Our books






Become a Fan

« Katzav & Vaesen on peer-review in philosophy | Main | Saturday sounds »

06/17/2017

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Abob

I'd be curious to hear more about these innovative teaching methods that people at your school use. As far as actual teaching goes, I was under the impression that lecturing without powerpoint or handouts actually helps students learn the most. Does the innovation have more to do with assignments, activities, etc.? If so, I'd be interested to hear more. I'm constantly trying to improve my teaching, but it's a bit hard because (a) I've always learned best through lecture and self-study, hated group-work, liked writing papers, etc., and (b) a lot of the material I've found about innovative teaching methods seem to me like they would work well for some disciplines, but not all that well for philosophy.

Recent hire

Thanks Marcus for discussing this more.

I do agree that thinking more about teaching and pedagogy helps (it certainly helped for me too). But I think the quality of your statement also depends on other factors: on how much thought you put into *writing* it (e.g., checking out the "common mistakes" you cited, etc.), and on how much work your colleagues and placement officer put into reading and criticizing it. I guess we were a very lucky group of finishing grad students who helped out each other a lot, as well as had a great placement officer who knew quite much about how to write these things.

Sorry if this is somewhat tangential, but I actually came across a worry this year that relates to this question --- and perhaps some others will come across the same. The worry, briefly, is that the more unique (stand-outish) your statement is, the more likely it is to rub someone in the wrong way. At least, that's what I was told. I had a statement that made some slightly controversial claims about teaching and pedagogy (specific claims related to classroom practice), which made it a bit unique, but I was also advised by some people to make it more "generic". Their rationale was that generic statements won't likely to harm you, but very specific/controversial/stand-outish ones might. Anyway, I did not take the advice, and it payed it off in my case; but not sure this is generally true. Is there a good way of standing out without a reasonable chance of someone just really disliking what you do?

Marcus Arvan

Recent hire: Great comment - so good in fact that I may have to write *another* full post about it!

I don't have a bunch of time right now to respond, but here are a few quick thoughts. I wouldn't worry about doing unique things out of a fear of "rubbing someone the wrong way." The bigger danger--in my experience on both sides of the market--is in not standing out as a candidate at all, blending into the proverbial woodwork of the hundreds of other candidates one is competing against.

Although this is just my experience, I think it is wise to take some risks to become your own philosopher--both as a teacher and as a researcher. Sure, what you do may rub one search committee member (or entire search committee) the wrong way--but there may be others who find your uniqueness compelling, so compelling in fact that they are willing to *fight* for you against the other members of the committee you may have rubbed the wrong way. They may fight for you so hard that it even ends up in you getting hired. I've seen it happen. The bigger danger, I think, is being the "ordinary" candidate who no one notices much at all, let alone is willing to fight for.

Obviously, I don't know who you are, and as you say casting your own statement in a "generic" way seemed to pay off. As I haven't read it, it's really hard for me to evaluate whether your statement is actually generic, or whether you're under-selling it. For my part, I think it is important for the *style* of the teaching statement to indeed be understated and "dry", just stating what you do and why you do it. If that's what you mean by "generic", then I'm not at all surprised that it worked--for, as I pointed out in both of my posts on teaching statement, it's really the tone and overall level of professionalism that stands out in the composition of the statement. That's not what I mean by "generic."

In any case, I wouldn't be surprised if there were some hiring committees who like "generic." It's just that my overall experience suggests that it's a better overall strategy to try to stand out by being innovative. The idea that it's good to be innovative coheres both with my experience as a candidate (I got a *lot* of interviews at teaching schools the more I developed my pedagogy), as well as my experience on two hiring committees.

Of course, I'm just one person, and my experience is--for all that--just the experience of one person who has been on both sides of the process. So, I'd be very interested to hear what other search committee members think...which is why I might just have to write another post asking them! :)

Recent hire

Thanks Marcus, this is really helpful, and I think you are right -- it is probably better to get noticed in some way than in no way. I am just generally not a very risk taking person, and find that many of my colleagues aren't either. But I guess it's part of being on the market.

