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05/04/2021

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postduck

On the teaching front, taking pedagogical training courses is a good idea too. The people at your university's Teaching and Learning Center know their stuff and they'll help you be a better teacher, which will come through in interviews and your dossier.

sahpa

That wasn't my reply! Seems wires got crossed somewhere :) though I did write a (somewhat different) reply...

Marcus Arvan (posting comment for sahpa)

sahpa: Ha, sorry for the mix-up! I've corrected the post (noting that the comment in the OP is by Peter, not you). For readers, here is the actual reply comment that sahpa submitted in the 'how can we help you?" thread:

"I'm defending my PhD imminently, and yet to secure an academic position for afterward, so take this with a healthy grain of salt. But, if I could have done anything differently in my early years, it'd be the opposite of what you seem to have in mind. I would have broadened my horizons a lot more. Specifically: 1. I would've *talked* more, one on one, with faculty--faculty all over my department, faculty in adjacent, interesting (to me) fields. You're an early-stage PhD student, you will not be penalized for not being able to have high-level conversations with logicians, philosophers of art, metaethicists, ancient philosophers, etc. Use that. Ask them dumb questions to learn more about our wonderful field in all its depth and breadth. Ask them for good introductory texts to check out, then come back to them with followup questions. You'll maybe discover interests you didn't know you had, and you'll maybe find mentors who will guide you in the coming years. 2. I would have *talked philosophy* more with my fellow grad students. Be intentional here: if someone seems cool, ask them to walk to the coffeshop to pick up a coffee (this is less formal than a sit-down), ask them about their interests. If there's informal hangouts, go to those. (Don't be that first year that I was: constantly in the library, always in 'I have work to do' mode.) Talk philosophy with these people. You will learn more together than separately in your little nooks in the library. I really don't think you should be a careerist in your first year (I *wish* we didn't have to be careerists ever!). I'm staring down leaving academia forever, and you are very likely to end up in the same place. So don't instrumentalize your PhD years, which can be really wonderful, toward an end that is in huge proportion entirely out of your hands."

sahpa

It feels incumbent on me to defend my answer a bit, given other people's takes.

I was offering advice specifically for *very early* in the program, which is what the OP asked for. I do endorse and support the professionalization advice other people are giving--that's just the name of the game these days, for better or worse.

But there's a lot to be said for the bottleneck approach: go broad, explore, test, fail, and only then start zooming in. The very early semesters of a PhD are a great, somewhat protected time to do this, and I wish I had done it more.

sahpa

(Sorry for the double post--Marcus, please feel free to merge this.)

One last note of warning: beware, beware, beware survivorship bias. Brennan and so on are the ones who made it. We simply do not know how many people 'did everything right' and still did not land a job. We also don't know how many people 'did everything wrong' and got a job anyway (like Marcus, by his own admission!).

For sure, take your PhD seriously as a professional program, and start building your CV, building relationships beyond your department, etc. Just don't fall into the trap of thinking that you can win if you just do everything right. Not only don't we know that for sure, but you'd just be setting yourself up for some really toxic attitudes about yourself if you don't land your dream job.

anonymous tenure track at R1

I don't think that grad conferences are useless, especially for early year grad students. Grad conferences are often much more competitive than other conferences, so the papers are often good. You get exposed to how people are doing philosophy at lots of different places. And the networking benefits are big, I think, when you are in your first or second year: many of the people you meet will be further along, and will potentially be junior faculty once you go on the job market. When I got my job one of the people on the search committee was in his second year of the job and I had met him when we were both grad students (not at a conference, but it easily could have been at a grad conference!).

SEC postdoc

This is not advice, but one thing I wish I'd done was take advantage of the university retirement plan. As a graduate student, I was eligible to contribute to a 403b, though not to receive any kind of matching. Over 6 years, even a little bit would have added up. Financial anxiety comes from all directions in grad school, and this would have made me feel better. (The benefit of a 403b, for me, was that once I signed up I never "saw" the money, so it didn't change my budget at all. But I have to make a point to contribute to my IRA.)

