Hanti Lin’s “Doing a PhD and Getting a Job in Philosophy”


Check out “Hanti’s Notes on Doing a PhD and Getting a Job in Philosophy” by Hanti Lin, assistant professor of philosophy at UC Davis. It has a lot of good advice. Of particular value is the “When to do what?” section. Also, I appreciate the “Health maintenance” section, the issues under which do not get discussed as frequently as they should. Throughout the guide, Lin provides helpful information on some small and often overlooked details. Definitely worth checking out. Suggestions and comments welcome.

(via Lewis Powell)

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UK Grad
UK Grad
6 years ago

From the Health Maintenance section: ‘Realize that failure to get a job might be due to bad luck and has nothing to do with your expertise. The hiring committee members are not only looking for a researcher or teacher, but also a good friend who might be around for the rest of their lives.’

In other words: don’t worry, it’s not your research skills, it’s just your personality!? Thanks, Hanti!Report

Blain Neufeld
6 years ago

Lin: “This might be immoral, but many people do this.”
So this is the kind of advice that aspiring philosophers should heed?
*Sigh*Report

Rambler
Rambler
6 years ago

So very sensible, an so, so soul-destroying.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

I couldn’t tell if was for real or a parody, like someone had written a “Tracy Flick’s guide to grad school.”

“The main purposes of presenting a paper in a conference:

to impress people,
to earn your reputation,
to find people to write recommendation letters for you.”

To learn from others? Get feedback on your work? Discuss important philosophical issues?Report

Funk
Funk
6 years ago

That’s it, that’s it. Really. It’s officially time to impose a one year ban on public musings about the sociology of our profession. Stop the insanity. Shut ‘er down.Report

K.I.
K.I.
6 years ago

As a grad school applicant, it seems more and more that “The search for truth” has been divested into a kind of omnipresent careerism. Where’s the room for exploration, mistakes, uncertainty? I always loved my philosophy classes because they made room for *thinking*. It seems to my amateur self that there is no longer room for thinking–only room for publishing. Not that the two are mutually exclusive. But it does not seem to me coincidental that Heidegger and Wittgenstein, likely the two most influential 20th Century philosophers, published relatively little.Report

Roger Clarke
Roger Clarke
6 years ago

I share Rambler’s sentiment, but not in a hostile or (I hope) uncharitable way: that is, I think Lin’s advice is (almost all) good, but I wish it weren’t. I wish it weren’t wise to really think about marketing yourself & enhancing your reputation for the job market, but it probably is.

To offer something constructive, though: I think the document might present too limited a picture of the good post-talk question. That is, even granted that what you primarily want is for your publicly-asked question to enhance your reputation, it needn’t be “killer” to be good. You can show that you’re a good philosopher (and, even, a good philosopher to have around!) by asking questions that aren’t just polite-but-devastating objections, but instead do something more constructive, like suggesting applications/extensions of the work, or historical figures who might be interesting/relevant, or suggesting a buttressing line of argument, or another way of seeing the importance of the work, or….

I realize there’s a standard vision of Q&A as a gauntlet, but it needn’t be so. Not that my opinion matters a whole lot, but when I think more highly of someone for asking a good question, it’s at least as often because it was perceptive & helpful (& succinct) as because it was devastating.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

The most interesting thing for me about the whole document is something I’ve felt for a long time, namely the redundancy of the PhD. If the emphasis is on a single paper, or even two papers (one as publication, one as job talk), then why don’t we just have candidates do that? What additional benefit do we get from forcing students through the rigmarole of an archaic German 19th C practice? (And please don’t say ‘further preparation…’: by this stage job market candidates have had so much ