Sunday, December 6, 2009

APA Smoker Dont's

We're all familiar with the practice of inviting (and expecting!) job candidates to visit the interviewing department's table at the APA "Smoker." And we're all familiar with the many respects in which this practice is horrific and torturous. It should be abandoned. Anyway, leaving aside the cases in which candidates show up drunk and make fools of themselves, here are a few tales. I'll try to think of some more. Feel free to share.

1. In a year that I was not on the search committee, I endured roughly 40 minutes of being spoken to by a job candidate about how if she were to get the job, she'd be willing to serve on my dissertation committee, because the person in my department who worked in my area (viz., me!) was "too narrow."

2. In that same year, a candidate walked away from me, as I was mid-sentence in responding to a question he asked, when one of my colleagues (on the search committee) finally arrived to the table.

3. I once saw a near fist-fight erupt among two candidates over who was "next in line" to sit in the chair next to where the department chair was seated.

49 comments:

Anonymous said...

May I ask whether showing up at the interviewing department's table really is expected in the normative sense of 'expected'? I hate that shit, it's for the birds, and it seemed so fucking unreasonable to have to show up in a crowded, loud place just to kiss somebody's ass that I blew it off. Do people really count it against someone that he/she didn't show up for that? You've really got to be kidding me.

Anonymous said...

A story from last year: I showed up to a suite interview last year with my luggage. The interview seemed to go well, and at the end they asked if I was going to be at the smoker. I explained that while I wish I could be there, I had a minor emergency back home that I had just found out about so I was leaving on a train immediately after the interview. They said no problem and that they understood.

I wasn't given an on-campus interview. Our placement director was friends with the most junior member of the search committee. It seems that the chair of the committee didn't think I was serious about the position because I wasn't attending the smoker. Seriously. This place was kind of f-ed up anyway, but take that for what it's worth.

Anonymous said...

Anyway, leaving aside the cases in which candidates show up drunk and make fools of themselves,

Oh, c'mon; those are the ones I wanted to hear about. Surely, you have at least one interesting eye-witness account. Tease.

Also, I too am willing to serve on your dissertation committee to compensate for the narrowness of that guy in your department.

Anonymous said...

APA smoker don'ts? How about, don't go?

Anonymous said...

I've never been to a table to rub the elbows and kiss the butt. Last year was my first and only interview at the Eastern. The school I interviewed with didn't have a table, but I was told that some members of the department might be at the smoker floating around. I saw them and they saw me, but I couldn't get any of them to talk to me. Not a good sign. Went to my grad department's table to see some old profs and friends. They were busy chatting up candidates. Relatively well known prof. who used to work there but left for a better place dropped by, but was shunned by all former colleagues. To save face, he had to strike up a conversation with me. Success! First time the guy hadn't run from me like a leper in years. After he left and the candidates left, remaining former profs all noted how desperate he must have been to have to lower himself to talk to a former grad student for a full five minutes. Agreed. That was the highlight of the Eastern. I'm sure this year will be different as there will be more of us who have no reason to stay sober at the smoker. Can't wait.

Oh, and on the second night I was told that I didn't make the cut to the campus interview stage. I was top twelve when I went and nothing in any of the interviews changed the ranking and only the top five or six make it to campus. It's hard to justify the significant debt racked up on credit cards to one interview with a department in short driving distance from where you live, but I guess that you have to do.

PA said...

I used to take a perverse pleasure in not getting any APA interviews b/c it meant I could get drunk with impunity at the smoker.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone defend use of the smoker for any job search purposes? Not just in a 'I can defend anything, let me show you' but in a 'I really think it is a good idea to carry job search inquiry further at the smoker'?

Anonymous said...

I speak for many when I request that we don't engage in any kind of serious discussion about the merits of the smoker. We demand SMOKER STORIES!!! There is too much high potential for high jinx!

PA said...

Several of the students on the market one year (at a Leiter top 15 school) didn't have many APA interviews. As a result, our Schmooz-meister placement chair decided to arrange some "impromptu interviews" at the Smoker. These consisted of conversations with a very drunk member of the faculty of a school that was hiring for 4 VAP jobs that year. Of course, the department in question had already decided not to interview the students in question for any of these positions. And it wasn't even clear that their drunken representative was on the hiring committee. Lucky thing I didn't refrain from my own drunkenness for this "interview."

