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« How do search committees view ABD candidates? | Main | Unusual delays in peer-review this year? »

12/01/2023

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academic migrant

Here's my deliberation when I was on the market.

First, I am not the best judge regarding the quality of my own work. I have some publications. While I know whether something is accepted depends hugely on luck, chances are quality also has some influence over journal/editor/reviewer decisions. So a publication feels safer.

Second, even if the quality of some manuscript is equal to some published work, something which I don't know in the first place, chances are some people on the committee would have some prestige bias. I mean no disrespect towards committee members. But if someone has to go through hundreds of files, and at the end read a dozen or so writing samples, then it is a situation where biases can creep in.

Both reasons, I think, speak for being risk adverse. But just to clarify, my best publications are all naturally part of my current research agenda, so my two cents have no implication on jobs beyond it.

cecil burrow

I definitely *disagree* with the search committee member. I want to see evidence that an applicant is capable of very high quality work, and if their best paper is in a different area than the area they want to work in, that's fine by me. For the most part, people capable of very high quality work in one area are capable of very high quality work in another.

Michel X.

Why is it happening? Probably because we encourage candidates to try to turn all of their course papers into publications. Candidates who succeed don't necessarily have other publications, so they send in their "best" work, which they select from among their publications.

anon

As ABD on the job market, I find this concern kind of off-putting. On my most cynical of days, I already feel that too much is expected of job applicants, and people in general in academia. And now I'm told that submitting a highly polished piece of writing published in a good journal may count against me if it is unrelated to my dissertation? Come on...

First-Timer

I am an ABD on the market currently, and I use published work as my writing sample. Either I use a piece that matches my more clearly defined trajectory of research or I use a piece that better matches the job description but is not directly in my research trajectory. In either case, I use published work.

T

I'm a tenured faculty member, but not in the US.
It's difficult not to judge a file holistically, but I am more impressed if there is a published piece on different topics than those in the dissertation.

trying to cover all the bases

I have an exciting new project that is related but different from my dissertation project. All my publications are from the dissertation. So for the writing sample I do send the polished work. But if interfolio has a slot for "additional documents" I put the much rougher work from the new project there in case the SC member wants to take a peek. I also give links to my website where (thanks to suggestions on what to put on one's website on a recent thread on this blog) I try to prominently put links to drafts of the new work.

ABD too

I'm also an ABD on the market, and for some applications I did use a published article that is not directly related to my dissertation project. I did this for a few reasons:

1. The article in question is (I think) really strong.

2. I've received advice, from numerous places, that you don't want to look like a one-trick-pony on the market, and that focusing too much on your dissertation in materials makes you seem like a grad student and not a potential colleague.

3. I actually think that this article is related to my research interests, in ways that might not be as obvious but could be easily explained.

4. My dissertation chapters are not written like articles and so they are more difficult to excerpt / might not read very well as standalone pieces (i.e. the form search committees would be reading them in).

Junior SC

I totally agree! In fact I have had a few files with the same problem where I honestly was pretty hopeful about the whole project but, without any concrete evidence that it’s as good as I think it is, I can’t recommend this candidate. Moreover, I have certainly read dissertation chapters that are not extremely polished (often from ABDs who don’t have anything published) that have impressed me.
As someone who’s only somewhat recently gotten off the market, I understand it’s difficult for candidates to know what to send. My own criteria for assessing files are very different from how I imagined others would assess mine several years ago. Please don’t take this as yet another “expectation” to put on candidates. It’s not an expectation at all. It’s fact that if I don’t see a good example of writing from you in the AOS we’re hiring for, backed up by your statement that this is what you will continue to do after getting the job, I cannot recommend you for the job.

ABD too

@Junior SC

This makes sense to me, but I'm wondering what the relevant factor is, specifically. Is it the AOS for the listing, or the match between writing sample and dissertation? For example, consider three hypothetical cases:

Case 1: Candidate is applying for a job in 19th century European philosophy. Their dissertation is on Nietzsche's theory of tragedy. Their writing sample is a published article on Aristotle's ethics.

Case 2: Candidate is applying for a job in 19th century European philosophy. Their dissertation is on Nietzsche's theory of tragedy. Their writing sample is a published article on Hegel.

Case 3: Candidate is applying for a job in 19th century European philosophy. Their dissertation is on Nietzsche's theory of tragedy. Their writing sample is an unpublished excerpt from their dissertation.

It seems like Case 1 is clearly worse than the others, but is Case 2 really worse than Case 2? Doesn't Case 2 demonstrate an AOS as well as Case 3?

Prof L

SC member, if you really want to see something from a project that they describe in their research statement, you can contact them and ask them to see it, rather than post anonymously on an open forum about it, as if your preferences are normative.

