Sunday, October 26, 2008

Guest Post: Moving Up

Mr. Philosophyhead is back. Thoughts, ye social climbers? --PGOAT

Here's a question I have always wanted to ask to a bunch of employment-seeking assholes like myself under conditions of mutual anonymity. Coming from my program the only 2/2 anyone would ever feel entitled to would be as an uninsured member of a certain department located in or near Poughkeepsie. As far as anyone around here can recall, there have been a few placements of our students directly into research programs, but it seems like it happens at an average of about once every decade. So the question is, supposing I score a less than dream job the first time out, what are the chances of eventually climbing the ol' non-corporate ladder? Has this happened to you or anyone you know? Exactly how much less than a dream job was it, and how long did it take?

Thanks again, PJMBers!

--Mister Philosophyhead

61 comments:

m.a. program faculty member said...

The chances of moving up are pretty decent, if you get some nice-looking pubs and decent teaching evals.

Here are 3 cases I know of, off of the top of my head:

--From 3/3 load, not-terrible-but not-great branch campus of State School, kinda dinky, to 2/2 MA program that's well-regarded.

--From 3/3 load at big but academically pretty iffy state school with a tiny department to a small but very good LAC, 3/2 load.

--From a biggish, not-so-good public school, 3/3 load, to a good MA program, 2/2 load.

(Are any of them me? I hide behind my cloak of anonymity!)

It's *very common* to do this sort of thing. If you doubt me, go ahead and look at the on-line CVs/profiles of people at places you'd like to end up at.

I should add that there are lots of people teaching jobs with high teaching loads who are happy. Prestige shouldn't be regarded as an intrinsic good.

Grad at Unranked Program said...

I know of at least 2 people at good research schools (with 2/2s) from here in the past 10 years or so --- out of maybe 20 to 25 PhDs awarded in that period. We are a very small unranked PhD in Philosophy. Both were students of former big fish in our very small pond.

I wonder how much the rankings confuse people about hiring. I suspect that depts with only one or two big names are able to place those peoples students, even when those few names do not get you a high ranking overall.

From my research and a bit of gossip (ok mostly from gossip) I know of low Leiter ranked depts that seem to place quite a high percentage of their students and depts with equivalent rankings that haven't placed anyone in a TT job in years.

Anonymous said...

M.A. Program Faculty Member,

But, w/o disclosing too much, what were the pedigrees of those individuals? I mean, sure, people can move up, but I rarely see someone from a below 30 Leiter school move into such programs. That is, one could publish upwards provided one met some other necessary conditions as well, of which pedigree may be prominent. I am open to counterexamples.

Alias Smith and Jones said...

While many folks on this blog like to complain about the evil influence of pedigree, things have a way of sorting themselves out. Lots of folks don't really hit their philosophical stride until after grad school. This means that there will always be a fair number of very talented people that get overlooked by the top places for the first few go-rounds. Sometimes that means very talented folks get stuck in less than stellar situations. Such things have been the death of many, but the good ones do what the rest of us do (or should be doing): they work hard, learn how to write for publication, and get sharp articles published in good journals. 3-5 years later, they have an impressive CV, nicely honed teaching skills, and are "battle-tested" if you will. These folks then look very attractive to very good places (perhaps even more so than untested but promising top 5 greenhorns). A friend of mine started at a third tier LAC with a 3-3, spent the next few years working as much and as hard as possible, then went back out and landed an Ivy. Of course, it helped that this person was also super smart.

Basically, the Peter Principle is in play here folks, that is, you rise to the level of your own incompetence. People move up all the time and do so because they are smart and they work hard; people move down all the time too, usually because they are lazy or one note. It may take 10 years to find out which one you are, but in the end we all find out.

Anonymous said...

Definitely doable.

Another anecdote:

PhD from non-Leiteriffic school.

-- From 2/3 load at not-so-good SLAC (2 years), to 3/3 load at decent SLAC (3 years), to 2/2 load dream job (forever)

Of course, these moves slow down the speed of your tenure clock. But, all in all, it's probably worth it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 8:11...It can be done.

Anonymous said...

