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11/20/2020

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Bryce

Well I agree with everything here, and made a response to Eric’s post on DN and even noted that I hoped Marcus would say something. Then I came here and realized you already had! Thanks for taking the time to write it all up Marcus.

Chris

I'm sympathetic to what you say, here. One thing I wonder about though, to play devil's advocate a bit, is your criticism of Schwitzgebel's claim that effort spent on pubs over improving teaching profile MIGHT be counterproductive. You deny this. Still, I wonder. Suppose I have the choice between another pub (I already have one or two) or the opportunity to solo teach a course in bioethics or critical thinking or whatever. Suppose that course is not one I've ever had the chance to teach before.

Isn't it possible I'll be better off with this additional course on my c.v. rather than another pub?

Do teaching schools, for example, really hire people with a lot of pubs but who have never solo taught their own courses (but have only worked as TAs, say?)

If I have the chance to do a post doc with no teaching or some teaching, but it help me get a bunch more pubs if I don't teach, isn't it risky to ignore the teaching, especially if one is interested in applying to non-R1 jobs?

Isn't there an advantage if you've actually taught the courses that the teaching school wants to hire you to teach?

I think that is what S. is getting at. Does that seem right?

Marcus Arvan

Hey Chris: good questions, and I appreciate your devil's advocacy here. ;)

"Isn't it possible I'll be better off with this additional course on my c.v. rather than another pub?"

Maybe. But the problem is that this is a false dilemma. In my experience, what people are looking for at schools like mine is people who publish effectively *and* have an excellent teaching background. Generally speaking, I don't think grad students or early career people have to choose between "one more pub" or "one more course." The best strategy is to do both (get that one more pub and one more course). That is what will make you the best candidate possible (as you will be expected to do both effectively if you are hired!). So, yes, it's possible that you'll be better off with one more course rather than one more pub. But the even better thing to do is to get both.

"Do teaching schools, for example, really hire people with a lot of pubs but who have never solo taught their own courses (but have only worked as TAs, say?)"

Great question. I think the answer is: maybe sometimes, but yeah, having no solo teaching experience is likely to be a huge disadvantage. My own experience hiring at my institution is that we care a lot about solo teaching experience. Teaching a course independently (especially at my institution) is orders of magnitude more difficult (and complex) than the kind of experience one gets as a TA in a graduate program. If you want a job at a teaching school, solo teaching experience is vital.

"If I have the chance to do a post doc with no teaching or some teaching, but it help me get a bunch more pubs if I don't teach, isn't it risky to ignore the teaching, especially if one is interested in applying to non-R1 jobs?"

Yes. I think the kind of postdoc one finds oneself probably makes a big difference in terms of one's career prospects. All things being equal, research postdocs make a candidate look like a better fit for an R1 than a teaching institution.

"Isn't there an advantage if you've actually taught the courses that the teaching school wants to hire you to teach?"

Absolutely, a big advantage.

"I think that is what S. is getting at. Does that seem right?"

Perhaps! I just think it's important to caution grad students and other early-career people in need of jobs from engaging in the kind of either/or reasoning that (a lazy reading of) S's post could lead people to engage in.

Here is what S wrote:

"If you're aiming for schools that hire primarily based on teaching, effort spent on polishing publications rather than on improving your teaching profile (e.g., by teaching more courses and teaching them better) might be counterproductive."

The issue I have here is the 'rather than.' If you want a job at a teaching school, your aim shouldn't be to improve your teaching profile 'rather than' polishing publications. Your aim should be to do *both*! Having hired at an institution like mine, there are always some candidates with great publishing records but poor teaching records. Then, on the other hand, there are candidates with great teaching records who publish very little. Which kind of candidate is likely to fare the best? Answer: a third kind of candidate--the with a great teaching record who also publishes a lot (since they are the 'surest thing' for tenure, promotion, etc.).

Eric Schwitzgebel

Thanks for these interesting counterpoints, Marcus!

I completely agree that if this strategy kills your enthusiasm and makes you hate philosophy, it's probably the wrong path. I think we need to trust our sense of fun:
http://schwitzsplinters.blogspot.com/2013/01/on-trusting-your-sense-of-fun.html

I also agree that it's disappointing to see oneself as a narrow specialist.

