Our books

Become a Fan

« Competitive without 'major' publications? | Main | Non-standard publications and the market »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

another postdoc

Marcus, do you have the data that formed the image still? I'd be interested in a finer-grained breakdown in the "PGR unranked" distribution. In particular, just before the image you say it shows that it is basically impossible to publish upwards into an R1 and then say many of the unranked schools are teaching schools. But there's a big difference there! For example, Rice is searching this year; they are outside the top 50 PGR rankings but they are an R1 school, they have a PhD program, and so on. Getting that job would be pretty different from getting a job at a school with no grad programs and a 4-4 teaching load. It might not be the case that someone from an unranked PhD program can publish into a top 50 program, but what about publishing into a 2-2 job at an unranked R1? Or are basically all those jobs going to PGR ranked grads? That is, the 273 grads from top 20 PGR programs might be going equally to unranked R1s and teaching jobs, or they might be snatching up all the unranked R1 jobs, or something else. Seems to me that the original question was as much, or more, about chances and strategies for getting an R1 job (ranked or not) vs a teaching job as about getting a ranked R1 job vs an unranked job.

Marcus Arvan

Another postdoc: The image is from Helen's paper here https://philpapers.org/rec/DECPBA

You raise a good point--and that's actually something I raised for Helen in a previous comment thread, where I asked whether the study distinguished between teaching schools and unranked research programs (like Rice).

Although her study didn't distinguish these kinds of schools, I still think the general point stands (though, as I note below, you are right to say I overstated things).

Helen's chart (and data) is consistent with some people from lower- and unranked programs getting jobs at unranked R1's. But it also shows, pretty overwhelmingly, that people from higher ranked programs still get nearly 2/3 (61%) of all of those unranked jobs, along with almost *all* ranked R1 jobs.

More exactly, Helen's data found that:

(1) Only 1% of all hires by top-20 programs were from unranked graduate programs.

(2) Only 7.7% of all hires into PGR20-50 programs were from unranked graduate programs.

(3) Only 39% of all hires by unranked programs were from unranked grad programs.

So, you're right: it was an overstatement on my part to say "next to impossible" for people from unranked programs to get TT jobs are R1 schools.

What I should have said is that it is next to impossible for them to get jobs at top R1 schools, and just very difficult for them to get jobs at lower-ranked and unranked R1's. This is probably a more accurate way to put it--but again, I think the general point (viz. the hypothesis I've ventured) stands. The data suggest it is very, very difficult for candidates from unranked departments to publish their way into R1 jobs.


Another thing with Helen's data: the small percentage of people that do get R1 jobs and are not highly ranked might be much older, senior professors who were hired in a different age. For instance, if of the 7% of hires that did not go to top PGR programs,5% are over 60, this might speak more to a change in time more than anything. That said I didn't read the paper, so maybe she only looked at recent hires? Second, I also think it is a different thing if some of the unranked hires are from universities outside the US. In my experience, if is far more likely for a research program to hire someone from an unranked school in Europe than on in the US. I think this is because the unranked US schools have a negative reputation, while the unranked European (or Canadian or Asian) schools have almost no reputation, at least state side. Also, I have heard that US students from unranked programs who want a research job have a much better shot in Europe, perhaps for the same reason.


Thanks for taking the time to post this, Marcus. It's much appreciated and very helpful.

In my applications this year, I've tried employing some of the things that you suggest. I've been focused on writing highly tailored cover letters which I hope will help, and I think that I've got a pretty strong teaching statement/portfolio. I plan to revisit both in light of what you've just said, however.

Part of what was driving my initial question was how my interviews came out this past year. The year before I had 7 total interviews, and 4 of those were for TT jobs. I added a couple of publications and conference presentations after not being offered any of those jobs, and then this past year my overall number of interviews went up (12) but the number of TT interviews went down (2). It worked out, since I received five offers this past year, but it felt as though I was actually LESS competitive on the TT market which was, obviously, troubling.

In any case, I appreciate your feedback. (Also, I don't see any reason to remain anonymous, and it seems as though seeing my CV might help the conversation, so I've linked to my personal website below)

Pendaran Roberts

Similar to you Nate, I am a pretty strong publisher with a dozen journal publications, a little over half top 20 (on Leiter's recent poll). The publications didn't seem to do me any good. My impression is that given the ultra competitive job market, many many candidates have amazing publication profiles. So, trying to compete on that front is unrealistic for most. Yes, some are so good at publishing that they can crank out Mind, Phil Review, Mind, Nous over and over, and those people might be able to get a job based on that. But another Phil. Stud. paper or another Synthese paper isn't the way to go. You need to find a way to stand out from the crowd and be unique (in a good way). You're most likely not going to be able to do that with publications.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Nate: You're very welcome. Judging by your interview numbers and CV, I honestly think you're in pretty great shape.

Sure, only 2 TT interviews this past year might be disappointing compared to 4 the previous year--but remember, there is statistical noise in everything, and your overall interview numbers are up! This suggests to me that you are a very competitive candidate. Your CV also looks great to me: good publications, ample teaching experience, and a good service record.

For these reasons, I am optimistic that it is just a matter of time until some TT job snatches you up. It's also worth remembering that it just takes *one* hiring committee to think you're perfect for their job.

I will say that I think your publication record *could* scare some people off at some smaller teaching schools--as you have consistently published in some really good "name" journals (APQ, JAPA, Journal of Ethics, Philosophical Psychology). Even though your teaching and service records are good, I think your publication record does convey "researcher."

That being said, here's the thing: while I think your pubs might price you out of some jobs (as it were), I also think there are schools that are looking for someone precisely like you--namely, SLACs that also care about research, R2s, and potentially some R1s. So, I would say, just keep doing what you are doing. You never know in this job market, but I would be shocked if some school didn't snap you up soon!

lucky to have a job

I should admit that I still don't understand why teaching schools shouldn't be hiring a candidate with many publications if this same candidate has a teaching experience. Simply because there's a risk the candidate if hired will not stay for long? Do we really think that this is a concrete possibility, in this time and age, in such a bad market?