I can tell you what a career killer is:

Publishing an article in a Philosophy and the X (Simpsons, Battlestar Gallactica, the Sopranos, The Wizard of Oz, etc) popular philosophy collection.

This is the kiss of death. Everyone I have known who has done one of these has had a difficult time getting their work accepted/published in more respectable collections. Obviously the jury is out on whether these pieces should be considered serious philosophical scholarship...and many scholars think that they are not.

Anonymous said...

"Obviously the jury is out on whether these pieces should be considered serious philosophical scholarship...and many scholars think that they are not."


Um, I think you're misguided. No one who works on one of these thinks they are "serious philosophical scholarship" dumbass. They are popular-level books designed to make philosophical ideas accessible to the *general* public.

No sane person has ever thought these should be on the level of a peer-reviewed article, etc. so stop bashing them. If you don't like popular-level things, then fine, but you can't act like people who work on these think they are serious academic work.

Anonymous said...

From anecdotes, it's possible, but that it's also hard. Being junior faculty is a lot more work than being a grad student, and being a junior faculty with a 4/4 load is a lot of work.

I say this not to be discouraging, but because it's sometimes hard to see how hard it might be to get some decent-looking pubs.

mr zero said...

9:33,

I didn't do the research, but I would imagine that as you get older, the effect of pedigree dissipates. When you first finish grad school, where you went to grad school and who your letter writers are plays a very important role. But as your career progresses and you develop your own, independent record of research, your record tends to speak for itself and you rely less and less on your "pedigree." Just my $0.02.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8:03am,

You make a good point. But, lets be honest, authors of these pieces shouldn't include them on their academic c.v. Anon 8:26am is right that they'll never be "serious philosophical scholarship" because that's not their intent.

Other things that shouldn't be on the academic c.v. include: novels, popular media articles, blogs authored or contributed to, and television appearances, etc.

If these things appear on your c.v., you're doing some serious resume padding. You look more foolish than anything else.

Anonymous said...

I was prompted to do some snooping on graduates from my PhD program (a once mid, now dropping to low Leiter place) and found (using Leiter's faculty list) that it's extremely rare to for any of us employed at departments more highly ranked than their dept of origin. I found only two cases where this has happened since the late 70s. One (a superstar) in a top-20 place and one in a Leiter-equivalent non-US dept. Looking beyond Leiter, I know of a handful who landed and lingered in good LAC positions. Given that there are 70+ graduate students in this program at any one time, you get a sense for the odds. I know this isn't precisely what you were asking, but I thought it might be of some interest.

Anonymous said...

people who published in "hip hop and philosophy" who apparently will not be respectable philosophers:

- tommie shelby
- sarah mcgrath
- lionel mcpherson
- erin kelly

now what podunk schools are these people at again?

Anonymous said...

I think that the people who produce these philosophy and pop culture books are providing a valuable service to the profession. I've had a number of students tell me that they became interested in taking a philosophy class after picking up one of these books. Moreover, I've used articles from these books in my lower division courses. Pop culture helps students relate to otherwise hard to relate to material.
This stuff isn't intended to be serious philosophical scholarship anymore than is a introductory textbook, but that doesn't mean that the contribution to the profession and to philosophical pedagogy is significant.

Anonymous said...

Now how likely is it for members of the Search Committee at a top university to pick candidate X with a terrific publication record but a low pedigree over a candidate Y with a significantly weaker publication record but a very high pedigree? This is a question about likelihood, not fairness...

Anonymous said...

"...is not significant." is what I meant to say (I'm anon 11:36). Apologies.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:55, "X and Philosophy" collections are acceptable, but "Philosophy and X" collections are not. Sequencing matters. Is that your point? Good one.

Another argument: Pop culture philosophy books reduce the perceived value of academic philosophy and academic philosophers on the job market. Why? Check out who publishes in them. Many of the authors are not trained philosophers. It gives the impression that anyone can read a little philosophy, write an article on philosophy and X and then get it published in a collection that will appear in their local Barnes and Noble. No wonder some VAPs in Philosophy departments get paid $29k/year (lower than the average salary for someone with a high school diploma)....including the ones without previous graduate training in Philosophy.

