Saturday, February 9, 2008

Hold the Line, Love Isn't Always on Time, Oh Oh Oh

In response to my last post, Anon. 4:59 says,
This is just false about VAP positions and lectureships; there is no other way to spin it. . . . If the CHE author is being sincere, I don't understand at all what his department SC is doing, unless it's just an accident and coincidence that the finalists ended up that way. But then the author shouldn't draw the general and sweeping conclusions that he does. If the author is not sincere, or if he is just being careless and not thinking, then that's pretty awful, given the demoralizing force of his message. But it's just not true.
The claim at issue is whether doing one-years after you finish your can negatively affect your odds of getting a tenure-track job. I don't want to pick on Anon. 4:59, because I think his or her reaction's both common and pretty natural. But I also think it's wrong.

Of course you can offset the negative influence by getting some teaching experience, getting into a more structured groove working or whatever. But you're still offsetting negative influences. Finding a more structured routine for working is the only upside of having to teach three or more times as much as you'd have taught as a grad student. And most of those classes are probably going to be new preps, since grad students usually don't get to teach upper level classes. You're also going have to start worrying about picking up the taint of loserdom. No, not that kind of taint. The taint some search committees see on candidates who've been kicking around from one-year to one-year for a few years. "No one else thought this guy was worth hiring, so do we need to look all that closely at him?" Again, that's not all search committees, and those negatives can hopefully be offset. But it is some search committees, even if we wish it weren't, and we're still dealing with negatives.


Anonymous said...

There certainly are *some* search committees like that, and I expect that many, if not most, of the top-ranked Ph.D. programs fall into that group, but those are still a small fraction of the overall market, and for most schools the extra teaching experience will matter.

The "there must be something wrong with them" worry comes more often with candidates coming out of the top 10 schools, since if you've been out 5 years from a school with a high placement rate, then there is an assumption that something must be wrong. If, as most of us are, you are coming out of a school that places, say, less than half of their students in TT positions, the fact that you haven't gotten one right away won't raise any red flags about you.

Philosophy Prof said...

Well... what PGS says is false, and there is no other way to spin that either. :)

First, how could PGS have any very informed opinion about these matters?

Second (and as has already been noted so many times on this blog), the fact is just that the job market in the humanities has now become more like the market in the sciences, where a person is usually going to do some kind of post-doc thing before landing a tt-job. There may be some lag here, where graduate students and even their advisors don't want to concede this fact, perhaps because there is some benefit in being in denial, but a fact it is. More precisely, it's a fact for almost everyone outside of a top-10 department, and for many who are in top-10 departments.

Anonymous said...

I think your reasoning is flawed,in part because of a profound naivete about how the business of a university works. If you are looking for a job at a top 10 PhD program, this sort of reasoning might hold. But most schools aren't like these. There are many many departments with strong faculty, decent but very local grad programs, and whose place in the university budgetary universe depends on their service teaching. And the key to maintaining service teaching numbers is GOOD teaching. If you are fortunate enough to hire in such a department you ideally want (a) to hire a good researcher in the appropriate subfield and (b) someone who you know can come in and hit the ground running. The transition from grad school to teaching full time is a hard one. Someone who has already been teaching, either as a VAP or in another tenure track position, has already made it through that transition. The hiring department can get evidence that this person has what it takes to succeed. The key as a VAP is to get stuff out and published, so that you can show that you've mastered the art of juggling teaching and research. And, I think someone else mentioned this, letters from people not on your committee or in your home department go a very long way with SCs.

Anonymous said...

At the schools I've interviewed with this year (none Leiter-ranked, but none of them shabby), at least half of their current junior faculty did not start right into a tenure-track job. And of the few people that I happen to know I am in competition with for those same jobs, all of them have been out of grad school for at least a year.

Yes, there is a bias in favor of snagging "the next hot commodity," and that bias favors ABDs from top programs with really strong letters and/or publication records. But as Anon 2:09p says, that affects only a small fraction of the jobs.

What can hurt you is being out of grad school for a while with no publications, or having bounced from one-year to one-year. But a three-year post-doc in the same place, or a single one-year VAP, does not seem to hurt you, at least as far as I can see. I think it can even help, insofar as, ceteris paribus, most schools prefer the candidate with Ph.D. in hand.

m.a. program faculty member said...

Well, look. If your claim is that if you have two candidates who look absolutely the same in every other way, but candidate (A) is a freshly-minted Ph.D. while candidate (B) has been VAPing for 2 or 3 years, (A) will look better than (B), I'll grant you that. But that's the wrong comparison to make.

