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Beyond publishing in top-20 journals and teaching a diverse range of courses, are there any non-obvious things a post doc can do to stand out in a stack of job applications for an assistant professorship?

Securing a book contract comes to mind, but I'm not sure it's worth it, since that would mean spending less time expanding one's breadth of research. Securing prestigious sources of funding? That's super risky given how competitive those things can be. More service time, e.g. organizing conferences, refereeing, etc.? I don't know how much weight is put into that sort of stuff. Public outreach comes to mind, like teaching in prisons, but again, I'm not really sure about the pay off. Doubling down on publishing in top 20 journals? That risks putting one out of contention for a lot of non-R1 jobs.

Any feedback would be appreciated.


How do you work out when it is time to give up on (or at least put aside for the long term) a project that you have been working on for some considerable time?

I have been working on a paper for a couple of months now, unfortunately to the detriment of my dissertation. I've give a couple of talks on it and the feedback, while positive about the underlying idea, has been largely negative about the presentation and readiness of the paper for submission.

My dilemma is whether I should put another few weeks or months into the paper in the hopes of getting it published, or if it is time to put it on the back burner (perhaps until my dissertation is finished).

Getting a high quality publication is really important, and I still have about a year to work on the dissertation, but I feel that I might be falling for a kind of sunk costs fallacy: putting in further work now that is not productive due to fear of having wasted the last two months or so.

I'd love to hear any tips, heuristics, or other ways of judging such a situation that people have. I understand that specific advice is beyond the scope of anonymous posting here, but perhaps people have general strategies or ideas that might help me assess the situation better.


As counter-intuitive as this sounds, put the project down for two months. Work on your dissertation. Then pick the paper up and see what it sounds like once you have some distance from it. In the meantime, you will have pushed your dissertation forward.
I have had a few projects that I set aside for two years, and then I found I had insights and conceptual tools I did not have before.


I'm 100% in agreement with Guy. Sometimes a tiny bit of space is spectacularly helpful.


If one has more than three letters of recommendation, what is the best way to determine which letters to use when applying to jobs that only allow three letters, particularly when making this decision "blindly"? For instance, someone who is in a non-tenure-track lecturer position might have the following letters:

Letter 1: Dissertation Director, University A

Letter 2: Dissertation Committee Member, University A. Teaching focused letter from someone who knows one's teaching well and potentially speaks to one's ability to connect with diverse populations.

Letter 3: Current Department Head, University B. Has observed one's teaching once and says that the letter is positive and includes evaluation of teaching but may not necessarily qualify as a "teaching focused" letter

Letter 4: Established Scholar in one's Subfield, University C. Speaks positively to your research.

Is leaving out any of the first three letters to include the fourth one a problem? Which one should be left out??

Thanks in advance!


Ppmd---it may depend on the school. But generally I'd leave out letter #2. 3&4 make you look like more of an adult, less of a student, so to speak. In that regard, I think #4 is the most important. I'd also make #4 your #2 in order, so it's right after your director's letter. You might also have someone read your letters and give you some kind of feedback about which are strongest and in what ways.


I'd like to see a post on couples finding a dual positions somewhere. It would be nice to see what success looks like in this arena. It's hard to know how to go about solving this problem when you have no idea what possible solutions look like. E.g. Is it possible to get 2 tt positions? If so, how? Do most resign themselves to a tt position with a permanent, but not Tt position for the other? Any instances of job-sharing? What does the negotiation process look like for these sorts of things?

When I talk to senior academics about this, they are about as clueless as well meaning non-academic friends and family:"why don't you just find positions in the same city?" Or. "Hey, there are other colleges nearby, has your wife tried applying to these?"

Marcus Arvan

Ppmd: I think Anon’s advice is probably sound for research jobs, but I would think letter 2 is an absolute must for a teaching school. If I were you and applying to teaching schools, I would include letters 1, 2, and 4–and then note in your CV and cover letter that person 3 can also provide a reference on your work at your current school. I would include letter 2 because at teaching schools, it is important to have a good, detailed recommendation of your teaching style and strengths.


Thanks Marcus and Anon.

Marcus, is having my current department head listed in my references on my cv enough without including a note in my cover letter? I worry that mentioning this in my cover letter will just draw more attention to my not including it.

I also see Anon's point about the importance of letters from people who will be able to talk about me more so as a colleague rather than as a student, and this is something I have heard frequently. Though I suppose letter 4 will accomplish this. Mainly I just want to make sure that no red flags will be raised by omitting letter 3.

Thanks again.

Marcus Arvan

PPMD: I don't think any red flags will go up leaving out letter 3, as long as you list it on your CV. Upon further reflection, I'm a bit torn on letters 2 and 3. It's really hard to say which letter to include, without any idea which letter is "better."

So, I think the best thing to do might be to have a third-party (your grad program placement director?) read letters 2 and 3, and ask them to judge which letter comes across better. If a third-party judges one letter as clearly more positive than the other, I'd include that one. The vital thing, for teaching jobs, is to have *some* letter that speaks well to your ability to teach.


How many schools only allow three letters? I applied to a lot of positions last year and remember this happening a handful of times, probably less than 5. Is it happening more often?

Name Withheld to Protect the Culpable

I second Marcus's advice. Although I'm not sure how kosher it is, I had someone local read all of my letters. When I had to pick a proper subset, I simply asked them for advice, knowing that they would give me a list of names but not otherwise divulge content.


Okay so most of us have experienced nasty reviews and wildly divergent reviews. However, I am dealing with a new low re papers and submission and stuff. I have this paper that plenty of senior people in the field have read and they tell me it's excellent, one of my best papers, etc. I have now submitted it to 6 journals, and not only has it been rejected every time, but rejected with criticisms of the type, "this is a completely hopeless project." I am hesitant to send it out again, because the reviews have been so bad I am worried one of my former reviewers will see it and that could hurt my reputation.

So does anybody have any experience or advice regarding what to do in situations like this? My paper is pretty controversial, so that might have something to do with it. I am fine giving up on a paper, not everything works. But I am just confused with the difference in feedback. And it really makes me wonder about our profession if professionals can't even come to remote agreement regarding whether a paper is half way decent. Of course, my colleagues could be lying to me, but that is a problem in itself. I would think they would just give me polite but critical feedback if they really didn't like it.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Amanda: Great question. I had a case very similar to it, and fortunately all ended well in that case. I'll post on it soon!


Thanks Marcus!


Does anyone out there have experience transitioning from a PhD in Philosophy and teaching at the college level to teaching at the high school level? I don't have a relevant degree (Math, English, etc.), so I'm not sure if I'd need to take more courses, get another degree, and so forth. Obviously, philosophy at a private school would be ideal but I wonder about public school options and teaching other subjects.


Kyle for public schools I think it varies by state. I have a friend who teaches in MO where you only need a BA to teach high school, and I am pretty sure it doesn't need to be in the same field as the subject you teach. Other states like Washington have very strict requirements where you need some type of MA in education (Or so I have heard). The pay and benefits vary wildly state to state. I would recommend moving to California, as their retirement plans for teachers are out of this world, and you get to live in California!

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