Our books

Become a Fan

« How to respond to a "revise & resubmit" verdict | Main | Reader Question »



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


I think you point to a real problem. However, the idea of giving 'points' to those who are in unenviable positions, while it might seem to make sense, can be quite problematic. The problem from a search committee's perspective is lack of information. If we look at candidate A who teaches 4-4 and has had many fewer publications than candidate B who teaches a 3-2 load, we could explain away the lack of publications on A's part because A has such a high teaching load. And this might be the case. But it could also be that A wouldn't have any more publications regardless of teaching load. We know the B can publish, because we have evidence of that, which makes A a bigger risk from our perspective.

We actually wen through this several years ago, and hired A because what A had written was really good, even though there was very little of it. Unfortunately, A is very unlikely to get tenure because his publications have not increased even though he is only teaching 2-2 with us, and this experience will certainly color our future searches.

Of course were the decision between hiring A and hiring a fresh PhD, it would be trickier, because we wouldn't have any more information on how well the recent PhD will be at the publication game - and that's another reason why our department prefers to hire people several years out who have a publication record.


Will: Aren't most of the criteria used by search committees problematic in much the same way? For example, I gather that committees often rate candidates on the basis of their "potential" as gauged in part by things like the programs they're coming from. Other things being equal, it does seem like a safe bet that an ABD grad student from a super-prestigious program has a lot of potential -- probably that's more likely than an otherwise similar applicant from a super-non-prestigious program. But of course that might not be true in a particular case, and there's never enough information to be sure.

If defeasible hunches about a candidate's potential can be relied on other ways, I can't see anything especially problematic in a similar hunch of the kind Marcus is suggesting. Especially when in many actual cases there are truly _massive_ handicaps. Some adjuncts' teaching schedules aren't even 4-4 but more like 4-4-4. Though it's rare, I do know that some adjuncts teach even more than this while still publishing the occasional decent paper. Finding the time and motivation and energy to produce anything under those circumstances is one hell of a challenge. If someone in that situation is being compared with an otherwise similar candidate who teaches 5 courses per year -- or a grad student, maybe, who just TAs a few courses -- it seems to me that this handicap should be taken into account.


Ambrose, I don't think anything I said goes against your point. I merely said that given two candidates, one of which has "potential," whether that be based on where they graduated, or the fact that they managed to publish a bit while teaching 4-4-4, or whatever else we can come up with, and the other of who has actual publications, the one with actual achievements will win out, at least here.


It's hard to generalize from my own experience, but I think you're overplaying the either/or mentality. The truth is, even people with 2-2 loads spend a *lot* of time on teaching. Although, some spend more time on teaching than others. But one can *both* teach well and research well. But that requires being strategic and efficient about both practices. I spend a maximum of 10hrs/week/course teaching (that's "all in": grading, prep, teaching, advising, etc.), which leaves me 10-20 or so hours/week for research. That's plenty! As long as one uses one's time wisely, research doesn't come at the cost of teaching, and vice versa.

So...I reject the presupposition behind the question.

All too often I've seen people who say "If only I had a little more time for research..."

Sorry...you have plenty. But it's work habits that are probably getting in the way. These people don't tend to write every day, and don't tend to be strategic about their research and research time. I also tend to see them spend too much time on teaching (or allow teaching duties to fill up any available time). Protect your research time! For me, it comes *first* in order and priority.

...I've been over simplistic in much of this, and I know that. But still...


In the original what is it like to be a VAP post, some people argued that you were acting in ways that were counterproductive--you spent too much time grading, and so were hurting your ability to get a job. You responded that you aren't willing to compromise the kind of teacher you want to be in order to impress people. That's a fair enough response.

However, would you say the same thing about posting all of this stuff here? Suppose you make the cut to the top 30 candidates who get a real look. Now someone Googles you and finds your post on what it's like to be VAP. That person might conclude, let's say unfairly and unjustifiedly, that 1) that you are mentally unstable and 2) that you have bad work habits. Even if these conclusions are unfair and unjustified, you can expect some people will come to these conclusions. So, you might be doing yourself significant harm by posting this sort of stuff.

"That sucks, the world shouldn't be like that!" I agree. But the world is like that.

elisa freschi

you raise a very valuable point (don't blame the rest of the world if you can't manage to say 'no' to anyone and end up not being able to do any research at all). However, I guess that Marcus' point was: as long as you are not in a TT position, you are vulnerable and, thus, you try to be "everyone's best friend". Does the university need someone to teach basic bibliographical skills? You volunteer. Is the nearby department looking for a member of the editorial committee for their journal? You join. And so on. This runs clearly *against* your advice, but it is easy to follow this path if only you hope that by pleasing everyone you will end up being hired by someone.