The relevant comparison to make is between time-slice of PGS at time t0, who is in situation (A)--or is maybe even just ABD--and time-slice of PGS at time t1 in situation (B).

And unless you've been totally dicking around, not all else will be equal between (A) and (B) in that case. (B) should definitely look better than (A) wrt teaching experience. (B) should look better than (A) wrt publications--at least he might have demonstrated an ability to get stuff into decent journals, which is a big deal--although if (B) hasn't gotten any pubs., he'll look a lot worse than (A). At a couple of (misguided) places, prejudice against 'stale' people might make (A) look more exciting than (B), but so it goes.

I'll add that the thought "there must be something wrong with them" does sometimes occur, but it's still moronic. Anybody with his head screwed on straight should be aware of the amount of luck operative in the job market.

apriori said...

Look at what you get when you take a VAP.

(i) Experience,
(ii) Time to publish,
(iii) External Letters,
(iv) New friends, and
(v) More money than you made as a grad student.

Now, think about this. You can use the teaching experience, the time to get comments back on your papers and more money. But what is even more important is the external letter you will get about your teaching from the chair of the new department that will do an eval for you b/c they have to to keep you if you get a second year.

External letters like this can say things about you as a potential faculty member that your adviser cannot b/c you are a grad student to him/her. You are a faculty member to the chair of your new department. You get to start acting like one.

The one thing that you need to know is that you have to start acting the part and sometimes that means doing it as a VAP.

If you give up and try to publish and don't teach then you don't get new letters, you don't get more teaching evals and experience, and you don't get those new contacts and friends, and you don't get that money.

I know how important a VAP is. It is what helped me land a TT job. Why, b/c I acted like a faculty member when I got there and it helped when I got that external letter that didn't care about placement on the department website.

Sometimes departments have money to help you travel to APAs if you get papers in. It all depends on how much like a faculty member you act and how much support a department gives it *faculty* which you would be as a VAP.

The point is: VAPs can do a lot of good for you if you act like a faculty member instead of a grad student that teaches two additional classes.

mr. zero said...

a priori,

yeah, but don't you start applying again within a couple months of arriving at the VAP? How can you get a good teaching letter out of it in such a short time?

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

m.a. program faculty member & philosophy prof --

If there weren't (ceteris paribus) negatives to be offset by taking a few VAPs, why would you, m.a. program faculty member, advise someone as you did in a recent thread to explain that in her cover letter she's taken VAPs only for personal reasons, and not because she's repeatedly struck out on the TT job market? What is there to explain, if (almost) no search committees will hold it against her that she hasn't got a TT job?

Further, we're not just talking about a few research-oriented departments. We are talking about those. But we're also talking about departments at S(elective)LACs. Personally, I am seeing this happen right now at a SLAC in my region doing a search I applied for. It's also a fairly common sentiment expressed by people writing in places such as the Chronicle. That piece I quoted a couple of days ago was by no means anomalous.

Punchline: it's not at all uncommon for many departments to interview and fly out mostly ABDs. And they're not doing that because they don't get applications from people who've been out for a few years.

Philosophy prof, I understand how norms are changing in the humanities with respect to post-doc-like VAP positions. I also (I think) understand the tendency of kind-hearted philosophy profs to overstate just how universal those norms are when they're talking to people looking at moving from one-year to one-year for a few years. But I think, when you seriously ask yourself how many searches at research universities and SLACs end up looking at mostly ABDs, you can't help but conclude that those VAPing norms just aren't all that universal yet.

Ultimately here, I'm just reacting to what I see and read elsewhere. Views like those expressed by the author of that Chron piece can't just be waived away because we don't like them. They're not that uncommon, and they're out there, for better or (more likely) for worse.

Anonymous said...

"yeah, but don't you start applying again within a couple months of arriving at the VAP? How can you get a good teaching letter out of it in such a short time?"

If you've got a VAP, you should ask the chair of the department if you can get a teaching letter, which they should be able to provide based on sitting in on at least one of your classes in the Fall. Even if they are based on just one class visit, those teaching letters tend to count for more than most teaching letters coming out of your home institution, since the chair of your new department will be viewed as more honest and impartial than anyone writing from your home institution.

Anon 4:09 said...

PGS, if you really think a VAP will hurt you that much, why not just avoid graduating? If you can't get funding next year from your home department, why not scale back your enrollment to the bare minimum, whatever that is at your institution, so as to make a year's tuition manageable, and get a job doing something else? Substitute teach in local high schools, sign up with a few temp agencies, find a job at a coffee shop, get a receptionist job in some office at your university, etc. Just put off defending, and then you'll still be ABD on the market next year, and I don't think you'd really have to list the intermediate work-for-food that you did on your CV.

