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04/04/2018

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SCer

I'm sorry to say, but these days everything is swamped by gender and to a lesser degree race. This dynamic determines who gets jobs and who does not in most cases (at R1 institutions especially). "Originality" and "fit" only come into play when a school has multiple viable woman candidates or no hope of hiring a woman candidate. And originality and fit are still less important than research ability (which itself is swamped by gender/race).

Without taking a stand on whether this is right or wrong, candidates, and especially undergrads thinking about getting a PhD, need to be aware of it. It's especially clear in light of this year's market--although I think it's best if we don't name names. People can take a look on their own.

skef

I feel like this take paints too rosy a picture of what in practice is at best a double-edged sword.

I agree that original work *already published in high-profile venues* is likely to be of great benefit. But it is naive to think that, in the current climate, search committee members will either bother to identify (more) original work in unpublished writing samples, or put much faith in such work when it happens to be identified. After all, if the quality of the work matters to eventual tenure it's eventually going to be measured by publication venue, so why not measure it that way at hiring time?

So the challenge is not just doing original work but getting it published. And one very significant reason for papers being narrow and unoriginal is that other kinds of work are harder to get past editors and reviewers. Wider and
more original approaches inevitably open up more reasons for rejection, and higher submission rates have left journals looking for any handy reason to reject. (The easiest way around this problem is of course to already be an established name who mostly publishes by invitation.)

So absent advice about how to publish original work early-career, "be original" isn't all that helpful.

Marcus Arvan

Skef, you write, “But it is naive to think that, in the current climate, search committee members will either bother to identify (more) original work in unpublished writing samples, or put much faith in such work when it happens to be identified.”

I have been on three search committees. Maybe it is naive for an R1 job, but my experience is that it is not naive at all at a teaching school.

“So absent advice about how to publish original work early-career, "be original" isn't all that helpful.”

Here’s some advice: shoot for journals that are more likely to accept it. Teaching schools are not looking for publications in Mind.

Marcus Arvan

I would also reiterate: originality isn’t just important with research. It’s important in teaching and the rest of one’s file.

anonymous

My experience with hiring has been the opposite of what SCer reports. I struggled to get my colleagues to even consider a single woman candidate in our search last year. Eventually they agreed to fly out one woman out of four; she dropped out of the search before the flyout and was replaced by a man.

Having been on the committee, I can confidently say that there were at least ten women in the pool who were highly competitive with the men we interviewed (we were searching in a very narrow area, and not one that is known for having tons of women, so I suspect in a standard search there are more).

For every story like whatever is informing SCer, there are stories like the one I just told. I won't come back and check for a response, because I'm not interested in metablogging. But I frankly think that SCer is wrong. Some schools prefer to hire female candidates, and some schools experience pressure from administrations to do so. Some schools (like mine) experience that pressure, but ignore it because so long as they hire a woman every third search or so, the administration will back off. Some schools don't experience any pressure. Some schools have faculty members that are clueless about their biases against women. I wish that I could show everyone on the metablog (and every man I hear say this stuff, and every person who posts this stuff on any blog) what my experience on a search committee was like. I wish they could watch video of it. I know nothing else would satisfy the people who keep repeating this stuff, and that even if they could watch the video, they would write it off as an anomaly.

I also am of the perhaps controversial opinion that if this blog is supposed to be a "safe and supportive forum" for early career folks, comments like the above shouldn't be posted. Almost all of the junior women faculty in philosophy I know are dealing with severe psychological fallout of being told over and over and over and over again that we don't deserve our jobs, that we only got our jobs because we are women, that we don't deserve to be here, etc. etc.

I won't return to this blog or this post to check for replies. I am writing this for my students' sake. This blog has tons of useful information for grad students preparing to go on the market. I don't want them to have to read this stuff in addition to being told by everyone around them constantly that they don't deserve anything that they get.

(Also: I'm not sure why SCer thinks we have many facts about this year's job market. Most of the hires I'm aware of haven't been posted yet; some of them probably never will; and I know of a number of searches that are still in progress or have not officially ended. I am not one of these people who believe that women have no advantage on the market--I think women pretty clearly have an advantage on the market--but to claim that gender "swamps" everything else is ludicrous. I'm pretty sure there are enough women on the market that, if that were the case, every single place would hire a woman. That is absolutely not happening; as far as I know the data shows that women are getting hired into roughly 50% of tt jobs. That's an awful lot of jobs being filled by men to make the claim that SCer is making!)

skef

I don't have much basis for contesting that then*. However, in that case it sounds like this may be another factor that the teaching and research tracks rather than general advice that applies to both.

