Thursday, January 31, 2008

Felt a Tremor Stir Beneath My Breath, That Forecasts Storms on the Gallup Poll

I wrote this post a little while ago, so it's something of a first impression. I'll have more to say later. --PGS

When I went through this last year, the possibility that I wouldn't get any fly-backs never really sunk in until it was already happening. I mean, I knew it was a possibility in some vague, abstract sense, and when people asked I always made sure to emphasize that nothing was guaranteed and anything could happen. But in my gut, getting no fly-backs just never felt real. I wasn't prepared for how it'd hit me when it happened.

The nothing I had to show for months of some of the most intense work I'd ever done in my life, the total and unqualified failure--that stayed with me this year. It felt like a fifteen pound stone in the pit of my stomach whenever I was working on my applications. It was real enough to make me terrified of my own hope, because what I learned last year is, hope is just the groundwork for despair.

So. Here I am again. No fly-backs. And even though I've been carrying that nothing around in my gut for the past year, I still feel like I've had the rug pulled out from under me. I want to understand it, but I can't, because there really isn't anything to understand. It feels like I'm being punished and I don't know why.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Dirty Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap

Via Nathan Nobis at In Socrates' Wake, here's a piece from the AP about universities churning out an oversupply of PhDs. Justin Pope, the article's author, doesn't really get too far in explaining what the problem is--that is, why so many fucking schools feel like they need doctoral programs in everything. He says, "[f]aculty members like having graduate students around. They're good intellectual companions, and they bolster a professor's research efforts." Yeah. But also deans like having grad programs, because then they're deans of research institutions. States like having flagship universities. (In which case, interestingly, the schools' presidents are admirals. The presidents and deans of branch campuses--or "frigate schools"--are only captains and lieutenants. Grad students are cabin boys. Avast!)

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, the AP piece. It does offer a fantastic little nugget to illustrate the basic dynamic at play in the issue.

In its report last month, a 30-member commission called for New York's state and city systems to alleviate the over reliance on adjuncts by hiring 2,000 more full-time faculty for their 87 campuses.

But just one page away, the report also called for adding at least 4,000 doctoral students.

I take it the problem here is, one thing universities produce is their own labor supply. That's weird, and it looks like it has some pretty clear economic consequences. Universities have a strong incentive to produce enough PhDs to keep the cost of PhDs down. As the AP piece puts it, "with universities already under fire for skyrocketing prices, it's probably unrealistic to expect most will pay more than the going rate for a captive labor pool." No doubt.

So it's nice for the New York schools to commit to hiring more tenure-tracked faculty to teach their students. But at the very same time, they're laying the groundwork to make sure the economic incentives cut the other direction. And when it comes down to it, which consideration do you think is going to win out? A high-minded commitment to the quality of a public school education? Or cash?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Crimson and Clover, Over and Over

Talking about Princeton's PFO the other day, I got bogged down looking at trees and I lost sight of the forest, so let me come back to that for a second. The funny thing about the Princeton PFO is, it doesn't really feel like a PFO to me. It feels more like me and Princeton are just playing out our little roles.

Here's some background, at least as I understand it, for the civilians. Princeton advertises a junior job in the JFP every year. They're not necessarily looking to hire anyone. Maybe they really are this year, I don't know. But for the most part, they're just dipping their line in the stream to see what they can catch. Maybe someone coming out of MIT or Berkeley or wherever is obviously the next monster, a 27 year old whose dissertation looks like the first major work in a brand new sub-discipline she just fucking invented. Who knows? Maybe. And Princeton doesn't want to get shut out of the race to grab that candidate just because they don't happen to be doing a search that year. So they just go ahead and do a search every year, regardless of whether or not they really need to hire anyone. It's actually pretty smart, when you think about it.

It also means losers like me are going to apply for the same job over and over again. And we're going to get rejected over and over again too, because it's fucking Princeton. I've got a better shot at getting a job as the Pope of the APA.

But here's the thing. If it's the sort of thing where I know I don't have a chance, and I just apply over and over again anyway, it's not really like a real job application, is it? The meaningless repetition actually makes it more like a little absurdist performance piece. "Total Fucking Loser: a play in n acts." This PFO brings act two to a close. Tune in next year for act three, when me and Princeton do the exact same thing again. That should be interesting!

Monday, January 28, 2008

I Know There's an Answer

All this talk about Princeton's reminded me about something I was thinking about in the days after the APA, and it's come up over at Feminist Philosophers too. Princeton doesn't do APA interviews. I don't really know why not, but I assume it's at least partly because they're aware of the social psych literature showing that interviews don't really add much to an organization's ability to pick good hires. And Princeton's not the only school that's giving up on the APA. If I'm reading the wiki right, Washington didn't do APA interviews this year, either. No doubt there are others I don't know about. Also, if we pull the lens back a little, it's worth noticing that in a lot of academic disciplines, they've just done away with conference interviews entirely.

