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12/04/2019

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a philosopher

I don't even list grades on my CV, and didn't even when I still listed courses taken. I don't think I've even seen a CV with grades (or GPA, or whatever) listed. I suppose a hiring committee could get this information from your graduate transcript, but relatively few ask for those. So grades strike me as a total non-issue on the job market.

The other thing that struck me about this question was that it seems to presuppose that one will be/should be working on getting publications while also still taking courses (if not, the dilemma of focusing on publications vs grades doesn't arise). I'm sure that many people do this, but it strikes me as a bad idea. Why?

(1) If you're still taking courses, you're very new to the field. It seems unlikely that you're ready to be writing publishable work. I thought the whole point of coursework and the associated term papers was to learn enough philosophy, and how to write, so that you were, *when finished*, in position to write potentially publishable stuff.

(2) The stuff you're apt to write as someone still in coursework is likely to be pretty crappy. At least, that's my own judgment of my own stuff from coursework. I wouldn't want most of it in print anyway.

(3) By sending out stuff that's not really suitable for publication, you're just clogging up the already overburdened referee system. I recently I referred a paper that clearly read to me like a seminar term paper (I would have given it a B+): the author centred the paper around a few idiosyncratic sources, didn't use jargon quite competently, and obviously lacked awareness of large swaths of literature. I've heard friends tell similar stories of refereeing what look to be seminar papers. Although it's possible that such papers might still have worthwhile ideas in them, the odds that they are close enough to publishable form to even draw an R&R are slim.

I'm sure there are some exceptions. But as a general rule, it doesn't strike me as a good idea for new graduate students still in coursework to be aiming at publishing papers.

Some people will probably react to this post with "of course", and others will explain why I'm wrong, so ... take it for what it's worth.

anon

I think that the dilemma doesn't arise, but for different reasons than the first commenter above: I think it's totally fine for you to try to publish a paper during your coursework years.

But rather than thinking of these goals as in tension with each other, you should just try to write a bunch of good term papers, and during that 2 year process submit the best of them for publication. Then you get good grades and (maybe) a publication or two.

Given the flexibility around R&R deadlines I really doubt the goal of publishing would ever genuinely conflict with the goal of writing term papers.

Anon

I don't think grades really matter (even though you should aim at having good ones).
If you want to land a job in a research university, then publications is all that matters. On the other hand, as Marcus said, if you want to land a teaching job then the strategy is different.
I want to say something about publications in the field I work, which is philosophy of science (broadly conceived). In the other fields might be different.
If you want to have a chance at having a philosophy of science job in a research university, you should have at least one publication in one of the leading journals (Phil Sc, BJPS, Synthese, Studies Part A/B/C, etc) before graduating. It's better if you have two. I think this is the bare minimum just to compete - it is a necessary condition just to be considered. Unless you are form NYU or Pittsburgh, it's very unlikely you'll get a job at a research university without one or two publications in top journals before you graduate.

Michel

a.) Grades don't matter for most jobs, but they *can* matter for interdisciplinary fellowships and postdocs, doctoral fellowships, etc., where they're evaluated as one factor among others. They can also matter internally; so if you start getting Bs, for example, you may be put on probation or worse.

b.) I'm largely with 'a philosopher' here. While you're taking courses, you should focus on the course, and think about how to project what you're learning forward into *future* publications and projects.

c.) As many as possible, in as high-quality venues as possible. I think it's probably fair to say that the absolute minimum threshold these days is one.

d.) Publications matter most, for sure. Conferences matter too, but for more indirect reasons: for building your network (including, by the way, people at the same career stage as you) and subfield recognition, for the opportunities that sometimes come your way as a result of that, for collaborations, for external references, and for polishing your public speaking and getting the hang of thinking on your feet. But conferencing takes up a lot of time, and it's easy to get carried away with it (take it from me, I've done *a lot* of conferences, and only recently slowed down).

Amanda

Grades don't (directly) matter at all for getting a job. Not even like a little bit. Also, it looks very weird and immature to put a GPA on a CV. If someone is not from the US, I forgive it, because norms are different. But I would count that as a small point against someone from the US. Why? Because it shows they don't understand the norms of the discipline and what kind of things are valued. To me it looks as it they are trying to say, "Look, my 3.83 GPA is impressive." But it isn't impressive. It is irrelevant.

The only sense grades matter is the connection they bear to your letters of recommendation. If you get a B form your dissertation adviser something is probably off. They might matter bit for fellowships, but in my experience those are usually "You need a 3.5 to apply" kind of thing. And if someone isn't getting that in grad school then something is going wrong.

I see a lot of very smart people not make it in professional philosophy (these days) because they seem unable to understand cultural norms and what type of things universities value. This matters a lot both at research and teaching schools. A research school wants to know that you understand the research world, that you know what kinds of things the research school finds impressive, etc. There was a faculty member at my grad institution that had been hired very young, when he was this "next big thing" kind of up and coming scholar. He turned out to be almost unrecognizable in the field. Not because he din't publish. He published a lot, in good places. But because the kind of work he did, for reasons I won't go into, was work nobody paid attention to. Sure, some philosophers might care that nonetheless his work was "objectively" good. Most professors at R1 want someone to advance the reputations of the program.