Marcus Arvan

lucky: flight risk is a real problem, even as bad as the market is. I’ve seen candidates get hired and then get up and leave for greener pastures. I’ve also heard stories of hires who were clearly unhappy from day 1 and did a terrible job because it was clear they wanted to be somewhere else. Both leave the hiring department in a very bad spot. Hiring departments have ample reasons to be careful about these things.


Every time flight risk comes up, I’m going to push back. The way departments are trying to avoid it is irrational and wildly against their own best interests. Anecdotes abound. I too know people who are good researchers who left teaching schools. I also know people who are good researchers who didn’t. And I know people who failed to get tenure.

*Every* hire is risky. Full stop. And we do not currently have anything resembling hard data about what makes someone a genuine “flight risk”. So the only responsible sane thing to do is hire the person best for your particular job — even if that person has more publications than you would have expected. Otherwise you’re actively and intentionally sabatoging your own department.

Marcus Arvan

Tom: I understand why you want to push back, but let me push back a little in turn.

In my experience--and I would be surprised if other people who have served on search committees would disagree--there just *isn't* a single candidate who's clearly best for the job. There's usually anywhere from a half dozen to a dozen who look about equally good, looking at their complete dossier, etc.

It's also important to remember here that, at teaching schools, search committee members just *aren't* necessarily looking for the person with the best publishing record. Publishing is not the #1 priority at teaching schools, not by a long shot. So, if you have one candidate with publications in Nous, PPR, and whatever, and another candidate with publications in lower-ranked journals, that will *not* necessarily constitute any reason for the committee to prioritize the former candidate over the latter. Rather, my sense is that at teaching schools, the role that publishing plays is sort of a threshold thing: committees want to hire someone who publishes *enough* to get tenure, and who does interesting work, not necessarily the person who has the "best publications." Consequently, all things considered, a person with a "better publishing record" might not be considered a better candidate at a teaching school than someone with a "worse" record. Taking into account their teaching and service portfolios, these candidates might be judged as roughly equally good for the job. Hiring the person with a "worse" publication record is not "actively and intentionally sabotaging" your department--because, again, publishing is not the #1 priority at a teaching school.

So, then, you've got 6-12 candidates, all who look roughly equally good for the job. The question then becomes how to decide between them. Candidate 1 comes from a Top Leiter Research program, and has published in Nous, PPR, etc. Candidate 2 comes from a lower-ranked program. They don't have the same publishing record as Candidate 1, but they look like at least as good of a teacher as them, if not a little better.

At that point, it does not seem irrational at all for a committee to ask themselves: which of these two equally good candidates--all things considered--is likely to be happy here? It especially does not seem irrational when one hears from colleagues at another school that they hired someone like Candidate 1, who then either showed up and did a terrible job as a teacher and were clearly looking to the exit from the first day on the job. It also doesn't seem irrational to take into account "happiness/flight risk" given candidates' behaviors on campus interviews. Candidates, in one way or another, can give hints as to what their priorities are--for instance, if they spend the entire time talking about research but never talk about teaching or students, seem unenthusiastic about service opportunities, etc.

In short: I understand why, from the outside--i.e. from a candidate's perspective--that search committees making judgments about flight risk, etc., might seem irrational or unfair. Sure, every hire is risky. And sure, a substantial amount of information is anecdotal. However, from the inside, when choosing between candidates that seem roughly equal in all the ways that *matter* to a committee, making comparative risk-assessments on the basis of anecdotal information is neither obviously irrational nor (for reasons mentioned above) "actively and intentionally sabotaging your own department."


Nate - now that I have looked at your CV, I more or less agree with Marcus. You probably will scare some teaching schools away. With your CV, I would aim at putting most of your efforts into SLACS that care about research. Typically those are schools with a healthy number of philosophers (not just 1-3) and an acceptance rate of 60% or lower. There might be some R2s that are a good fit - and no harm trying for a few R1s although the bias against your school will be strong. I wouldn't waste my time applying to every job possible: put more effort into making great application materials for schools where you will be a good fit.


Nate - I forgot one thing, if you are willing to consider this, I would definitely try for some schools over seas. I think you could have a great shot at some smaller research schools there.


The whole idea that there can be a "best" publication record, even at research schools, is a little silly. Most of the time a department is looking to hire someone who fills a specific need in the department. Research schools are often looking for someone to fulfill a research need. I am at a R1 and at our last meeting we talked about hiring. We want to hire someone who works in a specific discipline, for a variety of reasons. I could imagine us looking at two candidates, one who has what many would consider a "better" publication record. However, suppose this candidate's publications are "sort of" related to the area we want to hire in, but a bit of a stretch. Then there is a another candidate who lacks the same amazing publication record of the first one. However the publications that this candidate does have are squarely in the area we are looking to hire. It would be completely reasonable to choose the second candidate over the first.


“Candidate 1 comes from a Top Leiter Research program, and has published in Nous, PPR, etc. Candidate 2 comes from a lower-ranked program. They don't have the same publishing record as Candidate 1, but they look like at least as good of a teacher as them, if not a little better.”

If that’s the case, and if teaching is what matters, then candidate 2 is a better hire. Not because they have a worse publishing record, but because they’ll do better at the job. Nowhere in anything I said was I advocating for publishing being the end-all be-all. What I’m vehemently, adamantly opposed to and angry about is the idea that bullshit ilinformed intuitions about who might be happy are being made based on who has published what and that this is what’s ruling folks out from getting jobs. It’s just crap. You might as well be asking a psychic to guess who is going to stay. You’ve got no basis, no ground, no *anything* other than gut feeling to back up that kind of inference. But you’re a goddamn philosopher for chrissakes. You *know* your gut feelings are horrendous guides to the truth. So have a little intellectual honesty and put them aside.

TLDR: You can weight pubs less than teaching and not sabatoge your department. You can’t count pubs as a negative and fail to sabatoge your department. Classifying candidates as “flight risks” based on their having “too many” or “too good” pubs is a bullshit way for shoddy academics to justify hiring crappier candidates in order to protect their own fragile egos and to carry on feeling good about being shoddy.

