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01/18/2023

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Tenured now

I do not endorse this at all, but as an explanation I think it's depressingly plausible. 1. Search committees are trying to wade through tons of good people, and are looking as much for reasons to reject people as anything else. 2. Lots of search committee members I think have an (often implicit) idea that each candidate is either "good enough" for a TT job or not. 3. That someone has been a VAP likely indicates that they have been on the market before and have not gotten a TT job - and search committees can take this as one data point that they are not "good enough" for a TT job; i.e. that other search committees did not want them for a TT job. ABD folks do not have this data point against them, since the search committee presumes they have not been on the market before and so have not "failed" to get a TT job yet. Here's more evidence for this idea: people who are *already* in TT jobs often seem to be much more successful in getting further TT job offers than VAPS - even all other things being equal (years out from PhD, publication numbers and venues, etc). This is wild, of course - as Marcus says, VAPs are likely getting those publications in much harder circumstances, which should suggest that they would do even *better* in the future. But the fact that a TT person has already gotten a TT job is I think too often used as its own piece of evidence by search committees - this person is good enough for a TT job, as evidenced by the fact that they already have a TT job.

Sometimes it feels like a waterfall

Re tenured now, this is a well-known phenomenon, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00712-002-0615-0

Michel X.

One more thing that's perhaps worth observing is that if we're comparing a VAP to a new PhD with a _proportionate_ publication record, then the VAP's record is not really better. The hiring department can expect the new PhD to be on the same publication trajectory as the VAP. If the records _aren't_ proportionate, then that's another story.

(This is not a line of thinking I endorse, but it's a rationalization that may be operative.)

TT now, thankfully

I think that the 'this person might be the next big thing' is pretty common. And I'd say that people are more inclined to think in this way especially in situations where candidates come from specific PhD programs. I work in a specialized field, and there are two or three very good programs that have a pedigree for this particular field. I was passed over a number of times by people coming from these programs, even if my CV was better in terms of both teaching and research. I can understand a line of reasoning such as, "well, x and y are two solid candidates, we like them both; however, x comes from this PhD program, and this program has a tradition of nurturing amazing scholars in field z; so we will go with x rather than y".
This reasoning is problematic, but it's something pretty common in academia, and philosophy in particular.

agreed - it's a problem

After watching and being on the job market for quite a few years now, I'm convinced that @Tenured now, above, is absolutely right. I've seen this happen countless times now, both in searches I've been involved in (as a candidate or at my institution), with friends, etc.

I would add, at least, that this problem seems to get worse with time. I don't imagine most committees would think terribly much of one year of VAP work; but the bias against long-term VAPs seems to get preponderately worse as those years pile up for a job candidate. Perhaps this is obvious, but it's worth making explicit in any case.

womp womp

Like every other aspect of the job market, too much hinges on where you got your PhD to even try to give generalized advice about what to do in these situations.

I think we tend to vastly underestimate how different the experience of the philosophy job market is for ABDs (or even graduates) from elite, highly ranked philosophy departments vs. basically anyone else, including VAPs. I graduated from a low top-20 department that was still top-10 in my AOS. I couldn’t get a single interview while ABD despite checking all of the boxes. I lucked out in eventually getting a TT job at an R1 after several years of a non-fancy research postdoc, but every year I was on the market I was stunned to find out who *did* get jobs or fly outs the years I didn’t. Most of the ABDs who did had substantially fewer publications than I did while ABD, all in less impressive venues, and there was not much else CV-wise that compensated for the lack of output apart from the PhD being from an elite, very prestigious department. It’s been several years since then, but I struggle to think of a single one of these folks who has ultimately delivered with respect to whatever promise they were hired on (by which I mean they either haven’t published at all since being hired, or they have published minimal, low-impact work). Most of the others were folks who already had TT jobs. I can only think of two or three jobs I applied to in my AOS that were ultimately offered to VAPs.

Unlike Marcus, though, I don’t think there is a silver lining. Spending several years being constantly rejected in favour of “shinier” but less accomplished candidates just left me bitter and cost me years of stable employment and income.

