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« Academic philosophy and the good life, part 1: some initial questions | Main | Reader query: best practices for reviewers? »

03/02/2016

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SMJ

The shifting in the calendars has created inconvenience for philosophers on the job market. Earlier deadlines (sometimes months earlier than in the past) and later deadlines have expanded the job season quite a bit. Now, that's not really a moral problem, although we might prefer to have a smaller part of our year devoted to job-seeking.

Similarly, having interviews and job offers uncoordinated is an inconvenience. I know for a fact that some departments are trying to "game the system" by getting their searches done earlier, when there's less competition, so to speak. I know this because (a) my department does it, and (b) I've been told by people in other departments that they do it too. Perhaps the gaming there is counterbalanced by the possibility that someone will accept an offer at a less desirable school (where desirability can be a matter of location, prestige, teaching load, salary, etc.), and then renege if a better offer comes along. That's a risk for the less desirable departments (potentially a failed search), but obviously a risk some of them are willing to take. Given that they are themselves trying to game the system and lock-in a candidate, it seems only fair that job candidates should game it to their own advantage when they can.

The inconveniences of the current system and the lack of a coordinated calendar burden job applicants, but not, especially, hiring departments. Is it unfair to adopt such a system (or to fail to adopt a better possible system) when all the burdens fall on the least advantaged parties? Yeah, probably. But I rather suspect that the current system (being quite new) was not consciously adopted, and that draconian punishments are not called for to remedy it. The APA's nudging on this might be sufficient.

shane wilkins

I don't follow the worry about Davenport's critique being about "the wrong job candidates". If the practice is brutal to some job candidates, that's bad enough for it to be something for us to worry about, surely, even if the number of the brutalized is smallish. (I say this as one of the "right" job seekers to worry about). It's not like being trying to be fairer to this one smallish segment of job candidates is going to lead to greater unfairness for the other job seekers, right? The number of jobs available will stay the same, so it's not like forcing an end to premature "do or die" offers is going to keep some other candidates from eventually getting a position. Or am I missing something?

Jerry Green

Thanks for your comment, SMH. I agree with you that nudges>draconian punishments. I'm curious what you think about the inconvenience of the extended market. As I mentioned, this is my first year out, so I don't have anything to compare it to. I was caught off-guard by my earliest deadlines for sure, but I think a little advance warning to next year's applicants can address that problem. And at least right now I'm grateful that jobs continue to be posted. And I can say that I think the small revisions I've made on my materials over the last few months have improved them.

The drawback, of course, is that once you're on the market it never really stops until you accept an offer. This is both psychologically unpleasant and potentially distracting (e.g. if, like me, you're trying to finish your dissertation at the same time).

I'm inclined to think the pros outweigh the cons here. But like I said I'm only working with one year's experience. So I'd be interested to see what you (or others) think.

Jerry Green

Hi Shane. Thanks for your input. If I follow you, I think you're responding to a slightly different worry than the one I mean to raise. The concern I have is not a quasi-utilitarian 'X people have problem A, Y people have problem B, and X>Y, so don't worry about B'. Rather, I'm thinking in terms of distributive justice, where the folks who are most harmed by early offers are people who are very well off comparatively, and so don't warrant additional concern for their benefit.

An analogy, I suppose, would be something like raising property taxes for second or third homes to pay for road maintenance. Sure, some people would be harmed by this change. What matters is that these people are well-off enough to afford multiple homes. So (1) they don't really need any extra help to begin with, and (2) whatever small harm they experience is (dramatically?) outweighed by the benefits that accrue to everyone else, including themselves less directly.

You do raise a good question though about whether treating multiple offer candidates (MOCs) fairly they way Davenport wants would harm other candidates. An MOC might prevent the next person in line from getting an interview down the road, but that probably doesn't count as a harm. And conversely, taking an early offer you might not otherwise take might prevent the job going to the 2nd place candidate, so this would even out.

I'd like to think that we can simultaneously (i) allow for early offers (and late offers too, which come to think of it I didn't address in the post) and (ii) make offers in a fair, non-coercive way. I grant that there are definitely bad ways of making early offers. I guess the question is whether there are good ways too.

Trevor

We have been told by admin here at UNC Charlotte that TT positions we've advertised and interviewed for could disappear with the new calendar year and budget. This could be another reason why some state schools have been trying to make offers in December (one that is less nefarious).

With Trevor

There are all sorts of considerations like the one Trevor raises that figure in the unusual dynamics of the job market, unusual from the candidates' point of view. Many schools have to act fast, and cannot afford a candidate to accept their job, and then move on to another before they even begin employment at the institution. Many of us who work at such place work hard to get tenure track lines. But this can take years of work. Many of us with tenure would gladly hire many of the unemployed or under-employed.

Karl

It strikes me that while some departments are being strategic about hiring dates, it is often administrative whims and concerns that go into scheduling sometimes. Punishing a department for this strikes me as a bit unfair.
Also, I am not quite getting the first problem. If a candidate accepts an offer, signs a contract, whatever- what is to stop her from accepting another and abandoning the first? It is bad form, no doubt, and it can potentially be awkward, but the contract does not legally bind you with any penalties for default. If a school makes an early offer and one accepts it, they are always taking the risk that the person may leave, for any reason at all. What am I missing?

shane wilkins

JG, I'm not quite following the analogy. I don't really see how a MOC getting multiple offers is doing anything that looks like a harm to any other candidates, at all. But further, I don't see why you think setting firm deadlines (Davenport's proposal) is going to do any good for non-MOC candidates. Maybe i'm just obtuse here, but I'm not tracking the house analogy.