As far as I can tell, Princeton and Washington are making the smart decision. Going to the APA is fuck-off expensive, for both departments and candidates. So what does everybody get for the money? A fifty minute dog and pony show so contrived that in most cases it's not really going to say much that's reliable about a candidate? The chance to get punked by your own subconscious cognitive biases into thinking the tall, good-looking guy is really more promising than the short guy with the speech impediment?

Now, I know APA interviews can tell you some important stuff. Like, maybe a candidate who looks awesome on paper turns out to be really terrible or a complete asshole or just not the fit you thought they'd be. I get that. But how often does that happen? And wouldn't that sort of screening happen just as well--or, really, actually a lot better--on a campus visit? So why not take all the money a department spends on the APA and sink it into bringing a couple more people out to campus for job-talks?

This really does seem like no-brainer to me. But since I've never been on the searh committee's side of all this, I'm curious to see if anyone wants to make the case for APA interviews. In particular, does anyone want to make not just the case that they can be useful, but that they're more useful than skipping the APA in favor of a couple more job-talks? Why do we do the APA?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sunday Comics

"There Can Be Only One." Soon-to-be-Jaded Dissertator says that title comes from his room mate, who around these parts goes by Fellow Grad Student, and who's apparently still feeling the Robbie Burns' day spirit. "We're the princes of the universe!"

If only this applied to my life, and not my embarrassing fantasies about sword-fighting.

Rocking the Passive Voice XX

In case anyone's missed it, people have been talking about the PFO we all got from Princeton. Here, read the whole thing:
Dear Applicant,

Once again I resort to a form letter, this time to report that the committee charged with selecting a manageable number of junior candidates from the ~291 junior applicants for the positions that we have advertised have completed their work. They have selected a number of candidates from among whom they hope very much to make one or two appointments (one, should we decide to try to fill one position a the senior level).

I am sorry to report that you are not in this group. We are painfully aware of the difficulty and unreliability of these choices, but they must be made nevertheless. Although it is far from certain we will succeed in our present attempts, we wanted to let you know where you stood so that you may take full advantage of the other opportunities that will surely arise for you in the coming weeks. Needless to say, I will let you know right away should we have occasion to reconsider your candidacy.

Once more, I wish you the best of luck and thank you for the opportunity to consider your candidacy.

Sincerely yours,

There's actually a couple of things here I like. One, the letter thanks me for applying. Now, it could be better. The best PFOs thank applicants for taking the time to apply. There's a cost to applying to jobs, and it's a sign of minimal respect to acknowledge that explcitly. And there's also a certain ridiculousness in Princeton thanking me "for the opportunity to consider" me for a job. That turn of phrase seems pretty gratuitous. But fuck it. Any thanks at all is more than some PFOs give, so I'll take it.

The other thing I like is the acknowledgment that the process is "unreliable." Word. It's a fucking crap shoot. Now of course, what's not getting said here is, in the absence of reliable ways of making good hiring decisions, lots of search committees rely on plainly anti-meritocratic heuristics, like counting the rank of your department and the fame of your advisor above all else. (Troll repellent: I'm not the one saying this is true. I'm getting it from search committee members who, giddy with man-crushes on famous philosophers, let that sad little part of their id out to play in public.) I'm not saying Princeton does that, but it'd also be pretty fucking shocking if those biases didn't creep in to the process for everyone, even just a little bit, and even at the best department in the business. Anyway, while the Princeton letter doesn't get into that ugliness, it does at least admit there's a real element of arbitrariness in the job market.

Of course, I also have to note the passive voice here. Here's the key sentence, one more time: "We are painfully aware of the difficulty and unreliability of these choices, but they must be made nevertheless." So Princeton's "painfully aware of the difficulty and unreliability of these choices". Great. As I say, that's nice of them to admit. But the author of the sentence slips out the back door so as not to be around for anything so distasteful as making choices. Better to just leave those to be made.

Bonus comedy: In comments, Anon. 2:16 flags this clause: "Although it is far from certain we will succeed in our present attempts [to hire someone]. . .", and responds, no doubt with a sentiment all of us can share, "Go, Princeton! We're pulling for you, you lovable underdog!"

Friday, January 25, 2008

Frank, He Showed Me the Ropes, Sir, Just 'Till I Could Get Back On My Feet

I keep trying to write this post, and I keep quitting because it just seems too obvious to bother saying. But what the hell, here it is, obvious or not.

Doing the job market this year was a lot easier for me than doing it last year. Partly, it was just because I'd been through it before, and kind of sometimes sort of knew what to expect. But the biggest thing by far was having a different placement committee.

