In a previous thread (Don't Fall to the First Cut) Mark Lance writes:
I've heard many many times from smaller schools in out of the way places, that they are also interested in whether people will take their jobs. We noticed when I was at Pitt in the late 80s, that such places were not interviewing our students, even the ones who genuinely wanted jobs at teaching institutions. After some research it turned out that most were just assuming that none of us would be happy there, that we would leave for a research university in a better city first chance we got. So if you can say something plausible about why you would enjoy living in rural Idaho, that really helps.
I have a clarification and then a number of questions about this.
I don't know how many times I've been at a bar at APAs and overheard (or been told by) exhausted members of interviewing committees that one of their interviewees is a spectacular a-hole. And it's always from the sense that the interviewee thinks he (it's always a he) is too good for the place. Now in one sense this is drastically unfair. Job interviews are incredibly stressful, and some of us have an extraordinarily difficult time in those circumstances of hitting that Aristotelian sweet spot between being overly self-effacing and coming across as arrogant.
But over at the Philosophy Smoker, we do read over and over again of graduate students posting anonymously that they are bitterly unhappy when they do not live in cities with good symphonies and public transportation and education (I'm not putting down the Smokers, friends-of-the-blog all). But, again, most of the 550 non-Leiterific degree granting departments are in cities notably lacking in these things. So here's some advice. Please correct this and add to it.
- It will help you immeasurably both in interviews and in your life if you get a sense of place about the university's environs and find something to be excited about. The internets make this much easier. There may be a traditional small town core with old architecture. There may be a farmer's co-op with amazing organic food. The state might have really cool WPA era cabins in their rural state parks. Even in culturally benighted places the school probably has a cool drama program and some student clubs you could help out with. Find stuff about the town, school, and broader area that make it better and attach yourself to those things enthusiastically. If you get an on campus, find some popular history about the town or area and read enough of it to get genuinely enthused.
- It's illegal to ask candidates about their personal life as a precondition for a job. But at most jobs some professors really will try to gather any information they can to determine whether you think you are too good for the place. Again, use this to your advantage. (1) If you are in a position to do so, prior to going on the market do some service work in your PhD program. Is there an undergraduate club? Get involved and help get grad students to give papers to it. Then make sure at least one of your letters mentions this service. In an interview you can then credibly talk about how you'd be excited to be involved in the undergraduate education at the new school. Does your dept. have a grad. rep.? Do it and try to be helpful in that role. (2) Again, study the school and town's webpages and imagine a place for yourself, not as a stepping stone to something better, but as a life. If you can honestly do this, it will probably show.
- If you do get a job and then whinge about how bad everything is there are three possible outcomes: (1) you leave, but after leaving have just made it that much harder for anybody from your grad program to get hired by that school or schools of friends of that faculty member, (2) you're stuck there and have just wasted a ton of emotional energy and potentially a big chunk of your life, (3) people resent what they take (perhaps unfairly) to be your condescention. Remember, your colleagues have made a career in flyover land. When you complain incessantly about it you are communicating that you are better than them. You have no idea how infuriating this will be to some of your colleagues.
- Some very good philosophers are mobile, but the overwhelming majority of us are not! The chance that you are going to job-hop from a tenure track job to another one is minuscule. It's just not rational for most of us to continue to put all that energy into going on the market every year when we already have a tenure track job. If you don't get another job, think of how much better you could have spent all that time (I'd rather stare listlessly at the wall than put myself through the hiring rigamarole).
- Go read the Roman stoics. They really do have very sensible advice concerning how not to make yourself miserable.
- As Lance noted in the previous thread, use all of this to write the best cover letters you can. Obviously you can't read the histories of every university to which you are applying. But you should be able to credibly communicate an excitement for teaching at the kind of institution for which you are applying.
- Related to the above, if you are applying to a SLAC your teaching material better be over the top good. Your teaching portfolio should begin with a page sharing your philosophy of teaching with concrete examples of how you have used that philosophy to make your classes better. Then the portfolio better have evidence of these things. A great teaching portfolio will make it clear that your cover letter is not BS, that you really are excited about great teaching and would love to teach the kinds of students at the institution to which you are applying.
Any other advice? Any problems with the above?
Again, the simple mathematical fact is that most of the jobs are in places that have various dysfunctions such as lack of meaningful public transportation or a history of criminal underinvestment and racism in the public school system. But in all of these places there are good people fighting the good fight to make the places better in all sorts of ways, not just political reform but also in cultural ways such as community theater, live music, writing groups, etc.. I think a lot of this is the trick of finding the spirit of the place to reside in those fights and to take joy in them. And in nearly every job, the university campus is the locus of such meaningful activity.