Tuesday, June 10, 2008

That's interesting..

Let me preface this by saying that I recognize it's both too early to worry about interviews and this probably shows just how much more I need to do to get ready for the job market.  In response to Philo's question, one commenter said:
"Try to get them to ask some general questions, (what makes this project interesting? relevant? how would you explain this point to a non-specialist?  What kinds of publishable works can be extracted from this?  What comes next? etc.)"
I get why departments would be interested in your future research plans.  I can see how showing that you can frame your dissertation in different ways may further show that you can converse with philosophers outside your area.  But, I hope questions like 'what makes this project interesting or relevant' are mostly intended to get the interview started.  When I think about answering the question I get this image in my head of a 10 year old going, "so what .. so what .. so what .."  

Maybe you're just supposed to use the question as an opportunity  to jump from your project to your research plan.  Hopefully the interesting elements of your project will feature in the stuff you're about to work on.

-- Second Suitor


Kenny Easwaran said...

One important reason to think a lot about this question is that most philosophers don't work in the area you do. For someone who doesn't work in the area, it's hard to care about what Descartes really meant by "clear and distinct", or whether there can be two colocated objects, or what the proper measure of confirmation is, or why consequentialism is wrong, or whatever it is you're working on. If you can't get people to see your project as at least potentially interesting, then it basically doesn't matter how well you do it - they'd rather have someone else who's just as skilled as you, but working on stuff that's actually interesting.

It's not so much that philosophers are a bunch of 10-year-olds, as that philosophy is such a broad discipline, that it's often hard to care about things in other parts of it.

specialist with a view said...

isn't it a fair question, especially for those working in itsy-bitsy specialist niches? i wouldn't mind being asked that, especially given the fact that - let's admit it - what we do really isn't important 'koz I like it', but - if it is important at all - thta's because it sheds some new light on a general question in philosophy, or any other such contribution to the field? (do excuse the touch of naivete in what i just said)

Anonymous said...

I think that type of question has two purposes. One is the one you note in your last paragraph--that kind of question often gets asked in order to see how gracefully you can answer quasi-showstopper questions of that type. (In that regard it's sort of like the cliched "What's your greatest weakness?" interview question.) But the other is honestly to see whether you're able to explain the contribution your work makes to the world. I have a hard time understanding why people are so disdainful of this kind of question, and why they think it's somehow improper. Of course it's offensive, and probably inappropriate, if the questioner won't engage with your response and is stubbornly skeptical that your work has any significance or worth at all. But why is the notion of being able to tie your work to some more general questions and conflicts in your field, and then to tie those conflicts to issues that concern nonacademics or intelligent laypeople, so abhorrent? It's just an exercise in justification, not so different from any other.

Anonymous said...

Usually when hiring committees ask you about your dissertation, they are testing you to see whether you can convey your specialized knowledge of a topic to non-specialists. If you cannot convey the significance of the free will debate (assuming that is what you wrote your dissertation on--I didn't) to someone who does not work in the area of metaphysics, then you probably will not be able to do the same while teaching undergrads.

Anonymous said...

I thought this was interesting. I googled all three of these individuals and none of them have publications. Perhaps I shouldn't be concerned about publications either. This is from the Leiter Report.

"Rising Stars"
The Chronicle of Higher Ed used to run a feature each fall on "rising stars" focusing on newly hired junior faculty who were deemed the most promising, as evidenced in large part by the offers they accrued from leading departments. I used to suggest to them junior philosophy faculty on whom to focus, some of whom they ran stories on (such as Joshua Knobe at North Carolina, and Carolina Sartorio at Wisconsin), but now that the Chronicle is out of the business as it were, I'll just note briefly the three young philosophers whose talent and promise resulted in the most offers from leading departments this past year; they are:

Agnes Callard (PhD, Berkeley), AOS: Ethics, Philosophy of Action, Ancient Philosophy. She will be the Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago.

Matthew Kotzen (PhD, NYU), AOS: Epistemology, Philosophy of Science. He will be Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Japa Pallikkathayil (PhD, Harvard), AOS: Moral and Political Philosophy. She will be Assistant Professor of Philosophy at New York University.

Anonymous said...

If you get the question, "what makes this project interesting/relevant" after a job talk or after someone has read your paper, you should probably revisit your topic or writing, because that is a big problem. That is the mark of a bad paper. If this comes from someone who has not heard/read your paper, then use it as an opportunity to explain it to them and lead into where you will go with it as well as discuss what areas in philosophy would be interested in it.

Anonymous said...

Get used to this question. You must answer it if you want to get published in a top generalist journal.

Happy Chappy said...

Dear Brian "Determined To Have The Whole World In His Hands" Leiter,

I'm sorry, but how is this helpful exactly? Exercises like this serve only to make both the rich richer and richness harder to achieve. It's in the service of neither the profession nor academic inquiry.

Cut it out.

Happily self-confident and employed

Anonymous said...

Anyone see Leiter's recent post on the "Rising Stars" in the profession? I'd like to see a post seeing what people have to say about this. Lately PJMB has gone kind of downhill. While there's nothing wrong with dissertation defense advice, etc. PJMB's best moments have been the ones where it calls the profession's powers-that-be out on their bullshit. Leiter's post is a gem of an opportunity to do this again.

Anonymous said...

Thread-jacking here: Does anyone find it interesting that all three of Leiter's "rising stars" have gotten great jobs without any publications? (I'm reaching this conclusion based on their online CV's, which may be out of date, but . . . .).

I mean no disrespect to them; I'm sure they are all fabulous. I just wonder what this says about the role of publications in getting top-tier jobs. I've seen this happen before, where, if you are really great, you can get a job based on your advisor's word, and your interview performance. It confirms my suspicion that it is really the lesser-known schools that worry about numbers of publications.

Anonymous said...

Off topic, but I wanted to post this in case it hadn't been seen before: a short story, "Two-Year in Hell," by Richard Dean. For those still searching in the dog days of summer... Excerpt:

A pudgy, youngish man with curly blond hair walked into the room and set his backpack on a desk by the door. “What’s up?” he asked.

“Raymond’s thinking of applying for a job in Hell,” Patrick answered.

The pudgy man paused, looking at their faces to see if they were joking. After a few seconds, he asked, “Tenure track?”

“Naw,” Raymond answered. “Two-year.”

“Those can be rough. You just get settled in, you have to move again.”

“It could be converted to tenure-track after two years, though, if everything works out.”

Patrick raised his hand and said, “Which of course would mean spending more time in Hell.”

“Still,” the pudgy man said, “Tenure-track is tenure-track.”