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04/15/2019

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ash

Try to meet non-philosophers in your cohort at your orientation events. Be friendly and grab numbers or at least remember names and departments so you can look them up later in case you want to shoot someone an email to grab lunch. Some of those relationships end up being quite useful in different ways over the years, and the easiest place to first form those relationships is right there at those events.

Try to join or create a writing group. It doesn't even need to be with other philosophers (nice as that would be), if that's impracticable; you can just ask other people from your cohort if they'd like to create a group with you; you'll partly serve as accountability partners. And then make the group serious about expecting research from each other regularly.

Amanda

One thing I would add is ask for information about your school's tenure process in writing. If for some reason you can't get it in writing then ask around. Once you know that, *then* you can come up with your game plan.

While I think Marcus's is right that at many teaching schools not publishing is what interferes with tenure, I know the research requirements for tenure vary a lot. At the last teaching school I worked at presentations counted toward tenure. There are other teaching schools that put very little priority on research, and some that have almost as much emphasis on research as teaching, even though you have a much higher load. So learn what your institution demands. For instance, I am at a research school that has an unusual care for teaching, so while we have a low load, we are expected to get good reviews and will face penalties if we don't.

Chris

If you're like me, the biggest issue in to a tenure track job was becoming more efficient. In graduate school I had a lot of unstructured time, since I was only teaching one course a term.
Keeping in mind what everyone above has already said about the kind of institution you're at (and hence how to balance teaching, research and admin):
1. Remember how long it takes for articles to get published (slow referee process; low probability of acceptance). The "window" for getting stuff out before tenure comes earlier than you think. If you come up for tenure after 6 years, you really want to have enough work out and circulating by year 4, if not sooner.
2. In the first few years, you're usually doing a lot of new teaching preps. Try to minimize this if you're at a University with high research expectations. That is, teach the same courses again and again if you can, at least until you're confident your research and publication trajectory is going well.
3. Mine your dissertation and areas you already know in the fist couple of years. Resist the temptation to think "I've got a lot of time now, and I'm sick of my dissertation topic, so I'm going to move on to something else". Yes, you eventually need to show that you've gone beyond your dissertation into new research areas, but don't neglect taking advantage of the literature you already know. There's usually a big learning curve to move into a new area of philosophy. Think about working on topics where you can capitalize on what you already know.
4. Schedule, schedule, schedule!

I also like Ash's advice about meeting non-philosophers at your institution - esp. folks that started at the same time as you.

Anon TT

This is all great advice, and I'll add some based on my experience going from ABD to a TT job:

1. Think about where you want to be in 5 and 10 years. Do you see yourself in this TT job forever, or do you think you will go on the market again for your dream job?
2. Figure out how to balance your personal/career goals and the demands of your institution. These might conflict.

Sketchburger

Sketchy followup question alert!

How much can I just ignore stuff as a new TT faculty member?

Example: At every place I've taught (there've been quite a few) that had an athletics program, I've received huge numbers of emails from the athletics department asking me to evaluate how their athletes are doing in my classes. I have systematically, without fail and without an ounce of guilt deleted these emails every single time. I get the impression (though I'm not totally sure, because I delete these emails without even reading them normally) that I get more and more of them during the semester that are angrier and angrier. But nothing has ever come of my silence -- the process just begins again in the next term. As a TT faculty member, can I still get away with this?

Another example: universities have unbelievably huge numbers of rules, e.g. Thou shalt keepeth 83 years worth of exams in thine office at all times, in case someone comes back from the grave wanting to know their final exam score; or all classes must haveth a cumulative final exam; or the word `work' must not be uttered nor even thought of in the days leading up to the examination period; etc.

I've always (a) made zero effort to learn these rules, (b) done my own thing, then (c) periodically gotten yelled at by some petty administrator or other who seems to have no job other than to enforce the rules for the sake of enforcing them, (d) pretended to be contrite, then (e) returned to (a). Can I still get away with this?

Feel free to address these examples or other examples. Also feel free to call me out for being horrible, (meh, maybe I am) privileged, (these are 100% examples of me taking advantage of privilege), or not seeing what's important in the rules (I don't, that's true). But mostly I'm interested in whether I need to sizably alter my behavior, or if mild to nonexistent modifications will work.