Longtime readers have heard my stories about the Old World Septuagenarian and Evil Columbo: how they didn't know what our application pckages would actually have to contain beyond a CV, letters and a writing sample; how the Old World Septuagenarian just stared at me in puzzled silence when I asked questions using words he clearly thought were made-up gibberish--words like "student evaluations" and "teaching philosophy"; how Evil Columbo never seemd to get tired of telling us happily over and over and over again just how easy it'd been for him to get a job; how they both disappeared at the end of the semester, leaving it to other faculty to tell us what was actually going to go on at the APA. Every meeting with them left me and my office mates feeling helpess, completely adrift, and screaming mad from frustration.

This year couldn't have been more different. The official committee, Placement Committee Senior and Placement Committee Junior, as well as some other junior faculty, walked us through every step. Both PC Sr. and PC Jr. have an actual sense of how the job market's worked since the fall of Saigon. Fuck, PC Jr.'s even done it in the last few years. But also, when PC Jr. didn't know something about, say, what exactly the department sends out with our letters, he found out and explained it to us in a timely manner. He even met with me when I was working on my spiel, to give me the chance to bounce some ideas off someone who doesn't really know my work. That was a really menschy thing to do.

And PC Sr.? I can't know for sure what goes on behind the Senior Faculty Curtain of Tenured Mystery, but what I do know is this. Last year, it was my job to hound the senior profs on my committee for my letters, many, many weeks after I'd first asked for them. And you know what? Senior profs in my department aren't super-happy about having grad students trying to impose deadlines on them. In fact, they recoil in horror at such a profound upset of Nature's just and true order. But this year, it just never came up. Maybe that's because this year, my committee members were all just ahead of the game with their updated letters. But maybe it's because they had one of their colleagues--insead of some dipshit grad student--reminding them what's what.

But more important than all the bullshit logistics was their kindness. From our first placement meeting, PC Sr. was preparing us for the coming circus of cruelty and failure. And at placement meetings--or around the lunch table or in the hall or wherever--PC Jr. has been unfailing in his encouragement, understanding and sympathy.

I'm immensely grateful to both of them.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Keep Your Promise, Willie Thomas

Speaking of things the wiki's good for, it's how I found out I wasn't getting an fly-back from this one department I interviewed with at the APA. At the end of the interview, the guy who'd sort of taken point on the interview looked me at me and said, "Let us know if anything changes for your search, and when we've made a decision about who we're bringing out to campus, we'll let you know, either way." Yes, the guy said either way. As in, he'd let me know if they wanted to bring me to campus and he'd let me know if they decided not to being me to campus.

Well, that didn't happen. I saw that school show up on the wiki for fly-outs a while ago, and I've still heard sweet fuck all from the department.

Look, dickwad. If you look me in the eye and tell me you're going to let me know how your search goes, and if you expect the same fucking courtesy from me, it's really fucking shabby not to follow up on that.

If You Don't Love Me, Lie to Me

There's a thread on the Chronicle forums right now that's covering a lot of the same ground I've covered in conversations with various people on the job market over the last couple of months. Do you think the wiki's a good thing or a bad thing?

I like the wiki, because how the fuck else am I going to get any information about jobs I've applied to? Search committees sending effortless, but timely and considerate updates? No, seriously. How the fuck am I supposed to find out about jobs I've applied to? But the haters say the wiki's bad because all it ever gives you is bad news. Now, to me this sort of has the air of George Costanza avoiding his girlfriend because he knew she was going to break up with him and he figured if he avoided her she'd never the get the chance. But whatever.

My point here is, I'm starting to think you can actually tell something interesting about a person by how they feel about the wiki. What it comes down to is this. Which would you rather not have: bad news or false hope?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Listen to the Band!

Female Grad, a, um, female grad student in philosophy who you might remember from a few posts back, has been good enough send along her thoughts about how we, as philosophers, tend to talk about sexism in the discipline. I'll have more to say about her thoughts a little later on, but for now let me just say how extremely fucking important her idea is that sexism can be--and often is--invisible to introspection. This bears a lot of thinking about. --PGS

It's nice to get a chance to steal someone else's audience for a little while, especially for this topic which is so close to home for me.

When I read PGS's (excellent, by the way) post, I thought, this comment section isn't going to be pleasant. But all thing told, it wasn't so bad. There were some clueless things that turned up. But not the really nasty and virulent misogyny one can find so easily on blogs. It seemed to me that there were a number of people who genuinely wanted to recognize a problem if there was one, and they just didn't see one; there were some false assumptions, some good old-fashioned arrogance, and the ubiquitous call for more empirical evidence. Even though there's room for improvement, I think it indicated good things about philosophers in general (or at least the ones who read and comment here). We are generally a good group of people who want to be just in our interactions with one another; the ongoing issues of sexism and racism aren't problems of bad intentions.