Marcus Arvan

Tom: I understand your frustration as a candidate (I know, I’ve been there), but I think your comment isn’t charitable. Trust me, concerns about unhappiness or flight risk are not just gut feelings, and they are not just ways for shoddy people with fragile egos to defend themselves.

Many of us have evidence that certain types of situations are likely to lead to unhappy hires who try to leave for elsewhere. First, we have seen it happen at our own university (often, on more than one occasion). Second, we have heard similar stories from people at other universities. Third, we have ample experience with others in the profession talking about how *they* are unhappy with their jobs and want to jump ship at the earliest opportunity. Fourth, some of us have even heard actual job candidates express the very things I’m saying, at conferences, in elevators, etc.—about how they really wouldn’t be happy at or want to stay at university X because of its heavy teaching load (I run in several academic circles, across several different disciplines, and these kinds of sentiments are very commonly expressed).

Look, I am literally the most sympathetic person when it comes to the concerns of job-candidates. I was on the market for 7 years, and I know how terrible and unfair it all is. But I also know, having served on the other side of things, that concerns about candidate flight risk and unhappiness are not just BS. I wish it were.


A few things for Nate:

1) Do try to keep some perspective on things. You have a good CV, but there are people out there with multiple postdocs, publications in Nous/Mind/etc., or books, who have tried for years to get a TT job and failed. Some top Leiter schools have not placed any candidates into TT jobs in years. It's awful out there, getting worse.

2) You (like the vast majority of recent PhDs) are probably not get a TT job, no matter what you do. So think now about your backup plan, and start getting the education/training/experience/etc. necessary to transition into that.

3) Consider: Is academia even that appealing anymore? It's changed a lot in recent decades, even years. The salaries are awful; if you get a job, you're probably going to have to live in a place that you're not excited about; with a teaching load that precludes much research (which you seem to enjoy and be good at). Plus, maybe it's just me, but the culture of the philosophy profession seems real nasty these days.

Pendaran Roberts

I'm not convinced that Tom isn't right. How real can flight risk based on publications really be given the data that less than 4% from PGR unranked programs get to move up? I think worries about flight risk are due to older professors being out of touch with the job market today. I've been told that having amazing tenure worthy publication profiles (by the standards of pre 08) is just normal now. I guess someone with an out of this world publication profile (Nous, Mind, Phil Review, PPR, Nous, Mind...) might be a concern, but having a bunch of top 6-20 publications shouldn't be a worry. Also, applying for jobs and interviewing is a royal pain in the butt. Unless someone really hates their job, they're probably not going to turn around and start applying again. Really, the real flight risk isn't based on publications but PhD granting institution. It's almost impossible to publish your way up, but if you've got a PhD from one of the fancy schools, then you have way more options. So, it seems to me that you should be worried about hiring someone from Harvard at your teaching school but not that worried about hiring someone who is a good publisher.


Marcus is right. It is not BS. I am one of those extremely unhappy hires who feels awful because I really like my colleagues but hate the institution, job, etc. It's a tough spot for everyone to be in. I will say that I genuinely thought, when I accepted the offer, that I could be happy here. There were red flags and I had doubts, but I was also hopeful and grateful to be hired. But I knew pretty quickly that I was not going to be happy, and I desperately want to leave. (It's not just me at this institution though- I have solidarity with faculty in other departments who are also trying to get out. I think my case is especially bad in terms of how the institution treats faculty.)

Pendaran Roberts

"So, it seems to me that you should be worried about hiring someone from Harvard at your teaching school but not that worried about hiring someone who is a good publisher."

Wanted to make a small disclaimer. It might make sense to worry about someone from e.g. Harvard being a flight risk, but these days I'm not sure if that even makes sense. I've heard from inside sources that many top schools cannot place candidates. I guess here I agree with KeepPerspective.


It's a buyer's market - if there is even a small risk that a candidate might not be happy and might try to move, then it is rational for search committees to choose another candidate who is almost equally as good. As Marcus said, there is almost never one candidate who is clearly the best for the job. Given that candidates are interchangeable, schools can worry about remote risks.


Sorry, was away from my computer for the weekend with family. Thanks for the feedback everyone!

Marcus and Amanda - I appreciate the encouragement and the advice. It's a hard line to walk. Given the state of the market, one wants to be competitive for as many types of jobs as possible, so it's frustrating when being competitive for one job potentially rules out others. Amanda, I have considered the European market (and even sent out a couple of applications), but I've got some family constraints that would make that difficult.

KeepPerspective - Thanks for your comment. I agree that the odds are against me (and everyone else, really). One of the reasons that I took my current temporary position over some others is that it involves doing some clinical ethics work in a hospital setting. Some of the other offers I received were traditional VAP positions in philosophy departments, and I passed on those in part so that I could diversify my professional experience in the event that I had to leave academia.

As an aside, clinical ethics consultation is actually really interesting. If any of you ethicists out there can see yourselves doing rounds at a hospital and consulting with doctors, nurses, patients, etc., then I'd recommend looking into it. Medicine could use more philosophers, in my opinion.



I'm not claiming that flight risk shouldn't be a worry. It obviously should. The claim I'm making is that one cannot in any responsible way infer anything meaningful about whether person P is a flight risk by examining P's publication history. We just aren't, as a community, in a position where we can say whether there is *any* meaningful correlation between these two things. For all we know, there may be a negative correlation: maybe people with 'good' (yes, Amanda, I know that's hard to define, but that's irrelevant to the point I'm making) publication histories are *more* likely to stay. Maybe they aren't. We simply do not have data to back up either side of this. So if you are a search committee member and you are inferring flight risk from information about publication history, then you are behaving irresponsibly.

It's actually worse. Define goodness of publication history (goph) however you want. Clearly goph is a good. We don't have evidence about whether goph is correlated with flight risk. So choosing to hire a philosopher with lower goph because of a *hunch* that goph and flight risk are correlated is choosing to make one's department worse than it could be for *literally* no justifiable reason. I don't think it's ridiculous to say that this is sabotaging one's department.