Personally I think you'd be better off with a VAP somewhere. Maybe the Leiter 50 will look down on you for having had a VAP, maybe even S(elective)LACs. But are those are the only jobs you'd take? Outside of those sets of schools, I suspect the bias is against VAPs who don't look any better publication-wise than the ABDs. But this is a bias against being-out-without-pubs, not a bias against VAPs as such. (The same bias holds against folks already in TT positions who are trying to move.) Now, in the VAP case this bias might be unreasonable, because it's hard to eke out time for writing when you're relocating and teaching (say) 4/4. But what everyone is saying is that if you publish while teaching at a VAP, you will look that much better to hiring departments than you do now. Doesn't it seem that way to you?

Anonymous said...

My two cents as a VAP who's looking for work (because he couldn't get a TT job this past season--yet again):

First, I really doubt that you're looked down upon by committees if after grad school you're a VAP for a year. It's just too common to be taint-producing.

The trouble is that teaching is always hardest your first year--even if, as I did, you have a lot of teaching experience as a grad student. And so when September rolls around, and you've just started to settle into your VAP position, you are neck deep in teaching and instead of getting research done, you must again dedicate all of your free time to the job market. Moreover, you didn't get much research done over the summer, since (i) you were moving and (ii) you were preparing for your classes, which you are likely teaching for the first time (even if it's an area that you know). So likely you're not a very different candidate from the one that you were last fall, save that you now have a little teaching under your belt.

Does that count for much? Not in my experience. What distinguishes you is your research, and that will take a hit. And if you must take another VAP position the next year, well, you've got to move again, and you may have to teach new material. And by now, well, the worry of the "taint" seems more real.

No question: if you can get a TT job your first time out, grab it. Or at least grab a temporary position that lasts for more than a year.

tenured philosophy girl said...

I've weighed on this before, but here is a more specific comment. I went to very-top Leiter department for grad school. Our department hired 5 junior tenure-track people during my time there. 4 out of the 5 were hired from VAPs.

Meanwhile, in my year, 5 students (I think) were on the market, full-swing, for the first time. Of these, 4 took VAPs. All 5 of us are now tenured, and 3 of the 5 are in Leiterish programs.

This was in the mid-90s but I seriously don't think there's an interesting difference. If anything, with the rise of postdocs, it has become more rather than less routine to do something before the tenure track.

PGS, I think you're great, and I also think you are just wrong on this.

apriori said...

To Mr. Zero,

Yes, you start applying soon after you get there. This is why when you get there you talk to the chair and ask her to sit in on a few of your classes.

You might even ask some of the other members of the department to sit in on a class or two so that you can the standard department visitation report to put in your teaching portfolio.

The point is that if you want a job as a philosopher, then you might have to work for it a bit. Ph.D. aren't given out as party favors and jobs even less so.

Make yourself a deserving philosopher by acting like a deserving one. That means teaching well, writing, going to conferences and the like.

The one thing that I don't think most grad students understand is that being a professor is so much more work than being a graduate student. For example:

If you get a VAP, then you will have to teach and all that. But you will have no advising or other service work to do. Don't think for a minute that this stuff doesn't take up a bunch of time. And the more pedestrian your school, the more of that crap there is to do.

So, if you can make it from the relative ease of grad student life to VAP with no service work and be productive, then you are more than two thirds the way to being a real faculty member on the TT.

But if you are a lazy, self obsessed, feel bad for yourself VAP, then you won't go anywhere.

Don't think of a VAP as something that is the end of your life. The VAPs that are disappointed with them usually have them for longer. Those that use them to their advantages go on to get TT jobs.

At least this is my experience after spending two years as a VAP and now having served on two search committees.

If you spend one to three years as a VAP and you don't look better than most ABDs, then you should quit the profession. No hiring committee wants to be the efficient cause of someone getting done. So, having Ph.D. in hand is really important.

And to PGS, the advice from philosophers that have been on philosophy search committees is better evidence than some English prof on the Chronicle. You want a philosophy job, not job in an English department.

Anonymous said...

Two things to remember are that each SC is different and that the market is essentially irrational. Undoubtedly some SC's will view a chain of VAPs negatively, but others will appreciate the experience you have and the Ph.D. in hand.

In fact, several of the ads for Jr positions claimed that they required a couple years of experience. People currently in TT jobs are probably preferred for such positions, but someone with VAPs and good publications should be just as competitive. And these jobs will NOT go to the latest hot shot who is ABD out of a top school (unless the ad is lying).