Anonymous said...

Being junior faculty is a lot more work than being a grad student,

I second that! I just started as junior faculty (at a cushy 2-2), and I wish I could have another year of grad school.

not mr. zero said...

I just saw a CFP for "philosophy and bicycles" on one of the listserves.

In the same vein, I am thinking of putting together the following volumes (inspired by some of the things in my office):

-philosophy and noisy colleagues
-philosophy and dusty chalkboards
-philosophy and cockroaches
-philosophy and cast-off computer hardware from professors who have left your department
-philosophy and cast-off furniture from students who have left your department
-philosophy and empty paper coffee cups

cw said...

I have friends at Lower-Tier R1. LTR1 had an aging faculty, and people were retiring. They had to replace these people with assistant professors. In an effort to raise the program's profile, they largely ignored new Ph.D.s and focused on hiring people who had been out for a couple of years, who had decent publishing track records. LTR1 did this with several asst. prof. hires in a row (four or five, if I remember).

But pedigree mattered too. Mr. Zero is right, I think, to say that your own work eventually starts to speak for itself, but it never fully silences pedigree. All other things being equal, when two candidates had equally impressive pub records, LTR1 chose candidates with better pedigrees.

Anonymous said...

I'm one of those who worked his way up. I came out of a ranked (but ranked at the very bottom) graduate program. Started out with two consecutive visiting assistant professor gigs with 4/4 teaching loads. Then I landed a tenure-track job with a 4/4 teaching load. But, after 7 years of 4/4 teaching loads, I managed to publish my way out of that hell and am now an associate professor at a university with a ranked (though bottom ranked) PhD program. So it's possible to make your way out, but there are a number of obstacles.

(1) It's much harder to publish with a 4/4 teaching load than with a 2/2 teaching load.
(2) Those places with a 4/4 teaching load put less of a premium on research and more of a premium on teaching and service. So it's easy to become overly absorbed with teaching and service at such institutions.
(3) Those people who have a 4/4 teaching load typically have less access to really sharp philosophers. One's work greatly benefits from having terrific colleagues to bounce ideas off of. Also, you tend to have an easier time getting noticed and with networking when you're affiliated with a more prestigious program.
(4) Those who have a 4/4 teaching load not only have to teach more, but they also tend to have to teach a higher proportion of service courses, which don't help with one's research. Those who teach graduate seminars can do research and teaching at the same time. Graduate teaching is a tremendous boost to one's research, I've found. I never expected it to be as helpful as it has been.

So I find that those who start off with good jobs have everything working for them in terms of doing what they need to do to excel as a researcher, whereas those who start off with crappy jobs have everything working against them. So, again, we see the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. I fear that there are many talented philosophers languishing away under 4/4 teaching loads.

Anonymous said...

How about 'Philosophy and Unemployment'? Those two things really go together.

Anonymous said...

Actually, there is a difference between Philosophy and X books and X and Philosophy books. The latter feature invited articles, while the former has open submissions.

Anonymous said...

As someone without much pedigree who kinda moved up (to a good M.A. program), and who writes a fair amount of non-academic philosophy related stuff, here's my perspective.

1. Mr. Zero is right. Pedigree matters less the further along you are--especially if you're publishing and some of your letters are from Profs at top places. But it still matters.

2. There's nothing wrong with doing non-academic work as long as you're also getting academic publications. If The Simpsons and Philosophy is your only publication, that's a problem (and probably should be). But showcasing philosophy for a wider audience is a commendable thing--and it often helps your academic research as well.

3. There's also nothing wrong with listing those publications on your C.V. (within reason, not blog posts etc). Just put them in a different category from academic publications. My advisor suggested that I have two sections: the first for peer-reviewed pubs, the second for 'reviews and other publications.' No one has complained. In fact, I've had people tell me they like that way of setting it up.

Anonymous said...

"Basically, the Peter Principle is in play here folks, that is, you rise to the level of your own incompetence. People move up all the time and do so because they are smart and they work hard; people move down all the time too, usually because they are lazy or one note. It may take 10 years to find out which one you are, but in the end we all find out."

