways, option 2 seems more likely, except that I have trouble discerning a motive.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:18:

"It seems to me that effective teaching methods haven't changed much: lecture, class discussion, mastery of material, useful and cogent comments on assignments, well designed assignments, etc."

So, a person can talk concretely about how they go about putting together 'well-designed assignment' (i.e., what is the specific goal of the assignment? how does it meet that goal?); what kinds of comments does one make on assignments; what kinds of drafts and outlines does one request; how does one spark discussion; what does one do when the class doesn't seem to be engaged in the discussion -- etc. All of these involve pedagogical planning and strategy. Even for the most charismatic and brilliant lecturer, these don't come automatically.

Sure, it may not be the latest fancy instructional technology, but if one has thought about one's teaching, one should be able to talk about these things in some detail. Enough to sound like a committed & careful teacher.

Anonymous said...

"Finalists are already turning down on-campus interviews" what could be a reason for that, too many?

Anonymous said...

Too many for the chosen few...

tt assprof said...

Yeah, it's pretty enviable.

Two of the people we'll have on campus we know to have had, each, twenty interviews. That's no less than half of the jobs advertised in the area.

We know we're lucky to get either one, since it's likely they'll wind up with 4-6 fly-outs each. Perhaps more, since with one of them, we had to triangulate with a bunch of other fly-outs. (Inferred from how she's supposed to be in place A, but wants to fly in from place B, then return to place C.)

In that case, they may simply not be able to manage the 6th, not to mention the 7th or the 8th.

For those of you not as lucky, take heart. There is a pool of candidates interviewed at the APA whom we keep on hold, in case none of our choices want the job. (Not impossible, given how competitive they must all be.) If we have to, we'll contact them in March... or maybe April.

And I know for a fact that a lot of places do this. The sort of places, like ours, which is not R1 but always aim high.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how it is possible for anyone to have had 20 interviews at the APA. If they did them all over 2 days, that would be 10 straight hours each day. When did they eat? How did they get between interviews, etc., given the way they were scattered over several locations?

Anonymous said...

"What should I make of the fact that a school I interviewed with at the APA told me, at the interview, that they wouldn't be making decisions until the third week of January, possibily even closer to February, but someone just listed a flyout?"

I know that my department moved its meeting up by about a week and a half when we heard through the grapevine that a few of our top people were starting to get full dance cards. Nothing nefarious -- just an attempt to stay competitive.

Prof. J. said...

Anon 7:00 pm
How heavily does [the job talk] weigh in your estimation of the candidate's philosophical ability relative to, say, the writing sample? If the job talk is terrible, does the candidate still have a chance?

I'd say that a downright bad job talk is really bad for your chances of getting the job. I don't think this is rational -- I've heard Robert Stalnaker give a bad talk, but it would be idiotic to conclude that you don't want him in your department.
Here's my guess on why the job talks weigh heavy. First, since a bunch of money is being spent on them, there's psychological pressure to think of them as important. (Imagine your colleague at the final decision meeting: "If we aren't going to disqualify Smith for that performance, why do we even invite people for campus interviews?") And second, the campus invitees are all really, really good, so SCs are looking for reasons to eliminate someone.

A great on-campus, for the same reason, goes a long way toward landing the job.

Anonymous said...

Off topic question: at this point is it okay to contact places with which I've interviewed about whether they have decisions yet. It seems harmless to me to ask again what their time-line is again and then maybe they'll volunteer some information about whether they've contacted their finalists yet.

Anonymous said...

prof j (and others),

what are your thoughts about presenting the writing sample as a job talk vs. a different paper? are your thoughts different if there was no apa interview at which to talk about the writing sample?

thank you.

Prof. J. said...

Hi, 8:42.

I answered that question in the Indigo Girls thread (and one or two others followed up), but here's my thought again.

I think a different paper is better. But if your writing sample is much higher quality, or if your alternatives are unpolished, then the writing sample is probably okay. If you're in doubt, there's no reason not to ask; they'll tell you if giving the writing sample would count against you.

Anonymous said...

