Last year, Helen and I ran a "Job Market Boot Camp" series offering current and future job candidates in academic philosophy advice on a variety of issues. Reading through the series again this morning, I still stand by the advice we offered. However, it also occurred to me that since running the series, I have had some career experiences that might warrant revisiting some of the topics in the series to potentially add some relevant information to advice previously given. In particular, I have worked at a mid-sized liberal arts [MLAC] university for about seven years now, and served on my first search committee last year. Although I do not think it is appropriate to share anything about how I or my committee deliberated [or what "I look for" in a job-candidate], I think my overall career experience may have provided me with some additional general information that job-candidates may find helpful.
So, what I hope to do in this new series is to simply revisit the topics Helen and I covered in the boot camp, adding information and suggestions that I believe candidates may find potentially relevant/helpful. As always, I want to emphasize that the suggestions I give in the series is just that: my suggestions, not necessarily the best or "correct" suggestions. As with most things, people will presumably disagree on what job-market advice is good. All I can promise to do--and, I think, all anyone can really do, given that there are few clear facts [viz. scientific study] regarding what makes candidates competitive/successful on the philosophy job market--is provide concrete evidence for the suggestions I provide.
As in the Boot Camp, I will begin today by discussing the issue of building a competitive CV. In last year's post, I focused primarily (though not exclusively) on publications, arguing that my evidence suggests that all legitimately peer-reviewed publications--not just publications in highly-ranked journals, but lower-ranked journals as well [though not "vanity" journals]--can improve one's competitiveness on the market. I will return to and add to some of the evidence for this conclusion below. However, my post last year focused only a little bit on other aspects of the CV, such as teaching experience, university service, and letters of recommendation. In today's post, I will spend most of my time adding to the previous suggestions I made on those issues.
Additional CV-building suggestion #1: There are probably multiple academic job markets, not just one
My first suggestion this time around about building a competitive CV is very general. It is commonplace in conversation and philosophy blogs to talk about "the" philosophy job-market. My career experience--both on the job-market and beyond--strongly suggests that it is probably false that there is a single market [for an earlier discussion of these issues, see here]. The simple fact is, there are multiple types of universities--public research universities, elite liberal arts colleges, non-elite teaching-focused liberal arts universities, community colleges, etc.--each of which have different values and priorities. In my experience, many teaching focused liberal arts universities do care about research, but not at all in the same way as research institutions do. I have gathered many different strands of evidence that jointly support this general idea:
- I had no highly-ranked journal publications on the market.
- I was not very competitive on the job-market for research jobs [I only received a few interviews at them over the years].
- I was very competitive for jobs at teaching institutions [my # of interviews and flyouts at teaching schools increased dramatically over the years the more lower-ranked publications I racked up].
- The people interviewing me at teaching institutions did not themselves tend to have highly-ranked publications.
- I have seven years of experience working at a mid-sized teaching-focused institution, and know other people who have gotten tenure-track jobs [and tenure] at teaching oriented schools--and both sets of evidence [my first personal experience and third-personal testimony from others] strongly suggests that although [A] teaching oriented schools often do care about journal venue, [B] journal rankings appear not to be "fetishized" in the way that many people in the philosophical community often appear to treat them [viz. anything not in a top-20 journal or top-5 journal is not impressive]. For instance, I know more than a few people who have gotten hired, lauded at pretenure review, and obtained tenure at teaching schools without any top-20 journal publications.
None of this is to suggest in any way that one should not try to publish in highly-ranked journals. On the contrary, as I explained last year, it suggests to me that it is probably a good strategy to simultaneously publish in both highly-ranked and lower-ranked journals. First, publishing in highly-ranked journals is likely to make one competitive at research schools--as there is ample evidence that such schools care very much about journal venue. Second, the evidence I give above suggests that publishing in lower-ranked journals is likely to make one more competitive at teaching schools. Finally, my evidence also does not support the view that if one publishes in top-journals, publishing a few articles in lower-ranked journals is likely to make one uncompetitive at research schools--as, going through recent appointments threads at philjobs, I have come across more than a few people who were hired at highly ranked schools get hired with publications in both highly-ranked and low-ranked journals]. In short, the evidence, as I see it, is that high-ranked publications and low-ranked publications are both likely to increase one's competitiveness...at different types of schools.
Additional CV-building suggestion #2: breadth and quality of teaching probably help at teaching schools
Last year, I suggested one should, "Try to expand your teaching resume and student involvement, and improve your student reviews--but do not sacrifice publishing. Find a way to improve the teaching and student-engagement parts of your portfolio while continuing to publish." I still think that. Here is just some of my evidence. First, my teaching experience and student reviews were fairly strong my last several years on the market--yet it really seemed to be my publication numbers that increased my number of interviews. Second, a number of converging lines of evidence suggest to me that search committees at teaching schools have incentives to want to hire people they think are likely to get tenure. Since at most places, including teaching schools, publishing is an important component to getting tenure, my experience on the whole is that it is very important to publish, publish, publish if one wants to be competitive on the market. However, the longer I have worked at a teaching school, the clearer it is to me how much breadth of teaching experience and strong student reviews are valued.
