Friday, January 4, 2008

Who Knows What Could Happen?

Let me get back to thinking about my interviews for a second. Family and friends have been asking me how my interviews went. That's a natural enough thing to ask, right?

But I have no idea what to tell them. Now, that's not because I didn't have very clear reactions to the interviews, because I did. I know which interviews felt good, which ones felt like the conversation was productive, friendly and even (holy fuck!) fun. And I know which ones felt like I was pulling my own teeth out with a pair of rusty tin snips. So just getting basic reactions isn't the problem.

The problem is, I'm totally skeptical about the possibility of reliably inferring anything from those reactions. The conversation was great? Awesome. So the interviewers were cool people, and had that amazing talent that only some of the best philosophers have, where they can take the incoherent mumblings of even the most idiotic drool-machine and massage them into at least a close approximation of interesting philosophy. Or maybe the conversation felt like Victorian-era DIY orthodontistry? Too bad. But maybe the interviewers were throwing everything they had at you, and were actually impressed you managed to hold as much ground as you did. The point is, who the fuck knows?

So people ask me how my interviews went, and I tell them I have no idea. And then they think I'm being a pointlessly evasive asshole, but that's a whole 'nother post.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is my sentiment exactly. I told folks that I will not say that any went well because it means nothing other than that you didn't bomb the interviews. So, it is wait and see.

Anonymous said...

You are on the right track with this post. You really don't know how they went, and you also don't know how strong the connection is between them going well and the possibility of you getting another one.

We have had great interviews with several candidates, but budget concerns kept us to 3 flyouts, even though we could easily have invited a few more. On another occasion, money appeared for a 4th flyout and despite the fact that we only really liked the top 3, we didn't want to turn down free money, so we invited a distant 4th.

You also don't know whether some committee members liked you while others did not, nor whose opinions have the most weight. Maybe none of them really liked you, but they have to fly out at least one candidate who does such and such interdisciplinary field that the administration really wants to enhance. Or they all love you but they know that the rest of the department will never go for someone with the research plans you happen to have.

So, it's probably best to just hang tight and hope for those phone calls.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Now, I'm mostly with you so far as the collective mob-mentality of non-philosophers is concerned...That is, they've no general clue as to how academic postings are really made or lost...However, I can't quite side with you on this particular issue. That is, everything you say about the interview process at the APA could be said about _any_ interview process. Corporate Joe-Big-Nuts interviews Missus M.B.A. and the same rules seem to apply - either Corporate Joe's being an ass to see how the prospect holds up, or Corporate Joe's just a nice enough ol' feller to make the interview entertaining to all involved.

Granted, I agree with you that you can't conclude that you'll get a job offer simply on the basis of the interview itself. Still, I don't think you'd be too far gone if you simply told folks you had some interviews that went well (the "fun" ones) and some that felt like you'd been drenched with gasoline and thrown into an inferno (the "not-so-fun" ones).

Anonymous said...

How about responding with: "I felt my interviews went well, thank you for asking. But academic philosophy is such a fickle market that you never can tell. Every job seems like a long shot with up to hundreds of people applying for the same spot, so I'm staying cautiously optimistic..."

Or: "I don't remember. I got hammered right after and, next thing you know, I'm waking up with some naked philosopher, a couple of lobsters, and a bottle of lube next to me..."

Anonymous said...

The thing is of course, that whether an interview went well ultimately comes down to whether it yields a campus visit. And that depends not on the intrinsic quality of the interview, but on its relative quality to the other interviews conducted for the same position. And since we have no idea how those went, we don't know how well the interviews went until we know if we're going to campus. Me, I had 1 APA interview, and now I have 1 campus visit, so I can safely say that my APA interview went well enough.

Whoknew? said...

Did anyone see the Hume scholar on "What Not To Wear"? She had a Hume t-shirt. Philosophers must dress pretty badly, huh?

Anonymous said...

All I can say is that most of my interviews were with nice people. One of them was not. That was the one that made me feel like shoving my head through a wall afterwards. I have no idea whether I will get a fly out.

A prof who interviewed at APA said...

If you can't judge how they went - you weren't ready to interview.

that guy said...

Just because you get a flyout doesn't mean your interview went well. Maybe everyone was so impressed with your file that they decided to discount your poor interview performance. This actually happens. So you *really* can't tell how the interview went (although what you can tell, eventually, is whether good stuff happened later).

Anonymous said...