I'd just like to add that there is a lot more moving up than there is moving down. The 10+ years that I've been out, I've known plenty of people who have 'moved up', but only one person who didn't receive tenure and even that person got a job at the same level when they went on the market again. People worry about it a lot, but the fact is, most people at most schools get tenure, and unless you are teaching at a place like Yale, you probably don't need to worry about it that much. There is a lot less 'moving down' in the profession than there probably should be.

Anonymous said...

Here's a rather different way to see this issue.

A good number of people, even from Leiter-rated programs, may end up in obscure places, teaching 3/3. It happens. Now, it is *always* a good thing to publish your philosophical heart out. The bad news is that even the obscure universities with 3/3 loads are increasing their demands in scholarship. (Blame the market for that. Really.) So, perhaps, you can publish your way to a better university with a lower teaching load and you live happily ever after. But...perhaps...and this may sound insane...perhaps, you can make your obscure little department a better place.

Madness! Impossible! Well, yes and no. You will probably never singlehandedly turn your department into a world-class department. That isn't what I mean, anyway. What is possible, though, is that it may so happen that everyone in your small, obscure department wants to do a whole lot better at what they do for a lot of reasons. Maybe you will have deadbeat, uninvolved colleagues and an unsupportive administration. If so, that's that. But, if not, there are things you can choose to do at your obscure, small department that will build the department, gain the respect of your administration, and increase general flourishing.

a. Curriculum review and overhaul. Course offerings and sequences can be revisited to bring a department's major/minor requirements in line with the strengths and talents of faculty and with nationally and internationally offered curricula. You want (or may want) to be on your dept. curriculum committee and be the one who asks, "What does everyone see this department as doing?" "Are our service commitments (gen ed) obscuring our educational objectives?" "Do we want to clarify our learning objectives?" Use the term "learning objectives" a lot. People don't mess around with them. You need them on hand for external accreditation assessment anyway.

b. Write your own ticket with Service. The best piece of advice I've ever received was to do just this. Instead of sitting on Committee X, which is nice, but never really gets anything done like most committees, see your Service requirement as an opportunity: Look around and determine what precise sorts of things will improve the profile of your department at the university, increase student interest, increase visits from scholars, increase the academic profile (start up an honors society, a student club, debate team), etc., etc. If you are going to do any real service that involves time and effort, make it count. This is where the rubber hits the road. A languishing department can become the "boom" department in no time when the administration sees the number of majors/minor significantly increase, and/or sees interdisciplinary activities--cooperation between departments is on the rise. This is how you get *new hires* (if you ever get them).

c. Know what all the best scholars at your university do. Lots of people end up at obscure "low end" places for the same reasons you did. Maybe your dept. is relatively small, but it is very likely that there are some people doing extremely cool research in other departments. Know these people. If you are trying to "make things happen" for your dept., it is likely that these other people will be supportive and potentially have something to contribute to your efforts, whether it is cross-listing courses, pooling resources for big events (with a big name scholars), or sharing students (via advising). The "theory" course in sociology, for example, could be taught by an amazing faculty member, and could be exactly the kind of course you'd want a philosophy major to take. Likewise, a history professor may recommend a course in the history of philosophy to history majors. The history professor has to know that her/his students will get a lot out of the philosophy course, so the connection between faculty and departments needs to be strong. That strong connection is worth making.

I guess the point is that if you hide out in your office and do minimal service, publishing a whole lot, you might very well move up in the world. But, if you find yourself "stuck" for any number of reasons, you can at least attempt to improve the quality and standing of your department. Whatever the horrors of 3/3 job in an obscure department, it can (potentially) become a place where you enjoy going to work, and become a department that is well-respected within the university. You may begin to place students in graduate programs, but, mainly, if you start tracking the progress of students after graduation, you may find they end up doing interesting things (not only law-school), and see their training in philosophy as valuable. When that happens, you might even feel pretty valuable yourself. I know this isn't the path to a "dream job," but I figured some folks might take heart in hearing about the ways that people have made their real jobs a lot better.

first year tt guy said...

