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« On stereotyping by institution | Main | Italian philosophy PhD on the challenges of international careers »

04/26/2016

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Pendaran Roberts

I did my BA and MA in America and my PhD at the University of Nottingham in the UK. I wanted to add one thing to what Helen has said.

There seems in the UK to be a gap in the training process from PhD to permanent position. PhD programs here don't provide the kind of professionalization that US programs do. Yes, you can get some seminar teaching, but it is difficult to get the responsibility to design and run your own course. You are just a TA for one of the lecturers.

So, when you graduate, no matter how brilliant you are and how many publications you may or may not have, you likely will not have the kind of teaching experience that US PhD's do. This wouldn't be that bad, if you only had to compete with UK students. But they hire US students!

Moreover, there are very few teaching positions available, definitely no where near enough to accommodate all the graduating PhDs. There aren't that many pure research positions either, and they are mainly all at Oxford and Cambridge (seems they have most of the money). So, it is difficult to get the experiences required to secure a permanent position, and difficult to compete with US PhDs. Thus, many of us end up dropping out of academia.


Anon

Thanks for this series, it's really fantastic.

As a grad student in a US institution where it's also difficult to get the chance to teach one's own course, I just wanted to follow up on P. Roberts' question. How important is it to teach one's own course before one graduates?

I ask because there's genuine variation in opinion from faculty at my program (a top 20, but not super illustrious one) are varied. Some think that the time would be better spent on one's dissertation, though most of the younger faculty seem to think that teaching at least one course would be valuable.

Thanks in advance!

College Professor

In the past, people hired by highly ranked programs (R1 institutions) did not need teaching experience. But my sense is that at places that do not support Ph.D. programs you must have teaching experience in order to be hired. We have done a number of searches over the past 8 years or so, and we have NEVER considered someone for inclusion on our long list (10-15 finalists) who had not taught her or his own course. The sort of place where I teach, the sort of place where many philosophers in the US teach, is teaching focused. People are even denied tenure because they are ineffective at teaching.

A newish UK PhD

I think that what Helen describes is "typical" to those who eventually land a permanent job. It is not typical to most UK PhDs. The reason is provided by P. Roberts.

Also, it seems to me that nepotism is more serious in UK than in US. Stipendiary lectureships are few, and quite a lot of them go to the PhDs of the home institutions. As to research postdoc, my observation is that, given the terrible job market, more US PhDs from PGR top 10 programmes apply pure research postdocs in the UK. They may have spent more than five years to get their PhDs, which means that they have more time to produce better publication records. For those who study their PhDs in UK, they really need to use time more wisely.

Pendaran Roberts

I agree with A Newish Uk PhD that nepotism and cronyism is a problem in the UK. I experienced a lot of that first hand during my time here. I can't say it is more of a problem here than in the US. I just don't have the data. Looking at the appointments section of Philjobs, it seems as if a good deal of prestige bias and cronyism is occurring there too. I see people from top universities being hired with unimpressive publication lists (sometimes none at all).

But there is a serious problem created by the cronyism in the UK that doesn't exist in the US. As you don't get to design and run your own course during your PhD, you are dependent on getting some short-term position. The Oxford and Cambridge research positions are very highly competitive, and the 1-2 year teaching gigs often go to friends and colleagues, graduating PhDs. So, it's easy to fall off the radar and basically be unemployable.

I was fortunate enough to secure a little funding to continue my research, and I believe I now have a publication list that may secure me a short-term research position. But I have only been able to do this by depending on my spouse, who is fortunate enough to have a job that pays enough to live on. haha!

I wouldn't recommend anyone from the US do their PhD in the UK, unless perhaps they get into Oxford or Cambridge. These universities have a lot of prestige and money. But normally UK PhD programs just don't provide the kind of professionalization needed. They aren't competitive for this reason.

Having said this, UK programs do give you 3-4 years to write your thesis. If you pick a good advisor, you can get a lot of one-on-one tutoring. I did enjoy this education method personally. You can really tailor your education to your thesis and your interests. I knew what I wanted to work on, so this worked well for me. I don't think they should change this. It's a good thing. What they need to do is to provide teaching experience on par with US PhDs.