Marcus Arvan

Tom: okay, but I never suggested that search committees justifiably infer anything from publications *alone*. Rather, I suggested what they may do--with at least some justiability--is reach an overall judgment about risk on the basis of a holistic evaluation of a candidate: specifically, the entirety of their CV, research statement, teaching statement, etc.

I was pretty clear about this in the OP, where I mentioned that committees are interested in the "overall look" of a candidate's file. This is also why I suggested a number of things candidates can do to help ensure that they don't *look* like a potentially unhappy flight risk!


For what it's worth, I think Tom is absolutely right here.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Nate: I appreciate how frustrating it is. Indeed, I had to grapple with it myself (see my post on 'A VAP's trilemma'). The important point is to recognize that this is the reality: that something that makes one more competitive for one position may make one less competitive for others.

It is only by recognizing these realities that one can make rational choices about job-market strategies. For example, after I was post-PhD for a few years, I pretty much knew I wouldn't be competitive for R1 jobs. So, instead of wasting my time trying to publish in top-journals (which at that point only had a potential downside--of placing me out of teaching jobs), I decided to focus my attention on others things: publishing as much as possible (with little attention paid to journal rankings), improving my teaching, and improving my level of service. These choices (from experience) clearly made me more competitive for teaching jobs. This is why I think it's important to talk about this stuff--so that candidates approach the job market that is, rather than the job-market as we might wish it to be.

In any case, I think the aim of trying to make oneself competitive for as many jobs as possible is a kind of wild goose-chase. There's no way to make oneself for every kind of job, as different institutions (R1's, R2's, elite SLACs, non-elite SLACs, CC's) are looking for different things. There is no way to be competitive for them all. The trick is to be competitive for *one* of them, and to avoid falling "in between" in the dead zone between all of them. Fortunately, again, I am reasonably confident given your CV that you do have a niche--that you're a good fit for R2's and more elite SLACs, as well as potentially some less-elite SLACs--and that one of these kinds of institutions will snatch you up soon.

I am rooting for you, as you are plainly very well-accomplished in a number of areas!


I just want to say that I do think that the flight risk issue is a real issue, I also agree that its difficult to have any certainty about it. At my institution its a very really issue, so that in the interviews there are a lot of questions about why you want to move here and teach at this univerisity, and if all you can say is that you want a job then that is a red flag (though of course not justificatory evidence!). What Amanda seems to be saying is that--given the candidate pool--a school can easily dismiss of a solid candidate if they have reason to believe they are a flight risk and just move on down the (HUGE) list. Not ideal, but it is what it is.

One thing that strikes me is that many (MOST?) academic search committees not do actually pick up the phone and call references. My spouse is an administrator at my university, and she would never conceive of hiring someone (especially for a potentially lifetime appt) without calling several references. It seems like this would be a better (though not certain of course) way to get an idea of a candidates fit for the position and whether or not this is the kind of job and place that they might actually want to be. Do y'all call references Marcus? Any other search committees? I know we don't, and once I start serving on those committees I am going to lobby for that change, as much as I hate making reference calls...

Sam Duncan

I'd add a few things here in support of Marcus. 1. Now I think we often can do a decent job of figuring out flight risk, since merely as an uninterested spectator I've had a pretty good track record of guessing who at the department's I've been associated with will leave or at least try to. But let's suppose we can't. What we can still infer from a long list of publications is where someone's priorities are. If someone's priorities are in research, then they probably wouldn't be a good fit for a community college job like the one I have. Now granted maybe they could rethink those priorities, but hiring is a huge risk and hiring institutions have a huge list of candidates. So why hire someone who *might* shift his or her priorities when you an hire someone who already has the priorities you want and need? (For what it's worth I don't think publications counted against any applicants at my institution. The other guy they hired in philosophy the year they hired me had a publication in "Ethics." But I think both of us were very careful not to emphasize research on our applications.) 2. It's been said here over and over, but I think it bears repeating: Hiring institutions are not trying to hire the best philosopher (whatever that even means) they are trying to hire someone to fill certain needs they have. Which brings me to my next point. 2. Re Tom's point about GOPH being a good... Well all other things being equal it might be. But the thing is all other things are almost never equal and in many situations GOPH might have practically no connection with the needs an institution has. Think of baseball. Clearly batting average is a good, but if a team is looking for a starting pitcher then it counts for practically nothing. It would make perfect sense for a team to hire a pitcher with say a really bad batting average over one with a really good one if the former was in any way at all a better pitcher. Yes if you had two pitchers who were identical in every way and one had a .100 and the other a .290 then it would make sense to hire the latter on that basis, but in the real world that's not going to happen. And for many institutions teaching ability, likeliness to stay, likeliness to be happy with the work or even just say willingness to do the committee work no one really wants to do will count a lot more than GOPH.


"What I’m vehemently, adamantly opposed to and angry about is the idea that bullshit ilinformed intuitions about who might be happy are being made based on who has published what and that this is what’s ruling folks out from getting jobs."

I understand Tom's frustration. But think about it this way. Some departments just do not have good research environments, and hiring committees know this well. These departments usually do not have good fundings to support travels or invite speakers. And people's researches in some of these departments do not have many overlaps. I think it is reasonable to believe that some people will not be happy in such departments. As Marcus said earlier in a different post, these small departments are also the ones that cannot afford to lose a junior hire.


Tom you seem to be upset that people are using their personal experience and reasoned judgements in making decisions about flight risk. If I understand you correctly, you think no judgements should be made about flight risk without statistical data? Marcus has argued for using statistical methods in hiring, but as of now, almost no parts of the hiring process use it. It is all reasoned judgements and personal experience.


"What we can still infer from a long list of publications is where someone's priorities are."

This may be the most upsetting comment I've read on this blog, and I've followed the blog for several years. The statement could not be further from the truth. From a long list of publications, there is no way to infer whether:

a) Someone does not prioritize teaching
b) Someone cares deeply about inclusive pedagogy, taught over a dozen classes in grad school, yet was only able to secure a pair of research-only postdocs (despite 100+ applications to SLACs and VAP positions) and had nothing to do all day for three years *but* research
c) Any number of other possibilities

It's true that different people have different priorities, and that for many candidates teaching is not a priority. However, in this hypercompetitive market, very few of us have the luxury of acting upon our priorities--we take the jobs we can get, we do them as well as we can, and we end up with the CV we end up with.

