Our books

Become a Fan

« Mehta's teaching (and research) resources | Main | Norms for conference submissions? »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

letter writer


I have a question about the ethics of recommendation letter writing. Some time ago a former student approached me and asked whether I would consider writing a letter of recommendation for his masters application. At the time I told him that I was willing to write a letter, but that I would expect for the student to work with me through the application process. By this I mean, I wanted to see drafts of the student's writing sample and statement of interest. This was in part to improve the student's application by providing feedback, and in part to give myself more exposure to the student's writing which would, in turn, improve my letter.

Since then, the student's revisions have been consistently very poor and hastily thrown together, and I am starting to wonder whether I can, in good conscience, write a strong recommendation. It's too late in the process for me to expect the student to seek out an alternative letter writer. My question, then, is whether anybody has advice on how I should conduct myself: should I be as honest as possible, to the point of (presumably) damaging the student's prospects, or should I perhaps restrict the focus of my letter to the student's course work that they wrote for me over a year ago (which is somewhat better than what they've since shown me)?

I should add that this would be my first time writing a letter of recommendation for a student.

Peter Perkins


As it appears that my job search this year will be pretty bleak, I wanted to ask about those who have applied for non-faculty jobs on campus with a PhD. I am interested in working in the university setting even if I am not in front of a philosophy classroom. Does anyone have experience, for example, working in a writing or tutoring center? How about work in instructional design or pedagogy for faculty? Early jobs in administration?


Anonymous I Guess

Some questions about views on the norms/ethics of applying to conferences:

1. Is it objectionable to apply to conferences which overlap, such that if I'm accepted by both conferences, I'll have to turn one of them down?

2. If it's not objectionable to apply to overlapping conferences, would it be objectionable not to immediately withdraw an application from one of the conferences if I get into the other conference, even if I would prefer to go to the conference I haven't heard from yet and thus prefer to wait until I hear back? I assume that this depends in part on how long it'll be until I hear from the second conference.

first time at the APA

a very silly question. I am heading to the APA for the first time right now. I am from europe. what is the dress code for men? business? business casual? wool European suit+tie? (which would be normal in a southern Europe conference; am I overduing it if I wear it at the APA?)
thanks for any tips.

Danny Weltman

@first time at the APA: You will find men dressed in everything from shorts and a T-shirt to suits. You'll be one of the best dressed if you're in a suit and tie but I doubt anyone would hold that against you.


First time ... wear comfortable, even jeans, a clean shirt, and a sports jacket - no tie. The worse one can say is "he must be from Europe".


To potential search committee members:

What does a good dossier for a History of Philosophy AOS Job ad look like?

What specific kinds of things are you looking for?

As a whole, it just seems a bit vague to me.


Dear Boat:

I"m at an R1, but we're looking for
(1) Strong training in the relevant area of history: knowledge of the relevant language(s), courses and supervision from experts in the relevant area of history;
(2) Strong publication record - if you're about to finish or just finished your PhD you should have (at least) a paper or two in a leading specialist history journal or a strong generalist journal. This didn't use to be standard, but there are so many excellent people applying it would be tough to make a case for someone with no pubs, even if just finishing their PhD.
(3) An original research program: do your papers and research plan look like they're going to break new ground? Or are they mostly of the form "I disagree on minor point P with leading interpreter X"

(4) Evidence of some good teaching in history: mostly, no "red flags" that suggest any serious problems. Obviously teaching schools will put more emphasis on this.

Now: people will disagree about the best way to have an original research program in history. Some do it by discussing figures or works that are relatively neglected in the current secondary literature; some have excellent archival skills; others have a fresh, novel interpretation of a major figure (often by discussing influences that haven't been previously addressed). There are pros and cons to each. If you're working on a neglected figure, it is easier to say something new, but harder to convince people it is significant or interesting philosophically (or historically).

There are other things individual faculty look for, but they vary a lot from person to person. Some faculty want historians who look also look especially strong in some secondary area of history; others want historians are also strong in some area of contemporary philosophy. Some prefer historians who talk more about context and are more closely engaged with (non-philosophy) historians; others want historians who have stronger skills in textual analysis.

Not very helpful, I know. But this is my sense, at any rate.

Reviewer n & n+1

Peer review a manuscript I've reviewed before?

I know this kind of thing has been discussed before, but I can't find that thread. Here's the issue:

I was asked by a tippy-top journal about a year ago to review a paper on a topic that is squarely in my wheelhouse. I'm one of a pretty small number of people extremely well suited (research-area wise, at least) to review the paper. Because it's a tippy-top journal with an extremely low accept rate, I spent a LOT of time on the review. I try to be very conscientious about reviews generally, but this was especially careful. My review was about 10pp. Note: I'm tenured at a research institution. I returned the review promptly.

There were some very big mistakes--it was a good idea, but had some very serious problems. I offered a lot of comments about how to avoid the problems, some key pieces to cite, and suggested that with those improvements it was a publishable piece (if not at that tippiest toppiest journal). THe journal shared the EIC decision and the other reviewer's comments. The other reviewer's concerns overlapped with mine.

