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10/11/2015

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Peter

This, to my mind, is the most under-recognized form of injustice in the discipline.

It's worth pointing out that while there are bad departments, grads can be at half-decent departments and still get blindsided by, for example, an advisor who suddenly provides no mentorship and no feedback. This happens, and when it happens, there are often no accountability mechanisms in place.

The APA is thinking of including stuff on mentorship in their new code of conduct. CDJ's placement rankings will also be a big step forward. That's all good. But the APA code, as we all know, will probably have no teeth, and grad students will remain powerless to enforce it. Yet, it is paradoxical in the extreme that a workplace can have no mechanisms in place to ensure that employees are disciplined for not doing their jobs; yet, this is the state of affairs we currently inhabit.

In a better world, this issue would be heavily moralized, and a great deal of shame would accrue to those who routinely violate their basic obligations to their grad students. Let's all remember that while we (justifiably) don't want to hang out with philosophers convicted of such things as sexual harassment and racism, faculty neglect destroys lives just as ruthlessly and efficiently as do those other sorts of behaviors.

Anonymoose

If I knew which program your friend on the plane attended, I would not apply there. But since I do not know, it could be my top choice (for all I know). It seems like the best way to hold programs accountable is to make dysfunctional programs widely known. If the prominent blogs named a certain program for its inability to prepare or even graduate its students, it would see a substantial drop in applications, and that drop would be disproportionately the better applicants (I take it that the better applicants are generally folks who know what is going on in the discipline, and thus follow the prominent blogs). For all its woes, the age of technology gives the common folk one new power: they can easily shame institutions into action by making their failures widely known.

anon

At my Leiter top-10 department, I managed to get partway through applying for jobs before I realized I needed something called a research statement. I then frantically scrambled to write one..

I strongly support Anonymoose's suggestion to "make dysfunctional programs widely known." But we can do more -- I don't consider my own program to have been dysfunctional and in many ways I think they prepped me for the market better than other departments, but there were still some considerable and avoidable gaps in job market prep.

In addition to identifying dysfunctional departments, I think here is (yet another) reason that it's so important to have reliable, accurate, up-to-date placement records for departments. If departments can't hide or mislead about their less-than-incredible records, they will be motivated to do what it takes to get their grads as competitive as they can be for the market.

I'm extremely excited about Carolyn Dicey Jennings' efforts to get get reliable inter-department placement comparisons. I think having this could be a game-changer. I also hope departments will agree on standardized terminology for their placement records so that, e.g., "first position" means the same thing across placement records (is this their first position beyond grad school, their first TT position, the first position they got outside of the department?)

Postdoc

My PhD program didn't give me any help whatsoever with the job application process. I had to learn how to write a research statement, a teaching statement, a cover letter, a CV, and so on by reading this blog and asking around. I had to harass the department to get access to my student evaluations after I graduated, as they didn't even want to give them to me.

What can be done? I think these blogs are a start. We need more oversight of PhD programs by the community. I black list would be good.

CW

The APA in conjunction with PhilJobs could put together and post online a primer that covers the basics. They could post an overview of the process and/or a glossary of sorts describing key or most commonly requested components of job application files.

Many blogs write helpful things on the application itself and the larger process, which is great, but these posts can get lost easily enough. Seems useful to have a few central or stable locations for this too, i.e., the APA and PhilJobs websites.

None of this is meant to let departments off the hook. E.g., my department put on mock interviews for us when we got close to graduating. Very helpful. But it just seems a useful backstop, since we have reason to believe some departments are dropping the ball.

Another Postdoc

I was never in a REALLY dysfunctional program (I've heard some horror stories), but I started out in a top 25 program with almost no formal advising and a lot of disgruntled graduate students. At this program, you were basically on your own for finding a dissertation supervisor and, once you found one, whatever kind of advising/job market advice/etc. your dissertation supervisor happened to give was all you got. As is to be expected, this varied widely from one supervisor to another. A lot of people seemed to have trouble getting to that stage because they just weren't being told what they needed to do to get there, or they approached the wrong faculty member and therefore didn't end up getting advice on how to qualify, etc. There was one (yes, as far as I could tell, just one) faculty member who was really bothered by this situation and trying to change things, and she ended up picking up a lot of the slack, but there was only so much one person could do.