My university sent a retirement packet at the start of the year but I was too overwhelmed to look at it and work through it - and none of the students (or faculty!) in my department had any helpful replies to my half-hearted questions. I wish I'd gotten my head around it earlier!

Trystan Goetze

I second "anonymous tenure track at R1"'s advice not to write off grad conferences, especially early on. The graduate student community within and beyond your department will be one of the best parts of your time in grad school, so make the most of it! But do make an effort over time to target your works-in-progress at professional conferences so you can network with established folks. We pretend that academia is a pure meritocracy, but having connections helps immensely when your file gets in front of a search committee.

I know the question is geared towards preparing for an academic career, but I would add that it's never too early to be thinking about post-academic plans. Yes, the early years of grad school can be a lovely respite from the outside world when you can focus on studying the subject you like with other nerds of similar calibre, but the market is so bad that no one should go into grad school expecting to land a tenure-track or permanent position. It's a lottery you have to be talented to play -- or, if you like, it's like moving to Hollywood and hoping to become an A-list actor. So use this time to also explore possibilities beyond academia that excite you. I speak from personal experience when I say that just knowing that you can do something fulfilling if the academic job search comes up empty does wonders for your mental health during the long silence between submitting job applications and getting rejected. And in my case, trying to pivot *out* of academia actually landed me a really good postdoc, so you never know how things might go ;)

Tom

One strategy you could take for publishing early is to focus in on a particular topic you're interested in and write a survey-style article. This doesn't always work since some topics already have a large number of survey articles. But if you can find an issue that hasn't been touched by too many, it might work.

It strikes me as a relatively safe way to get a publication since you are mostly doing explication. But you can also incorporate some argumentation by pointing out issues that you think some authors aren't clear about, or pitfalls in the literature to be aware of. My first publication is a survey style article of this nature. It can be hard to find a decent venue for it, since not everyone publishes survey articles. I randomly picked a journal and emailed the editor to see if he would want to consider my piece and he said 'yes'. It passed review with minor revisions. So, I got lucky.

I'd also be interested to know if anyone disagrees with my advice here.

Anon

1. Keep 3-5 papers under review at least by year 2

2. Work with someone who is stellar at placing students - provided you like them & are confident they’d support you well

Mercado

One piece of advice I wish I had received while a grad student is that one should seek out help from faculty members who publish in top journals often. I've noticed a trend where many of the grad students who publish in decent journals often had lots of direct guidance and help from such faculty members.

Malcolm

1. I'm not sure how grad students are able to have any good papers, let alone more than one, under review by year 2, especially if they are working in history of philosophy or areas which require extensive language training and work with primary texts. For these kinds of students, I would encourage them to not feel rushed by their peers who are working in other areas not involving such scholarship. It takes time to get a really good grasp on relevant literature, both in breadth and depth--and you do want both. And your language skills post-PhD will only atrophy if you don't actively keep them up, so during your PhD is the time to sharpen them as much as possible.

2. Something that I benefited from was taking advantage of summer programs to extend my network beyond my graduate program. Funding can be a challenge, but if you can manage it, summer programs can be a great way to meet other students and faculty. You can find mentors, eventual outside committee members, and just get perspective on your own program. Related to the above point about languages--there are summer language and translation programs worth looking into, for a range of sub-disciplines.

Overseas Tenured

Maybe a weird advice, based on my observation of fellow grad students: have a mental file for what constitutes work and what doesn't.

Reading and writing: work. Teaching, grading: work.

Gossiping about professors (don't do it anyway) or commiserating about grading with other students in the shared office: not work. But it could *feel* like work in retrospect because it was vaguely work-related and you did it in your workplace. Maybe there was even some work involved if it was 10 minutes grading, 40 minutes gossiping, another 10 minutes grading, another 40 minutes gossiping, etc.