"I don't understand how it is possible for anyone to have had 20 interviews at the APA. If they did them all over 2 days, that would be 10 straight hours each day. When did they eat? How did they get between interviews, etc., given the way they were scattered over several locations?"

come on. be a philosopher.
you can do it....
They walked quickly.
They ate power bars.
They prepared in advance.
Someone who has that many interviews is being courted.
Yes hard to believe, but it happens. (My best friend from undergrad who went to a lighterrific school working on a sexy topic had 23 interviews a few years back.)

Obviously 10 interviews a day would be quite hard.
(Though 10 hours of interviewing straight sounds a lot like some on campus visits, but I digress)

But interviews are not just on two days.
I have had interviews on the starting day of the conference-(this year Thursday)
and on the last day (this year Sunday).
That gives 4 days.

10 a day wouldnt have to be consecutive I have had interviews at 8 am. I have had interviews at 8 pm. Depends on the committee, the school and what they want. Interviews happen all over the schedule, especially when search committees are courting someone they really want.

Interviews are not just 1 hour. Most of mine clock in at 45 minutes.

Anonymous said...

On job talks:

Any thoughts on which is better: 1) powerpoint adlib presentation
2) reading the paper?

On content, which is better (ceteris paribus):

1) a presentation which is exciting and original, but less polished, against

2) a sober presentation with an air-tight argument, but which is on a topic that is well-worn and potentially sleep-inducing.

I realize that these are quite hard to answer in the abstract. Nevertheless, feedback from those who know will be appreciated!

Anonymous said...

"come on. be a philosopher.
you can do it...."

I don't understand why you would post something that intends, or appears to intend, to be abusive.

Moreover, being a philosopher isn't a matter of imagining ways a claim could be true. Sure, someone could have 20 interviews, and could go to them all. That doesn't mean that one should believe that someone did, just on the grounds that an anonymous posting on a blog says so.

My own suspicion is that someone on the market in M & E is trying to create the impression that a few people are grabbing all the flyouts, presumably because they think they're 5th or 6th or 7th in line coming out of the APA and are hoping that departments will be scared of interviewing the best people they interviewed (for fear that such a person has double digit flyouts, etc.).

senior prof. said...

I haven't seen any mention here of e-tools. If you are going to a SLAC for an interview, it might be worth talking to the people there are their use of etools.

Here's a wiki article on the first large scale class etool set:

Anonymous said...

I can confirm that there are people getting 20+ APA interviews and 8+ flyouts. There's one person at my Leiterrific institution who has that many; in fact, he was offered over 30 APA interviews, and had to turn 10 or so down. He works in moral and political philosophy, so this isn't restricted to M&E. As others have noted you can manage that number of APA interviews if you schedule them across three or four days. Campus visits are harder, but this person was able to schedule 2 and sometimes 3 per week. (It helps if some of the schools are nearby.) So it can happen.

Anonymous said...

I had interviews on all four days. Only a total of five interviews though, not the coveted '20' interviews. Yet, interviews were only possible for a small part of the day on Thursday and Sunday (I couldn't imagine interviews earlier than 5pm on Thursday or after noon on Sunday). So, assuming the SCs really wanted to interview you and were very flexible on scheduling, you could probably have 3 interviews on Thursday, 2 on Sunday, and 7-8 on each of the big two interview days. You could schedule twenty, but it would be a hectic schedule.

Still, I can't help thinking that even with four days of interviews, one should hold to a limit of about 15 interviews (perhaps two on Thursday and Sunday and five on each of the big two interview days). I would definately want an hour between interviews for travel, food, and mental preparation. Otherwise, you'd be exhausted and would have trouble tracking the details of each of the jobs you were up for.

(Of course, most of us wish we had such problems)

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:23,

OK, I'll bite. I had 17 APA interviews: one on Thursday evening, two Friday morning, Four Friday afternoon, one Friday evening, four Saturday morning (back-to-back, 9,10,11, and 12, eating lunch from 1-2) and two Saturday afternoon, and then three on Sunday.

