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« Grad-program rank, publications, and job-market: a hypothesis | Main | Reader query: how are you doing on the market? »



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Alexis Elder

I'm someone for whom this hypothesis pretty closely matches my experiences. (Note: I'm a woman, so some of Tim's concerns are not active in my case.)

I would like to second the advice to put more attention into teaching materials. I picked up substantially more interviews once I had a really polished teaching portfolio, and for what it's worth, once I was hired into a tenure-track job, I was told by a member of the committee that hired me that my teaching materials were stellar and asked for permission to share them with future job-seekers.

And, I found it very helpful, in developing original teaching materials, activities, and assignments, to look outside the discipline for ideas. Campus-wide teaching presentations and institutional teaching-and-learning offices were an easy way to pick these up. Sometimes, I had to translate (lots of the "flipped classroom" presentations I attended focused on how this was implemented in STEM disciplines, for example), but it was good to get some variety outside of a thousand variations on Socratic method.

I also found that interviews picked up after I added some publications in smaller specialty journals and interdisciplinary journals, in addition to the journals popular in mainstream philosophy. Did this show that I was capable of different publishing strategies, of the sorts expected for different teaching loads and research expectations? I have no idea.

Lastly, one comment on the research-vs.-teaching school (characterized earlier as "SLAC") dichotomy: most of my teaching experience has been at (U.S.) state regional comprehensive schools, and my interviews mostly followed this pattern, with the occasional state R2 (master's program) thrown in. I got the impression from conversations with committees that it was helpful to be able to distinguish state school concerns (including awareness of legislative and budget issues) from private SLACs, even where student demographics and teaching needs overlapped. More reason to pursue teaching experience at a variety of places, and make friends outside of one's graduate school and research communities?


this whole post legitimizes flight risk bias

Derek Bowman

"The point is: a good teaching statement needs to work hard make you stand out in some clear and positive way. If you're a Socratic teacher, you had better try to show your reader what makes you a unique and particularly creative Socratic teacher--something that doesn't just make you look like another candidate."

No doubt this is good advice, but it just illustrates the futility of giving general advice. If more candidates start taking this advice, the things that might currently make a candidate stand out will come to be lost in the noise.

I think this also points to a potentially deep problem with what we do as professional teachers. Why assume that innovative or unique approaches to teaching are better? Only if the standard methods suck. If there are reliable methods of good teaching philosophy, and if our job candidates are the experts on this, one would expect some convergence on at least an overlapping core of teaching practices. But under those conditions, one could only stand out by significantly deviating from that expert consensus.


Derek, I'm in complete agreement with you. There's an emphasis in much of the discussion of teaching on what gets called "innovation". Now, maybe I'm misunderstanding what this term is supposed to mean. But it seems to me that innovating for the sake of innovating is stupid. And bad for students. And bad for me as an instructor.

Look, I'm all for trying new things if there's reason to think the new things will be better than the old things. And I try new things out when I teach advanced courses, because in those courses, even if the new thing is a flop, the students are motivated enough to still learn. But when I have good evidence that what I'm doing is working, I don't see a good reason to change.

Again, I'm probably just missing something in this discussion.

(Also: Alexis, your comment is extremely helpful. Thanks! And congrats on the dope-as-fuck gig, too. Hope you're enjoying Duluth.)

Marcus Arvan

Derek: In principle, your worry about general advice is right. If a lot of candidates followed the advice, it would be self-defeating. But in my (ample) experience here, most *don’t* follow the advice, and those who do tend to benefit. My aim here is to help Tim and others in his position fare better on the market. Given that not everyone will follow the advice, I think the suggestions will be helpful for those that do.


Standing out in a teaching statement isn't necessarily about innovation. What's important is demonstrating that, whatever methods you use, you've thought carefully about why you use them and worked at developing your skill with them.

What I'm looking for (as a faculty member at a SLAC) is evidence that you take your teaching as seriously as your research and put as much intellectual energy into it.

Marcus Arvan

Tom: I think we need to distinguish several things here.

