Our books

Become a Fan

« Good public philosophy venues vs. ones to avoid? | Main | Incomplete job applications? »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Marcus, your last comment is a bit strange to me. There are of course excellent reasons for people to move laterally (family reasons, escaping toxic departments, etc). But we know that many tenure lines are not replaced. So any move has some expectation of lowering the number of tenure stream positions for philosophers permanently. That might be more or less likely depending on the position one is leaving. But any such move increases the probability that there will be one fewer philosopher who ever finds a TT position. People should be aware of this when making decisions about when to move.

search committee member

I'm on a search committee right now at a Philosophical Gourmet-ranked department in a decent place to live and we didn't get tons of applications from people looking to move laterally from tenure track jobs. I would have to go back and count (which I'm not going to do), but I think that we are interviewing a set of candidates that roughly mimics the proportions in the pool. We didn't discuss in advance whether we had a plan about people already in TT jobs or who were simply far along in their career in one way or another, but I know some places do that (that is, go into things either explicitly preferring people fresh out of grad school, or explicitly preferring those who have been out for a long time). It's also worth noting that often TT people are asked to apply to jobs (which is also much more common in tenured hiring), and so some of these questions are issues of "there are particular people on the tenure track we would like to look at, and if we can get them to apply we will likely interview them, but we don't have a general preference for people who already have TT jobs".

Marcus Arvan

postdoc10: Yeah, that's totally fair. My own experience is that vacated TT lines are usually filled with another FT person--but this could very well be an idiosyncratic feature of my local environment and experience that may not generalize.

R1 faculty

For what it's worth, even at my rich private R1 university, there is no reason to think we will be able to replace a line when someone retires or moves to a different job.

SC member2

Our search committee for a junior position explicitly favors junior assistant professors looking to move laterally. Our reasoning was the following: older assistant professors may be looking to start with tenure, which we can't offer, and the 'shine' has come off for many. On the other hand, it's hard to factor out an engaged advisor's contribution to an ABD's research portfolio and there is always uncertainty about making the jump from ABD to juggling all the responsibilities of an assistant professor. Junior assistant professors *who have published material without the benefit of supervision* have neither of these drawbacks. That's why they're attractive to committees like ours.


@postdoc10 — I used to think that but David Wallace convinced me that that was far from obvious in some Daily Nous threads. Can't find them now. For one thing, filling vacated lines remains, I think, standard practice at most places. And even when a line is cut (this happens, I agree), the budget may well serve the opening of a different line in a different field or department. When it doesn't happen, this is likely due to administrative decisions or financial stringencies that it seems unfair to blame on TT faculty who have all sorts of reasons to move. On balance, it's not entirely clear that lateral moves cause net losses in TT jobs over time. To be clear, it's an empirical question, and this might be wrong.

I understand how hard it is for recent graduates to be outcompeted by TT faculty (I've lost a job to a senior person once and it sucked). But we should look at the data first and, if it's a net loss, blaming it on the institution not the candidate. I'm currently on the tenure track and applying out to a few jobs. I didn't last year because the market was so dismal it felt cruel, but one reason people want to apply out is sometimes that they fear for the future of their own lines. The fact that their line may not be renewed if they leave is explained by the same factors that push them to apply out.


The tenure clock comments are strange to me (a TT prof at an R2). Are there places where going up early for tenure is explicitly forbidden? Mostly I'm just confused about what, exactly, people mean when they talk about "restarting" the tenure clock.


TTethicist: Nothing you say suggests that my primary claim was false. Recall that the claim was that any move increased the probability that there will be one fewer jobs for a philosophers. Sometimes lines are not replaced, standard practice or not. I know of several such cases.

You are right that these are empirical claims. Here is another one: it is more likely that a line is not replaced after someone moves than that a line is downsized while a person occupies it. Of course, more careful studies would be helpful. But I would be willing to be a lot of money that this is correct. If it is, the earlier claim is surely correct also. So you should think about that when you are moving. Of course, that’s just one consideration among many. But if you are applying just to find a fancier job, you should be aware that you are doing so potentially at others’ expense.

