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12/19/2021

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Overseas Tenured

I'll just put here my 2 cents, and I realize it's probably not what many of you will want to hear. What I say applies exclusively to research jobs, but by no means only to the fancy ones (I'm in a non-fancy overseas research job).

The publication arms race ramped up like crazy. At this point I regularly see ABDs and fresh PhDs hitting the market with 5 or 10 (!) publications, all of them in top-10 journals, with a few in top-5. I got applications like this for a postdoc with pretty rudimentary conditions. And I regularly see applicants like this landing at jobs in expat departments in developing countries and in European postdocs in places that you never heard of.

I'll try to describe things from my own point of view. As a SC member, do I expect applicants to our overseas postdoc position to have a publication in Mind, one in PPR, and four more in Phil Studies-level journals fresh out of PhD? No, I absolutely don't *expect* this. However, when I open the files, as a matter of fact many people do have that profile. And of course, while this doesn't automatically settle the outcome of a search, it obviously has a strong effect. Moreover, while 10 years ago I would have assumed that these people would have much better options than the meager postdoc we can offer, today I tend to assume the opposite. When we pick a candidate, we can be 95% sure that s/he will have no other option and will be very happy to choose employment, any employment anywhere, over unemployment.

So this might sound brutal, but I'm afraid it's misleading (and misleadingly comforting) to focus on what's "reasonable" to expect from candidates. The competition is so insane that people with CVs who might have had a shot at top-20 PhD programs 10 years ago and perhaps tenure in the same places 20 years ago are now in cutthroat competition for poorly paid 1-year postdocs at the geographical periphery of analytic philosophy. This is great for us but obviously very bad for them. I can sincerely emphathize. I know what my CV looked like when I finished, which wasn't even that long ago. It was a pretty good CV at the time, but today I probably wouldn't get anything with it.

I realize this might sound extremely discouraging, but I feel that I need to be frank. The competition is insane, and no amount of positive spin will change that. Extrapolating from my own experience I suspect that any globally advertised research position anywhere in the world, be it tenure-track, continuing or postdoc, receives several applications from candidates barely out of grad school with many publications in tip-top places, and if offered the position, most of those candidates won't have any other option and will take it in a heartbeat. It's sad that things came to this and that so many talented philosophers will end up unemployed, but this is the reality I see.

anonymous faculty

Just wanted to respond to Overseas Tenured, because what they say does not match my experience (in terms of choosing people to interview) at an R1, PhD granting (very not fancy though) department. In our hiring, of course a lot depends on who is on the committee, but I would estimate that less than 20% of my colleagues are significantly swayed by considerations of CVs like the one Overseas Tenured described. For example, in the last search we had that I was a part of, two candidates who looked like that had to be vehemently argued onto the interview list to join candidates who almost all (if they were coming out of grad school) had at most 2 publications, often in specialty journals or top 15ish journals rather than top 5. In my department, I think the explanation for why we don't strongly value the kind of CV described above is: most of us read writing samples, and read a lot of writing samples and research statements, before making decisions. (We weed candidates out who don't fit the AOS, and some of my colleagues probably don't read writing samples of people with no publications, but I know some of us do.) We don't think we have some better judgment about quality of philosophy than top journals, or something obnoxious like that; but we want to read something that we think is interesting, maybe doing something new or unusual, that makes us want to talk to the candidate and learn more about them and their research program. Further, while we don't have a strong cohesive identity as a department, I think there are some things we agree very generally about about approaches to doing philosophy, what is valuable, etc., and that often does not match what top 5 generalist journals judge to be valuable.

Sometime our judgements match up with the fancy CVs that Overseas Tenured describes. But just as often--probably more often!--they don't. And sometimes one or two people on the committee will be swayed by the fancy CVs, but at the end of the day if others on the committee can point out that the content of those papers is actually not quite what we want, those considerations will be outweighed.

Finally, I'll just mention: most departments (at least among those that aren't concerned with the Leiter arms race) care a lot about hiring a good, conscientious, friendly colleague who cares a lot about teaching and service. My department does, and again, we are a PhD granting department! And while it is definitely unfair to read off someone's fancy CV that they are not such a person, I do think there is a weak correlation between "excessive productiveness" and "being a crappy/self-absorbed/non-community-oriented colleague". We're hiring someone for life. Above all it is most important that that person is not a self-absorbed jerk. (Again, I am NOT saying that there is a strong correlation here--but just that it is more often the candidates with the really fancy CVs we end up bringing to campus or first round interviewing who turn out to be broadly agreed to be non-viable because of their lack of interest in our undergraduate and graduate students and in serving our department and university and being a conscientious member of our community.)