One advantage that the VAPs should give you is that you should gain teaching experience in a broader number of topics, which should enable you to apply to more jobs. You can claim more AOCs realistically, and in your cover letters you can say, "I can teach classes in x, y, & z, since I've already taught them during my VAP."

I think the VAPs will only hurt you if you fail to publish in decent journals. But since you've just finished your dissertation, you should be able to develop a couple sections of it into viable articles. You should also go through all your old seminar papers to look for anything that might be upgraded into a viable article. Since you aren't researching topics from scratch, you should be able to put together some decent work without too much trouble.

Now, here's the bad news. If you can't put together a couple of articles during a couple years at VAPs, then the SC will overlook you. It isn't b/c you didn't land a TT, it is b/c you've already demonstrated that you can't teach a 3/3 or a 4/4 and publish at the same time. If you can't accomplish that at a VAP, why should they expect you to accomplish it at a TT job? OK, I agree that somethings about VAPs may make it a little harder to publish... moving from place to place, prepping new courses, etc. But still, the best way to prove to schools that you can teach well and produce decent research is to have a record of teaching well and producing decent research.

So VAPs can help or hurt, but they are hardly the vocational graveyard some people seem to think they are. Good luck and remember, you can publish yourself out of anywhere!

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

People --

I guess I should start off by saying I hear what people are saying, I've heard it from other people, and I get the ways in which a VAP can help a candidate. (And I'm particularly attuned to the ways I think I need a couple of years of serious teaching to make myself look like a better fit for the jobs I'm applying for in certain ways. But that's possibly not a generalizable point, but just one that applies to people, like me, who have research programs that a lot of people would consider obscure.)

But there's a kind of schizophrenia about how VAPs get talked about. On the one hand, people say what all ya'll are saying. And that's great. That's what people should say. But on the other, people--sometimes the very same people--also say the things I've been pointing to.


(1) A few days ago, someone left a comment here that said:

Regarding VAPs: I'm searching for one right now, but not because I was otherwise on the market. I could have been, but I have some partner issues to consider (like his happiness as well--crazy, I know). That said, I imagine that I'll go on the market in a few years for a tt job--Is there any way to mention this down the road without sounding like, "Unlike those others who applied and didn't get shit and who ended up VAPing for some years, I didn't even try the market for other reasons, so consider me as a newbie potential hotshit now?"

m.a. program faculty member responded with this (entirely appropriate, it seems to me) advice:

Re: not seeking a TT job for several years b/c of personal reasons (anon 12:34 PM).

Yes, I'd try to bring this to the attention of search committees, as some SC members may otherwise hold it against you. Probably the best way to do so is to mention it briefly in your cover letter, with something like the following:

"I received my Ph.D. from Square State U in 2008. Since then, I have elected for personal reasons to seek only local and temporary positions, so this is my first year to conduct a nationwide search for a tenure-track position."

Most folks will see this and immediately think "two-body problem," so as long as you don't mind folks thinking that, a brief statement like the above should be enough to signal to SCs what's up.

"What's up." I.e., that, as the original commenter put it, "Unlike those others who applied and didn't get shit and who ended up VAPing for some years, I didn't even try the market for other reasons, so consider me as a newbie potential hotshit now?"

(2) this comment from the Chron forums that says, because VAPS are hired for the teaching chops not their research chops, "There's [CP] an assumption that anyone in a VAP position is not doing the quality of research that they'd want in a TT person."

(3) The orginal Chron piece I linked to in my post a few days ago.

Now, to be clear, these three examples of the way people talk about VAPs are just the ones I happened to read in a single day--i.e., whatever day it was I posted that first post. These attitudes are common. If they weren't, they'd be harder to find.

To repeat, I'm not denying that people also say different, contradictory things about VAPs. They do. But it's really, really easy to find all kinds of examples of people talking in ways that reveal attitudes like the ones I'm pointing to. Like I said before, those are data points that can't just be waived away.

Newark Wilder said...

Some random questions about VAPs and postdocs (maybe these are stupid questions, I'm really in the dark here):

What looks better to SCs: a VAP or a postdoc?

Say that you have a choice between taking a VAP and a postdoc; which one would be better to take? Maybe if teaching experience is what you need, a VAP would be better? Then again, many postdocs teach now.

How important is the quality of the VAP? If you take a VAP at an undistinguished school, would that count against you? Would it be better to just not take the VAP in the first place?

Anonymous said...

I hate to open with this but here goes: you are wrong PGS.

As someone who has been on four search committees in the last seven years at two different universities (one with an MA program, one strictly undergrad teaching) I can say that one year jobs are assets, not liabilities.