Of course you are right, we should be working on fighting the loss of tenure stream philosophy positions at an institutional level, rather than spending all our time blaming candidates. Indeed, I think much blame rests with comfortable tenured people in privileged positions. But perhaps some people could spend more time organizing to resist the diminishment of the humanities and philosophy if they spent less time trying to find ever fancier jobs.

stop with the judgment

Can we keep the focus on whether TT applicants are preferred or not, and not fall into (as discussions on the topic generally do) debating the ethics of particular TT applicants applying out?

Also: perhaps we should judge all of *you* for making these judgments in the abstract. In particular, there are TT individuals with two-body problems, working in different countries than their families, partners, friends (not easy now with pandemic restrictions), putting their health at risk due to ways in which the pandemic is being mismanaged in their institutions and geographical areas (not all countries/regions even have ready vaccine access, for one thing, or widespread mask use), or all of these factors combined. And I'm sure many more jobs open up overall due to lateral moves than they would just by waiting for senior philosophers to retire.

Final point: it's not the case that a TT applicant is necessarily less junior than a candidate with just a PhD. There are plenty of TT applicants that are more junior (e.g. fewer years out of PhD) than postdocs or VAPs. What do SCs make of these applicants relative to their peers?

Anyway, curious for responses having to do with the initial question -- not for more ethical judgment of individuals, especially in the current context of the pandemic where our job became significantly more difficult for many of us. Thanks.

non-TT applicant, this time more explicit with the judgment

Hi, @stop with the judgment, I am the OP of the original ask, and I just wanted to chime in to say that the judgment/moral issues at play in TT people making lateral moves in the current climate was already implicit in my question. Given that, I've been very grateful for the points made by postdoc10 and others. I won't belabor the point any further other than to point out that it doesn't make sense to say that lateral hires somehow *increase* the number of available jobs for junior people, even when compared to senior people retiring. Please remember that we are talking about junior TT people applying to the same jobs that fresh PhDs would have otherwise gotten. This is even more pressing in the years during the pandemic and even immediately afterward. Sure, the line that the junior person above vacates may eventually open up again, but by that time it will likely be too late for many of us on this thread. As it stands, choosing to do a lateral move right now and in the next couple of years is a very morally weighty decision that should not be taken lightly. As others have said countless times on here, we are in the midst of losing the bulk of an entire crop of new PhDs right now in our field. So, forgive me and others for our frustration at the callousness of the people a few years ahead of us in applying out when most of us are just desperately hoping for any TT job whatsoever.

Marcus Arvan

I’m stepping in at this point to ask for everyone to please bear in mind and respect this blog’s supportive mission. I don’t have any plans to unpublish any comments at this point, but things in my judgement are really close to the line here.

Making moral arguments on the Cocoon is fine—but it’s important at this blog to do so in a way that doesn’t unnecessarily antagonize or make it an unwelcoming and unsupportive space for people by impugning their character (particularly if one does not know their situation). Surely a person can want out of a bad situation (such as a toxic work environment) or need to resolve a 2-body problem (where they and their partner separated by thousands of miles) in this environment without being callous toward the plight of others.

Anyway, I’d like to ask commenters to turn this discussion back to the main question, which was for search committees. I understand all too well how difficult the job market is—but this blog is a place to support each other, not to tear people down.


Thanks, Marcus, and fair enough. In keeping with this I wanted to add a line that got edited out somehow while I was editing my last post, which is to say that no one here (including postdoc10's post that prompted "stop with"'s post) appeared to be saying there are never good reasons to apply out. Clearly, there are, two-body problems and COVID issues being some of them. The frustration, however, comes from the suggestion that applying out is a neutral (or even a positive!) thing in its own right. I don't think it is, but that doesn't mean there can't be many good reasons to make applying out *overall* a justified thing to do. Hence the bit about it not being a decision to be taken lightly. It is, in essence, a selfish decision, but sometimes there are mitigating circumstances that make selfish decisions morally justified. I just don't think it's fair to call it a neutral act sans mitigating circumstances, however, which is what others appear to be getting at as well.

Marcus Arvan

non-TT: Thanks, I agree. It's good to discuss the moral subtleties of these issues, and to press their importance--both to search committees and applicants. I only ask that the issues be discussed with appropriate sensitivity to the blog's mission.


