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09/08/2021

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Anxious job market returnee

Does anyone have a sense of how common it was last year for search committees to end up not hiring anyone after posting a TT job search? I was on the long list for one of the UT-Scarborough postings last year and I saw they posted a few jobs on philjobs recently, so I went to look on their department website to see (out of curiosity) who had gotten the gig I'd applied for. It looks like they have a number of contractual/teaching adjuncts working there, but no one that seems to have gotten the TT philosophy of science posting they advertised last year. Or, maybe they just haven't listed the new hire on their website yet (hopefully this is the case.) If this is correct and they opted to not hire a TT person, however, would this be abnormally bad behavior to not commit to hiring a TT person as advertised or is it quite common?

Anxious returnee

hello, OP here, I just realized I'd incorrectly referred to a philosophy of science posting at UT-scarborough when it was actually the ethics/applied ethics posting from last year. As far as I can tell, however, there still does not appear to be a new hire for this posting.

humane outlook

Anxious
It is not bad behaviour to not hire when you advertise for a TT position ... it is possible the funding situation changed dramatically and the administration cancelled the search. I know nothing about the details of this specific job, but this sort of thing was quite common during the financial crisis of 2008.

postdoc

Is there any use applying to jobs advertised at the associate professor level from a post-doc, or will they just get annoyed and throw out your application?

almond milk

@ 'anxious': I've definitely seen universities run a search for the same position (same AOS and everything) multiple years in a row (up to 5 years!), even if the previous year's search got to the finalist stage. There are a lot of different reasons why they might do this, including as 'humane outlook' explains, changes in the funding situation, or more commonly at larger research schools, that the search committee could not agree on a candidate.

I'm not saying this is what happened in your situation, but I do believe that often, if a large department advertises a search for a TT job in a specific AOS and ends up hiring NTT in that AOS, it more likely means that they had teaching needs in that area, didn't hire any of their finalists (for the reasons above or others) and decided for the time being that the teaching need will be met by hiring a former graduate student of the department or something like that on a NTT contract until they can run a search again. In other words, it's highly unlikely that they hired one of the finalists for the TT position on a NTT contract unless the position was explicitly advertised as NTT. This kind of thing works for the universities insofar as there is someone who can teach the class, it keeps former grad students employed, and allows the department to try again to hire someone permanently.

So, it stinks for sure, but I don't know if the stink is abnormal per se :) Hopefully you (and everyone else returning) will have better luck this year!

Marcus Arvan

postdoc: My sense is that there is probably no use in applying for associate professor position from a postdoc. Associate positions are tenured, and the chances of someone being handed tenure right out of a postdoc presumably approach zero. I also don't think it is at all likely that the hiring committee could change the hire to an Assistant level position. Getting a new hire approved is a long process that has to go through the dean, provost, and university president--so if they approved an Associate hire, then they presumably need the hire to be at that level (and hence, already tenured somewhere).

Euro

Marcus and post doc
In some European countries you can apply for an associate professorship after a post doc (usually after six years of post docs). Such positions are tenured, so you have to have a file deserving of tenure. Do not apply if do not - it is waste of everyone's time.

Anon

It certainly seems that there are *dramatically* fewer jobs this year than even last year, which was already an unbelievably weak year. If I don't get anything this year, I'm unemployed, and likely to be essentially forced out of the field.

Is there any reason for optimism at this point?

Marcus Arvan

Anon: I totally empathize with your situation as a job seeker. However, I think your read of the comparison between years is a bit off, and that there may be some reason for optimism.

Here are the numbers of jobs advertised on PhilJobs between August 1st and today (September 13th) over the last several years:

This year (2021): 68 ads
Last year (2020): 38 ads
2019: 85 ads
2018: 86 ads
2017: 63 ads
2016: 80 ads
2015: 73 ads

In short, the job-market isn't quite back to what it was pre-COVID (about 80 ads by now), but it's not that far off...and it is vastly better than last year's numbers. I also know of at least one TT job that thought would have been on PhilJobs by now that isn't up yet. So, there may be some delays in advertising this year.

Anyway, the job market isn't great, but quite a few ads have appeared in just the last week, so that and the total numbers may be some reason for cautious optimism (or at least not immense pessimism).

Anon

Thanks, Marcus.

While I don't have the precise numbers from last year, I definitely recall prepping to submit over a dozen applications in my (not at all esoteric) AOS at this point last year. This year there are maybe 4 or 5. (And there are a few that I'm obviously not competitive for—e.g. Harvard TT.)