The ideal reconciliation, I think, if you can swing it, is this: Find *fun* but very specific topics -- topics you (in your quirky nerdiness) happen to find really interesting -- that aren't overtrodden, and then devour what there is on those topics. For example, in the post I mentioned my 2001 paper on the history of people saying that they dreamed in black and white. To me, that was really weird and fun to explore and no one had ever looked at the history of this aspect of dream reporting. Really mastering the topic didn't require becoming a narrow specialist on it. The issue shines light on broader questions which I was also pursuing.

On the fact that people hiring for teaching posts also like to see published research, it might depend partly on whether you're thinking the typical community college vs other types of schools where research is more of a factor for tenure. There's a lot of diversity among non-R1 "teaching" places! As Chris mentions above, I also think the question is about the tradeoff. If trying to publish a paper means to don't teach Bioethics next term, how does that balance (esp. if publication is no sure thing)?

Marcus Arvan

Hey Eric: Thanks for taking the time to chime in! A few quick thoughts...

It's clear from what I know of your work that you very much do follow your sense of fun, and I forgot about your earlier SM post on that--which I entirely agree with. So thanks for reminding me (and our readers) of it!

I think conversations like this can be good to have publicly (on blogs like yours, the Cocoon, and DN) in large part to remind ourselves and others (grad students, grad faculty, etc.) of the complexities here.

My own experience as a grad student and early career person was that it can be very easy--in part due to external pressure (from grad faculty) but also due to internalized pressure (preparing for the job market)--to become so concerned with all of the do's and don'ts you're told that you lose track of deeper things that matter: the importance of having fun, pursuing one's real philosophical passions, developing and retaining a sense of the kind of philosopher you want to be (methodologically), and so on. So, I think it always bears repeating that those things matter too.

I also think that discussions like this can reveal important considerations of diversity. For example, in your comment you write, "The ideal reconciliation, I think, if you can swing it, is this: Find *fun* but very specific topics..."

Perhaps, but ideal for whom? You may be right that this is an ideal reconciliation for people interesting in publishing in a manner suitable for obtaining an R1 job. I just don't think there's any reason to think there's a single ideal reconciliation for philosophers who aren't in line for an R1 job (the ideal reconciliation for them, I expect, is to simply do work one loves and publish enough to get a job!). For example, I've never found a 'narrow area' to publish in. My journal articles are all over the map, basically on anything that interested me. My books, on the other hand, aren't narrow either, but instead aim to systematize an extremely broad set of considerations (metaphilosophy, cognitive science, normative moral theory, and social-political theory). I was able to get away with this publishing strategy (if you want to call it that!) on the job market (as it were) because the *kinds* of jobs that I was most competitive for just weren't looking for anything like the same kind of research profile as an R1.

These differences--between how hiring committees at R1's and teaching institutions think--are crucial to understand, I think. You're right of course that there are many different kinds of teaching institutions. But this is sort of the point: once we leave the rarified area of R1 jobs, there are so many different types of 'teaching schools' with so many different kinds of hiring priorities that I doubt that there's *any* right answer on how to approach publishing aside from: do work that you find interesting, try to publish it somewhere, and become a good teacher!

Finally, one quick point on the tradeoff issue. You write, "If trying to publish a paper means to don't teach Bioethics next term, how does that balance (esp. if publication is no sure thing)?" Sure, but to follow up on my reply to Chris, why think that this kind of tradeoff needs to be made? One can publish a paper *and* teach Bioethics next term, no?

grad student

As a graduate student, I do appreciate the time and effort made to help us figure out how to best go about trying to publish papers. My biggest concern is that such posts utterly fail to take into account the current moment. Maybe such advice will be applicable in the future (we can hope!), but for right now, I'd love to see advice that explicitly takes into account the fact that the academic job market has simply collapsed.

My concern is that, in failing to place this front and center in the advice that is given to grad students, professors unintentionally fail and mislead us. Profs mislead us insofar as they mischaracterize the job market in terms of the job market they faced, and they fail us insofar as we may already be disposed to think we have a better chance on the market than we actually do.

From my experience, the rose-tinted glasses that lead many grad students to overestimate their likelihood of success on the job market also leads us to overestimate the likelihood that the job market will have a robust recovery. If anyone is really confident in this robust recovery, please send me your data =).

One response to my comment might be that, if the job market doesn't recover, then there's nothing much we as grad students can do about that anyway. As such, perhaps it makes the most sense to just chug along and hope for the best. Alternately, we might think that we should still pursue this publication strategy while at the same time hedging our bets with some sort of Plan B. If this is the intended message, I'm open to hearing that!

