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Martin Lenz

Thanks for this! It's overall good advice and strikes a balance between two extremes. That said, being "a great fit given 1" is more ambiguous than meets the eye, because a committee might end up forming a quite idiosyncratic view of what constitutes that fit. In articulating a verdict, committee members might easily rely on common prestige indicators: pedrigree, "top" publishers etc. After all, "fit" is a category that allows for multiple interpretations from various perspectives. Most of the time, this blocks attempts at making hiring decisions at least *seem* consistent. Thus the impression of a "random circus".


I've been saying the job market isn't a merit award for a long time. I think this is something that needs to be stressed, because for some odd reason many philosophers don't seem to understand. Any job you apply for, in or outside of academia, is an application for you to contribute to the employer's mission. It is not the duty of the employer to devise some type of platonic method of fairness to determine who is the most "worthy" of a given position. It is about the employer's needs, not philosophical worthiness.

Recent grad


Do you think that *of those who meet the employer's needs roughly equally* the job should go to the applicant with the most merit? I ask this honestly. I agree that many jobs will rightfully go to an applicant who has the less stellar research, etc, because he or she meets the needs of the department better. But I'm not sure there's always going a clear-cut best fit in that regard.

A Non-Mouse

"Hiring is not a matter of giving out awards for philosophical worthiness."

No one believed, I take it, that to get hired in a research position is just to get an award for philosophical achievement. People do seem to believe that very often, in the current market, to get hired in such a position is to be judged as more worthy of the job than other applicants. You aren't denying what these people believe, right? In a pool of hundreds of applicants, the person who best solves a department's problem or best helps a department achieve its goal is more worthy of the position than other applicants. So it is hard to understand why you claim that *often* when people have a rough time on the market, it doesn't reflect their abilities or research choices, and instead reflects the fact that others better solved departments' problems. To the contrary, it seems very plausible, often in the current market, those who don't get a job are not worthy of one (or they aren't well enough connected with the right people).

Have I misunderstood something? If so, what?


First, I do think that this is helpful advice. Programs that give specific AOS and AOC are trying to fill specific voids in research and teaching, so if you cannot fill those its not much use applying. But once you are a "match" for the department, merit does clearly come into play, as stated in point four - "have great research." Once campus interviews come, if you are more or less evenly matched with the other candidates, it does sometimes come down to the beer test, i.e., is this someone I want to have a beer with after work and work with for the next 20-30 years. So, that can feel a bit like a lottery...

Now, jobs with OPEN OPEN are, I think, more akin to a lottery. Either a) there is internal disagreement about what they want/need so you are not sure what you applying for, or b) they really do just want the absolute best philosopher who has the potential to raise the prestige of the department (and passes the beer test).


"I've been saying the job market isn't a merit award for a long time. I think this is something that needs to be stressed, because for some odd reason many philosophers don't seem to understand."

For some odd reason, many think hiring is based on merit. HAHA! I mean that's basically the propaganda most people are indoctrinated with growing up; I certainly was. It's not odd that people think this.


Distinguish two claims. (1) People are often hired for jobs because they deserve those jobs. (2) People are often hired under conditions in which some consideration was given to whether they deserve those jobs. Each of these can support the claim that hiring is often about philosophical worthiness, and no evidence against (2) has been offered. The falsity of (1) doesn't preclude the truth of (2) (and vice versa). So as long as either (1) or (2) is true, hiring is often about philosophical worthiness. Many believe that (2) is true. Until evidence is offered against it, I'm not sure anyone should be confident that hiring is not about philosophical worthiness.


Merit and department needs are rarely divorced. Usually part of what the department needs is a philosopher with a certain level of ability. But then it gets more complicated. In most cases the ability needs to be in a certain area, and to compliment the department's focus. This is true of both research and teaching merit. That is why I'm not sure how to answer the question, "if candidates equally meet departments needs, then does it come down to merit"? That makes it seem like merit wasn't a factor to begin with, but of course it was, it was just a particular type of merit. And the way hires are made, I just don't think it is ever as simple as the group agreeing that 3 or 4 people equally meet needs, and then coming up with a second way of sorting through the candidates. Often department members will disagree about who meets department needs, and hence a candidate is chosen based on all types of compromising. It is not a straightforward process, and really can't be, given that those on hiring committees are bound to see things differently.

