Monday, February 16, 2009

Disqualifying Job Talk

I heard tell this weekend of a job candidate who gave as his job talk a paper he'd published a year ago. Note: I did not say that the candidate gave a talk on the same topic as a paper he'd already published; nor did I say that the candidate gave a descendant of an already-published paper. The candidate read a paper he'd already published.

Perhaps it's a good paper deserving of a wide audience, but this seems to me to be disqualifying. It's a good indication that the candidate has not had a decent idea in at least a year. It's also deceitful. Moreover, it's an insult to the audience (and especially to those on the SC, who had read the candidate's publications).

Is mentoring at the final stage of graduate school typically this bad?

18 comments:

Rex I said...

It's a good indication that the candidate has not had a decent idea in at least a year.

My advisor told me not to send a published paper as a writing sample (never mind the job talk), for this very reason. You typically stop writing a paper well before it appears in print. If the published paper is your best written work, what have you been doing in the meantime?

Mr. Zero said...

I've seen this sort of thing happen a bunch of times, but I didn't realize it was any big deal. My Ph.D.-granting department made offers to several candidates who did this and were outbid by other departments on a couple of them. If the paper is good, it seemed to me that it was a winning strategy.

Dr. Killjoy said...

I wouldn't say that it is a disqualifying event but rather all things considered counts against a candidate. Like Zero said, if the paper is phenomenal, then go for it, but it had better wow its audience.

Other things one should avoid doing.

1. Using the writing sample, published or otherwise, as the job talk.
2. READING rather than PRESENTING a paper for a job talk.

Now, if someone uses a year-old published paper as a writing sample, then fucking reads that paper for the job talk, I'll count that as prima facie disqualifying.

Message In a Bottle said...

Dr. Killjoy, how do you recommend PRESENTING a paper rather than simply reading? The talks like this that I've seen have used powerpoint, overheads or the blackboard. However, 2 of the people my dept. hired in the past have simply read their talks. Reading still seems to be the norm for giving a research talk in our profession...

Tenured Prof Tired of Hiring said...

Is mentoring at the final stage of graduate school typically this bad?

Apparently. People are even willing to argue that it's good mentoring judging from a couple comments.

Krinos said...

Saying this tactic disqualifies, I think, is too strong. But it certainly raises suspicions. And without any other clear evidence that the candidate does quality research, it is a prima facie reason not to choose the candidate.

Though it may depend on what the department's needs are with the candidate -- if research isn't of prime importance, and a couple good essays is sufficient for tenure, maybe this shouldn't be much of a worry.

Oh, Dr. Killjoy, though you put things too starkly by making presentation a requirement, I am in agreement. I find the way philosophers read papers utterly dreadful.

mmdetritus said...

A couple of years ago, my department invited a candidate who read a paper that was published four years before the candidate read it us. I had read the article the day before the talk and was pissed off that I had to waste my time hearing the same thing again, word for word.. I thought that was clearly disqualifying. (The person wasn't hired.) I lean toward Spiros's view that it is always disqualifying, but I can imagine cases where a candidate would have a strong interest in doing it. If circumstances arise where you have already given the department your strongest new work (in the writing sample), then it might be the case that what you have to give for a job talk is uncomfortably new. In that case, I can see the purpose of falling back onto something that you know well.

I put myself into an odd position when I was on the market. I sent my strongest piece of writing to the search committee. I also presented another piece at a conference where a member of the search committee happened to be in the audience. I also presented another paper on the main program at the APA where I was interviewing (and, again, the search committee member was there). Suitably expanded, either of these talks would have made decent job talks. But I felt like I couldn't give either one since a crucial member of the department had already heard them. (FWIW, I think I overreacted a little.) While things turned out well for me, had I had some other piece of established writing, I would have been tempted to present it rather than writing a largely new talk for my job talk. While this is a decent reason, I still don't think I would have presented something that was published already.

Anonymous said...

mmdetritus, how did things unfold? did you give another talk, or get a different offer?

The Brooks Blog said...

I agree with Spiros on this: it is a real problem.

Moreover, 'animated' readings of paper (that aren't boring) of new work is very ok...depending on where you are. I know that many philosophers applying to political science departments run into some trouble as the political scientists typically demand the use of powerpoint...

mmdetritus said...

Anon--I gave a new talk and got an offer out of it.

Anonymous said...

this is a true predicament though: someone coming out of grad school is rarely in a position to have more than one or two papers ready to be given - and if the best piece is sent as a writing sample, and another is published, the choice may be between writing up something entirely new and so not very well worked out, or rehashing something older for the sake of a more polished job talk. there is bound to be a trade off then.

mmdetritus here seemed to have been in a better situation than most, very lucky. but then the qustion is really, how much of the job talk is really just the performance aspect of it?

mmdetritus said...

Anon--Interesting question about the extent to which the success of the job talk depends on the excellence of performance. I think it certainly depends on the department. I've seen some in my department be swayed by the goodness or friendliness of a performance of what I take to be a mediocre (or even lousy) paper--a paper that would have been savaged in the department where I did my grad training, good performance or no. Being "engaging" seems to a long way in some places, while it goes almost nowhere in others. I wonder whether it's the case that, the more important teaching is to a department, the more important being engaging is? (apologies for drifting a bit off topic here.)

Anonymous said...

This post is kind of like that last one about how many times someone is "allowed" to give the same conference talk.

Anonymous said...

no, anon 11:46, it's not -- it's truly about the purposes and etiquette of a job talk, and entirely different matter.

Anonymous said...

really anon 1:59? You don't find it "kind of" similar? It's obviously "kind of similar".

Anonymous said...

this is a true predicament though: someone coming out of grad school is rarely in a position to have more than one or two papers ready to be given - and if the best piece is sent as a writing sample, and another is published, the choice may be between writing up something entirely new and so not very well worked out, or rehashing something older for the sake of a more polished job talk. there is bound to be a trade off then.

I've seen a lot of posts about the predicaments and difficulties facing applicants coming out of graduate school and I guess I don't quite get why anyone is worried about this sort of thing. If they don't yet have many good pieces of work to show around, I would take that as a sign that they aren't quite ready for a demanding research job at a top research institution. At the very least, they haven't shown themselves to be quite as ready as others who do have the papers on hand. Maybe this is a clue as to where I come from and what my career trajectory is like, but I don't see what's wrong with having a system where it's typical for people coming fresh out of graduate school to get crappy jobs, take some time to mature a bit, show they can publish, and then work their way up the ranks. I've not been on a search committee before, but I can't imagine there are shortages of ripened philosophers who can give search committees a handful of good papers and I don't see what good comes of giving a break to people fresh out of graduate school. Let them show that they've earned it. Is there something wrong with me?

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