Thursday, October 23, 2008

Guest Post: What's with all the student conferences?

Anonymous MA Department Chair presents us with a very good question. --PGOAT

I’m the chair at a well-regarded MA Program and I have a beef to express. What’s with the proliferation of student conferences? It seems that almost every day I get another flyer or e-mail announcing a graduate student or, God forbid, undergraduate student conference. Our bulletin board is plastered with them. They are simply mushrooming. What’s the deal with this? I suppose that it might be good practice for students to organize conferences, deliver papers, and meet peers. But from my point of view, there’s a problem. If we encourage our students to participate and they are accepted to various programs (a not unlikely scenario given how many conferences there are), then they look to me and the department for funding. We already have limited travel funds to support our faculty, and there is no separate slush fund to draw from to help our students travel to Illinois, California, Florida, New Jersey, and wherever.

I also don’t believe that the faculty members at most of the places sponsoring such conferences truly want to attend and sit through papers by a myriad of students, some perhaps good, some likely not-so-good. Frankly, I wouldn’t. Do the faculty members encourage this? Do they actually show up? Are such conferences are a good idea? Why are they on the increase? Do they really help anyone? I would like to hear your opinion. Can you please tell your fellow graduate students to stop organizing these conferences? If not, can you recommend an attitude or policy I should take in advising our own students?

Thank you for letting me vent here.

--Anonymous MA Department Chair


Anonymous said...

Wow, what an enormously cranky and ungenerous rant.

I can't speak to undergraduate conferences, but many graduate conferences are first-rate. The odds of getting a paper accepted at some of the top grad conferences (e.g., Columbia-NYU, Princeton-Rutgers, Harvard-MIT) are reportedly much lower than many "professional" conferences--we're talking less than 10% in many cases. Granted the quality of the papers submitted overall might be lower, but perhaps not.

Most of these conferences have distinguished faculty keynote speakers and sometimes faculty commentators. If these faculty don't think participating is worthwhile to themselves or the profession, presumably they would start saying no.

Many top PhD programs provide funding for student travel--either through their university or directly from the department.

These opportunities can be crucial professional development for grad students.

Anonymous said...

Oh, bosh, Anon 5:58. I've always been totally skeptical about the "professional development" one gains by presenting at a grad conference. Seriously. It's a conference presentation. It's not rocket science. Grow up. Go to a grownup conference already. If your work's not good enough to be accepted at a real conference then you shouldn't be presenting it in public anyway. And if the prospect of standing up at the front of a room and talking about your work is so fucking daunting that you need to take these baby practice steps at a fake grad conference then what the hell are you doing in academia?

Anonymous said...

I don't think there is anything wrong with Grad conferences, though there are most likely too many, since there are too many of almost everything but jobs these days.

that being said: our department's policy is that funding is only available to grad students if they are presenting at "high quality" professional conferences.

Anonymous said...

dear anon607pm,

take a look at names from the nyu/columbia grad conferences from a few years back:

i guess josh knobe, robbie williams, mark schroeder, nico silins, bernard nickel, uriah kriegel, caspar hare, aaron zimmerman, juan comesana, david enoch, etc. are just bunch of people who didn't know what the hell they were doing in academia. these people who weren't good enough to present at "real" conferences probably would never get a top job or publish anything influential.

(obviously, i am not saying that going to a selective graduate conference will automatically make you a leiter all-star, but i doubt presenting at apa eastern will either.)

Anonymous said...

What a strange and, in a way, infuriating complaint. If the anonymous complainer doesn't have funds to support students going to the conferences, shouldn't he welcome their proliferation? The more conferences there are, the better the chances that there will be some closer to his students, making it unnecessary to travel very far.

As for the complaint about having to sit through, student presentations, this is really the epitome of research university arrogance. Seems to me there was a time when the purpose of being a philosophy professor was TO TEACH STUDENTS PHILOSOPHY. What better way to do that than to comment on student papers? However bad the papers might be (and surely the point of a selection process is to find papers that are as good as possible), isn't it preferable to comment on the work of students who are electing to participate in events like this out of their enthusiasm for the subject? That is, more preferable than to comment on papers by students who are just taking a prerequisite

Seriously, if you find this complaint compelling, I think you're in this business for all the wrong reasons.

Anonymous said...

The proliferation of undergraduate conference does seem pointless, but MAN, what a boring and significantly more pointless post. Surely this blog can do better. Isn't there something about the *job market* worth discussing?

Anonymous said...

Indeed- an ungenerous rant, both in the post and (even moreso) at 6:07. Both are examples of the kind of rude, unnecessary, and inconsiderate things that people will only say from the cover of anonymity.

To the OP: I'm terribly sorry to hear that you find yourself bothered by travel funding requests; you're post indicates that you're a sensitive soul who finds it very difficult to say no. Better, than, that your students not have these opportunities to meet students and faculty at the very Ph.D.-granting institutions to which they, presumably, are applying.

As for 6:07, I'm glad that you're so confident. Personally, I'm fortunate to share that confidence in front of a crowd, and have been comfortable presenting at both graduate and professional conferences. But I know, as suspect you do as well, many excellent philosophers- both professionals and grad students- whose philosophical abilities outrun their public speaking abilities.