That's the main thing I wanted to get at in this post. In discussions of sexism, there is a tendency to get defensive because one feels like one is being attacked, being accused of being a Bad Person. The blunt truth is that, pretty much unless you are young and from a Scandinavian country, we were all raised in some kind of sexist environment. It varies from mildly sexist to rabidly so, but most of us were raised in sexist environments and pretty much all of us are, to a greater or lesser degree, sexist. There are quite few people who really do just think women don't belong in the field and should stay home and learn to cook instead or writing dissertations. Most of us don't want to be sexist, and most of us don't think we are sexist, and so accusations of rampant sexism in philosophy seem baseless.

The problem with sexism in philosophy (in my oh-so-humble opinion) is its invisibility to introspection. When the topic comes up, people reflect, Do I think women are poor philosophers? Am I doing anything that hinders the success or thriving of my female colleagues? Why, no. I see no evidence of sexism in my beliefs or actions. And conclude that the accusations are overblown. But that's the deal with having been raised in a sexist culture - these things are invisible. Until you really know what to look for, and really start paying attention to stuff you might not have before, you aren't going to notice it.

Because the sexism is there, but people don't usually know what to look for. And then they protest that they don't see it. And I think yeah, 'cause you're looking in the wrong spot. It's not something you can just introspect and discover, oops, here is my nasty greenish sexist belief pile, and now I will purge them and be sexism-free. The reason why women in philosophy just notice this stuff more is because it affects us on a day to day basis. After a while, you really start to notice how it adds up. And then someone comes along who is not affected by this stuff, who has never had to pay attention to it before, and they make a comment to the effect that maybe you are just being too sensitive (as if gee, I hadn't thought of that, thanks for pointing out the obvious).

So - if you've never had to deal with this stuff, and if you haven't put a substantive amount of thought into it (and probably some reading, too), chances are you don't know what the varieties of sexism in philosophy look like. And now that I have had to learn the hard way what it looks like, it's annoying to have someone tell me that perhaps I haven't, you know, considered the other obvious explanations. I have had to put a lot of time and thought into it, and I have now done a good amount of reading on it, and damn! it is annoying to have someone point out the mundane and obvious as if you hadn't ever thought of it yourself. It's kinda like reading one article on a topic and then deciding that the practitioners in the field have got it all wrong (and proceeding to tell them all this, while wondering why they are rolling their eyes).

Upshot is: we aren't accusing people of being intentionally Bad. The sexism left in philosophy is mostly the unintentional kind. In order to get rid of it, we need to know what it looks like (and that brief introspection will not get you there). And so when women list their experiences of sexism in philosophy, it's because this is what sexism looks like. These kinds of cases. None of us were there for what happened to her except her; and so we can rampantly speculate ad nauseam about whether or not her judgment of sexism is appropriate. We'll never know. There is never enough info that you can put in a comment to definitively make a case for sexism. But what we should get out of this is a sense of what sexism still looks like, so that we can all start looking for those kinds of things, and start recognizing it more when it happens. That's what will make it a more just profession.

--Female Grad

Monday, January 21, 2008

Dissertation bender to the rescue.

Know what's way better than the job market? Way better than pretending I have a "teaching philosophy"? Way better than spending more money on postage than I've spent on clothes in the last four years? Way better than obsessively checking that fucking wiki? Way better than reading blog comments from douchebags who think that any success a women has couldn't possibly be attributable to her philosophical abilities and must therefore be attributable to her possessing a vagina?

The dissertation. That's what. I'd kinda forgotten about it for a while there. But I'm back into it now. It's a welcome distraction. Reminding me that I actually kinda like doing philosophy. Making me think that, even if the whole job thing doesn't pan out this year, it'll happen eventually. I really like some of the stuff in there. It's nice to think that I'm capable of coming up with the odd idea that's so cool that I just might not die with my biggest contribution to the field having been my coining of the term "Leiterrific."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sunday Comics

Untitled. By Soon-to-be-Jaded Dissertator.
(Click to make it big.)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Havin' Fun (Aight?), Eatin' Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Good news today. One of my office mates--one of the one's I've shared an office with for half a decade, one of the ones who sat through the same white-knuckled, rage-inducing placement meetings with the Old World Septuagenarian and Evil Columbo--defended her dissertation today. Unlike me and most people from my department last year, she actually got a job. And I'd say both a PhD and a job makes her a full-on grown-up philosopher.

When all this shit goes badly for you, it's a real relief to see it going well for people you like.

Alright. It's time, in an academic tradition stretching back through the centuries to Europe's oldest universities, to go drink brut out of little plastic cups. The whiskey'll come later. Woo!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Would Anyone Tell Me If I Was Getting Stupider?

So you know how on courtroom dramas or whatever, when the defendant's case looks pretty shaky, and he's sitting around with his lawyers after the jury's started the deliberating, he always asks the main lawyer, "What do you think my chances are?" And the lawyer always says, "The longer they're out, the better your chances are."