Marcus Arvan

Thanks everyone for your comments!

Rachel: with respect, I think you're overgeneralizing from your own experience. ;) Allow me to share my own.

My first year out, I had a VAP at UBC. My teaching load was 2/2. I had two 90-minute classes on Tuesday and Thursday. Both were in my AOS (Ethics and Political). So, that's 6 hours a week in the classroom teaching stuff I know down pat. In that case, what you suggest was feasible. 10 hours total devoted to teaching, the rest for research - hooray!

Now consider my present VAP. I have a 3/3, but in an important respect it is really like a 4/4. Classes at my university are longer than average. All three of my classes meet for 2 hours on Tuesday and Thursday. That is six hours in the classroom on both days. So, research on Tuesdays and Thursdays is out. No chance. Now, I don't know if you've had to teach a lot of 2-hour classes, but they require a *lot* more prep than the standard one-hour or 90 minute class. My first year at UT, I tried to prep the way I always had and it was a *disaster*. Fact is, I needed to spend a lot more time prepping (and grading) in order to teach well. Trust me, I tried a *lot* of things, and I am the king of efficiency...BUT, each of my courses takes a lot of prep and grading (on Mondays and Wednesdays). Finally, this is in part because I *don't* teach in my AOS most of the time. I almost always have 2 full preps in different areas each semester.

So, the reality is, I hardly have any time to do research during the semester. Maybe a couple of hours on Mondays and Wednesdays if I'm lucky, and maybe Fridays. That is a serious disadvantage.

I know you'll probably say it is possible to be more efficient. But again, I'll tell you this. I am a *very* efficient person. I am just in a difficult situation, where all the efficiency in the world leaves me with very little time.

Marcus Arvan

To Anon 5:13am: thanks for your comment. Anyway, yes, I am prepared to say the same thing here. I fully understand the risks I take with blogging publicly about issues like this, and for a number of reasons I am willing to accept those risks. If I don't get a job as a result, then too bad for me. Still, for what it is worth, I have received overwhelmingly positive feedback on what I do here at the Cocoon.

Anyway, I agree: "the world isn't like that." Still, I tend to think, "The world isn't like that, so we should just leave it be and do nothing", is a bad line of reasoning.


Actually, a fair amount of my teaching has been 3hr classes. I actually find that they take *less* prep than an equivalent number of 50min (1hr) classes. But that's because I'm never speaking for more than half the class time. I run active classrooms with lots of student participation, and a fair number of student-student interaction and activities.

And any course in my AOS's take nearly zero prep (since I construct the course around topics that I know inside and out, and I can just walk into class with zero prep).

We may have had this conversation before, but you're burying yourself in grading, if this is the case. You simply don't need to do all this grading to be a great teacher. Maybe you *think* you do, and you're convinced that you do, but you simply don't. There are other ways for students to get feedback that doesn't require your time outside of class.

So maybe the discussion could be more about course *design* and how this can help people with higher teaching loads (and how to reduce one's teaching time commitments). Whenever there's freedom to craft the course as I want, and choose topics that I want, I always look for ways to make things easier on myself. One might think that I'm choosing my needs over students', but that's wrong. When I'm teaching things I know well and am passionate about, students are more engaged than if I taught what I think they "ought" to learn.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Rachel: I totally respect your point-of-view here, and you may be right. But let me explain why I'm still skeptical -- and why I think the dilemma still raises its ugly head.

As a VAP, there are roughly two types of jobs to try to become a great candidate for:

(1) Research jobs
(2) Teaching jobs

Now, I'm happy to grant that one can become a pretty good teacher the way you suggest (leaving plenty of time for research). But I doubt one can become a *great* teacher. So, for example, I seem to recall you stating somewhere (correct me if I'm wrong) that your student reviews average around 4.6 on a 5-point scale. That's pretty good, to be sure. But, at my university, it's only *slightly* above average (people take teaching very, very seriously here).

Accordingly, if I were to teach the way you suggest, I expect I might do similar: average a 4.6, etc. However, "slightly better than average" isn't going to make me look all that great to SC's at teaching institutions. They, presumably, are looking for truly great teachers. And so, at risk of tooting my own horn, here's what I'll say: my teaching/grading regimen has produced really glowing student comments and quantitative feedback across the board, including averages of 4.8 and upwards.