That's to say that I concur, mainly, with the thrust of 5:58. And let me second, as well, the point regarding the selectivity of these conferences. At my (probably only leiter-respectable) institution, we've accepted less than 10% of our papers each year. And our conference has, I think, been useful in a variety of way to all involved. The speakers get an opportunity to practice and gain confidence in delivering papers to a non-scary audience, and everyone gets the opportunity- relatively rare, for many of us- to meet peers at other institutions.

(I'd add as well that the notion that professional philosophers have nothing to learn from graduate students is belied by, among other things. the avidity with which top Ph.D. programs pursue talented prospective students to populate their seminars and colloquia; perhaps, then, some might find they have something to learn from high-quality grad student papers as well)

Anonymous said...

I agree that grad student conferences are not a good trend. They are not good for the conference organizers - talk about a useless time suck - and they are of limited value to the presenters, whose time is much better spent applying to professional conferences. Enough with the percentage rates of acceptance: (1) the referees for these conferences simply do not compare with referees for professional conferences (even if those include some students)- so acceptance itself isn't very likely to be an indication of quality and (2) the comparison class of even the top places is - honestly - a group of students who either don't think they are good enough for professional conferences or who are not good enough for professional conferences.

I know when I've looked at job candidates, excessive participation in graduate student conferences has been only a turn-off.

And, to the original poster's question about faculty attendance, at the grad student conferences I've been part of, or been connected to, faculty attendance is the exception, certainly not the norm.

Anonymous said...

Now it's Anon 6:07 who sounds cranky and ungenerous, though I do share some of the same doubts about the "professional development" value of these things.

Anyway, I've also noticed the mushrooming of grad student conferences. I've presented at a few and been involved in choosing papers, etc., for our own—which, I'd like to point out, has been running since the days when John McCain was every Democrat's favorite Republican. The acceptance rate for our conference hit about 3% a few years ago. Some papers are really excellent, we get first-rate keynote speakers, and everyone has a good time.

My guess is that these conferences are proliferating because people want to (a) get more experience, (b) add another line to their CV to try to keep ahead of the other 300 people applying for the job they want, and (c) have some fun in a way that doesn't seem like procrastinating. This goes both for organizing and presenting at conferences. Competition for jobs is so fierce that we'll do anything to keep up with/stay ahead of the pack.

@Anonymous MA Dept Chair:

My department has exactly zero funding for conference participants. We get some from the university, but sometimes we have to pay for it out of our big, fat teaching paychecks. Maybe you should just make it clear, when you encourage your students to apply, that there's little or no funding. Or better yet, lean on the administrators at your school to provide some funding for them.

I'd think that it would be good for MA students to show that they can compete with candidates in top PhD programs, which is what you're doing in applying to these conferences. This is an excellent way for them to do that. So, I think you should encourage your students to participate.

Anonymous said...

Surely 5:58's point is compatible with the original post: the bloated expansion of grad conferences is a silly thing. Of course there are some highly selective and therefore worthwhile grad student conferences. But, indeed, there are many lower quality conferences which really don't help the grad students participating and therefore are more or less a waste of money. Similarly with PhD programs. Many (even among the not Leiterific) manage to place their grads in perfectly good TT jobs on a regular basis. But there are many that are basically exploiting cheap grad student labor and a sense of pride in having a PhD program. One can criticize the extra ballast without saying the category as such is worthless.

Anonymous said...

I apologize to the original poster for some of the rude reactions here. I am a big fan of graduate students attending conferences. But, I understand some of the limited resources you must have. So, here's some thoughts:

1) It is a great experience for a grad student, especially an MA student to present at a grad conference. Especially, one of the more competitive ones. The one I ran in grad school accepted about 30% of the submissions, so don't assume these are completely non-competitive. And some of these grad conferences offer commentators on the papers, so it will help improve their papers.

2) I'm not at a Ph.D. granting institution, but I imagine that it is a significant plus for an MA student applying to a Ph.D. program to have a paper presentation or two under on her application. Even if they are at grad conferences. It communicates a certain seriousness about research and a certain understanding that long term success in the profession requires more than getting good grades in class.

3) I understand the limited resources you must have. My Ph.D. university would cover 50% of our expenses for one conference per semester up to $250. You might limit it to once a year per student or even once per student, period. But, even a little financial support goes a long way for most students. And it communicates that you are doing everything you can to support them.

So, I would definately encourage some level of involvement in grad conferences. Of course, the idea is that it doesn't stop there. I started with grad conferences, moved up to regional conferences, and then started submitting to APA meetings as a grad student. MA students probably won't work their way all the way up the conference ladder, but it is good for them to start somewhere.

Anonymous said...

Oh, come on.

Even the undergraduate conferences serve an important purpose.

I'm a fan of both. Of all three really: professional conferences, grad conferences, and undergraduate conferences. I generally don't attend the latter two, but i think they're important.

Philosophy is hard. It's hard to get the guts up to present in front of a crowd of critical peers. Going to grad student conferences is a dry run. It's like moot court. It's like writing a paper in class. It's like giving a presentation in your own department, except scarier.

Sure, it's not gonna get you a job. But fuck it, is everything about getting a job? Nope. It's about learning how to play the game, learning how to be a professional philosopher.