Now, what do you think the odds are the same reasoning applies to waiting for calls about fly-backs?

No, that makes absolutely no fucking sense at all. The wiki says no one's been contacted yet, and the chances can't be getting better for all the people who had APA interviews for a department.

Relatedly, the increasingly desperate waiting is apparently making me stupider.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What'd You Say, What'd You Say, What'd You Say?

I want to highlight one little detail in something Female Grad said in comments. She's talking about subdisciplines that are especially bad for having no women, and she says,
Some of those fields, esp. the ones with the worst ratio of males/females like phil of physics, are simply cesspools of antagonistic sexism. Not everyone in such fields is sexist, true; but you only need something like 1/3 or so of the people around to honestly not ever hear the words that come out of your mouth, good or bad, in order to find the field intolerable. This is older profs, grads, all kinds of people who of course never notice the sexism because they really were not listening to what you said in the first place, and so did not notice that you got completely ignored.

This gives me an idea for game. Let's call it Women in Philosophy Hang-Man. Say you're sitting through the questions after a talk. Then what you do is, you write down one segment of your hang-man guy every time a man interrupts a woman while she's talking. When you've made the whole noose and the whole hanging guy, you know philosophy's sometimes really shitty for women!

If the Night Was Made for Love, It Ain't for Keeps

If you're anything like the Future Dr. Mrs. Dr. PGS, you just can't understand why Cosmo doesn't have more tawdry stories about the job market and one-night stands. After all, don't humanities grad students deserve a little salacious trash of their own? Well people, ask and the Chronicle forums will provide: "I Slept With the Head of the SC--Should I Still Apply for the Job?"

(For those looking for something a little more in the Readers' Digest vein, here's "Job-seekers Healed by Animals!")

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

They Have Begun to Shake the Dirt

Since the zombie lies are once again staggering out of their graves and into the night, this might be a good time to remind ourselves of some basic facts about what American philosophy departments look like. As of last year, in the top 54 American philosophy departments, only one had as many women on faculty as guys. Whereas two had no women at all. I know this is a tricky issue, and it gets even trickier when you consider how gendered--and, I supsect, related to race and ethnicity-- the different subdisciplines of philosophy are. (In a year with so many ethics and social and political jobs, you're going to see more black people and women getting fly-outs. In a year with more straight-up metaphysics, mind and language jobs, you'd see a lot more of the snowy white sausage party we know and love.) On the whole, though, the white man's doing just fine in philosophy. Let's not lose sight of the dead fucking obvious.

Also remember why the zombie tales of women and other underrepresented groups getting all the good fly-outs just won't die. Sometimes they seem like the only way to soften the devastating blow that comes with total and unqualified failure. I know, because I've been there. I'll probably be there again before the end of next week. That doesn't make the zombie lies right, but it does make them common.

Update: Via Nate in comments, here's (warning: pdf) Sally Haslanger's jaw-droppingly insightful paper about women in philosophy. If you haven't already, read it. If you have already read it, read it again. (And as an aside to the guys, most of the crap Haslanger talks about is invisible to us most of the time--unless we actively try to see it for what it is. Read the paper, see philosophy through someone else's eyes.)

Monday, January 14, 2008

And Theres a Little Yellow Man in My Head

I'm having a hard time staying sane right now. And by "having a hard time", I mean "failing." I am bat shit crazy.

It's the waiting. It's making me fucking neurotic. Or obsessive-compulsive, if that's something different. I check my e-mail every two minutes. I check it after every paragraph I read. I've already checked it twice since starting this post. If I wake up in the middle of the night, sometimes I can't get back to sleep without checking my e-mail, because, you know, some search committee member might have e-mailed after she closed down the bar.

Yes, I know, I should get away from my computer. I should go take up pottery or yoga or some shit like that. But I can't get away from my computer. I need it to write. And yes, I've already tried turning my wireless off. That worked for about fifteen minutes, before I freaked out and turned it back on again. Coffee shops won't work, either, because all the good ones have free wireless, so heading out into the world would just inflict my crazy on innocents.

Jesus, this isn't pretty.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sunday Comics

"Smoker." After a much-deserved Festivus hiatus, Soon-to-be-Jaded Dissertator's back, with this vision of the smoker.

(Click to make it big.)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Words, Like Violence, Break the Silence

For those who've missed it, a job market horror story's developing. In comments, Anon. 12:01 points us to the wiki, where we find this update about Mount Ida college: "Contact specifying that certain candidates were contacted in error and are not on the short list (1/10)".

What now? Let's go over this slowly. This department contacted some people, telling them they were on a shortlist for fly-outs. I can't say for sure how those people felt about that, but my guess is they were fucking elated. You know, because they'd managed to stave off failure for another month, and maybe, just maybe they'd have a real shot at employment come September. You know that's called? It's called hope. I can remember what it feels like. I feels like almost the best thing in the entire fucking world.