@non-TT, *everyone* here is acting in their self-interest. All applicants, all departments. That’s why it’s called a market. No one is acting altruistically. I agree with Marcus that the ethics of this is irrelevant to the OP. But there seems to be a very questionable assumption in the pushback against TT faculty applying out, even conceding the point about net loss: the assumption is that the bump in wellbeing for lateral hires is necessarily lower, or lexically posterior, to the bump in wellbeing for entry-level hires. But that’s never defended and it is in fact disputable. Since everyone is acting in what they see as their best interest, this seems like an important point. Framing this as a competition between selfish applicants (albeit with mitigating circumstances) and applicants actually entitled to a TT job is misleading. In fact, one could argue that many recent PhDs still have a lot of options—postdocs, fellowships, alt-ac, everything afforded by youth—that TT faculty no longer have.

All of this bears on the OP. Search committees are looking for the best candidate for the job. This may or may not be a person on the tenure track, depending on the circumstances. It’s very hard to tell in advance and speculating helps no one. Given that everyone is acting in their self-interest and TT faculty will be competing, then make yourself standout. Persuade the committee that it is in their interest to hire you. TT faculty are no more a threat than applicants from top programs, or those who can produce more because of talent or because they don’t have kids or no mental health issues or whatever.

What search committees are *not* trying to make is the decision that benefits the worst off. Even if they did, as I noted, it’s not obvious that that would imply they should hire the freshly minted PhD. And supposing it did, should we expect grads from top departments to defer by a year or two until the worst off get a job? If a search committee hires laterally and the person’s line is cut, this sucks. Seeing this as the laterally hired person’s problem seems like a totally wrong way to look at things. Blame admins, search committees, senior folks who won’t retire, the overproduction of PhDs. You just can’t assume that someone making a lateral move has it easier than any given person.

Now, I’ll let the discussion get back to the original question, which I’m interested in since I’m in the position of acting selfishly with mitigating circumstances (which are nobody’s business).


Hi everyone. I just want to emphasize that there is something clearly wrong in the idea that getting a TT job, no matter which one, where, etc., is the ultimate Good, and that anyone who succeeds in doing so, just has accept whatever comes with it in the following X years (and what would be the appropriate number here? 3? 4? 5? forever?). I'm sorry, but I've seen people accepting to trade a TT job with a non-TT job, tenured academics applying to TT jobs, and people quitting their permanent academic job for personal/family reasons. I'm sure none of them was taking such decisions lightly, and that people applying laterally are not doing so just for fun. I know that, when one is on the job market trying to get their first TT job, things can easily get distorted due to stress, pressure, frustration, etc. I've been there. But please let's not forget that getting an academic job is not the only value in life, nor the most important one (for most people at least!). If you want to blame someone or something, blame academia and the way it works -- including the way in which it makes you feel like your whole life, and your value as a human being, depends on you getting a TT job, while making sure that a significant number of people won't be able to do so. *That* should be the target of our criticism, and what we should fight and try to change. In this context, blaming individuals that you don't even know for making choices according to what they legitimately value most in life won't bring us any closer to that change; it is actually counterproductive.

Search committee member

As a search committee member, I don’t care whether a person is TT or not, but it is good to have candidates with a solid research record and some good amount of teaching experience. If I have a preference, it might be for a person who is 1-2 years out with a solid research record and doing a postdoc, I guess. I’m a bit wary of the ABD with zero research publications. But our department has hired such people before, so there’s wide variation here in how people see candidates and whether they prefer the “potential” of someone ABD.


The original question seems difficult to answer in the abstract. Here are a couple of thoughts.

1. My PhD program experienced a wave of retirements, which lowered their profile. They tried to regain some of their status by aiming to hire a couple of TT profs with good publication records. They looked for assistant professors with 3/3 and 4/4 teaching loads who published a lot.

2. Later, after making a few hires, my PhD program started to look for newly minted PhDs. They interviewed a lot of ABDs at that point.

3. I worked at a well-known private R1 for a year. They had hired an ABD for a TT spot and expected them to finish the dissertation during the first year on the job.

