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« The Secret Lives of Search Committees - Part 1: Introduction | Main | Utilitarian panpsychist in a world of hurt »



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Daniel Brunson

Solid advice, but I wonder if you could consider the balance of "do all the things!" with the supposed (?) "stale PhD" phenomenon in a future post.

Shen-yi Liao

I think insofar as there's some coherent notion of "fit", this post captures it well. However, I wholeheartedly disagree with the suggestions in (3) of "trying to improve one's fit".

Out of 100 job applications, I think there are 80 people who would be perfectly good for the job. And choosing from that often just comes down to highly circumstantial, if not arbitrary, factors that are really hard to predict from the outside, even from the ad. My thought with "What can candidates do to improve their likelihood of fitting jobs?" is actually that people should just not worry about it because basically you can't. The best thing you can do is be the researcher / teacher / person / etc you want to be, and the search committee will make the highly circumstantial and potentially arbitrary judgments that you have no control over.

Only one search

What I take away from what Marcus is saying is that non-R1 schools are looking for professionals, people who can do various (more or less) specific things. Clearly, the more experience you have the better you can demonstrate that you can do the job in question. It is just commonsense really, and it is a sad comment on the professional training that graduate programs offer (if they do) that they seem not to be guided by this pretty obvious point. We should be training for a job not a religious calling, and for that your abilities matter more than the ineffable qualities of your soul.

BTW, I think this gives some sense to idea that R1 jobs are not exactly professional, since so much in those jobs is based on potential rather than evidence of ability to carry specific types of tasks. This non-professional (would `amateur' be an appropriate word here?) aspect of R1 type jobs is probably the main explanation for how prestige-caste bias gets its grip.

Daniel Brunson

I think that's right, Only one search, but then shouldn't we expect a preference for more experienced candidates (e.g., someone who has been VAP-ing for 5 years over a new graduate)? Maybe the data suggests this, but the anecdata goes the other way.

Marcus Arvan

Only one search: *yes*. I have heard precisely that word used ("professional") used on many occasions, with more or less those connotations.

Marcus Arvan

Daniel: I'd be happy to do a post on the "stale PhD" issue. But for now let me just say that I don't think it follows from Only one search's point that there should be a preference for more experienced candidates--at least not simpliciter. Let me explain.

If my post (and experience) is correct, "fit" plays a central role in deliberations. But it is not the *only* thing that plays a central role. Other things may too, such as publications, prestige--and finally, how long it took a person to get their experience.

For example, suppose you have someone who has been VAP-ing for 5 years, with a lot of teaching and administrative experience. If I am right, this person may well be preferred over a new graduate with little experience. However, suppose the 5-year VAP is competing against a person who is only *one* year out of grad school but has (A) a better publication record, (B) a slightly better teaching dossier, and (C) a similar breadth of overall experience (perhaps because their grad program did a better job of getting them experience than the first candidate). Even though the 5-year VAP has been out longer, the newer graduate may be preferred here. Make sense?

Finally, although I will save most of this for my future post on "staleness", I will say that in my experience concerns about staleness are vastly overblown. First, although I was concerned about staleness when I was a candidate, I found that the longer I was on the market, the more interviews and flyouts I got. Second, I have in no way gotten the sense from my experience on either side of the market that time on the market is held against candidates, at least at teaching schools. What matters is what one has done with that time. Has one published? Has one become an amazing teacher? Has one gotten experience that fits the job being applied for? In my experience, these really are the things that matter.

Marcus Arvan

Shen-yi: Thanks for your comment. Allow me to explain why I'm inclined to disagree.

First, I recently had an enlightening conversation with a friend of mine. This friend told me that their PhD program instituted a new job-placement director a little less than a decade ago, because their graduates were having trouble getting jobs. Apparently, this director decided to change their program's emphases--toward, yes, getting their graduates a much broader breadth of experiences (my friend told me this director's attitude toward high-ranking R1 jobs is "We don't target those jobs. We know we won't be competitive for them. So, we have our candidates shoot for R2 and teaching jobs"). Apparently, since these changes were made, this program's placement rate has skyrocketed--and has (or so my friend tells me) been over 50% in recent years, far higher than the profession-wide average of 37% reported by Carolyn Dicey-Jennings. As Jennings' placement report indicates, some programs have *much* better placement rates than others (including some very low-ranked and unranked programs). Surely it is something these programs are *doing* that makes their candidates more likely to get jobs. And my sense is what they are doing is realizing--as Only one search's comments note--that the traditional way of preparing candidates for the job market is anachronistic.

Second, I will say this. I went out of my way as a non-tenure-track candidate to take on as many opportunities as I could--not only to expand my teaching breadth and teaching practices, but also my service, etc. These attempts to become a better fit for jobs evidently paid off, as my number of interviews and flyouts increased substantially the longer I was on the market.

Daniel Brunson

Sure, a candidate with equal or greater experience in less time would probably be more attractive. However, in the aggregate it stills seems plausible that time out would correlate with experience, and thus with hiring. Again, I do not know what the data suggest, or even whether there are any/much on this.