SLAC TT

Though I am not at an R1, I have gotten a similar impression as Overseas Tenured (though not because these people are applying to my department much).

My question is: have top-5 and top-10 journals been publishing more, or are older members of the profession publishing less than they used to in these venues? After all, if the journals aren't publishing more, then it's a zero-sum game.

Overseas Tenured

Thank you for your input, anonymous faculty. I'm obviously not privy to your hiring process, and it's very helpful that you shared a different (and still research-school-based) perspective. I want to make two quick comments.

First: for postdocs, collegiality matters much less. Not being a jerk is still important, but the rest (department meetings, admin work etc.) are irrelevant.

Second: I respectfully beg to differ even on the weak correlation you draw between being very productive and being a good colleague. I realize that this is really, really not the received wisdom of many search committees, but my experience is actually the exact opposite: I think that academic qualities tend to accumulate rather than balance out each other. People who write more papers also (statistically speaking) write more interesting papers. People who are very productive are usually very organized and tend to be also on top of administrative things. People who write well for publication also tend to teach well. And so on. I emphasize: these are weak correlations, but in my experience they are positive rather than negative correlations.

But, I realize that in the end of the day we are just clashing our anecdotal evidences against each other, which is bound to be inconclusive. In any case, thank you for chiming in.

anonymous faculty

@Overseas Tenured I should have been clearer that I wasn't disagreeing with you, exactly (in that I wasn't denying your experience!), but just trying to demonstrate that there are lots of different things that people value in hiring, for lots of different kinds of jobs, in order to help support Helen's points (which I really agree with), but also to reassure people that while certain kinds of research-focused jobs care a lot about publication venue and quantity, others value other things (or different publication venues). We can agree to disagree about the correlation claims :)

Helen De Cruz

SLAC TT it would be interesting to look at this over time. It is my anecdotal impression (as an editor when looking at non-triple anonymized stuff) that tenured people submit less, which makes sense. They need it less, they have other venues to publish in. Journal publication is, as you say, zero-sum.

In my personal trajectory, I used to have always three papers under review (at least!) at any given time. Now, for the moment I have no papers under review. I'm writing a monograph (under contract), I have a paper in the works, as well as a volume I am co-editing (under contract), so there is just less time and less incentive to send papers to journals. However, if I worked in the UK or in Australia, my strategy would have to be different because of the REF (and its Australian equivalent). So, I also have the freedom of US academia which recognizes a broader set of achievements/accomplishments than the narrow metrics that REF and similar exercises bring.

Overseas tenured is right that the arms race in research positions in Europe and other parts of the world is getting overheated. It's amazing to see e.g., for the British Academy postdoc, a very early career position how super-qualified people with papers in top journals do not get a position, and I've seen similar things in The Netherlands for the VENI scheme. But in the US, there are (thankfully) still so many small teaching colleges, and my impression as a placement director who is now in my third year and see people land jobs (even in this terrible market) is that those colleges just don't care about one's papers in Phil Review or Mind. If anything, it counts against one, as it seems to say something about one's commitment to teaching. I hasten to add that there are lots of people who are excellent teachers and publish in top journals, it's about perception. I think this goes into the point of geography I mentioned at the end--your CV might be a great fit for a teaching-focused SLAC in the US but a post-92 university in the UK would not give your CV a second look because of the REF and general research culture there.

Assistant Professor

I also heard versions of this (satirical) advice told to me sincerely while in grad school and I didn't follow it - publishing instead in specialist journals relevant to my AOS. This worked for me. I found it better to demonstrate that I could play the publication game (I understood its norms, I could successfully shepherd a paper through from submission to R&R and eventual publication) and that I could build on this foundation in my career.

During a job search that occurred in my department while in grad school I asked about why one person was being flown out for an interview who had no publication record when the grad students in the department were told we absolutely had to publish to be competitive on the market. A faculty member told me they had it on "good authority" that this candidate had a paper forthcoming in a big deal journal. The paper wasn't even accepted yet! (Of note, the paper never was accepted in said "big deal journal" and the candidate did not get the job, but it was telling to see how at least some members of the department were swayed by this idea of potential in a top journal above all else - but how it can also backfire....)