Pendaran maybe I am an exception, but no one ever told me the job market was based on merit. I did hear that perception from mostly elite R1 professors, but even when I heard it this didn't make sense to me, because those very R1 professors completely disagreed on what counted as merit. Some thought publications were irrelevant and it was all writing sample, others thought all publications, etc. There is no simple, or simple and agreed upon way, to evaluate these things.


I'm miffed. Do people just no longer read Weber's "Science as a Vocation" anymore?

"the question whether or not such a [Grad Student], and still more an assistant, will ever succeed in moving into the position of a full professor or even become the head of an institute. That is simply a hazard. Certainly, chance does not rule alone, but it rules to an unusually high degree. I know of hardly any career on earth where chance plays such a role. I may say so all the more since I personally owe it to some mere accidents that during my very early years I was appointed to a full professorship in a discipline in which men of my generation undoubtedly had achieved more that I had. And, indeed, I fancy, on the basis of this experience, that I have a sharp eye for the undeserved fate of the many whom accident has cast in the opposite direction and who within this selective apparatus in spite of all their ability do not attain the positions that are due them."


"But one must ask every other man: Do you in all conscience believe that you can stand seeing mediocrity after mediocrity, year after year, climb beyond you, without becoming embittered and without coming to grief? Naturally, one always
receives the answer: 'Of course, I live only for my "calling." ' Yet, I have found that only a few men could endure this situation without coming to grief."

I think what Weber says here is true now as it was in 1918.


Muhammed, I haven't read that text, but I am a big fan of Weber and that excerpt doesn't at all surprise me given Weber's understanding of how social forces limit personal agency.

I think that, unfortunately, how one answers this question will be largely influenced by one's personal experience. The author was a Rhodes scholar and holds an endowed chair at a very young age. Its a bit easier for her to say that philosophical hiring is not a lottery. I, on the other hand, and several of my close friends and colleagues are keenly aware of how fortunate we are to have our jobs: there is just no way its simply a matter of merit across the board. If you simply look at the numbers -- philosophy PhDs vs positions -- one cannot help but come to the conclusion that there is quite a bit of chance involved...

A Non-Mouse

Muhammad, excuse me if I've misunderstood the point of your comment. But neither of these quotations support (or were meant to support) that hiring for research positions is not about worthiness. The statements were made in a context supporting the claims (roughly) that there is an element of good fortune in such hiring, and that academic achievement is not on it's own enough for getting hired, respectively. These claims are completely compatible with the idea that such hiring is about worthiness.

Please let me know if I've misunderstood...


If the argument is simply that worthiness is a part of selection for jobs then I concede the point. I'm not sure what argument could possibly satisfy the evidentiary hurdle for the claim "when searching for a candidate, philosophical worthiness is not a factor."

I was partially posting because I love Weber's dark humour, partially posting to say that many of us who don't attend Lieterific schools do not get this story that the job process is a meritocracy and that if you just publish enough, you will overcome the luck elements (I call these luck elements because, if I remember correctly, Eric Schwitzgabel has some data showing where you go to undergrad pretty much locks in where you'd go to grad school and where you go to grad school seems an overwhelming determinant of job prospects). I was in fact made to read this essay the first year I entered my PhD program as a caution to what would be up ahead.

FWIW I didn't post it, but the content between the two quotes, Weber argues that the bureaucratic and group process inherent in academic job selections means that the number 1 candidate will probably not get the job but that it's really a run-off between #2 and #3.

A Non-Mouse

Thanks for the response, Muhammad. The Weber point is interesting and helpful.

Mike Titelbaum

I just wanted to echo something from the OP that hasn't been a focus of discussion here. I highly recommend getting as much practice with a talk as possible before giving it as a job talk. Many departments have "practice job talks" in which their candidates on the market present to the department. But anyone on the market should have given their talk at least once (and hopefully more!) before presenting this practice job talk. If you have to, just collect some friends from your department and practice giving the talk to them. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a graduate student give a practice job talk where they are clearly presenting the material for the first time. As faculty, we give them the best advice we can, and frequently the graduate student then has to tear the whole talk apart, reorganize, and rewrite major sections. I hate to think that the totally rewritten talk is then presented for the very first time in front of a search committee!

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