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01 December 2011


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Berit Brogaard

I am sure it would help if the Eastern meeting were moved to the fall semester. Maybe the smoker is not a good idea in general. But I get the feeling that it's the Eastern smoker that is the real problem, because it functions as a forum for informal interviews. According to what I was told, this is a British tradition (at least in the sciences). Supposedly, all the job candidates for the science positions in Britain are invited out at the same time. They give their talk, and then they all go to the same dinner and compete for the faculty's attention.


I guess I'm a bit unusual, but I've always liked the smoker- lots of people gather, you can chat with all sorts of people you haven't seen in a while, have a drink if you'd like (but not have one if you don't- really, no one cares if you do or not), and make a small bit of chit-chat with people you interviewed with. Some might point out the the drinks are bad and over-priced. That's true, which is why I suggest making it BYOB. I've, er, heard that that's been done by some people, with good results. If people really don't want to go, there's plenty of evidence to suggest it won't much matter, but I do like the opportunity to have people gathered and to be able to easily chat with people I've not seen in some time.

Mandel Cabrera

I'm a man, so my experiences are probably not too relevant to this woman's concerns. However, I suspect there are plenty of reasons to think the smoker isn't a good gauge. One thing I think is a bit strange about the smoker is that it seems like an environment very unlike the ones in which a professor needs to be able to thrive. Conversation in the corridors of the department, interaction with students, giving talks, making interesting contributions in seminars, workshops and the like: these are the situations in which we need to be able to shine. I for one feel like I'm pretty good at all of these things, but I hate 'schmoozing.' If I were really good at schmoozing and glad-handing, I might have gone into another line of work. I'm pretty sure it's not simply shyness: in most other situations, I have absolutely no problem meeting and talking up new people - including at conferences, workshops, and so forth. But the smoker...ack! It's really simply a rite of passage, and like a lot of rites of passage.

But I'm saying this as someone who has only experiences the smoker from the perspective of a job candidate. I'm curious what those of you who have worked on hiring committees think of the whole thing...

John Schwenkler

The issue isn't whether the smoker is enjoyable, but rather (i) whether it is fair to job candidates, and (ii) whether it helps or hinders hiring departments in their work. It is hard to see how it could be anything but a disaster in these regards.

On (ii), Antony Eagle's summary of the research on selection interviews (see is very helpful: it is one thing for departments to argue in favor of APA interviewing that they do it carefully so as to distinguish signal from noise; but I cannot see how anyone can argue seriously that it is possible to do this without making every effort *not* to interact with job candidates outside of their official interviews.

And on (i), the post quoted makes the case as well as it could be made: pregnant women, handicapped persons, parents with children, those with high sleep needs, those without the money to stay in the conference hotel, those who are simply bad at "schmoozing", etc., are all greatly disadvantaged by this tradition. It is fine to have it, but members of hiring departments should NOT be attending, let alone reserving tables and holding follow-up interviews.

John Schwenkler

P.S. Adding to the above list: those from distant time zones (esp. foreign countries), those with soft voices that cannot be heard above the din (a group that often includes women), those who for one reason or another prefer not to be around people who are drinking. And of course the literature on implicit bias is replete with effects (e.g. women being interrupted more quickly than men) that turn up most easily in informal contexts.

Mark Lance

This is anecdotal, of course, but I've been involved in placement for over 20 years. I have been to every Eastern APA but two in that period, and every first-night smoker. I've talked to people from dozens of hiring departments about the practice of "informal interviews" at this event, and have garnered this conclusion: with very few exceptions, departments do not want to have further conversations with candidates at the Smoker. Reactions range from worry that these will be biasing, to serious annoyance that candidates think they should come over and talk for a long time when what you really want is to catch up with old friends. My advice to our students now is that they should not go over to interview tables at all unless the department specifically asked them to in the interview. (And I agree with others above that departments should not do that, but if they do I can't advise a job candidate to take the hit for the principle.)

My department is not even getting a table this year. Rather, we will invite our own students, faculty, and past students, up to our suite to hang out informally.