So it seems to me comparing the overall numbers does not accurately reflect the real circumstances. Maybe the overall trends are still a source for optimism, though——at least insofar as they suggest that this year is likely to be better overall. I'll just have to cross my fingers that many more job ads are posted in the coming weeks...

Anxious

In keeping with Anon's concerns, I thought I'd also point out that several of the "ads" on philjobs are for PhD fellowships, which really shouldn't be posted on philjobs (in my own opinion) since they skew the profession's perception of how many actual jobs are listed from year to year for people trying to get a job once they've completed their degree. As a question for Marcus, do you filter these out when you compile your lists of year to year comparisons?

Also, thanks for the helpful info and encouragement, almond milk!

Grad student

@Anxious
The person who got the job deferred the start date by a year. Seems like a common-ish practice. Probably a good example of why we should remain cautious when inferring things about the job market from what we see on the surface.

anon

@Grad student and @Anxious - I was a finalist for the UTSC ethics/bioethics job that was advertised last year. I am certain that the department did not fill that position, and it looks like they are simply re-advertising it this year. I don't have additional information to share about why the search failed, but it did.

Anotheranon

I can confirm what Anon@11:07 is saying -- the search failed; it was not a deferred but successful hire.

Mike Titelbaum

Responding to Anon about the number of jobs this year: Many universities had hiring freezes last year that only got lifted at some point in the summer. This delayed the normal process of getting jobs approved and preparing job ads, which often have to go through many administrative layers. So jobs may be posted later than usual this year. For instance, my department has already advertised two tenure-track positions, but is probably going to be advertising at least one non-TT position in the coming weeks—once we get them through HR. So keep hanging in there?

postdoc

I'm just curious if anyone knows anything about this...philjobs lists Purdue as holding FOUR TT searches this year (plus one postdoc, so five!). Is this really the case?? Or is it just one search where they're looking for one of several AOS categories and somehow it listed as multiple searches?

anon

Yes, there are four distinct tt lines.

Anon

Quick question: I have someone who has agreed to write me a letter of rec. I believe that their recommendation will be very helpful, because they are located at a prestigious institution and wouldn't agree to write the letter unless they planned to include a positive evaluation. But in their response, they indicated that they're writing a letter of rec for another applicant, too. How should I proceed here? I should mention that this person is an "outside" letter for me.

another anon

@Anon (10/06/2021). Your situation is extremely common. Suppose I supervise four graduate students, all of whom are going on the market. I am going to write a letter for each of them. They are likely to all be applying to the same jobs given their similar AOSs. Then notice that my situation is the same as a ton of other advisors at a ton of other universities.

Am I missing something?

Anon Anon

I know the overall job numbers are decent compared to past years, but anyone else sense that "core" is doing exceptionally poorly this year? Especially within the United States. Maybe phil mind is doing a bit better than the rest, but... metaphysics seems absolutely clobbered for example. Phil lang and epistemology also hurting.

Just me?

frustrated

What should you do if your letter writers simply aren't uploading their letters by the time they said they would, not even after a reminder? Pester them more? Use old letters? Scrape together last-minute writers?

postdoc10

I think the year is pretty bad, it only looks “decent” when compared with last year. It is the second worst year of the 6 I’ve been on the market. And it definitely is worse for epistemology than other years.

another anon

@frustrated If you in a department where there is a placement director, I would get them involved. In some cases a nudge from a colleague, rather than from an advisee, can be efficacious.

If you are not at a department with a placement director, I would recommend asking them to upload their letter to Interfolio (or whatever you're using) in person. Letters are a big deal. If they've already told you that they would do it, they should understand.

anon 3

If the same department has job ads for more than one tt job and two of the postings are for things that I can reasonably fit my AOS into, is it bad to submit an application for more than one job at the same department? In general I've been told to apply for anything that I possibly can, but in this case I'm wondering whether this will work against me and look weird to the hiring committee. In terms of the two postings, one of them fits more naturally with my AOS, but the second one is close enough that I would certainly still apply if it were at a separate institution.

Marcus Arvan

anon 3: My sense is that you should definitely apply. The different jobs are likely to have different search committees, and the different committees may or may not communicate with each other. I suspect there's very little potential downside to applying to them, whereas there's an obvious and enormous downside to only applying to one (namely, you being not even considered for the others!).

William Vanderburgh

anon3: Email the chair of the search to ask if two apps are needed. If you need submit only one, make it clear in the first lines of the cover letter that you want to be considered for both.

on the market

I wish jobs could ask letters to be sent to an email rather than have emails of references keyed into the system separately. It makes a difference on Interfolio, like 1 dossier vs 3-5, which at some point may have monetary implications.