Paul

Lots of good advice here. A couple of other things that have been helpful to me:
1. Find (or form) a writing group. If you have any publishing demands, the accountability is really important. I have found it incredibly valuable.
2. Again, if you have publishing demands, I would read Robert Boice's quickstarters. He suggests spending a lot less time prepping for class, allowing for more free flow in class, and dedicating at least one hour per day to writing. He has a number of good tips, based in research of faculty.
2. Utilize resources like your institutions Academy for Teaching and Learning (or whatever it is called).
4. Make sure you get a very clear understanding of the requirements for tenure up front. Find a colleague who recently got tenure and ask if you can see their notebook. You don't want to get to year 4 or 5 and realize that there is something that you haven't been doing or haven't been doing right!

Anon TT

Sketchburger made me laugh but definitely needs to alter behaviour and begin academic adulting.

You cannot ignore stuff from admin in a TT position, in my experience (and shouldn't be doing so anyway). Why are you persistently ignoring emails about athletes' performance? It takes 5 seconds to check their grade and reply (and is important for them and their coaches/teams). You don't want those angry staff members to call your chair and be like, "new person ignores us." Bad feedback is bad, wherever it comes from.

Also, you will have an office in which you can store students' work - and it's less effort to shove it in a filing cabinet with a sticky note that says "Fall 2019" than it is to walk to a paper shredder and shred in a different room. Just do the thing they say to do.

Also, follow your senior colleagues' lead but err on the side of adhering to strict policies. And get used to adhering to strict policies that have no (or bad) justification. I guess this might depend on the institution, but my institution is *painfully* strict about everything and so are my colleagues. So, life is hard.

Marcus Arvan

Anon TT is right, Sketchburger. Follow the strict policies. Remember, your tenure file has to go through a department committee, college committee, Dean, and Provost. If you’re a person who gets a bad rep for things—and especially if you have one or two really big screwups that come back to bite you and make trouble for your chair, dean, or Provost—then that may be very bad for you indeed. Part of what becoming a tenure-track faculty member involves is learning how to do things the right way. You can be fairly irresponsible as a grad student and even as a postdoc I guess, but once you’re in a TT position you need to get your act together or it can come back and haunt you

No friend of Burgers

Sketchburger,
You said: "I've always (a) made zero effort to learn these rules, (b) done my own thing, then (c) periodically gotten yelled at by some petty administrator or other who seems to have no job other than to enforce the rules for the sake of enforcing them ... Can I still get away with this?"
This is unbelievable. If someone else had to take the time to yell at you, then you can bet your behavior was a bigger deal somewhere else, higher up. The person yelling at you had probably already had to deal with someone else giving them shit.
You are exactly the sort NO ONE wants to hire. You make more work for your colleagues. This is what we are trying to figure out in interviews at regional colleges.
I had a part-time colleague like this once. The rest of the full time staff spent lots of time cleaning up after him, fixing problems that he did not even know he left behind him, like Mr. Magoo. I mean, we spent time in the summer while he was off having fun, fixing problems. We spent time during the x-mas holidays explaining to administrators why one of ours can't even follow the basic rules that were sent out in an e-mail numerous times.

anonymous

As someone who's also taught at a few places as well, I wonder if the one person who's being overly harsh on Sketchburger has ever had to manage multiple (sometimes overlapping) contingent positions. All those rules may be a minor pain if you have a secure permanent position, but if you're at a new school every year (or every semester(!), or multiple ones each year), it's a different level. Learning and following all the sorts of rules Sketchburger lists anew each year is a non-trivial drain when you're also applying for a new position and (oh yeah) worrying about how you'll pay rent come May. Also, when the university isn't giving you secure employment, your sense of duty is pretty low. In short, SB's post isn't "unbelievable".

I say this as a contingent faculty member who *does* follow every one of those rules and takes care to learn them. Also, I assume Marcus and Anon TT are giving good advice, so I'm in no way trying to defend Sketchburger's actions as what *should* be done. Still, I'm not ready to crucify SB over what seems to me to be a not unrational response to the demands of contingent academic employment. (Anon TT is exaggerating a bit about it only taking 5 seconds to answer those athletic emails, as I'm sure they and everyone else knows; these are nontrivial demands on time.)

Amanda

I am not sure how I would answer Sketchburger's questions, since I am not very familiar with any of the things he is talking about. I have never recieved an email about student athletes (and I have had several in my class), nor am I familiar with strange rules about not using the word "work" before finals, huh?

