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Douglas W. Portmore

"While publication success is surely some indication of philosophical ability, many referees for the top journals work at, or are closely connected to, the very institutions that many of these top ten applicants are coming out of (many are even supervisors, or friends of supervisors, of these applicants). Many, therefore, know the identities of grad students whose papers they are reviewing, and may already know the paper quite well (or even have helped shape it, through comments at seminars, email correspondences, etc.). Referees rarely disclose such connections, and when they do, journal editors often ask them to review the paper anyway, “trying their best to stay impartial”. It is, of course, extremely hard to stay impartial under these circumstances."

I have two concerns about this. First, it's unclear why I should accept some of these bold assertions. Take this one, for instance: "Referees rarely disclose such connections." This doesn't jibe with my own experience. Have there been studies that have shown this to be the case? If not, what's the basis for such assertions? Second, it seems to me that search committees should be concerned with the likelihood that an applicant will publish sufficiently often and in sufficiently good venues to secure tenure. And it seems to me that previous publication success is one of the best possible indicators (if not the best indicator) of such likelihood. So what's relevant is not "philosophical ability," but performance. For I've known of several cases of people with great ability failing to get tenure because they failed to employ their abilities to good effect. You don't get tenure simply because you have the ability to make important contributions to the field. You must actually make important contributions to the field. Perhaps, though, the author can point to evidence that it isn't such a good indicator of likelihood to continue to publish. Perhaps, the author can point to evidence that those applicants with publication success are actually less likely to continue to successfully publish because once they get a good job their biased referees no longer favor them as much.


I'd be curious to hear about Employed but Concerned's evidence for (1).

I'm a recent graduate of one "top department" (Leiter top 10) and I've spent time hanging out at several others, and I've never seen anything remotely like what Employed but Concerned describes.

In my experience, the senior faculty at top departments (who typically advise the most students and whose students typically do the best on the job market) are strikingly uninterested in promoting their students on the job market. Sometimes a department's placement chair will be a bit more aggressive in trying to place PhD students. But most senior faculty I've interacted with are unwilling to do much at all in order to place their students, other than write letters and of course advise the dissertation. This is true even of some senior faculty members whose students consistently do very well on the job market.

Moreover, I have also not experienced the kind of intradepartmental dynamic Employed but Concerned describes. In my experience, senior faculty members (even those who advise many students) are *completely* immune from any kind of pressure from anyone else in their department. Once you have a named chair, are a past divisional president of the APA, etc, nobody can (or will even try to) make you do anything that you don't want to do. The idea that there would be professional penalties for a senior faculty member failing to make phone calls on behalf of his or her students is laughable, in my experience.

It may well be that Employed but Concerned and I have simply spent time in different top departments, and that my experiences are not representative. I only have knowledge of the handful of departments that I have hang out in myself, and there are many top departments I know nothing about. Readers should be aware, however, that Employed but Concern's point (1) is true only at some proper subset of top departments.

That being said, I have to admit that something about Employed but Concerned's entire post has set off my BS-o-meter, and I do wonder whether point (1) (and perhaps most of the rest of the post) consists of uninformed speculation rather than the wisdom of experience.

Concerned as well

I share skeptical recent phd's concerns. Either the "anonymous reader" who supplied Marcus with the material to be posted is from a top 10 program or s/he is not. If s/he is, then (assuming s/he believes what s/he has written) s/he is set to get a job. Congratulations! If s/he is not from a top ten, one wonders where s/he gets her/his information from. If this is just speculation or merely anecdotal, this is very destructive, and will undermine the mission and credibility of this website.

Marcus Arvan

Concerned as well: I'm skeptical of the reader's claims too, but I think they should be permitted to share their thoughts and advice. I'm kind of a Millian on free expression about this. If the person's claims are erroneous or merely anecdotal, then the most helpful thing of all is for others to chime in and challenge it--as commenters already have [such as Douglas Portmore, skepticalrecentphd, and yourself]. In short, I think it's better have an open discussion about issues, rather than cut them short by over-censorship. If I'd felt like the contribution was inconsistent with the blog's mission, I wouldn't have allowed it--but it seemed to me it was simply offering up one's reader's perspective and advice for discussion. I certainly don't mean to endorse its content by posting it, as I myself don't have any evidence for or against the claims the person was making.