Sitting in a lengthy meeting with other students in any committee on anything: again, not work, for the reason mentioned above.

I mention this because I recall many people from grad school who *thought* they were working hard, but mostly they were just wasting time, seemingly unaware of it.

To be clear, I think that having a social life is important, and a well-deserved drink in good company at the and of a long work day is valuable, whether or not you talk about philosophy. Just be very honest with yourself about what constitutes work and what doesn't. It could do wonders to your productivity.

DS

I would recommend joining the American Association of Philosophy Teachers, and if possible, attend their grad student 'pedagogy' seminar that they run during their biennial conference. It is a good opportunity to network with faculty members at teaching institutions, the place most people are most likely to get job: https://philosophyteachers.org/teaching-learning-seminars-workshops/

Second, I would say maximize teaching opportunities right from the start if you are willing to take/fall back on a teaching focused position like a low level state school or community college. I went right into a tenure track job when I was ABD at a community college because I gained a lot of teaching experience while a grad student. I will say this: going right into a tenure track job making a good salary at a relatively young age has allowed me to pay off my student loans from undergrad quickly and build wealth to do things like buy a house, take trips, have children, etc. Bouncing around in part time/low paying visting positions doesn't really allow one to do this as easily. I took that first job in a relatively undesirable location, but I finished my PHD while there and after a fe years I was able to change jobs to a desirable metro area.

DS

Yes, I agree with Overseas Tenured! Being in your office all day does not mean you put in a day of work if you spent most of the time BSing! I pretty much avoided my shared grad student office for that reason. It may make you seem a bit unsocial, but you have to find ways to *actually* be productive!

Tim

Here is something I would do differently, though I'm sad to report it.

I'm interested in lots of areas. So I read in lots of areas. And in my teaching as a graduate student, I taught as many different classes as I could. But I also tried to publish in the different areas that I was interested in. That was a big mistake. People couldn't easily identify what type of work I did. And even if I saw connections between my work in different areas, it wasn't obvious on a CV.

So if OP is interested in publishing as a graduate student, I would recommend finding one or two areas and publishing exclusively in them. (And it might take two years or more to find such areas--that's what graduate school is for.)

Marcus Arvan

Tim: I appreciate you sharing that concern, which I've heard often. However, I'd have to beg to differ a bit. I've published in a bunch of different areas, and it seemed to work to my advantage. I'd also mention that in terms of hiring in a department like mine, we don't care about 'research focus'. We just care whether you publish and what you can teach. Insofar as publishing in multiple areas constitutes a reason to think a candidate may be competent to teach in those areas at an undergraduate level, if anything publishing widely seems to me to be an advantage for a candidate (again, at least at a department like mine). My sense is that having a clear focus--and indeed, one or two areas where you become a 'name'--is much more important for jobs at R1s. Finally, I also add that (like you), I derive a lot of intrinsic value out of learning about and working in disparate areas of philosophy. So, to that extent the intrinsic value and experience of doing philosophy also matter (they do, right?), I'm wary of pushing people with broad interests to narrow their sights down artificially. By all means, I think new grad students should develop a clear focus. But I also don't think they should sell their diverse philosophical passions short.

Anonopolis

On keeping 3-5 papers under review, a good start is one’s PhD writing sample. These are often publishable in solid journals. And also pick the top 2 or 3 of your 8 or so term papers you write in year 1.

Then - my judgment is - it’s best to develop these & submit, resubmit, resubmit, etc., starting summer after year 1, until one paper lands (but don’t stop there!) or it’s obvious none will. This often pays off—possibly with a good job later—and teaches one early about the how to publish.