We have very active graduate students where I'm a faculty member. I think our most successful graduate students are those who have spent time going to grad student conferences, and organizing ours here. That's not true across the board, of course; and it would be silly to think that they're getting these good TT jobs because of their participation in these conferences; but it is true, I think, whether as a matter of self-selection or a matter of cultivation, that these are the people who get the good jobs.

And undergraduate conferences? Jeezus, man. Chill out. They're great. There are all these really interested college students who think philosophy is mind-blowingly awesome. Can we possibly expect them to hang out with the fucking dry-mouthed dorks at the APA? Of course not. They'd piss their pants with anxiety. The undergraduate conferences help them acquire their sea legs, just like the grad student conferences help grad students acquire theirs.


Anonymous said...

Wow. The MA chair and some others here are clearly out of touch. Have you even participated in a grad conference before? The reason they're on the rise is because grad students and professional philosophers alike enjoy participating in them and think they have some value.

Grad conferences help people network, meet other grad students, meet (often famous) professional philosophers that are keynotes, learn certain skills, and so on. It ultimately gets them a bit more ready for the profession they're training to get into. It helps people get they're feet wet before jumping into the deep end of this scary-ass pool we call "academia." At the very least, grad conferences are usually fun for the people who participate in them. Why do you want to stomp all over their hopes and dreams? They're just poor, jobless grad students, you meanie.

Of course there's a point at which there can be too many grad conferences. But that's true of professional conferences, professional journals, etc. But I think the number of grad conferences is not so large that it's a bad thing overall. As long as they are conducted professionally and have opportunities to meet big-name keynotes, etc., there's something for participants to gain.

It sounds like the MA chair is just annoyed that people are asking for money. If you don't have any money to give your students to go to grad conferences, don't give them any; say "Sorry, but we don't have any money."

Look, if you don't like going to graduate conferences, don't go. If you don't want to take part in organizing grad conferences, don't do it. If you don't like people having fun getting together and sharing some ideas about philosophy at a conference, well, you probably have no soul; you should probably check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Anonymous said...

Interesting comments so far, and I hear the OP's concerns about students getting into things that they lack the funding to carry out. But, I think with a little foresight and selectivity (i.e., don't apply to everything you see), student conferences can be a helpful part of undergrad/grad education in philosophy. Since I've run (or co-run with some others) some of these events, I wanted to throw in some other considerations to think about. Let me go beyond many of the stated reasons and give some others that could factor into such conferences being a decent thing.

1. Besides providing educational opportunities for the presenters, they also provide fairly risk-free (in a professional sense) opportunities for reviewers, chairs of panels, questioners in the audience, commentators, etc. For instance, a conference I'm involved with, the Society for Student Philosophers (shameless plug--the SSP deadline this year is fast approaching, Nov 7), double-blind reviews each submission twice with a national slate of student referees. Folks are getting experience submitting papers, and folks are getting experience refereeing them and seeing what other students are producing. Try doing any of these things (reviewing, commenting, chairing) your first time for/at the APA-E, and you'll see the safety factor in testing the waters at the student-conference level.

2. They provide a benefit for the host institution and its students--grads/undergrads, phil/non-phil students. Academic types, especially in philosophy, tend to get so focused on research (so often meaning us writing away "solo mission" style at our computer), and forget that we sometimes have the chance to affect the various communities we're situated in. One of those is the university (and town) that hosts the conference that showcases philosophical research. Students (and faculty from other departments) watch these things, learn things, and see how philosophical research works. This may or may not be a good thing! :> Those same folks, including students in the host dept and students at the host institution in general, also benefit from the keynote speaker's presence at the event. They get to see and possibly interact with someone they wouldn't have had the chance to see otherwise. While these are not decisive reasons on their own, one can see that there is definitely value added by conferences in ways that go beyond the question, "Will activity x help ME get a job?"

3. They also enhance a dept's (and discipline's) visibility on campus. Getting institutional funding for these events is (typically) no minor deal, and securing and publicizing a nice keynote speaker helps us show philosophy as vibrant part of that institution to those who matter (dean's, provosts, etc.). Each of the last two SSP conferences had funding from 5 different sources on the host campus (a real "coalition of the willing"). That means all of these folks knew about a philosophy conference, signed on to fund it, and seemed to judge it as something worthy to have in that academic community. And all knew it revolves around philosophy. Again, there is more to the story than the funding requests received for student travel at the OP's home institution, say, or the cv building of individual student presenters.

If I'm mistaken about any of these above considerations, I doubt it's in the direction of a net harm. Though I do not encourage this, the reality is that students (like many professional philosophers) always have the option of "flaking" and not attending if funding falls through. Of course, this is better received when it's known by the conference folks well in advance, but I believe extra patience is given to student presenters given the often unstable nature of their finances. I'd rather risk some last-minute drop outs from the program than the opportunity costs of not running the events. Those are my thoughts, at least.

Anonymous said...


I don't understand the concern about the quality of refereeing. Is there an argument that the use of grad student referees decreases the likelihood that the chosen papers are of especially high quality? If so, I'm missing it.

