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« Good Mentoring | Main | On what philosophers believe »

05/01/2013

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Gradjunct


I am just a lowly gradjunct but, even to me, it is no secret what constitutes success in philosophy.

1. Get your undergrad degree from a top 10 Leiter ranked program.
2. Get your phD from a top 10 Leiter ranked program.
3. Get a TT Job at a top 10 Leiter ranked program.
4. Publish frequently in the top 10 Leiter (poll) ranked journals.
5. Attend conferences with other people who went to Leiter top 10 programs, work at Leiter top 10 programs, and publish in top 10 journals.
6. Get superlative teaching evaluations.
7. Publish your monographs with OUP, Cambridge Press, and Blackwell exclusively.

and MOST importantly...

8. NEVER, ever, under any circumstances, become an adjunct professor.

Marcus Arvan

Gradjunct: I appreciate your comment's subtext (people from too programs have great advantages) -- but surely a lot of the things you mention aren't necessary for professional success. There are people out there who succeed not coming out of Leiterific programs, as well as people who get good jobs without top20 journal pubs. These things help for sure, but there are people out there who succeed without them -- and presumably it's not *all* just luck (though certainly that plays a role too).

Gradjunct

@Marcus,

Perhaps my above comment is a bit overly dour. Of course people who did not do all of the things I mentioned above can nevertheless rise to success. However I think I am right in saying that for most of us it will be the case that before we can even the question, "how do I succeed at this?" our fate will be set in stone by the fact that we did not get our degrees from the right programs. For us folks outside the top ranked programs, luck will play a much larger role in any success; so large I'd wager, that talking about what we can do to succeed in the future will mostly be irrelevant.

All that is on the assumption that "success" is defined as something over and above landing a permanent(ish) $40,000+ per year job somewhere. If the latter is your standard, then I would say everything hinges on your teaching evaluations; so perhaps being born with good genes and working out frequently so as to make yourself as good-looking as possible for your students is among the best things you can do to increase your chances for success. (I've noticed a strong correlation on Rate My Professor between colleagues being good-looking on the one hand, and getting high evaluations from students, on the other (which seems true for both male and female colleagues).

Marcus Arvan

Your previous comment was overly dour? You mean, as opposed to this new one? ;) Seriously, though, even if success and good looks play such a big role for people outside of top programs -- which I'm by no means certain of -- does it really follow that talking about what we can do to try to succeed is "mostly irrelevant"? I don't know about that. A whole lot of life is luck. But some of it isn't. I prefer to focus on that part of it that isn't -- because, after all, that's the part of life I can do something about.

Anon87

1. Luck

2. I think a willingness to travel wherever there are jobs is very important.

3. Persistence. there is more than one way to get somewhere. i've had to be creative in the ways to showcase my talents, accrue lines on my CV, etc.

I think Gradjunct is rather jaded, to say the least. Not all departments (or countries such as Australia or New Zealand) take pedigree to be such high importance. no doubt going to a top 10 leiter program will help ensure success, its not necessarily the case. I will also note that the leiter ranking is really only useful for the american job market .... its a rather big world out there that extends beyond the U.S. borders.

Anonymous postdoc soon to be assistant professor


Hi Marcus: what has really worked for me in getting me a TT position after 3 years on the market, is mentoring, mentoring, mentoring. I sought out a diverse range of people more senior than me.
On the official side, there is an awesome program, run by SWIP UK (Society for Women in Philosophy), run by Jenny Saul, which pairs young scholars to senior philosophers. As women often do not get the same access to mentors as men do through informal channels (e.g., working out or going to bars together - activities where they often unintentionally exclude women from), this program is really very helpful.
But next to that, I have a variety of other informal mentors that I know through a variety of channels, for instance, through work, blogging, after meeting them at conferences and keeping in touch. It's important to not exclusively rely on your advisor. Helpful s/he may be, they don't always know what's going on or may not always be in the best position to advise one.
Getting mentors is tricky, I found that going to conferences, blogging and attending summer schools help in fostering new ties.
I am not from a Leitterific program, I have no placement director to vet my letters of rec, or to help me make a good dossier, or to schmooze for me at the APA as people from some departments have. But formal and informal mentors can help in other ways:
1. Alert you to jobs you may be qualified for (not everything is listed, and things *may* escape your notice)
2. Help you with advice on which writing sample to pick
3. Read your cover letter, teaching dossier, CV etc
4. Help prep you with mock interviews etc
5. Give advice when faced with difficult decisions (e.g., which job offer to accept?)
6. Give emotional and moral support - really important. Many mentors have been there too - it wasn't as bad as it is now, but still

Marcus Arvan

Anon post-doc: your words strike me as very wise. Almost all of the people I know who have been very successful have been people who actively sought out good (and various) mentors.