I suspect, in other words, that by choosing to work my tail into the ground as a teacher, I've become a great candidate for a teaching school. My point, though, is that it is not without costs. One faces a *dilemma*. If one focuses mostly on teaching, one's research can suffer (hurting one's chances for research jobs). If one focuses mostly on research, one's teaching can suffer (hurting one's chances for teaching jobs). And, if one focuses on both, chances are one is likely-- due to time constraints -- to be mediocre or slightly better than average at both, thereby hurting one's chances for both types of jobs!


A 4.6 is WAY higher than you need to land a "teaching" job. I guess I'm just worried that you think that having some astronomical teaching rating average, or a high number of publications is what it takes to get a job...as if "If only I get [x], then I'll get [y] job." That's *so* false though! There is no magic formula. You don't need to be a "great" teacher to get a teaching-focused job. It's just so totally false.

Departments want competent teachers. The bar for being "great" is lower than you think (and you seem to be easily clearing it). Heck, my average was 4.3 and people consider me a great teacher. I got fly-outs and a job from a teaching-focused department (who also care about research).

There is really no meaningful difference between, say, 4.3 and 4.9 in terms of teaching evaluations. It's a satisficing thing, not a maximizing thing: do you meet the standards? Yes or no? If yes...move on to the next criteria. If you're clearing that bar, clearing it by 20 feet is no more helpful to you than by 2 feet. Departments want balance, and they want to know they can tenure the person, which means research too.

You write: "They, presumably, are looking for truly great teachers."


They want good teachers who can demonstrate that they're competent in the classroom and able to be student-focused. That's a far cry from "truly great teachers."

Simply put: you can do both. You really can afford to ease up on how much time and effort you're putting into your teaching, without sacrificing your odds of getting a teaching-focused TT job. In fact, I conjecture that by easing up a bit, and shifting a bit more time to work-life balance and maybe research, you'll *increase* your odds.

Also, what Elisa said: learn to say 'no' to stuff. Vulnerable people very often say 'yes' to everything because they think that they need to do *everything they possibly can* that might help them secure a job. But that's also false. Quality over quantity. Pick one or two projects *maximum* per semester...probably fewer depending on what you're agreeing to.

There are at least two times where I failed to follow my own advice. I agreed to workshop a paper, go to a conference, give two public talks, (while teaching two courses) all coming due around Nov 1st (y'know, when job applications are mostly due). I nearly ran myself ragged...I barely made it. The second was when I agreed to do a book review while still on the market (in Dec 2012 -- I finished it this past July) because it was for Mind. "Ooooh" I thought "Mind asked meeeee." No more book reviews until after tenure for me. Way too much of my time was taken up by that.

I'm *still* bad at it, for what it's worth...but I am getting better.


Also, I'm trying to argue that it's *not* a dilemma.

One can be both an outstanding teacher and researcher.

The trick is in how one defines 'outstanding' (particularly for teaching). I think you're setting the bar way too high.

Marcus Arvan

Rachel: really interesting points. However, I have to confess that they puzzle me.

(1) The idea that SC's are looking for someone "pretty good" puzzles me. If I was on a search committee, I would want to select some truly outstanding at something. If I were at a research university, I would want the most outstanding researcher I could get. If I were at a teaching school, I would want the most outstanding teacher I could get. In particular, if we're talking about teaching, I would want to select the person that people (students, etc.) utterly rave about as demonstrating true excellence at the craft. But maybe you're right! Maybe SC's don't look for that. Maybe they just want "good enough." All I'm saying is if this is true, it really surprises me.

(2) I have to confess I think there's something "off" about lowering the bar for "outstanding." Pretty good isn't outstanding. It's pretty good. Which is part of the dilemma. I don't want to be "pretty good" at anything, whether it be teaching or research. I want to be really outstanding with at least *one* of them. For a few reasons: (1) I think I owe it to myself, (2) I think I owe it to students and colleagues, and again (3) I thought SC's would really want someone outstanding. So, when I hear, "Don't be truly outstanding, just redefine it so the bar is set lower", I'm puzzled on a number of grounds. Why would I want to be pretty good rather than great at something? Why would SC's want that?

Marcus Arvan

Rachel: let me clarify what I think the dilemma is, because I still think it's there even if everything you say is correct. Can you and I agree that a candidate who is pretty good at one thing (e.g. research) but truly outstanding at another (teaching) is a better candidate than someone who is merely pretty good at both? If we can agree on that (and I hope we can), here is the problem. I think VAPs and adjuncts arguably have the time to be the former type of person: someone who is outstanding at one thing but pretty good at the other. What I don't think they tend to have time for is being truly outstanding at *both* (though maybe there are geniuses out there who can pull it off).

