In comment #9 at this post, Susan makes a kind of canonical case I've heard from lots of assessment people.
First, I should say that I agree with 95% of the intended answers to Susan's rhetorical questions. We should be much clearer about what we want our students to get out of their degrees, and we should put in the hard work of assessing the extent that we are successful.
But "assessment" in contemporary American bureaucracies almost always accomplishes exactly the opposite of the laudable goals that Susan and I share. And there are deep systematic reasons for this. Below, I will first explain three fallacies and then explain why everyone involved in assessment faces enormous pressure to go along with these fallacies. Along the way I hope to make it clear how this results in "assessment" making things demonstrably worse.**
In the context of a very nice post about an exceptional department, Professor Leiter claims: "The term 'pluralism'** has, alas, been debased to the point that everyone now knows it is usually a code word for 'crappy philosophy is welcome here'."
That's accurate, but a little too generous! For one thing, it understates the self-congratulation with which the term is deployed, and well as the ways in which it is wielded in order to deceive those most vulnerable in our profession.
I realize that many of our judgments of concerning philosophical work are somewhere between full-bore cognitive judgments and Kantian judgments of taste rather than judgments of things you happen to find agreeable. I mean, my distaste for a philosophical view or text is not the same as my distaste for bitter vegetables. And that's fine!
Can you imagine being happy in a non-academic career? This question is often posed by academics to prospective graduate students, who are encouraged to pursue an academic career only if their answer is ‘no’. This advice came under Nate Kreuter’s scrutiny in a recent Inside Higher Ed column:
Let me start this column by looking at what I think is a horrible but common piece of advice. […] I have often heard of faculty members advising prospective and current graduate students to pursue or continue their graduate studies only if "you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else." The implication, of course, is that you should only pursue an advanced or terminal degree if being a professor is the only way you can see yourself being happy […] [T]his is shockingly bad advice.
While Kreuter worries that this advice fails to acknowledge the possibility of combining academic degrees with non-academic careers, my own concerns are more fundamental and focused specifically on the discipline of philosophy. I’m worried that, by dishing out this advice, we are unintentionally discriminating against precisely those groups of people we are trying hardest to attract and retain.
One of the skills philosophers-to-be must master is how to negotiate the ins and outs of getting their papers published in journals. Of course, the main thing is learning how to write good papers in the first place, but as we all know, writing a good paper is not a sufficient condition for achieving publication. As the years go by and I move steadily from ‘young, up-and-coming philosopher’ to someone with responsibilities for training other people, I’ve found it increasingly important to guide them in the process of finding the right home for their papers. Obviously, learning to do so is a never-ending process, and we ‘old people’ are still prone to making strategic mistakes; but there is a thing or two that we learn through experience regarding how to select the right journal(s) to submit a paper to. In this post, I’ll elaborate on some of the ‘strategies’ I’ve been passing on to the people I supervise; many of them will sound obvious to more experienced members of the profession, but I hope they can be useful to those still learning to navigate the seas of the publishing process.
One well-known heuristic is to follow the order of a certain ‘hierarchy’ of journals, from top to bottom. So you start aiming as high as you can, and then go one step down the ladder if your paper is rejected. Now, while this is generally speaking a sensible approach, there is much to be said against it. For starters, it may take a very long time until the paper is finally accepted somewhere, and if you are a young professional in the job market, this is definitely something to be avoided. Moreover, some of the so-called top journals are known for taking much too long before getting back to authors, and this is a luxury that many cannot afford.
Next week, I will be speaking at a career development workshop for female Oxford graduate and masters students. One of the things I want to focus on is the importance of building out a broad, strong, supportive professional network.
Academia is built on trust and personal relationships. Rarely are people invited as speakers at conferences, workshops etc purely on the basis of merit. Merit is an important consideration, but people want additional information (e.g., is she a good speaker, will she turn up?) that they can acquire through their network, either by directly knowing the potential invitee, or by knowing others who know her. People from one’s network can alert one to opportunities, including job opportunities. Without a professional network, one has no letter writers (except the advisor and readers of the dissertation), one is excluded from many aspects of academic life that thrive on trust and personal relationships, such as being a keynote speaker or contributing to an edited volume. Moreover, people from one’s network provide opportunities for mentoring, friendship and mutual support in the very competitive environment that is academia. If one has to move state or country and has to leave friends and family behind, the ability to be able to fall back on a network of professional comrades for support and friendship is very valuable. Therefore, I will advise the students to work on their networks early on, and to nurture them.