There are exceptions, but in value theory and most areas of philosophy this is usually best learned fairly early.

rutabagas

Be involved in the life of your department--go to talks, join reading groups, etc. I know faculty outside my area had my back on the job market because they'd seen me ask good questions at talks, knew I'd pitch in around a department, etc. I was better prepared to teach because I'd read outside the narrow topic of my dissertation. I could make better small talk with search-committee members because I'd gone to talks in their area. Plus, I'm TT now at a SLAC, and I love it, but I miss the constant opportunities to talk philosophy at a high level with lots of colleagues.

It might feel like you're too busy, but this stuff really pays off. This is anecdotal, but I can think of only one grad student at my (also mid-ranked) PhD program who never showed up for stuff and still got a good job; everyone else I can think of who went on to get TT jobs had been active in our department.

Good luck! Have fun!

Evan

First, I never went to grad school, but one piece of advice that would help, I think, is to not be afraid to ask for advice or help. Yamamoto Tsunetomo wrote in his book Hagakure: The Secret Wisdom of the Samurai:

“The best way to outdo other men is to ask for advice about your own affairs. Most men conclude matters based on their own opinions, which leaves them unable to rise to another level. To consult with others is the best way to go a grade above them. A certain person sought advice about an official document. He was much better at writing such documents than I, but demonstrated superiority through his willingness to ask others for tips for improving his writing (2014, pp. 106).

It’s very Confucian. But it’s a positive perspective. We often think asking for help is a sign of weakness or incompetence. But it’s not. We’re all human. Even some of your professors still receive input from others.

Second, if you are a woman (of color), be cautious. Grad school can be and is competitive and based on my observation of women (of color) in corporate jobs, their ideas can get stolen and not credited to them, primarily by men. In such a competitive environment where academics and students are pressured to publish, intellectual vices can occur. This can happen to anybody of course, but when it happens to women (of color), people tend to shrug it off or don’t care as much.

Daniel Weltman

Some good sources of advice:

https://www.jstor.org/stable/40664254

https://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2020/07/12-tips-for-success-in-philosophy-graduate-school.html

https://dailynous.com/2020/09/28/douglas-portmores-six-commandments-getting-graduate-school/

https://schwitzsplinters.blogspot.com/2020/05/how-to-publish-journal-article-in.html

https://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2020/11/publishing-advice-for-early-career-people-a-different-perspective.html

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1085245

perennial applicant (and now R1 TT)

I would advise you to wait at least one year before trying to publish anything. You should definitely run anything you submit by your faculty (to avoid publishing things which may be a problem later), and part of the reason to wait a year is it may take a bit to form the kinds of relationships you may need to feel comfortable doing that. I second the concern about not looking too eclectic. At least on the R1 market, and at the many other places where similar norms (for better or worse) prevail, it's very important to have a clear 'brand'. I think this is as much so your file stands out from the pile (the guy/gal that does X) as anything. So you want to have a better idea what you'll wind up working in before you start putting much out (one or two random things early won't hurt, but unless they're ultra-prestigious, they won't help much either, since they don't add to the brand-narrative you're selling). Also, doing philosophy in the 'style' of your advisor and/or program is sometimes an important part of the brand ('the gal/guy that does X, from Y'); again, it's going to take a year or two to pick that up. So I'd wait at least one year and maybe two, so that you know what you're selling before you start to put together the materials (in this case, the C.V.) you'll use to sell it.

perennial applicant (and now R1 TT)

To Marcus' point: I agree there's intrinsic value in learning about different areas of philosophy. But I often find I enjoy the intrinsic side more when I don't have the pressure of publication - that often requires squeezing my thinking too much into the mold of the existing literature, a necessary evil in the areas where I *have* to publish, avoidable in the many interesting and valuable areas where I don't. If, as I suspect, you don't get much instrumentally from publishing widely, why drain the intrinsic value of it in that way?

Tim

Hi Marcus, thanks for the reply. I think we agree on a lot. Students interested in a range of areas should indulge those interests. I think the issue we may disagree on is simply strategy: should those interests manifest in an attempt to publish in multiple areas?

