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« 2016 Philosophers' Cocoon Philosophy Conference - Day 2 | Main | What should grad programs and candidates do to improve competitiveness for teaching jobs? »

10/11/2016

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recent grad

A plausibly easier route into a top, or at least very good, journal is the reply piece. I don't mean an original article that is responding to someone's theory or argument. Rather, I mean the reply genre. Not all journals publish them and different ones have different rules, but I have the intuitive impression that the shorter length lowers the standards some. Obviously don't spend a lot of time on these, since they might only be publishable at a few places. But if you have a good reply, polish it and send it out.

Marcus Arvan

recent grad: A fair point - and I don't disagree. But I also have the real sense that replies may not be judged as positively or afforded anything like the same importance as full-length original articles.

Pendaran

I was told to aim for both quality and quantity. Having a long list of papers looks impressive, but not having any quality papers makes it look like you can't do better. So, you should aim for both. That's what I've tried to do. I still need a top 5 or 10 though. I suspect that's necessary these days.

recent grad

Oh, I agree completely. But when it comes to not getting your application tossed in the trash immediately, I think it helps.

I should have added: I agree with your general post. I've witnessed, directly and indirectly, hiring committees at less prestigious places make decisions based more or less on what you're saying.

I do have one question of clarification: where do you put a university like, say, Western Kentucky or Missouri State? They're not R1s, not elite LACs, and not non-elite LACs. Do you think the same strategy applies to them as the one that applies to non-elite LACs?

shane wilkins

Hi Marcus,

I agree with much of what you say here. Certainly the point that there is not one monolithic thing "The Market" which exhibits a single set of preferences. Likewise, I think the advice "better to have low-ranked (but not vanity!) publications than no publications" is also true. What I want to query though is how the pedigree interacts with publications, because I can imagine your advice here is perfectly good advice for students from some places, rather than others.

Here's what I mean. You could have two candidates A and B who each have, let's say, 5 publications at low-ranked journals, but A came from a high-ranked PhD program and B came from an unranked program. I'd guess A still gets the job the majority of the time. If that's right, then your advice is good advice for people from good programs--just get the work out there and let your pedigree prestige clobber people who went to lesser places. By the same token, your advice *wouldn't* be the winning strategy for B, whose only chance of employment is through prestigious publications.

So, perhaps counterintuitively, my sense is that the people who *really* need a paper in JPhil or Nous are the people coming from unranked departments who need an eye-popping CV to even get looked at in the first place. Anecdotally, it looks to me that most of the folks on the phil appointments list with a PhD from an unranked school have at least one publication in a very prestigious journal. For instance, I think almost all of the ones I saw last year had a paper in either Phil Studies or the AJP or better. I'm sure there are exceptions I'm not thinking of.

What I tell beginning graduate student or undergrads who ask me about grad school is this: "If you go to an unranked or a low-ranked department you are going to have to do more work, *and better quality* work than students at better places, just to get the same opportunities. Those students will have more money, more invitations to publish, more professional connections and better mentorship, and you'll still have to be just obviously better than them to have a shot at a job. If you aren't confident you can do that, you should consider a different career path." It's unfair, but then that's life.

shane wilkins

Actually, my anecdotal conjecture above is wrong. Marcus's advice in the OP may well be good advice even for students from unranked programs.

I just ran the numbers from phil appointments. there were 26 people who got hired as "assistant professor of philosophy" starting in 2016. The range of the number of publications was huge, from 0 to 15. The median number of publications was 1.5, the average was 3 and the mode was 5. That's a really confusing distribution. I don't know exactly how to interpret that without the comparative data for people who came from higher-ranked programs.

To the point of the question though: only two of the 26 people had publications in a top-20 journal, (synthese in both cases). Although a few more did have publications in good specialist journals for their fields like hypatia, behavioral and brain sciences, or the archiv fur geschichte der philosophie.

That said, I'm not sure this makes me rethink my advice to the undergraduates. I only found a total of 26 people from the approximately 50 unranked philosophy departments that pump out new phds every year. (some of the 26 were already in TT jobs elsewhere, as well, many had done postdocs. very few were straight from finishing their dissertations.) What percentage of the total number of people on the market from unranked programs do these lucky 26 represent? If there are 50 unranked programs each producing 5 new PhDs a year and only 25 people from such programs a year get a job, then those 25 are just one tenth of the total.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Shane: Thanks for your query and subsequent follow-up comment.

Although I can only speculate here (and so my remarks to follow should be taken with a grain of salt), I think there are some general reasons beyond the data to believe the anecdotal conjecture may be wrong.

