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« How I (Almost) Became a Philosopher of Cognitive Science | Main | Reminder: it only takes one »

03/30/2019

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Derek Bowman

"I have a high teaching load, but I am satisfied. It would be important to convey to our graduate students that this can, indeed, be satisfying, and that it is valuable."

The problem is that even positions like these now require one to be - or at least to present oneself as - exceptional. How many of the many job market threads here at the Cocoon are about how to *stand out* rather than simply how to be a good teacher or a good philosopher?

NK

To add to Derek's comment: It's long bothered me that so much of the discussion here is about how to stand out. To an extent, I get it. But telling everyone how to stand out arguably just intensifies the competition (and reinforces the background assumption of meritocracy) that's already making so many of us so miserable. I'm actually inclined to think that giving job-seekers advice about how to get a job is a lot like encouraging athletes to use performance-enhancing drugs (setting aside the fact that the latter are against the rules): if you give the advice to a few, and they take it, it will likely help them; but if you give it to everyone, and most of them take it, the result is that everyone is working harder (suffering, or taking the risk of suffering, the side-effects of the drugs) for basically the same chances of success. So the whole exercise seems pointless (irrational, even).

Helen De Cruz

Yes I have often thought about this, also with respect to the mission of the Cocoon, and the extent to which I (we) as mentors etc contribute to an overall culture of meaningless chasing of excellence. I don't have a straight out answer to address your concerns.
But here is an attempt anyway. The way I see my mission on The Cocoon and other forums is to help level the playing field. This will hopefully make candidates with less support stronger, but overall of course the zero-sum game remains. But I think we have two gains that I hope the Cocoon can provide, both through our mentoring programme and the advice we provide (1) we provide free information - I'm not saying this info is always 100% helpful but at least it is helpful to some people, as I've heard. The alternative is for people to rely on informal mentors (and this is tied to gender, prestige, class and other factors) or to pay a job market consultant (which can be expensive for e.g., someone who gets by on a graduate stipend or adjuncting.
(2) A lot of the info and mentoring we provide helps you to make it clearer what candidate you are. While there is indeed a discourse of excellence and expectation of it, so often when I see early drafts of cover letters people say things like "I've written papers for highly ranked journals such as..." - understandable, but we excise such phrases and instead focus on helping a candidate tell more about their research programme and what their teaching approach is. This is helpful both for job candidates and for search committees, and very often this is a narrative framed in terms of distinctiveness and not in terms of excellence per se.
I do not know if it dispels your worries, and certainly, I do worry at times about helping to prep candidates for the market and to provide advice which plays into narratives I do not endorse.

NK

Thanks, Helen! I think (2) is pretty good as a justification for doing the kinds of things the Cocoon has been doing, so I'm glad you mentioned it.

I'm more skeptical of (1), though. Most simply: it seems to me that (1) provides a justification only if it's actually successful in leveling the playing field, and I'm not persuaded that it will be.

By the way: you refer here to "an overall culture of meaningless chasing of excellence." But I suspect that's now what you meant. Chasing excellence is good! What's objectionable (in my view, anyway) is chasing prestige. As you put it in your original post, the problem is the desire, or the felt need, to be exceptional.

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