Anonymous said...

"I used to take a perverse pleasure in not getting any APA interviews b/c it meant I could get drunk with impunity at the smoker."

My friend PA, I share your passion.

Anonymous said...

I hail from another area of academia (not Philosophy, but we do share the APA acronym - hint), and I cannot believe that this "smoker" business occurs! It seems totally unfair, and borderline illegal to expect people to travel to a conference for an "informal interview" that is actually mandatory. I'm glad we don't do this!

Anonymous said...

Here is a suggestion and I am curious to hear what people think:

don't go.

Honestly--is it /really/ true that a school who otherwise is thrilled about a candidate will change their mind if said candidate is not at the smoker?

I doubt it.

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember that the beer at the smoker was moderately cheaper than at the fancy hotel bar at the hotel in Philly. The schools I interviewed at told me that they wouldn't be at the smoker - so I went for cheaper beer, because after my interviews that day I wanted to get lit and maybe run into someone I went to undergrad with. I actually had a fun time of it because I walked around, knowing nary a soul, trying to convince everyone I could that what they *really* needed was a medievalist (my specialization). I had lots of fun doing this, because I was be ironic and all, sort of making fun of the whole thing. It's a horrorshow for those who feel compelled to go to this or their flyout is on the line. In the end I found a pretty interesting group of philosophers to go out drinking with, and we all closed down a cheaper place. All in all, about the best smoker experience I could have hoped for.

anonymouse said...

Is a "near fist fight" one of those squealing fits where all close their eyes and swing their hands wildly near each other without actually hitting? Because that's what I'm picturing.

Anonymous said...

When are we going to have a snarky and mostly anonymous thread about the philosophy survey results?

Anonymous said...

A couple of years ago, I was on a search committee and the person we hired got the offer because of his behavior at the smoker. Had he not attended, he wouldn't have gotten the job. Of course, that's just one person's story. But I really think people shouldn't get the impression that going to the smoker really doesn't matter at all.

Anonymous said...

9:18 --

So, how exactly did he behave? Was it his gift at carrying on a conversation in a noisy and crowded ballroom that convinced you he would be the perfect phenomenologist, or philosopher of religion, or historian of early analytic, or what-have-you, for your department? What did he do at the smoker that he couldn't have done at the interview?

Anonymous said...

10:59,

Notice the male pronouns in 9:18's comment. Aren't we kidding ourselves in acting as if the smoker is not a seriously problematic aspect of philosophy's gender problem? Such informal "networking" through which the real (men's) business is done is textbook structural sexism, and I'm amazed that an academic discipline that prides itself on seeing through appearances could tolerate such a thing for long.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:18,

I'm sure most of us aren't under the impression that the smoker doesn't matter at all. Most of us are under the impression that (1) it usually hurts more than helps and (2) that is SHOULDN'T matter at all either way.

Anonymous said...

1:29,

If you are implying that women are somehow at a disadvantage when informally 'networking,' then your views on 'structural sexism' seem pretty superficial.

Anonymous said...

1:29,

Are you serious? You can't be serious. It's people like you who not only make me want to leave academia, but also make me want to send my kids to a good trade school instead of college.

Do you really want to know why philosophy has a "gender problem"? Go talk to most female undergraduates in philosophy. Most of them have absolutely zero interest in going to graduate school. You know why? Here's a hint, it's not because they see the field as sexist or some other ridiculous reason.

Most women are very practical. Why the hell would they spend all of this time getting a PhD when the end result of receiving that PhD is a really tough time getting any sort of job, and, even if they get one, it doesn't pay that well and is Nowheresville USA.

Look at our discipline. The vast majority of academics are complete and total slackers (and they enter this field knowing that they can be slackers). Get a job, work hard for 6-10 years and get tenure, then do little of value until the school has to wheel you out (literally). (Blah blah blah there are people who have tenure that are still working hard. Fine. They're the significant minority.) These sort of practices are not tolerated in any other industry. Wonder why every year people outside of academia say, "Well, there's a lot of old people who need to retire in academia...so they'll be lots of jobs soon." They've been saying that for the last 25 years. Old academics never retire. I've been in 3 departments where at least 3 or 4 members of each department should have retired at least 10 years before I got there. If they were working for a company, law firm, etc., their asses would have been thrown out on the street.

