Wednesday, February 6, 2008

I Don't Want to Talk About it Now

I'm tired of getting asked about the job market. I'm tired of people who know I'm on the market asking me how it's going. You know? The line that goes, "Hey, PGS, how are you doing? You're on the market this year, right? How's it going?"

When I say I'm tired of the question, I mean it actually makes me tired. It sort of deflates me a little, like it takes some of the air out of my lungs. What the fuck am I supposed to say? "Well, gosh, friend, it really fucking sucks. All the work I did this year made no fucking difference getting me closer to a job than I got last year, and I'm spending a lot of time trying to convince myself I'm not a complete fucking failure at the only thing I've ever really wanted to do with my life. How the fuck are you?"

Can't say that, can I? Wouldn't be polite. But as I've been getting more tired with the question, my answer's been changing a little. There's pressure to be upbeat about it all, to show you're keeping your spirits up. Actually admitting in public that you're getting the shit kicked out of you is sort of an unseemly embarrassment, like pissing your pants in public. And at first, when people asked me how I was doing, I'd clench my face up into my best happy-optimistic-simpleton smile and say, "Nothing happening so far! We'll see!" or some thing just as insipid. Then I'd keep the same idiotic expression on my face while me and whoever I was talking to went through some bullshit about how something was sure to come up or whatever.

But fuck it. Right now, the job market's not small talk for me, and I don't have it in me to pretend it is. So now when someone asks me about the market, they get a blank look from me and I tell them, "Nothing's happening." Then they figure out it's time to talk about something else.

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think you'd be exchanged a rueful nod, a self-deprecating joke, or any number of other non-upbeat responses. Remember, most people who'd ask you this either have previously or will soon go through the same wringer.

Anonymous said...

I know, to a lesser extent, how you feel. I'm applying for PhD programs, and they've started informing people of acceptances; I've heard nothing. So when people ask, I say, "Nope, haven't heard anything yet." And then I think to myself, "Thanks for reminding me that I might not get in anywhere and I have no back-up plan." I'm basically fucked if I don't get in anywhere, and everyone's interest in me serves to remind me of that. I can only imagine how you feel. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Woah heavy, maaan. /Young Ones

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Think about some counter-questions that are equally uncomfortable. For grad students ask about when they are going to be done with their dissertations... for others ask about when they are going to get high paying jobs, have children etc... when you get the look like, 'that's a rude question; -- say, you let me know when that changes, I'll let you know when the job market changes...

The fact of the matter is that it isn't their business and if answering the question makes you feel icky, don't do it.

Doug Portmore said...

Hang in there. My first year on the job market, I had nothing to show for my 80+ applications, not even an interview. Luckily, I didn't finish my dissertation when I said I would, so I still had something to do for most of the year and got some support in the form of teaching from my graduate department. My second year on the job market (post Ph.D.), I got two interviews at the Eastern, but nothing came of those. Luckily, I ended up getting one pre-arranged interview at the central for a visiting job and I got that job. My third year on the job market, I got maybe three interviews at the Eastern APA and nothing came of those. Luckily, my visiting gig was renewed. My fourth year on the market, I got a handful of Eastern APA interviews and a couple of campus visits from those. And, luckily, one of those two places offered me my first tenure-track job after the person who they first offered it to turned them down. I now have a tenure-track job at a ranked Ph.D. program -- the job of my dreams. I know for a fact that I was never anyone's first pick, but I eventually got the job of my dreams. Of course, I've also got about two hundred rejection letters (and, as you know, not everyone sends rejection letters) that I used to keep stacked by my computer to motivate me to keep trying harder. I also use to despair around x-mas time as I would not get any requests for Eastern APA interviews. Indeed, I use to constantly push the button my answering machine to check my messages just so I could hear it say "You have no new messages." Otherwise, I had hard time believe it. So it's rough; I know. My wife and I have had some hard times. But it is possible to persevere.

Philosophy Prof said...

Philosophers can be so stupid about these things, but then again philosophers have hardly any insight when it comes to matters that are not a priori, which is to say that they have hardly any insight into matters that make a difference in a life. I remember being on the market and having the following exchange:

"Have you heard back from Shit State?"

"No, nothing yet."

"Hmmm..., no call-back from shit state. Hmmm..."

If you have not yet been on the market, or if you were on the market 25+ years ago, just leave it alone.

Anonymous said...

I do that, then I get the response from people who try to encourage me. "Well, something will turn up" or "Now that you've defended, you'll be more likely to get something". Most of the people who say this shit KNOW better than that. They know as well as I do that there's lots of well-qualified PHd-holders who DIDN'T get anything, never got anything (worth keeping, anyway). The other strategy--this comes mostly from faculty members in my department--is to keep making excuses: well, once you get a publication (got one) or once your letters say your defense is scheduled (got that) or once you've defended (did that).

Anonymous said...

I just made sure not to tell friends about it in the first place. No knowledge, no expectations, no questions.

Anonymous said...

This all seems so mentally unhealthy. Maybe it is time to start thinking about other marketable skills you may have. Why not explore another way you can have a career, perhaps your own business, or something, anything. This is not to say that you would leave philosophy. You can continue publishing, etc., doing philosophy, being a philosopher, and even continue applying for philosophy jobs.

