Monday, April 14, 2008

Still, We Figure Out the Keys

Just to add a more optimistic take on the problem of figuring out how to sell yourself to teaching departments, it looks like there's some consensus shaping up in that Leiter thread about at least one thing. A couple of different people are making the case for including complete sets of student comments in your teaching portfolio, since a few cherry-picked choice quotes don't say about as much as the quotes on posters for shitty movies. ("[PGS] was. . . interesting! Best philosophy class since Scary Movie 4!) Makes sense, and that's the sort of very concrete advice even I can use without fucking it up.

Oh, and I suppose I should link to this old post. It's the list of 23--23!--teaching interview questions I compiled from the suggestions of tons of people who actually know something about this. (My vote for most horror-inducing question? Number 22: "Suppose someone (perhaps a community member, and not necessarily a student) came to you and asked how to resolve moral problem X. What would you tell them to do?" Sweet holy god, that question would throw me into a mute stupor that'd last for about eight days.)



Anonymous said...

Complete sets of student comments--what a joke--I haven't been on the Leiter thread yet but I don't imagine very many SC members are really going to pore over those, and that can really add to your xeroxing/mailing costs. Summaries of comments, if they are prepared by a university statistics center, are a lot more useful and to-the-point. Syllabi are good, and a concise teaching statement, and some observational material from some of the faculty. Being able to motivate students is something we all look for, and helping students get into abstract material through some entry techniques or illustrations is useful. Also, are you willing to team-teach? Develop brand new courses that might be intriguing and fun for students and for you? Can you vary your syllabus (have you done so?) from one year to the next in light of what you learned about what works and what doesn't work? What sorts of writing assignments will you make and how often, and how will you respond to them? Do you give out a sheet of writing tips to students to guide them in how to write philosophy papers and why it's different from other kinds of papers? Are you able to use relevant software like Blackboard and These are just some ideas.

VAP said...

When I saw the Leiter thread I thought 'Hooray for PJMB'! I think that this blog made some senior faculty wake up a bit and realize there might be a problem with how many grad students are trained. Of course, I don't know this is what prompted the discussion, but it seems like a good explanation.

And for that our bloggers ought to be thanked. Much of what goes on here is pointless or even counterproductive. But if some of the bitching/moaning/whining leads to better teachers than this blog has provided an important service.

Don't get me wrong, I love the bitching and talking shit about many aspects of the profession. But it is also good to know that some good might come from it.

newly tenured said...

The first year I was on the job market, I got drunk at an APA with a friend of mine who was "on the other side of the table," so to speak. I think he was unhappier than me; clearly, he was working much harder. When I asked him how he could figure out between all the candidates, he said, "I look for the one that, if he couldn't teach philosophy, he would die. You can see it in the eyes." (Sorry for the gender specificity of the remark, quoted verbatim.)

I think you understand that he was not talking about desperation (also clearly seen in the eyes), but about love, aspiration, self-identity, vocation. This is, I believe, why I got my first job, and definitely my second. It wasn't because of my file, it was because of my fire.

I didn't have a stock set of entry techniques or illustrations, not that those are bad things. What I did have was a rich description of what I wanted students to learn, how I accomplished that, and how I worked through different kinds of problems I had encountered. I also had rich descriptions of the relation between persona and material, and an understanding of the learning process as I wished it to be, not as some Ed.D. running the school thought it should be.

The school I interviewed with didn't even bother inviting me to campus; I got the job the next week. And that's what I look for, now, when I'm "on the other side." I find it less often than one might think, though. In which case, one falls back on the other methods, described perfectly well by anon 7:03, ho hum, ho hum.

crabby abby said...

Check it out:

Soon-to-be Jaded Dissertator said...

Man, Newly Tenured gives great advice:

Capture some ineffable love for teaching and have that 'fire' shine through your eyes such that you won't even need to say anything specific or answer people's questions, but people will just know that you're ah-some and well-qualified and you'll get a job without even having to be flown out cause you so obviously love teaching that you are surrounded by a visible aura of passion for teaching.

