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09/30/2020

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Associate Professor

My main frustration with the philosophy profession is that graduate programs have not reduced their admission numbers in keeping with the decline in tenure track positions over the years. This seems to me like a collective action problem where no one program wants to unilaterally decrease in size and prestige, yet it would benefit everyone if this happened.

Imagine a profession where there is a pretty smooth path from graduate school admission to a stable and rewarding career in college teaching. This would cause a lot of stress, rivalry, and perverse incentives in philosophy to evaporate and lead to a more humane quality of life.

Anonymous

I can’t help but wonder if there is room for the discipline to be more welcoming to people who are religious and/or conservative...

“ Surprisingly, the report particularly notes a decline in philosophy at (non-Catholic) religious institutions, both at the undergraduate and graduate level. Whereas around 16% of all public institutions offer no philosophy degree, this is true of 27% of non-Catholic religious institutions (but only 11% of Catholic colleges and universities). We don’t know the root of this decline of philosophy in religious institutions. It might be due to the especially atheistic culture of philosophy and its writings, or due to such institutions having comparatively stronger religious studies or theology programs competing for majors, or due to the relatively left-wing politics of many academic philosophers.”

Current PhD student

I think a better alternative might be to orient graduate programs toward non-academic career outcomes and to admit students who state that they are interested in alternative outcomes. If you start students on the non-academic track from day one, they can spend 5 or 6 years gearing up to an alternative field from the beginning, and learn any skills they need along the way.

data

Anonymous
Where is the quoted passage from? It does not appear to be from the report. In fact, I saw nothing in the report to suggest a DECLINE in philosophy at religious institutions. What I saw - that is, the data - is that there are fewer philosophy degree programs at non-Catholic religious colleges, than public institutions, and fewer at these colleges than at Catholic institutions. That is does not surprise me. There is a long tradition of philosophy at Catholic schools - even at St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto all students are (or were) required to take two philosophy courses. To show a decline we would need to see data from an earlier period as well.

CC TT Prof

I want to build on Current PHD student's comment while offering sympathy as well to Associate Professor's comment. It seems strange that grad students who end up in non-academic work are viewed as a kind of loss. Why not keep non-academic placement records as a good thing to be shown to applicants along side academic placement records? I don't mean taking credit where it's not due. I mean also developing some non-academic placement resources that departments deploy on behalf of students interested in non-academic work.

Is there a both/and solution here? Limiting students likely results in more academic jobs for the best candidates who want that kind of work while perhaps also admitting students who want to end up in non-academic work. Where we could improve is in promoting the professional benefits of a philosophy education to the workforce. I'm not convinced PR-wise that we've done an adequate job of dealing with the "What are you going to do with a philosophy degree?" sentiment.

a disaster

The philosophy profession is a disaster from the standpoint of early career people who are trying to secure employment. You can easily dedicate a decade or more pursuing a career in philosophy to be left with absolutely nothing in the end--no job, no career, no prospects. Happened to me; I've seen it happen to others too.

Not only are there not enough jobs but also hiring practices are absurd. People are hired based on prestige, cronyism, and demographics. So, you can work very hard contributing to the profession by publishing and advancing human philosophical knowledge and understanding never to be rewarded at all.

Job applications require a million items, take forever to complete, and often involve unclear or contradictory instructions. Universities put no effort into streamlining the application process and have zero respect or concern for applicants' time.

If you are lucky enough to make it past the early round where they throw out the dozens of pages of material you wrote for the application, you might get an interview. If you do, be prepared for the university to waste even more of your time with a long, drawn out and mostly pointless interview process. In fact, most of the time they've already decided who they are going to hire before the process even begins.

Basically, from the standpoint of an early career person, the profession is a nightmare. If you want to lose all hope in humanity then a PhD in philosophy is the perfect way to do it; otherwise, stay the hell away!

Anonymous

Hi, data. The quote is form daily nous.

Some Good News, Some Bad News in the APA’s State of the Profession Report
by Carolyn Dicey Jennings and Eric Schwitzgebel

Daniel Greco

"In fact, most of the time they've already decided who they are going to hire before the process even begins."

In my experience, this isn't true. Job searches take lots and lots of time for a department to run, and the cost money for the university (in normal times, there are flyouts, hotel bills, etc.) If a department already knew who it wanted to hire, it would skip all that and make a targeted offer, as they typically do at the senior level.

Manny

Picking up on something Disaster said, it's close to criminal that departments haven't settled on a single job application format. The time and effort it takes to, e.g, change this 1000 words research statement into a 500 word one, or into a combined 1500 word research statement and dissertation abstract, etc. is phenomenal. That a rule of thumb is "set aside most of the fall semester to apply for jobs" is outrageous.

And, even without such an agreement, why be so obnoxious about the specific materials you require? Why specify X many words, when you know that other departments are specifying Y or Z many. And only ask for materials that are realistically going to make a difference to your decision. (I wonder how many places have hired A over B because A's research statement was better than B's....)

Some places get it right: CV, writing sample, three letters, teaching evaluations.

Most don't. Jesus wept.

a grad student

I have to agree with the main tendency represented in the comments.

It seems almost laughable to discuss the state of the profession (if we want to call it that) when a two-thirds majority of its up-and-comers fail to secure long-term employment.

I agree with others that major discipline- and university- wide changes (such as dramatically reducing graduate student admits) would need to be taken for `the profession' to merit its name.

Until then, I don't want it.

improve?

