Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Wherein PGOAT tries her hand at advice columnry.

Please tell me why it is so tough. As a rising senior now applying for Ph.D. programs, a lot of what I hear is depressing or blatant denials. But I'm mostly told that (1) if you publish a lot and make the right connections as a Ph.D. candidate, you will emerge with a job and (2) that most of the old folks will be retiring by the time that I finish. Are these myths that deserve to be trashed as we seek better options or what? Hope I don't sound too nervy. Thanks for all you do.
-- Jhdeleuzian

Dear Jhdeleuzian,

I love nervy. Bring it on. As for the advice you're being given:

(1) is right, but not nearly as easy as you might think it would be. Grad school is hard. Like, really really hard. Telling you that all you have to do is "publish a lot and make the right connections" is about as awesome as Charles de Mar's skiing advice in Better Off Dead: "Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn." It's not wrong exactly, it's just totally fucking useless.

(For important suggestions about how to avoid some pitfalls in thinking about this, check out what PGS wrote here a while back.)

(2) is a tired myth that deserves to be trashed. The assholes who perpetuate this myth deserve to have their kneecaps smashed in with a ball-peen hammer. Some discussion of this in the PJMB archives can be found here, here, and here.

good luck kisses,


Edit: Bonus Better Off Dead trailer! (Go to 0:56 for the quote.)


Anonymous said...

Love. the. PGOAT.

As for the retiring faculty, maybe they will, maybe they won't at a higher rate. The real point, of course, is that this doesn't matter because universities are replacing TT faculty with adjuncts. And likely to do so at a higher rate starting this year, given Wall Street's collapse.

Ball peen hammers are a good idea.

Making connections is complicated by the fact that many philosophers have the social skills of easily irritable bread mold. Getting published is complicated by the fact that journals take their damn time making a decision either way. Writing good philosophy is complicated by the fact that it is generally totally abstract (hence, no data that can helpfully direct you as you get sucked further and further into the Escher-like recesses of your own mind over the course of a multi-year project) and in some ways is much like creative writing (which you may have noticed drives some very talented individuals to drink, suicide, and other undesirable behaviors).

Anonymous said...

Given the stock market, many of us may have to delay our retirement significantly. I really am sympathetic about the problems this will cause for young folk, but it will be interesting to see what philosophy will look like in a post testosterone period.

Anonymous said...

Of course, it should also be noted, even #1 is not entirely true. Or even if somewhat containing a grain of truth, the accumulation of facts in #1 are not always sufficient for getting a job. Really sorry, Jhdeleuzian, not a really great time for going into philosophy as a profession. (Ok, everyone, calm down with your 'It was harder in the 30-60-70-80' stories, and also you with your 'when was it ever...', and you with your 'We're doing it because of the ideal'. Just shut up. We also need to eat and have a decent life, ok?)

Anonymous said...

Publishing a lot is not the key. Pedigree is everything. Even if it takes you 18 years to finish, get a Ph.D. from Harvard...with absolutely no publications, you will at the very least get a job at Auburn University.

Anonymous said...

True, so I would reccomend looking at the placement record of the schools you get into. If having the career path of the average student there makes grad school worthwhile, then go to grad school.

Anonymous said...

Agree with those above: the best advice is to go to a program with an excellent placement record. If you can get in to one of them, then you have a good chance. If not, you have a hard road ahead of you.

Anonymous said...

There is no recipe or key. Luck is a big part of it. But, for what it's worth:

Pedigree is extremely important. At my old R1, some new PhD's with no publications were hired for TT positions, just because of where they came from and their apparent promise. I'm not saying they aren't good philosophers, but whether they'll publish anywhere/anything good is still tbd.

We also hired some people for TT positions who'd been out for a few years and had good publication records.

But at the same R1, we were able to hire good people with good publications (2-4 good journal articles) for 3-yr Adjunct positions, because they couldn't find TT positions. Typically, they'd lacked the right pedigree, and were trying to publish their way up the ladder.

Anonymous said...

PGOAT -- you're my hero for quoting from "Better Off Dead."

Lane Myer: [talking about skiing the K-12] Look Charles, I gotta do this. If I don't, I'll be nothing. I'll end up like my neighbor Ricky Smith. He just sits around crocheting all day and snorting nasal spray.