But there are problematic aspects to networking. Ned Dobos has argued that career networking is ‘an immoral attempt to gain an illegitimate advantage over others’. He makes clear that he doesn’t target emotional networking - plain old socialising - but specifically career networking, networking in the context of advancing one’s career, especially, but not uniquely, one’s job prospects.
It does not seem clear to me, however, whether we can make a clean separation between career networking and emotional networking, especially in academia, where (for reasons I outlined above) the people in one’s professional network and one’s emotional (friend) network overlap to some extent. Dobos offers several arguments against the legitimacy of career networking. Insofar as the search process is meritocratic, career networking is morally objectionable because it attempts to distort the meritocratic allocation of positions, in a process analogous to bribery, or to ‘earwigging’ attempting to persuade judges outside of the formal process. In both cases, the career networker obtains an unfair advantage. Is it possible to engage in ethical career networking?
Childhood is abundant in fruits, but infancy is sweeter [Fructuosior est adulescentia liberorum, sed infantia dulcior].--Seneca, Letter 9.
I am very bad at being powerless when I really want to help another that I care for who is self-undermining. I find it vexing, and because of the intensity of the passion, I am perfectly capable of making a situation worse--thus, not helping the person in need and frustrating my aims. Recognizing the pattern and even the fact that I re-enact childhood experience, has helped to some degree. But nobody that knows me will call me "unflappable" in such circumstances. (By contrast, I have remained unperturbed when I have been amidst gunfire and scary aircraft failures.) This particular incapacity has a work-place consequence: it makes me a less than ideal PhD supervisor for people that are self-undermining and it influences how we can do philosophy together.
In her best-selling and philosophically subtle book on Spinoza, Door Spinoza's Lens [full disclosure: I wrote a brief "afterword" to it, but that is obviously not why it is selling!] the Flemish scholar-public intellectual, Tinneke Beeckman, emphasizes the significance of equanimity. When one first encounters it in the Ethics, it seems to council resignation: "we should await and endure fortune's face with equanimity" [utramque fortunae
faciem aequo animo exspectare et ferre]. E2p49S It is easy to mistake this for passivity in the face of harms done by others to us (as E4Appendix, ch. 14 suggests).* But in chapter 32 of the appendix to Ethics 4, Spinoza makes clear that equanimity is consequent to being conscious of having done one's duty [si conscii simus nos functos nostro officio fuisse]. Given that Spinoza uses here the Ciceronian "officio," he means this in terms of meeting the obligations of one's public station or social role. Spinoza's version of equanimity is a public virtue, one that emphasizes a notion of duty that we can capture by way of 'public spiritedness.' As we know from Hutcheson this entails all of us can be heroes in modern times.
Yesterday I had one of those thank God for tenure moments.
At a meeting of the"Assessment Officers" of over 100 LSU programs as well as most of the relevant deans, I blurted out, "Well, that's perfectly silly," after a dean announced that she would send back for substantial rewriting annual report that did not interpret the assessment "data sets" to entail problems that would be rectified in the "action plan."**[Please read notes ** and **** below to get some idea of just how much make-work this is.]
Then, when the hundred plus group of otherwise intelligent people looked at me, I didn't do a very good job articulating why this kind of thing was stupid during the cultural revolution in China and just as stupid today. I just said that if a unit is doing well there's no reason to find problems and that you can't expect units to get better to infinity.
This precipitated another long speech by the poor man in charge of LSU's compliance with SAAC's accreditation mandates involving assessment.*** This speech reiterated how there's always room for improvement and how this process should be helpful.**** I wanted to explain to him that he had John Calvin's doctrine on the depravity of man dreadfully wrong, but didn't say anything. Besides, everyone present needed guidance on the constantly changing computer interface that makes us enter data in all sorts of new ways and also at six months intervals recursively assess how well we are assessing.
Michael Kremer has expressed justified concern that prospective graduate students might use the data compiled by Andy Carson to guide their choice in graduate programs. Even if the data were perfect, one should be cautious in using them; the data are backward-looking and reflect circumstances that might well have changed significantly by the time one shows up at the school of one's choice. Even when Andy Carson removes all the current (serious) problems with his data, placement data absent attrition rates are of limited use. Moreover, given the incentives involved we should not expect to get fully reliable data easily. Ideally, once Carson has worked out the obvious snafus with his data people can use his data and measures and compare them with old and more recent Gourmet reports and figure out ways to use them in light of each other given their individual needs.