When we saw someone coming out of grad school with no one year jobs, we would wonder whether they had enough teaching experience. Never mind that they taught at their PH.D. granting institution, for the caliber of student you get there and the types of classes you are expected to teach there can be very different from what we were looking for. We would ask of such a candidate, "Yes, but can they teach *our* kind of student?"

There is, of course, a limit to this. If you have 10 one year jobs, none of them renewed, then we might wonder what is going on with you. But 2, 3, even 4 are not so bad. Recall what Ben Bradely said in an earlier post about how got his job at a ranked Ph.D. program?

m.a. program faculty member said...

Hey PGS.

I don't have a lot to add to the excellent and detailed comments above. But since my earlier comment on another thread was brought up here, let me throw in an additional $.02.

Here's what I think about VAPs. For most people, they should be in a position position overall to get a TT job after VAPing for a year or two as opposed to being an fresh PhD (or *especially* an ABD). That's because VAPing gives you (a) the sort of teaching experience many places value, and (b) the chance to build up a publication record.

That said, it's also true that some SC members will (wrongly, in my opinion) be suspicious of folks who have been out for several years without a TT job, which is why I gave the advice I did. (But note that even after VAPing for a long time, people still manage to get TT jobs, as some of the personal stories in past thread show.)

So VAPing is not an unalloyed good. And obviously it's better to grab a TT job ASAP. But, on balance, I still think that most people are going to be in better job-market shape after a little VAPing. And so, I think that a few of your past posts are off-base.

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

m.a. pfm --

Fair enough. The suspicion some people have of candidates who've been out for a few years is part of what I'm talking about.

More courses, and multiple new preps is another thing I'm talking about. (In my case, I'd better be teaching new preps, because (I suspect) part of my problem on the market is my total lack of experience teaching anything even in the neighborhood of any of my AOSs and AOCs (except for the AOC I claim simply because I've taught the course a couple of times, even though it's totally unrelated to any of my interests).) I need to do the work of all those new preps, and I need to do it precisely because it'll help me on the market. But at the same time, I know if I'm teaching two or three new preps and getting ready for the next year's market, what research am I going to be doing in the fall? Not much, if any. And then there's the spring. So that's a total of five or six months of year where I'm not getting papers in the pipeline. And that's a scary, discouraging thought

Anonymous said...

Let me chime in with the observation that my department tends to favor people who have done VAPs for several years (and tenure-denials) *over* ABDs. When you get used to evaluating applicants who got their degrees 5-10 years ago, it's hard to get excited about the usually very inchoate dissertation projects of the young'uns who haven't finished.

I speak entirely from a research perspective (which is basically all we care about). The best way to get hired in my department is to have a project that has matured in ways that only the rare ABD can achieve.

newark wilder said...

"But at the same time, I know if I'm teaching two or three new preps and getting ready for the next year's market, what research am I going to be doing in the fall? Not much, if any. And then there's the spring. So that's a total of five or six months of year where I'm not getting papers in the pipeline. And that's a scary, discouraging thought"

I worry about this too (if I end up in a VAP). I am just going to try to get parts of my dissertation published; I don't see new research happening during a VAP (while I'm trying to teach a full load for the first time).

Another worrisome factor is the amount of time it takes to get a paper published. It often takes over six months for a decision from a journal, and even then the best you might get is a revise and resubmit (so tack on more time). The next big JFP is about 8 months away. The math here (as far as next years jobs go) isn't favorable.

Prof. J. said...

Newark Wilder:
A postdoc looks better. And in general, it is also a better job, unless you need to beef up the teaching part of your cv.

And I think the quality of the VAP matters a lot. I don't say you should just turn down an 'undistinguished' VAP -- that depends on what your alternatives are, whether you need the money, and other factors -- but it definitely matters whether it's a Second Tier State VAP or a Awesome-Ivy-Like VAP.

Newly tenured prof said...


Your concerns about publishing while doing new preps is legitimate. And I don't want to be the voice of doom and gloom here, but my experience was that this concern does not go away once you get a TT job. In fact, it can significantly increase.

My VAP had me teaching intro courses I had taught before, and although I was teaching 3 classes instead of the 1 I taught as a grad student, I was still able to get a few papers out while VAPing. But when I started my TT job, I was expected to develop new courses and help shape our major. I had less time to publish than ever, and there was added pressure now because no publications would mean no tenure.

This is one reason my department prefers people who have VAped in the past--we can judge whether they were able to be productive in the kind of conditions they will be facing in their new job. ABD's and new Ph.D.s with no VAP experience have not had to remain productive with the increase in work, and so are untested.

