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02/07/2023

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Rosa

For 90% of jobs, I would encourage giving a talk that will engage the whole audience, letting them know why your work matters for those who aren't interested in the specific technical issues themselves. Most departments are relatively small, and my sense is that most faculty members - well, at least me! - want colleagues who they can productively talk philosophy with. That can be someone who works in another area, but it's hard to see how it's someone who is really only interested in their own area (especially if it's really narrow and/or technical). The advice might be different if you are interviewing for a job at a big department with a number of other specialists in the area - maybe then it makes sense to mostly direct your talk to them. But I'm honestly not sure. I would still be put off by it as a department member, but maybe others wouldn't.

Bill Vanderburgh

I agree with Rosa and will add: Make sure the talk is in the AOS they are hiring for, not a favorite talk in a side area. You want to show depth while you are being accessible, too, since some people will judge your philosophical prowess via the talk and not just your ability to present. Practice the talk with an audience and get their feedback, if you can arrange that.

Caligula's Goat

Rosa is right. All politics is local. The most obvious generic advice is to choose a talk whose topic is squarely in the AOS of the job ad.

If this is a research-intensive traditional department, especially if there are other experts there in your AOS, then you're probably safe with the hyper-focused somewhat dry talk that showcases your ability to contribute to the AOS.

If the department is heavily interdiscplinary, has a broad view of philosophy (i.e., is growing into non-traditional areas of philosophy that includes focuses on philosophy of race, gender, politics, etc.) or one encourages cross-polination then the applied talk makes more sense to me as a signal that you understand the values that that department cares about those things.

If the department is smaller, where department members are often the only person in the AOS, or otherwise do a lot of teaching outside of their narrower specialization then the applied talk is likely a better choice than the dry focused one.

The purpose of the talk isn't just to showcase your best work, it's to show that you understand what sort of place you would be at if offered the job and that your work could fit into the department's overall vision of itself and plan for its future. That takes a bit of local knowledge to really get right.

2-cents

I recently listened to a job talk about something I never imagined I would care about -- and I still don't really care about it. But I did care about it for that 2 hours, because the speaker really did a good job motivating the concern.

On the other hand, I've heard talks where the speaker seems to have gone into the room expecting us (a crowd that works on a technical & very applied field) to hate them. So they skimp on the lit review and overelaborate on the connections they see with our field. The result is that 1) we couldn't see the value of the project because they skipped the part of the lit review that would explain why this is a new approach; 2) it was very obvious to us that this person doesn't know our field -- which is fine. They weren't expected to. But spending a substantive amount of a talk on something they don't know is, um, not very good.

So, my 2 cents would be: say enough to show that you're interested in drawing connections and talking about application, but still stay true to your own motivation. Even if the audience' conclusion is "I have no idea why anyone would care about this subject but it sounds like many do and they respect this candidate", that's not so bad.

Josh

Largely agree with what’s been said. Just want to add two thoughts.

First, like everyone has said, the answer to this question depends on who is in the audience. One thing that hasn’t been said yet is that undergraduate students may be in the audience, and departments may take their impressions of the talk seriously. My department explicitly tells finalists to pitch their talk in a way that’s accessible to undergraduates *and* that shows off your research skills. This is a very hard thing to do well. A talk accessible to undergrads is vastly different from one accessible to only area specialists.

This leads to the second point: why not ask the department what kind of talk they’re looking for? You could present them with a couple options and ask which they’d prefer. I wouldn’t put it in the terms of the OP (a dry talk vs applied), but there are fine ways to present these types of options without reflecting negatively on the candidate. Or you could ask: “will there be students in attendance? Should I ensure my talk is accessible to them?” Early on when I was on the market, I didn’t ask a lot of questions. In the later years I asked more—while being sure to respect the time of the department contacts. And I’ve now been on two search committees. If done respectfully and humbly, it’s fine to ask questions like this. Chances are the department *wants* you to do well, and knowing this information would help you do well.

Q and A+

I've prioritized job talks that leave plenty of room for the discussion. Even if it isn't your tightest work, or the *best* fit for the AOS, what matters (imho) is having a talk that opens up questions from the audience. Not only do people want to feel like that can engage--and a narrow talk tightly argued leaves little room for them to do so (which can make people blame the presenter rather than themselves)--but seeing you engage on your feet and chat with them as fellow philosophers is way more indicative of your fit as a colleague than a 45 monologue.

