Thursday, October 9, 2008

Jobs for Philosophers

Jobs for Philosophers drops in just 24 hours. I can already sense the tension among the graduate students in my department. And I look forward to reading the horror stories from this crew. My bet is that there won't be many good jobs in your AOS this year anyway. Also: given the financial straits we've placed ourselves in, I think one should expect next year's JFP to be very thin. So do try to get a job this year, ok?

I'll be busy updating letters of recommendation and such and taking full delight in being a comfortably employed philosopher.... because that's the kind of jerk I am.


Santa said...

Routledge is looking for a Philosophy Editor, if all else fails.

Imipolex_g-unit said...

One of my favorite parts about this time of year is not having to read the JFP. MUWAHAHAHAHA!

krinos said...

On a related note, a buddy of mine recently was pursuing a job in Continental, and he'd asked his advisor about the position. She said it looked very promising and that it held a lot of potential.

Then she applied for and got the job. She was fleeing a pending tenure decision at our home U, but you gotta say: snatching a job out from under your own graduate student is pretty f@#King low. He's got a temp job at nowheresville U, and she traded out tenure track jobs.

Now, I presume that's not the kind of dick you are, Spiros?

729 said...

Krinos: I'm unsure that the situation is exactly "job snatching." It is highly likely that the advisor already knew about the job, especially if it had already been publicly advertised. Everybody looking for jobs knows exactly where to look. And if you belong to any specialized societies, you may get previewed job ads through the society's list-serv. It is *rare* that a person in a TT job will speak openly about job applications. That is not how these applications are handled. That she didn't say anything about her application when he mentioned the job is to be expected.

A person who already has a job has as much a right to apply for new, advertised jobs as people without jobs. There is no moral obligation that every person with a job must not apply for another job. A new Ph.D. applying for any job may very well be up against senior candidates and/or tenure-track candidates seeking new positions. It is wise to expect that is the case. Even if your buddy's advisor was not in the applicant pool, he very well could have been up against any number of senior/TT candidates in the applicant pool. The difference is your buddy doesn't happen to have any knowledge about these people. He happens to know the identity of one of the people he was up against. This distorts the nature of the playing field to him, but it isn't an accurate way to think of the playing field in which he was competing. Hiring committees are charged to find the most qualified candidate, and this committee happened to determine that from the pool of applicants including your buddy and other candidates whose identities he does not know, the advisor was more qualified. There was never any guarantee that he would simply get this "promising job" whether or not his advisor applied. It seems like the "injustice" might have been that she did not dissuade him from applying, since she was more qualified than him. But that is even more of an insult and injustice. He competed for the job just as she did, and both of them competed against unknown candidates. (Both could have not gotten the job and some other even more qualified person could have gotten it.)

If the advisor wrote your buddy a glowing recommendation and did not stand in his way of competing for the job in any way, no wrong occurred. There are many unknowable conditions behind positions that are advertised. For example, a university may not wish to grant new hires credit towards tenure, or only very limited credit. This, in the end, favors new Ph.D's over more experienced candidates with stronger qualifications who will not take a job without credit towards tenure or senior rank. But if the job ad indicated that they sought to hire at assistant, associate or full professor level, all bets are off. If a department is highly ranked or is in a great location (or both), even assistant level job ads will get applications from senior/TT people seeking to relocate or better their position.

The vicissitudes of the job-market are many, but it's unwise, I find, to over-personalize the competition involved in getting any specific job. Exactly what constitutes not only qualification, but also a "good match" in terms of collegiality and other factors for any given department is unknowable from the point of view of applicants. The norm is quite often a very frustrating wait of years to land a TT. This 'norm' is worthy of its own discussion--a systemic analysis is more appropriate. When specializations like Continental are involved, specializations which are not in high demand, the competition is enormous, even greater than the already enormous competition involved in philosophy job-seeking.

Krinos said...

729, thanks for the response. I think we might end up talking past each other on this, but here's a try.

To set the record straight, the job was only for an Asst. position.

The first point I should concede is that you are right there is no moral obligation that every person with a job must not apply for another job.

But that's not the norm broken here. Rather, those with graduate students prepare them for the market as well as they can. The case I mentioned is one where an advisor did not let her student know that a more advanced applicant with precisely the specialites the studend had was applying for the job. If an advisor had that information, it seems negligence were s/he not to share that with a student.

Second, you're right that the term 'snatch' implies that the job was all but my friend's, but was taken by his advisor. And that's not accurate, since there was a good bit of competition for continental jobs that year.