Lotteryplayern

35 applications in and counting. I really wish search committees would make a big first cut before requesting anything beyond a pro forma cover letter and cv. Having never gotten a first round interview, specializing endless documents seems like a huge waste of time and not very respectful to people with lives to live.

on the market

@Lotteryplayern

Totally agree. I would imagine that most of the initial screening was done without accessing most of the application material anyway.

over here

A note about the market ...
people are raising the complaint - and the suspicion - that many searches probably could be done effectively by only looking at c.v.s and cover letters. Indeed, I suspect a first cut in the pile can be made that way. But applicants should realise that if their application does not make it past that stage, they probably should not have applied for that job. Indeed, when I reviewed files, I was surprised at how many were not a fit at all. We were still required to look at the file, and then register an assessment. It is a really wasteful process. Just apply for the jobs for which you are truly qualified.

Lotteryplayern

Sorry, over here. Having not made any long lists with a pretty long CV, filled with good publications and a PhD from a program with a decent pedigree (degree awarded just a short time ago), I just reject that claim. And I think others should too. Eventually I’ll respond to market signals In the way you suggest. But the process is too random and there are too many considerations that are not merit in play for what you say to be true.

postdoc57

Over here: I found your comment extremely helpful as a window into the mind of selection committee members. It's a helpful reminder of just how little empathy and understanding selection committees have for the predicament of applicants. I genuinely think that this is an important thing for job seekers to keep in mind when receiving rejections. It really doesn't reflect much on us getting rejected in circumstances like these.

outside and still looking in for some reason

@postdoc57
I do not see how over here's comment involves a lack of empathy or understanding.

This is because their comment mentions a lack of 'fit' on the part of many applications. The charitable interpretation of this comment is that such applications failed to have the relevant AOSs/AOCs, were submitted by people who received their PhD too long ago (some postdocs and other early career positions bar people from applying who are more than, say, 4 years out from their PhD), etc.

I'm not seeing how expressing frustration at receiving such applications indicates a lack of understanding or empathy. Indeed, the situation seems to be the reverse. It shows a lack of empathy and understanding for the work of search committees to submit an application when you do not meet the basic requirements specified by the advertisement to which you are responding.

FWIW, I was forced out of philosophy after not getting a job this AY. So I'm the first to lament the state of the market. It's just that this particular complaint strikes me as mistaken.

All that said, your last sentence is correct. Because of its outrageous macroeconomics, the job market in philosophy has turned into something of a lottery. No one should feel badly about themselves for failing to win the lottery.

much todo about nothing

While I'm sympathetic to over here (and to the plight of search committees inundated with applicants), I find myself understanding the sentiment expressed by lotteryplayer.

I feel, much like lotteryplayer, my CV is competitive (publications in BJPS, Synthese, Studies, etc.), yet I've applied to jobs where the person who eventually got hired appears to me to have been a worse fit than I was for the described position. This leaves me puzzled and feeling like the only way for me to approach the market is by carpet-bombing, applying for any job for which I could possibly justifiably fit the description - because who knows - maybe the dept. wants someone like me but failed to spell it out in the posting.

I realize this becomes an arms race, but it seems as though the ball is much more in the court of search committees to do what's possible to prevent us from having take the carpet bomb approach. For example, if a committee will only hire someone who's coming out of the top five or ten depts., regardless of other factors (like publication record) then just say something to that affect in the posting. Or if you really want someone with an AOS in X (whatever, e.g. underdetermination), be specific about X and I won't bother applying, wasting your time and mine.

search committee member

It's really not very hard to immediately rule out applicants who are genuinely not qualified for jobs. As someone with a tt job and who has been on multiple search committees, it takes about 60 seconds to scan a cover letter and cv and see if someone doesn't have the requisite AOS, for example. So I'm not sure we should be so annoyed with people who apply to jobs they aren't qualified for, especially given the randomness of the process.

I will say, though, that I think it is *extremely* weird when people without the advertised AOS apply and say absolutely nothing in a cover letter about why they think they are a fit for a job they don't have an AOS in. If you can't put the AOS on your cv, at least explain why we should consider you in the cover letter. We get these weird totally generic, non-targeted cover letters where the person is like "I do aesthetics" and the job is in philosophy of logic. I don't think that there should be a ton of pressure to target cover letters when one is squarely inside the bounds of the job ad, but if you aren't, and you want an actual chance at the job, you need to explain why we should consider you in your cover letter.