If I don't know how my interviews went, then I wasn't ready to interview? Hmmm...interesting generalization. But I think it must be wrong, for it seems plausible that everyone, at least their first time interviewing, won't know how their interviews went. But if this is right then prof interviewing can't be right. Why not? Because if prof interviewing is right, then no one, their first time interviewing, is ready to interview. Let us assume that prof interviewing also meant to imply that if one is not ready to interview, then one shouldn't interview. So no one should have their first interview. But clearly this is absurd! HA! QED. LOL.

Anonymous said...

It's comments like the last one by "A prof who interviewed at APA" that make me realize just how useless some of the advice given in the these comments can be. I mean, WTF?! Why should my ability to read the reactions of 3-6 other eccentric academics in a quite stressful situation be a gauge on my readiness to teach and research in philosophy. I'm not a f-n therapist. The point of this post was that our initial read on the interview had to be treated skeptically given those interviers who are overly aggressive or overly accomodating.

Anonymous said...

oh no, it's 'prof who interviewed at the apa' again.

Is this person a troll? Listen, of course one can be ready to interview yet still not tell how the interviews went. Your failing to recognize this confirms my impression you're at a shitty school.

Anonymous said...

"A prof who"...

I guess the point is not that one can or cannot judge if the interview went well or not, but rather that one cannot judge from the interview if they will get a fly-out or not. You are right that one should know if an interview went well or not because this can indicate whether one needs to radically change his/her approach to interviewing, etc.

Red Forman said...

I've had lots of experience on both sides of interviews, so I'll pass this along for what it's worth.

One way an interview can go well: you explain your positions clearly and effectively, you demonstrate philosophical verve, and you give the interviewers an accurate, positive picture of who you are as a teacher and scholar.

Another way an interview can go well: your performance contributes to your being invited for an on-campus interview.

If you are reasonably astute, you should be able to tell (=have justified beliefs about) whether your interview went well in the first sense. (Also, you can learn from poor performances what you need to work on.)

It is prudent to remain unsure about whether interviews will result in invitations to campus. For one thing, even if you did interview well, in the first sense, other factors may override your good performance, as several contributors to this blog have noted.

A problem I faced in being interviewed was is that I frequently did a much better job--in the first sense--in interviews for positions I did not particularly want or that I figured I would not get than I did in interviewing for positions that I wanted more.

Question for further discussion: just what constitutes a "good job"? A position in a department that has a highly-regarded graduate program may afford you more professional respect and recognition, but will it further all of your goals as a philosopher and as a person?

Anonymous said...

In my experience, I got fly-outs after the interviews that I thought went the worst. Go figure.

Prof. J. said...

You Anons are rightly skeptical of the apothegm from 'prof who interviewed at the apa'. I'm a full prof at a leiterexcellent department, and I'm sure I'd have trouble guessing from an interview who would be flown out to campus.

This might be a good time to add that campus visits are quite different from convention interviews -- in all sorts of ways, obviously, but I'm thinking of the power relations. When you're invited out, there's a good chance that somebody there wants to hire you, and might be 'selling' you to her colleagues. In any case, the searchers plainly like you a lot. They're apt to be more solicitous, and if they aren't dumb they'll be starting to work on convincing you that their place would be a great place to work. It's apt to be a much cheerier event for candidates than the convention is.

tt assprof said...

Because there are so many variables involved, I think there's usually no good answer to whether the interview went well. And by "good answer," I mean relevant to whether you will eventually get the job.

First, you have to keep in mind. Almost always there is already a tacit rank of candidates prior to the interview. I think most of you know that. So, even if it went well, it's no guarantee that you've moved up the chain--since everyone's might have gone well. And of course, short of their telling you at some point, there's no way for you to know your original position.

Second, the SC members may just be congenial, laid back and, otherwise, sympathetic people. In which case, all interviews--including yours--may *appear* to have gone well.

And, because the SC members are unseasoned, and they themselves can't distinguish appearance from fact, they'll just fall back on their original tacit list.

Third, for whatever reason, some SC members may think some reaction to stressful situations is an indication of philosophical worth or personal character. The variable there is what it is they think that some reaction is.

For example, "I liked how aggressive she was when pressed--she has integrity, and is willing to fight for her belief;" "I don't like how aggressive she was when pressed--she's dogmatic and inflexible." See what I'm saying?

In general, I think thinking about how your interview went is one of the many symptoms of PASD, post-APA-stress-disorder. And like all symptoms, it may be a cause for some further effect, but it ain't a reason by itself.

Finally: you go, you have no idea, you get a job out of it. Were you ready?

Anonymous said...

Not to thread-jack you or anything: but _when_ ought one to expect to hear from interviewing schools? Is "immediately" too early, or ought one to expect to hear from prospective schools even into late January and/or early February?

Basically, when can I ease my anxiety by the stark realization that I'm not getting flown to campus?