* It does go a bit against another commonly-expressed sentiment, which is that teaching schools are more wary of applicants that seem more focused on their research. Granting that originality in teaching methods would be valuable for those positions, why wouldn't having research perceived as being original also increase the appearance of being a flight risk?

Amanda

Skef I think original work would increase flight risks odds if it was published in high-ranked journals and the person had a prestigious PhD. But if someone doesn't have both of the aforementioned my guess is teaching schools won't be too worried about flight risk but will still appreciate the originality. I am to tired of talking about gender so I won't, but if you look at hires at both research and teaching schools it seems Marcus's claim plays out. The people who are getting hired often have records that are not as "impressive" in some classical sense as those who are hired. I think that originality often explains a big part of this. And I think it SHOULD. Almost everyone I talk to agrees with me that a huge number of papers published in professional journals are God-awful boring. That is sad for our profession: we need more people working out of the box, imho.

Recent grad

Why is this a case of fit, rather than a case of good research, good teaching, and so on?

Al

Recent grad. I think it is a better fit under 'fit' because there might be very good work being done on something deemed boring or stale. For example, suppose there is someone making an incremental move in an old debate that has hundreds of papers written on it. It might be very good work. It might even be important work that the profession needs and should value. So in those ways, it is good research (and I think you can probably map this idea onto teaching). But as someone involved in a search, good research is common (and that's great). But whoever gets hired won't just hole up in their office and write papers and then disappear (one hopes). Rather, whoever gets hired will give work in progress talks to the department, will invite visitors to speak in my department, will shape how various courses are taught, and will be my neighbor in my building who I want to talk shop with. I want someone who is *not only* doing good work, but also doing work that I'm excited to learn more about and that strikes me as compelling and interesting rather than just competent and solid. Super bonus if it makes points of contact with things I'm interested in or makes points of contact with my other colleagues and helps promote good community. Those seems to me to be feature of fit. Being excited about the work of your colleagues is worth a lot.

Postdoc

"I also am of the perhaps controversial opinion that if this blog is supposed to be a "safe and supportive forum" for early career folks, comments like the above shouldn't be posted. Almost all of the junior women faculty in philosophy I know are dealing with severe psychological fallout of being told over and over and over and over again that we don't deserve our jobs, that we only got our jobs because we are women, that we don't deserve to be here, etc. etc."

I'm very sorry to hear that female faculty are being told they don't deserve their jobs. They are, in a sense, victims of sexism too. If we hired based on merit instead of sex and race, there may be less women in philosophy, but those in philosophy wouldn't be told they don't deserve their jobs. Until sexist hiring practices are put to a stop, young men do need to be warned that they will be discriminated against in hiring. It would be wrong not to warn them. It's unfortunate that these warnings might breed a negative environment for women, but to stop that ultimately we need to stop sexist hiring. You cannot combat sexism against women, to whatever degree it does exist, with sexism against men.

Craig

Most of the people from my phd class with tenure track jobs are men. Most of the philosophers on my doctoral committee were men. Most of the non-tenured faculty in my department are men. Most of the philosophers on the most-recent APA panel I went to were men. Most of the philosophers at the most-recent philosophy party I went to were men. Most of the current contributors to this blog are men. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Should we warn people entering grad school that things are really tough out here? Yes! Should we warn people that lots of the factors that influence things aren't what they expect they might be? Yes! Does gender play a role? Sure! You know what else plays a role other than "quality of philosophical research"? Fashion aptitude. Interpersonal, social ability. AOS popularity. Availability and willingness to take good advice. Time of day. Knowing about and using a good Skype setup. Timing. Height. Weight. Handicapped status. Age. Etc. Etc.

Some anonymous commentators on this blog (and basically every blog, to be fair) seem obsessed with the idea that the most interesting way the deck is stacked is against men; that reflects more about them than about the job market. The only way I can understand this is that while the rest of the world long since figured out that they'd have to grind things out and that things weren't going to be measured on some ideal-theory account of fair, white philosopher men are just now shocked that they cannot waltz into the promised TT jobs.

Marcus Arvan

SCer, Postdoc, & Craig: You all have every right to have and express your thoughts on this issue. However, Anonymous also has a point. While I generally aim to avoid being a preemptive or heavyhanded moderator (I rarely reject comments), this blog's mission is to be a safe and supportive environment for early-career folk.