Then what? "Contact specifying that certain candidates were contacted in error." Or as Anon. 9:16 reports:
It's actually worse than that. I got an email saying only that I should call the number below for information updating me on the philosophy search. I called the number and left a message within minutes of leaving the message. So she wasn't answering her phone immediately after sending the email. Then I tried calling again at intervals of 10-20 minutes for the rest of the day. Sometimes it rang once and went to voicemail. Sometimes it rang a number of times and went to voicemail. I never got a living person. This suggests to me that they might actually have sent these short list messages out to a pretty large group, if she was tied up on the phone all day explaining it to them. I still haven't gotten confirmation that I was sent the message erroneously, but I'm assuming that's why I was contacted.

"You know that hope we just gave you? Yeah. . . not so much, actually. We're just going to take that right back. Thanks so much." Holy fucking god, I can't believe how much that sucks. Will Philosophize for Food got the same shit:

Yeah, tell me about it. I was the one who got the disappointing news and posted it. Apparently a screw up by the Administrative Assistant in the Office of Human Resources, who sent email(s) to the wrong person(s). And I was really staking my self-worth on that--it being my only other interview.

I got drunk last night.

That sounds about right. On the job market, there isn't a whole fuck of a room between hope and drinking to cope.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

All This Rejection's Got Me So Low

I've been trying to write a job talk for the past while. Or rather, I've been trying to turn a paper into a job talk.

But in the last few days I've been seeing on the wiki that some of the schools I interviewed with have already contacted people for fly-outs, and I'm not one of the people they've contacted. My chances of having to actually give a job talk are slipping from slim to none.

How do you find the motivation to write a paper you'll probably never give? Fuck.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

What's in a Name?

Michael Cholbi's got a useful post up about what his department's looking for from candidates on teaching-related stuff. Since I assume people lucky enough to get fly-backs are going to more questions about their teaching, this is timely stuff.

Cholbi's got some questions his department asks their candidates. Here's one: "What are some specific methods or approaches that you use in your classes to enhance student learning?" Holy fuck. If that question's the headlights of an on-coming semi, you can call me Bambi.

And he's also got some good advice about why we shouldn't just answer teaching questions by rattling off our proposed course content. I certainly tend to answer teaching questions by machine-gunning out authors' names. And I do it because last year, it's exactly what my senior faculty told me to do during a train-wreck of a mock interview. I was rambling on and on about teaching goals for some course, and a chorus of senior profs started yelling, "Just name names!" or something to that effect. And probably for a lot of departments, that'd be just what they're looking for. But, Cholbi's good enough to remind us, not all. So go read.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Lately There Ain't Been Much Work, On Account of the Economy

Leiter's got an interesting thread going about what philosophy's like now, as opposed to ten years ago. But there's one job-market-related thing I'm not sure about. Martha Nussbaum says "the job market for young philosophers is considerably worse" now than it was in 1997, and so "talented young people are increasingly deterred from choosing philosophy as a career."

Really? I mean, I'm not one to deny claims about how crappy the job market is, but is this comparison really right?

I ask because my folk history of the philosophy job market goes like this. The good old days were the '60s and maybe part of the '70s. Back then, undergrad teaching needs were growing faster than grad schools could pump out the new PhDs, and any white guy with three dissertation chapters and enough family money to put him through grad school could get a tenure-track job somewhere nice. Thus many seeds were sewn that would grow into dead wood.

But grad schools expanded too, and the supply of philosophers caught up with--then blew right past--the demand. In the early- to mid-'80s the market collapsed. No one got jobs. The Eastern APA became a sickening re-enactment of the children's crusade, with hundreds and hundreds of idealistic young philosophers getting sold into permanent adjuct-slavery or simply getting beheaded for sport. Each year was a scene of such gory carnage that the APA started sending out their notorious Letter of Death to new grad school applicants, telling them all to do anything--anything--with their lives besides grad school in philosophy.

Then, the story goes, the market started to improve in the late '90s. But getting back to Nussbaum's comments, is there any reason to think the market was better in the late '90s than it is now? Has there really been any movment back towards the market of the bad old days? I'm not so sure, but I can't say my views are actually based on anything like "facts" or "knowledge." So I'm curious to hear the thoughts of people who've been around for longer than me. How's the market now compared to ten years ago?

Sunday, January 6, 2008

C'mon feel the noise.

All y'all remember Inside Man, who's on a search committee at a Leiterrespectable school this year? Here, via e-mail, is his take on the noisiness of conference interviews.

