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04/01/2019

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Michel

Congratulations, Shay!

FWIW this has been my experience as well. In four years of applications for TT and NTT jobs, I've had two first-round interviews for TT positions, and two second-round interviews for NTT positions. One year I had zero interviews.

It's the part of the job market that I find most demoralizing, actually. Because the lesson seems to be that there's nothing at all I can do to improve my file; I'm still going to be stuck at one interview a year. And I can't predict where that'll be, so I still have to churn out 80-120 applications every time.

I had thought this year would be better, because my file is leaps and bounds stronger than it was. But it wasn't. It's not over yet (I did get my second interview of the year a few days ago), but it's close enough that I can read the writing on the wall.

Even worse, though, is knowing that my friends in the subfield are doing just as poorly, or worse. It also means that the future of the subfield is pretty grim.

pendaran

I enjoy reading these individual stories, but it won't surprise readers of this blog that I'm hesitant to think we can learn much from these anecdotes. That's not to say we shouldn't share our stories. It's emotionally and psychologically a good thing to do for many of us, especially those of us who have struggled. But we shouldn't over interpret or over generalize from individual cases.

William Peden

A great post!

Now let me try to disagree with some parts of it, without disputing most of the content. I'm sorry if this is very long and rambly, but this post stimulated a lot of thoughts and it's a topic that I've talked to students about quite a bit in recent years:

"Would a person of colour, a woman, someone who is not tenured, etc., be able to say such a thing? It takes both privilege and courage to call oneself a no-name in the profession."

I'm not sure why these privileges MUST be required to make such a statement.

If a highly successful white male thinks things like "I'm inferior; I've failed; my work is worthless" etc., then they can easily be a lot more insecure than Alan White and this insecurity can manifest itself in an unwillingness to admit to averageness. In the same way, someone who has achieved a small fraction of what Alan White has done and lacks at least some of the privileges you have done (or notable courage, for that matter) can happily admit to being a "no-name" scholar. I'm in that position: I'm not tenured and it's far from improbable that I never will be. I literally have no feelings of anxiety in saying that, and I know people who lack other privileges you mention (being white, being a man etc.) who feel the same way.

I also think that, while understandable, insecurities about not being exceptional are often self-defeating, insofar as they're aimed at social approval and fitting in. In my experience and from what I've read, people don't generally like others who try to seem perfect or (even worse!) largely achieve perfection. Often, it's when I've let my vulnerabilities and flaws show that I've come closest to people in the philosophy profession, and outwith it too. Ditto for the people I've become closest to - both exceptional achievers and the rest of us.

I'm sorry if this comes across as difficult or argumentative. (Or, to quote Weird Al Yankovic's song "Amish Paradise", I don't want to be implying to anyone that that "Think you're really righteous/think you're pure at heart/Well I know I'm a million times more humble as thou art." The tendency to put on our best faces to people in the profession can create pragmatic self-defeats for modest speech acts!) And I certainly don't disagree that it can be difficult to be so candid, especially for those who have a lot more experience of the nasty sides of human nature tha me.

As for satisficing: I think that it's a better way to "make ruling about your life" than a standard of "exceptionalness", but why not go further?

We can distinguish (1) wanting to achieve X and (2) judging one's life/character/soul relative to achieving X. The latter, I think, is the source of a lot of procrastination, depression, and anxiety, which ironically tends to make it harder to achieve X or even partly achieve it. The former, when removed from self-judgement, is motivating, encouraging, and relaxing: if a rational agent wants X, then ceteris paribus they'll work hard to get X, encourage themselves to attain X, and feel fulfilled when they recognise themselves getting closer to X.

I mean, if there's a really good reason to judge our lives at a general level, as opposed to focusing on particular desires, duties, experiences etc., then I'm interested to hear it. As far as I can tell, it primarily causes unnecessary suffering and holds all of us back, at least sometimes, but it actually doesn't provide any reliable benefits.

(As an aside, after years of reading, I take this to be the principal insight in CBT; it was especially emphasised by the hyper-influential psychotherapist Albert Ellis, in characteristically lurid terms that I don't think that I should repeat here.)

And once we firmly distinguish (1) and (2), striving for exceptionalism (especially relative to our own past achievements) no longer brings many of the problems that you rightly raise. Desiring to do good works, even very strongly, is fundamentally different in character and consequence from insisting that one MUST do good works.

So I agree to a large extent, but I think that we can go further in the same direction: towards accepting ourselves and our lives not just when we are average in our professional lives, but even when we are below average, or even almost total failures. (It's hard to imagine someone being a TOTAL failure at philosophy, at least for me, but I don't see why someone who fits that description shoud reject their lives, efforts, ad being either.) Why not really take non-judgementalism, at the existential level, to the max?

Marcus Arvan

Apologies to William for taking so long to get his comment up! I have been away at a conference abroad, and your comment got trapped in Typepad's spam filter.

Another job hunter

"I'm still going to be stuck at one interview a year. And I can't predict where that'll be, so I still have to churn out 80-120 applications every time."

This strikes me as an odd statement. I assume that you have some rough ranking of those 80-120 in terms of which are more likely, or are better fits for you. Are the four or so interviews you've had really randomly dispersed across this ranking, or do they cluster within the top 30 or so?

Whenever I've been on the job market, I haven't been able to find more than 15-30 jobs in a year which are realistic fits for me (and I don't work in a niche field). I (still) don't understand how people come up with lists of 100+ jobs to apply to.

Joshua Mugg

This was my experience for the 5 years I was on the market. In that time, I had (I think) three phone/skype interviews for TT jobs (1 my first year, 2 my last year). I have had exactly two on-campus interviews (first for a Visiting Lecturer position, 3 years later one for a TT position), both of which I got.

I feel similarly to Michael above: just getting silence most years I was on the market was really hard, especially the season following a really productive year.

Michel

Another job hunter: insufficient data to draw reliable conclusions. The interviews are spread out along many dimensions, and 3/4 were a total surprise. The distribution is probably not random, but I'm not going to be able to discern the pattern with just four data points. Any inference I draw is going to be largely based on guesswork, and almost certainly unreliable.

And that's part of what's discouraging about having so few. I can't use them as any kind of feedback on my job market profile.

As for finding 100+ jobs to apply to... well, it's not so hard when you're applying all over the world, to community colleges as well as universities, to humanities-wide jobs as well philosophy jobs, and don't rule yourself out of the open jobs. Princeton alone had 6 jobs this year (not all restricted to philosophy, mind you). I didn't hold my breath for any of them, but it didn't make sense to rule them out. I even applied for a few jobs in disciplines cognate to my subfield, although of course those were a stretch. I didn't hit 100 this year, but I did make it to 80.

Another's other

Michel, I think you are missing Another JH's point. You probably were wasting your time with Princeton. Has your career to date given you any indication they would hire? Look at who gets the positions there.
But more important, I think what Another is saying is: group the various jobs you applied to into Research places, states schools, religious schools, community colleges, for example. Ask yourself if the bites you have had come from one or two of these groups. If the answer is yes, then focus on applying to those and save your self a lot of time.

Another job hunter

Michel and Another's other: Right, to both of you. I'm sympathetic to the thought that because of hiring committee idiosyncrasies you never know what might hit and so you need to stretch yourself. But on the other hand, it's hard not to imagine that those hitting 80+ jobs aren't stretching too much. (If you're applying all around the world, that changes what's a realistic number, of course.) For example, if you're applying to *both* community college jobs *and* open/open searches at Princeton, that seems like a good sign you're way to wide. There's no way any philosopher has a CV which makes them a realistic candidate to both those.

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