Busy? Yup. Hard work? Yup. But impossible? Nowhere near. I had enough time to eat (at least an hour free at mealtimes), sleep, travel, etc. (although I did use cabs sometimes when I had to go back and forth to that hotel a half-mile away from the main one). It's not too much of a stretch to imagine three more interviews -- two on Thursday afternoon and one more Sunday morning.

Oh, and incidentally, I'm not grabbing up all the on-campus interviews. I've already heard back from quite a few of these schools, and the majority aren't flying me out, or at least aren't yet (they've got three they like better but might perhaps take a chance on me if desperate, I guess). And from everything I can see (and from everything my faculty ear-to-the-ground at the APA heard reported from committees I'd interviewed with) my interviews went very well.

So this suggests that, although quite a number of schools found my application attractive, and I didn't bomb my interviews, most of these schools all found at least three other people even more attractive. And I wouldn't be at all surprised that, if a lot of schools looked at me, a lot of schools --- perhaps even more --- looked at the candidates that got the flyouts I didn't. So 20 interviews doesn't sound at all incredulous to me.

Anonymous said...

""come on. be a philosopher.
you can do it...."

I don't understand why you would post something that intends, or appears to intend, to be abusive.

Moreover, being a philosopher isn't a matter of imagining ways a claim could be true."

1) lighten up. abusive? hardly... borderline ad hominen? maybe
snarky? clearly.
but still...abusive? you have a very strange notion of abuse if that counts as abusive.
lighten up

Of course being a philosopher is not about imagining all of the ways a claim could be true, but the post was based on an obviously false premise which comes from information that philosophers have access to (the length of the APA)
hence the comment "be a philosopher' applied to both the logic in the claim and actually being a philosopher and having experience at the APA-
Given that the comment embedded both I thought it was actually clever in a snarky way.

Of course it would have been nicer to say
"your assumptions are wrong in your argument."

point taken that people are overly sensitive when dealing with the market and as a philosopher who has been on the market I know that.
I should have taken such obvious information into consideration and been extra nice to an anonymous person posting on the blog.

Apologies for any hurt feelings.

Oh, and 10:23 it wouldnt shock me if someone is posting false information to try and get search committees to act, I also have no doubt that people did get 20+ interviews.

I also have a hard time imagining any search committees changing their practices based on information gleaned from this blog.

Regardless, the upshot is that those on the market have to wait to hear.

Again, apologies for causing any undo stress or annoyance to those who least deserve it-those on the job market

Anonymous said...


I don't think any department would refrain from offering a fly-out (or job) to its top candidate out of fear that the candidate had a lot of other fly-outs (or offers); after all, she was interested enough to apply, and the department probably does not know her situation well enough to say which job she would prefer. Moreover, I would imagine most candidates would believe this, and thus would see no reason to lie about their interviews.

I think the posters who are claiming to have a lot of interviews are doing so for the benefit of those who don't: to point out that it is quite possible that those who don't will get fly-outs they thought they lost. (Also to explain the phenomenon of departments calling people earlier than expected) Unfortunately, I think, rather than cheering people up, it has the effect of making people anxious, worried, or disappointed -- "if some people have 10 fly-outs, then my 3 fly-outs suddenly seem like bad odds" or "my application must not look as good to the people who chose me as I thought it did." So maybe we should refrain from making too many of these claims.

Tenured Philosophy Girl said...

In response to anon 9:49:

Ad-libbed powerpoint presentations are much more stimulating and impressive if you can pull them off, BUT most people can't and they are painful when they are not successful. Reading a paper is much safer. Get someone you love and trust to give you his/her brutally honest opinion of how good of an ad-libber you are before you give it a whirl on a campus visit. Better yet, turn on your little cell phone's video camera, perform for it a bit, and see what you look like. How often do you say 'um' and 'like'? How clear are you?

I feel strongly that the less polished exciting presentation will serve you better and that the WORST thing you can do is put people to sleep. As I commented on another thread, the Q&A is super-important. If people got bored and their attention wandered during the talk they won't have anything to ask and the Q&A will flop. Almost no one actually tracks tight arguments aurally. All your finely-wrought polish will be lost on people who wave back and forth between listening, wondering if they are going to be able to pick up their kids on time, and thinking about their own work. They need an exciting, clear point that grabs their attention and that they can hang onto. If the argument isn't filled out - all the better - it gives them something to ask about during Q&A (just make sure you can come up with respectable answers!)

