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« In the mood for philosophy: on the importance of setting the mood for philosophical thinking | Main | Teaching applied social epistemology in a critical thinking course - by Carolina Flores (Rutgers) »

12/07/2020

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Overthinker

I have been wondering how committees might feel about getting more letters of recommendation than usual from an applicant. I don't have any worries about getting good letters from my advisory committee, one of whom is from an outside institution. But I think I could get letters from a couple professors who can speak to my non-research work in the department, like my teaching, service, and good relationships with the faculty. Are letters that emphasize those sorts of things overkill or even irrelevant, so that it would be more of a waste of time for the letter writers?

Grad student

I have a question about external letters of reference as part of one's application materials. Or maybe it's a comment.

I know the reasons why they're valued: this person is not personally invested in your success in the same way that your supervisor is, and hence they can (allegedly) speak more objectively to your work. Now I've been told, and have read people saying, that the external letter is the most important letter for a lot of places. This seems pretty unfair. For starters, it can be hard to get an external reader. You either need your supervisor to already be connected with them, or to meet them at a conference (which you likely had to get into), or some other way. Then of course you have to have the "right" external reader, i.e. someone from a top notch place doing top notch work. But how often do such people wind up in the circles of students not attending the Northeast East elite or the California elite programs? Pretty rarely, I'd guess.

I think what I am doing here is asking job committee members to rethink their bias towards the external letter. There's a lot of value to getting an external voice on one's committee, I think. And students should keep doing so. But it seems to me that, as hiring committee member, weighing that letter more heavily than the others is plainly unfair. I suppose this is part of the larger conversation I've seen floating on philosophy social media lately of whether or not letters of reference should be flat out abolished.

To make sure I get some kind of question in here, I am asking for a justification of the practice of weighing external letters heavier, which does seem to be rather prevalent (for the record, I've tried to secure one myself, because of what people tell me about their importance).

Mercado

How often do first-round TT job candidates move up in the ranking as a result of their Zoom/Skype interview such that they make it to the second-round-on-campus visit?

Here I assume that SC members have a rough sense of who is favored for the job or at least who they would like to invite for a campus visit.

PhD student

Do philosophers typically think philosophy is real? As in: do you honestly believe the philosophical positions you hold, or believe that the field you work in is pursuing real things?

I've been in graduate school for five years, and always struggled with this question. I always assumed people knew philosophy was an intellectual flight of fancy and picked philosophical positions arbitrarily. I also have always assumed that philosophical issues are fantasy. But the people in my program seem to think that the positions they hold are actually right. Am I the outlier? Do other people have similar inclinations?

Marian

I have a sort of specific version of the question: How important is it that one's writing sample(s) fit the job specification? I applied for a TT position advertised as "field X with specialisation in subfield Y". I work in X and have strong interests in Y but haven't written much in it and the writing sample I submitted was only loosely connected to it. I received an email from the department asking for a second writing sample, and I'm wondering whether I should submit a better paper in field X that has almost nothing to do with sub-field Y, or else submit an inferior paper that has a little more to do with subfield Y. Thank you everyone

Marcus Arvan

A quick note to those of you who have submitted comments responding to people's queries: I haven't published your comments because they make it very difficult to keep track of all the original queries, and which ones I've posted new threads on. These comment threads are primarily reserved for original queries. HOWEVER, I am keeping track of your unpublished comments and will post them in the new threads I create!

Peter

@Marcus: while I see the motivations for the policy of not posting replies to OPs here in this discussion thread, it seems like there's some OPs where expediency is required (e.g., Marian's December 9th post about writing samples). I wonder if there could be a system where people can leave some indication at the beginning of their post to indicate whether it is an OP or (to whom) it is a reply?

Marcus Arvan

Peter: fair point - I usually try to stay on top of and prioritize posting on time sensitive queries. But I missed the time-sensitive nature of Marian's query, so I thank you for drawing my attention to it!

I want to continue my policy here, for a very simple reason. In the past, these comment threads have gotten very long and full of replies--so long, in fact, that I've missed posting on queries because it was so hard (and time-consuming!) to keep track of which ones I'd posted on and which one's I hadn't. It's far easier for me to keep track of queries this way, and it also has the added benefit on my end of keeping track of replies (since I can easily see which comments I haven't approved, keeping them in mind when I do get around to posting the query).

So, I do plan to continue my current policy. What I will do, however, is encourage readers like you to submit comments like the one you did to draw my attention to the time-sensitive nature of particular queries (particularly if a few days have gone by).

