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Distinguish two issues: whether a paper's being coauthored is a disadvantage, ceteris paribus, and whether the OP should use the coauthored paper. The answer to the first question seems like an obvious "yes", at least for many schools. But the answer to the second question depends on what the OP's other options are. Does he/she have a polished, unpublished paper that is of comparable or superior quality to the coauthored paper? If so, use that one. Whatever (slight, I think) disadvantage it has in virtue of being unpublished will be smaller than the disadvantage of a coauthored piece.

Untenured Ethics Professor

Re lategrad's comment: When I was on the market, several people advised me that an unpublished paper is preferable to a published one. The theory is that your publications (if you have publications) are already to available to the hiring committee. Submitting an unpublished piece shows them what's in the pipeline.

I'm not sure I buy the theory. But there is no reason to prefer a published piece to an unpublished one. Submit the work that displays your abilities best.

Our discipline's practice of discouraging co-authorship is bad. Job candidates are in no position to challenge it.

Aaron Thomas-Bolduc

I agree with you for the most part, but I think you've brushed aside a very important case: papers co-authored by 2 grad students.

I have one such paper under review, and another that will be sent off later this week. Neither of those papers would have been possible without both of us. Although I would say that our contributions are 50-50 it's really difficult to assign ratios in these cases; having a 'first author' as per other disciplines doesn't make sense.

I think the issues wrt writing samples will be different here as well, though I'm not sure how at the moment.


Re narrowness of subject: I agree with Marcus. I think this hurts for teaching schools. Those at teaching schools have, in my experience, are looking for writing samples that are interesting and accessible to a broad audience. For a research school I don't think narrowness matters one way or the other, what matters is what the big names say about it in your letters and whether the committee thinks it can be published in a top journal. Sadly I would say 50 percent or so of papers in top journals are what I would consider way too narrow.

Pendaran Roberts

I didn't read all of this so forgive me if I'm repeating something.

For experimental philosophy co-authoring is the norm. So, if you work in that area and are applying for a job interesting in X-Phi, then I wouldn't worry about submitting your best co-authored X-Phi article.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Pendaran: Co-authoring may be the norm in X-phi. However, it doesn't follow--even in that context--that co-authoring isn't looked down upon by search committees. I know a few people who do work in X-phi and mainly have co-authored publications, and at least anecdotally I think it may have hurt them on the market.


Well, if you are applying somewhere that's interested in X-Phi, I'm assuming they know the norms of the field.

But the world continually surprises me!

Marcus Arvan

Hi Pendaran: That's a good point - but I don't think there are very many straight-up X-phi jobs. Most jobs that X-phi-ers apply to (it seems to me) tend to be ones that non-X-phi-ers also apply to. And unfortunately, it's not clear to me that co-authoring doesn't count against the former in those cases. But again, my impressions here are entirely anecdotal. I would love to learn that they are incorrect!


Just one data point, but: I'm at a teaching school, and I wouldn't look askance at a narrow writing sample. (And neither, I *think*, would my colleagues--after all, they hired me, and my writing sample was pretty specialized.)

Two points. One: having a narrow writing sample isn't the same as having a narrow research/teaching profile. The latter *would* be a problem. Two: Yes, I would expect a candidate to be able to make their research accessible to non-specialists, including undergrads. But it's silly to demand that in a writing sample, which is (at least potentially) a journal article or similar document meant to communicate with professionals in one's own field.

Taco Tuesday

Thanks for your input, all. I'm the reader who asked the questions. Re: scope, my question was not so much about how technical a paper can be, but about how specific its topic can be. A paper can be highly specific, narrow in a sense, while accessible to non-specialists. Conversely, a paper can have a grand scope and address issues that (should) speak to most philosophers and yet be highly technical and hard to access. Some papers in M&E are not narrow in the first sense but they are definitely so in the second sense.


For what it's worth, I know a few people with noteworthy numbers of co-authored articles and it hasn't seemed to hurt them.

They were well connected though...

Marcus Arvan

Postdoc: Good points - that's my impression as well. If a person has a good number of really good co-authored articles, and they've published them with other well-known people in the area (e.g. X-phi), then the fact that they are co-authored may not be a problem (it may be a benefit).


Just to clarify, along the lines of TT's comment: I think narrowness of topic in the writing sample is fine, as long as it's clear that you have a breadth of research and teaching overall.


Well it is important to keep in mind that each search committee is different. So suppose someone is in x-phi and applying to an x-phi job. The search committee will still be made up of mostly non-x-phi philosophers who might judge co-authored work negatively, regardless of what their x-phi colleagues say. I have seen this exact thing happen. This need not happen in all cases, of course.

And yes narrowness of topic need not mean it is not accessible but I think it usually does. Narrow topics tend to be about highly specialized issues in highly specialized fields, or at least that has been my experience.

Pendaran Roberts

All we have is anecdotes, but I haven't heard of this issue with search committees irrationally discounting co-authored work. Co-authoring is increasing in philosophy, partly do to experimental philosophy.

Also, I think we should make a distinction between co-authoring with your advisor or another professor (TT faculty) and co-authoring with another grad student or with someone in a different discipline entirely.

For obvious reasons, co-authoring with your advisor invites questions about how much of the work is really yours. Professors do basically give their students papers sometimes. I've seen it. These kinds of concerns though do not apply for interdisciplinary work or for work with other grad students and the like.

I'd think you could sell interdisciplinary work to some departments.

Taco Tuesday

This may be a silly question but is it appropriate to include acknowledgments in a footnote to one's (unpublished) writing sample?

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