The present conversation leads me to believe that this subject either cannot be discussed in a supportive manner, or if it can, that people generally choose not to discuss it in such a manner. Whatever the case may be, I am writing to ask you all to respect the mission of this space. I created this space as a place to support each other, not tear each other down.

There are plenty of other places on and off the internet to cast aspersions on people's character, deservingness, and so on. This blog's mission is to be a refuge from that kind of stuff--and this particular post was on the role and nature of originality on the job-market. I would appreciate it if the discussion could return to that subject.

Postdoc

I thought my post fit a safe and supportive environment. There is empirical evidence female candidates are preferred and obviously a lot of anecdotal evidence. All this information about fit and whatever else is interesting, and I appreciate the discussion. I don't necessarily hold the view of SCer that a candidate's sex is more important than anything else. Having said this, for some reason, many liberals seem to be in denial that their own policies to discriminate against men work to do just that. Hence, there is not enough time spent on this issue, in this blog or elsewhere, warning young men about the discrimination that they'll be subject to. So, I see it as my moral duty to warn young men what they're getting into. I don't see how warning men of the discrimination they'll receive is inconsistent with a safe and supportive forum. I didn't attack anyone in particular, but just made a general point that I think people should be aware of. The idea that warning men about the systematic preference for women hurts women and so isn't supportive of them is absurd. It's absurd to say we cannot warn the non-preferred group that they're going to be dealing with systematic discrimination, because it will harm the preferred group.

Words McCaffee

I personally haven't served on a search committee, but I have spoken with several committee members during searches who seem to confirm Marcus's view. More novel topic areas, or novel approaches to more standard topic areas, seem to fare better with the committee. Some professors I know openly expressed being tired or bored of the "same old thing" coming up in writing samples and/or research statements.

As for postdoc's reply to Marcus, I think we can be supportive to young men by making sure they know they have a disadvantage on the market, AND supportive (and just plain respectful) toward women or minorities who are just starting out
by not implying that their hires had nothing to do with merit. I take it that Craig's point is that philosophers are rarely hired solely on merit, but now it's becoming trendy to glance at the new appointments at PhilJobs, see a female name and conclude that the relevant person was a poor choice, hired solely because she's a woman. I doubt many departments are haphazardly throwing jobs at vaginas without any thought to how good of a philosopher the person is. So maybe we can try being supportive to all concerned, since it probably isn't easy for anyone on the market.

By the way, for the most recent search for which I was in touch with a committee member, the person who got the offer was a white man (and it came down to 4 people, one of which was a woman), and they called his work "refreshing." This is just anecdotal, but the point is that we might gain from taking seriously Marcus's attempts to help us see what makes for attractive candidates rather than throwing our hands up in the air and saying if you're not a woman, don't bother.

Amanda

I thought that we were moving on from this topic. But since Marcus allowed another post about young men being discriminated against, I want to have the chance to reply.

First, young men are warned everywhere you look. To say there isn't enough places is silly. And to say that "young men WILL be discriminated against" is something you can't possibly know. You can say that men (I don't know what "young" is about, the vast majority are over 30, these aren't kids) on average have a lower chance of getting a job. This is true. Women have 42% and men 31% (over 3 years) To quote exactly, "Overall, 263 of 761 women were placed in permanent positions in less than three years (41.3%), compared to 498 of 1557 men (32.0%)." http://dailynous.com/2017/06/21/area-specialization-gender-placement-close-look-data-guest-post-carolyn-dicey-jennings/.

This the stat that is never cited because (I suspect) it doesn't make things look as bad.

Anyway, you can say there is a high chance that men will face discrimination. But to say that "they will" implies that every job a man applies to, there is an advantage for a woman. This is something one cannot possibly know. In any case, there is every bit of a "moral duty" to warn early career philosophers that working on metaphysics will almost certainly hurt their odds on the job market. Indeed there is a GREATER effect in placement area than gender. According to Jennings's data, if a man works in a high placement area, his odds of getting hired are 37%, compared to 26% for low placement areas. (See same link above) Hence being a man gives you a 9% lower odds of getting a job than a woman, but working in a low placement area is a difference of 11% compared to a high placement area. Where is the moral cry of duty here? Why does nearly every post come with a reminder that men face discrimination via their gender, but no mention of the way areas of speciality have a greater effect? Indeed, it makes more sense to warn about the latter because area of speciality is something one can do something about, while gender (for the most part) is not.