Sounds like the path to success.


Though having "a rich description of what I wanted students to learn, how I accomplished that, and how I worked through different kinds of problems I had encountered" are, I suppose, useful things to have. So, at least part of Newly Tenured post approximates good advice.

Anonymous said...

My favourite was asked to a colleague of mine during an APA interview.

Q: "So imagine a first-year undergrad who was not a philosophy major asked you to explain your paper X. How might you go about that?" (Paper X was a massively technical paper on a massively technical point in some massively technical area of decision theory. Note that paper X was neither his writing sample, nor job talk, simply a paper he had published a year or so ago).

A: "I would ask them, 'Wow, what bet did you lose?" (This of course was played for laughs but got none.)

senior grad said...

As I mentioned in a previous thread, what I think people are looking for, when they talk about complete sets of comments, are complete sets of narrative student comments from a single class. Will people read these? Well, it would probably take less time to read them, even for a large class, than to read your writing sample. If you make it far enough through the process, and if the SC cares about teaching, they will read them. If you include narrative comments and only include a partial set, people will probably wonder what the ones that you didn't include said... and that will probably not be good for you. If you don't have a single class for which, overall, you have a good complete set of student comments, then I wouldn't include them at all, unless they are specifically requested... but in that case, you are probably going to lose out to people who have complete and good sets to send.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:03 - How do you show you're willing to change syllabi? Obviously you can talk about that once you're at the on-campus, but before then?

Anonymous said...

I want to second what anonymous 7:03 said. Statistical summaries of evaluations, sample comments articulating what is good about your teaching (not just "Great instructor!"), and then anything else you have that a) suggests you are a good teacher, b) isn't obvious bull, and c) isn't hundreds of pages long, are what I would want to see.

crabby abby said...

This is some wacked out shit right here:

"Hot Chick Philosophy Quote of the Day 1/15/08"

Sisyphus said...

Soon-to-be Jaded Dissertator, I loooove that little picture!

No paper or computer or dissertation in that pic, though, I notice.

Anonymous said...

Here is a question I like to throw at job canadites - gets'em every time

How would you encourage the practical application of philosophy in your community?

Anonymous said...

ANON 8:25 writes:

this is, I believe, why I got my first job, and definitely my second. It wasn't because of my file, it was because of my fire.

That's impressive! They gazed into the ether and saw that you alone amongst their (possibly hundreds of) applicants had the "fire" to be a philosopher?

This is just plain bullshit 8:25. For one thing, anyone who has endured and succeeded through 5-10 years of grad school (living on handouts) has proven their "fire" by all lights. And secondly, THEY DID NOT SEE YOUR FUCKING "FIRE" WHEN THEY WERE READING YOUR FILE AND DECIDING WHETHER TO INTERVIEW YOU.

Clearly it was your file that got you the face time, and probably it was your writing sample, and letters, and average amount of new phd zeal for the profession that merited further consideration.

Shit, it is not rocket science. So please spare us the "Sports Illustrated" reasoning (i.e., that you "won" because you just "wanted it" more than the next person) and grow up already: we all "want it".

"Fire" my ass.

mr. zero said...

anon 6:12,

It probably gets 'em because it's not an entirely fair question. Since philosophy is famous for not having any obvious practical application--witness all the "do you want fries with that" jokes--so, unless your ad specifically says that you're looking for a practical philosopher, you're just blindsiding them with a question they had every reason to expect you not to ask. Especially if it really does get them every time.

And maybe I'm wrong, but it's hard for me to believe that you're really looking for a philosopher who applies his/her philosophy in a practical manner in the community. There are areas where this is reasonable to expect, but not the "core" of the discipline. How, for example, do you propose we take our work on the nature of possible worlds, or intrinsicality, or the Gettier problem, into the community? Is this something you really look for?