(Just for clarification, I ended up *not* going with the "generic" statement, i.e., I took the risk. So that's what payed off at the end, but I wasn't sure if it usually does, and there were times when I didn't feel particularly good about it.)

Marcus Arvan

Interesting - it does seem to me that a lot of people don't quite get just how risky "not taking risks" can be. Again, it seems to me the very worst thing one can do in a crowded job market is to not stand out--but to stand out, almost by definition, you need to take some risks. Plus, risks are fun. Either you soar or you crash - either way, it's a spectacular show! ;) More seriously, I once decided that if I was going to fail at this philosophy thing, it would be better to fail being myself than to fail playing it safe, being who others might "want me to be." I found this was a positive attitude to have: at the very least, it made philosophy a whole lot more fun.

UK reader

I agree: take risks. After all, you only need to get one search committee to fall in love with you. Who cares if all the other ones get rubbed up the wrong way by your application? On the plausible assumption that almost all new hires have something unique about them that the search committee just love, you need to be trying to cultivate a USP. If you stay generic and try not to offend anyone's sensibilities, you won't be at the bottom of any search committee's candidate ranking, but you won't be at the top either, and there are really no prizes for second-place in this game.

Postdoc

I want to caution against just anyone following Marcus's advice.

If you're more or less mainstream left in your views, then sure 'be yourself'. However, for a lot of people I wouldn't suggest 'be yourself.' For example, if you think that black boards and chalk is best, I'd suggest not saying that in your teaching statement. That's just an example based on the fact that Marcus thinks you need to talk about innovation in teaching to stand out. If that's true, and you think that innovation in teaching is largely nonsense, don't say that.

My personal view is that the ways I was taught in the early 00s were quite effective, and I'd probably want to use those methods to teach (at least until I personally found instances where they could be improved); but they're not all that innovative. I am very skeptical of innovative teaching. Old fashioned methods seemed to work fine in my experience, and a lot of stuff you read regarding innovative teaching strikes me as ridiculous, like 'promoting epic failures in the classroom.' In fact, my favorite classes were those that were the least innovative. Going back a decade, I've found innovative methods patronizing and kind of annoying.

Of course, I'm not saying all innovation in teaching is bad. I am sure that traditional methods can be improved with innovation. It's just that the things which come to mind when I think of 'innovative teaching' largely put me off, and I think a lot of it (not all) is silly.

Marcus Arvan

Postdoc: I never said to "be yourself." I said to take risks. I then said that I found that being *myself* was a good attitude to have. That is in large part because I am a risk taker by nature--and because I had previously been playing it safe. The very point of my earlier comments is that if you are risk averse, it might be better not to be yourself, but instead force yourself to take some risks. Also, while the academy as a whole is known to left-leaning politically, my experience on both sides of the market is that not everyone is left-leaning--and I think just about every comment thread on Daily Nous and other philosophy blogs shows that there is diversity of political opinion in philosophy. So, maybe it is worth taking a risk and being open (albeit professional) about your political views. As U.K. reader points out, there are no prizes for second place in this job-market. If you hide your views, maybe you'll just blend into the woodwork of other candidates and come in 10th place for job after job. On the other, could it perhaps be that if you are open (but professional) about your political views, there might just be one or more committee members at one school who notice you, respect your authenticity, and be willing to fight for you? My experience suggests that this is, at the very least, a risk worth thinking about taking. Remember, you only need *one* committew to want to hire you--and if you are not a "mainstream leftist", maybe there is one committee out there who will see your openness about your political views as a positive--one that, in addition to all of your other qualities, might make them actually want to hire you.

Amanda

I think one thing that many instructors have trouble with is that the typical person who gets a PhD in philosophy (or any subject, probably) is very UNLIKE the typical student. Most Phds like listening to lectures without interaction. Most typical students do not. I think most PHds would find innovative teaching annoying and patronizing but most students really get value out of them. Or that has been my experience, and I became a better teacher once I accepted this.

