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I agree that, unfortunately, there is not much one can do in the letter. Years ago we had a candidate who was a Harvard PhD and had done BA and MA in Hawaii and was now teaching there. There was, unsurprisingly, some worry that this person would want to settle in Texas. This was discussed with her quite a bit during her campus visit. She was hired and now has tenure. The point is that I don't think you can assure the committee until the campus visit. I realize that doesn't help the OP, but I think that's likely the reality with most jobs...

Anonymous Search Committee Member

I agree that you should address in your cover letter if you have some personal connection to the area or special reason for wanting to teach at that school. But if you don't have a connection, you won't be able to do much to convince search committee members that you are not a flight risk. At my institution, we have to hire who is best qualified for the job; and flight risk considerations just can't factor in. So they don't, and that's good and bad (good for candidates who are not passed over because they are "too good," and bad when people do flee and the institution has to run more time-consuming, expensive searches).

I think faculty can be really good at sniffing out who will end up being a flight risk, often better than candidates themselves. So I'd try to just not worry about this, and write thoughtful cover letters that demonstrate knowledge of the institution/student demographics/how you will fit the needs of the ad. When I'm evaluating files, that's what I look for. I might have the thought that candidate X is *never going to stay,* but that doesn't affect the scores I give files and my rooting for them to get interviews.

Good luck!


"Flight risk" sounds like a criminal trying to flee court date, not freshly minted PhDs or professors trying to get a job. It seems like another way of pandering and subjecting ourselves to every possible whim of the hiring committees, which already have much more discretionary power than they fairly should. I mean, by God, we are not running for president or a place in heaven here, but somehow everything is allowed on the part of hiring committees, without any accountability.


I'm with "Huh." If you really think someone is a flight risk, you should deny their motion for bail.


"I think faculty can be really good at sniffing out who will end up being a flight risk, often better than candidates themselves."

This is the kind of utterly ungrounded, ludicrous view that I've encountered many search committee members having that makes me so deeply angry. Come on. What on earth could possibly leave you in a position where you could justifiably believe this?

Almost certainly all you can actually back up is something like "I know what features I, as a search committee member, and based on the random anecdotes that come to mind in my unsystematic perusal of my weird personal history, think are often associated with flight risks. And I am much better placed to have this knowledge than the candidate, so much better placed to determine whether candidates have these features." And that's probably true. But it's *very* far from the claim you're trying to make, which is that you're somehow better placed to decide whether the candidate wants the job and will stay than the candidate herself actually is. The latter claim has got to be among the more ridiculous I've seen on here.


I'm going to say again some stuff in the vicinity of stuff I've said on here before, because it bears repeating.

The self-reported attitudes of committee members on this blog about their ability to judge flight risk reveal an unbelievable lack of self-reflection and humility. What you have is a situation where occasionally big scary things happen (people leave and departments lose lines) but also very often nothing happens (people give hired and don't leave) and sometimes a less-scary-but-equally-bad thing happens (people fail to get tenure and the department loses a line). Altogether your goal is to avoid losing a line. Awesome.

But here's the deal: in this type of situation, you are almost certain to overestimate the predictive value of the things you happen to associate with the big scary thing. This is just how our brains work, and knowing that's how they work and what they do doesn't stop them from working that way. So you, dear committee member, whoever you are, have a brain that works this way. You almost certainly think the things that you associate with flight risk (the scary thing) are more predictive of actual flight risk then they actually are.

And what's worse is that hiring while aiming to avoid the kinds of things that folks self-report as being associated in their minds with flight risks (e.g good publication) might plausibly (does it? I don't know -- and neither do you!) put you at greater risk of running into the less-scary-but-equally-bad-thing (hiring someone who doesn't get tenure). How do these two factors balance out? I don't know -- and again, neither do you. For all we know, it turns out that avoiding (e.g.) fancy publications overall (combining both flight risk and non-tenure risk) makes it more likely that you lose the line eventually.

So not only do you not have good justification for thinking the random things you associate with flight risk are actually associated with flight risk, you have no justification at all for thinking the random things you associate with flight risk are at all associated with avoiding the loss of a line eventually. For all you know, avoiding these things puts you in an overall *worse* position.

So what you should do is recognize you're in a shitty epistemic situation, suck it up, and actively try to not include flight risk in your judgment of candidates. Yeah, it's a bummer to be in a shitty epistemic position. And it feels like you should be able to do better. But you can't, and this is the best option, so deal with it.

Anonymous Search Committee Member

Well, notice that I emphasized that flight risk considerations DO NOT factor into my (or anyone else's) judgment about who to interview/hire here. I mean, I get the anger about the job market generally and all of these irritating components, but it won't help you to focus on what irritates you; it will help you to focus on the positive advice I offered and that others are offering with respect to how to position yourself as a candidate for a job. (Note, too, that search committee members will be less likely to continue offering their advice on this blog if candidates respond to their suggestions with rudeness.)

Faculty know what it's like to teach, research, and do service at the institutions they are at. They know who has left in the past and why. They know why they themselves might be trying to leave. That's relevant knowledge in assessing flight risks, however imperfect. I'm someone who thought I was DEFINITELY NOT a flight risk and would stay at my first TT job forever; but I fled once I learned the institution (which you just can't do at a campus visit). And sure, my experience is not everyone's. But it's relevant.


As someone who's neither a search committee member nor a candidate, I don't see how it's so hard to believe that some search members may be able to predict flight better than candidates do, and how the epistemic state of the search member is so "shitty". If they do (like Anonymous Search Committee Member says) occasionally offer people whom they thought was never going to stay, then they *would* get data on whether they in fact stayed. Sometimes they might hear that a candidate they thought was flight risk happily stayed at another similar university and amend their confidence. I don't see how these are worse epistemic situations than our usual social interactions. Admission committees routinely try to predict if students have the potential to finish a phd and be happy about it based on even less information than in the case of job searchers and that's seen as unproblematic (by many, at least).

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