I would say this in general about admin rules, you can "get away" with some stuff, maybe even a lot of stuff, but most likely all of it will count against you to some degree in relation to the tenure process, as you will be pissing people off who might vote on your tenure case. At a research school if you are a start researcher, it would probably take a lot for them not to tenure you because of stuff like that, but it could happen I suppose. And if you are not a start but more of "average," stuff like that could really matter. At a teaching school I suspect following these rules is much more important, regardless of how well you teach.

In the end, though, maybe think about why you or anyone ultimately benefits from behaving like a pain in the ass? We have so much freedom as academics, the least we could do is have basic manners. From a psychological standpoint (if sketchburger's story is true...) I am amazed how some people react to being yelled at. I would be so embarrassed I probably wouldn't show my face at the university for a month, and I would be damn sure to never do it again. But idk, I have an unusual high concern for the approval of my colleagues...

Sketchburger

Hmm... I'm hoping that yelling at me was cathartic. It's cool, I understand why you're upset; sounds like your colleague was a problem. FWIW, I have in fact been hired. Yikes. And I got hired largely on the strength of my research, which some regional schools do care about. I've had time to do said research over the years since my PhD in spite of having heavy (always more than 3-3) teaching loads because I've ignored the sorts of things I've mentioned ignoring.

Anyways, I have three questions to follow up:

(1) do you really believe that all the rules are there for a reason? I find it hard to believe you believe this. I mean, come on. Universities have bizarrely arcane systems of really weird rules. And you *have* to have encountered those folks who defend this or that bit of meaningless arcanum for no other reason than to defend it.

(I once taught at a place where we were (a) required to give out midterm grades for all students and (b) we weren't supposed to give a student a failing midterm grade without using an `early warning system' that warned them a week ahead of the midterms that they might be getting a failing midterm grade. (a) is meh, but (b) is stupid. I learned about this rule like I learn about most university rules: by failing to accomplish it and getting yelled at (not literally; but via the sternly-worded-email)... then I continued to fail to do it (and get yelled at) every semester for the remaining three years I worked there. My yearly reviews from my department chair were glowing; it seemed whoever did the yelling never bothered to talk to my chair. Also when I left, the Dean wrote me a letter of recommendation. I guess they never spoke to him either.)

(2) Have you tried breaking some of the rules yourselves? I say this honestly: it's been my experience that the most strident defenders of rule-following have literally no idea what consequences there are for not following them. It seems to me that, if you want to make an informed decision about whether the rules are worth following, you need some idea about what happens if you don't.

(3) Surely even if you try to follow all the rules, you fail some of the time. There are just too damn many of them. Soooo a slightly different question: is it ok to learn the rules by waiting around for someone to tell you which ones you've broken, then slowly playing catchup? Cuz that's probably what's gonna happen anyways, so I feel like it makes sense to just aim for it.

Anon

I doubt that avoiding learning the rules has saved you that much time. At my institution there's a faculty handbook that details this sort of stuff (e.g., there needs to be a small assignment handed back before the course withdrawal deadline, which is on day X). Reading the relevant sections of the handbook took me ... about half an hour?

Sketchitarian

Sketchburger,
Obvious point: institutions of higher education are complex and often inefficient entities. As such, there are a few useless rules whose violation entails no consequences whatsoever for anyone. There are many more rules whose violation entails no ill consequences... for you, but mild consequences for others. There are even some rules whose violation entails no ill consequences for you, but very bad consequences for others.

As someone with some admin experience, you see each of these types of rule (and more!) Most green faculty members are absolutely MISERABLE at telling which is which. Since they are usually not used to conceiving of themselves as one small moving part in a larger, more complex, inefficient collective consisting of scholarly, business, and political pursuits, they are highly ignorant about many consequences their actions have. And this isn't surprising! That's not their training, and because of the aforementioned organizational complexity and inefficiency of institutions of higher education, their actions DO usually have consequences for SOMEONE whether they know it or not. In this way, not following "the rules" can really be like throwing trash into your neighbor's yard and convincing yourself that it's not there anymore-- out of sight, out of mind!

It seems that in the midst of this uncertainty, they shouldn't trust their judgment about which rules are worth complying with and which are not, since there ARE often consequences... maybe not large ones, and maybe not for them, but significant enough that once understood, a non-sociopath laboring under uncertainty would rationally choose to follow the damn rule. This goes even more for the fact that i) 90% of the time it literally takes 2 minutes to act in compliance with the rule, and ii) not following the rule often has bad consequences for some student or lower-level administrator who works harder than most faculty do.