Mr. Zero said...

a priori and anon 10:01,

Thanks for answering my question. I guess I could have reasoned that one through if I'd wanted, but I appreciate the helpful responses.

a priori,

I don't think that the worried young'uns (I speak mainly for myself, but based on PGS's remarks, I feel safe including him) are worried that VAPs in themselves are bad. What we're worried about is (a) having time to do research at a VAP within the very real time constraints, what with all the new prepping, etc, and having to have some new research to show off almost immediately; (b) any stigma that might surround VAPs anyway; (c) having to move around the country a lot, which is time-consuming, expensive, and a huge pain in the ass.

I certainly don't think being a professor will be easier than grad school. I am aware that there is more teaching involved, and committee work. But you've also got substantially more time before you have to prove you can get results. Most people come up for tenure after what, 7 years? So even if you focus on teaching a bunch of new courses for your first year, you've got six more to prove your research mettle. Not so in a VAP. You've got something like 2 months to do both before you're back out on the market.

anon 9:05:

Is that a typical attitude concerning tenure denials? Not that I'm anticipating it, but I know a couple of people who've been denied tenure, and for each it was the end of his academic career.

Anonymous said...

Also, consider the fact that many depts are looking to hire a colleague, not a grad student. When we are ABD we are more like a grad student than a colleague. Having been a VAP for a year or two turns many of us into a colleague, whether we realize it or not.

We sound more mature because we are more mature, and many programs value that. We have a better command of our research because we've actually finished the dissertation and had time to reflect on its significance, and that can make a real difference in interview situations. We can actually talk meaningfully about teaching because we now have a lot of experience.

I think as a general rule candidates aren't very good at bullshitting, certainly at the on campus stage - its usually pretty clear who knows what they're talking about, both in teaching and research, and who is pretending to know what they're talking about.

Anonymous said...

The above comment notes that people with TT jobs have longer to prove themselves than people with VAPs who have to prove themselves in the next job market. Of course this is true. I was wondering, however, about the "renewals" you have to undergo pre-tenure in TTs. I know that at some places you are evaluated for a renewal in the spring of the 2nd year. Does anyone know what it takes to pass these things? Do you already have to have a bunch of publications out? How often do people not pass their pre-tenure renewals? Any and all reflections will be appreciated.

akratic Irishman said...

Here is my experience, for what it's worth.

I got my PhD from a top 5 Leiter institution.

My first time on the market (ABD) I only had one campus visit for a TT job (no APA interviews; the campus visit was at a Canadian school that didn't interview at the APA). It was a disaster. I clearly went on the market too early

Since then, I've had two non-TT jobs. Both were 3-year contracts, both at good schools (one a teaching post-doc at a Leiterrific school). I'm in the final year of the second job now.

So I'm 5.5 years out, from a top-5 U.S. PhD program, and with two non-TT jobs under my belt. I also have managed to get a couple of decent publications (although not as many as I would have liked).

This year I went on the market again, and it was my best effort yet (although certainly not amazing).

I had two campus visits ('fly outs') last week, both at very good schools (one a top SLAC, the other a good research school). I'm also on the shortlist for a post-doc fellowship (non-teaching, this time) at a Leiterrific institution.

All these things may fall through, of course. I may end up getting nothing. But I felt a lot better going on the market this year with (a) lots of teaching experience, and (b) publications. I know I'm not the next hot thing, so I'm not in competition for the top-10 Leiter jobs. But I felt competitive for good/decent departments and SLACs, thanks to my teaching and research experience.

Of course, it is impossible to generalize on the basis of my experience. But I don't think that good short-term jobs hurt you.

tenured philosophy girl said...

Anon 10:59:

Almost every place will have you pass various renewal processes before tenure. Someone's above insinuation that you don't have to be evaluated for 7 years is totally false. (Indeed, you generally have to submit your tenure file early in your 6th year anyhow, or even the summer after your 5th, in order to receive tenure in year 7). Most places will do a substantive review after one, two, or three years.

How substantive? In my experience this varies wildly from place to place. But in a serious research place or top SLAC, plenty of people do fail, and not having any (or hardly any) new publications since you've been hired is a pretty sure-fire way to fail.

I hereby stamp my foot and insist on my same point in yet another way: you have way more time to publish in a VAP position than in a tenure-track position. They probably also help you get tenure - they give you practice at publishing while teaching a regular load, and they mean that when you start your tt job you probably have a few things in the works that you can then count as 'new' towards tenure when they come out later.

I think (and I and others have provided evidence to support the claim that) in virtually all jobs, including very good jobs, one or two years as a VAP is no stigma at all and often a help. I also know for sure that after that the stigma starts with a vengeance and climbs precipitously.