First, many philosophy departments at teaching-focused schools are quite small, and often need a variety of courses to be taught by full-time faculty. Indeed--and very importantly--a given search committee may need to hire someone who can teach a very specific course *outside* of their AOS (a person with an AOS in metaphysics who can also, say, teach Ancient Philosophy). In cases like this, even though the course in question is not under the AOS being hired for, a person with no background teaching that course may be at a distinct disadvantage relative to any candidate who does have a history teaching it. Second, I can tell you that, at least at my university, faculty and administrators take our teaching mission very seriously, expecting not merely "decent" but exemplary teaching. Third, although empirical studies of the value of student evaluations are mixed at best, we all know how precarious the situation is in higher-education today, especially when it comes to humanities departments [including philosophy]. Given this swath of evidence, there are ample reasons to think that a candidate can only improve their competitiveness at teaching schools by [A] gaining experience teaching a wide variety of courses [not just courses in their AOS], and [B] working very hard to demonstrate quality of teaching [e.g. strong student reviews, very well-designed course materials in a teaching portfolio, etc.]. In other words, if you have to choose between teaching the same two courses squarely in your AOS over and over again and teaching a variety of courses, including courses outside of your AOS, I would suggest the latter--at least if you want to be as competitive as possible at teaching schools. An overly narrow history of teaching experience can, for reasons described above, be a disadvantage [note: this might be something for grad programs to think about, as they might put their graduates in a more competitive position by giving their grad students more solo-teaching opportunities across a wider array of different lower-division undergraduate classes].
Additional CV-building suggestion #3: student engagement probably also helps at teaching schools
If my experience also teaches me anything, it is that "student experience" is also often highly-valued at teaching schools. Part of it, again, may have to do with the fact that we live in an increasingly precarious higher-education environment--one where some universities are closing down, eliminating departments, eliminating majors, etc. However, in my experience, student engagement can simply be deeply valued by faculty and administrators as part of their conception of a sound university education. For what it is worth, I can honestly say that student engagement--e.g. coaching ethics bowl debate teams, etc.--has been one of the most rewarding parts of my job. One needn't [and probably shouldn't] "go overboard" with it, especially if one is on the job-market, as student-engagement alone is unlikely to get one hired into a TT job. Still, making sure one's CV indicates a substantial commitment to student engagement can probably only help.
Additional CV-building suggestion #4: more letters of recommendations probably help, but..?
My experience with respect to letters of recommendation is...a bit odd. On the one hand, literally everyone I have ever spoken to about the job-market has said it is important to [A] have letters from your dissertation committee, [B] get "external" letters from well-respected figures outside of one's grad department, and [C] ensure that one's letters are "strong" [I have heard people say that a weak letter can "sink" a candidate]. My experience strongly coheres with [A] and [B]. In line with [A], one year I left one of my committee members' letters out of my application [out of a perhaps-unfounded worry their letter wasn't the strongest], and it was my worst year on the market: zero interviews. I have since heard more than a few people remark that omitting letters from a committee member can be a "red flag" of sorts, as it might suggest that the person whose letter is omitted thinks poorly of one as a candidate. Similarly, in line with [B], the more outside letters I got from established people in the discipline, the more interviews I got. However, above and beyond [A] and [B], my experience was a bit mixed, especially with respect to [C]. For instance, a couple of my outside letter writers initially expressed a bit of ambivalence when I approached them for a letter, saying [in both cases] that they didn't work in my AOS, etc. Despite such reservations, they each offered to write a letter. So, I'm not sure I got the strongest letters from them...but, as far as I can tell, their letters did help [I got more interviews after including their letters]. Consequently, I'm not entirely sure what to say about letters, except that [A] one should probably make sure one has them from one's dissertation committee, and [B] one should try to get outside letters. Beyond that, or so my experience is, letters can be a bit of a crapshoot.
Additional CV-building suggestion #5: a positive online presence might help
Although it might sound strange to include cultivating a positive online presence under "building a strong CV"--as CVs are normally understood as listing professional accomplishments [publications, etc.]--my general suspicion is that many people, both graduate students and faculty, may have an overly narrow view of what counts these days as a "positive contribution to a CV." First, as much as many of us might like to believe that interviewing and hiring-decisions are primarily arrived at by reference to "professional accomplishments" [and indeed, I have argued in detail that a variety of scientific findings regarding employee selection support the view that decisions should be based on determinate measures of past accomplishments], the simple fact is that these days, in philosophy and other occupations, interviewing and hiring decisions are made by human beings. It is also known, in addition, that [A] human beings have all kinds of biases, including familiarity biases [e.g. dispositions to attach positive feelings to familiar names and faces], and [B] most jobs are secured through networking. All things being equal, is it better to be a "faceless CV in a pile" or someone the person who comes across your dossier recognizes and has positive associations with? I leave it for you to think about. Finally, there are some reasons to think that an online presence may be even considered by some these days to be a kind of genuine, bona fide occupational qualification. After all, as many people have noted in various fora we are not merely researchers or teachers; we are members of a profession--a profession grappling today--in many cases online--with all kinds of issues, ranging from the state of higher education, to adjunct dependence, to sexual harassment and misconduct, to diversity and inclusion, etc. Insofar as these are real parts of the philosophical profession, some people might treat a positive online presence--viz. active, positive online engagement regarding issues affecting the profession--as part of a candidate's overall set of occupational qualifications as a member of the profession. While I realize some [many?] readers may argue that one's online presence "shouldn't" play a role in interviewing or hiring decisions, my aim in this post is not to evaluate interview/hiring methods, but to simply draw attention to issues that candidates might find helpful. My aim is also not to suggest that one should cultivate a "positive" online presence in a cold, calculating, cloying, dishonest manner, in order to cultivate personal popularity. On the contrary, like Helen, I'm inclined to think that one should try to develop a positive online presence for its own sake, precisely because we are all members of a common profession with some duty to each other to progressively realize a better profession [however we understand that--which of course is a matter of many ongoing debates]. The only point I am trying to make at present is that--like in many areas of human life--it is probably incorrect to think that potential employers regard the entirety of one's resume/CV as "what's on paper."