One difficulty I have ran into when it comes to selling my teaching is faculty seem to have very strong and diverse views on powerpoint. I have run into a number of faculty who absolutely HATE powerpoint and judge you very negatively as a teacher if you use it. Others like it and think it is part of innovative teaching. As far as a teaching demo goes, the best bet I think is to use innovation without powerpoint.

I am curious though, what is "promoting epic failures in the classroom" - I have never heard of that.

Postdoc

Marcus maybe you never said 'be yourself' but this passage might suggest to people to be themselves. I think for many this could be a dangerous message.


'More seriously, I once decided that if I was going to fail at this philosophy thing, it would be better to fail being myself than to fail playing it safe, being who others might "want me to be." I found this was a positive attitude to have: at the very least, it made philosophy a whole lot more fun.'

Marcus Arvan

Postdoc: I do see how it could be read that way. While I do think a lot of candidates probably underestimate the potential benefits of taking the *risk* of "being themselves" (I'll say more about this in a future post), my point was really about taking some risks. I think there are a lot of ways that simply "being yourself" can be a dumb risk--for instance, if you're an intensely negative, mean spirited, or egomaniacal person. One should probably avoid those risks. My general point is that it is risky to simply play things safe and assume that you shouldn't do X (if, for instance, X reflects who you are) simply because X might rub some people the wrong way. It might rub *some* people the wrong way, but at the same time, others might find X attractive. There's the old cliche, "If you try to satisfy everyone, you'll probably satisfy no one." Sometimes in this world--especially in job markets, I think--you have to run the risk of rubbing some people the wrong way if you want to stand out and rub others the right way. It is, of course, of *risk*, but my general point is that there are risks all around. There are risks to "playing things safe"--and my experience on both sides of the market are that the risks of playing things safe may actually be greater than the converse. For when candidates play things safe, they run the very real risk of not standing out at all. Your task as a candidate is not to get as many possible hiring committees to like you, but instead to get *one* committee to love you so much that they want to hire you!

Postdoc

'I think there are a lot of ways that simply "being yourself" can be a dumb risk--for instance, if you're an intensely negative, mean spirited, or egomaniacal person.'

Your examples all include negatively valenced personality dispositions. But I think there are many neutral or even positively valenced dispositions that you probably shouldn't let people know. For example, if you tend to stand up for yourself, I wouldn't let people know this when applying for a job. haha! duh!

'My general point is that it is risky to simply play things safe and assume that you shouldn't do X (if, for instance, X reflects who you are) simply because X might rub some people the wrong way. It might rub *some* people the wrong way, but at the same time, others might find X attractive.'

I'd like to hear some examples of this. Maybe I missed them above. Regardless, people should be careful about how far removed from establishment ideas they place themselves. Within certain parameters sure take a risk but probably don't say you don't like innovative teaching methods and prefer old school teaching.

Or maybe I'm wrong about this?

Marcus Arvan

Postdoc: Thanks for continuing the conversation. Predictably, I disagree!

You write: "But I think there are many neutral or even positively valenced dispositions that you probably shouldn't let people know. For example, if you tend to stand up for yourself, I wouldn't let people know this when applying for a job. haha! duh!"

Having worked full-time at a liberal-arts university for nearly 8 years now--and having served on two search committees--my experience is that many people *want* to hire people who stand up for themselves. We are not looking to hire obsequious graduate students. We are looking to hire *professionals*--and professionals tend to be people who stand up for themselves.

Indeed, standing up for yourself is often important at universities and in departments--and I personally have colleagues who make it very clear that they value people who have an opinion (they do not want to hire someone who will be a "doormat").

Part of what bothers me about many of the "risks" that candidates don't want to take is that, in many cases--indeed, in this case (judging from your remarks)--the things that candidates seem to think are "obviously a bad idea" aren't actually a bad idea. Yes, sure, there are *some* search committee members out there who may not like candidates who stand up for themselves--but I personally know search committee members who *do* want to hire someone who will stand up for themselves and who *wouldn't* want to hire someone who "wants to please everyone."