However, consider the unfair advantage someone working at a PhD-conferring institution has over graduate students, recent PhD's, and even people who've been out 3-4 years but who've been teaching 4-4 loads. Even though said advisor hadn't done enough to be a lock for tenure at the home U, she'd done considerably better than many others, given that she had a 2-1 schedule with a research assistant, who, as it happens, was my buddy.

You're right, 729, it's not snatching a job, but surely you can see how it's unseemly for an advisor not to let her student know he's got serious competition for a job, and that competition was from her.

729 said...

Hi Krinos: Just to be 100% clear, I certainly perceive the massive suckitude in the job-seeking situation.

I do think that there was something of a dilemma involved in this case that lies precisely in whether an advisor informs a graduate student under his/her wing that she/he is among competitors for a job. The way I see the issue is that non-disclosure potentially *favors* the the student given the unknowables in the process. Could her disclosure have actually helped his application? Most likely, it would have inhibited it altogether. That, I think, would have been truly unfair. It is better for candidates to simply submit their applications and see what happens. It wasn't in any applicant's power to make the committee's decisions.

TT/senior rank people also face disadvantages, but nobody talks that much about them. So here goes...As I mentioned, behind the scenes, university policies are in place that aren't disclosed in job ads. Besides policies on credit toward tenure, TT/senior rank applicants also face serious vetting in terms of being seen as using job offers in order to simply get raises at their institutions. One of the only ways to get a raise outside promotion is showing the dean a written job offer, which often results in a pay raise. TT/senior rank job-seekers are very often discounted on the fear that they are engineering this sort of move (which wastes the hiring committees time and resources: everybody *hates* it). When the advisor applied, she knew she was up against hiring biases of this sort, unlike your friend. This is to say that even her disclosure that she was applying would not have informed your friend about whether or not there were these additional biases on the part of the committee. Obviously, this particular hiring committee did not have this bias--but it very easily could have been present, and there was no way to know when she applied if it would be. Had she dissuaded your friend from applying, that would have been very wrong. There is no way to know in advance if a committee favors a "fresh face" with strong evidence of promise over "used goods" and the issues that come along with that which may be indicated in applicants' files.

Perhaps, the really irritating here regards the dangers of working with a not yet tenured faculty member as a main advisor and considering him or her a "mentor." Early career moves are par for the course, and here I do agree with you, the obligations of mentoring do seem to entail protection and nurturing of graduate students--but for anyone at an early career stage, there is simply not as much stability and one can easily fail to be a mentor given the instability. The choice of a not yet tenured faculty member to be an advisor and mentor--especially one whose work is in question to any degree--is not going to serve the interests of a student. I would agree that the advisor in question failed to be a real mentor to your friend, but mentoring is a separate issue from advising--simply supervising a dissertation and providing supportive letters for one's students. Early career people may be fantastic mentors--don't get me wrong--but the role of a mentor is actually more demanding than many early career people may be in a position to assume.

English Jerk said...

As for the "systematic analysis" to whose desirability 729 refers, I recommend Marc Bousquet's How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation, especially ch. 6. As Bousquet observed in an earlier article, the majority of graduate students in the humanities are already working the only academic job they will ever have. This is not a result of a "job market" that will someday magically improve, but a straightforward result of market forces under corporate university leadership: graduate students are fabulously cheap and readily available teaching labor, and they won't be systematically defended from exploitation by faculty and faculty unions since more grad students and adjuncts means less teaching for TT faculty.

krinos said...

729, I think your distinction between advisor and mentor captures the issue nicely. And you (and EJ) are right that a good deal of what contributes to the unhappiness of the event of an advisor pursuing a job her student was interested in is the job market generally being tight, highly competitive, and institutionally set up to be exploitative. The lesson: it turns us into the professional equivalent of those who eat their young.

729 said...

I'm really glad to know that you find the mentor/advisor distinction useful. I can't take full credit for the distinction--it's something both Spiros and I put some thought into!

Anonymous said...

Bosquet's book gets WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY too much credit. No one could read it and claim that there is no good stuff in there, but far to many people treat it as a sort of bible.

Look, the first third of the book in an introduction which contains some hackneyed pseudo-Marxist analysis of academia. The rest of the book is a series of essays he had already published elsewhere clumsily reorganized. The result is that the book does not flow well as a whole and is intolerably repetitive.

English Jerk said...

Anon. @ 12:16:

I don't recall treating Bousquet's book "as a sort of bible." I just recommended it. And I don't see anything in what you've said to suggest that I shouldn't have.

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