Helen De Cruz

Pendaran: thank you for the comments you provided here - very insightful. Do you know if there is any principled reason why UK universities don't let their PhD students design and give their own course ("module"), other than perhaps a worry that modules taught by inexperienced junior people might not reflect happiness in the national student survey? Or might the worry be that UK PhD candidates would fall further behind in getting their PhD done on time? Maybe the 3-year model should be rethought. In a market like this, it's unwise to just focus on getting the PhD without much consideration for the further employability of the candidate. Designing and teaching one complete module of the student's choice may go some way toward mitigating the employability problem, especially since UK PhDs increasingly compete with US graduate students.

Pendaran Roberts

Helen: I do not know the answer to your question. But I suspect they are fearful of allowing PhD students to design and teach a course, as they may not do a good job. I think part of it is just tradition. A PhD is a research degree which is awarded based on a thesis. There are also lots of students from the continent who do their PhDs in the UK, as PhDs from Italy, Spain etc worthless. These students may not have brilliant English speaking skills.

Whatever the reason, they need to rethink things fast. Every PhD student should, assuming they have the required skills, be allowed the opportunity to design and teach a course, with oversight of course. If they don't do this, their PhD programs are going to become uncompetitive quickly. I see a lot of Americans hired as lecturers. There is a reason for this!

Derek Bowman

Here are some questions to consider before advocating for longer PhD programs with more teaching:

(1) Will this make available any more jobs than before, or will roughly the same number of candidates remain un/underemployed as before?

(2) Will this reduce the number of jobs available as grad students fill the teaching needs currently filled by stipendiary lectureships?

If the answer to (1) is no and (2) is yes, it would seem such a change would not increase overall rates of employment, and would involve an effective pay decrease for the positions (obviously not individuals) converted from stipendary lectureships to grad student teaching.

I suppose the only wrinkle is that even if more jobs aren't created, more of them may be filled by UK PhDs under this model, so it might still be a locally sensible move for that reason.

But in general, spending 3 (more often 4?) years on a PhD and not getting a job afterwards is preferable to spending 5 (more often 6, 7+ not uncommon) years on a PhD and not getting a job.

Anonymous Oxford PhD

The suggestion to let PhD students design modules would never work at Oxford. The modules are pre-set for years and years and years and there is little to no opportunity to create new ones (even established fellows struggle).

Anonymoose

The idea that one could complete a PhD program and not have experience as an independent instructor is just silliness to me. It's an obvious Achilles' heel in a job application, and not for any good reason. Several US MA programs let their students design their own syllabi and teach several sections of their own course. If MA students can do it, I see no reason why PhD students couldn't do it. That said, I do think there are several US institutions that aren't able to get PhD candidates teaching spots before they go on the market, but I could be wrong.

Clayton

"I do not know the answer to your question. But I suspect they are fearful of allowing PhD students to design and teach a course, as they may not do a good job."

I can't speak for how philosophers from other departments might feel about this, but I wish we could allow our PhD students to take on more teaching responsibilities. It would be good for their training (and fantastic for us!) This is blocked by the administration. We really don't have the option of letting our PhD students design and teach modules or help with summative marking (i.e., assigning grades).

"Whatever the reason, they need to rethink things fast. Every PhD student should, assuming they have the required skills, be allowed the opportunity to design and teach a course, with oversight of course. If they don't do this, their PhD programs are going to become uncompetitive quickly."

Agreed. And this is something that I worry about, but I don't know if it's the kind of thing that most administrations would worry about (and they control everything). PGR students are expensive when compared to UG students. Thanks to the terrible new funding models, I expect there to be a push to decrease the number of PGR students and increase the number of UG students.

Ben

I would say this is atypical on several points. Aside from Oxford's BPhil, I can't think of any 2 year Masters programmes. Perhaps there are some, but the traditional UK postgrad is either 1+3 (MA and PhD) or 2+2 (MPhil and PhD). You're right that many over run by anything from 6 months to 2 years.

After that, I'd say temporary teaching gigs of various kinds are probably the norm. I think postdocs are becoming more common, but I wouldn't say they're typical. A temporary teaching position or two gives one the opportunity to develop one's own modules and, at that point, the UK graduate is probably comparable to the US graduate in a similar period of time.