In short, I think you--and many candidates out there--would be very surprised at just how diverse the values and priorities of search committee members (and entire search committees) can be.

On that note, consider your other comment: "Regardless, people should be careful about how far removed from establishment ideas they place themselves. Within certain parameters sure take a risk but probably don't say you don't like innovative teaching methods and prefer old school teaching."

Here again, my experience is: no, the generalization you are making here exactly wrong.

Consider my own case. I work with a colleague who really likes traditional "chalk and talk" methods and doesn't seem to like powerpoint. I, on the other hand, am on the other end of the spectrum. I am hardly ever impressed by old-school chalk and talk methods, as I don't think most people do it very well and I don't think it works that well in my school's environment (which has inordinately long class-meetings). Although I would hire someone if they were a truly outstanding chalk-and-talker, I tend to be more impressed by a judicious use of powerpoint combined with other innovative practices.

In short, just between two people--myself and my colleague--there is an IMMENSE diversity of values and priorities. If we were hiring, he might very well fight for interviewing or hiring a particular chalk-and-talk candidate...whereas I might fight for interviewing and hiring a very different candidate. The thing is: he and I would be impressed by very different "risks." He might be impressed by a candidate who takes the "risk" of being totally old-school (and being outstanding at it), whereas I might be totally impressed by a candidate who uses powerpoint and does a ton of unconventional things in the classroom.

Given that this amount of diversity of values and priorities occurs between just two people at one university, can you imagine the amount of diversity that plausibly exists on the hiring-side of the job-market in general?

I have quite a bit of experience here: it is absolutely immense. Everyone has their own values and priorities, and their own hobby-horses. Given the sheer amount of diversity, one should stop trying to "appeal to everyone", and stop assuming that you think you know what search committee members like or don't like. It's almost certainly impossible to know. What you need to do is have the courage to take some risks, be the kind of philosopher--the kind of researcher and teacher--that you want to be, thereby establishing a unique identity for yourself that might appeal to *someone*, *somewhere* on the hiring side who is willing to fight for hiring you.

Trust me, this happens on search committees. Sometimes one committee member says to the others, "I know you all aren't so into Candidate X, but *I* think they have something unique about them--I'll be happy to interview candidates Y and Z to satisfy you all, but *I* want to insist that we interview candidate X." Sometimes this kind of process---a single person fighting for a candidate--can lead to that person being hired.

This is why I think it is important to take risks, and have the courage to be the kind of philosopher you want to be. You never know: there just might be someone out there who wants to hire just THAT philosopher--and if you simply "played it safe" you might never stand out to that one person who is going to fight for hiring you.

Marcus Arvan

Abob: I can't speak exactly to the kinds of innovative methods people at my university use--as my sense is that their methods are really all over the map. I do think, however, that I'm fairly typical in how much I experiment in the classroom and how elaborate my teaching practices and pedagogy are (see http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2017/05/sharing-teaching-pedagogy.html ). I also get the sense that traditional "chalk and talk" teaching is quite rare at my school.

Finally, I also don't know what research there supporting the idea that lecture and self-learning are the best methods for student learning.

First, my general understanding is that the empirical literature indicates traditional lecture and self-learning are good methods for learning basic concepts, but more innovative active-learning methods more effective for other important kinds of learning. See e.g. https://kuscholarworks.ku.edu/bitstream/handle/1808/10504/teaching%20with%20lecture%20or%20debate.pdf?sequence=1 and http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1026&context=ijpbl.

Second, although you might like and learn from lecture and self-study the most, one should not assume that most students are like oneself! Indeed, most of my students say they love the group work I have them do, etc.--and I've seen clear benefits in using these approaches.