As an interviewer, you go in to the interviews knowing that there’s only so much information that you can get, that a careful perusal of the files is bound to be more informative, that candidates have bad days that don’t mean anything. In short, you know that you're going to get a lot of noise. And yet. I left some of the interviews so excited about some of the candidates that I wanted to hire them on the spot. Heck, I wanted to endow chairs to give to them. And, let me tell you, it’s really, really hard to put that sort of excitement aside.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

I've Got Someone on the Telephone Trying to Sell Me a Future in Stock

People who are better and luckier than me are starting to think about fly-backs, so here are some interesting thoughts from Prof. J:
This might be a good time to add that campus visits are quite different from convention interviews -- in all sorts of ways, obviously, but I'm thinking of the power relations. When you're invited out, there's a good chance that somebody there wants to hire you, and might be 'selling' you to her colleagues. In any case, the searchers plainly like you a lot. They're apt to be more solicitous, and if they aren't dumb they'll be starting to work on convincing you that their place would be a great place to work. It's apt to be a much cheerier event for candidates than the convention is.

The water is wide, I can't cross over

PGS has got me thinking about my APA interviews. One thing that sticks out for me is how similar they all were. Not that some didn't go better or worse, but that the activity of 'being interviewed' was remarkably the same from one to the next. They all had their introductions, the quick small talk, the "so tell us about your research" question, the follow-ups, the (when I was lucky) engaging conversation, the talk about courses I would teach, the "we're running out of time" last question, the 'good-byes' and the handshakes.

All that similarity makes me focus on the little differences, especially the little differences that aren't at all relevant to my job prospects. For example, it seemed like each of my interviewers offered me water (or didn't) in a different way.

Some offered me water when we first sat down. Some didn't offer anything at all. One group offered water half-way into the interview. Some offered bottled water, some a pre-poured glass, and another offered an empty glass with a pitcher. Even though I used to work as a waiter, I didn't touch that damn thing. In one interview, I got offered a pre-poured glass of water with a plastic cover on the top (like the sort that room service would send up). In another interview, I sat down to see a glass of water at the center of the table, but nearer to me than to anyone else. While I assumed it was mine, no one offered it to me until I got up to leave. It felt like a party favor (or maybe a consolation prize).

The best was the place that had a fruit and dessert plate. I had some berries, but I left the pastries (and their crumbs) on the damn plate.

So, does anyone else have something professionally-irrelevant to share about their APA interview experiences? I'd love to hear from someone who interviewed in the "Austin Powers Magic Suite" at the Pier V hotel. What was that room like?

Friday, January 4, 2008

Who Knows What Could Happen?

Let me get back to thinking about my interviews for a second. Family and friends have been asking me how my interviews went. That's a natural enough thing to ask, right?

But I have no idea what to tell them. Now, that's not because I didn't have very clear reactions to the interviews, because I did. I know which interviews felt good, which ones felt like the conversation was productive, friendly and even (holy fuck!) fun. And I know which ones felt like I was pulling my own teeth out with a pair of rusty tin snips. So just getting basic reactions isn't the problem.

The problem is, I'm totally skeptical about the possibility of reliably inferring anything from those reactions. The conversation was great? Awesome. So the interviewers were cool people, and had that amazing talent that only some of the best philosophers have, where they can take the incoherent mumblings of even the most idiotic drool-machine and massage them into at least a close approximation of interesting philosophy. Or maybe the conversation felt like Victorian-era DIY orthodontistry? Too bad. But maybe the interviewers were throwing everything they had at you, and were actually impressed you managed to hold as much ground as you did. The point is, who the fuck knows?

So people ask me how my interviews went, and I tell them I have no idea. And then they think I'm being a pointlessly evasive asshole, but that's a whole 'nother post.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

I Ran 'Till I Thought My Chest Would Explode

Anxiety level update: I've been decompressing nicely post-APA, and for the last few days I've even had a cup of coffee a day without feeling like my heart was going to explode. But I just made the mistake of going for the day's second cup, to help me push through some paper revisions. And now I'm pretty sure I feel like John Candy did when he was doing coke, heroin, and meatball subs all in the same night.

Old Woman, Old Woman, You Treat Me So Mean

In comments, Anon. raises a version of a question I've been rolling around in the back of my head since the APA.
I wonder how often people felt that their APA interviewers were trying to haze them, meaning that they were acting hostile or adversarial in order to test a candidate's ability to stand up for him or herself. I got this only once, but it was very surreal. One member of the committee was *very* hostile, while everyone else seemed sweet, seemingly ignoring the rude and absurd insults hemorrhaging forth from the one hostile committee member. The hostile SC member did things like 1. refuse to shake my hand, 2. leave the room in a huff in the middle of the interview. (This kind of behavior didn't affect me at all, since I recognized how absurd and inappropriate it was from the beginning.) Anyhow, just wondering about other people's interviewing experiences. Did anyone else feel that they were getting hazed, or was it just me?