It's certainly rare to go straight from PhD into a permanent lecturing position, even at 'entry level' (assistant professor) - but these positions do exist (Oxford is something of an anomaly - most UK institutions that use 'Associate Professor' use it for what's traditionally been called Senior Lecturer).

For the record, my own trajectory (which I'm not claiming to be typical) was 2 year MPhil, 3 year DPhil (PhD), 2 year lectureship (VAP), then 'permanent' lectureship.

Pendaran Roberts

Ben from my experience there aren't many temporary teaching gigs around and they'll have 100 or more applicants. Sometimes they go to US PhDs. There is no secure way for a UK PhD to get the kind of teaching a US PhD is almost guaranteed to get. This is a serious problem for UK PhDs.

Oxford DPhil

I agree with Pendaran Roberts. I have applied for every position I was eligible for this year (permanent and temporary) and that wasn't very many positions. Didn't get shortlisted for anything. Even one year teaching only positions (presumably the least desirable of options) have tons of applicants. It is frustrating that we are not competitive in the US, but US students are competitive here.

Filippo Contesi

Like "Ben" above, I doubt 2-year, full-time MA programmes are frequent in the UK. There is the two-year BPhil and there may be two-year MPhils, but those are not MAs. Having said that, if one takes into account part-time MA programmes and the relative scarcity of funding available for MA students (as compared to PhD funding for instance), I'd say it is still fair to say, as Helen does, that many PhD students (though perhaps not the typical PhD student or the typical PhD student who ends up in academia permanently) start out with 2-year MAs.

Sara L. Uckelman

I'm surprised to hear that the standard PhD trajectory involves a funded PhD. It makes me even more sad the difficulties my institution has at finding funding to give to PhD students.

Helen De Cruz

Sara Uckelman: I don't know how many people get funding (I tried to find numbers since when I consulted informally with UK academics I could not find good baseline numbers.) But it seems that people who get permanent positions eventually, started out as fully funded bursaries - it would be interesting to make comparisons to see if getting a fully funded place (fees + maintenance) helps people later on.

CW

How important is it to teach one's own course before one graduates?

It depends.

Where I got my Ph.D. (an unranked research university), new TT hires were not expected to have a lot of teaching experience. If they didn't have this experience when hired, it was assumed that they would learn to teach well enough on the job. This didn't happen often, but no one worried much about it.

Advanced grad students in my department had significantly more teaching experience than several of the job candidates invited to campus while I was there. One person invited to campus had never taught at all.

I now teach at a regional state university. We teach and are also expected to publish. We've done a couple of TT searches over the past few years. We expect candidates to have teaching experience, and ask them to provide some evidence that they're good at it. We expect this, even in the case of new PhD's.

We want candidates to be able to tell us how they'd teach different courses, and also why they think it is important to take their approach and not another, or at least to be able to explain why their approach is valuable or appropriate.

Some of my colleagues also like to read teaching statements or philosophies. I don't find them all that valuable unless they talk about specific classes, but others do.

It also helps if one or more of your professors can watch you teach a couple of times and write about it in a letter. For me, at least, those letters can be helpful.

Jonathan Birch

I thought I would advertise that, at the LSE, our PhD studentships are for four years rather than three, and pay £18,000 per year. The idea of it becoming the norm for students to spend their fourth year 'cannibalizing their savings' (or whatever) is pretty abhorrent, so I'm pleased that the LSE is trying to do something about it.

Ben

In reply to responses to my previous comment:

"from my experience there aren't many temporary teaching gigs around and they'll have 100 or more applicants"

This is undoubtedly true, at least for the more desirable teaching jobs, but that doesn't undermine my point.

What happens after PhD? I can think of four main options, in order of desirability:

1) Land a permanent job. Very rare.
2) Land a postdoc.
3) Land a temporary teaching job.
4) Fail to land a job.

The original post suggests a postdoc is 'typical'. I find this hard to believe. These are very rare and often attract hundreds of applicants (though, as with any job, this depends on how wide the eligibility criteria are).

I don't have statistics to back this up, but my impression would be that more people get to a permanent position via temporary teaching positions rather than via postdocs. (Of course, some will have both. Though someone with an attractive 3 year postdoc should be a strong contender for a permanent position immediately after.)