Let's think about the "two markets" I described:

(1) The R1 Research Market
(2) The Non-Elite-Research & Teaching Market

My sense is that the first market cares both about PhD program prestige and high-ranking publications. If I am hiring at Columbia or Princeton (or whatever), chances are I want to hire someone who will add to my program's prestige. This means, all things being equal, I want to hire (A) someone from a top-10 program, who (B) has either published in top-ranked journals or probably will. Since *everyone* is fighting for these rarefified jobs, a person from a low or unranked program MAY in principle be able to publish their way in by publishing in top-10 journals. But, when you look at the faculty rosters of these top-ranked programs, they tend to be populated by people from top-ranked PhD programs. So, I can't help but wonder whether trying to "publish one's way" into an R1 may be a losing (or at least very difficult) strategy for people coming from unranked programs.

Now turn to the second market. My own sense is that hiring committees from non-elite schools care very little about prestige of PhD program *or* prestige of journal venue. If anything, they may treat program and journal prestige *negatively*, as representing the candidate as a "flight risk." But now if that's true, then people from lower-ranked publications would be doubly mistaken in focusing so much on top-ranked journals. They might not only be waging a losing battle for R1 jobs (losing out to people from prestigious PhD programs), but also *pricing* themselves out of lower-prestige teaching schools, who might regard them as a flight risk.

Again, this is pure conjecture--but I suspect from comment boards I've come across that there might be something to it. Time and again, at the Smoker and elsewhere, I've come across candidates who say, "I have multiple top 10 publications but no interviews!". What explains this, particularly when there are other people with no top-ranking publications who get tons of interviews at teaching schools? My sense is that it might be the considerations above.

But again, this is just anecdotal conjecture--conjecture worth thinking about, I believe, but taking with a grain of salt.

In any case, because it's so hard to know the answers to these questions, I am once again inclined to think that the best strategy over all is to just publish wherever one can (high and low-ranking journals alike).

Marcus Arvan

Pendaran: See my reply to Shane above. I do *not* think a top-10 publication is "necessary these days." The past several years, I have seen numerous comments on the Smoker where people say, "I have X number of top-10 publications but no interviews." At the same time, good numbers people are being interviewed and hired without *any* top-10 publications.

Anecdotally (having gotten many interviews on the market and having worked at a MLAC teaching school for many years), I don't think people hiring at teaching-oriented schools think to themselves, "This person has only published in lower-ranked journals. They could do better!" On the contrary, publishing in top-ranked journals can potentially make one a flight-risk for those schools.

I worry that publishing in top-ranked journals makes one attractive only for R1 schools, but that when it comes to those jobs one is competing with people from Princeton, NYU, Rutgers, etc. On the other hand, for teaching jobs, people from Princeton, NYU, Rutgers, etc. may be a flight risk. Accordingly, thinking you have to publish in a top-10 journal to get hired may actually be exactly backwards. It may make you more competitive for R1 schools who then go on to hire someone from Princeton, but it could potentially make one *less* attractive for teaching schools.

This is why I think the "you must publish in top-ranked journals" to get hired is a harmful myth! Given that top-ranking publications probably serve one well on one market, but lower-ranking publications serve one *better* than high-ranking publications on the other market (since high-ranking publications may make one a flight-risk), the rational thing to do is not think, "I must publish in top-10 journals." The rational thing is to have a mixed strategy of publishing in both.

Marcus Arvan

recent grad: I think places like that should be classified as falling in the teaching market. I say this because I actually interviewed at and had a fly-out to one of the programs you mentioned. While they care about research, their institutional and departmental emphases are very similar to those at my current liberal-arts university (and their faculty didn't tend to have "top-ranked" publications).

I am with Shane

Marcus,
I am with Shane on this issue. First, I think you are misrepresenting what he said. He is not suggesting (correct me if I am wrong, Shane), that grads from low prestige or unranked programs can publish in great places and get jobs at R1 or top 20 programs. He is suggesting if they publish in great places they may be able to get a T-T job (at some College or other) despite their pedigree.
Second, I think you are not seeing your own experience on the market in the correct way. You have a strong pedigree - not the *most* elite but you have a BA from Tufts, a great highly selective undergraduate college, and a PhD from Arizona, a program in the top 20. If you did not have that you may have found that your experience on the market was even worse than it was. That got your file looked at when you had a shorter (less impressive) publication record.
I have sat on hiring committees at state schools, not unlike the one you teach at. There is always at least one person on the committee who is impressed with pedigree, and discounts people who are graduates of unranked programs. In my experience, and THIS IS ANECDOTAL, it is usually the person who ONLY HAS PEDIGREE. Their research accomplishments are weak, or they have long given up on publishing, but they still have that PhD from a highly ranked program. That is part of the perversion of the job market. My vote for applicants, which is based on accomplishments, counts for no more than my "prestigious" colleague's vote.