Speaking as someone who is published in one of the pop culture and philosophy books and who received two job offers while ABD at a non-Leiter school, I can attest that anon 8:03's claims about pop culture publications being a 'career killer' are absolutely false.

The worst I can say about these publications is that they are not the most strategic use of your time since most SCs won't give you much credit for them and some will even penalize you for them. But, if you enjoy writing them and have other strong credentials, by all means write for such books.

For my part, I didn't even list my pop culture pubs on my CV since I don't regard them as academic publications. However, I did mention them carefully in a couple of my interviews and it certainly seemed that they were a plus in some SC members eyes. I think since they were already positive towards me, the fact that I could apply philosophy to something in pop culture was viewed as a potential plus in my teaching abilities. But, I doubt it would have helped by itself if they didn't already view me positively.

Anonymous said...

Candidate A
-Leiterific pedigree
-Publication in Philosophy and the Simpsons

Candidate B
-Non-Leiterific pedigree
-Publication in Mind

Who would you hire?

Anonymous said...

Candidate A
-Leiterific pedigree
-Publication in Philosophy and the Simpsons

Candidate B
-Non-Leiterific pedigree
-Publication in Mind

Who would you hire?


Totally depends on the writing sample. If you don't impress us there, we won't hire you.

Anonymous said...

And, I should add, there are several ways to make me carefully read your writing sample: one is to be from a top school with excellent letters. One is to have an amazing publication record. One is to have really impressed me at a conference I saw you speak at. But these are not exhaustive.

m.a. program faculty member said...

But, w/o disclosing too much, what were the pedigrees of those individuals?

One is from a Leiter-unranked school, the other two from Leiter-prestigous but not tippy-top places.

The effect of prestige does decrease over time, although I think it still plays a larger role than it should.

First Year tt guy said...

anon 5:56,

If candidate B has an article in MIND, that article IS going to be her writing sample. It seems very unlikely that I will be unimpressed with it.

Anonymous said...

Candidate A
-Leiteriffic degree
-Publication in Better Homes and Gardens
-Can turn base metals into gold
-Severe and unpleasant body odor

Or

Candidate B
-Non-Leiteriffic degree
-Publication in Mind, Nous, JP, Phil Review
-Invisibility & Super strength
-Kills kittens

Hmmm. Depends on the writing sample. That's what sells me on a candidate...Just kidding, it's always pedigree.

Anonymous said...

first year tt guy,

as if Mind has never published a crappy article? pleassse.

Anonymous said...

If candidate B has an article in MIND, that article IS going to be her writing sample. It seems very unlikely that I will be unimpressed with it.

Right, but I thought the question was about which candidate we'd be *more* impressed with, and therefore who we would be more likely to hire, not whether we'd be impressed full stop.

VAP said...

So Leiter now has ads on his site. I think PJMB ought to follow his lead. I think ads from Jack Daniels and Xanax could work. Maybe a suicide hotline.

How would Don Draper pitch PJMB?

Anonymous said...

Here's a question. Suppose you teach 4+ a semester and come from a department that doesn't support research and so gives you no funding for conferences. You're trying to publish your way out of the situation, but you don't have the chance to network at conferences that others have had and it seems that you could have published more if you weren't doing so much damn teaching.

You might want search committees to take this information into account, but how do you do this? Do you write in your cover letter 'I've managed to publish n articles in spite of having to teach between 4+ courses per semester'? Can you say 'I've been to loads of conferences, but I would have been to more if I didn't have to work weekends to pay for my own airfare?'

Any advice would be great.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:31,

I would let those accomplishments speak for themselves. It should be obvious to the hiring committee members that you have been balancing a 4:4 load and an impressive agenda of research/writing/conference-going on your own dime.

Anonymous said...

We're an MA program with a 2/2 load for new hires.

We don't have an ad this year, but in future, I'll be pushing for us to find people who are looking to move up and who have proved themselves under less than ideal working conditions. Our strategy in the past, had been to attempt to compete for the top ABD or fresh PhD candidates. This has not worked for us for a variety of reasons.

