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Ted Williams mostly got out

Although I do not want to dissuade from working on the little things, I think this is key:

"These are small things that cannot be anticipated"

Do what you can, and get the feedback you can—but this is a process that is significantly out of your control. No beating yourself up!


If that one commenter is right that "prizes" matter, we really ought to create some kind of centralized resource for information about available prizes to compete for, and convey that information to grad students. When I was a grad student I had only the vaguest idea that there even were such things, and they seemed (and honestly many still seem) more like nice/fun vanity awards rather than something that speaks to qualifications for a job.

Points means prizes

I suspect the prizes and the jobs share a common cause (good work), as opposed to the former causing the latter. I would caution against focusing on prizes.

Just a thought

I agree with the first comment that these are things you mostly can't plan for. But I will suggest you take opportunities, when they arise, to do things for the first time. This is obviously defeasible since often the thing in question is rather time consuming, but some examples include:

-teach a new prep rather than the same course
-give a presentation to a philosophy club or community group
-assign a piece of literature or a film
-serve on a committee

Though each individual thing will likely not matter, there's a decent chance that one of them will come up in some way in a job ad or interview. The broader your experience, the greater the chances you can use these little things to your advantage.


It's not exhaustive (it doesn't have some of the journal based prizes), but the APA have a list: https://www.apaonline.org/page/grantsandfellowships

I'm sure if people write to the APA they would update the list! Being on subdiscipline specific listservs (or looking at society websites) and the Philos-L listserv will help keep people updated as well (my unscientific opinion is that more of these essay contests, etc. are popping up). This might also be crowd-sourced in a thread if Marcus so chooses.

Bill Vanderburgh

Glad to have sparked this query. The point, though, was that candidates have almost no control over those tiny differences and so they cannot do anything about them and should not try to. Make yourself the strongest candidate you can be in teaching, research, and service, then get lucky. That's the post.

Further elucidation: When I said 20-50% could do the job, I meant that they would meet minimum standards and earn tenure, not that they would all be equally good in the role.

To the query here: Committees are trying to weigh and balance a huge number of pieces of evidence, some of which are inevitably only going to give a partial picture of the candidate (cv, teaching evals, etc.). Other pieces of evidence require interpretation (Is the letter writer honest about how great this candidate is, or doing a sales job? Can the candidate really teach all the classes they are claiming?). Other times we are dealing with matters of taste and opinion (I like Job Talk A more than Job Talk B; candidate A seemed like they would be a better colleague to have around the department than B). Then we have to compare all those things across candidates who may be stronger and weaker in different areas. Then add in differing backgrounds and attention levels of committee members, the usual complications of collective human decision making, specific department politics, what the dean and provost want from the search, what the department is rhetorically successful in convincing the dean and provost that they want, etc.

Upshot: When a committee selects a candidate at any stage of the process, it is almost never an optimally rational or objective choice. So don't go chasing will-o'-the-wisps.

That said, the person who is chosen is deserving of the post. But many other people in the pool were, too. (Kind of like teaching awards: The winner deserved it, but lots of other people would have, too.)

Northeast prof

Not sure if this counts as a little thing, but I was told one main reason why I got hired was that I worked on what the search committee thought of as a "core" question in political philosophy rather than something they considered "trendy."

I had often worried that the fact that my dissertation wasn't on something trendy would instead keep me from getting a tt job. (And who knows, perhaps it did work against me in other job searches.)

Tenured now

It once came up in conversation with someone who sat on the committee that hired me that it had made a big difference that my work was *interesting*. Kind of depressing....

Teaching Prof

I'm at a public university with a heavy teaching focus. A "little thing" that makes it easier for me to support a candidate is if they have made it absolutely clear that they can meet the teaching needs of the position. I want to see that at the beginning of the cover letter. This is especially true if we've asked for an AOC. E.g. We are hiring a TT professor with an AOS in Ethics and an AOC in Ancient Western Philosophy. You wrote your dissertation in Ethics. Make it clear to me why you are qualified to teach an upper-division class in Ancient Philosophy. We put the AOC there because we have a teaching need.

In the later stages of the search, it is easy to defuse candidates that are being supported for more arbitrary / luck-based reasons if I can clearly point out that another candidate is better qualified to teach our classes and support student research (a requirement at our institution). The more objectively I can make that claim, the more likely you are to get hired.

On prizes

Quick comment on prizes: my experience on committees is that they do NOT generally make much of a difference. This is mainly as only very few prizes are ones that committee members have heard of (and the people with them tend to already have a strong/highly competitive CV). Other prizes (e.g. UG prizes, prizes from journal/society/conference few have heard of, teaching prizes from PhD-granting insitution) are not worth much as we don't know the process that is involved in them/what the competition for that prize was. (Related Anecdote: I worked for a while at a place where there was a teaching prize for PhD students. It was basically assumed that everyone by the end of their PhD would win it. People were good teachers, but that prize did not really indicate any special achievement)

re on prizes

The basic idea was that it must be prestigious prizes, something external and preferably not limited to just grad students. One must explain in the cover letter why the prize is worthy of the committee's attention. The general thought behind it was that it must make the CV and cover letter unforgettable in the right way. At least that's what my future employer told me.

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