I had a similar thought to as you. If I publish in A, B, C, and D that should show schools that I am competent to teach A, B, C and D and can do research. But my experience did not bear that out. Research schools were less interested because the research was not concentrated in one area and thus one was unlike to be a "star." Some teaching schools were simply turned off by too many publications. Other teaching schools were looking for someone in areas A and C. But they were more likely to choose someone who worked purely in A and C, as opposed to A, B, C, and D.

But this was only my experience. Maybe I am outlier. Perhaps the topic is worthy of its own discussion. (Or perhaps that discussion has already happened and I missed it...)

Learned

1. Knowing what you want is important. The game changer for me in graduate school was when I realized that given the market and my mid-ranked program, and how I worked as a philosopher, the best hope for me was to find a teaching-oriented job. Thus, I stopped writing many papers, knowing that I might only needed 1-2 papers published. I spent way more time developing my teaching skills, attending teaching workshops, and/or just thinking about teaching.

2. Interdisciplinary approach seems to be the trend. It would be nice to have some interdisciplinary training by taking classes, doing a minor, working in a lab, and so on.

Sam Duncan

This sucks and it's really unfair to ask of someone in their early 20s, but... My advice would be to decide early on what successful career paths are realistic possibilities and tailor your approach accordingly. It's humanly impossible to do everything and effort you put in in one place will subtract from another.
In light of that I have to say I'm very dubious about some of the advice here. Now I think a lot depends on what you mean by mid-ranked. There's a big difference between a school that's 20 on Leiter's list and one that's 35. But I think planning on getting a teaching focused job is a good strategy at either and if you're at a 35 ranked school it's probably your only realistic career path. So I really disagree with Brennan-inspired advice to have 3-5 papers under review at all times or the advice to burrow hard into one specialty. It's really unlikely you'll publish your way into an R1 job or even an R2 job if you went to a lower ranked school. It's good to publish a paper or two in respectable journals but after that your effort is probably better spent getting more teaching experience. Marcus is right that summer teaching at your own school is a good way to do this, but as you go forward another good thing to do is look for adjuncting opportunities at other colleges nearby, especially community colleges. CC teaching experience means a lot for applying to any CC job and from what I can tell having teaching experience at schools besides your own is generally a big positive mark for teaching focused schools. The reason for this is that both admin and faculty at these schools worry a lot about whether you'll be able to teach their students. There's a difference between the students at the type of school that's likely to have a grad program and the average teaching school. There's a big gap between the students at the type of public university (like UVA, UWisconsin, or Ohio State) that's likely to have a mid-ranked PhD program and the average public 4 year college in any of those states. There's an even bigger gap between the average student at those public colleges and a community college student and a bigger one still between students at a place like Duke or UChicago and community college students. So from everything I can tell teaching at colleges with students very different from your own is likely a big point in your favor at teaching focused schools. (And for the record I've gotten the "How would you teach *our* students?" question a lot. Sometimes they'd even say something like, "You know they're different from UVA students so....") Not only does this address the worry of whether you can teach those students but I think it helps to address the worry of whether you'll want to. The people who do the hiring at teaching focused schools also worry a lot about hiring people who only want the job as a perch while they try to publish their way to a "better" job.
Having a variety of teaching experience in what you can teach is also helpful. I found that teaching a survey of continental philosophy class actually got me more than a few interviews. Teaching focused schools pretty much never need a guy to teach seminars on vagueness or even 400 level classes on various esoterica in "Reasons and Persons" or "A Theory of Justice". They often do need someone who can say teach 100 and 200 level logic, ethics, and bio-ethics classes, and say a couple of different history classes like a survey of ancient and early modern. You have a big leg up in my experience if you can say in interviews at teaching focused schools "I have taught the classes you offer or classes like them". I'm less sure about this, but for that reason I also think that Marcus's advice to publish in different areas is likely good advice.