Charles De Mar: He snorts nasal spray? Know where I can score some?

Anonymous said...

Publishing a lot is not the key. Pedigree is everything. Even if it takes you 18 years to finish, get a Ph.D. from Harvard...with absolutely no publications, you will at the very least get a job at Auburn University.

And, just to complete that thought, I've had four pubs in the past year along with a teaching award and 0 interviews have come of it. I've applied for a couple of tenure track positions, positions as VAP, lecturer, and a handful of post-docs. The result? I haven't received squat. 0 for the past 20 since last year's complete failure to land an interview at the Eastern. No pedigree means no job.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:11, A couple of years ago it was true (I am told) that Louisville had a 100% placement record. I'm confident in saying that none of the Ivies have a 100% placement record. So, pedigree isn't everything.

Jhdeleuzian, here's what you should do: pick 10 schools, some cool schools in cool parts of the country, others shit schools in shitholes (in your opinion, of course), a combo of schools with and without grad programs, look at their philosophy departments and see where the assistant and associate professors went. That'll be more informative than looking at the cooked books that philosophy grad programs post to their websites - at least when you're at the do-I-go-or-don't-I stage. If you decide to go, then look at individual school's placement stats, by all means.

I'll also give my standard advice: if you can manage not to go to grad school, don't. The only reason to go is that you can't imagine not going. (Unless you're planning on a PhD in finance. Then go if you can get admitted with funding, even if you don't have quan skills to finish. Or if you can stomach a PhD in nursing, because they're in short supply: you'll get a good job and you'll never have to see a sick person ever. But if you're interested in any humanities field, this advice holds.)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, so I see a job advertised today that I applied for last year, when they had exactly the same four-line ad. Never heard fuck from them last year. Do I 1) apply anyway and assume they didn't bother reading my CV the first time, 2) email and ask if it's worth reapplying, or 3) say fuck 'em and go on my merry way. (I do sound merry today, don't I?) I won't mention the school, just say they're not Cornell.

Anonymous said...

On the Reapplication question: Unless your CV and work has substantially improved, it most likely will be a waste of time, effort, and paper. Then again, I suppose it may take little time, effort, and paper to reapply, so waste away.

This is why it is often a good idea to wait until you will be at your best before you go on the market. All in all, blanketing every job with the same dossier is all things considered no better than and perhaps may be worse than carefully selecting jobs for which you seem a good match and tailoring your dossier with respect to those.

Then again, what do I know. I am a minority and got my cushy job solely in virtue of how I look.

Anonymous said...

To October 8, 2008 3:43 PM, why won't you mention the job? If not-Cornell is what I think it is, the job ad is not the same.

Anonymous said...

I just noticed that not-Cornell also has an ad from jfk 176, that looks closer to the ad in the most recent web only list. That's 3 years in a row, but the ad does change.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else have the heart to tell 3:41 that Louisville doesn't even have a PhD program in Philosophy, let alone a 100% placement record?

Aside from this, no one leaves grad school with enough publications to guarantee a job, so that's a non-starter. Publications aren't even all that important to finding a job straight out of grad school, unless you're at a PhD program below the top 10 and trying to find a job at an R1 or R2 institution.

Anonymous said...

On the Reapplication question: Unless your CV and work has substantially improved, it most likely will be a waste of time, effort, and paper. Then again, I suppose it may take little time, effort, and paper to reapply, so waste away.

Wow, that is such good advice! So practical and helpful!

I'll add mine:
You should apply for all the jobs you're qualified for as long as you'd be willing to accept them. Then again, you probably have little chance at this one, so why bother?

Hm, now I think my parody wasn't good enough, because my advice has some chance of being helpful.

tenured philosophy girl said...

"Does anyone else have the heart to tell 3:41 that Louisville doesn't even have a PhD program in Philosophy, let alone a 100% placement record?"

Given that Louisville has no Ph.D. program in philosophy, clearly it does have a 100% placement record.

Sorry folks - we're philosophers - someone had to say it.

Anonymous said...

Did Auburn really hire someone who took 18 years to finish at Harvard?

If so, I don't think that it would be such a bad move. I mean (and I'm not kidding here) you need to be awfully good not to get kicked out of a good grad program for taking that long.

