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Mark Alfano


Marcus Arvan

It's a blog neologism for "begging for help". :)

Mark Alfano

Ohhhh... should have googled it.

Anyway, I think the advice your friend sent is all quite sensible. I'm actually not sure how important the Q&A for a job talk is. By that time, almost everyone is going to have made up their minds. The people who like you will ask you questions that they think you can answer well, and the people who like someone else (or dislike you) will ask you questions they think you cannot answer well. The few undecided people might be influenced by this posturing, but maybe something else will do the trick. For sure, though, don't lose your cool during the Q&A. (In fact, knowing that this is what's going on might help you not to lose your cool.)

Trevor Hedberg

I'd only question one thing claimed here: "Also, don't be afraid to give your job talk on your writing sample. You want your job talk to be on whatever it is you know the best and is your most promising stuff."

This might be true with respect to some positions, but my impression is that if you're in competition for a job at a research institution, then this would be a bad move. At one of the searches at UTK that I witnessed, one candidate (excellent pedigree but no publications) gave a job talk over her writing sample, and I got the impression this was the main reason that this person did not get an offer. Since the candidate had no publications, I imagine the hiring committee wanted to get an impression of the breadth of the person's research. Covering a topic that the hiring committee had already probed in detail surely did not help in this regard.

Kyle Whyte

Good ideas. The one thing I come back to, and I recall mentioning it before briefly in some other context in this blog, is that, I think, the main goal, in what you do, should be to come across as a "good colleague." At the end of the day the committee really wants the best person "to work with" - whether the position is for one year or tenure system. Especially in the latter, the committee is having to decide whether you are someone who the faculty would like to have in the scholarly community there for a long, long time. What are good colleagues like? A good colleague is congenial in many different ways. But, a good colleague also has clear and long term value to give to the department, whether that means having interesting ideas for another colleague's teaching or simply being someone who another colleague can have a conversation with on topic X, even if that topic is not either of your main research topics. Being a good colleague also means coming across as someone who is open and a sound decision-maker. This is pretty important insofar as you'll be on committees and voting, etc. Candidates need to embody traits that show them to be good committee members (this is even for programs that don't require juniors to do committee work until after tenure). In addition to the advice Marcus shared, I would add that a candidate should infuse all of that with coming across as a good colleague, in the senses I've hinted at. So perhaps showing that you're a good colleague plus a sharp philosopher makes you very competitive. I have found, anecdotal of course, that candidates hurt themselves by forgetting that even though collegiality may not be some explicit criterion, it really is an underlying, highly important aspect of the hiring process. You can have an amazing paper topic and be sharp in Q/A, but if nobody would like to work with you, and can't really see the value in having you on the same floor, then all is lost.

Marcus Arvan

Trevor: I think that's a good worry to have. However, the person who gave me that advice is someone fresh out of grad school w/ no publications who got a TT job
at a top-20 research institution -- so I guess it's hard to say what to do in these sorts of cases.

Kyle Whyte

Trevor and Marcus: That is a tough one. I can imagine committees who would be worried about seeing "breadth" insofar as they want someone with a clear focus who will make a reputation as being THE specialist in that focus. Breadth, or range, can certainly mean a lot of things. My hunch is that in a committee that would object to someone's presenting the same paper would be a committee that likely hinted at that in the APA interview (i.e. their interest in hearing about a broad range of abilities), or where it is somehow pointed to in the job description. I also want to reiterate, though I didn't spell this out in my earlier post (so not really reiteration), that it is unclear the degree to which the issues about what paper to give, or the multiple points Marcus mentioned, are factors in hiring. Some of it is reconstruction by someone who has very good social skills, people presence, and abilities at navigating highly fluctuating hiring processes. If someone asked me advice about the job market, I'd likely boil it down too to things like what paper to give, because I wouldn't include things like my social abilities, as I may not even be aware of how good or bad I am and how I come across to others. Going back to Trevor's point, I wonder, in the particular case referenced, how much really rode on what paper was presented; instead, it may have been a matter of how it was presented and that in the Q/A the person didn't demonstrate any breadth in how they handled exchanges with the faculty and graduate students. Those are more issues of social sensitivity to subtle cues and heuristics. I'm not at all making the claim that the sort of technical advice is not important. It is the most important; however, some of the particular cases can be decided by what I'm calling social factors, and social factors are extremely important, and not at all talked about enough in the philosophy community.


"You need to show that you are quick on your feet, and that you can give well-thought-out responses to questions. If you're not someone who *is* quick on your feet (and let's face it, not all of us are!), it's crucial that you prepare answers in advance so you *look* like you are."

Part of that's right. One quick qualification. I think that the Q&A is incredibly important for two reasons. The first is that you want to see what sort of a philosopher your potentially new colleague is. The second is that you want to see what sort of colleague this philosopher would be. I think that people often neglect the second bit and focus too much on the first. This can't be true of every department, but it's true for every department I've been associated with--you want to convince people that you'd be a good person to work with and the Q&A is often a good time to show that quality. If you can show that you actually consider the questions, give it some thought, and would be the sort of person the members of the audience could see working with for the next few decades, that counts for a lot. You need to try to strike a balance between defending your position so as to avoid spinelessness/cluelessness while at the same time being receptive enough to show that you play well with others.

Also, there's a difference between people who seem to know what they're talking about and people quick on their feet. In a lot of places, people who are quick on their feet can look like they don't know what they're talking about and can look frankly ridiculous. Some departments that prize good colleagues and teachers might think quick feet isn't always a good sign.

Marcus Arvan

Kevin and Clayton: great points. I've always had that impression too -- that people on hiring committees are looking for a good colleague. A good thing to always bear in mind.

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