Prof L

If I could go back and do it over again, I would not focus on publishing early on, but rather, on conferencing. Get plugged into a local network of scholars. Join the organizations relevant to your subdiscipline. Go to the conferences, participate (ask one, succinct, carefully thought out question). If you present make sure your presentation is very good. Don't push yourself on to people, but be respectful, read their work, ask them questions about it.

I think publishing early on is a bad idea. Don't forget that you are in graduate school to *learn*, and there is a whole lot you have not yet learned. Participating in a professional community will be more rewarding, will help you get to know the "cutting-edge" research in your subdiscipline, and will be incredibly good for your professional development and education. Again, there's a way to do it such that you will alienate people so don't do that (don't be pushy, don't dominate q&as, don't be overly confident or dismissive, etc.) ... but do participate!

Sam Duncan

Also, on the question of whether there is anything, "one would have done differently in their early years as a PhD student?", I'd have to say that purely from a career perspective I should have made more of an effort to specialize in bioethics and not Kant. (If I'm speaking literally, I'm not sure I'd change anything since I'm happy about where I ended up, but I do realize that I made some very bad career moves and just got lucky.) My grad program had a real strength in bioethics and was very good at placing them. My friends who focused in bioethics had very little trouble finding positions. They've also had a surprisingly easy time moving jobs when they've wanted to. As general advice I'd say to figure out if your program has strengths in very marketable specialties like this and if it does think very seriously about focusing on them. And remember "very marketable" does not mean "stuff that impresses the people who get surveyed for the PGR." Bioethics, business ethics, feminist philosophy, philosophy of race, and non-western philosophy are held in pretty open contempt by many members of that crowd but there are a lot more jobs in those areas than there are in the so-called core areas of philosophy that do impress those people. Because of the prejudices against subspecialties like these it's also quite possible that your program will have real strengths in one or more of them such that you can blow candidates from Leiterrific schools out of the water in competing for jobs in them.

Evan

Perennial applicant: You asked, “If, as I suspect, you don't get much instrumentally from publishing widely, why to drain the intrinsic value of it in that way?”

I think it can be beneficial to develop some publishing ratio that works best for oneself. Everyone is different in terms of being drained or burnt out. If somebody might get burnt out easily from publishing diversely, they can and should implement a conservative ratio. Maybe a 70% : 30% ratio where 70% is mainly concentrated on one’s AOS and 30% on other interests. Try implementing different ratios and figure out which one is suitable for oneself.

Despite conservatively publishing two or three papers in other areas, these articles can still serve as insurance for when you may come across a hiring committee or an institution that finds those publications interesting or as a valuable indicator that you can teach those subjects. They can serve as evidence of your AOC as well. Like car insurance, you may not get into an accident, but it’s still a possibility and so having it can serve you well in the future. That’s what I would do.

anxious first-year

Hi, this is the person who posted the original question quoted above! Just wanted to say thank you to all of you for your thoughtful and informative responses. You have given me plenty to think about. Much appreciated :-)

sahpa

I'm back!

I think I want to contextualize my advice a lot more than I did. Basically, the OP asked what *I* wish I had done differently, and I answered. Now, in my case, I was thinking 'professionally' fairly early: I didn't aim for having 3 articles under review at all times, for example, but I was sending things out relatively quickly and now and again did try to write up things because I anticipated they had a good shot at getting published (rather than because I thought they were very philosophically important).

On top of that, I'm at a top department with a wide range of very good scholars across subfields of philosophy. So my regret, basically, was that I was too narrow in my studies and conversations. I didn't seize the opportunity to get a deep and broad appreciation of philosophy.

Depending on your own department's makeup, you might not have these opportunities and so my regrets don't transform into straightforward advice. And I think I also implicated that 'thinking professionally' was tantamount to problematically 'instrumentalizing' your PhD. I hereby retract/cancel that implication.

I do, though, think breadth is philosophically and professionally important. So even once you hit the 'try to publish early and often' treadmill, it's important to keep that in mind.

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