Marcus Arvan

"I am with Shane": Many of those are fair points, and I'm sorry if I misunderstood/misconstrued Shane's claim. At the end of the day, all of this is anecdotal. However, you and I have both sat on hiring committees. Although I probably shouldn't give details (as I am currently on a SC), I can safely say that my experience is very different than yours here.

More generally, as Shane points out, the hiring data here seems to me to belie any clear picture of what's best. In recent years, a number of unranked programs have done very well in placement, despite (as far as I can tell) not tending to have graduates publish in top-ranked venues. Consequently, I still think it's the case that "only try to publish in top-ranked journals" is not supported by the evidence. When I look (not just at my own case) at who has gotten hired the past several years, the data just doesn't fit with that advice. Given that different types of schools plausibly have different priorities, including a priority of retaining hires (as opposed to losing flight-risks), it still seems to me that the best advice is, "Try to publish in the best places you can, but don't just focus on top-ranked journals. Lower-ranked journals probably improve one's competitiveness at many schools too, and trying to publish only in top-ranked journals can be disastrous if, like me, those 90+% rejection rates lead you to graduate with no publications at all."

shane wilkins

In my view, there are many job markets, and not just the two Marcus mentioned.

There are, for instance, elite R1s, big state schools with low ranked or unranked grad programs, mid-to-small sized satellite campuses of state universities, elite liberal arts colleges, less elite religious arts colleges, colleges with strong religious or political identities, colleges with a strong service orientation, community colleges, and so on. Each of these is going to be different from the others.

I don't actually think it's *possible* for a person without pedigree to publish his or her way into the upper echelons of the profession. (I know there are exceptions, but see for instance Val Burris, "The Academic Caste System: Prestige Hierarchies in PhD Exchange Networks," American Sociological Review, 2004, pp. 239--264 for some gloomy reading on that score.)

Rather, what I'm more concerned about is whether people from unranked departments can get tenured jobs at 4 year colleges at all and if so, what is required for them to be competitive for those positions. Based on the data I collected above, the answer would seem to be that they need to publish on average about 3 papers, none of which necessarily must be in a top ranked (by which I mean Leiter top-20 generalist) journal. If this is basically consistent with what everybody has to do these days to get a job, then the message here is pretty bad---because what that message is saying in other words is that whether you get a job is just random and the outcome isn't significantly improved by doing more or better work. That's a stark reality, indeed.

But the real thing to do, I suppose, would be for us to look at all the hires from the last couple years, break them out first by the Carnegie classification of the school, then look for the number and venue of the publications as well as the prestige of the candidate's alma mater. My bald guesses: the higher ranked the hiring institution, the lower the number of candidate publications, but the higher the prestige of the candidate's publication venues and the higher the prestige of the candidates alma mater. I would guess that as we work our way down the Carnegie classifications towards the bottom, we're still going to find that a low publication/high PhD prestige candidate kills a high publication/low PhD prestige candidate more often than not. Still, I don't have the data in hand and having had to eat crow once in the thread already, my confidence is diminished!

I am with Shane

Shane,
I am glad I got your view correct on the issue of what a candidate from a low ranking school can expect to get if they publish in top tier journals.
I am perplexed by one thing you say in your follow up message. Why do you conclude in the middle of the message that the job market is just random? If placing three papers gets people jobs then there is nothing random there. Schools hire people who publish. (or am I missing something)
As for your Conjecture, I have the same hunches. Ceteris paribus, the high prestige candidate will get the job (and even when things are not equal s/he will most often get the job).

shane wilkins

@I am with Shane,

I misspoke above. I was thinking about the distribution of publications. Of the 26 people I looked at, several had 0 publications, a few had 1 or 2; one person had 15. The average of 3 was way higher than the median (1.5), so I was thinking that that data represented essentially noise. In other words, I was thinking the message of those data was not "hey unranked folks, just get three things out there and you're in the zone to get a job" but rather "hey unranked folks, a tenth of you will get jobs--i'll roll a die to choose which tenth." Certainly I know a bunch of people with PhDs from unranked places with more (in one case way more) than 3 publications who didn't get anything--not even interviews---last year. That's what motivated me to think there would be a synergistic effect between publication and prestige.

Let me admit I may not be thinking fully straight here though---I've just taught three classes back to back and not sure i've got enough brain power left to chew gum, let alone make statistical inference. I'd welcome any help you can offer to see me through my confusions!