Not that I'm defending the impracticality of philosophy. I'm undecided. But even if it's a bad thing, this isn't the way to change it.

Also, 7:44: Hear, hear.

New Prof said...

I'm constantly struck by how poor my professional training was when it came to dealing with the institutional nature of being a member of an academic community. In the very brief time that I have been out of grad school and in a full-time position, here are some of the things that I had to learn, that no one taught me, that I really ought to have known when it came to working in my SLAC. This may have no meaning for others here on the board. But I didn't have this blog when I went on the market. This is venting ex post:

1. There exists a political structure that is important to know when navigating an institution. It goes something like this (in order from peon to emperor): Me > depeartment colleagues > chair > dean > provost > God > president > donors > Board.

2. When you make decisions, the higher up in the heirarchy in 1 above you go, the more difficult it will become. That is not always a bad thing.

3. Know the general education (GE) core in its entirety. which philosophy courses are students likely to take? Which ones not? How is GE hurting you? How is GE helping you? If I could go back in time to my interviews, I would first download the SLAC's undergraduate catalogue and look for the PHI courses. Then I'd ask them about their place in the GE curriculum.

4. Be a decision theorist with regards to 3 above. "game out" what the likely student decisions will be. If you are evil, then become an ethicist with regards to 3 above and figure out how to use it to your advantage (tongue in cheek).

5. Not everyone in the institution has a good clue as to why the philosophy department faces challenges, especially when it comes to enrollment. Answer: few high school students even know what philosophy is. They don't enroll early on for that reason. That's your main institutional challenge (barring woeful decisions on the part of the upper-end of the heirarchy in 1 above).

6. How would you teach courses not in your area of expertise?

7. No one will know who David Lewis is, no one has read the leiter report, no one knows what the APA stands for. And that's OK.

8. Figure out how to write a grant. You'll be loved.

9. What passes for clever philosophical conversation in grad school can come off as arragonce elsewhere.

10. Know your faculty governance system. These things matter (though they tend to have less power in SLAC's).

11. No one will hire you at a SLAC if they think you'll publish a lot but be difficult, absent, uncollegial, etc.

12. Some of your peers will have a good idea of what goes on in Philosophy. Many won't.

13. Be prepared to face the accredidation process. What do you want your students to get out of their major or minor? How will you cope with accredidation agencies who tell you to do the most ignoble stupid pathetic things you could imagine?

14. What kinds of courses does the college need to have created? How do they fit into what is already on the books?

15. The Library...aye, the library.

16. Know what happens in all of those offices that you never visit. "Institutional Research", "Development","ombudsman", "advancement", and so on. What they do matters a great deal.

So many more things. I didn't sufficiently appreciate ANY of them beforehand. I made a lot of mistakes.

Noobie said...

Hi everyone,

this is a question that is off the topic of the thread, but I don't know where else to ask it!

So, I just got my first tenure-track job (7 year march...I am the first at my school to have to do 7 years! Yeah!)...After I was hired they told me that I would be up for review each year I was here until I actually got tenure. That is to say that every year I have to be re-hired to the tenure-track line that I am in and that if the college board (or president or vice president) decides to terminate me then they can. Is this normal? I guess I was under the impression that you were hired and observed until you came up for tenure and then they made the decision to keep you permanently...was I deluded?

Anonymous said...


I've never heard of it being that often. You often hear of a 2nd year or 3rd year review. But this is something you be running past your advisor.

Not sure I understood you seven year reference.

Anonymous said...


Different schools have different rules for tenure track reviews. I think a more common structure is for there to be a 2, 4, & 6, year review. If you pass all three, you receive tenure!!! hurray! If you fail any of the three reviews, you get a 'severence year' at the school where you can go on the job market and hope to land something (good luck, you'd better be well published).

An 'every year' review process can be pretty brutal. But at many schools with such a process it probably means: do you show up, teach adequately, and avoid making enemies? With the 'avoid making enemies' being the most important of the three.