Happily, I didn't get anything as bad as that. But I did get the sense, in more than one interview, that I was getting a good cop/bad cop routine from a department. Anyone else feel like they were getting that? Any search committee members willing to 'fess up to it?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A Dollar When I'm Hard Up VII

Holy shit, the APA was expensive. Three nights in the hotel, even at the reduced grad student rate and splitting a room with one of my office mates, came to a $180 plus taxes. Transportation was $288. Add in internet service in my room at $10 a night, a couple of burritos at Chipotle and a sandwich from Potbelly, and I'm looking at a Visa total of about $544.60 for the conference.

So I've spent $995.39 on the job market this year. That's more than 5% of my gross annual income. I don't understand how schools, or the profession more generally, can think that's a reasonable burden for grad students to bear.

Update: . . . sorry, I just realized my last sentence there was a little more cryptic than I'd meant it to be. I guess the point of my bitching here is, the cost of the APA for candidates is just one more reason to think the move to by-pass conference interviews and go straight to fly-backs would be a very good thing.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Why Can't We Be Friends?

Via e-mail, here's a report from one of the smokers from someone on the market:
I’d like to propose a new strategy for smokers: instead of waiting for other people to "become free", join pre-existing conversations. We academics aren't always the most social bunch, but it’s possible to learn how to do this gracefully (though it’s probably good to start practicing at conferences and social events before the APA). This year, at one point I was having a lengthy and enjoyable conversation with someone who interviewed me. Another candidate sat down on the other side of the interviewer, apparently waiting for me to get up and leave. But I didn’t want to abandon a great conversation with a senior figure in my top-choice department. So instead I included the other candidate with generous eye contact and tried to invite him non-verbally to join the conversation. Unfortunately, he didn’t take the bait and eventually got up and left. I wish he would have stayed, because “the other guy” is not just my competition for this particular job. Whoever he is, he’s probably going to be a colleague in my sub-field for the rest of my life, and maybe next time on the market he’ll be interviewing me or vice-versa. I wish I could have met him.

This is something I discovered last year. People interviewing for the same jobs I'm interviewing for are probably mostly people who work on stuff I think is pretty interesting. They're probably people I want to know. I probably want to be friendly with them, and I probably want to work with them in some way or another. It's sort of annoying that the APA--that is, a philosophy conference--isn't really conducive to making those connections in a comfortable way.

There's So Much Noise, All the Signal Seems to Fade Away

I want to start trying to pull together some thoughts about my interviews. On one point, I've already done a 180 from my first impressions. There's this idea you can find floating around the Chronicle forums and other places that the search committee's not just interviewing you, but you're interviewing them about their school. I guess the idea is, both the search committee and you are looking for the right "fit", and the interview's as a much a chance for you to get a feel for that stuff as it is for them.

After my interviews, I thought I knew exactly what this idea was about. I had some interviews where the conversation seemed easy-going, interesting, productive and collegial. And I had interviews that were, well, not that. You know those times when you just can't seem to make yourself understood, and you can't seem to understand what other people are saying? Or those times when either the person you're talking to is a huge asshole or somehow without realizing it you've pissed them off so much they think you're a huge asshole, because there's just this thick asshole-ish vibe hanging in the room? Yeah, I had interviews like that. Awesome, huh?

But then, I sort of felt like that crappy vibe couldn't have been all me. Because in at least one interview, the failure to really communicate wasn't just happening between me and the interviewers. It was happening between the interviewers themselves, like there was this invisible force-field in the room that took philosophical sentences and changed their meanings around so all their hearers got from them was, "Puppies are cute. I like puppies, because they are cute."

I came away from those interviews feeling like I'd learned something about the department. I thought I'd seen a little of picture of how their philosophical interactions worked, and I didn't like what I saw. I sort of felt like, even though they're the ones making the decision about whether or not to fly me out for a job-talk, I'd learned enough to know I might not have been happy there anyway. Sort of like I'd been interviewing them.

But that's ridiculous. I didn't learn a damn thing about their departments. Maybe there's a weird lack of collegiality in those departments, and they can't usually manage to get a decent philosophical discussion rolling amongst themselves. Or maybe they'd been sitting in the same room talking amongst themselves pretty much non-stop for a day and a half, they were dog-tired, they had serious burrito comas, and they hadn't had time to make it to Starbucks after lunch. Frankly, that seems a fuck of a lot more likely to me.

People have talked before about the shitty signal-to-noise ratio in conference interviews. But that goes both ways. I just don't have any trust in an interview experience to tell me anything reliable about how a department operates.

And So We're Told This is the Golden Age

Happy New Year. So far, 2008's been characterized principally by my hangover. But that's all going to change, because my New Year's resolution is to work like a motherfucker. I swear to God, this is the year I finish my dissertation.

Who's with me?