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04/03/2019

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Punching above my weight

Speaking from my own experience, The Cocoon has been invaluable in guiding me on how to present myself on the market. My CV, while solid, won't knock you out, we (as early-career philosophers) have extremely limited control over where and how much we publish, and there aren't many jobs advertised in my area this year. But I do have some control over the quality of my other market materials. My program wasn't terrible at job-market prep, but it wasn't great either (mostly because most faculty there are from a top-20 program, and many of whom got their job because they DID have a CV that would knock you out!) But I've absorbed, cherry-picked, and experimented with all the free advice the Cocoon has to offer. Now, this in itself doesn't make me a better philosopher or teacher, but it sure as hell makes it less improbable that I will actually someday be in a position where I can do what I actually love about philosophy while getting a living wage, health insurance, and basic professional respect (bonus!) I've gotten many more interviews than I actually expected this time out, some at exceedingly fancy places. I credit that to the strength of those parts of my application that are under my direct control: my cover letters, teaching statement(s)/portfolio, research statement, and writing samples. I know experiences may vary, but for my part: Thanks Marcus and all Cocoon contributors!

Amanda

I just had a conversation with one of my PhD students. He wants to get a teaching job (and coming from our program, that is really the only realistic option.) He hasn't published. And for some strange reason, he thought that in order to get a teaching job you have to publish in top 10 journals. I am not sure if he believed me when I told him this wasn't true, that if anything the opposite was true. I didn't ask him if one of my colleagues had told him the misleading information, but it wouldn't surprise me. Many people at R1s have no idea what the market is like for people not from top places. But because only those at *top* R1s are going to have a realistic chance at R1s, that means a ton of the advice given to students at mid and lower ranked programs is horrible!

Anyway, all that is to say I agree with Marcus. While this site might raise the bar in some ways, it does a lot of good because it gives everyone a chance to at least start from the same information base. And the truth is, not everyone will read the cocoon. For whatever reason there is a lot of students who just don't seek this information out. But it is good that motivated and not privileged people have access when they go looking.

Dr. Job Seeker

This site has been invaluable to me. I highly doubt that it does much to "raise the bar" in general. The way I see it is like this. The bar has already been raised. The job market is simply ridiculous. Some grad students are lucky enough to have mentors and be in departments that are especially helpful and insightful when it comes to the nuances of the job market. Others are not so lucky. This site is about providing equal access to that kind of information. And that is a very good thing.

I also disagree with NK's comment that "if you give it [good job market advice] 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)." I think this overplays the "suffering" of working harder on our applications and fails to appreciate how much work we have already put into our careers up to this point. I spent 9 years in graduate school (I did a terminal MA before my PhD). It would be absurd for me to prefer not have the Cocoon available (which provides me with excellent information) simply because it also provides others with the same information. I have already worked incredibly hard and I want the best information I can get about how to market myself to hiring committees. The extra work and "suffering" is not pleasant, but it is relatively small compared to how hard I have worked up to this point. (I should also note that the doping analogy is misleading in another way in that many people already disapprove of doping because it is cheating or it is unhealthy, so we risk conflating our disapproval of widespread doping for those reasons with disapproval of widespread doping because it helps everyone and--in the end--helps no one.)

Derek Bowman

To be clear, Marcus, I'm almost entirely in agreement with what you say here. In addition to your points about leveling the playing field, I also think the kind of community you provide is important for helping grad students and job seekers feel supported. Getting that sense of support and community is important to humanizing the job seeking process even when it doesn't result in job market success.

I do think that giving general advice on how to 'stand out' is potentially self-defeating, insofar as 'standing out' a zero-sum game. And I doubt it's something that can genuinely be equalized so that job selection will be "more a matter of their actual qualities and accomplishments," since I think the volume of applications will predictably lead to a significant element of arbitrariness in any case.

I also share NK's dissatisfaction, but it's dissatisfaction with the underlying state of affairs in which philosophers are, of necessity, competing to stand out. My point in response to Helen's post was that convincing students to value less prestigious positions with high teaching loads isn't a promising way to value "ordinary" lives/careers, since one must present oneself as extraordinary in order to stand out for such jobs.

Trevor Hedberg

If nothing else, I think this blog has helped a lot of grad students who simply don't have realistic expectations about the job market, the dissertation, professional life after grad school, etc., to get a better handle about what they will need to do to complete their grad programs and have a non-negligible chance on the job market. That, at least, is how I perceive my own contributions. I write primarily for people who need accurate information about these matters so they can decide whether the pursuit of a long-term career in philosophy is right for them.

I also basically agree with Dr. Job Seeker above that the standards for the job market had already been elevated dramatically long before the Cocoon existed. I was being advised in 2009 that if I went to grad school, I should expect to need publications to secure a job afterward. The Cocoon came around in 2012. The other factor is that lots of the advice offered is easy to understand but hard to execute. For instance, lots of grad students want to publish articles and are trying, but acceptance nonetheless eludes them.

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