Inquiring Minds Want to Know said...

There's been a lot of chatter about what makes for a good APA interview (and whether you'd know it even if you had one).

Anyone (who knows) care to say something about what constitutes a good performance for a campus visit? What oughtn't one do? What questions should one ask? How ought one think about meetings with administrators (e.g. deans, provosts)? How important is the grad student involvement?

Anonymous said...

i'm also eager for any comments about campus visits. what are you supposed to say to the dean? what kind of meetings can you expect to have? any reflections from those who've been through it will be appreciated.

Anonymous said...

To "a prof who interviewed" as well as her/his critic at 6:06 am:

I too interviewed students at the APA and think there is something to the claim "If you can't judge how they went - you weren't ready to interview." Here's another way to read that claim:

If you don't know by now that the APA interviewing process is fraught with the F.U.D. (fear, uncertainty, doubt) described in this blog, then you hadn't read up on what to expect. To paraphrase Socrates/Plato, you should know that you really don't know how your interviews went. If you expect to have a clear idea of how your interviews went, then you weren't ready to interview, having not read this blog and various other sources regarding academic hiring, particularly in philosophy which, if you believe other posts on this blog, is packed full of social misfits and therefore are hard to read anyway.

To the critic at 6:06 am: Comments like yours seems to be exactly the kind that need to be censored here. You're statement that "you're at a shitty school" confirms that you are ignorant as well as disrespectful to the academic profession. I too am at a LeiterExcellent school, and no one I know would ever say that X is a "shitty school" and perhaps even admit that "shitty schools" (with graduate philosophy programs) exist. That's simply not the attitude one must or should have to be successful in academia, especially at an "elite" institution. Anyway, your comment betrays a hangup and/or insecurity you have about yourself. I'd be willing to bet that you won't be successful in landing the job you want.

I see that this blog is now moderated, so perhaps our hosts will ban comments such as 6:06 am's in the future, if they really intend to control content on this blog.

To other job applicants: As someone on a SC for over a decade, 6:06 am is an instructive case on what kind of person you should NOT be. We are not fooled by people who act differently than they are; a truly nice person stands out. So I'd encourage all of you to continue being the best person you can be. Practicing being a nice person -- volunteering, showing compassion, etc. -- then becomes an automatic habit, turning you into a nice person. Ultimately, this is what SC's want, in order of importance: someone pleasant to work with AND who will help boost the reputation of the department. I don't know any other senior philosophers who would hire some would-be superstar who's also a jackass.

Anonymous said...

I don't get it. Are you suggesting that there aren't such things as shitty schools? Or just that it is mean to say this out loud?

Anon @ 1:07 pm again said...

Well, if you believe that you can get a decent education anywhere, and that it's really about how much effort the _student_ puts into her or his learning, then, yes, I'm saying that there are no "shitty schools." There may be some underfunded schools who can't attract the kind of talent that, say, an Ivy League can; but that's hardly the school's fault (exception: mismanaged schools and/or corrupt admistrators that take a school down), and they still serve some segment of students, e.g., working students who attend evening classes at a community college.

Further, I had qualified my statement that there are no shitty schools _that have a grad program in philosophy_ in case you want to say that there are some "shitty schools" out there in general (and of course that may be a defensible argument, especially with non-accredited schools). But if a school has the funding and good sense to have a grad program in philosophy, then it can't be half bad.

I know plenty of philosophers who went to a "tier-two or -three" undergraduate school (for qualification reasons, not for lack of money) who then excelled in their studies and made it to a "tier-one" graduate program. And I know colleagues who went to a "tier-two or -three" graduate program who excelled in their studies and then were hired by a LeiterExcellent school (granted not many, given how academic hiring relies a great deal on pedigree, which is not an issue I will address here). And I know students who received their PhD from a top program BUT WERE REJECTED by either a "tier-one or -two" program.

What all this means is that, again, it's really the effort invested by the student, along with some natural talent, that makes the philosopher. So those of you in "tier-two or -three" PhD programs, please don't despair; you can make it!

Sidebar: Though I only recently heard about this blog, it was been a favorite of mine since I discovered it. And while I appreciate all the candor here, remember that practice leads to habit which can lead to a true change in the person; so if you feel that you need to interject profanities in your writing, that's (1) typically viewed as a lazy way to write and (2) not conducive to your development as a "nice" person and someone SCs would want to hire. It's also bad karma, though profanities can be warranted when the occasion calls for it.

Just some friendly advice from one employer to the next generation of applications. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

6.06 a.m. here.