Second, sure publications matter more than conferences. But I think a lot of people mess up by adopting a"just publish as much in the best possible journals as I can strategy." Every year, people with "objectively" great publication records get passed over at research schools for someone with less objective greatness but more creativity, more of an impressive research plan, and just something that makes them stand out as a scholar. I'd rather have a scholar that has 2 articles in top 20 journals that are talked about all the time than a scholar with 3 in top 5 journals that are ignored. And there are actually lots of papers in top 5 journals that are ignored. If you are to look at people at research universities who bring a reputation to the institution, those that cause people to go up in Leiter rankings, well many of those people have objectively less impressive records (understand as amount in top journals) than persons who are at R1 universities but no one has ever heard about. Research universities are about prestige and reputation. And the reason why letters matter so much in spite of the letter criticism is , I think, deep down people on search committees know that if your are best friends with some huge name figure you have good odds of being in the special circle that makes it much easier to make a name for yourself. That is also why prestige matters. If you hang out in prestigious circles then it is more likely you can gain a reputation in those fields. That and the mere fact of being able to say, "us, public research university, hired a recent grad from fancy ivy league school" improves the reputation of the program. Or, at least, people believe it does.

I have been on hiring committees at R1's for both TT jobs and post docs. However, another thing to realize is that there is a lot of variance in what departments and particular people on search committees want. There are people on search committees that *do not* operate in the way I described. My point is only about what I think on average are the trends.

Overseas TT

"I'd rather have a scholar that has 2 articles in top 20 journals that are talked about all the time than a scholar with 3 in top 5 journals that are ignored. And there are actually lots of papers in top 5 journals that are ignored."

Amanda, while I totally agree that mere ranking-adjusted pub counting is a bad hiring strategy, I have a clarificatory question. Is your claim merely extensional, i.e. the scholars who impress a lot of other people (i.e. are "talked about") are usually also the scholars who impress you? In that case I'll just register that my philosophical taste is probably different from yours, since many scholars who are talked about a lot don't impress me; and conversely, I consider many philosophers who work in relative obscurity highly underrated and much more deserving of attention. I'd personally rather hire someone whose publications are ignored but shouldn't be ignored over someone whose publications are (in my eyes) hyped out of proportion to their philosophical merit.

Of course if your point is purely instrumental (i.e. it's useful for aspiring top departments to hire talked-about people, independently of whether the hype is justified), I understand it, though even here I'm somewhat skeptical. At least in the case of junior scholars, I doubt that hiring the most talked-about ones significantly boosts a department in the rankings. Rather, the converse strikes me as more plausible: if a highly ranked department hires a junior scholar, that likely causes that junior scholar to be widely talked about. In fact, the two things are probably mutually reinforcing: a junior scholar is somewhat talked-about, gets hired into a fancy department, and becomes much more widely talked about. For what it's worth, I'm confident that most of the people who consistently publish in top journals but are not widely talked about would be much more widely talked about had they been hired into top departments. Most of us aren't irreplacable.

Anyway, this is just me. I suppose it's true by definition that any randomly chosen philosopher is most likely to be impressed by those other philosophers who are the most widely talked about, and I have nothing very insightful or original to say about differences in philosophical taste.

Amanda

Overseas: I was not making a claim about my personal philosophical taste. I actually agree with you 100% that there are lots of great scholars that are not talked about at all. I was not trying to make a claim about objective value, but a claim about how things work at US research universities.

When I said "I would rather" I probably should have said, "Many research universities would rather." In some sense the "I" is appropriate, because given the option between two people whose work I find comparable, I will choose the one most likely to advance my university's reputation. And although I agree with you there are a ton of underrated philosophers, I usually don't find them applying to my university. I often find the top 10 candidates quality of work (by my own personal objective measure) to be comparable. If I were to wind up in a situation where there was one scholar whose work I objectively loved, and another who would better advance my university's reputation.....it would be tough. But I would probably fight for the former, I think, assuming both the former and the latter did have something that could be called a "strong" publishing record. It is pretty rare for me to find a philosopher whose work I love, so if it happened I think I would fight for it pretty hard, in the end.

I agree with a lot of your last point. The odds that any junior scholar would change rankings immediately are low. But if you are hiring a junior scholar, you need to make the best with what you got. You aren't hiring a senior scholar. And that is that. Since many philosophers stay at their place for decades, it matters if someone could be something in 10 years. Also, I think junior scholars have somewhat higher odds of mattering with speciality rankings, especially in niche areas.

I agree that whoever gets hired by a research university will increase their odds of being talked about, in comparison to not having a research job. However, I don't think two people hired at research universities will automatically gain the same reputation. Someone who publishes stuff that people ignore is likely to continue to do so, even if their work gets a bit more attention at research school. And then a junior scholar who was already talked about and gets hired by a research school, especially a top one, could very quickly become a serious figure n the field. Yes, it's rare that it happens quickly but it does happen.

anonymousTT

My 2 cents...