How does that sound?

anon interdisciplinarian

Question on doing interdisciplinary work. I've done empirically inspired philosophical work before, but am now taking on a postdoc in a non-philosophy project. This leads me to wondering how to ensure that I remain a competitive candidate within Philosophy. I assume I need to make sure I also publish my own, solo, philosophical work -- but I can't realistically do as much of it as someone doing a philosophy postdoc. Are there ways to help make the non-philosophical research help and not hinder future hires? Also, will recommendation letters from my non-philosopher supervisors in that postdoc count for anything? A further concern is that this is a research only position, which means it doesn't enable expanding my meager teaching portfolio. Should I try to adjunct a class or two on the side to make up for that?

A sidenote: With regards to recommendation letters, I feel a candidate is between a rock and a hard place: on the one hand, I imagine it might look weird if the most recent supervisors aren't writing letters, and on the other, these might not be the ideal letter writers (such as one former advisor who I found out to be misgendering me in recommendation letters...)

Jack

How should candidates dress for zoom interviews? I’m a man but I imagine other genders have this question too. Should I wear a suit and tie? On the one had that feels somehow a little silly but on the other hand i feel that it is better to be overdressed than underdressed. What if I have multiple interviews for the same uni over different days—should I change my outfit? Any other presentational tips I mug not be aware of?

Thank you Marcus for this series which has been a big help for me

Jack

I'd like to say thanks to the many commenters who gave great answers to my question about how to dress for zoom interviews. I know, intellectually, it's extremely unlikely for a thing like that to make a decisive difference, but that doesn't stop me overthinking it, so I'm grateful to have the external guidance.

If it's all right, I have a second query that I thought of while reading the replies, in particular some that mention lighting and headphones. I was under the impression that headphones look a little unprofessional but on reflection that seems silly. Perhaps we could have a dedicated thread on what equipment is good for zoom interviews and other tips about lighting, angles, etc?

Thanks, again, Marcus, and everyone.

G

I am a junior faculty member, and I started to get requests from students (undergraduates) for letters of recommendation for different purposes. I am wondering if people can share some tips, principles, and/or strategies for writing letters. I am especially curious about people's thoughts on the following questions:

1. If a letter only mentions positive things about a student, would it be less credible? If I need to mention some potential concerns, how should I do it? Should I be specific or not?

2. Do you use different strategies for different purposes, such as graduate school, scholarship, etc? I've learned that some people tend to be more positive if a letter is written for a scholarship (some only mention positive things about students). Is this the common practice?

3. How do people write letters for average students (below-average sometimes)? I know that some people just politely decline the request. But if I need to do it, how should I write such a letter?

Thank you!

2020 R1 Applicant

Inspired by the thread on letters of recommendation, I have a question about elitism and graduate admissions. I recently saw a current PhD student say that institutional prestige (including fame of letter writers) is the most important component of one's application, whether one has a great sample or not.

I am now curious- for those in PhD-granting departments, does it seem like the institutional prestige plays a bigger role simply because of unrecognized/unmanaged ignorance related to elitism, or is it that the adcom members are simply more likely to respect and know the letter writers, thereby giving more weight to their letters? Further, does this matter depending on the ranking and reputation of the institution?

Depending on those answers, I am curious as to how someone coming from a low-ranked or unranked PGR program that is still an R1 university with famous faculty fit into the picture. If they have one or more famous letter writers, does institutional prestige begin to matter much less? A little less? Or is there something else about prestige that will end up penalizing even someone with a famous letter writer from an R1 university (e.g., grade inflation)?

I know Eric Schwitzgebel has posted about this, and my own scouring of current PhD students on department websites leads me to believe that elitism plays a role in admissions to Ivy league programs and PGR top-ranked private schools (e.g., Georgetown). However, when you get below a certain rank you begin to see institutional prestige matter far less or perhaps not at all (e.g., UC Boulder seems to have many PhD students from small/unranked schools).

All of this leads me to hypothesize that even ignoring fame of the letter writers and the skills you get from higher-ranked schools, the simple fact that you went to a highly-ranked school can bolster your application in the eyes of adcom members who consider their programs to be "elite" (aka, upholding the literal definition of elitism), but not as much for programs who consider themselves not-elite, or who have made efforts to mitigate the effects of what Kristie Dotson would call pernicious ignorance.

*note: I did not seriously consider the idea that elitism is recognized and endorsed by elite institutions to try and be charitable, but if someone haves reason to believe otherwise let me know*

Josh

Hi Marcus,

I would be very grateful to get some hive-mind wisdom on the topic of research policy at SLACs. I'm at a small, mission-driven university that is doing its best to take research seriously. We often "punch above our weight," as it were, but we don't have much in the way of clear policy that might offer needed (in my view) structural incentives for faculty research.

