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Jason Chen

This was a very heartfelt post and I'm very sorry to hear that you worry about your future everyday. I wouldn't be surprised at all to hear that other philosophers experience the same thing. I just got into a PhD program so I'm not in the same position as you, but I expect the road ahead for me to be similar.

I'm glad to hear that you love philosophy despite the hardships that you've had to go through. I think that's the most important thing to keep in mind for us, that we do it because we love it. For me, it has always been about fighting for justice, and even though I know it'll be difficult for me to get a TT position, I see myself fighting for a higher cause. And that makes all the difference.

elisa freschi

Marcus, I am frankly admired by your honesty, introspective ability and generosity (with your students, with your colleagues and fellow "philosophers" who read you and who benefit of your blog). I hope you will reach what you deserve and if I were in a search committee I would be really impressed by all of that (especially by the way you run this blog, notwithstanding all the rest). May I just say that your other pieces on gender equity make me think that you should not worry about "failing her"?

Chike Jeffers

A vivid, instructive account and a very great start to this series. Thanks, Marcus.

Matt DeStefano

Thank you for sharing all of this with us, Marcus. Like Elisa, I am very impressed with how honest you are with your struggles. It's comforting to know that other philosophers feel similar worries.

Marcus Arvan

Thank you so much for the kind words, everyone. I am very appreciative of your thoughtful and supportive comments. I hope you all have had a wonderful weekend.

Duncan Richter

This is a wonderful piece--thanks for writing and publishing it. I'm curious about the flipped classroom idea in philosophy. Can you say more about what kind of reading responses you require, and what kind of group activities you have your students do? Or is there anywhere you know of that describes such things? There are some (very welcome) examples here: http://www.teachphilosophy101.org/Default.aspx?tabid=103, but only very few so far.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Duncan: thank you for your kind comment and questions.

The daily reading responses I have students complete are always the same. They are asked, in no longer than 1/2 page double-spaced, to:

(A) Summarize in their own words a *single* important claim from the reading, and
(B) Motivate a serious philosophical question or worry about it.

I grade them on the importance of the idea they summarized (is it important, or a trivial point unrelated to the author's argument?), how accurately they summarize it, and how well they (briefly) motivate their question or worry. These get them to think about the material and lead to great class discussions.

The group assignments are somewhat different. Sometimes I have one group assignment at the beginning of my lecture (asking a question or two about the reading) and then one at the end (asking a question or two about my lecture). Other times I sprinkle the group assignments in the middle of my lecture, to get them to think about arguments I've just presented.

Typical questions for group assignments go something like:

"What is Philosopher X's argument on p.Y, second paragraph? Summarize it in your own words. Next, raise an objection and state how you think Philosopher X would/should respond."

"I just put Philosopher X's argument into premise-conclusion form. Is the argument valid? Is it sound? (Are all of its premises true?)"

These also lead to great class discussions, not to mention opportunities to clear up misinterpretations (which helps them read more accurately for future classes. Because group assignments make up 20% of their final grade, they have real incentive to learn from their interpretive mistakes!).

Duncan Richter

Thanks! I might give this a try.

Marcus Arvan

Cool! But I suppose I should warn you in advance. It is a *lot* of work. I spend a ridiculous amount of time grading, and I'm not sure most people have the stomach for that much of it! But, in case, I think it is worth it for students, so I certainly advocate giving it a try. I hope you find it useful!

Rachel McKinnon

What's your grading load with these assignments?

Marcus Arvan

Rachel: 3 classes of 25 students each. So that's 75 individual assignments Tuesday and Thursday, in addition to 25 group assignments twice a week (students are split into groups of 3. So, basically, 100 graded assignments every Tuesday and Thursday.


Thanks so much for posting this - this really reassured some of my biggest fears. I know this wasn't your intention. But, as someone who is still in a PhD program, at this point I really have no desire to get a philosophy job after I graduate.

Obviously, this isn't the first time I read about someone's experience as a VAP, but this is the first time that someone who is so brutally honest about his struggle. This really depresses me. It is not only because of the job prospect, but I simply feel *ashamed* to be part of the field because of stories like these (in addition to all the other known problems, such as gender equality, racial diversity, and so on).

I can't help but to think that I will be happier if I simply get an office job in a city that I like after getting my PhD. I may get my soul crushed, but at least I can start my life in a place I choose.

Kristina Meshelski

Thanks for sharing Marcus and thanks for your efforts to make this blog a truly supportive environment. Really like the idea of the series too. When I have a minute to spare would like to write one.


Dear Marcus,

I have also assigned weekly reading responses, but usually just grade a third of them (more or less randomly, and I rotate the students I grade). Students don't know when their work will be graded, but still get a chance to *do* philosophy on a daily basis.

I'd suggest you try this out to ameliorate your work load.

Rob Gressis

I do something similar to Marcus, albeit only half-assedly.

I teach in a large state school in the Los Angeles area (California State University, Northridge). I have a 4/4 teaching load with two preps. I have about 130 students this semester, and my approach is as follows, at least for my business ethics and intro courses:

* on Thursdays I give a PowerPoint lecture on the reading I would like them to do on the following Tuesday. I do this so that they can know what the reading is about before they read it. This is important because even when my students do their reading, they often don't understand what they read.
* on Tuesdays, I give a quiz on the reading. What this means is that about one a week I have to grade 105 quizzes, which takes me about 70 minutes. I also do in-class discussions on issues related to the reading.
* the upshot of this is that I have to prepare only one reading a week and spend just over an hour grading every week for my three business ethics classes.