My program (Leiterific, but not Harvard) had more than a few students who went on past 10 years, and the impression I had was the some time around then they were given something comparable to an informal tenure review, with most of them being kicked out, and the one's that weren't (2 that I know of in the past 20 years) were allowed to stay in the program as long as they wanted.

Both of these students would have been an excellent addition to any department, even if they didn't publish much.

chocolat fondant said...

tpg -- 0/0 is undefined, so I don't see how Louisville could have a 100% placement record. Enlighten me!

Anonymous said...

We should consider all the possibilities. Besides being "awfully good" a 10-plus year Ph.D. student (call him Johnny) could have a parent-alumnus who donates heavily to the school. When the chair threatens to throw Johnny out of the Philosophy Ph.D. program, Johnny's father (an alumnus) goes to the alumni association and tells them that if Johnny is thrown out he will tell all his fellow alumni at the country club not to donate next year. The chair of the department gets scolded by the University President and Johnny stays, and stays, and stays . . . (hopefully when Johnny is finally finished with his Ph.D., he will not be on the job market when I am, or perhaps his dad will get him a job in the family business) . . . the question is: would you like Johnny to be your colleague?

TPG said...

"tpg -- 0/0 is undefined, so I don't see how Louisville could have a 100% placement record. Enlighten me!"

Sigh. (x)(x is a Louisville grad --> x got a job). 100% = 100 parts per 100. If you divide all the Louisville grads (0) by 100 (=0, NOT undefined) and then see how many of those in each percentile (0) got a job (0), all of them did.

Was that truly necessary?

Anonymous said...

I went to Harvard, and knew of the 18 year grad student case. He wasn't actively in the department for most of that time, and wasn't teaching. Over those 18 years, he produced a 1600 page dissertation on Kant (though he submitted only half of it, due to length limitations). Although his case is very odd, he didn't spend those 18 years goofing around; he read essentially all of the secondary literature on Kant, etc. So I don't know... if you want a colleague who isn't concerned with publication and deadlines, but is concerned with getting things right, he's probably not a bad choice. And after all Auburn's not exactly NYU.

Anonymous said...

The market is partially arbitrary. There is no way to game it in its entirety. You can do things to increase your chances (pedigree, publications, etc.), but there is - at the end - no guarantee. I know of people with very good pedigrees who ended up not getting a job in philosophy (but then, they set limits on their job search: 2 years, not in Ankara, Turkey, and so forth). I heard a good analogy to this once: getting a job in philosophy is like trying to avoid lung cancer. You can do everything right, e.g., not smoke, live in pure mountain air, not be a firefighter, and still get cancer. Likewise, you can smoke for 80 of your 94 years and never get lung cancer. There's no guarantee: going to a good school, publishing and whatnot increases your chances of employment (as does living right decrease your chances of lung cancer), but in the end it just might not work out that way.

Do it because you love it, fully aware that at the end there is no promise of a job. Pallbeen the hell out of anyone who ever mentions #2.

Anonymous said...

Regarding my Louisville reference, obviously I didn't check it before posting, but thanks for the fact checking. I do appreciate it. Really.

I guess no one noticed the caveat, so I'll repeat it here: "it was true (I am told)."

I'm a northerner, and story was told about a southern school similar to if not exactly like Louisville. So I probably got the name wrong. This is a failing in me, I'll admit, but I don't really know the difference between Louisville and Vanderbilt and Memphis (except that Jay Cutler went to Vanderbilt). It was one of those schools. Sorry, y'all.

ANYWAY, my point is still valid even if the example I gave was clearly wrong. Places many people wouldn't consider applying to have better placement records than places that they would give a right testicle to get into. There is a certain amount of prejudice (maybe justified) in teaching schools against people from fancy grad programs.

IN ANY CASE, the best advice is to go to someplace that you'll be happy living for 4-18 years. If you don't get a job, the post office is always hiring. I'm serious, grad school should be an end in itself, because there's no guarantees after grad school, so do it because you love it.

Oh, Chocolat Fondant, I think TPG's argument was along these lines: if X graduated from Louisville, X got a TT job.

Anonymous said...