Postdoc

Marcus, I don't think we'll settle this debate or come to agreement. Your experience is just different from mine. My experience is that those who don't 'step in line' (those who aren't doormats) suffer notable consequences, which in this job market is likely enough to harm one's chances. My experience is that those who make it are those who keep their heads down, do what they're told, and walk the party-line. Those who make it are just those who don't stray far from the mainstream, probably even philosophically.

As far as trying to stand out, well you should only do this within acceptable parameters, or at least this is my experience. There are many mainstream cliques in philosophy that all differ a little from each other. It might be beneficial to choose one of these groups and in so doing rub another the wrong way. We're a social species. But choosing a mainstream clique to join is a far cry from 'being yourself,' unless you're a relatively boring person. You have to be very careful about the views you express and what you stand up for, if you want to make it in academia. The job market is abysmal and you're easily replaced.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Postdoc: that's fair. In the absence of hard data, I suspect the best any of us can do is share our experiences so that others can at least make more informed decisions about what kinds of choices to make. The experiences we share may be highly fallible and inconsistent, as they plausibly are here (you and I do seem to have had very different experiences). Still, I think that by diacussing our experiences, and elucidating reasons for different choices and strategies--including what might be at stake at different ones--readers will at least have more evidence to go on than before. This is especially the case, I expect, the more people share their experiences (particularly search committee members). I would be very interested to hear from more people. As with many disagreements, it would not be surprising to me if the truth were somewhere in the middle between our two experiences. I have no doubt that some candidates do well by playing it safe, toeing the "party line" (as it were), and so on. I am just skeptical that this is the best strategy for everyone, or even most. I suspect that some people fare well by adopting risk-averse strategies whereas other succeed because they took risks. My concern is that, from what I can tell, most candidates appear to afraid of taking many risks--and that far from serving them well, it may very well hold them back from not only being the kind of philosopher they really want to be, but also the kind of philosopher someone might want to hire. Don't get me wrong: I understand why so many candidates are risk-averse. It is incentivized by graduate programs, as well as my the fact that candidates have so much riding on their careers. My point is simply that it is not at all obvious to me--from my experiences--that such risk-averse strategies are all that less risky than taking chances. Of course, I may be wrong, and again our experiences may diverge--but at the very least, I think it's probably helpful to get both of our experiences and reasons out on the table! :)

Amanda

One thing that keeps going through my head when I read advice is, "this is good advice if not everyone takes it." I force myself to remember that nothing changes the fact that only a small percentage of those on the market will succeed, and hence if everyone adopts the best job market strategy (whatever that might be) that strategy will no longer be effective. I know I am stating an obvious truth, but sometimes we might trick ourselves into thinking that if just everyone could get mentoring and improve in various ways then all will turn out well. However, there is just not enough jobs, so not matter what, many of us will lose out.

The above is one reason to keep periodically returning to discussions about plan B. Actually, maybe we should have more discussions about those who choose to make a career out of instructing philosophy in a non-TT position. There are many people I know, anyway, who have a career teaching philosophy at the college level but have comes to terms with never having a TT position. It would be nice to hear the story of one of those people, and hear if they are happy in their own philosophy career. Some of them have been in this position for over 20 years. They are the invisible members of the profession. It would also be good to hear from them for the sake of persons who are considering whether to go for another career path entirely, or a make a life of a non-TT philosophy position.

Marcus Arvan

Amanda: Really great comment! In fact, I think I'd like to take you up on the suggestion of inviting people in permanent non-TT positions to share their perspectives. Would you mind if I quote your comment in a new post?

As an aside, I actually met one fellow--on the hiring side of things when I was a candidate--who got a tenure track job after *13* years on the market (in non-TT positions). I seem to recall him saying it was very difficult...but I don't think I've ever met anyone who was so plainly and deeply thankful for the TT job he finally got (though I recognize his story is extraordinary/atypical).

In terms of your concern--"this is good advice if not everyone takes it"--I've had that concern before too. However, I think in practice it is probably overstated. My sense, for what it is worth, is that a lot of candidates don't take up various bits of advice. Either they are skeptical about it, or follow advice from others, or they just don't want to take the time or risk of doing something other than what they are comfortable with. I say this not as a criticism, but more as just an observation.