It just seems like it may be a good idea to think about other ways for you to make a living that will be somewhat satisfying, and attainable.

It can make things harder when one become so vested in something that feels somewhat unattainable. Maybe you can branch out a bit. Maybe this will also help you feel better about your situation.

Anonymous said...

anon 1:33,

Good luck with the grad school applications. I'm surprised that people are hearing back already. It seems really early. It's too bad that there isn't a grad school application wiki.

Anonymous said...

I want to applaud Douglas Portmore for telling his story -- especially the part about relentlessly checking his answering machine! That honesty can do a lot to relieve what is often the worst part about striking out on the market -- that terrible feeling that you are a shitty fraud and that everyone knows it.

I know another philosopher who got zero interviews the first year out, but who soon became (and remains) a pretty hot commodity.

Are any other readers of this blog with decent TT positions who had a rough time on the market willing to share their stories, as a way of being encouraging?

Mr. Zero said...

anon 1:33,

I'm with 10:23. It's too early to start freaking out. The APA rules say that departments have until March 15 to notify you of acceptance or rejection. In my experience, most of them wait until the last minute.

Think of it this way: most of the departments you've applied to are busy trying to figure out whom to hire right now. I don't think our admissions committee has even met yet.

Ben Bradley said...

Pshaw, Doug Portmore! I call your ordeal and raise you two years!

Year 1: One APA interview, zero flyouts. Spent a year as a VAP at a SLAC.
Year 2: A few APA interviews, a campus visit, no job offer. Moved to VAP position #2.
Year 3: A couple of APA interviews, a phone interview, a campus visit, no job offer. Rehired in my VAP position.
Year 4: 16 or 17 APA interviews. One flyout. No job offers. Back to the VAP. (boy, that sucked!)
Year 5: about 10 APA interviews, three campus visits, no job offers. Moved on to VAP #3.
Year 6: about 10 or 12 APA interviews, 6 or 7 flyouts (plus a couple I turned down), 3 job offers from PhD granting programs.

This is maybe not the ideal beginning to a career. But maybe some of you will find it encouraging. (On the other hand, you may be depressed by the prospect of spending as long in visiting positions as you spent in grad school.) I know people who spent even longer in VAPs and ended up with tenure track jobs in the end.

Anonymous said...

I tell you the philosophy job market is just like any other job market, that you have to work your way up, unless you are a superstar. This is common sense. You all jump on me and tell me I am a shitbag fool, tell me to stick baked goods into my cunt.

Then actual real live working professor after professor explains how they had to work their way up over time, just like I tried to explain. That is called the real world. Almost all jobs are like that. Look at lawyers; superstars from fancy law schools get jobs at fancy law firms right away, the rest have to work their way up over the years.

When you hire someone, it is very risky. First, you can get in trouble with YOUR boss if you hire the wrong person. If you hire the wrong person, you then have to deal with them, deal with firing them, etc. and then you have to start the search all over again. This is the same in academia as at Dunder Mifflin. You have to convince someone that they arne't making a HUGE mistake in hiring you for a permanent position. The best way to do that is to demonstrate lots of relevant experience. Sometimes that takes years, after grad school, to accumulate.

If you all would just listen to what you are being told, you'd have more realistic expecations, have a better idea of how to groom yourself for the job market, and better success.

Anonymous said...

If you want to stay in philosophy, have no current prospects in philosophy but do have prospects in unrelated fields/professions, how much does a philosophy employment gap hurt your future prospects? If you might be able to publish one or two articles while working for a corporation or whatever, how much better is it to try hard for VAPs before reapplying for TTs?

Mr. Zero said...

Doug Portmore and Ben Bradley,

Do either of you have any inkling of what it was that made the difference in that last year when you finally got the job you wanted? Was there something different in your file that you can attribute it to, or do you think it was just that your abilities were noticed when they weren't before?

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

Our fav. troll is back people, so let me just take this opportunity to remind all ya'll: Don't feed the trolls.

Anonymous said...

Congrats to journeymen Doug Portmore and Ben Bradley who are real-live inspirations to us! Would be nice if other (non-anonymous) professors would share their job search experience with us, especially what they think made the difference between being hired and not.

Anonymous said...

Ummm...I never left. In fact, I'm the life of your little party.

anon 1:33 said...

Thanks for the kind wishes, guys/gals. I know that most decisions haven't been made yet, but when three (low-ranked) programs send out acceptances and you don't get one, you start doubting your abilities. Then you start doubting you'll get in anywhere. Applications bring paranoia, as I'm sure the job market does as well (and moreso).

tt assprof said...

Ben and Doug nicely illustrate a point that I have made repeatedly on this blog:

If you persist, you will all eventually get something!

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm being overly pessimistic, but the fact that obviously talented people like doug and ben were treated so shabbily on the market time and time again doesn't exactly make me feel better. Yeah, if we persevere and manage to put some good work out there while taking asome serious crap for a long time, maybe we'll get somewhere we can be happy with. Personally, I'm not sure I can take as much crap as ben and doug.

Anonymous said...