But what I'm also curious about is how all of these "how-to" guides to grad school might change in a more fundamental manner in light of the world in which we live. Alternately put, maybe being a great/smart/successful grad student these days is not just doing everything people used to do AND figuring out some sort of Plan B. Instead, maybe there's a way that we as grad students can live an integrated, coherent life that is in touch with where academia is right now and where it might be headed.

Eric Schwitzgebel

Thanks, Marcus. Yes, you're right that there's no one ideal reconciliation for everyone. I probably shouldn't have stated it that way, so thanks for the correction and opportunity to clarify.

My discussion at the beginning of the post of whether to aim to publish was quick and unnuanced, since I was really trying to get quickly to the *how* part. A proper discussion of the *whether* really needs to be a long nuanced post of its own, and I should have better anticipated how people would react.

I had been hoping to signal with the italicized "ifs" that I don't think there should be a norm of looking for an R1 job or indeed a job with publication expectations at all. Two of my favorite PhD students have been more interested in community college teaching than teaching at four-year schools, and my mother was a community college teacher. I dislike the tendency of faculty at R1s in our profession to assume that R1 jobs are the "best", to see non-R1 four-year colleges as okay, and to see community colleges as a kind of failure.

My reply was submitted before I saw your reply to Chris. Of course it's nice if no tradeoff need be made between teaching another course and working up an article for publication!

James Hart

There's a lot of talk about top-ranked vs low-ranked programmes, in this and many other posts I have seen on this topic, and the PGR seems to be the standard way of distinguishing the top-ranked programmes.

I'm interested though on how much we should countenance the specialty ranking as compared to the general ranking. My institution is not a top-ranked institution in the general, but is top 20 worldwide for my specialty and my supervisors are very well known and well respected in the field. When taking this advice then, should I consider myself a member of a low-ranked programme, or a top-ranked programme, or some ambiguous space in-between? Would this be the same even if my supervisors were less well known/respected?

I should also note, I am at a UK institution and a lot of advice on here seems predicated on readers being in the American system (understandably). So would be especially interested in discussion on how the market here is different, and whether the same advice should apply. One thing that seems relevantly different from my (admittedly limited) research, is Research Council funding. AHRC funding here is quite prestigious, but there seems to be no one-to-one equivalent in America, so it is also hard to gauge how this should influence how I interpret this advice.

Andrew Komasinski

To comment on two points,

First, for Chris and Marcus' discussion re: publish vs teach.

I'll caveat that I don't have a position in the US, but I think in terms of employability there's a certain hierarchy going on here for prioritizing for teaching schools.

If you start a 0 publications and 0 solo teaching experience, then getting 1 publication will be infinitely a better choice (1P + 0C).
After that 1P + 1C
then 2P + 1C, 3P + 1C, and probably still 4P + 1C.
4P + 2C ?

For teaching the point is to show you've actually done and prove you like it. Teaching way more strikes me as significantly less valuable.

---

For James, I did my MA and PhD at institutions not loved by the PGR. To be blunt to perhaps the point of rudeness "top 20 worldwide for my specialty" isn't going to amount to much. Quite a few specialties don't even get to 20 places. It's likely (thought definitely not certain) that you're making the same R1 mistake that many people make.

RJM

Hi James, permanent UK faculty member here at a typical department (“R1” is a US term-pretty much any Uk institution with a philosophy department seems to be roughly R1 equivalent). The good news is that, at the vast majority of UK departments, the PGR is irrelevant. To be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my colleagues have never heard of it. Few would know who is ranked where, though I imagine they could guess. The only rankings we care about are the ones undergraduates use and doing well on them has little to do with what the PGR measures.

The reason why it doesn’t matter is that UK departments have no incentive to hire based on “promise” or “word of mouth”. We need to hire on actual measurable achievements because that is how we are assessed by the government. This means: good publications (generally quality matters more than quantity, but quality is not necessarily the same thing as published in a top 10 journal), teaching competence (increasingly, evidence of teaching excellence, plus relevant training), and evidence of ability to attract external funding, particularly for projects that might have a measurable impact. While applicants from “top” programmes may have these things, they need not, and if they don’t they will likely struggle in the UK.