Why would any intelligent woman enter this field? She knows that her hard work can net her significantly more money elsewhere. More money provides greater security when it comes to her own life and the lives of those in her family. "Well, maybe she really likes philosophy but doesn't want to do it because everyone in philosophy is so sexist!!!" Come on. The sexism in academia pales in comparison to other fields (e.g. law) that have no problems attracting women in droves. Most women fail to see the practical value of doing philosophy past a certain point (probably because there is none...but this is for a different rant), and so they stop doing it.

Oh, and if you're thinking I'm making all of this crap up, I'm not. I've been a part of 3 departments where we conducted _significant_ surveys of our undergraduates on this very subject. It was not one of those BS surveys that pop up on Leiter's page where you're just surveying a bunch of like-minded academics. Over a couple of years, we surveyed over 1000 undergraduates in introductory philosophy courses (philosophy wasn't required) and then resurveyed those who continued in philosophy and those who changed majors (asking why they changed, and asking those who continued whether they were interested in going to graduate school and, if not, why not).

The results of these surveys were published internally in each case, but there was no interest in publishing the results externally. Why? Because either (1) many philosophers already know why there is a gender imbalance [the reasons stated above] or (2) those who think that this gender imbalance in philosophy is due to inherent sexism would either (a) refuse to believe the results, (b) think we somehow skewed/messed up the survey, (c) think that we were probably sexists in the department and so we'd get results that reflected these sexist tendencies. Perhaps this data should be published for non-philosophers? Please, no one outside of philosophy cares.

I usually don't post and I am sorry for the rant, but it's tiring to hear the same sort of garbage from people who have never even bothered to ask undergraduate females why they don't go to graduate school in philosophy.

Anonymous said...

A few of these comments (Anon Dec 7 12:28 and Anon Dec 9 9:18) have just served to remind me that academic hiring is a clusterf--k and there is no point in trying to figure out what you should or shouldn't do. From various quarters, I have received piles of contradictory advice on every conceivable aspect of the job search process: Yes, send stuff the ad didn't request; it shows you're interested. No, don't send stuff the ad didn't request; it shows you don't value their time. Do tons of research on what the people interviewing you do; it shows that you aren't self-involved. Don't bother doing that; they want to talk about you, not themselves. Approach people who interviewed you at the smoker; they expect this and want to talk to you. Leave them alone at the smoker; they want to catch up with their grad school friends and get drunk. Etc. etc. etc. The bottom line is that no one knows what the hell anyone else expects from candidates; they only know what they personally and their department expects from candidates.

So can we not talk about whether you should go to the smoker or not (because the answer is clearly "Yes, it's crucial, except that no, it's pointless") and get back to funny stories about people punching each other? Please?

Anonymous said...

Oh, most women are practical.

Yep, that must be it. Don't know why it never occurred to me.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:12,

You forget that it was an almost fist fight. See, philosophers can't even have real scandals that we can gossip about.

Anonymous said...

You forget that it was an almost fist fight. See, philosophers can't even have real scandals that we can gossip about.

Oh, yes we can.

http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/2-hurt-in-philosopher-fight/389653.html

CTS said...

Quite apart from how 'practical' we women folk are, perhaps someone should protest the claim that people in our discipline are all slackers (with the counter-argument preemptive admission that some few of us are not)?

I really wonder if this sort of belief is the result of graduate work? In other words, if this is how grad students see their own professors' lives and attitudes?

Anonymous said...

Actually, it seems like it's how us professors not only view many of their colleagues, but how we also view ourselves. Many of us appreciate our free time and so we'd never want to work the hours of someone in the corporate world. The trade off is less pay. However, should we be expected to work 9 hours a day, 5 days a week, 300+ days a year? I don't think so... especially since we're not getting paid to work that much. Our we slackers? Maybe. Are we justified in this slacking? Probably so.

Anonymous said...