4. At my current school, a regional state U, we will not hire someone who does not have a PhD for a TT spot. Will we interview ABDs? Only if we're convinced by the application that they'll be done in time to start the job. If an ABD doesn't have a defense scheduled, they're not likely to get an interview. We can't afford to botch a search.

5. At my regional state U, do we generally prefer TTs to new PhDs? No, not as a rule. We do wonder why TT folk want to leave their schools for ours. We recognize that there are plenty of legit reasons for this sort of move, but are also wary of some (e.g., problems getting tenure).


I will keep this brief in the hopes it makes it past moderation:

To Matt, and others: All we said was that people making lateral moves will result in fewer total jobs. No one is saying that all lateral movers are bad people because of this, or that they must simply accept their circumstances no matter what. We are just asking that you at least consider the interests of others when you make your decisions.

Tenured human

This is a very tiny N, but I'll share the anecdata because it conflicts with what Marcus said in the original post. I was at an R2 without a graduate program for 6 years, and we had quite a few searches during that time. We never hired someone from a TT job, and we almost never did fly outs for people in TT jobs. I was hired at an R1 with a PhD program the year I went up for tenure at my last job, and 3 out of the 4 fly outs were people at least 3 years into TT jobs.

Bill Vanderburgh

In the searches I've been involved in, people in current tenure-track positions were not advantaged in virtue of that fact. But our ads our written in terms of "preference for knowledge and experience in X, Y, Z," so people in current t-track positions sometimes have more evidence of more of that, compared to ABDs and recent grads. Those constitute objective reasons to prefer more experienced candidates. But far more often the deciding factor is "fit"--areas of teaching are an exact fit for department needs, successful experience with our sorts of students, etc.

fear of ABDs

When I worked at a state college, I was insistent that we should not interview or hire ABDs. Unfortunately, many supervisors are dishonest about the likelihood of their students defending. But we never once interviewed someone who was in another TT job. I do not even recall many (perhaps any) applicants with TT jobs. On paper, a job at our place did not look good to many people. We were in a economically depressed area, away from a big center. But in reality it was a fine place to live and work ... (for the right person).

job seeker

@postdoc10: but this, in my experience, is false, in particular because the relevant criterion from the perspective of a job seeker is the number of yearly job *openings*, not total (filled) jobs. Example: I've gotten four interviews so far this year. All 4 are a direct result of lateral movers leaving their prior positions. I've also gotten three interviews in past years: two were a direct result of people moving to new jobs; only one resulted from the creation of a new line altogether. I wouldn't have had any of these opportunities if everyone had just stayed in their jobs out of some bizarre sense of moralism; on net, the job openings would be far fewer. Anyway, I hope this is enough to dispel any guilt on the part of lateral movers, or of search committees considering them.


@job seeker: I do not think your view can be correct.

The total pool of open TT jobs depends on retirements, deaths, and (far less importantly) new positions being created. I seriously doubt that there are large numbers of new jobs *created* because some *assistant professor* job reached out to a different institution and then moved. Rather, junior lateral movers apply to jobs from the pool just discussed. Of course, some advertised jobs are the *proximate* result of people moving around. But moving around doesn't create new positions: rather, there is a limited number of total TT jobs based on the needs and funding of universities, and advertised jobs depend on the factors I mentioned above.

The claim I (and others) are making is that an advertised job taken by a lateral mover is a job that definitely exists. But there is a significant chance, given the way things work, that the position they leave will not be replaced. Administrators are always looking to cut costs, and refusing to replace a philosophy tenure line is a way of doing so. These points are all that is necessary to vindicate my earlier claims (assuming, again, that *junior* lateral movers are generally not causing new jobs to be created and advertised by reaching out to departments).

People shouldn't have guilt for moving in the vast majority of cases because they have morally important reasons for doing so. But that doesn't change the fact that in expectation such moves reduce the number of total jobs for the reasons just discussed. This is a moral reason that we (the currently or soon to be unemployed) would like you to consider.


Honestly, it's a pretty weak claim, and I don't really understand all the push back.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Subscribe to the Cocoon

Job-market reporting thread

Current Job-Market Discussion Thread

Philosophers in Industry Directory


Subscribe to the Cocoon