Now I have received a request to review the paper again from another (excellent, if not quite as rarefied) journal. The paper was attached in the request, and it has not changed. Like, none of the very important problems I pointed out have been addressed at all. None of the other reviewer's excellent comments were addressed. My guess is that the paper went straight back out to at least one (possibly two) other excellent journals without addressing the comments (on which I, and at least one other scholar--maybe one of you!--spent a great deal of time), was rejected again, and is now coming back to me.

So, I'm a bit irked by that. This person is clogging up the review process. I know that lots of advice around here is to turn around articles quickly, not spend too much time meeting reviewers' idiosynchratic criticisms, etc. But this strikes me as a case of serious free-loading, and it makes me reluctant to review papers (or to review them conscientiously).

I guess this post is mostly a rant--sorry about that. But I do need advice. How do I respond?

a. I could simply decline to review with no reason given. No doubt I'm biased in that I thought my own comments were good.

b. I could decline but warn the EIC that this appears to be a person just shotgunning their paper out there, and asking others to review is a burden that won't result in a modified paper.

c. I could neither accept nor decline and share my prior review with the EIC.

d. else?


Just tell the Editor that will not review the paper because you reviewed the paper for another journal, and it has not changed, despite the many comments you provided.


What’s mind boggling is that the author would not take advantage of the free detailed feedback they received. That’s invaluable.

William Peden

Hello all,

Please can you say, given a forced choice of one of the following referees, which would you opt for given a 3 year teaching-focused job?

(1) Your internal examiner, for whom you did plenty of tutoring/lecturing.

(2) Your external examiner.

I can see good arguments for either, so it would really help me to get others' opinions.


n & n+1, I understand your frustration. But I've been on the other side of a similar situation, so here's my own take on what went down in my case:

(1) I got rejected from Journal X, with a lot of comments and the assertion that even if I revised the paper, it would be publishable but not in as elite a place as Journal X.

(2) I read the comments and made the judgment call that they weren't necessary revisions.

(3) I submitted the paper to equally prestigious Journal Y.

(4) I received an R&R from Journal Y, with very, very different comments. (i.e., attending to the previous comments would have done nothing to help me with the objections I received from Journal Y.)

(5) I made those revisions and published the paper.

Obviously, what matters is how truly necessary the comments are - maybe you're right, and the author really should have revised their paper. But this is something that epistemic peers disagree about quite a lot.

As for what you should do in your case: if you're now willing to give this author an R&R, maybe you can work things out with them in the back and forth where you get to see the revision letter, i.e., the author's reasoning concerning your comments.


If I have a situation like that I do not accept or decline, but I write the editor and say, "I have already reviewed this paper for another journal." And then I add one comment about what I thought about the paper. If I thought it was a bad paper and it hadn't changed, I would say, "My review was not favorable."

I kind of think it's fair to give the paper to a new reviewer, given all the disagreements in philosophy among equally smart and equally qualified persons. I also wouldn't hold it too much against the author for not changing anything. Maybe they were told by others they trust that the paper is fine as it is, maybe they are coming up for tenure and didn't have time to make the changes and decided to hedge their bets. I just don't think it's the referees job to judge the decision not to make changes. It is the referees job to judge the paper. So if the editor wanted it to be reviewed by the same person, they could turn in the same report because the paper was, in fact, the same


Recycling text from PhD thesis to journal articles?

What are the ethical norms surrounding recycling text from PhD theses into journal articles? I've heard many say that it is a good idea to write your thesis in such a way that you can convert it to publications, but at the same time, isn't self-plagiarism an offense? Or is the deciding factor whether or not you're at the sort of an institution that publishes dissertations (e.g., in an online repository)? Even if recycling text from a PhD thesis is considered acceptable, can journals reject a paper on grounds that it's not novel because it's too similar to the PhD thesis?

Full disclosure, in my case I'm working on a dissertation by publication. However there's material in my introduction that I would be eager to reuse. I'm at an institution that publishes all dissertations online.

First Publication

Hi! I wanted to ask for any advice on how to design a personal academic website. I will soon have my first publication out and thought it would be a good idea to have a web page for people to find out who I am. However, I am not sure what makes for a 'good' academic webpage. For example, should one have one's photograph featured prominently on the front page, as some philosophers do? Is the 'Papers' page simply a list of all publications, or is it helpful to e.g. include abstracts and context, to group papers together in subjects, etc.? Is it good to include personal details about e.g. hobbies, or does this detract from the main goal? I am not aware of any discussions on this topic, and would appreciate any advice people have, or indeed examples of 'good' academic webpages.

New Author

I have a question about the possibility for making changes to a manuscript after submission (assuming a positive decision from the journal).

I have recently submitted my first paper to a journal. Obviously, I am quite inexperienced with the review and publication process. Very soon after submission I realized that I have a few small technical errors in my text and also that I can make my argument much clearer by restructuring and rephrasing a few paragraphs. Please note, my argument would remain the same, I just though of how to present in a clearer and more accessible way.