But for now, nobody should let these data play a decisive role in their decision-making.
Speaking of placement, I can't get behind the paywall to this Chronicle article entitled "Scholarly Groups Chip Away at Taboo of Nonacademic Careers."
(This part should be read in a Troy McClure voice: "and I don't condone people sending me the PDF, because that would evade a key part of their business model.")
The headline seems off though, because for at least ten years now I haven't had any such "taboo" (and I don't think I'm exceptional here); my standard advice has been for grad students to prepare themselves for multiple job markets, academia being only one of them, so that if you don't get a TT offer, you are already prepared for non-academic fields. (To be precise, getting a TT offer only means moving from one sector to another in the political economy of philosophy instruction; TAs are *already* in the "job market.")
In fact, however, even that doesn't seem responsible, so starting this year I tell them that it's *academia* that should be their Plan B, that is, if you get a TT offer, sure that's great, give it some thought, but your primary plan should be the BGN sectors (business, government, non-profits). I also add in academic administration, too, because, hey, that's the growth market, right? No matter what I think of administrative bloat, I think I have an ethical obligation to counsel grad students as to all their career options.
Yesterday, I linked to a blog post that claims to offer detailed data and analysis on "approximately 3,200 placement records since the year 2000." While (as subsequent commentary on my post revealed) there are obvious problems with the material outside North America and more subtle ones with the ones inside, the proposed approach can give an important perspective on recent hiring. The author is calling for the right sort of assistance: "if you believe my data is mistaken, please send me the appropriate and complete data for your school, so that I can update the data." Once the data have been improved one might be able to do some interesting comparison with past Philosophical Gourmet reports.
Because I was utterly unfamiliar with the author, Andrew Carson, I also expressed concern about his/her identity in my post. A friendly reader pointed to a linkedin page, and I contacted the person via email. Carson agreed to do a brief interview, which I have reprinted (and slightly edited) below. Obviously, this does not settle any concerns about the author and his methods, I now believe we are dealing with a good faith effort to help improve the profession. Obviously, how Carson deals with the new data that people sent him will be most illuminating. Here's the interview:
I am a real person. I received my MA in philosophy from Northern
Illinois University in 2012. I have since left academia and am working
in Data Science (hence my interest in the intersection of philosophy and
did the post because I like philosophy and I like data, and I figured I
could bring the two together. I know lots of friends recently in grad
school and they are all concerned about getting a job after they
graduate. I’ve also had friends get stuck in adjunct positions. I
wanted to let others thinking about graduate school know what they were
up against and to go into it with eyes wide open, especially since I
anything like this before. I hope to just get this info out there and
get people less focused on the Leiter rankings (I know people were
obsessed with those in applications).
[UPDATE: I have been unable to find any information on Andrew Carson, so I wonder if this is a real person or a pseudonym. I also hope that at one point the data will be released to interested parties, so we can check for accuracy; for all I know this is a hoax.--ES]
The numbers say....go to Yale, UMass, Amherst, or Northwestern! Andrew Carson (the person who crunched the numbers), explans the method here.
I haven't had a chance to look at his approach, so I will just report his bottom line:
If you are applying to graduate schools
in philosophy and are trying to decide which schools you want to apply
to or attend, and if you are concerned about your placement prospects
after graduation, you need to consider (1) how a school ranks in your
chosen specialty and (2) how well that school places students overall. You
cannot just rely on overall faculty rankings, for these bear no
relationship to how well a school places, although many will find these
rankings important for other reasons. What does appear to matter as far as placement is concerned is the school's ranking in your area of specialty. If it ranks well, then you have a much higher chance of getting a tenure track or permanent position in academic philosophy. And some schools just appear to have better placement rankings than others.
For example, both Northwestern University and University of
Massachusetts, Amherst are not ranked above a 3 in any category (except
Continental philosophy and Social and Political Philosophy,
respectively), but they have some of the best placement records.
Why is that? I wish I knew. That is a question worthy of further exploration...[Emphasis in original--ES.]
I received my PhD from Columbia in June of 1950 but my education scarcely
stopped there... I
did not really know much about how to do any serious research and writing, since
my graduate education did not involve the personal supervision of research of
the kind so familiar to graduate students today. I was neither forced nor encouraged
to produce early in my graduate career a publishable paper nor to because acquainted
with the "how-to-do-it" aspects of research.
I was, however, full of energy and brimming over with ideas. I thrashed around
for a few months but fortunately I soon became acquainted with J. C. C. McKinsey,
a logician who had recently joined the Department of Philosophy at Stanford.