I'm anonymous at 10:22am. Can someone please explain the troll issue? I'm new to this blog. Thanks.

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

Doug and Ben --

Thanks for the stories. Really, thanks. I want to get my thoughts together on these kinds of war stories, but in the meantime, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Anon. at 10:22/5:12...

See here.

Anonymous said...

What happened was, someone asked me if I was a child. I jokingly replied no, I'm not a child, but that I thought the technical term is troll. So now the dimwits keep posting "don't feed the troll". They can't even come up with their own ad hominem attacks, they have to use my joking self-description. It's pitiful.

Anonymous said...

1) Regarding grad school applications, it is still early to be hearing, though not unheard of. On the flip side, it is possible to get offers from very good programs even as late as April 15th (if their higher choices turn them down at the last minute). But if you don't get in to grad school, at least you won't have to face the ordeal of trying to get a philosophy job at the end of grad school. Getting rejected sucks, but if you *have* to go through some pain, much better to go through it now, rather than n years from now. (Really.)

2) Regarding inquiries about how the job market is going, what do people think is the right way to share information if you're *on* the market? If you're doing well, it sounds like bragging to bring it up, and if you're doing poorly, it seems like bad taste to throw a cloud on a conversation gratuitously... Ideally you could tell a couple friends and let the rumor mill take care of the rest (and hence cut off future questions), but that doesn't seem to quite do the trick.

Prof. J. said...

4:52, that's another lesson to take from Ben B and Doug P, yes. But you probably already knew that the job market often treats very talented people very badly. So the news is, striking out one year, or even several, is quite consistent with having bright prospects.

I think Jonathan Schaffer also struggled in his first years, didn't he? Not as mightily as DP or BB, but he didn't burst onto the philosophy scene like a comet, as you might expect if you only knew of his recent trajectory.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ben. Awesome story. Fuck! I partly feel inspired, and I partly feel like I want to shoot myself. Didn't you feel like a total piece of shit around year 3?

ben bradley said...

Mr. Zero,

It is hard to say for sure, but I think the thing that made the most difference for me at the end was publishing a paper in Nous. I think I underestimated at the time what a difference-maker that was. Also, the last couple of years on the market, I shifted the focus of my research program a bit towards topics that are more accessible to nonspecialists. If I were smarter, I would have done that a lot earlier.

Anon 7:34,

Yes, I did. Each year from year 3 to year 5, around March or April, having failed to get a job and with nothing lined up for the fall, I contemplated quitting the profession. Then I realized I had no other marketable talent. So I got over it. Fortunately, the visiting positions I had, and my colleagues, were great. I was lucky in that regard.

Anonymous said...

I hate to say it, but in this business it is important to keep up appearances. This means that when asked about your prospects you must always appear confident and upbeat. You always need to be seen as someone desirable. You never know, your colleague now (even someone who is still in grad school) could have a say in your future prospects down the line.

from tt-professor at a ranked school.

Doug Portmore said...

Mr. Zero asks: "Do either of you have any inkling of what it was that made the difference in that last year when you finally got the job you wanted?"

I think that three things made a big difference: (1) having the Ph.D. in hand, (2) having substantially more teaching experience -- the sort you get in a VAP position (where you're not just teaching one class a semester as, perhaps, you did in grad school, but teaching 3 or 4 a semester), and (3) having not just, say, one publication but a record of steady publication (roughly, one a year) while teaching a full load.

Once you get your foot in the door with a VAP, if you continue to publish and continue to develop as a teacher, acquiring more experience (proving that you can teach effectively not only courses in your AOS but also bread-and-butter courses, such as, intro, critical thinking, and, perhaps, some applied ethics and history courses as well), you will eventually land a tenure-track job and will likely continue to land VAPs until you do. But the process is somewhat arbitrary and can take years, as I've witnessed first-hand from seeing many friends go through the same process that Ben and I went through and from seeing, on the hiring side, how widely people's views differ on how to rank the top crop of candidates who almost all (except the superstars) have their Ph.D., some teaching experience beyond grad school, and a publication track record.

Things might be looking up, though. As I've started to see, some grad students (who are by no means superstars and who come from programs far down in the Leiter rankings) land TT jobs without even having their Ph.D. in hand or without having all of my (1)-(3) above.

Doug Portmore said...

One other thing that made a difference, which I forgot to mention, is (4) letters testifying to the quality of my research, teaching, and collegiality from people outside of my Ph.D. granting institution -- that is, from people who, unlike my grad professors who wanted to attract better grad students with a better placement record, had no vested interest in my success. You get these sort of letters from, say, colleagues where you have your VAP gig and from people that you've networked with.

Anonymous said...

As someone who knows either Doug P or Ben B (I ain't telling which), I can attest to how hard working and natually talented he is. So, yes, it's a bit demoralizing to see how tough a time they had. That is, what chance does an "average" philosopher have?

Any stories from philosophers who aren't as productive as DP or BB but nonetheless got decent job offers?

Mr. Zero said...

Ben and Doug,

(Hope I'm not being presumptuous) Thanks for the extremely helpful suggestions. I think I speak for the entire readership of this blog when I say how much I appreciate it.