postdoc

I think @much todo about nothing's point is the nail on the head as to why we've all been forced to adopt the "apply for just about everything you can sort of fit into" approach. Seeing people get the job when they were not at all within the stated AOS tells other job seekers that the AOS/AOC descriptions are not always full or honest descriptions of what the department *really* wants. So, since we don't have any way of knowing what a given department *really* wants, we are forced to apply more widely than we'd prefer. Adopting greater honesty and transparency would have to start with the people holding actual power in the job market-- i.e., departments would have to be better about hiring within the stated AOS instead of hiring someone else for other, often PGR-related, reasons.

the reasoner

postdoc
But consider ... if all the jobs you know about that went to people who did not have the called for AOS are from the Leiter top-10 programmes, then everyone outside of the LT10 should not expect this to happen to them. Hence, they should not apply to jobs outside their AOS.

postdoc

@ the reasoner, it is not that simple. I am coming from a PGR 10-20 school and have been long-listed etc. for jobs that were not obviously within my AOS. None of it is clear-cut, and like others have said, no one can reasonably blame applicants for having to play the lottery game they've been presented with.

Andrew

not at all applying this cycle but stating the debate backwards, every applicant would like to only put their effort into the job they eventually get and every hiring committee would like to only end up putting time into the candidate they hire.

Since the situation is non-ideal, how do we adjust? Applicants rationally adjust by applying more broadly, because the signals they receive do not help them move towards the job they get.

Hiring committees do ??? (and that's the end of what I've figured out) Probably hiring committees are forced to used arbitrary cut-offs and other things that probably only amplify the degree to which applicants lack information about where to apply/not apply.

nate

I think that part of the problem in this discussion is that there seems to be an assumption that search committees go into a search with a unified
goal and a clear idea of the kind of applicant that they want to hire. That's just not true in many cases. The last department I was in held a search, and the process seemed to go something like this.

1) Department receives approval for a new faculty line.
2) Department meets to assemble search committee.
3) Committee includes: 2 political philosophers, one normative ethicist, one metaethicist, one action theorist, one philosopher of mind.
4) Committee deliberates on how to advertise the position - the political philosophers want to hire a political philosopher, the metaethicist and philosopher of mind want to hire a moral psychologist, the action theorist and normative ethicist want to hire someone doing normative and applied ethics (broadly construed).
5) Committee members can't agree so they advertise the position with an AOS of "Value Theory"
6) Each of the members reviews applications with their own idiosyncratic preferences and finds that very few of the applicants meet their "ideal" criteria but also that they like several applicants with specialties that weren't even under consideration before the review started.
7) Each committee member selects their top 10 applicants
8) The committee members get together to negotiate a short list for first round interviews. Lots of horse-trading goes on as committee members compete to get their preferred applicants on the list
9) Eventually, after lots of negotiating and compromising, interviews get scheduled.
10) Ultimately a candidate is hired who may or may not fit any of the initial expectations for the job, but who all agree is very good nonetheless.

It's impossible to know, as an applicant, the degree of initial agreement among committee members or the interpersonal dynamics of search committees. So, I think the apply-for-anything-you're-remotely-qualified-for approach is justified.

Much todo about nothing

Thanks Nate. That's one of the better accounts I've seen of what actually happens, start to finish, during the hiring process.

From such a perspective, it makes sense that a search committee could want a wide pool of applicants, barring those who are unqualified or who have a completely unconnected AOS, and it does seem like a weird sort of alchemy that leads to the final choice.

In light of your account (again, thanks), let me try to re-articulate what, at least for me, would be extremely helpful to see in job postings.

While much of what leads a committee to ultimately hire whoever is a sort of alchemy that no one could predict, it does seem there are other factors a committee could clearly state in an ad that would help candidates. For example, things to the affect of: "pedigree of program trumps all else", or "a publication record with at least one pub. from a top ten journal is required", or "experience teaching that one particular class we need taught is necessary", etc. Those are the kinds of things I'd love to know before applying. If a committee won't hire me because I'm not coming out of a top 10 program, that's fine - and knowing that saves me wasted effort (and a possible an emotional rollercoaster ride). Similarly, if I know they'll only hire someone with a publication record of X, again - great! Then I'll know whether my record qualifies me or not. Same for teaching, etc.

What I'm asking requires committees to be far more honest about the kinds of prestige biases that play a big part in the market. It seems to me many job posts are written so as to leave room for many applicants to apply who, in reality, have almost no chance of getting the job even though they easliy fit the stated qualifications. I'd appreciate greater honesty on this front because: First, I could target energy into the jobs that would give me a real chance. Second, it would help prevent misconceptions in grad students and those thinking about going into philosophy about what they're facing. And, third, I think it would be a step in the right direction of forcing the discipline to confront some the inequities that it perpetuates.