I ended up transferring to another program that was only a few notches higher in PG but that had awesome advising, undertaken in an organized and systematic way, with a DGS making sure everyone knew what they needed to do to stay on track to graduate, and a separate placement officer making sure everyone knew what they needed to do to get a job. This department also had great conference travel support, and a helpful introductory curriculum for graduate students (rather than just whatever random seminars the faculty felt like offering).

My first department was not awful, but my second department was AWESOME, and this enormous difference is in no way reflected in the PG rankings. So what I'd really like to see is a ranking that somehow reflects this, perhaps by surveying current and former graduate students. It doesn't matter how many super-awesome researchers your department has if none of them are actually helping you graduate and get a job.

grad

Out of curiosity, why do people hesitate to name departments who fail in the relevant regard? Is it that you're afraid the departments will find out who you are and retaliate? That innocent people will be harmed? That you don't think you have enough evidence either way?

I'm genuinely curious because there seems to be agreement that such departments should be shamed, but nobody is shaming them.

Another Postdoc

The department I described as 'not awful' was full of individually well-meaning people and had a sort of failure of collective action. I think it's probably pretty average. In the absence of some kind of comparative ranking/evaluation that included more than just the two departments with which I have experience, I think it would be unfair for this department to be singled out as bad. I also don't want to start a public conversation about which individuals were and weren't helpful. But maybe you (grad) were talking about earlier commenters who had experiences worse than mine.

Anonymoose

In addition to what grad said, why not praise programs like the one Another Postdoc attended? Maybe she gave too much information and would be outed by naming them, but I can't think of any reason not to name programs that have done right by their students.

Chris

Maybe something like a site visit could do the trick.

For example, imagine that the APA developed a code of "best practices" for mentoring and supporting grad students. Then, a committee of philosophers could visit/assess various programs and give a certification to those which meet, say, 80% or more of the suggestions. A list of these certified programs could then be made available to all grad school applicants.

I think this could work well because there seems to be relatively broad agreement on what constitutes good grad student support. And, some aspects of this are quite objective. For example, does a department have a dedicated placement officer? Does it offer mock interviews for job candidates? Does each student receive feedback of kind x, y, or z during their first year in the program? Etc.

Another Postdoc

Anonymoose - you're right, there's no harm naming Awesome Department: USC.

grad

Another Postdoc,

Sorry for the confusion. Yes, I had the earlier commentators in mind. I understand not wanting to shame places that are not awful. And I agree with good places should be singled out as well. People do this with journals, after all.

Maybe one option is for people to send Marcus a note and he can compile a list of the good and the bad places when it comes to job market advising.

Peter

Yeah, there's the retaliation thing. Your advisers have you by the gonads until tenure, since it is their letters that will get you a job and partly determine your tenure status. One grad student I know has a ton of dirt on her department and could seriously shake it up with one well-placed blog post. But this will remain a comforting fantasy for at least another seven or eight years. As usual, only the tenured can safely provoke much-needed change.

Sam Duncan

Should it really be entirely on the departmental grad program to find their students jobs? Mind you I don't want to let bad programs off the hook, but it seems to me that if universities are going to have grad programs then they ought to provide some support for academic job seekers at the institution wide level. Every halfway decent institution has dedicated staff for helping undergrads with the job search. Why not have staff dedicated to grad students as well? The academic job search isn't really that different from field to field so it's not like you'd need a person for each grad program you have and having someone or someones whose job it is to help grad students in the academic job search strikes me as a lot better than dumping it on a faculty member who's probably doing ten other things. Having that sort of dedicated support for job seekers with grad degrees in place would also be great for Ph.D.'s who decided not to look for academic jobs or even just to put out some feelers in the non-academic world.

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