Anyway, if this is true, the VAP adjunct is faced with a choice:

(1) Do I try to become truly outstanding at teaching and pretty good at research?
(2) Do I try to become truly outstanding at research and pretty good at teaching?, or
(3) Do I settle for "pretty good" at both?

Okay, it's a trilemma, not a dilemma -- but whatever. ;) My point is: (3) is a bad option, and should be set aside. Which leaves a choice between (1) and (2), which is the real dilemma.


I think there's an unstated premise or assumption, though: that the TT job market is a meritocracy. That is, that the "best" person gets the job. That's false. Departments aren't looking for the person who's best "on paper" (the most publications in the best places, the best teaching evaluations, etc), however one defines "best". This assumption underwrites your dilemma: it could only be a dilemma if one must be "outstanding" at at least one of research or teaching.

Also false! I know all sorts of people who are neither outstanding at research nor teaching and who got good jobs (this is *not* a knock against them). My point is that you don't *need* to be outstanding at, say, teaching in order to get a TT job (even at a teaching-focused institution). Being "good" is good enough for getting such jobs.

What really matters is doing something that makes you stand out. A 4.8/5 evaluation average probably won't get you noticed! What are you *known* for about your teaching: what makes you different? For me, I'm known for my (sometimes innovative) use of clickers and my active classroom activities. You want people to think, "Oh, I heard/read that you do x in your classroom. That's really interesting. Can you tell me about it?" A 4.8 evaluation average isn't going to get me to ask that sort of question.

Job searches tend to *think* that they're looking for the best candidate *for them* (but there are lots of epistemic reasons to think that they're not very good at it), which is very different from looking for the "best" candidate. And it's a much further cry from "best" candidate in terms of most publications/best teaching evals, etc.

Look, being a great teacher is great...but departments, even teaching-focused ones, want balanced people. If all you do is throw yourself into your teaching, well, they have adjuncts and VAPs for that...you're at risk of *looking* like an adjunct/VAP by doing that. ...kinda like typecasting. Your search committees don't do that...so you don't look like them if you do. You want to look like a colleague.


I'm not sure I buy Rachel's claim that you just need to be "good enough" as a teacher. Or, at least, maybe this is true some places, but I think there are teaching-oriented schools (though not necessarily exclusively teaching-oriented) that really do want outstanding teachers. That being said, I strongly agree with Rachel that there is no meaningful difference between 4.3 and 4.8 on your evaluations, and more importantly, I don't think many people think there's such a difference either. Equating high student evaluations with outstanding teaching is unwise, because lots of (most?) hiring committees at schools concerned with teaching don't make that equation. You show that you're an outstanding teacher through scores that are good enough, and then through detailed comments from students and recommenders, thoughtful syllabi, demonstrative evidence during the interview, etc. These are of course also subject to a lot of bias, but so is the whole process. I actually think one of the most persuasive things you can do is making a convincing show that you give a damn about teaching during the interview, though I realize that's subject to all kinds of abuse. Maybe the ways we determine who's an outstanding teacher all really suck, but I am at least confident that very few people make that determination based on how high your student evaluations are.

Marcus Arvan

AE-CP: thanks for your comment. I'm still a bit skeptical too, but I appreciate her points. I also didn't mean to say that a 4.8 student rating would be a difference-maker on its own. Here's my thought. Since the average at my university is a 4.6, having a 4.8 -- and other scores above my university averages -- just makes that part of my dossier look a *little* bit better. I entirely agree that it's probably a small part of the puzzle, but I guess that was sort of what I was trying to get at in the dilemma: doing what it takes to achieve *all* of the indications of a great teacher -- thoughtful syllabi, a thoughtful teaching philosophy, innovative methods, and superlative reviews -- cumulatively takes a great deal of time; time that inevitably takes away from time to do research, etc. Anyway, thanks again for your comment!

Buridan's Ass

It might be useful to note that Rachel's suggested priority of research over teaching can seriously undermine prospects for a VAP renewal. When I was a grad student at a big time R1 the department hired a guy out of a Top 3 Leiterific department with a truly awesome pedigree and accompanying publications. He had a 2-2 load but, as Rachel suggests one ought to do, made his research his priority. No letting teaching stand in the way of yet another result in modal logic. His undergraduate and graduate teaching suffered enormously--he clearly didn't give a shit. His reputation as a scholar was permanently damaged (prolonged inability to engage bright undergraduates and graduates tends to do that). His VAP was not renewed after the chair surveyed the grad student's collective opinion of his TEACHING. The guy failed to secure a tenure track post anywhere and suffers in silence outside of academe. But his publications list is truly a sight to behold.