Marcus Arvan

PDPDVAP: I understand why you found Sam's comment upsetting. However, although I cannot speak for Sam, I cannot help but wonder whether he might have meant it a bit differently that it appears at face-value.

One of the things I have tried to emphasize throughout this discussion is that (at least in my experience) judgments or inferences about this or that are not made in isolation. I would be very surprised if anyone *simply* looked at a long publication list and thought to themselves, "Oh, this person will probably be unhappy here and be a flight risk." All by itself, a publication list is not enough information to license that inference. But this is not my sense of how people serving on search committees tend to think or make inferences.

Rather, as I've said several times, my sense is that people make *holistic* judgments (and inferences) given a candidate's entire file, and if they are interviewed, their interview performances. For example, suppose a candidate has a really long publication list in great journals AND a ho-hum teaching statement that appears like they haven't put much thought into their teaching, AND their syllabi appear fairly minimal and unimaginative, AND they have little or no service to their university or students in their CV, AND their research statement is super well-developed, AND they demonstrate little interest or knowledge of the institution they are applying to during an interview, AND their answers to research questions are well thought-out, AND their answers to teaching questions appear not so well thought-out, AND ...

You get the picture. It is not as though people judging candidates just use one piece of information (e.g. a long publication list) and make inferences from that alone. Rather, they take *many* pieces of information and try to piece them together so that they can get some sense--the best sense they can, given the information the candidate gives them--of what the candidate's priorities are, whether the candidate might be unhappy in the job, whether the candidate might want to leave for another job with a lighter teaching load, etc.

It is in *this* holistic context, I think, where inferences about people's priorities may have some justification (viz. where a publication list might be one of *many* sources of converging evidence for an inference).

lucky to have a job

Amanda says that many departments look at "fit" more than at an abstract notion of "merit", and this is very true. That said, if two candidates were to be identical re: all other considerations (and, yes, this is never the case), but candidate A has published better or more than candidate B, I would certainly propose to hire candidate A. Granted, I work in a research university, and people may have a different take on this at a teaching school. But I would frankly be surprised if one were to prefer candidate B for flight risks.

It goes without saying that you have to make sure that candidate A will be happy at your university. This is not so difficult to assess if you pay attention at how the candidate interacts at the dinner etc.


The trouble seems to me to be that there's a mismatch between what people do, and what they say they do (and this also applies to some other discussions and miscommunications we've had here).

So: while decisions about flight risk may well tend to be 'holistic' (as we've seen with several follow-up posts in this thread), they also tend to be reported as being based on the number or kind of a candidate's publications (as we've seen with a lot of starting posts in this thread).

For my own part, I think I would tend toward the somewhat more radical position (espoused by a few here) that publication number/venue is just a bad proxy for flight risk period, but I accept that other opinions are available. A better indicator--though perhaps less desirable for other reasons--to my mind, would be the number of jobs per year in an AOS. If you hire in an AOS with 0-1 jobs a year, your candidate will have a hard time moving.

Sam Duncan

Just to be clear I think a long list of publications, especially in top flight journals, would be read by many people, me included as evidence that one's priorities are in research. I certainly wouldn't count it as anything resembling proof, and I also think it's easily falsifiable evidence and it would be falsified if someone could say give evidence of inclusive or creative pedagogy. But there is a real worry that people who are focused on research won't be happy or won't do well at teaching positions. Is it fair? Is it accurate? I dunno. But it's out there though whether we like it or not, and people will be better off if they're aware of it and deal with it to the extent they can.

Sam Duncan

I will try to leave this be after this and get back to the huge stack of end of semester grading I've been putting off doing, but I did want add just a few more things. It's certainly not my intention to imply that people aren't suited to certain jobs or that I have my job solely on some kind of merit people who haven't landed stable jobs lack. I honestly believe that luck plays the biggest role in who gets jobs at pretty much every level of academia. This isn't just a personal impression. There's a lot of research that suggests in any hyper-competitive field with many very talented people luck is going to play the decisive role in most cases. (Robert Frank's excellent "Success and Luck" does a nice job summarizing the research and weaving the threads together). And anyone who has bad luck in this market has my sympathy. I certainly don't want to punch down on adjuncts or year-to-year lecturers. I spent a long time as both myself, and I think that there's a special place in hell for the people in our profession who seem to take the glee in the plight of the unlucky.
However, to me at least there seems to be a common assumption behind the reactions people have to the thought that lots of publications, especially "elite" publications, might hurt one at teaching focused schools. Notice, that no one seems to get all that irritated by the fact that those of us without Leiterrific pedigrees have no realistic shot at most R1 programs no matter how much we publish. I also don't see much outrage at the thought that too many publications in supposedly "bad" or "unimpressive" journals (most of which have rejection rates north of 70% by the way) will be counted against one at R1s and indeed some R2s and elite SLACs, or that teaching experience as an adjunct will likely be a kiss of death at R1s and count against one at many other places. What does seem to reliably trigger white hot rage though is the idea that community colleges or SLACs might count elite publications against someone. Perhaps I'm wrong, and maybe I'm even projecting, but there seems to be this assumption that it is deeply morally wrong for such institutions to have our own criteria about what constitutes a good candidate though it's perfectly fine for "elite" institutions to impose whatever incredibly arbitrary criteria they choose. And, again I might be unfairly attributing this to people, it often seems that there's this assumption that teaching focused institutions are in some way "less" and that only envy or insecurity keeps us from hiring the people who are by rights more than deserve whatever jobs we might advertise. Now I honestly doubt there's such a thing as philosophical merit full stop, but even if there were and even it it were neatly correlated with publishing lots of papers in journals with super high rejection rates, which it isn't, colleges are under no obligation to hire in accordance with it. There are all sorts of good reasons and institution might decide that other factors are more important, and they are well within their rights to do so.