I’m glad to see others acknowledge how unfair and biased this process is. I’m linking Helen De Cruz’s excellent and sobering article on prestige bias in philosophy which I think also touches on the notion of “staleness”: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/p/pod/dod-idx/prestige-bias-an-obstacle-to-a-just-academic-philosophy.pdf?c=ergo;idno=12405314.0005.010;format=pdf

Good luck to the OP. The whole situation stinks. You’re picking up on a real phenomenon and your anger is valid.

Bad News Bear

Regarding keeping the shine on: one thing I've heard academics in other fields say, which I suspect applies to philosophy as well, is that you need to publish at least as well as someone who works at the type of institution you want to work at publishes.

So, even if you teach a 4/4 load, you need to publish an average of 2 papers a year in good venues to stay viable for R1 jobs. Even better if you can land a paper in a top 4 generalist journal.

If that seems horribly unfair, well, it is. Nonetheless, I think it's close to the only way. The people I can think of who got R1 jobs from VAPs (or adjunct positions) published a ton.

Happy to be corrected, of course.

Terrified by the job market

A follow up question (not the OP): Do people think this same problem applies for research postdoc positions, especially longer term ones (3-5 years say)?

I imagine that some people might treat any-non-TT job as basically equivalent, in which case a postdoc position won't be much better than a series of VAPs.

On the other hand, I suspect some people would count having a good, long term postdoc (and publishing a lot while in it) as part of the possible trajectory of an up and coming star.

In fact, there are probably two dimensions here that we should compare: (1) multiple, short contract positions (e.g. 3, 1 year VAPs) vs one long contract position (e.g. 1, 3 year VAP). (2) VAP/primarily teaching position vs postdoc/primarily research position.

If anyone has information about how these dimensions compare I'd love to hear them.

I am personally hoping the answer is that postdocs get counted better (and that a series of short term positions doesn't hurt too much). Objectively, however, I think the whole state of affairs is unfair and inefficient.

anon

I have a different experience. Prestige of institutions plays a huge role in how much one gets interests and respect in philosophy. But in my experience, it plays *relatively* a small role in getting a TT job.

Some background: Coming from prestigious institutions in a nonwestern country, I had the heart of a spoiled person and harbored a romantic view that nonprestigious places are better, producing more grounded, more hardworking, and better qualified people. So I chose a nonprestigious grad program in the US (along with other factors, of course). Many years later, now I do think the prestigious institutions generally produce better students and my old view was wishful thinking.

Coming with a non-prestigious institution, however, my job market experience was not terrible. I have successfully competed with people from prestigious places more than once. I am not saying that there was no prestige bias that I have suffered during those competitions. Still, I feel that I have suffered a lot less than in (say) conferences, which have consistently been terrible experience to me due to my difficulties in attracting interests.

Instead, my experience in job hunting is that it plays a fairly big role in research universities that their faculty members like your work and take a big interest. Institutions and newly-mintedness speak something of one's promise and in that sense are important, but not much more than that.

Sorry for the ramble (not much time for editing) but it's my honest opinion that I wish to be a little bit helpful and comforting.

Postdoc

When I was on the job market I’d often be passed over for people from top programs with no publications. I had published 3 papers before graduating and then another two within a year. Didn’t matter. Prestige was more important. Demographics were also more important. Also I noticed that connections played a big role—e.g. if you knew people at the department you were applying.

Mike Titelbaum

I don't know if this will help, but in case it does: There are top departments that are only interested in employing stars, agenda-setters in their specialities. But I'm at a top-25 R1 (UW-Madison), and in all the searches we've conducted over the past dozen years, no one has ever asked whether someone will be "the next star". We're interested in hiring people who will do good philosophy, be good teachers, and meet our tenure requirements (roughly one substantial article in a good journal per year). A VAP or postdoc one or two years out who's working at that pace is pretty much on a par with a new grad we expect to work at that pace given what we know of them. At which point all the other things (our assessment of their writing sample, research statement, letters, etc.) factor into our decision process. If someone is much more senior (tenured or coming up for tenure), or someone has a dozen publications in top-flight journals, that might put them in another category. But every search we do, we set aside many "shiny" new grads from fancy departments, and many VAPs/postdocs as well.

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