In terms of the OP, then, it would frankly be suicidal for someone looking at the UK market to deliberately pursue a strategy of not publishing. It may however pay to think about whether what you are publishing on could serve as the basis for sensible grant proposals, bearing in mind that projects only of interest to philosophers rarely get funding. As for teaching, UK PhDs are in a real bind. It is hard to get enough experience as a PhD and you are competing against people with real experience. And as above this stuff matters. My advice would be to do all and any teaching relevant training offered by your institution. It isn’t a substitute for experience, but it will mean you can talk in the right language, and it will give you an insight into what really matters (or is viewed as mattering, which here comes to much the same thing).

Pendaran

What RJM says about the PGR seems to be mostly false when you look at the data. It seems PGR rank is a good proxy for predicting U.K. placement.

https://dailynous.com/2019/02/14/placement-patterns-uk-philosophy-job-market/

RJM

I’m not sure that this data really conflicts with what I said but that would require rehashing the discussion in the comment thread below the article. I do find it odd that a distinction is made between employment at a PGR top 15 UK department and a department outside the top-15. This isn’t like the distinction between R1 and R2 or research vs teaching schools. I don’t think Glasgow, say, is top 15 but is a job at Glasgow worse than one at, say, Leeds? I have no idea. I suspect it depends on where you would rather live.

Anyway, my point was that there is limited use for PGR rank as a proxy for candidate ability because UK departments generally need demonstrable achievements anyway. It may be that, on average, graduates of top departments have more measurable accomplishments than candidates form lower ranked departments. Indeed I would be surprised if this were not true. But I’m not sure it means much, especially as the makeup of PG cohorts in the UK can be very diverse, and it may be that on some programmes a sizeable percentage aren’t even looking for academic employment.

Pendaran

RJM said, “The good news is that, at the vast majority of UK departments, the PGR is irrelevant.” The data show that the PGR is a good predictor of U.K. placement. So what RJM said is at best mostly false. Not really any room to argue here. Sorry!

RJM

Given the tone of Pendaran's last reply I don't think there is much to be gained by pursuing this any further. But my advice to James remains the same: there are more important things than the PGR (the things I have emphasised), and the smart strategy when looking to the UK market is to focus on them.

Pendaran

I'll note that the advice RJM is giving has already changed and is not the same. Look, I'm sorry to have to "fact check you." I know it's annoying, but I think it's important to students, especially given the total collapse of the job market, for them to understand the situation. I've had people tell me before how the PGR is irrelevant in the UK. This is not my experience and is not what the data shows.

Anyway, I agree it's not worth us debating this ad infinitum. I've included the link to the data above. People can make up their own minds.

James Hart

Thanks for the replies everyone. RJM, I am especially grateful for sharing your insight and your advice about publishing and what hiring committees are looking for. To help me get a greater picture, would you say then, in your experience in hiring, that AHRC funded students at lower ranked universities (my university is one of the ones noted but not ranked by PGR and so not in the data analysis linked by Pendaran) would stand a better chance than non-AHRC funded students at higher ranked universities? And would the prestige of your supervisor rank above the prestige of your institution?

Pendaran, I also appreciate you sending the link - the data is certainly interesting. Of course working out what is correlation and what is causation is difficult, and trying to work out which aspects are indicative of my chances and what I can do to improve them even more so. Nonetheless, they set a good baseline or useful priors!

Defense on the horizon

I'm a little uncomfortable that nobody has even acknowledged, much less responded to, grad student.

I think there's probably useful discussions to be had where they're pointing. Like, it's one thing to provide as many resources for contacts/options/etc outside academia, as Marcus has been doing. And that's really good--thank you Marcus. I just mean it could also be good to talk about the nuts and bolts of building a plan B.

For example: if I have to devote half my working hours now to developing a set of skills for plan B, as I in fact am, which of the more purely academic skills should get cut first, that are also the least likely to just totally tank my prospects (however antecedently dim) of getting a job in academia?

For me, I've basically leaned into the research and forsaken any hope of developing a compelling teaching portfolio.

My research habits have also changed. I've gone more in the direction of, write and try to publish papers I'm excited to write, don't worry about the bigger picture or how this stuff hangs together. Because all indications are that I've got maybe 18 months left in this profession, and none of that big picture stuff will pan out.

You can hopefully see how serious, and scary, these sorts of decisions can be.

Marcus Arvan

Hey Defense: I've actually been meaning to acknowledge grad student's concern with a new thread discussing ways the Cocoon might help here, but have been knee-deep in grading this week. But thanks for pressing the issue. I agree, it's very important! I'll run a thread on the nuts and bolts questions you ask about, as well as a thread on grad student's more general concerns.

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