I am eager to find folks who have demonstrated that they are productive and interesting philosophers in spite of their tough working conditions.

Anon 4.31 should note the heavy teaching load in her letter. Spin it for the positives. Emphasize that you're productive, experienced and a hard worker, but avoid complaining too much about travel funding. Even at my place, a semi-decent research institution, travel funds for philosophy are tighter than we'd like.

Asstro said...

If you're teaching 4+ per semester and you can't get to conferences or write papers, you need to cut your losses and pull back on what you do in those classes, particularly if you can't stand it and need out. Colleges that demand this of their professors know that their professors are overburdened and their students are getting the shaft. Sad to say, you'll have to shaft your students to survive. Cut back on what you assign. Give them the absolute, reasonable minimum. Double- or triple-up your preps. Do lots of group work. Cut back your office hours. Don't worry about conferences: get your ass published. Cut back on an hour of sleep every night and write like you've never written before. Forgo romantic evenings, if need be.

It's an uncomfortable place to be, but you should really make high quality publications your singular objective. If you don't like your circumstances, you'll have to double down to get out.

Having said this, I fully acknowledge that some philosophers may be very happy teaching 4+/semester loads. Some people don't feel the need to conduct research and prefer their teaching responsibilities. Maybe they like we're they live. I think this is a completely respectable and fulfilling way to live a life and have a career in philosophy. It may even be more fulfilling than working at a research school.

Fact is, though, that if you want to get out of your teaching position and into a research position, you'll have to produce the goods.

Anonymous said...

I think 4:31's question should have its own post.

Anonymous said...

I want to commend Anon @ 3:08 (October 27) for a wonderfully thoughtful, sane, sound post. It's great to get a great or a good job, but it's good to be reminded that one can live well even in a less desirable job. As Hume says in the second Enquiry (§193), "He is happy, whose circumstances suit his temper; but he is more excellent, who can suit his temper to any circumstances."

Anonymous said...

If you live on the East Coast, don't mind traveling on a budget (backpack, Greyhound bus and hostels) and work in two disciplines, you can attend/present at one conference every month (per month, not per semester) for less than $100/trip. A weekend with two conferences...$150 tops.

m.a. program faculty member said...

What anon m.a. person at 9:05 said.

My attitude is that past productivity is the best predictor of future productivity, and that the best bet is to hire people looking to move up who are from low-prestige places, as those people are undervalued in the current market.

But obviously, my attitude is far from universal, as otherwise those folks wouldn't be undervalued.

Anonymous said...

I got my degree from an unranked program that, along with a lot of dead weight, houses a handful of very talented philosophers and teachers. These people are well respected in their subdisciplines but do not have names that every philosopher would recognize. Because of this department's lack of prestige, most of the incoming graduate students are deficient in some way: not so bright, really lazy, terrible writers, nutjobs, or just woefully unprepared by their undergraduate institutions. Every few years, though, the department manages to snag a diligent, talented student with the lure of a big fellowship. Also, some of the woefully unprepared or lazy students get with the program. These students often go on to do very good work, get great letters, present at the best conferences, and publish in good journals while still in grad school.

When they go on the market, though, these students will be at a disadvantage compared to students from more prestigious programs. It seems to me that if search committees are interested in hiring the best philosopher they can, then it is simply irrational for them to prefer a candidate from a prestigious program over an equally qualified (as measured by writing sample, letters, publications, teaching, dissertation, etc.) candidate from a mediocre program. After all, the candidate from the mediocre program was not surrounded by lots of equally smart or smarter grad students and did not have a large group of very accomplished professional philosophers to learn from, yet still managed to rise to the same level as the candidate from the prestigious program. This makes it very likely that the candidate from the mediocre program is smarter, or harder working, or both. So if search committees pick the candidate from the prestigious program in cases like that (and they invariably do) it is because they are more drawn to prestige than ability. Shame on them.

Anonymous said...

It is simply irrational for them to prefer a candidate from a prestigious program over an equally qualified (as measured by writing sample, letters, publications, teaching, dissertation, etc.) candidate from a mediocre program.