Carrie

Whenever these conversations happen, I understand what high and low prestige general journals fit in, but not specialty journals. Here I don't mean journals like Ethics, but journals that are, say, ranked 2nd or 3rd in a specialty. These journals are better known among philosophers generally and are well read by specialists, but not by non-specialists. How does publishing in a journal like that affect one'a job chances?

Just A Thought

I realize this post is about publications, and publication strategies, but I want to highlight something that keeps coming up that is perhaps being assumed that might not be the case.

Many people in the comments here are talking about candidate pedigree and linking that to the degree-granting institution. Now, I don't doubt that this is a phenomenon that occurs: Some R1 (or other elite school) search committee members, certainly, will immediately be positively predisposed to a job candidate whose CV says their PhD is from "NYU" or "Harvard", or whatever, compared to "Unranked Flyover State University".

However, in many cases, isn't the PhD granting school just a proxy for the sorts of people that the job candidate is likely to get to know, and who are willing to write strong letters for that candidate? It is certainly easier, being at a fancy department, to get some high-stature philosophers familiar with one's work and willing to write good letters for the job market.

My sense though is that it is the *letters* that do most of the work when it comes to "pedigree", rather than the school itself. And that means this might be achieved in other ways: via a visiting stint at another department, a postdoc, or even just effective networking. Now, granted, this is *much* harder to do than just impressing people in one's own department. But it's not impossible, and indeed, anecdotally, it happens.

If this is true, then, though it might not be possible to publish one's way into consideration for an R1-like job if one comes from a 'lower-tier' or 'unranked' program, it might be possible to *both* publish *and* network one's way there; i.e., by having a/some very good publication(s) and by getting good letters from high-stature philosophers.

Obviously, this wouldn't be an easy prospect, nor is it attainable by everyone (for a variety of reasons, both institutional and individual), but I think it's worth remembering that just because you're doing your PhD at a "non-elite" department doesn't *necessarily* mean the R1 (even if not necessarily the most elite R1) doors are closed to you.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Carrie: can you give some examples of the types of journals you're thinking of?

K

I am currently on the market and will have finished my PhD at an unranked program. My program focuses on landing its graduates at teaching-focused institutions, so doctoral students aren't really aiming for those R1 jobs. I think the advice we receive is very good: ideally come out with three publications in mid-ranked journals. Not everyone who graduates from my program does this, but I can think of only two graduates who don't have tenure track jobs (or equivalent - like a clinical ethicist position).

Carrie

Hi Marcus: I have in mind something like, say, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice in ethics, or Journal of the History of Philosophy for history of philosophy. These are both specialty journals and although they aren't the very top choice in their sub-field (I take it Ethics would be for value theory, and even more specific journals would be for history of philosophy--e.g., Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, Kant-Studien, etc.) Nevertheless, they are good journals that people in the sub-field read regularly and I think are known to people outside of the sub-field.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Carrie: Thanks for clarifying. That's what I thought you probably had in mind, but wanted to make sure.

I can only speculate here a bit, but I suspect that journals like that would make one very competitive for jobs at teaching institutions like mine (without making one look like a flight risk), but probably not help as much at research institutions (who, all things being equal, will probably favor candidates with publications in journals in the very top echelon).

Tom

A publication in the Journal of the History of Philosophy is clearly among "the very top echelon". The journal has an acceptance rate under 6%, and is widely considered the top journal for scholarship in the history of philosophy.

gradjunct

I graduated from an unranked program in 2014 and had one paper in Philosophical Studies, and one in Religious Studies (co-authored) by then. We were encouraged to try and publish but very few students in the program did, and it seemed to make no difference on the market. It was more important who they worked with. I got no interview requests. I now have five papers, with the other three being co-authored and in mid-to-low ranked journals. I anticipate getting no interview requests this year either (in part because there are far fewer tt positions in my AOS for me to apply to, and I have stopped applying for Open positions and multi-rank positions because these get too many apps and just seem to be a waste of money and time). FWIW, I don't think publishing has done me any good on the market whatsoever. School ranking and letters seem to be more important.

willing to help

Gradjunct
I would hate to see you leave the professional prematurely. Given that you have a paper in Phil Studies, I think you should not give up yet (though I understand if you want to get on with another life).
I would recommend that you share your application package with a third party (perhaps Marcus, or I once looked at someone's from the Cocoon - with Marcus' mediation). Someone may be able to give you some advice that may strengthen your applications. Perhaps your application letters, etc. could be improved.

Marcus Arvan

willing to help: If you are willing to help gradjunct, I would be more than happy to once again serve as a mediator. I would also be happy to look at gradjunct's materials myself to provide feedback.

willing to help

Marcus,
I would certainly be willing to help. But gradjunct might benefit from both of us giving feedback. If that suits them, that suits me as well.

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