Lisa

This is something not easy to describe, but I'll try to describe it because it seems important to me. Basically, care about your message and don't look desperate. Don't give other people the feeling that you are so desperate that you are willing to do *anything* for their help or their mentorship. It makes them feel uneasy, and it makes them suspicious that you aren't really good. Rather, behave as what you are: a young colleague who will have to learn a lot, but who can also contribute something valuable to the profession. Somehow, people automatically take you more seriously, and they start listening to you.

This is *not* arrogance (arrogance is often the flipside of it). It means being driven by the things you do, not by your ego. But it has a strange self-fulfilling dynamics. I was very unsure of my own research when I started (sometimes I still am). So I sometimes had to fake this sense of "This is what you do, this is what I do, let's see how things hang together." But it worked, and over time I became more sure of what I do. Whereas some people who have self-doubts seem to be trapped in a vicious circle of their own self-doubts and their behaviour that signals to everyone "I'm not sure whether what I do makes any sense at all", which people take at face value (sometimes too quickly).

Of course, this is only one factor among many others. But for interacting with colleagues and senior people in the profession, it seems to matter a lot.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Lisa: thanks for your comment. I entirely agree. I tried in an earlier post to describe something like what you're referring to (http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2013/03/the-transformation.html). After a while in the profession, one just begins to feel more at home in one's skin as a philosopher. I'm not sure that I've mastered the right balance yet, however. Sometimes I feel too sure of myself, other times not sure enough. ;) But your point is very well-taken!

Kenny Pearce

I've read before about the correlation on RateMyProf between overall quality and 'hotness' (overall quality, by the way, is also strongly correlated with easiness). This is hardly surprising, and I think everyone knows enough to take student evaluations with a grain of salt. In any event, after reading about this (a while back) I looked through the rankings for my own (very large) department, and found that, according to RateMyProf, pretty much everyone under 50 is 'hot'. If the correlation is actually with youth, then great, since they (i.e. we) are the people who most need strong evaluations!

I haven't been on the job market yet, so I don't know how successful my strategies have been, but here are two relatively easy things you can do to greatly increase your visibility: volunteer to edit a PhilPapers category, or volunteer to write an IEP article. PhilPapers has a big time need for editors, and there is a list on the IEP web-site of most wanted articles. Writing an encyclopedia article takes a fair amount of time, and certainly it won't count for as much as a journal pub, but doing the lit review for the encyclopedia article will make it easier for you to write papers on that topic in the future anyway.

I don't know how much either of these things count in your favor with committees, but they certainly result in people having heard of you, and name recognition can make a big difference. Plus, advertising that you work on this stuff can lead to invites to conferences, etc.

Gradjunct

Kenny,

I think if you have poor pedigree, contributing to Philpapers is a pretty much a waste of time. Certainly time you could and should spend trying to get publications. My evidence is entirely anecdotal, but I've been told it is mostly utterly irrelevant CV stuffing. it might be different with an IEP entry, but I am doubtful that an IEP entry would carry even the cache of a SEP entry.

And as for everyone taking student evaluations "with a grain of salt" that is just outright false. Many, Many, Search Committees use student evals as the sole metric of "evidence of excellence in teaching" and pretty much EVERY committee demands that you satisfy this metric. The usual explanation is "yeah, a bad eval here or there is uninformative, but the more evals you have, the more they converge on a clear picture, so if your student evals as not excellent all around, then the picture that forms is that you are not an excellent teacher." So evals hugely influence your chances on the market, such as it is.

Kenny Pearce

I agree that having stuff like that on your CV won't help much. But IEP and PhilPapers category pages are consistently high Google results for philosophical topics, and I suspect that name recognition can make a big difference in avoiding getting your application thrown out in the first round. Also, it makes it more likely that people will find you when looking for contributors to invite to a conference or volume (and also when looking for referees). Of course this is about just getting people to look at you in the first place; I agree that it probably doesn't have much effect on how they evaluate what they see. But, as I see it, these are things that require a fairly minimal amount of extra work, in addition to what you are already doing for your research in that area, and they might give you a bump in this way, so why not?

Everyone I have talked to about the subject gives at least lipservice to the claim that, for instance, an evaluation of your teaching by an experienced faculty member who has observed you in the classroom is more informative than student reviews, and this is because they recognize, at least in principle, the limitations of teaching reviews. I don't disagree with your claim that in practice people tend to rely heavily on teaching reviews. By 'taking them with a grain of salt' I just mean that (a) nearly everyone recognizes that they are not getting a complete, unbiased picture if they are just looking at teaching reviews, and (b) nearly everyone recognizes that evals cannot always be taken at face value. (But perhaps I am wrong about one or both of these claims; others here are probably more knowledgeable than I.) Whether people have the time, motivation, and opportunity to get a more complete picture is another question. In practice, it is no doubt true that evals have a huge influence on outcomes.

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