So I feel that this whole discussion may be operating under a mis-conception: namely that there is a general push for candidates to do this. (Of course I could be wrong about this. I'd be happy to hear from hiring departments who really expect extra discussion at the Smoker. Happy, that is, in the "good to get new information" sense, not in the "glad you have that policy" sense.) But I wonder if this isn't a bit of lore generated by the over-stressed (for very good reason) candidate community that doesn't correspond to anything coming from the hiring end.

Carolyn Dicey Jennings

I went to the smoker last year, not on the market, and I thought it was a down point of an otherwise enjoyable meeting. Sometimes it's not you, it's them, and lots of people that are normally fun to be around and chat with are awkward and weird at the smoker. This has nothing to do with John's questions, but for the sake of the smoker itself, as a social event, I think we should do away with tables and suggest that search committees skip it. On the other hand, I know that some committees want to get a sense of the candidate's preferences, and watch where the candidate goes first, and that information shouldn't be affected by gender, race, social shyness, or otherwise.

John Schwenkler

Clearly this is just one anecdote, but when I was hired at my current job I believe I was explicitly told after my interview that the search committee members were "looking forward to seeing [me] at the smoker". I'll be glad to be informed that this isn't a universal practice, but based on conversations with friends who were told or given reason to believe similar things, it seemed pretty widespread to me. Given the possibility that candidates will take themselves to have these obligations whenever a hiring department has reserved a table, the policy Mark Lance describes sounds like the only appropriate course of action: like him, I'd love to hear how many hiring departments are doing something similar.


I went to one smoker when I was on the market. I skipped three or four. I'm glad to hear from Mark that this probably didn't hurt my chances. The only reason I went the first time is because I thought that search committees expected me to. (I thought, "why else would they tell me they had a table?") But I didn't think I did myself any good at the smoker, so I stopped going. For a variety of reasons, it is just not an environment where I flourish.

Mark: about the gathering at the suite. I know two professors (from different schools) who go to informal gatherings like the one you describe in part to promote graduates they have on the market. I say "in part" because they are also visiting friends at these events. Over time, our networks can get pretty big. So sometimes (rarely? frequently?) someone at Big Department X knows someone at Hiring Department Y. Have you encountered this?

Mark Lance

I know some depts explicitly ask. Systematic surveys of our students over the last ten years suggest that only about 10% do so. But yeah, after a couple more minutes of thought on this, I think this is one of those things that should be a strong APA recommendation - just as the APA recently worked out that interviews in hotel rooms are a bad idea: departments should refrain from talking to candidates at the reception. They should explicitly tell candidates that this is their policy in the interview.

I'll post separately on this in a bit.

Mandel Cabrera

I just had a conversation with a couple of other faculty at my institution, and one of them mentioned that the smoker is important to them as hiring committee members in part because of the role of 'third parties": e.g. members of the candidate's dissertation committee or her colleagues at a place she is teaching right now. The idea was: when such people make a point of approaching the interviewers' table to advocate for the candidate, it can definitely work in the candidate's favor.

I'm curious: is this a common practice? Do you all think it is helpful or harmful?

Carolyn Dicey Jennings

All else being equal, I think that male faculty members probably feel more comfortable/chummy with their male students and thus probably advocate more regularly for them (and with less female faculty to go around...). Moreover, this probably brings out implicit biases about who deserves being advocated for. I thus think this is not likely to be a fair method.

John Schwenkler

The practice Mandel Cabrera describes sounds obviously problematic to me. What if one's advisers just happen not to be there, or are uncomfortable in that setting, or among the disadvantaged groups identified above, or ...?

Mark Lance

Yeah, and this is also almost certainly another way of privileging people who come from high profile schools - in two ways: first, major research schools are likely to have more faculty present, and second, it is going to be hard to avoid a bit of star-crush influence when a famous philosopher comes over to you to advocate. This seems likely to be worse in person than in a letter. And if folks really want to know more about what other faculty think, it is easy enough to contact them by email or phone in a formal capacity. Doing this in a social setting like this where everyone is drinking seems just a terrible idea to me.

Margaret Atherton

My earlier post was a test because I kept failing the prove you are not a machine test (through no fault of my own.) It is my recollection that in earlier days it was far more common for placement officers and advisors to approach hiring faculty at smokers to urge the wisdom of hiring their students and that the current practice of sending the candidates themselves to schmooze is a more recent development. The first obviously opens up the danger of "old boy network" privilege but at least it is less inhumane than the second.