It is just nuts that every single post someone has to come on and say, "By the way white men are really disadvantaged and many women get hired just because of their gender." Why are they not coming on every thread and warning men about working in MandE?

As long as we are warning "young" philosophers of things, young women please know that few will give you credit regardless of your talent in publishing, teaching, or anything else. Nearly everyone will tell you it is because you are a woman. And if you are hired, people will bitch about how you are really not talented and rip apart your CV on anonymous blogs. And these are the same people who will smile at you at conferences and then behind your back snicker about how everything was handed to you. Yes, you will have a higher chance of getting a job (or so you will if things bear out in the next few years as they have in the past) . However your odds of getting a job in 3 years are still less than 50%. And if you do get a job you will have to put up with all of the aforementioned. So think about these things if you are considering a career in philosophy. The odds you will get a job are pretty low. The odds that if you get a job that you will be respected for your intellectual merit or teaching skills are, imho, probably even lower.

And yes, I am against affirmative action in hiring, always have been, and wish women didn't have this advantage.

Marcus Arvan

Postdoc: in your first comment, you write, “It's unfortunate that these warnings might breed a negative environment for women, but...”. Then you write in your second comment, “I thought my post fit a safe and supportive environment.” I hope you see the problem here: it’s the one Anonymous initially raised. I am giving Amanda the last word on this topic in this thread. Your warning has been (amply) aired, and others (Amanda, etc.) have aired their views. I kindly asked to turn the discussion back to the topic of the OP. I am now going to insist upon it.

anonymous

I am curious whether folks think the originality thesis holds for non-Anglo-American European universities. In my experience serving on hiring committees abroad, while international visibility and publishing in good journals plays a big role in hiring decisions (as well as having published monographs, in addition to articles), I get the sense that originality sometimes pushes candidates to the margins (or gets them excluded altogether). Certainly cover letters that try out an original format get more eye rolls than serious consideration.

If the originality has to do with content, I think much depends on whether it arises within a commonly recognized area/topic of philosophical research, or whether it is original because being performed in an area less commonly explored in mainstream philosophy. The former might be an advantage. The latter, sadly, still seems to be a disadvantage. Thus, for a chair in metaphysics, someone with an original approach to questions in meriology might stand out positively; someone working on a neglected philosophical figure or on topics in, say, philosophy of race or gender, might be cut in the first round, even if their work is overwhelmingly in metaphysics.

I also find that for professorial positions here, most committees are actually looking for people who nicely fit the status quo. Maybe this isn't true everywhere in Europe, and I'd be curious to hear others' experience on this question. But in the hiring committees I've been on, they care very little about teaching, and just want to know that someone can teach the standard courses as set out by the curriculum. Likewise, cutting-edge research programs are often only viewed positively if one has already acquired significant third-party funding for them, and whether the major European funding bodies reward originality is a thread in its own right.

I'd thus very much welcome non-Anglo-American perspectives to see if their experience matches up with my assessment.

Anon

anonymous,
You did not say what country you are in. Consequently, we cannot reply to your request. We do not know if we are in the same country as you.

anonymous

Since I am currently on the job market, I would prefer not to say too much about my personal situation. And I would be curious to hear from countries besides the one I currently occupy. I'd also be interested in hearing the experience of those outside of the US, UK, and Europe.

anonforthis

Originality is said in many ways, so to speak, and from my experiences on a committee at a teaching-oriented institution what hurt many candidates was lack of breadth in teaching. A narrow, original dissertation isn't a disqualification, but consider that one also needs to able to attract students, and if you're applying for jobs without a graduate program, that's going to happen by offering interesting classes.

The reason I'd say this is a question of 'fit' rather than 'qualifications' is that a lot of these are nebulous, IME. Perhaps we want to hire an M&E type or a big-name-focused historian -- but our most senior colleague would love to give up his political philosophy class or relaunch the medical ethics course that's lain fallow for a decade -- and while we wouldn't put that in an ad it might be in the back of our minds. Why isn't it in the ad? Because many philosophy departments are so small that any new hire is going to wind up rewiring the department's course offerings -- the non-essentials end up on a wish-list.

If you're in M&E and finding the market tight and you like teaching, you might do well to develop an AOC in an area that departments might not want to spend a whole line on, but would love it if someone could offer a course on it. Aesthetics, non-Western, race/feminism, applied ethics come to mind, science & technology.