Why assume that grad students at top programs are not qualified to select roughly the ten best papers out of one hundred submissions? Suppose the faculty at these schools refereed the grad conferences (or even that the papers were sent out to expert referees by subfield). Perhaps I'm being too optimistic, but my guess is that the faculty's (or expert referees') chosen ten would overlap significantly with the students' chosen ten. Maybe this is in fact an incorrect guess; still, it would be good to hear an argument as to why it is any more likely to be incorrect than correct.

As for comparison class, is your disjunction intended to be exclusive (as between those who are not "good enough" to present at professional conferences and those who merely think that they are not)? If not, then what is your point? If so, then you are mistaken. Many students who present at grad conferences also present at professional conferences. Presumably, these students meet the criteria for being "good enough" to do so.

Finally, why should heavy participation in grad conferences be a turn-off? I don’t see the connection between your conclusions about the value of grad conferences and your being turned off by someone’s participation in them. I can see the connection with failing to be turned on, but why be turned off?

Anonymous said...

The undergraduate conferences are just part of the regrettable spiraling-out-of-control of the undergraduate research trend. Let's encourage ever more undergraduates to play at research and implant in them a hope of succeeding in academia, even as jobs for philosophers become fewer and fewer. Let's flatter naive undergraduates by featuring them in conferences so they'll at least get some free pizza as they begin their journey to disappointment, unemployment and penury. An increase in the number of these conferences is the last thing we need.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:07 ought to leave the profession on grounds of being incapable of clear thinking.

First, I suspect that some of the work presented at graduate student conferences, and maybe even much of the work presented at first tier graduate conferences, is better than much (or possibly all) of Anon 6:07's work.

Second, as someone else has noted, a lot of the work accepted at professional conferences is less than impressive. I've commented on papers at graduate student conferences that blow away much of stuff presented at the APA.

Third, only a complete moron would suggest that meeting other highly qualified people who are interested in your work does not help with your professional development. Many people select particular graduate student conferences to present at *just because* they will get to meet certain people at those conferences. Is Anon 6:07 really as braindead as he/she sounds?

Fourth, the suggestion that people uncomfortable with public speaking should automatically leave academia is asinine.

I could go on, but the rantings and ravings of someone who needs to be institutionalized don't deserve to be taken any more seriously than I've already taken them.

Anonymous said...

I am on faculty at a Leiter-riffic, or at least highly Leiter-respectable, department. I presented at a few graduate conferences in my day and found them enormously valuable.

Regarding undergraduate conferences: Many undergraduates get very little feedback on their work from their professors. But getting feedback on one's work is crucial, not only to making that work better, but to understanding what philosophy is -- one gets to see that the 'obvious' points need argument, that clarity is of great importance, that it matters whether one is right or wrong, and so on. Undergraduate conferences are a great way to get this feedback.

Oh, and by the way: to the original poster, you sound like a real asshole.

Anonymous said...

One thing that has not been mentioned here is that the attendance at a good grad conference is much higher than at most professional conferences...i presented at a grad conference and had upwards of 50 people, students and faculty, in attendance. I also presented at the apa and had 5 people attend. The apa may be more prestegious but it is certainly more satisfying to speak to a larger audience. Also, there is usually more time for questions, which is a wondeful thing. The standard professional conference, with its 5-10 minutes for discussion, is a disgrace!

Anonymous said...

I thought this blog was for job marketeers to complain about trivialities and to ask questions they already should know the answers to. Now it appears faculty members not on the market are getting in on the action too. Nice work, MA department chair: in terms of its utter insignificance your non-question matches most of the stuff already found on this blog. I

Anonymous said...

My department (Brown) has had a graduate conference annually since 1996. Not many faculty members attend, but I've gone a few times and I think it is plainly an enjoyable and valuable experience for the students involved.

Professional training:
I don't understand the skepticism. I think it's obvious that most graduate students get a lot of benefit out of giving a presentation in front of an unfamiliar audience. I wish I'd been able to give one before I went on the job market. And I agree that the networking and informal philosophy talk is also valuable.

I've refereed for the Eastern APA Program and the Madison Metaethics Workshop a few times. I don't think papers at Brown's graduate student conferences are as good as either of those professional ones, on average, but such comparisons may be beside the point. The important question is whether the papers are good enough to be worth listening to and commenting on, and I think they are. Sometimes they are striking and memorable: the first I ever heard about Sleeping Beauty was when Adam Elga gave his paper at the Brown grad conference in... hm, more years ago than I (or Adam) care to think about, I guess.

If you have no funding at all for graduate student travel, that's bad. You should, independent of whether the students go to graduate conferences or professional ones. If you do have funding but worry that graduate conferences will stretch it too thin, just offer to fund one trip, graduate or APA or whatever.
This suggestion seems so obvious that I think I must be missing something.

Anonymous said...

Grad conferences are CV-filling mills.

Anonymous said...

All the graduate student conferences are a good idea for all the reasons mentioned. If attitudes exhibited there are better that the sneering I've seen at APA conferences, then that's even more reason for them.

Having said that, I do worry about the CV-building mentality I've seen some people display (not on this blog). After your 5th graduate student conference, there's probably not much to be gained by adding more to your CV. It's good experience, nonetheless, independently of that.

Anonymous said...