People are right that pedigree counts for as much as if not more than publications etc.. But one thing that anybody considering grad school ought to bear in mind is where they will thrive most intellectually. If you see academia as a profession or a positive career choice you are blindly stupid. If you have a passion for philosophy then you will be most successful at it if you pursue those passions at places that allow you to pursue them.

Say come March you have acceptance letters from two Ph.D. programs. School 1 is Leiterized up and down but they have no faculty who get you excited and indeed only one junior professor works on your favorite philosopher or subfield. School 2 is off the Leiter map entirely but there is a really impressive professor there who does great work right in the area you want to write a dissertation on. Assume also that you get relatively comparable funding packages from both (assumed piece of advice: do not go anywhere without funding unless you come from money). I would say that your choice here is relatively obvious. If you go to School 1 with the dream of pedigree-paved jobs you will more than likely become one of the many students who doesn't thrive in that environment and quietly leaves after a few years. (Ever notice just how many grad students each of the big schools have? Compare that to the number who actually ever finish.) If you go to School 2 you may have a hard road ahead of you when you hit the job market but at least you will finish your dissertation and you will be proud of your dissertation. There is nothing sadder than those Leiterized junior professionals whose advisors are proud of their dissertations but who themselves have little sense of why they even wrote the thing. The preponderance of these folks is part of why the profession is such a mess right now -- e.g., party of why many philosophy chairs cannot explain to their deans why they actually deserve more funding vis-a-vis other disciplines that have a greater self-consciousness of why they are meaningful.

("At least they'll have a job" some will say. But the obvious reply is, "You can get a better job in another field with far less effort and there are lots of very good nonprofit and tech jobs out there waiting for smart people like you." (And no need to turn this into a debate on the current economic situation please -- there are other blogs for that.))

Anonymous said...

In most cases of folks sticking around programs for 10+ years, they do not do on the department's dime. Most philosophy departments get rid of people not by "kicking them out" but by denying them funding (no fellowship and no tuition waiver). In these situations, most sane people get the hint and leave rather than foot the otherwise enormous bill themselves (plus cost of living). Some are far enough along, they need only pay the minimal enrollment fee every semester and get their income from massive amounts of adjuncting, which then delays their work...wash, rinse, and repeat, et voila! they defend 10 years later.

Anonymous said...

"All in all, blanketing every job with the same dossier is all things considered no better than and perhaps may be worse than carefully selecting jobs for which you seem a good match."

Anon 5:11 assumes a lot about me and my record, on the basis of very little evidence. Good thing that this is the best of all possible worlds, otherwise I may doubt that search committees are infallible.

Anonymous said...

So, a little tinkering with a past url in the members section of the apa will get you tomorrow's jfp, in pdf format, today.


At least it worked for me.

Anonymous said...

The JFP is available:


Number of jobs is down by approx. 20% from last year's October JFP.

Hard times. Universities are getting hit hard everywhere.

mr. zero said...

Hmm. This year's October issue has 80 fewer ads than last October's. I hope Leiter was wrong.

Anonymous said...

Wow. The JFP has almost 100 fewer ads than the October issue last year. This is awful!

jhdeleuzian said...


I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to address these concerns. Your advice was much appreciated and it incited some discussion that was insightful as well.

Prophylactic anti-depressives? - I may sign up! But seeing the specific difficulties close up and having that inform my choice is good medicine.


chocolat fondant said...

tpg --

Suppose there are n F's and m of these F's are also G's. Let x be the number of G's for every 100 F's. Then we know that x/100 = m/n. So x = 100m/n.
In the Louisville case, x (the percentage of Louisville grads that get jobs) is undefined since 100(0/0) is undefined.

By the way, the procedure for calculating percentages you suggest above would yield the conclusion that the percentage of females in the American population is over 1,500,000%. (There are more than 1,500,000 females in every 100th of the US population. You're confusing parts per hundred with parts per hundredth.)

I was tempted to follow your lead and conclude with 'sigh', but I'll take the high road (sorta).

Anonymous said...

My advice is depressing, but honest. You should only go into philosophy if it is the ONLY thing you can see yourself being happy doing. I think it is really irresponsible, given the state of the job market, to counsel people to pursue philosophy at all. I always feel conflicted if and when I ever encourage my udnergraduate students to pursue it as a major, unless they want to go to law school.