Pendaran

This is a great blog with a lot of interesting insights. However, I seriously wonder how much the anecdotal data presented in this search committee series is worth. For example, the stuff about originality is quite questionable in my experience. In the UK at least, it looks like big funding bodies stray away from originality. I had a pretty original research program. However, the funding bodies preferred to fund stuff on Kant, for example.

I suspect the explanation is that who to fund is decided by a committee largely comprised of non-philosophers, so the stuff that gets funded has to seem on the surface to be acceptable and worthwhile. Maybe there is room for originality within this set. Maybe you can say something original on Kant, but to many philosophers, I suspect, history of philosophy seems stale. To non-philosophers, though, Kant is brand recognition, making the project immediately appealing and acceptable. Funding something on Kant is safe; funding something profoundly original is not. If you're going to shell out a 100k pounds, it's going to be for a safe project.

If you're going to be original, based on my experience, it needs to be within a well-worn and, preferably, popular topic. I mention popularity, because looking over what's funded there is a ton on the currently popular gender and race stuff, so I'd say working in this area looks very promising for funding. Anyway, originality is certainly not something to shoot for simpliciter. I think what you want is a 'cool' project, immediately understandable and appealing to non-philosophers, in an acceptable and popular area. I'm not sure 'originality' really captures this idea correctly. I'd use words like 'cool,' 'popular,' 'trendy,' 'consistent with the zeitgeist...'

Now it's perfectly possible that search committees for TT jobs in America or the equivalent here in the UK function quite differently from the large funding bodies, like Leverhulme, but one of the best ways to secure yourself a permanent job in the UK is to get a 'fancy' grant or grants. So, I think PhDs in the UK (and Europe) should be thinking about how to get these grants. In my experience, and this is what other people I know say too, these grants are not handed out based on originality. I know grants are less of a thing in the US, so maybe originality matters more in America than it does in the UK.

However, I'm skeptical that 'originality' is the right term even in the US. At least, I very much doubt they want anything profoundly original or 'groundbreaking.' I suspect what works is finding a way to say something 'cool' in an acceptable and, preferably, trendy area. I admit this is just based on my experiences and non-scientific examination of job candidates. However, I don't think anyone saying otherwise has any scientific data either. So, here we stand...

elisa freschi

Pendaran,
being based in Europe, I also frequently think that this kind of advice only works in the US. Perhaps you might consider writing a post about the grant-system in the UK?

Pendaran Roberts

I doubt I could inform people about much more than I’ve said. I will say that I did some research into Leverhulme. They predominantly fund history, socioloy... Very few philosophy grants given out. I never got a leverhulme grant despite trying a few times but would see people who worked in history who would get grants despite having much worse records than me. So they seem pretty biased.

UK reader

Just to confirm what Pendaran says, these UK grants seem to go far more to English/History scholars than philosophers. Often, to my eyes, the projects they go to are far more scholastic and arcane than even the most arcane philosophy projects. I think there are relatively few philosophers on the panels that hand out the awards, and I think philosophy's uncomfortable straddling of science/humanities puts it at a disadvantage when in front of a panel consisting purely of humanities scholars.

Michel

Pendaran: FWIW history actually does *extremely* well in interdisciplinary granting competitions; IIRC, it does the best among the social sciences and humanities in the US and Canada.

Michèle Lamont, a sociologist who studies these kinds of competitions, attributes a big part of their success to the facts that (1) we all get early and fairly sustained historical education, so it's a relatively familiar topic to everyone on the panel, and (2) it's a field whose conclusions, methods, and payoffs are pretty clear to everyone and easy to establish; in particular, it's really easy for historians to justify requests for funding because they need to access artifacts, documents, etc., all of which are housed in particular locations, or to pay for lab work, and so on. When you compare a philosopher's request for money to sit at home and think hard, it's easy to see why the historian often wins out.

The lesson is just that, as philosophers, we have quite a bit of inertia to overcome, and there's often no obvious analogue to the kinds of method and sources other fields deploy or require.

elisa freschi

UK, Michel and Pendaran: At least at the ERC level (large European grants), historians have the additional advantage that they have a separate panel evaluating their projects. So, they do not need to convince a panel of outsiders about the importance of history.
This being said, I am sure we all agree that it is a good thing that the humanities receive fundings and that historical reconstructions are often very useful also for philosophical projects. It would just be good if we could convince politicians, public opinion and funding bodies to spend more for research in general and in the humanities and in philosophy in particular.

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