Brief background: I've been out of grad school several years, looked at job files for job candidates at my university, and have graded grad seminar papers.

As many of the comments above have said, grades will never be on your CV or mentioned elsewhere in your job dossier other than your transcript. You won't say what your GPA is either. No one will care. What they care about will largely depend, as Marcus' post notes, on the type of job you're applying to.

As a grad student, this lead me to think that grad grades were meaningless, but now looking back I think this view of grades *can* be dangerous. Here's why. Most grad programs use a very narrow range of grades (B through A, with pluses and minuses for each). The primary function of these grades is to signal to you personally how you are doing. In most programs, if you are consistently getting B or B+ grades you are usually doing something wrong (you might be making the minimum GPA to stay in the program but that is not the goal in grad school... the goal is to exceed expectations as much as possible).

In response to the question "Should one just focus more on publication than grades?"

As others have noted, the goal of writing papers in grad school that get good grades need not conflict with publishing them, even while doing coursework. Is this difficult? Yes. Does it happen often? No. But the aim is to publish, whether one goes to a Leiterrific program or not. So if you are getting B or B+ grades on papers and not publishing, take those signs seriously. These signs will be reflected in reference letters.

CC Prof

For what it is worth, my (community college) department recently hired three new faculty members. We absolutely looked at the applicants’ breadth of coursework (both undergraduate and graduate) and their success/grades in those classes. Grades weren’t a huge part of our evaluation, but they certainly were a factor in narrowing our field. We need faculty who have broad philosophical knowledge, and a reasonable way of evaluating that is looking at the courses they’ve taken and how well they did in them.

We also valued professional participation (e.g. conference attendance, professional development, pedagogical training, etc.) more than publications.

P.S. Since there are job seekers reading this blog, I can’t help but add... please consider community colleges when you are on the market. They are great places to work. I was surprised by how relatively few applicants we had (especially given the fact that our department pays much better than many 4-year universities). It’s a very different approach to the field (you will only be teaching philosophical basics every semester), but you get to introduce students (usually from underserved communities) to philosophy. And they pay you to do it!!!! :)

Amanda

CC Prof - I'm curious what part of the country you are in? I know lots of people from my PhD program and the surrounding area that have been trying desperately to get jobs at CC's for years. I've heard CC's in the area get 100 to 200 applicants for TT positions.

I think one reason, though, people might not apply is CC's rarely post on phil jobs and lots of grad students only look at phil jobs.

And interesting about grades. I'm curious if anyone else working at a CC would say the same thing? So that means, though, that you ask for transcripts at the initial application process?

CC Prof

I'm in the Central Valley of California. We only had about 50 applicants, and our salary schedules are a lot better than most of the Cal State campuses (and the cost of living is extremely reasonable).

We have absolutely ZERO control over our application requirements. The HR department makes CRAZY demands (e.g. letters of recommendation that can ONLY be submitted by the applicant him/her/their -self instead of blindly, full transcripts, etc.). It was really embarrassing having to explain our situation to applicants. This may well have kept our applicant pool low.

Our ad was posted on PhilJobs, as well.

anon

"e.g. letters of recommendation that can ONLY be submitted by the applicant him/her/their -self instead of blindly"

I think you're right: I'd do this for a job I really, really wanted, but I think that navigating this with references could be awkward enough that it would make me skip the application in most cases.

Amanda

What???? Applications can only be submitted by the applicant? Yeah, that probably explains the low numbers to a meaningful extent. That is just a horrible idea. Of course, if you have an interfolio account it would be easy to get the letters without going through the recommenders, but still, many people wouldn't think of this or feel comfortable doing it.

Gabriella

Question: what about institutions with nonstandard grading systems? My institution has 3 letters and then plusses or minuses, which do not officially (or unofficially, far as I can tell) correspond to letter grades. Is there a standard conversion formula or do the grades become less important if they don't line up with the standard A-F system.

P K

Question: foreign institutions with "weird" transcripts (by U.S. standards). I recently applied for a job where they requested transcripts. I dutifully included one, but I think it's useless for the committee: for one, the transcript doesn't accurately show what I've done (what we do is we go to our supervisors with a list of stuff we've done for our studies and they add study credits to their discretion) - some courses are marked, but most of the credits are under "miscellaneous graduate studies" or a similar heading. Secondly, everything's graded pass/fail for doctoral students. Third, most content is in a foreign language, save for the names of some specific coursework done in English; while our institution makes diplomas available in English, they do not extend that to transcripts, since apparently the registrar's office finds the transcripts as useful as I do.
1) Will having an "odd" transcript like this count against an applicant, or will it simply be discarded?
2) Next time one is requested, should I include some sort of explanation, or (as I would prefer, since explanations may come across as excuses) omit transcript and instead just say it's a foreign institution with a very different system so the transcript would be useless?

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