Women constitute about 20-30% faculty. But apparently we're not supposed to complain when a place hires 6, 5 of whom are men, because special circumstances. I'm not sure how many people are interested in improving (this aspect of) the profession.

disgusted

We should hire people based on merit and nothing else. Not hiring a man because you want to increase the percentage of women in your department is morally equivalent to not hiring a black person because you want to increase the number of non-blacks. People should not be punished or rewarded based on things they have not done and have no control over-- their chromosomes, their height, the color of their skin... And certainly people should not be hired based on factors irrelevant to their ability to do the job they're being hired for.

Discrimination against women in the past cannot be made right by discriminating against young men in the present. The way to set things right is to hire based on merit and to stop discriminating, not to continue to discriminate while changing the victim. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. Discriminating against men to hire women doesn't end discrimination. It doesn't even end discrimination against women. When a women is hired today many assume it was because she is a women and not because she earned it. This only breads sexism against women. Unless we stop treating people unjustly the anger and resentment will continue, and we will become ever more divided.

Marcus Arvan

improve? & disgusted: I appreciate you both airing your concerns here. They are ones that have received a great deal of discussion in the philosophy blogosphere, and I encourage readers to reflect on them.

That being said (with genuine sincerity), based on past experience I don't want this thread to devolve into yet another toxic discussion that may (reasonably, I think) make this thread an unsupportive space for readers of all backgrounds. I don't like to shut down discussion, but from ample experience--both on this blog and elsewhere--I've often seen these kinds of discussions turn toxic quickly. And this blog, given its mission, isn't a place for toxicity. I'm not saying *your* two comments do this (they don't). I just want to note as moderator that given the history of similar discussions in the past, I'm going to moderate carefully here moving forward.

Anony Mouse

There's a lot in this thread to comment on, and I am not going to even try to address all of it. Rather, only two things, which I hope are helpful.

(1) I want to second part of what Daniel Greco said above. My department has hired six times over the last 6 years, and in none of these cases did the department have a candidate in mind in advance of the flyout (though, obviously, individual members of the committee might have).

I would disagree with Daniel, though, that if departments already knew who they wanted to hire they would simply make a targeted offer (thinking of this in the US context). This might be possible some places, but for many public universities this is not possible because professors at these places are public employees and so the job search must be publicly advertised and the candidate pool has to be larger than 1.

(2) I think it is worth bearing in mind which things can be changed by what level of the profession. What I mean is this: (usually) it is completely up to the department how many graduate students they admit, and so they could unilaterally decide to start admitting fewer of them. But, the documents required for a job search, for example, may not be entirely up to the department. The university's personnel office may have some substantial say over which documents are required, and what form those documents have to take. It would therefore take some kind of executive action on the part of the university's leadership to change those policies, and/or to empower departments to change them.

But, I do want to second the feeling that job applications are onerous, especially considering the extremely low chances that any particular application will turn into a job offer (or even an interview). I think a good start might be for the APA to try to issue some guidance on standardizing parts of the application documents.

pd

I too would like to see a reduction admissions and a standardization of application documents.

Absent standardization, here's another idea. I'm under the impression that ridiculous document requirements are sometimes both imposed and enforced by HR. But are there also cases where HR imposes the requirement and no one enforces them? If so, I wonder if there might be some way for hiring committees to signal this to applicants (e.g. maybe there could be a convention in the profession of explicitly labeling such requirements, and only such requirements, as HR requirements). There might not be a completely upfront way sending this signal (I assume there'd be HR rules against that) ... on the other hand, if widely used and widely known within the profession, hundreds of hours of labor that produce lots of disvalue for applicants and nothing of value for anyone might be avoided.

On a separate note, one thing that's struck me about the job market is that I've applied (and in some cases interviewed) for a fair number of jobs where I'd have been happy to do them at less than half the advertised salary; a fortiori, I'd have been happy to do only some of the work associated with them at less than half the salary. In fact, based on how overworked a lot of the people who have such jobs seem to be, I suspect I'd be happier doing only somewhat more than half the work associated with these jobs at less than half their salaries than I would be doing the full job with the full salary. And I'd certainly prefer the former sort of job over not having a philosophy job. Finally, I'd wager a pretty penny that I'm alone in these preferences (though I'd guess they're more common among those of us who are facing the current market and who've managed on a grad student stipend in recent memory). All this makes me wonder if allowing more positions to be shared would lead to more preference satisfaction within the profession.

(I'm not endorsing the two floated suggestions as good ideas - I just thought them worth floating on the off chance that they might be.)

Daniel Weltman

Re: pd's suggestion of slicing jobs in half - I know more or less nothing about how universities are run, but my impression is that the cost of an employee is not merely the salary, but all the related expenses: offices, health insurance, retirement benefits, administrative support, research funds, etc. These add up to quite a bit, so much so that it's typically going to be cost-prohibitive to hire two people at half salary rather than one at full salary.

If you say "oh, no problem, just cut all those other benefits and only pay the half salary," then you basically have the adjunct system as it exists today in a lot of places, which has some benefits (like offering more employment to more people) but also a number of drawbacks which I'm sure you're aware of. My impression is that turning full professorships into multiple adjunct lines is not obviously going to increase overall preference satisfaction within the profession.

pd

Thanks for your response, Daniel Weltman. I share your impressions.

Two further thoughts. First, another option might be to have split positions at less than half salary and more than half benefits. Second, I'd expect the effect on preference satisfaction to be sensitive to whether split positions involve the workloads and lack of job security that adjunct positions tend to involve

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