Looking around, I think many of my colleagues work far more than 9/5/300+ schedules. They value their flexibility -- they don't always start at 9 in the morning and end at 5 in the evening -- but they're far more likely to work late in the evening, on weekends, and so on. As a matter of policy I try to work 9-5 hours (to keep time for my family), and these colleagues seem to do a lot more than I am able to.

Anonymous said...

As one of my colleagues likes to say: faculty members have a lot of freedom...freedom to work all the time.

Yes, there are slackers -- as there are in any profession -- but most faculty members seem to work relentlessly -- on weekends, holidays, evenings, early mornings, long days, summers. The luxury is that we have the freedom to do much of that at home and on schedules of our own making.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it odd that only women who might have been philosophy professors are too practical to be professors? Or is it more practical to be a historian or a professor of literature?

CTS said...

Anon 12/14 7:29:

Isn't it odd that only women who might have been philosophy professors are too practical to be professors? Or is it more practical to be a historian or a professor of literature?

And does this mean that those of us who are both (a) female and (b) philosophers are 'impractical'?

CTS said...

Back to the OP:

I hope it is not a widely held view that candidates are supposed to/expected to show at the smoker or that they are expected to go around schmoozing.

When I was in grad school, the idea was that this was a social event and that people from programs doing interviews were willing to spend a bit of informal time with candidates who wanted to stop by.

Anonymous said...

And does this mean that those of us who are both (a) female and (b) philosophers are 'impractical'?

Yes.
And if you are practical and a philosopher, you are male.
Logic is so useful!

English Jerk said...

That's a neat trick, 7:10. In fact, by 2:12's reasoning, the principle of explosion would allow you to infer from "you are practical and a philosopher," not just that you are male, but also that you are a sheep, or General Motors, or an honest politician. Logic and magic don't rhyme for nothing.

Anonymous said...

Re. 6:22: job candidates are expected to show up at the smoker in case anyone who interviewed them wants to seek them out; but there's no need to seek out those who interviewed you (and it's rarely advisable)

CTS said...

And if you are practical and a philosopher, you are male.

Uhoh. But, I have children! And I'm sure I am too old for a sex-change.

I guess this means I get to be utterly impractical from now on. WHEE.

Anonymous said...

When I had just finished my PhD and was on the job market myself, I still spent a lot of time at the smoker hanging out with folks from the school I'd dissertated at (I'll just call it School X) since I was going on as a candidate from School X. But my nametag said School Y because I had a part-time position at a smaller (and far less prestigious) school.

School X was hiring two searches that year ---

Anyway, everyone from School X went out for dinner and I left early b/c my newborn daughter was fussy and so I went with my wife to put her down. Then I went down to the smoker arriving their before the other folks who were still at dinner.

So I was for a while the only person holding down School X's table. During that time a couple of the candidates approached and were perfectly friendly assuming (correctly and obviously) that I was a grad or recent post-grad affiliated with School X. One candidate came by, and before introducing himself, GRABBED MY NAME TAG ON MY SHIRT, scrutinized it and said, "Now why are you here at School X's table?"

I wanted to say, "Uh to tell everyone you just interviewed with that you're a total douche-bag."

Anonymous said...

That's a great smoker story. Here's mine, though it goes back a way. As I was threading my way through the scrum of beer-guzzling humanity, trying to schmooze with my old graduate friends, a faculty member from a school where I'd interviewed earlier that same day buttonholed me. Clearly blitzed, he informed me that my interview had been a smash success and that I would be receiving a campus interview. As this was shaping up to be my only flyback that year, at a good school, I was ecstatic. You see where this is going. After the window for getting a campus interview had closed, I called the chair of the hiring committee, who told me that the faculty member wasn[t even 'technically on the hiring committee' and was a notorious loose cannon. There had never been any intention of a flyback.
As a veteran of multiple hiring committees myself, I try my best to avoid the smoker, which is horrible. It's OK to catch up with old friends and network. For the candidate, it's nightmarish and Hobbesian. If a good candidate doesn't show up, not only do I not hold it against him/her, but if anything I grant the person a modicum of nerve and common sense.

Anonymous said...