McKinsey served as my postdoctoral tutor.---Patrick Suppes.
It is (sound) conventional wisdom that one's fellow students can be as (or more) important as one's supervisors in one's education. But reading Suppes' autobiography reminded me of a bit of wisdom that my supervisor, Dan Garber, handed down to me during a 'reality-check moment' as I was contemplating a crucial career decision: if one is lucky (and wise) one's most important intellectual and professional mentors may be encountered on the job early in one's career. Much has changed since Suppes went to Stanford (and even since I obtained my first position), but Garber's point still stands. In the discipline this wisdom is obliquely recognized when people say that 'such-and-such department has a great track record hiring young people'. (I heard this a lot about Syracuse before and after I went there, but I am not impartial in this matter.) The truth would be better expressed as 'such-and-such department does a stellar job tutoring and developing recent hires.'
Comments on this thread, which began as a discussion of accusations of tokenism against women graduate students, veered off into discussions of (the perception) of effects of AA on "the job market."
A couple of comments caught my eye. One (#34) was that "Your fellow graduate students are not your competition, they are your colleagues.... Unlike your faculty advisers, your fellow students will know what it's like to be a graduate student at this school at this time, facing this job market. And they will (or should!) also be an important part of your professional network as you do enter into the job market." Another (#37) was that "people born in the 80's already have a (fairly understandable) generational grudge against the baby boomers."
I want to make two points here, about when the post-PhD TT "job market" changed, and who competes against whom.
One of the saddest and scariest things about human beings is how we can work so damned hard for year after year and then derive so little satisfaction when things actually come to fruition. I don't know how ubiquitous this is, but it is somewhat pronounced both in academia and the music world, two fields that typically require a nauseating amount of effort for years on end just to make a bare living.
Consider music. There's an overwhelmingly affecting point in the recent Ramones documentary where the original bassist and songwriter (who later died of a heroin overdose) is reflecting on his bulimia and massive intake of anti-anxiety medication; he says something to the effect of "All my dreams came true. Why can't I be happy?" This isn't just rock music either. There is a small literature suggesting that successful orchestra musicians (with a job market very similar to academia) have pretty low job satisfaction when compared to other fields.
In academia I've noticed in particular two kinds of virulently unhappy successful people. The first is the person who just got tenure and all of the sudden faces an overwhelming existential crises, analogous to when deep sea divers come up too fast and their bodies can't handle the depressurization. That is, at every point prior to tenure, from gradeschool through being an Assistant Professor, there is ususally a ton of outside pressure to do specific tasks to get to the next point. And some people who thrive when being told what to do find it horrifying to be any other way.
This is a weird thing, because the pressure of going through tenure review is itself so harsh. I know plenty of people who actually went on prescription happy pills for the first time in their life during tenure review, only to get off them after the tenure was resolved and move on unscathed. But two people I cherish did just fine during the tenure review only to completely fall apart afterwards. One was institutionalized and is no longer an academic and the other is dead.
Jeremy Gilbert (see also Monday's post) writes on the relation of social media networks and individualism; below the fold some reflections on his essay for the philosophy profession.
On the one hand we have a social logic which tends towards the promotion of egalitarian collective creativity. On the other, we have an ideology which demands that we remain commited to the liberal individualist obsession with our private, interior lives and our separability from all other beings. It insists that the outputs of all such creativity - and even the condition of possibility for those outputs - manifest themselves only as forms of private property: from the ‘transferrable skill sets’ which we ‘sell’ in the labour market [*] to the carefully-defined pieces of intellectual property that are the substance of the ‘knowledge economy’.... [**]
realized I was a lousy teacher because I hadn’t approached teaching the
same way I approach everything else. I hadn’t approached it as
something I could learn from others and get better at... Nick Smith taught me to be confident but
open, and to use my personality in the classroom rather than sublimate."--B. Copenhaver [The whole interview is worth reading.]
By clicking the link posted below you can download an Excel spreadsheet with placement data from
the last two years, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, together with a “how-to” guide for
future years of data gathering and analysis. The data
is sourced from ProPhilosophy, the link for which you can find here.