Anonymous said...

Well, let's be pragmatic. Even supposing that a VAP is a negative, the best way to neutralize that is to publish in a peer-reviewed journal. And, given the long review times by the journals, the time to be sending stuff is (unfortunately) now, for the Fall '08 market. So there's a sense in which the VAP discussion is a red herring. Job success in Fall '08 is probably more dependent on writing success in Jan-March '08 than on anything else. The lead times in this profession are ridiculous, but I guess that's the result of being in an overcrowded profession.

Anonymous said...

Tenured Philosophy Girl writes, "Most places will do a substantive review after one, two, or three years...How substantive? In my experience this varies wildly from place to place. But in a serious research place or top SLAC, plenty of people do fail, and not having any (or hardly any) new publications since you've been hired is a pretty sure-fire way to fail...I hereby stamp my foot and insist on my same point in yet another way: you have way more time to publish in a VAP position than in a tenure-track position."

I would amplify one of these comments. At many state schools that are neither SLACs nor R1's (such as the roughly 23 universities in the Cal State system), there will be pre-tenure review, for which publications count. But here's something to think about as well: the CSU's (and others) also require annual review for VAP's who want to and can extend their contracts beyond one year. Usually, VAP reviews won't require publications, but any VAP looking to shed the 'V' has an independent reason to make publishing a priority, and in any case the review is a a major time suck.

That said, as someone whose PhD is from an unranked department, who went through several VAP appointments before landing a TT job, I can add my voice to the chorus that, whatever costs they might have had, the VAP positions helped overall. I got more preps and pubs under my belt, helping me get the TT job, and I learned how to negotiate full-time teaching with full-time publishing. One other thing is that I learned better the 'politics' of academic philosophy. I was able to make a few (non-fatal) on-the-job mistakes, so that by the time I got to my TT job, I was much more astute about how to both spot and negotiate various personality types, institutional quirks, academic trends and priorities, and so forth. That has, without question, helped me succeed in my TT job.

Despite all the truly crappy, life-changing, and exploitative elements of it, if you can look at VAPping as more training, at a much higher level of pay than grad school, it will (rightly) appear much more valuable, and you will get much more out of it. The usual thought applies here, too: work as hard as you can to get publications going early, both to get that TT job and to have some things in the pipeline for when you start your TT job and find yourself a bit overwhelmed at first. Hard work invested at this stage seems risky, since you'll want that TT job for it to pay off, but if you get that TT job, all that early hard work pays huge dividends down the road.

Philosophy Prof said...

People also do much better on interviews and campus visits if they have had a couple of years of a VAP. Such folks might be up against some hot-shots coming out of top-10 programs, but I do think that in almost all cases the person who has the strongest campus visit gets the offer, and a lot of the hot-shot ABD folks come off as very green.

Also, if it's a 3-3 load, probably one class will be intro, one will be in the AOS, and one will be new, and so there shouldn't be THAT MUCH prep. Even if there are two new classes, isn't it exciting to be a prof. and have all of the leftover time for research? Sure, it's important to learn to be efficient too. I just don't understand all of the complaining. It only makes sense against a certain background of expectation. It's not all glory and glamour, as any tt or tenured person will admit in a second.

And also, why would anyone expect to get a tt-job at a Leiterific school straight out of graduate school, or even an R1, if the person is not from a top-5 or top-10 program? There are just a few jobs, and they tend to go to the students in these programs. If we are not in one of these programs, we probably did not get into any of them when applying to graduate school, and we probably would not have been admitted to the schools as undergrads. But we expect to be professors there? It's not unreasonable to think that like almost everyone we need to prove ourselves, and the VAP + publishing happens to be the route, especially given the long, long line.

Mr. Zero said...

Philosophy Prof,

What complaining? Who says he expects a TT job at a leiterriffic school straight out of grad school? I think we all know who those jobs go to. The people who rant on this blog seem to me to be worried about getting any job at all.

No one's saying we shouldn't have to prove ourselves (although I thought defending a dissertation had some value there), and if I have to do it via VAPping, that's fine. But the topic of this thread is, do SCs look down on you for VAPping, and PGS didn't just make it up. People really do seem to look down on VAPs, and there are tricky timing issues.

Tenured Philosophy Girl,

I admit that I'm naive about how tenure works. Not only am I untenured, I am uninterviewed. So I stand corrected, and I don't doubt that there are substantial pre-tenure reviews. However, I have a couple of questions, recognizing that things are different from place to place. Is the 1-year PTR the sort of thing you'll get fired if you don't have enough pubs? How substantial can a 1-year PTR be? Realistically, you could work your ass off like crazy the whole first year and not have anything to show for it right away, given the long review times at most journals.

apriori said...