With regard to point three, I *think*, for many applicants, it feels as though postings are written in bad faith - appearing to be more inclusive than they really are. I'm not Polly-annish enough to think that they could actually be more inclusive (the market is flooded after all). Rather, it does seem reasonable to ask folks, who are in the positions to do so, to end to facade of inclusiveness because it would make a measurable difference for many applicants.

Again, thanks to Nate (and others in this post and on this site), who help make the process a bit more transparent.

Bill Vanderburgh

Incompetence is often a better explanation that conspiracy or ill intent.

Anecdotes are not evidence. (I'd love to see statistics on the fit between the AOS in the ad and the AOS of the hire.)

When I see people saying that applicants should "carpet bomb" to increase their chances of finding some job (any job!), that people who don't fit the ad get hired, etc., it makes me think of this: "So you're telling me there's a chance!"
https://youtu.be/KX5jNnDMfxA

When overhere (and I, elsewhere on this site) encourage applicants not to apply for jobs they don't fit, it is because there are SO MANY applicants who apply to jobs they have absolutely no connection to. It is a waste of their time and ours. E.g., if you only do Marxism, why are you applying to a job in ancient Greek Philosophy? If the job requires a PhD in Philosophy and yours is in English Lit, you cannot be hired--HR screens out applicants who don't meet minimum qualifications. If you can make a reasonable case for why you meet the department's stated needs, then do that in your letter and apply.

R1 faculty

HR doesn't screen our applicants, we do (R1 here--I think this is pretty normal at private R1s). You shouldn't carpet bomb, but Nate's description of things rings true to me, and for that reason I think it's in candidates' interests to apply as broadly as they can *without* carpet bombing. If you have *zero* connection to anything about the job ad, then yeah, don't apply, but if you can make a case for yourself that you have a close enough connection to one of the areas advertised in a cover letter without lying, then I would advise candidates to apply fairly widely. Compromising on something that isn't squarely within the bounds of a job ad is fairly common. Also, just to report something that has happened with my department: we might end up with 4 finalists, 3 of whom are very squarely in the advertised parameters, 1 of whom is not, but whom really is a good fit for other reasons, is pretty close, can teach the relevant courses, etc. That person will probably be slightly disfavored going into fly outs. But suppose one of the other people is *terrible* on the fly out, and then we decide: finalist who doesn't fit the job ad is ranked #3, others ranked #1 and #2, and then #1 and #2 turn us down. Now we are choosing between a failed search and hiring #3, and the only strike against #3 is that he doesn't fit perfectly into the advertised AOS. We are going to hire #3. I've seen this sort of thing (I changed the description slightly so identifying details are removed) happen in my department. I really, really doubt it is uncommon in R1 hiring.

Much todo about nothing

Hi Bill - as stated in my post, I agree with what you say (see above: "barring those who are unqualified or who have a completely unconnected AOS").

Let me be specific (though without giving so many details that anonymity is compromised): As I've stated, I *think* I'm competitive enough (hold a good postdoc, publications in good places like BJPS, Synthese, etc., solid teaching record, though I'm not coming out of thing near a top tier dept.) Many seem to be in my shoes. Yet, on several occasions I've applied to jobs with AOSs that were very squarely my AOS, was longlisted and then heard nothing. Applying to such jobs is not (I hope...) going, "so you're telling me there's a chance!" I fit the job descriptions well. In the end, on more than one occasion, the person who was hired had an AOS in some adjacent area to the advertised AOS, fewer publications than I did (in "worse" places), and no teaching record... but were coming out of a top tier dept.

So, I'm not frustrated when I don't hear back from jobs with open AOSs or ones where I don't fit well (though I've never applied to something for which I couldn't say my research covers in some way). Being charitable, I can chalk it up to the alchemy that Nate describes. Being uncharitable, it does not irrational to wish the search committee had just said in their job posting they'd give preferred consideration to applicants from X-tier departments. Perhaps I'm wrong, but from the outside it seems there can be unspoken preferences about who gets hired that often outweigh what is stated in ads.

Very little fun

Much todo about nothing: you are absolutely right. I'm in a similar situation you are, and had similar experiences. But if you think about it, there is nothing strange: in times like these,even small schools have the opportunity of hiring people from top tier departments. And we know how important is prestige in our field. I don't know if this is unjust or not, but I don't see why we should be surprised about this. However, we should be more honest with students who want to do a phd in philosophy: if you cannot get into a decent school, just do something else (I'm talking about research - in reading this blog, I realized that for teaching jobs rules are different). Is it a bit paternalistic? Yes, and I wish someone told me this years ago rather than saying "you're smart, you'll make it"

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