Amanda

Hi Marcus,

Feel free to quote me! I'll be interested to hear what people have to say. And yes, you are right that most folks probably won't take the advice. Although I do think that as the years go on the bar inches up each year, because a small percentage of people keep taking *some* good advice, and so on, etc.

Abob

Marcus,
Thanks for the response, and for the link to your post on teaching strategies - I somehow missed it when it was first posted. I find your ideas really interesting and look forward to incorporating some of them! -A

Postdoc

Unless You’re Oprah, ‘Be Yourself’ Is Terrible Advice.

"But in the rest of our lives, we pay a price for being too authentic. High self-monitors advance faster and earn higher status, in part because they’re more concerned about their reputations."

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/05/opinion/sunday/unless-youre-oprah-be-yourself-is-terrible-advice.html

Marcus Arvan

Hi Postdoc: Thanks for the link! Like I said, I wasn't advocating "being yourself." I very much think it is important to self-monitor. My suggestion was primarily that it may be advantageous to take some risks as a researcher and teacher in order to stand out from 300 other candidates. That's very different than just "being yourself"!

Postdoc

Well to me there was more than one way of reading what you were saying. I'm responding to an interpretation close to the surface.

Oprah

I’ll try to keep this anonymous. Maybe my own job-market experiences, sufficiently abstracted, might help some in their deliberations about whether to continue in philosophy. I’m a couple years removed from the market now, so take this with a grain of salt. But I imagine the experiences still apply.

Year 1 on market, ABD. Fairly non-fancy grad school. More than 5 publications, in good places, none great. Applied to 45 places, got one TT job interview, two post-doc interviews. Very luckily got a pretty fancy post-doc.
Year 2 on market, with PhD. Something like 10 publications, a couple in very top places. Applied to 5 places, got one TT job interview. Got a pretty fancy second post-doc.
Year 3 on market. A few more publications, a few in very top places. Applied to 15 places, got a first-round interview. That was all.
Year 4 on market. Lots of publications, more than 20 I think, can’t remember exactly. Applied to 25 places, got a number of TT interviews (I think 4, maybe 5). Struck out.
Year 5 on market. Lots of ‘top 15’ or ‘top 10’ publications or whatever you like. Applied to 25 places. Got one interview, somehow got that job.

Did anything make a difference along the way? I got better as a philosopher, as a teacher, as a giver of talks. My CV was improving – lots of invited talks and etc., lots of money won via grants. My dossier was incredibly well edited and honed and benefitted from loads of feedback. Everyone who had seen them said my letters were very very good. None of it seemed to make a difference. The job I got was a product of 10% fit and 90% luck. I do think philosophers who are able to publish good work should consider leaving North America, and especially the US. Not only because the philosophy culture in the US is awful, but because there is more space for good philosophers to get post-docs and other funding outside of the US.

Is my experience unusual? Not really. I’ve been at this for a while, I know lots of people. Lots of very well published folks not getting TT jobs. Lots of stories. Lots of people on the market 6, 7, 8 years. Lots of specifics not worth getting into here. Definitely don’t hope for competence or charitable reading of your PhD/CV/research project from any philosophers. And don’t believe post-hoc reconstructions of what worked from people who were successful. That’s a lottery winner talking.

A fan

Oprah,
I have a question for you. What do you mean when you claim that the philosophy culture in the US is awful?
That may help others (maybe even me).

Marcus Arvan

Oprah: I wouldn't be so sure it's a lottery. Programs that prepare their students well for the market place their graduates in jobs: http://asnews.syr.edu/newsevents_2017/releases/philosophy_hires.html . Sure, there is a lot of luck involved, but unlike a lottery it is not all luck. I had a very different experience than you. The more I developed my dossier, the more interviews and fly outs I got year by year, in a pretty linear fashion.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Open job-market threads

Categories