Don't worry, no one is doing that, as far as I know.

Anonymous said...

Here is a question nobody has discussed yet, but I am interested in. Suppose someone is an Assistant Professor at a decent-but-not-great research university and looking to move up in the future. The current place isn't terrible and there is no need to leave immediately. Is there some limit on how many years one can wait to start looking for another job? If this is your first job, will staying longer hurt your chances in some way? Or can one stay for four or five years before moving on? I once heard the suggestion that faculty interested in moving up from their first job should try to move by the third or forth year at the latest.

Anonymous said...

It is simply irrational for them to prefer a candidate from a prestigious program over an equally qualified (as measured by writing sample, letters, publications, teaching, dissertation, etc.) candidate from a mediocre program.

Don't worry, no one is doing that, as far as I know.

I know some are. I'm at a school that has done a number of searches over the past few years. They have never interviewed anyone from a less than Leiterrific department for a TT position. They will happily hand out a TT job offer to someone from a Leiterrific department with no pubs, no APA presentations, and not even a completed dissertation. Maybe no one from a non-Leiterrific department has ever bothered to apply, but I doubt it.

I'm never on the search committee because I'm contingent faculty, but I remember a colleague of mine saying that if he didn't see a letter from someone famous on the applicant's committee, he won't bother to look at an application. He had relatively high standards for philosophical fame, I should add.

What's funny, of course, is that I get along with this person reasonably well. If he was serious, my application was one he tossed aside without bothering to read the cv. It didn't seem to cross his mind that he's just essentially told me that I'm beneath his consideration. He did, however, invite me to lunch.

m.a. program faculty member said...

There is no time limit.

Anonymous said...

Do you mean that the chances of moving up are dramatically reduced after getting tenure?

Anonymous said...

No, I wasn't referring to moving up after getting tenure. I was thinking about assistant professors and whether there is a time frame one should be mindful of in thinking about moving up--whether it will harm you if you stay too long at your initial institution (say, four or five years into the tenure track).

Anonymous said...

You might want search committees to take this information into account, but how do you do this? Do you write in your cover letter 'I've managed to publish n articles in spite of having to teach between 4+ courses per semester'? Can you say 'I've been to loads of conferences, but I would have been to more if I didn't have to work weekends to pay for my own airfare?'

Hardly an expert here, but I can't think of a good reason to start off one's cover letter by making excuses for what one perceives as less than adequate performance or looking like you hate your current job.

Think of it this way. Presumably, you have some things published and some conferences attended. You're not lazy or not putting in the work. You're just worried that it's not enough. Maybe I'm sitting on the search committee without a good idea of what's 'enough.' And here's your letter telling me 'I haven't done enough by my own estimation.' That's going to be hard to shake as a first impression.

(Plus, there's not really an A for effort at this stage of the game. We're hiring you, not the nearby-possible-world you who had more funding and time.)

This is a case where showing, not telling might be better. Make it clear from the c.v. that you have a merciless load.

curiouser said...

Following up on October 30, 2008 4:51 PM's question ... Even if there's no time limit (thanks, m.a. program faculty member), is there an optimal time -- say, 2-3 years in, by which point one could claim to have given his/her first job a fair shake (and so not appear like a job-hopper)? Or maybe it's best to hang on to nearer the tenure review? And is this kind of thing done without alerting one's colleagues? Lots of questions about not only the timing, but the logistics ...

first year tt guy said...

My understanding is that it gets more difficult to move up after tenure, because there are less searches for sr. positions since you have to pay them more.

This makes sense to me. Unless you have a graduate program or a very prestigious LAC, there is little need to pay $80,000 (and give tenure) to a senior scholar who is merely going to be teaching the same classes that you could hire a new Ph.D. to teach for $40,000.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it's very difficult to move post-tenure.

Yes, it's common to see pedigree candidates with thin cv get priority over lower-tiered folks with fat cvs

Anonymous said...