Michel, your comment is pure gold. I think it hits on what I already know Marcus will agree with me on: at the end of the day, there are many *many* pragmatic, straightforward, and better-for-everyone things that would be easy for departments to do when it comes to hiring. It'd be good to put a list of these together. One of them might be what you've highlighted: hiring in aesthetics? Your candidate is staying, simply because there will never be anywhere for them to go.


I think what would be pretty silly would be if someone from an unranked program were to get a paper accepted at Mind or similar and have to fear that publishing their research in such a highly read and prestigious venue might in fact hurt their chances at a job.

If this fear is warranted, this indicates a serious flaw in our discipline.

I don't care what arguments or reasons at an individual institutional level might exist for not hiring the person with the Mind paper.

It's an assault on our discipline and on the sharing of philosophical ideas more generally for our system to punish someone for such a success.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Pendaran: As frustrating as you, Tom and others may find this stuff--and I want to emphasize that I *really* do empathize with you all (my seven years on the market were the seven worst years of my life by a country mile)--sometimes I find these conversations a bit frustrating for very different reasons, namely, that so much time is spent discussing what search committees should do rather than what candidates should do (the one thing that candidates really have a great deal of control over!).

You and Tom want to the market to be a certain way--and I understand why. I too would love a world of Cosmic Justice, where everyone got their just desserts. And I too think it is a shame that the job-market isn't fair or just. Look, I get it: the whole deal sucks. It really does. The market is unfair and unjust. Just like so many other things in this world are. Take the music business. Is it unfair and unjust? Absolutely - some of the worst artists imaginable make millions of dollars a year, while far better musicians and songwriters toil away in obscurity or are exploited by their music label making next to nothing for their creativity and hard work. What about sports? Is it fair and just? No. I had a good friend who set the minor league record for home runs but was never able to play in the majors because his Major League team already had the best 1st baseman in the league and refused to trade my friend to another team. I could go on. There is no job-market in this world that is fair. Heck, there is almost *nothing* in the world at all that is fair.

Should we try to make it fair? Of course. I've advocated tirelessly for a totally different approach to hiring (one based primarily on quantitative measures of accomplishment). However, a central part of what I've made it my mission to do at this blog is inform early-career people how things really are--so that they can make informed, rational decisions about their own careers, as opposed to ill-informed ones. That is primarily what I am trying to do here, in this thread. Although I understand and appreciate your, Tom, and Michel's counterarguments, I also appreciate the other side--the side of people who actually have to make hires: people who have seen unhappy hires turn out to be truly awful colleagues, heard stories of other people's departments being deeply negatively impacted for years because of a new hire who jumped ship, and so on. This is the key: the job market is suboptimal *for everyone*. I don't think there's any search committee member on Earth who wants to worry about hiring a person who doesn't really want the job, or about flight risks, etc. But I also know that there are very many people who think they have very good reasons--based on ample experience--for worrying about precisely these things (particularly if they have been at a university for a few decades, and have seen a pattern of how bad hires go).

Long story short: I see both sides. I really do. I even know plenty of people who have been in hiring positions who disagree over these things (some who worry about unhappy flight risks, others who think they shouldn't, and so on). But this brings me to my primary concern: *helping job-candidates navigate the market.* This is my primary concern. And when it comes to this issue, the most relevant question is not how we would like the job-market to be, but what the job-market is. And it is precisely here that I worry--based on what I sometimes hear and read--that many early-career people (and candidates) go astray.

I've heard that in ancient Greece it was often reported that people would find philosophers stuck at the bottom of deep wells because their heads were in the clouds thinking about abstract ideas instead of paying attention to their surroundings. I have no idea whether these stories are true, or whether they were a kind of gag intended to mock the our unworldliness. But sometimes I wonder whether the story isn't something of a parable for how some people think about the job-market.

Ayn Rand is often mocked for basing her Objectivist philosophy on the astonishing realization (I kid) that A=A. Although there are so many things wrong with Rand's philosophy that I would hardly know where to begin (actually, I know exactly where to begin, but I digress!), I actually think she makes an underappreciated point about A being identical to A. Here's what I mean. So many times in this world--particularly when it comes to job-market issues--I get the impression that people pattern their behavior over the mistaken *hope* that A will somehow be identical to B. For example, when discussing the job-market, people seem to approach it as thought it is a Merit Market. Indeed, all throughout grad school, we are taught: publish in the best places; *that's* real philosophical accomplishment; and if you publish in the best places, you deserve a job; etc. Then people publish in the best places, devoting most of their time to that (when, even in a fancy postdoc, it's *possible* to devote their time to other things, like getting involved in supervising student clubs); and they wonder why they don't get hired on the basis of their publication record. The reason why, as Amanda and others have pointed out, is that the job-market *isn't* a Merit Market. It's a *job* market. And like any job market, it is a place where decisions include all kinds of other things, like whether a candidate is likely to be happy in the job--as fair or unfair as these other things may be.

This, I think, is the key. The first step to grappling with any problem rationally is realizing what it *is*, and distinguishing it from what it is not--where this includes distinguishing it from from what you might wish it to be. I would love the Job Market to be a Merit Market. But it's *not* a Merit Market. Does merit play a role? Absolutely. I generally think people at top research jobs want to hire the best researchers. And I know from experience people at teaching schools want to hire stellar teachers. But, all that being said, merit is not the only thing that plays a role. The wise candidate needs to understand and grapple with the *fact* that other things play a role too--that search committee members may, for better or worse, care about particular things for particular reasons.

Bearing this in mind, let me return to the issue of happiness and flight risk. Here is a claim about what is (not what you or I might think is right or fair, but again, just what is): there is hardly any competitive job-market on the face of the earth where the people doing the hiring don't care about whether the person will be happy or be a flight risk. Hiring people takes time and resources. Hiring the wrong person can be a disaster. Many people on the hiring side of things have seen or been through such disasters. They therefore think that *of course* they need to take things like the candidate's potential unhappiness and flight-risk in the job into account. One can make arguments to them all day that their concerns are silly or misguided, and you might even be able to convince some of them. And perhaps for that reason alone having these kinds of contentious debates may be helpful (indeed, who knows: your objections may very well change some minds!). But still, all that being said, I think that at the end of the day, the most rational thing to do as a candidate is to grapple with the facts of the market as they are, tailoring one's job-market strategy and presentation of oneself as a candidate to the reality rather than wishing it away. Maybe neither you, nor Tom, nor Michel have made the latter kind of error--but so much of what I hear suggests to me that many candidates do, basing their job-market strategies to what they think the market should be (more pubs, more offers!) rather than what it in fact is.