Patricia Marino

Like Matt, I like the smoker as a social occasion -- unlike a bunch of small invite-only parties it's egalitarian and allows people to meet and talk who otherwise never would.

But I agree that connecting the event to hiring is seriously problematic for many reasons. I'd like to see the APA take a stand on this and publicly discourage the use of the smoker for any job related activities.

Why can't it just be a party?


The worst experience I ever had at an APA was not at a smoker, but rather at a suite-party. The interviewing school had decided it would be a good idea to invite all its alums, students, friends, etc, as well as all the candidates being interviewed. You know, so we could all meet each other -- or as one fellow candidate put it when he was introduced to me 'the competition' (needless to say I absolutely loved this guy for making the implicit explicit). It was the singularly most horrific experience of my job market experience. The smokers were awful in their own way, but far from horrific.

Mark Lance

Oh god. That's breath-taking. Just when you think that the ineptitude - I am being charitable here - of philosophers can't reach new heights.


For the flyouts I've had for UK positions, it was pretty normal to have all the candidates out at the same time, and there is sometime a social event in which all of the competition have dinner with each other and their possible future colleagues. For what that's worth.

I loathe the smoker. I loathe it. And I'll be there in a few weeks. I'm not on the market, but I'll be at the Eastern APA. I won't get smoked at the smoker

H.K. Andersen

One more anecdote for the pile, if only to give people a little hope about these things: the only year in which I've been on the job market, I was 7.5 months pregnant at the APA. I went to the Smoker, even though no departments had specifically asked me to visit their tables. Rather, I got to hang out with a lot of current and former grad students from my own university at our own table, and it was incredibly nice to talk to supportive friends, commiserate with other job seekers, and get some encouragement from the faculty from our school (none of who were even on my committee, but were just nice people who empathized with job seekers). I got to meet a number of very interesting philosophers from other schools, including ones where I hadn't interviewed. And, I did have a couple conversations with people that had interviewed me earlier that day, but everyone went out of their way to reassure me that this was not part of the regular process, and that they just wanted to talk about that extra bit of my writing sample that hadn't been covered in the interview, for instance. In many ways, it felt to me like the Smoker had turned into any regular evening reception at a conference.

I was also expecting a great deal more difficulty due to the very obvious pregnancy. I had to mention it in interviews, for instance, since I was limited in the time span during which I could travel by plane to campus visits. Everyone reacted very gracefully and with understanding, and if any unfortunate things were said about e.g. my capacity to start as a new professor with a young child, no one suggested anything remotely like that to my face. It was, oddly enough, an encouraging experience.

N.J. Jun

Perhaps it's just me, but I have always found the term "smoker" incredibly obnoxious. [This was true even when I smoked--cigarettes, that is--which I haven't for quite some time.] It really should be called "the boozer," "the schmoozer," or "the booze and schmooze" -- all of which are just as obnoxious but without the anarchronism.

N.J. Jun

"anarchronism" = Freudian slip. Sorry.

Kathryn Norlock

I went to the Smokers in both years that I was on the job market, and I was so very grateful and relieved to go to the interviewing college's reserved tables and find that no one was there. I was able to relax and enjoy mini-reunions with classmates and friends. So if you've already reserved the table but you're now thinking about skipping the Smoker, I can attest that you will probably make some candidate's night! (And I'm a gregarious sort.)

I love the new name booze-n-schmooze, although the essence of the experience is really losing my voice and straining with my one good ear to hear. The Holler-Huh? The Yell-n-Bellow?


Mark: This is anecdotal. . . . with very few exceptions, departments do not want to have further conversations with candidates at the Smoker.

A search committee chair once told me his committee left me out of their "top 3" list because I didn't come to their table at the smoker. (I eventually got a campus visit after they worked their way past the top 3, and it was during the campus visit that the chair--and later another faculty member, too--brought this up.) They seemed to think my not going to the smoker (and their table) was a sign I really wasn't interested in the job, after all, despite seeming to be during the actual interview.

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