I'm wondering about "best practices" when it comes to such structural incentives, e.g., policies on course and/or administrative release for grant-holders, grant applicants, course buyouts, non-grant-holding researchers, sabbatical policies, etc. I'd be especially grateful for ideas from those at SLACs, but definitely all ideas welcome.

Thanks for considering.

Confused

Some journals (e.g Philosophical Studies) state on their websites that submissions should be in Word (doc/docx files). Others (e.g. Synthese) explicitly say "Word or pdf". Do the former journals really not accept pdf submissions?

Damian

Around a year ago a paper of mine was desk rejected by a few of the top 20 philosophy journals. Since then I have completely revised the paper, to the degree that only the topic (broadly construed) remains the same and some expository parts remain the same. The paper now has a completely different title, a completely different argumentative structure, and a completely different conclusion than the reject version.

Since I still believe that some of the journals that desk rejected the old version are a good fit for this paper, my question is, whether it's fine if I resend the new version to them?

Tom

I have a Bachelor's degree in philosophy, and I am going on my second semester as a teaching assistant at my alma mater for sections of ethics and philosophy of religion. I'm not a graduate student, but I was for a few weeks before I quit due to a lack of proper treatment for my mental disorders. However much I might like to return to a master's program to improve my knowledge of philosophy, my mental health professional has advised against it. I read a lot in my area of interest, which is a particularly narrow domain of inquiry. I still write from time to time. I have some people who are willing to give me feedback on my writing, but without attending graduate school, my goal of publishing my two most cherished pieces of philosophical writing seems impossible. Now to my question: how do I improve my writing and develop my ability as a philosopher independently and largely in isolation?

Professionally Apolitical Philosophy

I'm a graduate student who will soon go on the job market. My simple question is this: Can I, from a professional standpoint, stay completely silent on the various 'political' questions that are currently floating around the profession? Things related to Professor S*toc* come to mind, but that's likely not the full extent of it.

I have particular concern because, with some dedicated internet searching, it would be easy enough to figure out my political sympathies. I'm not ashamed of them (they are mine, after all), but I guess I'm curious as to whether that is something I should be willing to talk about in job interviews. To frame this as one last specific question: do you think it would be abnormal for search committees to inquire into her political views?

I know there has been some talk about whether a candidate would be judged harshly based on a pro-life stance, for instance, but I'm more concerned about being judged for my personal political work, which I'd rather keep to myself.

Annie

My questions concern applying for jobs in departments that one has in previous years been short-listed but ultimately rejected from. Is this something one should acknowledge in one's cover letter? Should one hedge by keeping the same materials like a writing sample (since they worked last time and they might not be remembered) or do something new (to show you've developed or something)? Anything else worth knowing? Thanks everyone

Al

Wondering if anyone has advice on giving Zoom talks (in my case it's an invited talk rather than a job talk, if that matters). I usually use powerpoint, so the obvious thing would be to share my screen with my slides up on the screen. Alternatively, I could email around (or post a link to) a handout, and talk through that.

Any other suggestions/advice?

Unsure

I'm curious if anyone has thoughts about how important it is to have university affiliation (either as part of a graduate program or as a VAP, postdoc, etc) when you are on the job market.

Given that so many of us will be unemployed next year, and for a lot of us it's not practical/possible to stay in our PhD programs for another year, what should we do? If we can find a way to support ourselves (through non-academic work) without moving for the sake of a short-term position with a very high teaching load, that would free up a considerable amount of time and energy to make progress on research and hopefully be a more competitive candidate for the next round of applications. But if it would look terrible on a job application to have no current university affiliation, then it might just be a priority for those of us who want to apply again next year to do our best to get *something*.

What do others think?

Anil

I'm a graduate student from a third world country with only very little experience in conferencing. With COVID still going nowhere, most (if not all) upcoming student conferences are moved online and I was wondering if it would be appropriate to submit to *all* of them--which is obviously something I wouldn't do in the past--and then choose between conferences if need be. Also, do you think that there is a maximum number of conferences for the same paper to be presented at so that I don't come across as making a big deal out of just one piece of work?

TT to Lecturer

I am a tenure-track faculty at mid-sized R2 that is aspiring to be an R1. I have become increasingly disinterested in research and increasingly interested in teaching and service/administration. As such, I no longer desire to go up for tenure. Since I do enjoy teaching and service/administration, I would like to stay employed at the university, if possible (moving geographically is not an option given my familial circumstances). Are faculty who do not go up for tenure ever allowed to move to a lecturer line and/or admin job at the same institution? If so, who makes this decision? How is it negotiated? Some have advised I just do what needs to be done for tenure and then focus on teaching and service after, but I’d rather just start working now on the projects I’m actually interested and not try to pull off some bait and switch in my department. Any insight would be appreciated!

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