Dear MA department chair,

No matter how well-regarded it is, chances are that your program is predatory on grad student labor. By this I mean that you rely on having MA students around to teach the courses you would otherwise be teaching, yet offer them next to nothing in terms of present salary, and beyond that no guarantee of future employment. So why don't you suck it in and try to find some money for these kids to go to their conferences? Unless you yourself are presenting regularly at the Aristotelian Society, chances are that there are a few people looking down on the conferences you are going to as nothing more than kid stuff. An undergraduate conference is practice for an obscure grad conference, which is practice for a better grad conference, which is practice for a regional professional conference, which is practice for the APA, which is practice for the aforementioned society. And I doubt anyone presenting regularly there wants to sit through one of your papers either. So unless you are at the top of this hierarchy, suck it in, do your job, and get these kids some funding. And if you want to contribute fruitfully to this blog, maybe you can start by explaining how someone with little self-awareness and such low regard for grad student work can get a job like yours.


A member of the PJMB community

Anonymous said...

I suppose that it might be good practice for students to organize conferences, deliver papers, and meet peers.

Exactly. We get to work out some kinks in some papers we wrote for a seminar before submitting them to professional conferences or journals. Usually, we meet a cool keynote speaker who we wouldn't have met otherwise. We get practice delivering work to an audience of our peers. No, it won't help us get jobs, but it's fun to meet new people to drink with. It's also nice to see a new city and see how other programs run.

But from my point of view, there’s a problem. If we encourage our students to participate and they are accepted to various programs (a not unlikely scenario given how many conferences there are), then they look to me and the department for funding.

Why not just say that grad conferences are for working out papers before submitting them to professional conferences or journals and that you'll only help pay for professional conferences? I don't see why this is a problem.

Anonymous said...

Well, I agree with people above that the original complaint is misguided. If the problem is limited travel funds, just set a policy restricting the sorts of travel you'll fund. And giving a paper at this sort of thing can be fun and help with the professionalization process, turning human beings into academics.

That said, let's turn this to the job market, eh? I think:

(1) Presenting at these conferences won't help you get a job, so don't do it for that reason, and
(2) Even listing a presentation at a grad conference on your CV might *hurt* you, by making it look like you're padding things, and you're kinda green. Listing a grad conference presentation when you're an MA student applying to a Ph.D. program is one thing, but when you're looking for a TT job it comes across badly.

Anonymous said...

I have a Ph.D. and prefer presenting on panels with grad students. Grad students tend to be less cranky and/or self-absorbed (read: big ego) as professors. Also, the quality of their papers tend to be better than those of professors. They are usually more imaginative and reflective of someone taking a fresh look at the literature/ideas. I think that allowing students to get accepted to conferences and then to beg for the funding from their department, mom/dad or perhaps from fellow students and the public (e.g. the philosophy club bake sale to send students to conferences) is good practice for what they will have to do when they get their Ph.D.s. I mean, most Philosophy departments have limited funding for their faculty and no funding for their adjuncts to attend/present at conferences, so most of us have to self-fund our own conference outings anyway.

Anonymous said...

Oh I totally agree with anon. oct. 23rd 6:07. I mean, if you enter graduate school and are not already doing professional level work, at the same level as your professors, then fuck off. Seriously, what do you wussies need school for, when people as great as me and good ole 6:07 arrive fully formed in graduate school, ready to tackle the world?

What a douche-bag.

Anonymous said...

My son was invited to spend a week in Europe with the family of a friend. I didn't have the money to send him on the trip. I suppose that the family who invited him should not have planned the trip. Seriously, your reasoning is horrible! Perhaps attending a few undergraduate conferences would help you develop your basic critical thinking skills.

Anonymous said...

two things on separate subjects:

one: I presented at two grad conferences, early in my grad career. they were both really good chances to meet other grads. This matters because now when I go to the 'real' conferences, I actually know people that I am excited to catch up with, which makes these conferences much better for then meeting even more new people. Conferences are very awkward when you only know a couple other people, all from your school. Grad conferences, while they can be overdone, are great for that.

two: what is up with the philosophy job market wiki? Last year, people had entered all the jobs within a couple days of the JFP coming out. Now we have nothing up there. Are we just a less motivated batch of job seekers? Why aren't we working on this? That wiki was really good last for seeing when and where interviews and callbacks were scheduled. We should get our asses in gear and do it again this year.

Anonymous said...

What's with all the bitter chairs who couldn't get jobs at PhD granting institutions?

Anonymous said...

I am in broad agreement with those who find the proliferation of these grad conferences to be good. I have only one thing to add.

Public speaking is difficult and scary. I read somewhere that the most significant fear reported by Americans is the fear of public speaking, with death at #2. So on average, people would rather die than speak in front of a group. But public speaking is a key part of our profession--in order to be successful we must do it and do it well. If there are a lot of conferences aimed at helping grad students gain the skills necessary to be successful philosophers, I don't see why that should be such a big fucking problem for people. (Does it hurt you, MA Department Chair, that grad conferences exist? No, it doesn't.)

I would recommend that you take the following attitude: stop whining about things that don't affect you, and be happy that these grad students are taking an active role in their own professional development by starting and participating in grad conferences. A lot of people whose jobs include teaching grad students and/or running a department with a graduate program would probably take pleasure in something like that, and it disturbs me that you're being such a baby about it. You might consider not directing any MA theses until such time as you grow up.