First, we need to distinguish the way the world is from the way we want it to be. Maybe innovation isn’t necessary for good teaching. But that is not the issue here. The issue is how to help people like ‘Tim’ fare better on the market. People like Tim are not getting interviews or jobs, and are suffering greatly from it. I want to help him. In my experience, for better or worse, people at teaching schools tend to care about innovation. Sure, feel free to argue that they shouldnt. But they do. So, if Tim and others want to do better on the market—if that is their aim—it is something they should consider. If they do not want to compromise their pedagogy for the sake of getting a job, I respect that. But this brings me to my second point...

I also think it is important to distinguish innovating for the sake of innovation (which I don’t support) from innovating for the sake of improving one’s teaching. There may well be traditional, chalk-and-talk Socratic teachers who are just amazing. I know some people at teaching schools who do it and value it, and so i don’t think it is a negative *if* you can show in your teaching dossier that you are amazing at it. My concern is with people who present as rather ordinary chalk and talk teachers without anything recognizably distinctive about them. If you are in a pile of 175 chalk and talk teachers, it’s a simple fact that you are going to have a hard time standing out. My point in the post was not to innovate for innovation’s sake, but to make sure that you stand out and look like an exemplary teacher with a well thought-out pedagogy, not just someone who looks like you chalk and talk because you never gave teaching much thought.


I want to second what jdkbrown says: I think a good teaching statement shows who you are as a teacher, that you've thought about why you do what you do, and that you continue to think about it. It's true that this will make you stand out and if everyone did that, then fewer people would stand out as so much better than the competition. This requires reflection, time, and thinking about what you do in the classroom and why. This probably makes you a weaker candidate for some jobs (who are looking for someone with different aims that you have in the classroom), but it makes it obvious when you are an excellent fit for other types of jobs.


While I do think this is interesting and helpful in certain respects, it is also a reminder that there is simply far more talent than jobs. As I see it, there is really only a few solutions that will help ALL deserving people. One is to get more TT philosophy jobs, or at least more permanent jobs that come with a decent wage and benefits. (unlikely to happen). Another is to close down grad programs or for grad programs to accept far less students (unlikely to happen.) A third is to get to serious work in respect to finding plausible, rewarding jobs, for philosophy PhDs outside of academia. And preparing these students for such jobs should be part of philosophy grad school. While this is also unlikely to happen, I think it is the most likely of the 3 I mentioned. If grad programs are going to insist on letting in PhD students inspite of all that is known about the market, the very least they can do is work hard to prepare these students for the likely possibility they will have to find work outside the academy.

Marcus Arvan

Amanda: I entirely agree. We should advocate for changes in the profession. I just think it is important to not only try to change the future, but also try to help people like Tim who find themselves in a tough position here and now.

Derek Bowman

Marcus: I take Amanda's point to be that no matter what you do vis a vis general advice, there will be a large number of talented people who will be in a tough position here and now. Helping people-like-Tim means hurting people-like-those-who-are-currently-beating-out-people-like-Tim.

I'm not sure I'm criticizing that. It's great to want to help people, and it makes perfect sense in terms of one-on-one mentoring and helping people you have direct connections to. But at the systemic level it's just rearranging the deck chairs.

Asst Prof

In regards to the topic of innovative teaching, I do think it is—and should be—valued in hiring at teaching schools.

I’m in my fourth year at a lower-ranked teaching school, and in those four years I have changed nearly everything from my previous style of teaching.

These changes have been partly to engage different types of students (some from different cultures, some from different majors, some less motivated, some less prepared for college). They have also been due to institutional factors (demands of the core curriculum, the need for interdisciplinary courses, the promotion of new learning technologies, etc.).

For these reasons, I would highly value teaching innovation and adapatability, were I on a hiring committee.


Derek basically got my point right. While I get what you want to do Marcus, and I think it is basically good. I also can't help thinking that for all those who listen to this advice, they might be beating out other equally deserving people. After all, while it is (often) good to listen to advice, it doesn't exactly make you undeserving of a job if you don't, or if you are not the type of person to be reading philosophy blogs.