TT

Echoing Assistant Professor as well as Marcus's thoughts above, whether this is good (albeit satirical) advice completely depends on AOS. I am on the tenure track, and I have several colleagues who are on the tenure track in R1 or R2 departments, and none of us have ever published in a "top" generalist journal. But we have published in top journals for our area, and we've developed recognizable expertise in that area. I think it is much better advice to encourage graduate students to find a lane that *works for them* rather than assuming that to be successful every philosopher must publish in a generalist journal.

ABD

I have to admit that I find the focus on top journals a bit odd. I work in phil of cogsci and phil of mind and I almost never read anything from a top generalist journal unless it is 30+ years old. Every once in a while I will get curious and flip through some of the latest issues in the top generalist journals and I just don't see anything that is relevant to my work or that really sounds all that interesting (though this could just be the limits of my ability to judge what is interesting or exciting in fields outside of my own). I definitely understand that prestige plays a role in hiring processes, but as a researcher they largely seem irrelevant to my work. The only reasons I've tried to get published in them are for the satirical ones stated in the tweet above. If I was only focused on being part of the conversations that drive my research, its unlikely that I would ever think much about generalist journals, never mind try to get published in them. So, I hope Assistant Professor and TT are right.

(Not trying to diss anyone's work. I'm sure there are tons of interesting publications in them that my haphazard research methods have just failed to come across.)

postdoc10

Brandeis just sent out a (kindly worded) rejection saying they had 600 applicants for their position. Maybe there just really isn’t any actionable advice to give grad students at this point. I appreciate Overseas Tenured’s clarity on just how bad things really are.

getting old

ABD
My impression is similar. For what it is worth, I am a somewhat established scholar. I do not really read the four generalist journals regularly, and there are few papers in philosophy of science published in them. I have had a fine career - though with many of the typical challenges (like getting a first TT job). I have in fact published in one of those journals. That paper has been cited over 30 times in the last 9 or so years - I have three other papers published after that date in "lesser" journals that have been cited even more frequently.

SLAC TT

Helen,

Regarding senior members publishing in top journals, my question was slightly different from the one you seemed to be answering (sorry if I misunderstood). I agree that it makes sense that senior people submit less. As you point out, they need it less (one caveat below). But they also needed it less 10, 20, and 30 years ago, so the fact that they need it less than junior people isn't something new, and so doesn't clearly pertain to whether or not they're filling the journals at the same rate that they used to.

My question is whether the share of articles published in top journals that are written by senior people is going down. On the one hand, assuming journals aren't publishing more, I can't help but think that it must be going down. After all, if there's an arms race at the bottom and it's a zero-sum game, someone has to be losing their spots in the top journals. But on the other hand, there's also an arms race at the top, though less accelerated. The arms race is driven in part by thing like the REF, etc. In addition, when I pick up an issue of Mind or Phil Review or Nous, I see a lot of established names.

Kate Norlock

Let's all pause to enjoy my umbrage at "They must have a small mind." Wow, that's the most belittling thing I've read today (but it's midmorning so just give me time). What a guy.
I've served in the USA and Canada on TT searches at two very good undergrad-only programs many times and the number of times a top-five journal article was a decisive factor was zero. I read the top-five journals close to never. So I figure the NEED is the need to hedge one's bets to get the rare top job in the field, when those come around. For those who are crushed by the arms race, though, it is at least a little good news that for many posts it's not a need at all.

Helen De Cruz

SLAC TT: I rarely read top-4 (or top-5) journal articles, since I don't really need it for the research I'm doing now or most of the research I've done in the past so my impression is entirely anecdotal. Here's my anecdotal take (not to be taken for data because we don't have it): people who regularly publish in Nous, Phil Review etc and who are established in the profession tend to work in countries/environments where publication in these journals is a must: the UK, Australia, many European countries, Israel etc.

I think the arms race has amped up so that cost-benefit wise it does not really pay to do this unless you have to. If you have e.g., a book contract or edited volumes to write in, or good specialist journals, why jump through these hoops? Now, there are lots of academics working in the Uk and other countries with REF-like structures, so perhaps because of this the overall proportion has *not* gone down, but if we break it down geographically, we'd see some interesting differences between e.g., the US and the UK. Or at least, that's my hypothesis!

SLAC TT

Thanks, Helen! I wish the philpapers team would get on this haha. At the very least, I might tally the authors over the past year in the big 4.

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