Anonymous said...

Wow. What an enormously cranky and ungenerous set of responses to some venting by MA Dept Chair.

Do grad conferences serve a purpose? Yes, clearly they do. Is it an important purpose? No, not really. There are some benefits to going, but they should not be overblown.

Are grad conferences on the cv a turn-off to prospective employers? Speaking only for myself, yes, they are. If you list one grad conference on the cv, and nothing else, you'd best have finished your ma/phd very quickly. If you list more than one grad conference on the cv, and no professional conferences, I'm likely to think you're wasting your time on these instead of going to professional conferences. This shows a certain lack of judgment at least, and could lead to suspicions about your ability to present your work in a way that appeals to professionals. If you list both professional conferences and a bunch of grad conferences, I'm likely to think you're padding your cv. If you list professional conferences, and one grad conference, the grad conference won't count for anything (no matter where it is), but it won't hurt you either.

Quality of refereeing? Where the quality of referees is lower, so will be the quality of refereeing in general. In many grad programs, even top programs, many people who enter never finish. Are these the people refereeing for grad conferences? Sometimes. But even where it isn't, in general, grad students simply have less experience and knowledge than professionals. That's not controversial, nor does it deny that some grad students know more than some professionals. In any case, the pool of submissions at most grad conferences is likely to be smaller and of lower quality than the pool of submissions at most professional conferences. (Again -- of course there are exceptions, but -- especially when someone is looking at your cv -- don't count on them assuming that you're the exception.)

That said, of course there are bad professional conferences, and some grad presentations are better than some professional presentations. So what? When you apply for a job, I'm not at the conference, I'm reading your cv.


Anonymous said...

I’ve also wondered about these conferences.

I’ve gotten a handful of requests for departmental money from undergrads and MA students – my answer is always no.

Travel money is for faculty first and then Ph.D. students. – We also allocate funds for staff to travel for professional development.

Anonymous said...

I second Jamie Dreier's comments.

Also, I've presented at several top grad conferences and several mid-tier professional conferences (one of professionals is on the cusp of being top-tier), and I've found that on average the grad. conferences were more worthwhile experiences. I met a lot of enthusiastic grads who I continue to have helpful interactions with. Moreover, I've met several big-shot keynotes who have been very helpful. I think that the good grad conferences are incredibly helpful with respect to becoming professionalized. And I've heard several of the keynotes at the conferences I've attended say as much. I am very curious if the OP really has any experience with such things.

I'm also surprised that no one has mentioned how bad it is for grads on the market that such false beliefs are wide-spread. Even if they are wrong, if those who are hiring think that grad conferences are bogus, applicants who went to grad conferences are hurt. I think, therefore, it is really important that older members of hiring committees are set straight wrt grad conferences.

Anonymous said...

"Listing a grad conference presentation when you're an MA student applying to a Ph.D. program is one thing, but when you're looking for a TT job it comes across badly."

This is just not the case. Probably having a CV with a ton of grad conferences, particularly the ones that would be judged to be less competitive, and no other conference presentations, wouldn't be a good thing, especially at some schools. But I see no reason to leave grad school conferences off of one's CV. It is important to remember here that many professional conferences have quite high acceptance rates and that many grad conferences are much more competitive. Also, more and more conferences seem to have invited speakers lists (this is a huge problem in the UK), which means high quality grad conferences that practice blind review (e.g., MIT/Harvard, Rutgers-Princeton, Brown, Columbia/NYU) are very important.

Here would be an interesting exercise: go through the speakers list at grad conferences like those above from, say, 2000-2003, and see where the speakers are now working as faculty.

Anonymous said...

I too would apologize for the several rude responses to the original poster. That kind of unprofessional response is what makes us (hiring departments) not try to engage more on this blog with what's intended to be helpful advice or occasionally an honest rant (grad students aren't the only ones frustrated).

I take it that most folks here are liberal/not-Republicans. If so, what happened to the tolerance that is supposed to be the hallmark of liberal democracies? Is blog-anonymity our virtual Ring of Gyges? Perhaps it's cathartic to rant anonymously, but being rude and abrasive has never worked productively to change anyone's mind (assuming commentators have a goal to change things for the better).

To Mister Zero: Though I would often disagree with you, you are usually an excellent model of professionalism and courtesy. So I was a bit disappointed with your last post; you are better than that.

Anonymous said...

A "chance to affect the various communities we're situated in?!?" Good lord, isn't this why we do philosophy?

P.G.O.A.T. said...

I'm with Anon 1:44. What's with you crankypantses anyway? Are each and every one of you organizers of these things or what?

Also, notice that Anon MA Dept Chair was commenting on the *proliferation* of these conferences. Pointing to the handful of first-rate ones as a justification for the existence of *all* of them misses the point entirely.

Anonymous said...


It bothers me that every day it seems like there are more and more people getting together to talk about philosophy. The reason it bothers me is because it causes a very slight inconvenience to me and the small group of philosophers I am in charge of. Even though it is very slight, and technically speaking I am dedicated to the spread of philosophical knowledge, I can't get over it. So instead of reevaluating the direction my life is headed, I am sending you this email to complain about all the minor irritation this has caused me.