Assuming I get an acceptance, would I still be allowed to do these (mostly stylistic) changes to my article before publication? Also, in case I get a R&R, would I be allowed do such correction even if they are not part of the comments?

Thank you.


If you work in a department that is doing on-campus interviews and you're asked whether your class can be taken over for two days so that candidates can do their teaching demonstrations, do you have any grounds to refuse?

Or, prudentially, should you just be a good sport and acquiesce?


anon: yes, you should accept. Nothing good could come from refusing and there is definitely potential for bad. Why cause trouble over something like this? Besides, that is two days of no prep work. They could be trying to be nice.


In response to new author: yes, you will have a chance to make changes.

Just curious

This is a question for faculty in departments with a graduate program. I often receive inquiries from prospective graduate students. These may come from students who have a good shot of getting into the program, but more often, I fear that these students either do not have a shot at getting in, or they don't even apply.

I get about 5-6 of these a year. They can be time-consuming to respond to, and I feel it is not really my professional duty to spend hours of my time informing prospective applicants about our program, especially since a lot of information is available on the department website. Moreover, I suspect that many of these inquiries are meant to get the students an 'in': they are under the illusion that if they interact with some faculty member over email, they will have a better shot at admission. At least in our department, this is not the case. Since a student is often simply trying to interact, thorough responses to their inquiries often lead to even more questions.

What are possible approaches to such inquiries? I feel I should have some ready response to them. Prioritizing these emails means taking away from other pressing matters of business and obligations to people who have (say) actually enrolled in our graduate program. But at the same time, I don't want to be rude. Suggestions?


So I have been shocked at the number of people who apparently agree to write a letter of recommendation for a student who they have very little confidence in, or even none at all. I have seen "recommendation" letters that do not say a single positive thing about the person they are supposedly recommending. A letter might focus on describing the class the professor taught (that the student was enrolled-in) describing the content of a paper the student wrote while saying nothing good about the paper, or sometimes straightforwardly expressing doubts about the student's talent, commitment, or attitude. I've seen many letters that are only a few lines long.

Of course, it is possible that these professors told the student that they would write this kind of letter. But I doubt that holds in most cases. So I am curious: what do people think are the ethics of this kind of thing? I would assume most think that it is wrong to agree to write such a letter, but maybe I am off base? Does it matter whether it is a letter for grad school or for a job? Do some think that chairing a committee comes with the obligation to write *some* letter if the student passes? Do writers have an obligation to tell students if the letter is going to be not so strong? And what, if any, is the minimum standard of confidence in a student a writer must have to ethically agree to write a letter? Is it wrong for a program to accept and graduate a student, say at an expensive MA program, but then refuse to write a letter?

I'd love to hear thoughts on this. One part of early career philosophy is that first time you are asked to write a letter of recommendation, and then the increasing frequency with which you get those requests.

Lastly, what are the ethics as far as *reading* these letters are concerned. Marcus, you said, you don't focus much on letters. Would a really bad letter turn you off a candidate you otherwise liked? I wills ay that at R1's, and i've been involved in searches at 3 different institutions, letters are taken extremely seriously. Professors do distinguish between strong/stronger, sounding "restrained" etc. And with grad school applications they are maybe even more important. So what should a search committee member do when a candidate has, say, 1 really strong letter, 1 decent letter, and 1 bad letter?


I would sincerely appreciate any advice on skype interviews for SLAC's.

I have two coming up.
I have a general sense of how to prepare but any tips on specific questions to prepare for would be much appreciated and any other general advice


Could you start a thread addressing the following:

what do search committees really want to hear when it comes to questions about diversity without it sounding like pandering?

considering offers

I am curious about experiences/advice on using new offers to renegotiate existing positions. So, you already have a full time permanent position at a University but get an offer from a different University that you want to use as a bargaining chip (at least potentially).

I am generally curious about the process here, but I am particularly interested in something that is likely a bit idiosyncratic:
If you currently have a Non-Tenure Track (but permanent) position (something like an "Assistant Teaching Professor") and get offered a TT position at a different University. Is there any path to getting the NTT job switched over to a TT position (perhaps not immediately, but with some sort of guarantee or promise)?

I obviously understand one response is "just take the TT position" but let's assume there are some good reasons to stick at the current University, although preferably with a TT position.


10 days after skype interview; radio silence; bad idea to ask for an update?

Mind you I also know someone else who interviewed and has also heard nothing.


Hi, I am a PhD student in Philosophy of Science and as all PhD students I am now a little bit worried about my future academic career. Could you please explain me step by step what's next after PhD? And could you tell me what is absolute necessary to have on the CV to become academic? Finally, in case I will not be able to become academic, what kind of other jobs I could apply for? Thank you for having read this post.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Subscribe to the Cocoon

Job-market reporting thread

Current Job-Market Discussion Thread

Philosophers in Industry Directory


Subscribe to the Cocoon