I also tire of hearing people demand that those of us claiming to be professional philosophers engage in non-stop writing--no time for friends, reflection, exploration, or taking any kind of academic risk. It is a very conservative strategy which only gives the illusion of hard work. I am not impressed with 23 published articles on Frege's philosophy of language or whatever, simple variations on a small range of insights. Over and over again this shit is being published to the point that I can't name three philosophers that are truly trend setting at this time. It's all performance. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

(Marcus Arvan/Moderator notes: I have edited this comment to remove a personal slight/attack. I would like to remind readers that personal slights and such are not permitted on this blog.)

elisa freschi

I apologize in advance for the naïve question (I have only spent 45 days in the US, with a short-time post-doc fellowship): Are students' evaluations really considered that important? Having agreed that a '1' evaluation will be a bad sign, would not the difference between 4 and 5 *completely* depend on, e.g., how the other teachers in the university are, how good they were in the students' high school, how high the students' expectations are, etc.? Can it really be an objective parameter, working fairly throughout the US?

Buridan's Ass


Your editorial policy is peculiar. You tolerate general attacks on many unsuccessful job seekers as lazy or of poor philosophical quality, the usual thing one hears from those higher up the food chain. But you fear any calling out of those that, in my view, perpetuate some of the worst and most damaging attitudes in all of philosophy. Such attitudes have destroyed the field, indeed, have destroyed the lives of many of my friends in graduate school. In any other context, say, that in reference to the failure of the long-term unemployed, such views would be attacked as racist and elitist and their proponents would have no professional future. No wonder philosophy has a whiteness problem and is a terrible place for women. You should be ashamed, sir.

Marcus Arvan

Buridan's Ass: No, there is nothing peculiar about my editorial policy. This site encourages healthy, productive, professional discussion of philosophical and professional issues. To my knowledge, I have never once permitted a comment saying anyone is lazy or poor at philosophy. I *have* permitted frank discussion of what may be holding people back from realizing their professional ambitions -- but to my knowledge I have never permitted people to be called names or made insinuations about. Some people here do have strong views about what it takes to succeed in our discipline, and I see no reason to silence them. I have also permitted you, and others, to call out their views as misguided, wrong, etc.

However, what is wrong, unprofessional, and against this blog's mission are personal attacks. You have now made two of them in a row: one assailing a community member's personal-professional lifestyle, and one asserting that I should be ashamed of preventing that blatant attack. Further comments of such a nature will not be tolerated here. And, for the record, I have no reason to be ashamed of myself.


@Marcus (comment on 9/14 @ 5:08)

I seem to remember someone at the Philosophy Smoker blog claiming that their department didn't want to hire the very best. It would take me too long to track down the posts, but I believe the person was worried that the very best would end up taking jobs elsewhere and that this would make the whole search process a waste of time. That, or the person would be a flight risk, which would require putting together a new search a couple of years down the line. This might be something to keep in mind or it could be that this person's department is just an outlier.


Hey now, Buridan...I *NEVER* said that Marcus shouldn't "give a shit" or let his teaching quality plummet. I'm saying that he can afford to spend less time than he currently is (since he spends a *lot* of time) on teaching. That doesn't amount to thereby "not giving a shit." I care a *lot* about teaching, and I even do research in SToL (scholarship of teaching and learning) and yet I allocate about 10hrs/week/course. I give workshops, even when they take up my time that I might otherwise spend on research, and I spend time putting together documents that will help with, for example, retaining more women and people with minority identities in graduate programs. So please don't uncharitably attribute such views to me.

I also didn't say to prioritize research *over* teaching. My argument is for more of a balance (since right now I think that Marcus is putting too much emphasis on teaching).

Also, I resent the implication that I'm advocating 100% devotion to one's research, especially at the cost of other things such as friends and family. In fact, I advocate the exact opposite: I work roughly from 10-4pm with a 1hr lunch. I generally don't work nights or weekends. And yet, I devote a good portion of my attention to teaching and service. I leave lots of time for friends, family, and "life" (I'm a competitive athlete, for example). I also have a girlfriend and a vibrant social life.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

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

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.


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.)

Subscribe to the Cocoon

Job-market reporting thread

Current Job-Market Discussion Thread

Philosophers in Industry Directory


Subscribe to the Cocoon