What one committee member wants to see may be idiosyncratic. I would prefer to see a bit of breadth in a candidate. But if I wanted to see more from a candidate (say, their research statement gives an indication of breadth, but the writing sample is very narrow), I know I can run it by other search committee members and then reach out to the candidate to get additional materials if need be. We've done it before.

whatever

I do remember distinctly reading on this blog 'send your best thing', period, without the qualification that it should be from your big project.

In my own experience, I never published anything in grad school that wasn't relevant to my big project. That doesn't mean I published only dissertation chapters. But everything I published needed no explanation for how it related to my main project.

Junior SC

@ABD too
That’s the challenge, isn’t it? What is the best decision to make really depends on what the department is looking for, which you cannot know as a candidate, and which SC members don’t always agree with each other about. It also depends how good is the work that’s “not your best work”. I don’t believe philosophical papers can be linearly ranked so it’s not really a question of “do I send my 98 paper or 94 one?” I do think that the writing sample should pass some quality threshold, which might narrow down the options to one for some folks (that was me for some time). But maybe a second-best work is still good enough quality-wise and has greater benefits elsewhere.

@Prof L that seems unnecessarily hostile to me. I received a lot of (I now recognize as) bad advice as a job candidate partly because people hesitate to post advice that goes against the grain on these open forums. Like @whatever, I remember receiving the advice of “always send your best work” from multiple sources without caveats, and I feel lucky that my best work happened to be in my AOS (which is ironic because I also value breadth).

Timmy J

Search committee member here. I don’t care about your big project. It’s not gonna pan out. Your papers might, though. Unless the one you got published is a flash in the pan. I could go look but meehhhh oh! It’s already here? Yeah cool I’ll check it out.

Bill Vanderburgh

I'd say the most important thing is that the writing sample be in the AOS of the job to which you are applying. Having publications is a plus, even when they are in different areas (in fact, that's a reason to think the candidate might have a strong AOC that could be valuable). But I think most of the time committees want to assess whether the candidate is strong in the area they are searching for.

Another important consideration is readability/accessibility to folks not familiar with the area. Since the goal is to communicate the candidate's talent, an overly-technical paper might not do that (even if the paper would impress other experts in that subfield).

defending SC

I want to use this post as an opportunity to advise job candidates against taking too much advice:) Seriously.

When I was on the market, I received lots of advice from the job placement chair (and of course, it was his job to give us advice). One advice was exactly to use published work as WS and even the typeset version to look polished. I didn't take this advice. It's not bad advice of course, as it is probably based on the statistics and experience he knew. But as job candidates, we are *also* mature enough to make our call on what advice to take. Any formula for success can run badly wrong in individual cases, which is why we always need to use our discretion in taking advice from people, especially those who do not know our specific situation or even area.

It sounds like the profile OP is describing is such an exceptional case. Of course, I do not know the detail. But I can well imagine cases where OP's complaint is well warranted. I very much hope that job candidates take the point from OP, but not derive another generic formula for success from it, such as "use your primary research project"!

anon TT

Ordinally rank considerations. Paper quality versus in area? I rank PQ first. Satisfy committee member preference to (maybe?) see work in your area versus just give best work? I say just send best work. Etc. Rec letters will make clear whether work in a candidate's biggest, recent project is good.

Greg Stoutenburg

I had an on-campus at an R2 and at dinner after the interview day, one of the search committee members asked me a lot of questions about why I had submitted the writing sample I had, and seemed to be expressing the same concerns as OP. The search committee member wanted to hear a convincing argument as to how the (published, well-received) piece I had submitted fit into my dissertation work.
I just wanted to chime in that OP's thought may be widely shared.
As a candidate, I always took the request for a "writing sample" literally -- a request for a sample *of my writing*, and not as a request for a piece of my dissertation project research. If the request is for such a piece, job descriptions should state this clearly. E.g. "Submit a sample of your writing that clearly fits with your major research project."

anon TT again

I’d also say, keep in mind that if one doesn’t submit the highest quality research one has, one might not be in a position to be asked to dinner about other work. (And - good idea to have a committee specify what it prefers in a writing sample.)

RJ Leland

For whatever another search committee member chime in is worth: I agree with Bill V above. I want to see best work _within the broad area of the hire_. This is especially important for candidates about whom there's a legit question whether they really fit the job description. So if you're claiming history of ancient and contemporary ethics as AOS, and the job is an ancient job, I want to see a sample that shows me you can do ancient well. Especially if you don't have lots of fancy pubs in ancient already. Wish everybody luck dealing with all of this.

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