You're right I was a little childish with that comment. There are weak schools, and one way of putting this is by calling them shitty. But my doing so was really just a cheap way of striking out at the 'prof who interviewed' for what I took to be his or her troll-like comments. You may have missed them in the other thread -- a mix of pontification and abuse.

So: Apologies for the 'shitty schools' comment.

But: Prof who interviewed: You still came across as pompous and abusive. What gives you authority about what kinds of clothes are or are not in bad taste, why should we accept your comment that the class card won't work here, etc.?

Anon @ 1:07 pm again said...

To 6:06 am blogger:

Good apology. That takes courage and shows class, so there's hope for you yet. I know it's _very_ difficult to be on the job market, especially when it feels like all your eggs are in that one career-path basket, but trust in yourself. Not the most practical or helpful advice, but keeping a positive (or at least not negative) attitude really does help. Best of luck, everyone.

P.S. If you think it's bad now, the market was probably a lot worse when I was fresh out of grad school. Also, not to dissuade anyone from a profession in philosophy, but for those who like to plan ahead, I would recommend looking into a backup plan in case you don't have any luck on the market this year. Find a job that you can tolerate, that might be an alternative career, and that will give you enough free time to work on some publications you can show off next year.

Anon @ 1:07 pm again said...

P.P.S. As philosophers, we're supposed to be reasonable and rationale. In short, we're supposed to be better than the rest.

If philosophy can give us anything, it is _perspective_ (or "philosophy", for a lack of a better word) that is important to living a good, meaningful life. If, for instance, studying ethics doesn't or can't make us into moral individuals, or if studying philosophy of religion doesn't give us grace in the face of death, then perhaps criticisms about philosophy and its value are more on target that we'd like to admit.

But, like most other professional philosophers, I think that philosophy is one of the most important studies to undertake. So I have faith in philosophers to behave well and show others how to live the examined life. If not us, who else is there??

Anonymous said...

You can get a decent education anywhere. But some schools are shitty. I see no contradiction here.

In fact, it seems absurd to deny that some schools are shitty, unless non-shittiness is stretched to be incompatible with any of various virtues, like providing an education to disadvantaged schools.

anon @ 5:07 pm again said...

To 5:22 pm:

Here, a philosopher would now ask you to define your terms: What makes a school "shitty"? Can you name 3-5 such schools? Even one?? I don't think I can, and I like to think that I'm familiar with many schools across the US, small and large, prestigious and not.

And yes, I do see a contradiction between:

(1) You can get a decent education anywhere; and
(2) Some schools are shitty.

The reason is that the quality of being "shitty" seems at minimum to imply that it does not provide a decent education; it does not fulfill its fundamental mission to educate well.

Anonymous said...

8:03 p.m.

No, I can't define 'shitty school'. But the task doesn't seem any harder than it would be to define the great bulk of concepts we employ every day. (For instance, can you define 'philosopher'?)

>Can you name 3-5 such schools?

Sure, but it would be in poor taste to name them.

>Even one?? I don't think I can, >and I like to think that I'm >familiar with many schools across >the US, small and large,
>prestigious and not.

Well, maybe we have different standards.

>And yes, I do see a contradiction >between:

>(1) You can get a decent >education anywhere; and
>(2) Some schools are shitty.

>The reason is that the quality of >being "shitty" seems at minimum >to imply that it does not provide >a decent education; it does not >fulfill its fundamental mission >to educate well.

I doubt that 'failing to provide a decent education' is a necessary condition of shitty. For instance, imagine a school that 'provides a decent education', but tortures students. That would be, I think, a shitty school. But one that provides a decent education. Hence there is no contradiction between 'providing a decent education' and 'being shitty'.

But that's really beside the point, since the fact that a person _can_ get a decent education at school X does not entail that school X provides a decent education. Suppose 1 in 1000 students at school X gets a decent education, despite their hard work, etc. Then one can get a decent education at school X, but school X should hardly be thought to provide a decent education. Isn't this obvious?

Anonymous said...

To 9:12 pm:

Since when was it bad taste to post anything on this blog? That's what the veil of anonymity is for. Not to goad you, but I suspect that you can't name said schools and give plausible reasons for categorizing them as such.

And yes, in theory, there might be a "shitty" school, but in the real world (in the US), there aren't any schools engaged in torture or a 1:1000 graduation/education rate. We have safeguards, and the invisible hand of the marketplace, to prevent those schools from continuing on, if they ever head down that path.

Again, the fundamental disagreement here may turn on how you're defining "shitty school." Your definition, if you would only give it, sounds like it could be overly broad to be plausible.

Anyway, this is the last thing I will say on this. Time to choose our applicants for an in-campus visit, which is not as scientific a process as one might think or hope...