Mr. Zero,

Pre-tenure review in the first year where I am is only about teaching. And the file is submitted after the first semester. The point of these things is to get you accustomed to putting together your tenure file and writing self evaluations and the like.

You would be surprised at the number of people that don't put together nice files for jobs much less for PTR.

The point is that when you get hired the department wants you to get tenure. They don't want you to fail. But you also need to transition from grad student to faculty member.

And I should point out that while I was in a VAP and had many on campus interviews I was told that I could count up to two of those years toward tenure and promotion. So, those VAP years don't have to be dead years in some respect.

As much as it seems the process isn't rational, in many senses, it is. My advice is to talk to other philosophers that have jobs not at R1 schools. Those are the people that are on the front line and can tell you what to do to help yourself. I credit these kinds of contacts in helping me get a job and several offers and lots of on campus interviews.

Basic advice: stop thinking like a grad student and start acting like a faculty member.

newark wilder said...

Thanks for all of the advice; it is really appreciated.

Many of you probably already know about this, but there is a philosophy journal wiki where people record how long journals take to reach a decision etc. (if you are worried about journal turn around time). Here's a link:

Is anyone else a little disappointed in the web only ads so far? There doesn't seem to be too many. It hasn't been updated in a week (maybe they are just waiting for the full Feb. JFP at this point).

Philosophy Prof said...

Mr. Zero,

My assumption was that if we are talking about _any job at all_, then nobody anywhere in the universe would really think that VAPs are a problem. So clearly the relevant people are thinking about fancy places, whether introspection reveals this or not.

Mr. Zer said...

Philosophy prof,

I guess what I meant was, any eventual tenure track job at all. I think that's a reasonable thing to want: nobody wants to bounce around from VAP to VAP forever, moving from state to state, never settling down, never having a family, never having any job security whatsoever.

So, your assumption would be incorrect, totally wrong, whether introspection reveals it or not. Seriously. Who are you to tell me what my career goals are? I want a philosophy teaching job, anywhere. I don't care about fancy; I care about having a career someday.

There's a legitimate question on the table in this thread: will taking a VAP hurt me in the eyes of future search committees? The answer appears to be "not in general," but the fact that I am interested in the answer does not make me some sort of a job-snob. I'm just trying to look out for my future interests.

Philosophy Prof said...

Mr. Zero,

It was certainly understood that you meant _any tt job at all_.

I think that there was some miscommunication though, because I was not directing my comment at you or anyone in the position that you describe, which is a position I know all too well. I was directing my comments at those who do not have any significant experience on the job market or on search committees, but who for some reason are still adamant that VAPs are damaging.

tenured philosophy girl said...

Mr. Zero -

In answer to your question - no, I've never heard of places that do a first year review firing someone for not having new publications yet. However, at the third-year-review level (a more common sort of review anyhow), it happens quite frequently. You put together your third year review file at the end of your second year or the start of your third, and by then you'd better have something to show.

Again this all depends greatly on where you are. But I wanted to make clear that you don't get to take a nice leisurely 7 years to build up a research record, as someone earlier suggested. It helps a lot to have a year or two as a VAP (where they are unlikely to care if you produce) to get some stuff in the pipeline.

Perhaps another thing to add is that a lot of times, people finally and suddenly squirt out a bunch of papers just before they come up for tenure, and tenure committees do notice this timing and hold against people. The feeling is that if someone can only produce under the immanent pressure of losing her/his job, why should we believe that she/he will continue to do so when that pressure is over? So publishing early is also pretty essential - ceteris paribus, blah blah blah - to getting tenure.

Mr. Zero said...

Philosophy prof,

Fair enough. I'm still not sure who you're talking about, though. I read through the thread again and couldn't find any concrete example of the phenomena you're complaining about. One person says that PGS's concerns apply only if he's interested in working at a top-10 program, but "only if" is not equivalent to "is". Maybe if you identify your target.

Tenured Philosophy Girl,

Thanks again for the helpful remarks. I am the guy who made the suggestion about 7 leisurely years, although that's not exactly what I meant. I just meant that it might be possible to focus on teaching in year one and then bust out the research in years 2 - 6. But I see your point, and I accept it.

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't the headline end with "oh, whoa, whoa"?

Anonymous said...

Toto's new album has a track titled "Taint Your World". Wonder which "taint" they mean. Hopefully the discussants from the your/you're/eeyore discussion will help us sort that one out.

Philosophy Prof said...

Prof. zero,

I was talking about the original persistence from PGS that VAPs are harmful, but I will drop this now.