One big mistake that job candidates consistently make is underrating how important it is that the people interviewing you/listening to you themselves feel involved and smart. They don't want to just see you performing being smart - they want to come out of the job talk feeling good about their own interaction with you. This isn't petty or vain, necessarily - they are picking a COLLEAGUE and want to pick someone who makes them feel good, stimulated, listened-to, respected, and engaged.

On another thread I also responded to the question about writing samples raised again here by anon 7:00. My advice is different from Prof. J's., a bit. I think it's almost always a bad idea to use your writing sample as your job talk. The search committee presumably read it - why would they want it read at them again? And it really makes you look like a one-trick pony.

Also people - sorry to interrupt the ressentiment-fest but some people really do get 20+ APA interviews and 10+ campus interviews. Really. This was true even in the early 90s when there were no jobs. I was at a Leiterrific grad program (even more Leiterrific at the time) and a healthy chunk of us got those sorts of numbers - though of course many others of us who were totally fabulous didn't get anything remotely like that.

The person who commented that some candidates get 'buzz' and there's a positive feedback effect is definitely right - and there's sure no guarantee that the best people get the buzz.

Anonymous said...

In a super competitive market there will always be some candidates who "have it all" (prestigious PhD, good publications, etc.), and if they're not psychos (and sometimes even if they are) they'll migrate to the top of lots of lists. They can only take 1 job each, though, which is one reason why there is often a second-round of offers for the second best jobs. For financial reasons, departments often prefer to go to the next person on their finalist list rather than fly out more people. So, perhaps the next best situation (other than being one of those 'stars') is to be interviewing against a bunch of stars for a job you really want but that they might not. But I know people who've gotten both kinds of offers -- one where they weren't flown out initially and one where the first person they offered it to turned it down and then it was offered to them. You just gotta hang in there!

Anonymous said...

Check out the last update on the Wiki for Mount Ida College:

"Contact specifying that certain candidates were contacted in error and are not on the short list (1/10)"


Dr. Extemp said...

A wee bit of advice:

1) our placement director (Leiterrific) told us that we shouldn't even think about going on the market UNLESS we had two well-polished papers, one for writing sample, one for job talk.

2) Unless you have a serious problem with public speaking, DO NOT read your paper.

3) If you get a fly-out, just think how horribly unimpressed folks would be if you read your writing sample as your job talk. Yikes!

4) Most fly-out candidates will likely follow 1 & 2, so if you fail to do even that, your chances might start to dwindle rapidly.

5) Powerpoint can also be a distraction, so be careful. Handouts might be a better idea.

wikimonger said...

For those of you who have heard back from depts or are on SCs. Does the wiki list of on campus interviews seem accurate? Or is it missing quite a few places that have already contacted candidates?

Anonymous said...

Someone at a Leiterrific school told me that candidates have had more luck getting hired by them when they present their writing sample.

Prof. J. said...

Tenured Philosophy Girl:
One big mistake that job candidates consistently make is underrating how important it is that the people interviewing you/listening to you themselves feel involved and smart.

That might be the single most important bit of advice you can give or get.

My advice is different from Prof. J's., a bit. I think it's almost always a bad idea to use your writing sample as your job talk. The search committee presumably read it - why would they want it read at them again? And it really makes you look like a one-trick pony.

I don't really disagree, but (i) you did say 'presumably' (lots of members of the audience probably will not have read your writing sample), and (ii) a candidate's writing sample might be a whole lot better than anything else he has; in other words, there are strong reasons to choose a second paper, but they could be outweighed or defeated.

Anonymous said...

wikimonger: i got a rejection letter from a place that is in section ii still. i am assuming that they have in fact contacted their candidates - unless i was just so horrible that they agreed to reject me before they agreed about who they wanted - and therefore that people who got that interview are not updating the wiki. that is some evidence that section iii should be larger than it is. i have been updating the wiki for myself and all the people i know about.