Another grad from a "top 10" department here. I'm sure the poster's intents are good, but honestly, the claims in this post struck me as a slightly paranoid fantasy. A fantasy that surely somewhere a career in philosophy is easy. That surely *somewhere* people are ushered into the profession with ease and support. Wow, if I or anyone from my program had half of the aggressive placement help or publishing help or other sorts of help from our advisors, our lives would be much easier...!

I have literally gotten a desk rejection from a journal associated with my home institution, and just months after defending. Not that there might not be some unsavory non-anonymous refereeing going on in other cases, but both I and the many grads of other top 10 depts. I know have struggled through the usual pile of desk-rejections, unhelpful reviews & rejections, etc. that junior philosophers must deal with to get published. And one thing that struck me as particularly unlikely, phone calls from advisors? Emails begging departments to hire their advisees??? I think my advisors liked me pretty well, and it was all I could do to get them to actually write the letters. The very idea that that they would bother to call up their buddies at other institutions is laughable. They don't think about me that much at all, and they simply aren't invested that much in my career.. Again, others might be bending over backwards to get their advisees placed, but I have not myself experienced or witnessed anything like this.

Overall, at my "top 10" dept, grad students are treated like after-thoughts. The faculty are absolutely obsessed with their own work. They didn't get to be superstars by investing in others. They got to be that way by investing in themselves. Unfortunately, I think lots and lots of grad programs are probably like this. Perhaps those not familiar with a "top 10" department suppose that others elsewhere must be having a much easier time of things. This might be true in some ways, but the dramatic pro-grad student culture that is depicted in this post is not something I've seen in any "top 10" dept. (and I'm familiar with a few outside of my own).


I just want to reassure Employed But Concerned that for many years I have taken very seriously my role on hiring committees.

I read writing samples carefully. I try very hard to not be swayed by pedigree or anything else of this type. My goal is always to avoid any sort of bias or heuristic that reinforces privilege. I honestly look for the person who is best for whatever job we have on offer. I believe this method has worked out wonderfully for my program and I would recommend it to all members of search committees.

In interviews I try also to screen out interpersonal 'feedback' and listen carefully to the ideas the candidate presents with an eye to their abilities as a teacher and scholar. We can never be free of bias and arbitrariness but I do try. I believe my colleagues try also.

I think (hope) that there are many people doing this in job searches. I hope it will alleviate the nervousness of candidates to realize there are people--some of them senior and older--who remember what it was like to find themselves under the microscope and who respect all that you have done thus far and acknowledge your capabilities and potential even if we ultimately cannot hire all the many qualified candidates we see.

I agree with all the posts here that top 10 faculty are indifferent to the welfare of all but a few hand-picked students--or at least that was my experience as a grad student at a top 10 program.

Finally, there are some of us who do not give two shits about professional bridges and all that and do not believe in natural born geniuses. Here's where there's a grain of painful truth in the original post. Some people truly are swayed by such idiotic considerations. I don't know what to say about them but trust me that there will be people on many search committees whose eye is on much more substantial issues. So do your best and try not to worry about such trivialities.

All you can control is your work. So focus on your work. Throughout your career you will face many absurd interpersonal distractions and people who are enamored of the most trivial markers of status. Learning to ignore such people and their misaligned value system is crucial to leading a meaningful life as an academic. Even if there is a star system and gatekeepers, etc. people still do manage to publish good work. The only thing one can do if one does not want to buy into that is to try to do good work.

Good luck everyone.

Friend of Anon

Anon hit the nail on the head: "All you can control is your work. So focus on your work."
This really is your only responsibility on the job market. If you think about other stuff you are apt to undermine your efforts to get a job. And most people are in no position (or not a good one) to determine what the various members of search committees are thinking. Indeed, I can sit across the table from a colleague and have little sense of what her or his rationale is for preferring one candidate over another.

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