Just my 2 cents

Anonymous said...


My U has a faculty review every year until tenure. We call it retention. Each year the standards get harder to the point that when you get to the tenure year, it will happen. Very few people ever get denied tenure in this process, and very few people get tossed after a year or two. I would talk to the chair and find out what this "process" requires and do it. Overall, I think it is a good idea.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

At my school we have a full review every other year (the 3rd of which is in the 6th year and is thus the tenure review). We have a small review on the off years--only a page or so rather than the 3+ inch binder. But the small reviews can become a full review (a) at the request of the dean, (b) at the request of the individual, or (c) on a majority vote for a full review by the entire department

Anonymous said...

Deluded? No.

Mistaken? Yes.

Noobie said...

Oh sorry about that...I meant that it is seven years before you come up for tenure, as opposed to five years. Thanks for the info...I thought it was a bit excessive, I guess it's no big deal, but it meakes me feel like I'm stil VAPing, ya know? I thought I would waltz through the Holy Fucking Gates of tenure track Jobgasm, and instead I just got more of the same job insecurity as before (although to be fair, they do have to notify me at some reasonable time in the job cycle as to whether I will be rehired, which is better)...

As for asking my adviser...Well, let's just say it hasn't come up.

Anonymous said...


When I said "talk to your chair" I meant the chair of your department where you will be working, not the chair of your dissertation committee.

I think you should be fine, just ask other people that have gone through it and also see if you can get some years toward tenure OR promotion b/c of your VAPs.

Asstro said...

Hm. Interesting. What exactly is the "yearly review" like? Is it just pro forma or is it a serious dossier evaluation?

For instance, my track has a seven year tenure clock with a third year review. Every year, however, we submit an overview of what we've accomplished. This overview reportedly both gives our chair a sense of whether we're on track for tenure, but also provides support for merit increases and redistribution of service reqiurements.

I thought that was pretty standard, minus the variation in clock time.

Noobie said...

Thanks everyone for the info!

So, lemme ask you this. I remember reading on some Leiter thread a while back that one should be on the market the year one comes up for tenure, and indeed every year that one's job is in question. This made sense to me, because if there is a chance that you might not have a job you should have a back up, right? So what do you think?

Anonymous said...

Better be sure what "7 years" before tenure means. At my university, a person starts the tenure application process in the summer after the 5th year and is evaluated for tenure during the 6th year, with tenure decisions made by spring of that year. That means the pre-tenure time is only about 5 1/2 years. A candidate can submit new materials to the committees during the 6th year, but in no way does one get a full 7 years to earn tenure. So, you have to hit the ground running!

Anonymous said...

Add this to the list of dumb advertisements. just posted a VAP position for one Washburn University. This is a position for (in this order) Spring and Fall 2009. That's two half academic years. PhD required. So they apparently think that the market is SO FUCKING AWFUL that we'd be willing to take ourselves out of the market for two years in order to work a total of one year, because it would be really hard to piece this position together with adjunct slots in the complementing semesters.

Anonymous said...


Yearly review is extensive: We have a department committee that reviews activities in each area: teaching, research, and service.

From that DC it goes to the dept chair, the dean, and then the provost. Each year you submit at a different time to give admin and stuff the ability to review files. But you have to document everything and there are categories and success in each category changes each year.

So, it is real, and since we have a union, it is taken seriously b/c it is a way to protect faculty from political craziness.

But it is a real (pain in the butt) process, but when it comes time to do the tenure file, life is pretty easy.

crabby abby said...

Can someone please answer noobie's latest question. I'd be very curious to know whether this has been/continues to be the "done thing" -- and if so, whether such just-in-case searches are in any way held against the individual who is up for tenure.

Anonymous said...

"Add this to the list of dumb advertisements."

Ahh, you must have missed the Eastern Connecticut ad (since corrected) which was looking for someone who can teach "Logi" and "Introduction to Pholosophy."