Yours truly,

Anonymous said...

The poster at 1:00 p.m. is an impostor!

Anonymous said...

As an undergrad the attitude expressed by the MA chair and some of the comments seems to be a direct attack against my ability to do philosophy, and it's frustrating to be looked down on so much (then again, with the plan to enter academia it's a feeling that is pretty much permanent the moment I send my grad school apps out anyway). The whole mentality that somehow grad students, and lord forbid undergrad students are unfit to do professional philosophy is just something that personally drives me to work even harder and prove that even as an undergrad I can take you on at the same level.

So, thanks MA chair and anon 12:24 AM, I'm going to keep organising and attending undergrad conferences till you start to see the merit of them. I'm also quite glad my Chair is willing to spread the wealth.

P.S. When attending conferences I also find the graduate ones to have a much more open atmosphere and more enjoyable in that aspect to be at. But I also make it a point (even as *gasp* an undergrad!) to attend professional conferences more, simply in the interests of networking.

Anonymous said...

So first...Airing of grievances?

Then what? Feats of strength?

Anonymous said...

These grad conferences don't look that good on your CV. You should totally do them, but you should leave them off your CV. It will help you to do them, but it will not help you to list them--at least, the expected utility of listing them is negative.

In defense of my "disappointing" comment, I would point out that 6:48 is exactly right. MA Chair dude is complaining that more and more grad students are actively creating situations in which they can discuss their work with one another in a semi-professional setting. It disturbs me that s/he wouldn't be glad that this is happening--he doesn't go to them (though what would be the big deal?), and the only effect it has on his life is that he *does not* pay for his grad students to attend them. Fuck that. Grow up, MA Chair dude.

Anonymous said...

So I just checked out Harvard's job prospects for (I think) this year:

I don't know about all y'all (and it's not coming from jealousy--I'm a prof, etc.), but I'm deeply underwhelmed by the CVs on this page, considering especially all the (worthwhile) discussion on this blog. What do you all think?

Anonymous said...

How about this for an analogy: Whenever I'm tempted to accuse some other humanities discipline of being a "waste of time," "intellectual masturbation," bullshit, etc., I try to remind myself that what we do is probably just as easily and plausibly described as such.

Whatever goes on at student conferences might sound like a waste of time to you now that you're up to speed on the latest and fanciest bullshit philosophy has to offer, but please don't begrudge us little'uns the bullshit that appeals to us.

Anonymous said...

RE: Harvard job candidates. All I can say is, wow. Here I was convinced that I would never be admitted to a high-ranking US PhD program from my current MA program without some publications. Everyone I have spoken to emphasises the importance of publications.

Yet here are Harvard PhDs with no publication record to speak of.

Anonymous said...

Sure, I'm a liberal, but more in the standing up to injustice rather than tolerating it sort of way. If you are "disappointed" in any of the posts here, I would say (a) nothing is more offensive than the condescending attitude of the original post,(b) how long have you been reading this blog anyway?--it has a sacred and time-honored tradition of cursing at people like MA chair, and if you don't like it (c) go read the blog for older philosophers like you, which won't irritate you with much in the way of free and open discussion.

Right on, Mr. Zero, keep up the intelligent and always informative posts. PGOAT, I'm afraid you missed the boat on this one--but don't worry, I still think you're awesome!

Anonymous said...

To Anon 9:12 PM -

In terms of professional activity, my CV and the CVs of most of those from my non-Leiterrific program put those to shame. BUT, we aren't from Harvard so we have to build-up our CVs in ways that they don't. That's just the way it is. Good for them, too bad for us.

Anonymous said...

fake Mr. Zero at 6:50:

Grow up.

Mysjkin said...

Regarding Harvard prospects: look at their letter-writers and diss abstracts. Recommendations from Korsgaard, Scanlon, Sandel, Goldfarb, etc. Interesting dissertation topics. If I was on a hiring committee I wouldn't be too bothered by unimpressive lists of publications. Anything wrong with that?

Anonymous said...

come on, folks. we shouldn't be evaluating particular job candidates on the pjmb, particularly in advance of the interview season.

Anonymous said...

I second the sentiment of anon 10:59. It seems really inappropriate to be assessing the strengths of individual candidates in this forum. Moreover, I think Harvard's practice of providing online information about their students on the market is an admirable instance of advocating for their graduates. Let's show more class and not gawk and point like middle schoolers. Jesus.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 11:34 et. al.: My intention was not to point to individual candidates at Harvard in order to rake them over the coals or some such nonsense. It just seems to me that people on the job market could benefit (in whatever ways they will) from seeing these CVs, and maybe would even freak out a bit less about not having publications in Journal X, or not having presented at Conference Awesome. My apologies to those who think I was merely gawking and pointing like a middle schooler; seriously, that was not my intent.

I do think, though, that the CVs are underwhelming regarding the kinds of things that most people on this blog concern themselves with in their job market anxiety, but as some of you have pointed out, as long as someone famous can vouch for you, I guess you must be awesome already and don't need to show it like other people do. So let's gawk and point at the famous people instead, I guess, like some kind of fetishistic philosophy paparazzi.

Anonymous said...