I am still shocked that anyone would have any doubt that top publications are a mark against you (not always, but sometimes) at school's that are not R1's. Honestly I think on occasion they even are at R1's, because people are jealous. None of this is to say it is right, but like Marcus I am always surprised by people attempting job market strategies based either on, (1) their own conception of philosophical merit, or (2) misguided advice from mentors, faculty at their PhD institution, etc. I know a number of junior philosophers who have sabotaged their chance on the market because they can't seem to accept what is so obvious to some of us. On the other hand, I get it to *some* degree. Senior faculty members are supposed to know what they are talking about, and they can give bad but well-meaning advice which confuses grad students. I guess I think grad students need far more healthy skepticism about philosophical authority figures. Also, I would like to point out that a huge portion of this debate assumes that top 5 publications really are the most honest type of philosophical merit....I find that questionable, yes, even from a research perspective. And looking at many top research schools, so do they.


Michael writes: " A better indicator--though perhaps less desirable for other reasons--to my mind, would be the number of jobs per year in an AOS. If you hire in an AOS with 0-1 jobs a year, your candidate will have a hard time moving."

So true. I am in an area with 4-5 jobs a year (ancient philosophy). There are people moving from one job to another, but very few. And they tend to be senior people.

Marcus Arvan

lucky: for what is worth, I'm inclined to think search committees are well-aware of this and probably do take it into account (knowing that in certain AOS flight risk is really not going to be an issue!).



Thanks for the long response. The problem I have is this: I have top pubs. I can't unhave them. So for me (and I know this is exclusive to me and people like me) discussions about whether people should focus on something other than getting top pubs is useless. I have them already. What *might* do something is having the discussion we're having. And the reason it might be helpful is because people (e.g. you) who serve on search committees read these threads. And, as you say, maybe they'll change their minds.

Perhaps a different tactic would be to think about how I might go about making myself, despite my top pubs, not look like a flight risk. Maybe a concrete case would be useful. Imagine I'm a philosopher of biology with an AOC in bioethics (I'm not). Suppose I've got pubs in Phil. Science, BJPS, and Mind. Let's suppose I was applying to the job at Wofford College (https://philjobs.org/job/show/11038). How do I convince the people on that particular search committee that I will stay?

The usual advice one gets here is *intensely* unhelpful. It goes something like "make them understand why you want *this* particular job." Ok, cool. How does one do *that*? I genuinely don't see even a starting point for doing such a thing.



If it were me, I'd start with my own experience as a student at such an institution, what I found valuable about it, and how I try to replicate that experience in my classrooms. (Obviously less helpful if you don't have that experience, but you can still talk about the value of small classes and close contact with professors, etc.)

I'd also try to see how I could complement the existing course offerings, and how I could contribute to the department's pluralist ambitions. I'd say something about what I'd do to involve students in my research projects, giving them some hands-on experience--bonus points if I had some thoughts about how to connect that with other events, opportunities, or partnerships in that region of SC. It might even just be some local-ish professionals who could come and give a guest lecture in one of my classes, talk about their experiences making ethical decisions in a biomedical context, etc.

I'd offer some concrete thoughts on how to draw in students from cognate programs in the sciences (they don't have biology) or their pre-professional programs, and maybe even have a look at program requirements that I could help fill with a cross-listed course or two (although that's a long-term project; if I had experience doing this elsewhere, which I do, I'd definitely mention that). I'd talk about what I could bring to the Medical Humanities Program, of course, but also to The Space in the Mungo Center. I'd think about what I could offer to their Study Abroad program, which seems like a big deal. I might even mention any experience I had coaching a relevant club sports team.

That's what I'd do if it was one of the jobs I was really targeting, and if I fit the philsci/bioethics frame, at any rate. That said, I've only had two interviews for three seasons of applications (and only one of those TT), so take it all with a hefty dose of salt!

Marcus Arvan

Tom: Thanks for continuing the conversation. I appreciate your concerns. But let me share some additional thoughts, which I hope may be helpful to you and others like you in a similar situation.

I think Michel's suggestions are excellent. A really good cover letter can go a really long way--particularly if it shows you really put the time in to learn about the institution, put some thought into how you might be able to contribute to it in some unique ways, and so on. I think you'd be really surprised at how much of a difference this can make. Too many applications come across like the person just changed a couple of words here and there, and that they basically send the same letter to each school. This is what I mean by the "look" of a file. If a CV has a ton of top-ranked publications AND it doesn't look like the person took the time to even learn about the school, the person may look like a bad fit--like they just want *a* job, and they haven't even really thought about whether they'd be happy in *this* job. Indicating that you put the time in to this stuff may lead people who read your application to think, "Hm, this person does have a lot of really good pubs. But they *really* seem to like our school." This can especially stand out given how rare it actually is (in my experience) for candidates to put that kind of time into things.

Now, I expect you may be thinking the following, "Okay, but I can't put that much time into every application. I've applied to like 90 places and that would eat up my whole life!"

This brings me to my advice, which I am going to break into three categories: GENERAL, SHORT-TERM, and LONG-TERM.

(1) GENERAL ADVICE: One thing I think candidates really need to disabuse themselves of is the idea that they *should* be great candidates for every job. Look, I don't know much about Wofford College. However, from what I do know looking at their wikipedia page, my sense is that they are probably not looking for people with publications in Mind, Nous, PPR, and so on. So, the reality is, you simply might not be the best candidate for them. As unfair as that might seem, this is (again) sort of how job-markets in general work. You can't expect to be a great candidate for every job in *any* occupation. In baseball, some teams need a pitcher. You may be the best batter on the market, but if they are flush full of good batters they don't need you. I mean, you can try--within the time you have available--to make yourself look attractive to every job. But there may indeed only be so much that you can do with some of them.