Pendaran Roberts

Based on my experience, postdocs are not typical. I don't know anyone personally who has a attained one, if by postdoc we mean a 1-3 year research position with full pay (at least 20k pounds annually).

Oxford DPhil

There are 'lots' of post docs at Oxford and Cambridge. However, they are usually open to multiple disciplines, so only a handful of philosophers will get one each year. I think most post docs are done in continental Europe.

ez

Having (now almost) completed a phd in philosophy in the UK and now working in higher ed admin I would say that one of the main reasons for most unis not being happy about grad students teaching and designing their modules is that NSS numbers are an important part of the pitch for getting students.
In some fields this is not very important because UK institutions get a good deal of their funding from international students who will come mostly based on a (mistaken) assumption about the general quality of UK higher ed - e.g. in business, hotel management, some fields of engineering, architecture, etc. - and there are also many-many home students who are competing to get into these programmes.
In fields like philosophy home UG students pay for the bulk of the income, there aren't too many paying international students, especially at smaller institutions. If there aren't crazy numbers of people applying to do philosophy then students and their parents (who are paying and taking on loans) can choose from many institutions that offer UG degrees, and they will consider what is on offer.
Sometimes there are more people applying then there are places at a programme - and currently there are no government imposed caps on how many students can be admitted in principle - but there are tariffs: these are partly calculated on the basis of the performance of your incoming students (what grades they left secondary ed with). If you start lowering the entry requirements you can get more money in the short run, but you will fall in all tables and rankings rapidly, which again, will affect how you are doing in the long run.

The way management and administration will think about this is that they need to ensure that the programme (in this case philosophy) keeps running and is stable. For this it needs a good reputation and steady student numbers, it cannot over-recruit too many students with bad grades. If the fixed numbers and quality of incoming students is not in place not only won't the department be able to offer more jobs in the future, it won't even be able to keep the ones it has.
Add to this that students and parents have in most cases little knowledge of academic matters and a programme which has high NSS scores and can promise that all teaching is done by prestigious teaching and research staff will be picked over ones which have lower NSS scores and grad students doing some of the teaching.

Getting lower NSS scores with grads teaching is a real threat because 1) most grads don't have teacher's training and not everyone is naturally good at it (many philosophers aren't and they can't teach others to teach either), and 2) even if a grad is a good teacher students might think that a full-time staff member would have been better. So, teacher training would be essential, but that would cost extra money too.

On top of this, most of what the admin and management does is dictated by the way the government shapes the higher ed environment. For example institutions can't get HEFCE funding (extra money for teaching) if they can't guarantee for example a certain level of teaching. An institution can offer such a guarantee, say, based on the previous student satisfaction rates, programmes, and outcomes. But if there are grad students teaching who didn't have teacher training and they are in charge of many students, and even design the modules, then that guarantee won't be very convincing.

Another problem is that AHRC which gives funding for most research degrees will penalize the institution if phd students run out of their four years. Taken together all these things form an environment where it is in the interest of most institutions - except the ones with lots of own money, research and business income - to push through phd-s in 4 years. If teaching might keep them from finishing, they shouldn't do teaching.

Also: while administration does have a say in many things, if one looks up who the top managers are, who make the actual decisions in committees and boards, most of them have an academic background.

I'm not sure whether we need more philosophy phd-s at all. My hunch is that at the moment we don't. So a possible solution to raise employment rates for UK phd students in philosophy and make them more competitive internationally would be to lower entry numbers to philosophy phd-s, keep the same resources and use them to fund 5 years programmes with a strong teaching component. But that's just one way of looking at it.

Cambridge PhD

Just in case anyone wants the information, Cambridge PhD students do *something like* writing their own course - i.e. they are in their 3rd year asked to give four lectures on some fairly broad subject like 'metaphysics of modality' or 'knowledge of other minds' and you're given a reasonably free reign on how to organise your lectures, and are asked for suggested exam questions.

I'm not sure this takes place, however, in order that Cambridge PhD are better prepared for the job market. I think it probably it stems from necessity. Cambridge is a small department considering how many undergraduates there are. If this necessity were not there, I suspect that Cambridge would be much the same as other departments in this regard, and would not have a tradition of graduate students lecturing.

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