Jerry Green

Hi again Shane. It definitely looks like we're not on the same page, but I'm not sure why either. I think I agree with both your points: (1) the MOC doesn't harm other candidates in getting multiple offers (Davenport says the MOC is harmed by early offers, I say not, or if so barely) & (2) firm deadlines wouldn't help non-MOC candidates, since they only get one offer, and so timing doesn't make a huge difference either way (except maybe peace of mind).

If I had to guess, I think I must have summarized something from Davenport's post that made it sound like I agree with him when I don't or vice versa. Looking back at your first comment as well, I think we might be focusing on slightly different places vis-a-vis folks with 0-1 offers. But I'm not sure: I always have a hard time telling what the words I've written suggest independent of what I had (often subconsciously) had in mind when I wrote them, so I may be assuming something that isn't coming out explicitly or something.

Helen De Cruz

From a European, especially UK perspective, there is no fixed job market calendar. Positions are advertised all year round. This does mean there is less bargaining power for junior candidates, especially since you only have a very short timeframe for negotiating (accepting) your offer, and there is relatively little room for negotiation. What this has resulted in though, is that academics are more mobile. It is normal for people to say after 5, 10, years they would like to explore other options and apply to other positions, same as in the non-academic market. This gives a bit more bargaining power as well. So the job market is more fluid, including moves by senior people.

JR

From the perspective of someone who has been on the job market for each of the last four years (though only in a very minor way this year as I am in the first year of a multi-year postdoc): Another downside to the shift to an almost year-round application season is the inconvenience in terms of time commitment. The sheer amount of time it takes to apply for lots of different jobs while also teaching makes "job application season" essentially worthless for doing good research. If one did not receive one's PhD from a "top" department and thus actually needs both publications and teaching experience in order to be competitive for jobs, an extension of the job application season is in effect a shortening of the researching/ writing/ beefing-up-my-CV season. This year, from the relative security of a multi-year position, was the first in which I have been able to get any serious research done alongside teaching in the fall semester because I was not constantly applying for jobs (as I was in the past years while in one-year positions).

Assuming I'm not the only one for whom this is the case, a different sort of solution to at least some of these worries would be a much greater degree of standardization of application materials across institutions. Part of the reason it takes so much time to apply for jobs is that every hiring committee has its own idiosyncratic, slightly different requirements for materials to be submitted (shorter or longer research statements and writing samples, idiosyncratic instructions for things like combined statements of research and teaching, with specific reference to a department's course offerings, etc.). Reformatting application materials to meet these seemingly arbitrary differences in requirements and clicking through endless online Human Resources application forms that simply duplicate the information included on the CV is the "busy work" that takes much of a job applicant's time and energy. If there were a something like a discipline-wide standard dossier uploaded to a central database, updated regularly, and used to apply to the relevant jobs with a single click--perhaps with the option to include tailored cover letter, but perhaps not even that--I would be happy to be "on the job market" year round, since the time commitment would be minimal.

Surely a system along these lines is something the APA could help to put in place. And such a system might even make possible a way of "anonymizing" some parts of such standardized dossiers so as to control for various forms of bias (gender, race, institution prestige, etc.).

I suppose one obvious objection to such a system is that making applying so easy could result in candidates applying for any job even close to their area of expertise, but this is basically already the case given the awful state of the market.

Jerry Green

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, JR. Regarding the extended schedule, do you feel like its more time consuming to spread it out vs. doing it all at once? Since I only have a single year of experience, I can't compare, but I can see arguments on either side of either basically doing nothing but applying for 3 months vs. applying regularly along with other things for 6 months. I can easily imagine how someone would spend all their time on applications given the chance, but at least in my case I feel like I'm spending much less time on recent applications after a fixed cost getting things ready in the Fall.

On your other suggestions: Preach! Totally agree.

Confused

I am a bit confused about the difference it makes whether the job market is spread over 10 months of the year (or 12) or over 2 months in the fall, as it used to be. If you are applying to roughly the same number of jobs (let's just say, about 60 a year), then you can apply to about 6 a month, which is not fun, or 30 in two months as a teaching term is just starting, which is complete hell. I have been through the latter regime, and it was very stressful. So I am not yet convinced that spread over the year, things are worse. I would think they are better.

Jerry Green

I'm with you, Confused. Like I said, I've only been out once, but I'm very glad to have been able to spread out the job market work, for a number of reasons. And normally I like to go all-out on one thing at a time. For both psychological and practical reasons, I'm in favor of some time to breathe between submissions.

Daniel Brunson

An additional consideration is the amount of time it takes to prepare for an interview. I'm not sure if it is better or worse to have interviews spread out over the year instead of concentrated at the Eastern, with on-campus interviews typically in February/March. However, I can see the difficulty in getting an early interview in, say, November, and with luck an on campus in December, when other applications are coming due.

Confused

Daniel,
When the market was condensed, and virtually all first round interviews were at the Eastern, there were a lot of problems. Imagine you have a death in the family during the APA, before you have left for the conference. Or imagine if you (if you are a woman) or your wife are pregnant, and give birth during the APA. Or imagine you just get a very bad flu. There goes the job market for you for the whole year.

Daniel Brunson

Confused,

Oh, I know - that's why I said that I'm not sure what's better.

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