One possible reason to attend the smoker: to find out how well your interview went. Over several rounds on the job market, I've been able to predict whether I'd get a fly-out with 100% accuracy based on how pleased the interviewers looked to see me. (Although see Anon 2:01's anecdote!)

Anonymous said...

About Sexism and Smokers:

When there are an equal amount of women interviewing/schmoozing at smokers, then women won't be at a disadvantage. Women TEND not to feel as comfortable in these settings, for obvious reasons. And SOME of the ones that are comfortable are for sad or bad reasons (they don't mind being hit on by old nerds that feel entitled to a little casual sexism now and then because they're not nearly as bad as the jocks that pooped on them in high school OR they're the sort of woman that don't mind exploiting sex for professionalism advantages).

By the way, I move everyone drop that one guy's point about women being more practical. Sure, it's a bad argument, but that doesn't mean that women aren't disadvantaged here, and I suggest it's more important to discuss that than repeatedly beat up a poorly thought out tangential comment someone made (I mean, I'm sure we can boost our philosophical self-esteem some other way today, right?).

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:55 adds:

Just to clarify: I meant to say women won't be at a disadvantage when there are an equal amount of women FACULTY doing the interviewing and so forth.

Anonymous said...

Forgive a silly European philosopher, but what is a `smoker'? Judging from the above comments it sounds like a lot of fun. For some. And probably serves as an effective filter to screen off candidates. Just like the bubonic plague.

Anonymous said...

As a woman on the job market for the first time, with interviews both today and tomorrow, let me point out that the discussion of women in this thread has been painful, disheartening, and depressing.

Seriously, if this is the best that we, as philosophers, can muster in an anonymous forum, there's something wrong. I shouldn't have to see ridiculous screeds about the (apparently) immutable traits of the feminine kind on a blog like this -- it hurts, it sucks, and it's beneath us as professionals.

abuemma said...

There's an awful lot of strongly worded, table pounding pronouncement in the above. Some of it is right, some generalizing from the worst case to the universal, some completely silly. Neve rmind.

As someone who has been involved in both placement and hiring for 20 years - placement every year, hiring about a third of them - here's my take on the original question and a few issues that came up above.

The smoker is useless for schmoozing. No one changes their view of someone they either didn't interview, or who they thought did a bad job, on the basis of your coming to the table. No one expects this either. This talk of departments wanting you to "kiss ass" is utter nonsense. I have never met a single person who liked having someone come talk to kiss ass, etc. We are generally catching up with old students, old friends, etc. and would prefer to do that to an awkward conversation with someone we don't know.

What is useful in terms of committee-candidate interaction is further conversation with people who are serious candidates, but about whom we have questions. Interviews are short. There are often unanswered questions - about whether your interests really fit department goals, about aspects of your research, about whether you can go further in talking about your work than you did in the interview, in some cases about what we can do to interest you in the job. That is why we - I'm just speaking for my department, but I think this is pretty generally true - might ask you to come by. And real things are learned from such conversations. So of course you should go if asked - and I can't see anything illegal, inappropriate or sexist about that in itself. (Of course it could be any of those depending on how it is done.)

The other useful thing at the smoker is getting a chance to catch up with friends and colleagues now scattered around the world. (cf why just coming to "kiss ass" is not welcome.) Sometimes this involves candidates. Even if a department doesn't hire someone, some memebers of that department might want to know the person as a colleague, to know about their work in the future, etc.

So overall, my advise is - don't sit down unless invited. Fine to say hi, but fine not to. If invited, go. There is probably a reason. But be aware of cues that it is time to leave.

Mark Lance

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Leenie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

A few years ago, when my husband was on the job market, I went to the APA with him. He interviewed at several schools. Since I'm no philo, I have to find ways to amuse myself at the smoker. So...I went up to one of the tables (for a school he interviewed with) and told them how much I enjoyed their interview. Priceless...the looks on their face, as they frantically tried to recall my interview. I did let them in on the joke, and then sat and talked to them a bit. One ended up asking me what kind of philo I *do*. Hilarious, that throwing out terms like Justified True Beliefs with No Defeaters and Causal Connections duped them! Big Fun.

Anonymous said...

Anon from jan 11:

you didn't dupe us. we thought you were an idiot and were trying to be nice.

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