Tenured Philosophy Girl said...

Prof. J:

I agree completely. But, combining, my point, your point, and Dr. Extemp's point #1: People who only have one good thing ready are simply at a serious disadvantage on the job market and there's probably no way of faking your way out of that predicament. Maybe such people should be waiting until next year.

I'm not sure what to make of anon 1:29's leiterrific placement director. Some truly leiterrific places seem to pride themselves on hiring weird people who don't do much but are 'brilliant', and on using peculiarly idiosyncratic standards. Just a hypothesis. Personally I would be wary of generalizing from this one comment, to put it mildly.

Anonymous said...

"Contact specifying that certain candidates were contacted in error and are not on the short list (1/10)"

It's actually worse than that. I got an email saying only that I should call the number below for information updating me on the philosophy search. I called the number and left a message within minutes of leaving the message. So she wasn't answering her phone immediately after sending the email. Then I tried calling again at intervals of 10-20 minutes for the rest of the day. Sometimes it rang once and went to voicemail. Sometimes it rang a number of times and went to voicemail. I never got a living person. This suggests to me that they might actually have sent these short list messages out to a pretty large group, if she was tied up on the phone all day explaining it to them. I still haven't gotten confirmation that I was sent the message erroneously, but I'm assuming that's why I was contacted.

Anonymous said...

With regards to the job talk: is there any discounting for talks one has given previously--for example at one of the APAs? Along similar lines, is it bad form to present a paper that is not your writing sample but is forthcoming in a journal?

Anonymous said...

Also on the job talk: I hear much talk about whether the *paper* is polished. But what if you have a well-polished *presentation*, and know how to answer a lot of questions, etc., you think you're liable to get, but the paper itself isn't polished? In other words, to the more experienced in these matters: what is the correlation between quality of the paper itself and quality of the talk that comes form it?

will philosophize for food said...

"Check out the last update on the Wiki for Mount Ida College"

Yeah, tell me about it. I was the one who got the disappointing news and posted it. Apparently a screw up by the Administrative Assistant in the Office of Human Resources, who sent email(s) to the wrong person(s). And I was really staking my self-worth on that--it being my only other interview.

I got drunk last night.

will philosophize for food said...

"This suggests to me that they might actually have sent these short list messages out to a pretty large group, if she was tied up on the phone all day explaining it to them."

In a kinda sick way, this almost makes me feel better. The Director of HR kinda rushed me off the phone. I thought, at the time, that this might have been a passive-aggressive way of rejecting me. Let's get those who were contacted about this screw up to post dittos on the wiki--I'd like to see the scope of this outrageous error.

Anonymous said...

I finally got through to the human resources director at Mount Ida. They had two lists, an A-list and a B-list. The A-list gets phone interviews. the move to the B-list if the people on the A-list don't work out. The B-list was accidentally sent emails indicating they were on the short list and were getting phone interviews. These people are on the long short list but will not get phone interviews unless they exhaust the A-list from being turned down or not liking the candidates. I didn't get any indication of how many people were involved here, but maybe someone else who has yet to get through will feel courageous enough to ask that.

will philosophize for food said...

Anon 12:37:

Thanks for the update. I had assumed that they had contacted all of the people that applied whom were not on the short-list--in effect giving everyone who applied save a handful false hope. It may only extend to less than a dozen candidates if what you say is true.

Wouldn't be a hoot if all the A-list candidates didn't work out--in effect they'd be stuck contacting people saying: I know we contacted you denying the initial contact, but now you actually are going to get an interview!

BornInTheSixties said...

Just a late note on the subject of whether your job talk can be the same as your writing sample, I'd like to second Tenured Philosophy Girl's advice that this is a very bad idea and has a real danger of making you look like a one-trick pony.

That said, most of the audience at the job talk may not be on the SC, and so will not have read the writing sample, so it can work as a talk provided that you've got lots else to make sure that the "one trick pony" question doesn't become a real concern. A candidate with a number of different publications and/or conference presentations can get away with overlap here in the way that, say, and ABD with great letters but an otherwise blank CV can't.