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02/14/2023

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Lauren

Obviously, the quality of research is the most important, BUT if I am writing letters for students going on the job market, I want to be able to say that this student would not only be a good researcher but a good colleague. That is, this person will be enthusiastically involved in the life of the department. So, I look for how the student has participated in our department. This includes things like colloquia attendance (do they come on a regular basis, or only when they’re particularly interested?), have they done informal things like organizing other grad students around reading groups, dissertation writing groups, class study groups, mentoring younger grad students, etc? Have they participated in initiatives designed to connect the department with things outside of the university (e.g., volunteered to help out with activities like Ethics Bowl)? All of these are signs that this is a person who is going to be an active contributor as a colleague, and I would venture to say at many, many schools this is almost as important (or even more important) that whether they are publishing in fancy places or that I expect they will become a big name in their subfield. And, of course, the same goes for teaching—-at many places, showing a particular commitment to pedagogical development and becoming a good teacher is going to be as important as the research profile, so ideally, I would have something to say about that also.

Philosophy Geek


I can't say this outright, of course, but what I and others I know expect -- beyond the obvious -- is that philosophy will be their passion. This might be evident in their having strong opinions about philosophical issues beyond what they're officially specializing in. Or in regular, clearly felt participation in colloquia and informal reading groups. Or in it being said of them by others in the dept, "Don't get so and so started on X," where X is some philosophical pet peeve or concern. Or in their actively, recreationally, following the goings-on in the profession, well beyond their own department. Of course we can't require any of this. But if none of these plausibly apply to a student, it will be a problem.

a different geek

In reply to Philosphy Geek
I hope my comment will not be read as contrary to the mission of this site, but I want to express strong disagreement with your assessment. This, I think, will only frustrate the person who asked what professors are looking for when writing letters, because it will make clear that there is no agreement on the topic. Like you, I think a passion for philosophy is important. But I do not think it expresses itself in "strong opinions about philosophical issues beyond what they're officially specializing in". Indeed, I have few opinions about the topics I do not research, and I tend to think better of students who have few as well. What I like to see, and will talk about in a letter of support, is an open mind, and a willingness to follow the evidence. On a related note, I also appreciate someone who is widely read. I have had colleagues who are very widely read, and they are often quite insightful and helpful when I am researching something new (or old). In contrast, I have had other colleagues who really know so little, and have no broader interests in intellectual matters, and they are rather taxing as colleagues.

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