Marcus Arvan

LC: for what it is worth, it still doesn't make me want to leave the profession. Every time I drive downtown where people have "real jobs" I feel lucky and privileged to do this for a living, despite my struggles. I also still love philosophy as much as the day I started, and still get a rush of meaning and purpose in the classroom that I don't think I would have with a "real job."

Rachel McKinnon

Marcus, 100 assignments/week?! That strikes me as way too much grading. I wonder if part of why you're so busy is that you're doing it to yourself with stuff like that.


Marcus Arvan

Hi Rachel: yes, it is a *ton* of grading. But I've found it's what I need to do to (A) get my students to really learn and (B) receive the kind of student reviews I want. Is it too much?

I guess I'd say "too much" is in the eye of the beholder. I really want a tenure-track job, so I'm willing to work myself into the ground to do it. Second, I really want my students to learn -- and I've found the method works *wonders*. So I'm willing to do because I want to be a great teacher. Finally, it hasn't gotten in the way of publishing.

You'd be surprised at how efficient you can get with grading with some practice. It *used* to take me forever, but now I'm so accustomed to grading so much I can grade assignments pretty thoroughly in the blink of an eye. It may sound like a lot, but it's really not so bad!


Yes, I know how efficient one can get. I've done my fair share of marking. I also have high teaching evals (avg 4.4/5).

My point is that it's still too much grading. I doubt that the only way, or even the most efficient way, for you to get good teaching evals is through piling on the grading. Honestly, I think this is a reasoning error many VAPs and adjuncts make viz. teaching. Putting this much effort into your teaching might make you *LESS* attractive to search committees, since it makes you look like a VAP/adjunct. None of them put this much work into their teaching. You should care about your teaching, sure, and it certainly helps to innovate, but it won't get you a TT job. I conjecture that in some cases it'll hurt you, additionally because you're making yourself way too busy.

Working yourself into the ground won't necessarily help you in your goals of a TT job. You want to do good research, good teaching, and be well rested and prepared for the market season. Having worked yourself into the ground won't help you achieve those. Be a good teacher, not a great one. Being a great teacher will land you VAP after VAP, but won't necessarily help you land a TT job, and it may harm you in some people's eyes.

Marcus Arvan

Thanks for your comment and advice, Rachel. I guess I'd rather be a great teacher, not just a good one. If search committees are looking for people who aren't that great or don't strive for greatness, that's their decision. I won't sell my soul for a job. I don't do what I do because I want a job. I do it because I want to be great at what I do. I owe it to myself most of all to be the best that I can at what I do -- at research, at teaching, whatever. If search committees look down on this sort of thing, then I really don't know what to say. I guess I have more faith in quality (and people) than that; that if a person becomes good at what they do, people will notice. If not, I'll go do something else with my head held high.

Marcus Arvan

It's also worth noting that I don't see my teaching efforts cutting into research. Quite the contrary, most of the articles I've published in the last two years emerged from teaching, and I think the effort I put into teaching leads into that (I had far fewer research ideas before going on this crazy teaching regimen). So, while it might seem bizarre to some -- including search committees -- it seems to be optimal for me all around.


Of course, this set-up may be optimal for you (and perhaps others). My comment comes from having a friend very much like you. She was bemoaning her heavy marking load, and I asked her what assignments she gives that produces her massive marking load. I quickly realized that it was self-imposed: multiple quizzes, tests, and papers, AND she allows students to submit drafts for the papers (and she gives detailed comments on everything). The sentiment is great, but it's just unrealistic, on my view.

I think it's great that you want to be the best teacher you can, but that *has* to come at the cost of something else. I completely grant that teaching and research can dovetail (it does for me as well!). But suppose a 3/3 load (which may be light for a VAP), spending >10hrs/week/course is a recipe for disaster. That leaves you with about 10hrs/week for research, and 10hrs/week for professional development or service. And that's a 50hr week!

Seriously, do a time audit of your week, and see if it's really reasonable. My point has been that you don't need to work 60+ hrs/week to get a TT job. You're doing more than you need to, and doing more is quite possibly leading to worse overall outcomes for you. I get that you want to do everything in your power you can, because if you don't manage to get a TT job, at least you tried your very best, right?

But that's the wrong way to think about it. Rather, you should think about what will maximize your chances of getting a TT job. (Of course, this is almost utterly opaque!) My contention is that doing >50hrs/week of work won't maximize your chances. Doing *everything* you can, putting in 70hr weeks, not having weekends, not having a work/life balance, will end up worse for you. ...just a conjecture.

"Work smarter, not harder." That's all I'm saying. If I were teaching 4/4, I wouldn't be putting in >8hrs/week/course (all in) into teaching. It's just unreasonable to do more.


"Work smarter, not harder." That's all I'm saying. If I were teaching 4/4, I wouldn't be putting in >8hrs/week/course (all in) into teaching. It's just unreasonable to do more.

Typically when one is hired to a 4/4 teaching position the expectation is that it is a full-time teaching job. Unless one has additional expectations for scholarship or service, one ought to expect to spend 10 hours a week for each of your courses (roughly).

Marcus Arvan

Rachel: I just don't think about things that way. I don't approach life in a strategic manner. I've always thought it is more important to pursue things for their own sake, and let the cards fall where they may. Why? In part because I think it pays off in the end (it always has for me, even though it often takes me longer to get to where I want to be than many of my peers). I very much am "the road less traveled" kind of person. I don't just want to succeed. I want to do great things. Call me a romantic, call me a fool. I'm exactly the kind of philosopher and teacher today that I always wanted to be. Whether that's good enough for others, only time will tell. But I prefer to have faith. My faith in doing things "the right way" has paid off many times. I'm not willing to stop now. But I appreciate your concerns.

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