Of course, experience/professionalization is only one factor, as you point out. Maybe fear of 'staleness' is, in part, because of how the norms of R1 hiring 'trickle down' throughout the profession, both in terms of candidate anxieties and search committee biases?


I’ve been on 1 US search committee (R2 with MA) and involved in two U.K. searches (R1).

In the U.K., if you have grant winning experience it can go a very long way. All the sorts of things you’d expect are on the agenda (teaching, high quality pubs) but if you’ve been post doc-ing or in some other way out for a bit and have some grant experience, it will stand out. In my limited experience, it is very tough to stand out as a brand new PhD since many of the things the REF have made high priority take some time in the profession as a professional.

In both the US and the U.K. my experience has it that an interesting project made a big difference. I don’t think it’s easy to say what this comes to since people on a committee will have different preferences, but if your search is in, say, mind you start to get pretty tired seeing the same thing over and over and then someone with a decent pub or two and some nice teaching experience breaks out because they have a different take on an issue or a different application of something familiar. I know that’s pretty vague but hopefully you get the idea.

Finally, at least in the US search, people disagreed a lot about how to value publications. Many candidates had very very good records and some people thought that a hit in Nous or Mind or whatever was a very big deal. Others sort of didn’t care as long as there was some evidence of publishing in professionally respectable journals. No publications at all was a deal breaker.

After these searches I basically feel lucky to have navigated the unpredictability somehow. Good luck out there.

Sam Duncan

To respond a bit to Daniel Brunson's post: I think one biggest issues here is that a lot of people get stuck in jobs that make it pretty much impossible to get the sort of experience that would make them well-rounded. I had one adjunct job right out of grad school that's a good example. I taught the same two classes over and over and I wasn't invited, and almost certainly wouldn't have been welcome, to serve on any committees or do anything else that would really count as interesting service. It also sucked so much time and caused me so much stress that I couldn't really do research either. I think a lot of people get stuck in jobs like that and when one does it's all too easy to end up five years out of school with nothing to show for it but a lot of sections of "Critical Thinking" on one's CV and miles on one's car. I think that's one reason it's often a good move to take a lecturer or VAP position rather than adjuncting even if the latter might involve moving and not pay that much better. One usually does get a chance to have a little more variety in classes taught and there are generally more opportunities for service that's interesting and other professional development. Also, and I know this sucks, but all this is also a reason that if you're an adjunct and have a chance to do service you should maybe take it (as horrible as it might be to let yourself be exploited even more than usual).


Can someone explain to me the difference between an R1 and R2? Does R1 just mean the program has a PhD in philosophy and R2 it has a masters in philosophy? So if a program that had a masters in philosophy opened a PhD program it would change from being an R2 to an R1?


I think one thing that made a difference for a number of positions I was offered, is my research project is easy to explain to others. Here is why it mattered, I think. The search committee could easily explain both to the dean and to to other departments what their (potential) new hired worked on. Departments like to brag about their hires. And some schools have a very communal work-together vibe. In these places, if their new hire works in an area no one other than specialists will comprehend, well, that person doesn't mesh well with the communal vibe. I think this is true at both research and teaching schools (but of course not ALL research and teaching schools.)





Recent grad

R1 vs. R2 is a rather unhelpful distinction when it comes to philosophy jobs. There are many R2 jobs with higher research requirements than a sizable minority of the R1 jobs. For instance, research requirements at Dartmouth will be higher than at Washington State.


Thanks for the links but are they really relevant to philosophy? I mean if a school has doctoral programs but not in philosophy I don't think we generally consider it an R1 job. Lots of state schools, most, have some doctoral programs. Even some small liberal arts schools often have a couple doctoral programs. I guess I thought the classification, when talked about it regarding philosophy jobs, was specific to philosophy. A school's general reputation often diverges greatly from the philosophy reputation. Anyway I think it is interesting we through these terms around and yet members of the profession might not agree what they are...


@Amanda and Recent grad:

I agree. I don't think R1, R2, R3, mean anything specific when used in the context of philosophy positions.

The designations (at least R's) are largely based on overall university research expenditures, staffing, research activity, etc. To get an R, a school has to award a certain number of doctorates per year. But the difference b/w R1, R2, and R3, has a lot to do with support for research and research activity across the board.

In general, I think people just mean that R1 jobs are those that require more research output and less teaching. I think there is some correspondence between these research/teaching expectations and Carnegie classifications, but it's loose, as you both point out.

I'm at an R3. I'm required to publish refereed work for advancement, but I also teach a 3/3 load (usually two preps, but three is not uncommon). We do not have a grad program in philosophy.

FWIW, I found the thread on teaching positions and publication record similarly confusing, because I'm never sure what people mean when they talk about "teaching" jobs. Many would consider my position a teaching gig, but I have friends who teach 4/4's and 5/5's and have no research expectation. For us, good publications are definitely a plus.

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