A follow up concerning whether there is a problem staying late into one's first tenure period before moving on: At my institution your first tenure review comes in the 6th year. I wonder if one decides to move up to another institution as late as one's fifth year might present obstacles. Even if there's no time limit (thanks, m.a. program faculty member), are hiring committees concerned about getting applications from fifth year, TT faculty? Is there any concern that the applicant in question might be facing obstacles to receiving tenure (in the 6th year) at the home institution and, hence, be potentially problematic. That is NOT in fact the situation, but one wants to know whether there may be obstacles like this that would interfere with one's attempt to make the move.

juniorperson said...

"Here is a question nobody has discussed yet, but I am interested in. Suppose someone is an Assistant Professor at a decent-but-not-great research university and looking to move up in the future. The current place isn't terrible and there is no need to leave immediately. Is there some limit on how many years one can wait to start looking for another job? If this is your first job, will staying longer hurt your chances in some way? Or can one stay for four or five years before moving on? I once heard the suggestion that faculty interested in moving up from their first job should try to move by the third or forth year at the latest."

I think this deserves its own thread!

FWIW, in my experience any move between the second year and the first post-tenure year is fine. The third or fourth years might be optimal as you'll really know by then whether you want to stay or not, and you'll also know by your publication record where your chances lie. Later, and it might look like you're trying to escape from a doubtful tenuring siuation--although, of course, your pubs. might well put these doubts to rest.

In my own situation I moved from Pure Hell Research I to my current position (Bliss College) in my fourth year, having noted that I had been asked to go up for early tenure by the PHR1 (which I later learned I would have received.)

juniorperson said...

I second M.A. program faculty member's initial comment--and would like to add that "moving up" need not involve moving to a R1.

I moved up tremendously in my 4th year, from Pure Hell R1 to a *superb* LAC which was objectively superior in all respects. The research requirements for tenure at the LAC are roughly double that for the PHR1, for starters, and my de facto teaching load is less than 1/3 of the de facto teaching load at PHR1.

At PHR1 I was teaching a 2/2--but service courses with c.70 students in them, all semi-literate. Plus often a couple of extra classes designated "Independent Studies", so I didn't get paid for them. Plus supervising over 2/3 of the graduate program. Plus a full-time administrative job--again, unpaid. At the LAC? A 3/2 load, lower division classes capped at 25, upper-division at 10, *superb* students, and overload pay for any thesis supervision or IS I take on.

Oh yes--PHR1 was in PH Location, and Bliss College--Bliss location!

I could go on, but you get the picture!

I am, by the way, very, very, VERY lucky.

m.a. program faculty member said...

If you're applying in the 5th or 6th year of your TT job, sure, the suspicion might be that you're facing trouble getting tenure at your present institution.

That said, I don't think that this should pose a big problem, for two reasons.

(1) If you've been doing a good enough job with your publications and teaching to be a strong candidate for 'moving up' to a higher-prestige job, most search committees should figure you're in decent shape for tenure at your present institution.

(2) If you are 'moving up' pretty obviously in your search--say from a 3/3 or 4/4 branch campus of a state school to a good SLAC with a 3/2 load or a research school with a 2/2 load--you have pretty obvious motives for wanting to switch, even if you're in great shape tenure-wise. People get suspicious if a person is moving 'laterally' in the 5th or 6th year.

But in any case, if you do apply out late on the TT, you'll need to be prepared to answer the question of why you're applying. And you should be ready to say--if they're true--that (i) you get along great with your current colleagues, and (ii) you're in terrific shape for tenure at your current institution. (I wouldn't say anything like this in one's cover letter though.)

As people note above, it's much harder to move post-tenure.

Anonymous said...

Thanks juniorperson and m.a. program faculty member for your answers. That gives me some very helpful information about the situation for moving up, and I will be sure to heed it.

Anonymous said...

My very favourite professor ever made the following moves: semi-crappy former polytechnic -> well-respected program (my PhD program) -> Oxbridge.

She is a total superstar, though, and deserves every bit of accolade she receives.

If you work your butt off, publish a ton and are very, very talented, it's definitely possible to make the move. In fact, in my experience, it's more common to move up from smaller/less prestigious programs to better programs during one's career than it is to start out at the top and stay there.