Example, concerning athlete notices. Athletes need to maintain a certain GPA to be NCAA eligible. If a first generation college student athlete from an underprivileged background who doesn't know the norms and practices germane to university life is just blissfully ignorant that he is failing your class, that is something his advisor and the athletic department needs to know in order to guide him through the unfamiliar labyrinth of writing centers/tutor offices/disability services, etc. Otherwise he fails your class, of course, but more importantly (again, for him, not for you), he loses his NCAA eligibility. Now, I wouldn't expect most faculty members to appreciate this, but that is a big effing deal for the student I've described. This is not an uncommon occurrence. Anyone who has some admin experience can probably point to other examples.

Now. If THOSE are the stakes (and they are, in some cases), and you don't know when those stakes are in play or not, and the directive is asking you to do very little, it would behoove you to just get the damn grade report in.

Rinse and repeat for most of the things that you mention (ok, the exam holding thing is pretty dumb.)

And finally: in large, inefficient systems producing goods, you sometimes get free riders. You seem to be a free rider. Which is fine, but it's probably prudent for you not to let many other people in on the secret.


another postdoc

Less sketch but in the same arena: almost everywhere it is clear that some of the rules are on the books but nobody cares about them. You can't tell which of the rules on the books are like that by looking at the books, so you should ask your colleagues. Following all the rules on the books is rarely necessary, and even when you have to do something to fulfill a given requirement, you may not need to do everything it officially demands. I think SB's strategy of just ignoring all of it until sufficiently strong penalties come through is probably a mistake, but you can set yourself up to minimize rule-mongering with a little collegiality.

I'm stating this coming into a new TT job myself, but this has been the case everywhere I've taught and worked, through grad school and VAPs and postdocs.

ash

I'm sure it depends on the rules, and where (who) they're coming from, and for that matter the school, but I'm inclined to agree with Sketchburger. I think lots of people ignore these kinds of rules and requests and I've certainly never heard of any consequences, including simply being disliked by admin staff. (I've seen admin staff dislike junior people, but only for rudeness or condescension; I suspect that failing to comply with rules and requests while being "nice" to admin staff is interpreted as "absentminded professor-ness" rather than arrogance.) Possibly someone somewhere is always annoyed, but I haven't even seen any evidence that that's true. (I'm at an R1 though; I can imagine that e.g. failing to report the midterm grades of students at SLACs would be much more frowned upon.)

Note that the rules are such a pain to follow that those of us who follow them are highly motivated to believe that those ignoring the rules will eventually punished! But again I've seen absolutely no evidence that this is true.

Still I wouldn't advise a new TT hire to go ahead and ignore the rules--it's too risky!

Amanda

What I find most interesting about this is I have taught at 4 major universities and I am not familiar with any of these rules people are talking about. I guess I never broke them? I am not a person to break rules unless there is a good reason to do so, as I hate people yelling at me and I just want them to leave me alone. But I guess if that doesn't bother you sketch, and you are willing to risk pissing off colleagues (perhaps you think it is a small risk, perhaps it is, I have no idea....) then that is your choice, and you really didn't need to ask the question.

I find it hard to believe that not answering a few emails is what explains your research success. But congrats on the new job. For the love of God I really hope you at least answer emails from non-admin, actual colleagues. I can't stand it when people deliberately ignore non- bureaucratic emails.

Michel

Amanda: FWIW, I've been at several universities which restrict the kinds of assignments you can require in the last few weeks before the exam period, and which control the maximum weight those assignments can have. These are major universities, by the way, not weird, idiosyncratic ones. Many of them also control what you can assign in the first few weeks before the add/drop deadline, and that can interfere with mid-term grade reporting requirements if you're not careful, as sketchburger mentioned.

Amanda

MIchel, interesting, perhaps I was just unaware of these rules? When and where did you hear about them? I suspect if I have been unaware, then lots of other people at my university are unaware as well, because I've never heard any body talk about them nor the students complain.

Michel

Amanda,

These were Canadian institutions, so maybe that accounts for the difference. Shrug.

In any case, when I was on faculty, I found out about these rules by reading admin emails, or via the course calendar when I was looking up holidays and the like. As a student, I found out about them via the course calendar, or the student handbook, etc.

Amanda

Interesting, thanks Michel.

rule-follower

A lot of this thread seems to have been taken up with conversation about whether one should hew closely to certain rules of an institution.

Can we re-open the more general question about general advice for your first TT position?

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