To be clear, I don't mean to suggest we shouldn't have this post. I think we should as it is always good to try and help those who are seeking help, and arguably those who come to this blog are seeking help. However I guess my point is that many people who are not doing well on the market should recognize that at the end of the day they might be doing NOTHING wrong. There are just less jobs than spots, and many talented deserving people will not get them, even if they do everything they reasonably could. I don't say this to suggest people like Tim should not try different strategies, they should. But I say this because I think it is good for people like Tim to keep reality in mind, first because it is good for one's emotional health. And second because it is probably best that anybody on the market or in grad school to be thinking about alt-ac possibilities. (Which, ironically, is good for one's emotional health as well.)


And also, as Derek said, it is not an issue of the future vs. now, for in the here and now there is only a certain number of spots. I say this mainly for people on the market who might be tempted to hate either themselves, philosophy, the professions, or certain groups in the profession, for what is sadly a simple numbers game of more talent than spots for the talented.

Post Doc

I would like to flag (as I did in another post) that I have sympathies with STOP's worry about legitimizing flight risk bias. One good question is: Given that SCs seem to have certain concerns/practices (incl. flight risk), what can candidates in Tim's situation do to maximize their odds of landing a gig? Another completely legitimate question (to me) is whether having flight risk play a role in a SC's deliberation is: (a) ethical, and/or (b) wise. I mean if it is true that there is a widespread bias that will cause more qualified (in some sense) candidates to fall from the profession while retaining candidates who are less qualified but appear like they would be happier in the post, this is perhaps a harmful (for the profession as a whole, and for the people falling through the cracks) bias. Or, if people are in fact bad at judging flight risk it might just be a widespread, but unsuccessful practice. Orthogonal to all of this is that it seems wise to have original, dedicated teaching materials.

Marcus Arvan

Post Doc (& STOP): I guess I don’t see how this post legitimizes flight bias. It aims to help Tim and others in his position work around it to get interviews and jobs. If you think flight bias is unfair and wrong, by all means make the case for it. But, in the meantime, I think we do everyone a disservice by pretending it doesn’t exist, and by utilizing job-market strategies that ignore and fall prey to it, leaving people like Tim without jobs because of job-market strategies potentially ill-adapted to the reality of it (fair or not).

Post Doc

I was not as clear as I should have been. This is all great & much appreciated advice for making someone more competitive for teaching programs. I was referring to this part: "On the other hand, I hypothesized that if candidates like this have publications in highly-ranked journals, they may be non-competitive for teaching jobs, by appearing like a flight risk." There are two issues in this post. One is that some candidates might have good publication records, but not demonstrate excellence in teaching/ interest in teaching (either they lack experience, innovative practices, etc or they have been unsuccessful at presenting these). I think assessing a candidate for a teaching school by assessing these factors isn't "bias" at all- it's just assessing fit for the culture / qualifications for the job. The suggestion in the quoted passage, is that (perhaps even in the presence of awesome, innovative teaching materials), having too many ranked publications could be disqualifying for a teaching job. That part I am less comfortable with (maybe I'm just naive). It seems like assessing a candidate based on factors that aren't in the dossier (their intentions, preferences, etc.) rather than just the quality of the materials that are. Now, actual Tim-like cases could be some combination of these factors (one, or the other, or both). I think it is important to be aware that these factors both may in fact influence search committee's perceptions. I don't have a sense of whether anyone feels as I do about publications in themselves being disqualifying.

Going on the job market next year

I was wondering what difference a person getting their PhD from a lower prestige department but then doing a post-doc at a higher prestige department does and is this a viable strategy?

I ask this because originally this sounded like a good strategy, but then some professors I informally talked to said they mostly paid attention to the phd granting institution anyway since that's where the philosopher was mostly trained. (I tried not to show that I was visibly frustrated)


Going on the market: I have heard that a postdoc means maybe 1/10 of what a PhD granting place means. Look at Andrew Moon for an example. Sadly if you got your PhD at a low-ranked place getting a prestigious post-doc does not make people see you as having pedigree.

Going on the job market next year

Ouf, thank you for that sobering info.

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