Undoubtedly, there are still blessed people that come out of graduate school and find a job on the strength of letters of recommendation and a forthcoming paper in The Philosophical Review. Maybe some perfectionists can still attain tenure in a decent place by publishing a beautifully crafted piece every other year (I doubt it). So, for the rest of the young people looking to be hired in places where some research is taken seriously, here's an important bit of unsolicited advice:
critical to have multiple pieces under review at a time, and to be
constantly writing while pieces are under review (so that as pieces
become accepted, you have more to send out). I also think there's a
skill to develop here, because it requires working on more than one
project at a time."--Rachel McKinnon (offered in response to this post.)
Many readers of this blog are probably aware that I ran some basic hiring statistics last year, both at The Philosophy Smoker and ProPhilosophy. I first ran those analyses out of personal curiosity, but soon found that others considered them needful. I thus aim to run them each year, so long as placement directors are willing to supply the required information. I will cross-post the results here and at ProPhilosophy.
A Plea: ProPhilosophy has sent out emails to a number of departments, so far hearing back from just 19 of them. (You can find the collected responses here.) Last year ProPhilosophy heard back from 64 departments. I hope that many more placement directors/DGSs/department chairs will find time to respond to ProPhilosophy with the available information (by sending an email to email@example.com).
James argues that what is characteristic of assholes is that they systematically "act out of a deep-rooted sense of entitlement, a habitual and persistent belief that they deserve special treatment." He develops a typology of different kinds of assholes, and also theorizes about the rise of "asshole capitalism," which is where:
Leiter has a post up on the issue of the ‘stale PhD', which
remains an ongoing debate despite the unusually bad job market of the last
years. The rationale seems to be that real ‘stars’ will land TT jobs straight
out of graduate school, so if someone has been out of graduate school for some
time and still does not have a TT job, search committees will infer that there
is something ‘wrong’ with the candidate -- otherwise he or she would have
already gotten a TT job. The vicious circularity of the process is patent: the
reason why you don’t get a TT job is that you didn’t get a TT job in the first
place. It is unfair, but yet one of these heuristics that people use to
save time and effort in judging and decision-making processes.
My understanding is that the focus on TT job is
predominantly a North-American phenomenon, as opposed to how the job market is
organized in Europe (especially continental Europe). As some readers outside
Europe may already know, academic research in Europe is heavily subsidized by
research grants provided by funding agencies such as the European Research
Council as well as national agencies (in the Netherlands, the almighty NWO, the
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research) – a structure that Eric Schliesser
has voiced quite a few objections to, but one which I see as having many
advantages as well. (And I must admit that these people have been pretty
generous with me so far, so I can’t complain…)
One thing that I think editors can do is to be willing to invite junior women (and even promising graduate students) to write articles for volumes that are otherwise mostly big-name senior people. This does double (triple?) duty: it helps put less pressure on established people... while helping to ensure gender balance in these volumes, and it helps women who are at an earlier career stage with things like tenure and getting jobs (and simply becoming "known" in the philosophical community). I've seen more and more volumes with a few articles in them by junior people/grad students; the least we could do is ensure that THOSE articles are written by women.
This seems right and good to me, at least as far as the volumes themselves go and as far as the profession goes. But my question is whether submitting papers to volumes is actually good for the graduate students (or early academics) themselves. I am not so sure that it is.
Five old puzzles to brush up on your logic skills before the GREs:
(1) Yesterday I ran into my colleagues Eric Wiland and John Brunero, who were trying to sneak out to watch the baseball game. I asked Eric: "Is any of you a truth-teller?" Eric said something that sufficed for me to know the answer to my question. Are Eric and John liars or truth-tellers?
Recently I was asked to suggest graduate students for a focused conference on a particular issue in philosophy. I decided to poke around the web pages of some departments known for work on that topic. This turned out to be largely useless. Many students had web pages - not all did, which brings up prior advice - but almost none had any specifics. Now I know that one doesn't always know specifically what one's specialization will be while in grad school. But still, if you know enough to say that you are working on, say, metaphysics, you know this because you have written papers at least for courses. So you can mention topics. My advice is that you do so - mention every topic that you know enough about that you would like to be invited to a small focused conference on that topic. Where you will meet folks working in the area, get noticed, share work, all that good stuff. Talk with your faculty about what would be good things to include, but do so. I doubt that my search was all that unusual a phenomenon, but you have little to lose by including some areas.
It's that time again: Undergrads finishing up will soon be sending
out applications to Ph.D. programs and grads finishing up are about to
head out on the job market. Though choices might be limited owing to
financial restraints, there likely will be some who will have the
opportunity to choose among several departments.As I advice students about this on a daily basis, and reputation plays a crucial factor in the desirability of a department, I thought it would be worth mulling over what makes a department reputable.