R-1 Philosopher

Departments divide along research vs. teaching lines and that determines the answer. Elite research departments (sometimes known as "Leiterific") want someone who will be excellent in their AOS. That means pick the most cutting-edge, game-changing talk for your subfield, and forget about what it says to outsiders. All the rest want someone who will be interesting and engaging, both to students and colleagues, and -- though they won't all admit this -- interested and engaged with the work of the departmental colleagues, too. For them, pick the more accessible, user-friendly talk.

Mike Titelbaum

Even if you’re giving a talk to a research-based department with other specialists in the area, be sure your talk can be understood and enjoyed by everyone in the room. Since we don’t have teaching demonstrations as part of our flyouts, the talk is being used (among other things) as a gauge of your teaching ability. So showing you can explain what you do to non-experts is a must.

Timmy J

I don't think the answer is as easy as anyone above has made it seem. And I think R-1 Philosopher is dead wrong. I shouldn't have to say this, but I guess I do: you can't judge what sorta talk you should give from anything as silly as whether Leiter likes the school.

Case in point: I work in a small department without a graduate program. Leiter probably doesn't know we exist. But we care a great deal about research. We view ourselves as researchers first. And we want to hire folks who do good research.

Over and over, in spite of everything we do to explicitly and clearly tell people not to, folks show up and give boring, general, unchallenging talks that folks just wandering in off the street could understand. I hate it.

I mean, in part I get it---folks like R-1 Philosopher can't imagine that people not at similar universities care about research, do good research, and think of themselves as researchers even though we don't have graduate students. And these same folks are the folks giving job candidates advice about what to do.

But here's the deal: what the search committee chair says you should do trumps---hands down, every single time---any piece of advice anyone else gives you. So if we ask you for your best damn work I don't care how hard it is, please give us that and not some watered down crap I could've come up with on my own. And if you do give us the watered down crap and we don't ask questions, don't think it's because you still shot too high. It's because you've bored us so badly that we've written you off.

Chris

I think both Timmy J and Mike T have important points here. Though in my experience at three different R1s, too many job candidates make the mistake of giving a talk that can only be understood by the local experts. In the departments I've worked in, each faculty member gets a vote. I can't tell you how many times one candidate ends up getting the first offer because their talk was more engaging to a broader philosophical audience. It is fine to have some PART of the talk for the "experts" but usually better to think of much of the talk as pitched to intelligent non-experts or outsiders.

R-1 Philosopher

Addendum: I suppose it's possible that some department faculties will think that if your talk is too easy for outsiders to understand, then you're not very good at research, or your work is something they could easily have come up with themselves. If they have a chip on their shoulder they may even be insulted or "bored" by your breezy accessibility, like you're "talking down" to them. Still, even if sentiments along those lines are reflected in this thread, my anecdotal experience says the safer bet is on accessibility.

My own place is not very Leiteriffic but still "R-1," so we're *supposed* to prize research way over teaching, collegiality, etc. But after many searches I can say that clarity and accessibility always wins the day, hands-down. We already have your written work, and the (direct or indirect) vouching of your recommenders, mentors and peer reviewers to show your cutting-edged research chops. That's not what the job talk is for, at least in my opinion and experience. FWIW.

LL

Some anecdata: I gave two different job talks last year. The first job talk I did, I presented a new paper, a new application of my core research that is more interdisciplinary and engaging. My other option was to present more polished, but less engaging esoteric work. The department did not have anyone who worked in my specific area, so I thought presenting something that was engaging to more folks was the right idea. However, my ideas presented in the job talk I think were too underbaked and thus the talk overall felt more workshoppy. Big mistake on my part, and I should have known better.

The second talk I did, I presented a more holistic perspective of all of my work, showing how my main wheelhouse of research is growing in interdisciplinary and applied directions. This was also for a department that doesn't have anyone who works in my field. Something that helped me: I spoke with the committee chair about what they were looking for in a job talk, and they specifically suggested a big picture take, so I recommend just flatly asking the committee chair what they have in mind, since I think it may vary across departments. I ended up getting an offer.

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