An Advisor’s Extra Help on the Job Market

An Advisor’s Extra Help on the Job Market


Placement practices at different graduate programs in philosophy vary, and one difference concerns what advisors do to help their students land jobs. There is, of course, the advising. And also, of course, the letter writing. But then there is a range of activities that go beyond these regular responsibilities—such as calling or emailing members of search committees to put in an extra good word for their advisees, or suggesting their students for speaking or writing or other professional opportunities (“I’m too busy but my student could…”)—that some faculty engage in. Some departments not only encourage but also take steps to help facilitate this assistance, while others take a less organized approach. This difference will be one more factor that affects how candidates do on the job market, which is now upon us. It might be helpful to hear about the experiences of recent and current job candidates, as well as from faculty, about what departments and advisors do besides the basics.

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TT
TT
6 years ago

You’re kidding yourself if you think that those who engage in this sort of behaviour or who benefit from it are going to suddenly come out and talk about it in the open. Don’t you remember we’re all supposed to be in our jobs on merit?Report

SC Member
SC Member
6 years ago

As a search committee member I recently received an e-mail by a famous philosopher in favour of their candidate. We thought that behaviour was a somewhat pushy and we didn’t like the fact that the mail was addressed to the most established person in our dept (rather than the head of the committee) either.
We didn’t blame the candidate (who didn’t get the job for other reasons) but it reflected badly on the manners of the famous advisor.Report

JC2015
JC2015
Reply to  SC Member
6 years ago

Did said famous philosopher [sic.] know who the chair of search committee was? If the name of the search committee chair wasn’t widely publicized, then the expectation that the famous philosopher [sic.] knows the search committee chair seems unusual.

Did said famous philosopher [sic.] have any kind of professional relationship with the chair of the search committee? If not, then it would seem very odd that the famous philosopher [sic.] contact the search committee chair.

Finally, did said famous philosopher [sic.] address the email to you and everyone else on faculty? That seems like the correct course of action because (a) the person doesn’t know who is on the search committee, (b) it’s more inclusive than exclusive, and (c) the person seems to think that the candidate would be a good fit for the department and not a buddy for “the most established person in [your] department.”Report

Lisa Shapiro
Lisa Shapiro
6 years ago

Maybe this counts as advising, but maybe it is something extra. There are departments who still conduct mock interviews and mock job talks for their candidates on the job market, but I do not know that all do or do it well. I think that this can be extraordinarily valuable — there is nothing like practice to make one better at these sorts of things. But I also think there can be a real disconnect between what goes on at research universities (where the grad students are) and at many of the hiring departments. Most departments will be interested in teaching, and I think that departments should be actively encouraging their job candidates to be able to talk fluently about the courses they would like to teach — have original syllabi prepared and be able to discuss the rationale behind the construction. And realize that new ideas of how to do things are usually quite welcome.Report

Awkward Prof
Awkward Prof
Reply to  Lisa Shapiro
6 years ago

I’m glad my department did both of these things when I was a grad student. My mock interview was very helpful, especially since I am not very comfortable in social situations to begin with. (Equally helpful were my first APA interviews, which were not great, but taught me a lot.) In the mock interviews, my professors gave significant time to teaching questions, since they knew that most of us could best compete for teaching positions, not research ones. They did not request sample syllabi, but did ask how two common courses would be taught, and for some explanation of why my approach to them seemed best and not some other.Report

candidate
candidate
6 years ago

As a candidate, I wouldn’t appreciate if my advisor started contacting search committees to advertise my application. There may be situations when exchanging opinions with a colleague about one’s former student, her abilities and strengths may be appropriate. But I feel e-mailing or calling members during the application and decision process is off-limits. Suppose I finally get an offer; if I were to discover my advisor had that sort of behaviour, I’d always remain with the doubt the choice was not made on the basis of my cv, publications, teaching abilities and overall professional value, but thanks to the influence of someone else.
On the other hand, practicing with mock interviews, talks and teaching demonstrations would be very useful, especially for non-native English speakers who hope to try the international job market.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  candidate
6 years ago

Candidate: If you haven’t already, I suggest you read Anca Gheaus’s “Three Cheers for the Token Woman.” The arguments she makes there, about the non-merit factors that routinely figure in conference invitations, apply even moreso to tenure-track hiring. There’s simply no sense in which you can reasonably think that anyone receives a job offer solely on the basis of their own merits. (Indeed, how could they, given the role of letters of recommendation, acceptances by journal reviewers and conference committees, etc?)

But the good news is that, except in extremely unusual cases, you’re also not going to be seriously considered for a position in today’s hyper-competitive market if you are not strong on the dimensions of ‘professional value’ you list. Hiring committees typically have too much at stake to hire someone who isn’t capable of doing the job, no matter how impressive your advisor may be.Report

Well
Reply to  Derek Bowman
6 years ago

“Hiring committees typically have too much at stake to hire someone who isn’t capable of doing the job, no matter how impressive your advisor may be.”

I’m not sure about that. I mean, almost anyone with a PhD from a decent department can “do the job”, if we’re talking about not embarrassing themselves in front of students and churning out a few papers. After that it’s a free for all. Departments have their own weak students to place, and to do that they better hire other people’s weak students. This happens in segments throughout the food chain.Report

well?
well?
Reply to  Well
6 years ago

This seems like nonsense to me. No department – especially in this market – will deliberately hire a candidate they perceive as weak. The thought that they would, on basis of the strange reasoning that this would help them place their own weak graduates, strikes me as utterly implausible.Report

TT
TT
6 years ago

candidate,
Even if your advisor doesn’t call his or her buddies on the search committee, you can’t quite say that your job offer was primarily due to your own publications, teaching abilities, etc. It was however largely due to your CV, i.e. to your pedigree, i.e. largely to someone else’s reputation, namely the reputation of the faculty at your PhD program.Report

Matt McAdam
Matt McAdam
6 years ago

Given the realities of the job market, placement advisors/committees ought need to offer some forms of preparation for or guidance on getting a non-academic or non-teaching job. I think that, compared with other humanities disciplines, philosophy is quite behind here. There is a great deal of discussion about this issue, for example, in the literary studies community, much of it fostered by the MLA. Fulfilling this duty properly requires recognizing that it, in fact, is one. It also requires advisors and committees to educate themselves on the types of alternative career paths there are for philosophy PhD’s or at least finding out who had this knowledge so that students can access it. It also means that conversations about alternative careers should happen much earlier on in one’s graduate career.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Matt McAdam
6 years ago

Why think philosophy faculty are in any position to advise students on alternative career paths? Many advisors have a hard enough time adjusting their advice to match an academic job market that is substantially worse than the one they or their previous generation of students had to face. While conversation on this topic is good, I don’t think philosophers have any reason to be embarrassed by comparison with the MLA’s efforts here. See, e.g. the excellent critiques of those ideas here https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2014/06/24/essay-critiques-mla-report-graduate-education and https://chroniclevitae.com/news/508-alt-ac-isn-t-always-the-answer .Report

David Velleman
David Velleman
6 years ago

In my 30 years, several of them as placement advisor, I have only once had the experience of making a difference in a job candidate’s prospects by personally contacting a member of the search committee. That intervention consisted merely in saying that the candidate was really interested in the job. (The search committee had assumed that s/he was not.) As a member and sometime chair of search committees, I routinely ignore personal communications from advisors. I imagine that they might do more good with very small departments that are completely overwhelmed by the volume of applications.Report