What does this mean for you as a candidate? Is this "intensely unhelpful" information to learn? I don't think so at all! It is *helpful* information to learn insofar as it can help you focus more of your attention elsewhere: to jobs that you *are* a better fit for. Indeed, what would I do as a candidate if I had a really good publication record and a pretty decent teaching record? Answer: I'd still apply to places like Wofford, but I'd spend a heck of a lot more time refining my applications for R2's and higher-ranked SLACs (elite SLACs as well as non-elite ones whose philosophy faculty have good publishing records). Indeed, I did precisely this as a candidate. Visit the department webpages of departments before you apply. They can tell you a TON about whether you are a good fit. The philosophy faculty at some SLACs *do* have pubs in Phil Studies, etc. But faculty at other SLACs do not. So, if you're a wise candidate with good pubs, the thing to do is apply to both but focus your energies more the former. This is really the best you can do--and chances are, there is a niche for you somewhere (some *kind* of job you are a good fit for). Getting such a job will still be difficult, given how competitive the market is--but this can help you know where to put your energies so that you are as competitive as possible.

SHORT-TERM ADVICE: I've already said what I think candidates like you can do in the short-term. One thing is to put more effort into cover letters (tailoring them to the school you are applying to, not in a perfunctory way but a way that shows that you've done your research and have thought creatively about how you might fit in). Another thing you can do is to make sure you have a *really* good teaching portfolio--one with a teaching statement that doesn't make you look like "just another candidate", but as someone who has thought deeply about teaching and can make a clear, persuasive, and concrete case that you do things that engage students, foster learning, etc.

As an aside, I have to say that these are both areas where so many files fall flat. There are too many cover letters that come across like the person has given little to no thought about the particular school they are applying to, and too many teaching statements that seem like the person treats teaching as an after-thought. I'm sure just about any search committee member will tell you: they read dozens to hundreds of files, most of which blend into the woodwork--and then you come across ONE file that just blows the others out of the water: with a really thoughtful cover letter, research statement you can actually make some sense of (and which makes their research actually seem interesting to non-specialists--which is critical at non-R1s), and a teaching portfolio that shows that, good golly, they REALLY put thought and effort into their teaching. It's these candidates--whose application materials are really, really--that stand out. Again, there's only so much you can do, and no matter what your file might not show that you are a good fit for every job. But I will say this: the *quality* of your file (how well your cover letters, research statements, and teaching portfolios *present* you matter a lot!).

LONG-TERM ADVICE: This advice really depends on how long you are willing to stay on the market--but, in some ways, I think it may be among the most important. One thing I learned as a candidate is that it can be vitally important to *adapt* what you do to changing conditions. So, for example, when you say "I can't unhave [my publications]", this isn't exactly true...at least not in the longer run. Here's why.

When I graduated from Arizona, I tended to get interviews at certain types of places: elite SLACs and R1's. The reason? Arizona's a really good grad program and (or so I was told) I had a dissertation idea on a *really* hot topic (that was just beginning to get hot when I graduated). At that point, it made sense for me to try to publish in top journals--and I did publish a couple of "reply" pieces in a pretty good (top 20 specialist) journal. Alas, that wasn't *good enough*. So, my interviews at R1's and elite SLACs totally dried up (for a couple years in a row, I got zero interviews). Now, at this point, I could have continued as I was: I could have kept trying to publish in top journals, in the hopes of making myself competitive for elite schools. However, given the high-rejection rates of top-journals and the fact that elite programs tend to hire people just out of grad school, it occurred to me that that was a bad bet. So what did I do? I changed my job-market strategy to adapt to the reality in front of me.

First, I started publishing a lot of stuff (work I still generally believed in!) in lower-ranked journals (despite the fact that all of my research mentors earlier in my career claimed publishing in lower ranked journals is "career suicide"). Second, I put a great deal of effort into innovating my teaching--changing from a traditional "chalk and talk" kind of teacher into someone who uses very different strategies (see https://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2017/05/sharing-teaching-pedagogy.html ). Third, I elected to get far more involved in service outside of the classroom. I started the Cocoon, coached student debate teams, got involved in and elected to the board of a local non-profit--you know, the kinds of stuff that "teaching schools" might look favorably on). Finally, I put a ton of effort into revamping my application materials (following the advice I relayed in the Cocoon's Job-Market Boot Camp series).

In sum, although it took several years, I transformed myself as a candidate--from someone who "looked like a researcher" to someone who looked far more like a teacher who also does research. And I did this for a reason. From paying attention to my surroundings--the market itself--I learned that R1's and elite SLACs tend to hire people directly out of grad school, whereas teaching schools tend to prefer people with more experience. I learned, in other words, that when it came to some jobs--R1's and elite SLACs--my ship had sailed: they were out of reach. It would have been utterly foolhardy of me to fight against the current and try to keep getting jobs at those kinds of schools by publishing in top journals. And it would have been *doubly* foolhardy of me to keep trying to publish in top-journals, because that would have priced me out of non-elite teaching jobs. So, whereas many candidates appear to keep trying to go down that road--in the hope that they will be able to publish themselves into a job--I did the *opposite.* I knew that getting a job at a places like Wofford (or whatever) weren't going to happen by me publishing in Mind, or Nous, or whatever--so I stopped even trying to do that! And what do you know? It worked. As a candidate, I started getting lots of interview requests from teaching schools, and ultimately a job. It was still a risk of course, and I could have still ended up jobless. But the fact that my interviews (and flyouts) at teaching schools steadily rose year after year indicated that the choice was a good one.

So these are the things I would suggest. I hope the GENERAL and SHORT-TERM advice are helpful to you now. And I hope the LONG-TERM advice is helpful should you decide to stay on the market a while. This is, at any rate, the best I've got.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Subscribe to the Cocoon

Job-market reporting thread

Current Job-Market Discussion Thread

Philosophers in Industry Directory


Subscribe to the Cocoon