Conference Awesome? When's the deadline? Is it a graduate conference? Will they pay for my travel?

Anonymous said...

I do think, though, that the CVs are underwhelming regarding the kinds of things that most people on this blog concern themselves with in their job market anxiety, but as some of you have pointed out, as long as someone famous can vouch for you, I guess you must be awesome already and don't need to show it like other people do.

Look, part of the point is that Korsgard and Goldfarb are really hard to impress, maybe even harder to impress than the person who approved your paper for publication in a journal. So having their approval is as least as good as, or better, than having a publication line on your CV.

Another thing to keep in mind is that at some of these places, publication is actively discouraged. You might write a paper that is of publishable quality, but the advice is to hold on to it and really really develop your view. So it's not as if these candidates are doing less work than the average candidate from a lower-ranked school, or can get away with writing lower quality work.

The main aspect of it that is unfair is that Harvard candidates don't need to spend the time to publish, but candidates from lower schools do. But, hey, the Harvard candidates had to get themselves into Harvard. Maybe a way to think about it that is favorable to lower-tiered candidates is: if you didn't get into Harvard, you still have another opportunity to get to the top: publish during grad school.

Anonymous said...

My guess would be that a hiring commitee at a small school could be drawn to any number of things on a CV (and it is very hard to predict what it will or won't be). For instance, let's say the school is in the middle of no where Texas. This school will be very worried about whether or not folks will stay at such a place. Well, if by chance you went to grad conference near this school and you can even say in your letter (to this school) how, from experience, you really liked the area and could see yourself enjoying life there, then something like this could help. You just never know what will help you on the market and the more that you have done the more you have to put in any dossier.

Anonymous said...

Golly. The villagers seem ready to storm the castle with torches and pitchforks. I can only envy the world Anon 6:44 must inhabit, if s/he sincerely believes that "nothing is more offensive than the condescending attitude of the original post." Perhaps s/he should read Feinberg's "A Ride on the Bus" or have a beer with my sexist-racist-homophobic neighbor Joe. But at least s/he's "standing up to injustice." Fight the power!

Anonymous said...

"Maybe a way to think about it that is favorable to lower-tiered candidates is: if you didn't get into Harvard, you still have another opportunity to get to the top: publish during grad school."

Well, at least I know my department is 'lower-tiered'. Awesome.

Anonymous said...

So, one of our undergraduates just returned from an undergraduate philosophy conference. The first thing I asked the student was how it went. The student's answer: "Humbling."

Bear in mind, that the paper the student presented was written for an advanced level course, and a faculty member had gone over drafts of the paper to help the student get it ready for submission for the conference. Nevertheless, the student came back specifically requesting "even harder work." No lie. The student wants to be able to answer all the questions that were asked the next time, and ask better questions about other areas of philosophy. Maybe this is some sort of ideal undergraduate, one who already works pretty hard, takes philosophy seriously, and wants to "get out there" in the world beyond our department, and comes back from an encounter with the world in that wonderful Socratic position of feeling she or he knows less than she or he had believed, wanting to work harder. Maybe that's pretty ideal and unusual. Yet, I have seen this sort of thing before from time to time.

The proliferation of undergraduate conferences may have less to do with a questionable "undergraduate research mission" out of touch with the reality of the lack of academic jobs, but with a "pedagogical mission" that emphasizes broadening the context of students' learning, a "mission" that is pretty intense and has little in common with any Master/disciple or "passive learning" models of eduction. Maybe a lot of instructors are seeing the value of this sort of thing increasingly. Maybe we *aren't coddling* students at all, or giving them false hopes about the sort of work they need to do. Undergrads need not travel far and wide to try their hand at conferences, or, in my experience, take up the costs themselves, considering conference travel a kind of short-term Study Abroad (an additional expense, considered worth it on account of the experience).

I can't honestly say that the student in question will continue on to a graduate program in philosophy or that this was the student's real motive behind attending that undergraduate conference. This student is also interested in public policy. But I would like to think that the value of the conference experience has much to do with its providing a first-hand encounter with hard intellectual work, the hard work of preparation, communication and then the return home to have to do more very hard work. An aspiring community organizer or city-planner stands to gain from this sort of experience as much as any aspiring academic philosopher. In any case, it is probably philosophy instructors that are at least partly to blame for the proliferation of undergraduate conferences and encouraging this sort of "nonsense."

Anonymous said...

Some posters have suggested that they'd hold a negative view of CV's that listed grad conferences. This strikes me as an unfair practice. Look, job seekers can't read minds, and it's not unreasonable for them to think that some search committee members would look favorably upon grad conference participation. If you don't look favorably upon it, then fine, ignore it, but don't hold it against applicants for mentioning.

Anonymous said...

To those who look down on graduate conferences on CVs:

Is there a difference between including on one's CV the, say, Rutgers-Princeton graduate conference vs. Unknown University graduate conference?

Anonymous said...

Many conferences are a waste of time, whether graduate or professional.

Anonymous said...

anon 4:01

While you're guess as to the low percentage of Republicans is undoubtedly an educated one, I think it's laughable that liberals in the political sense are presumed by you to be better-behaved in comment threads and message board discussions. Hence, I'm laughing. Have you ever read anything on DailyKos, by chance?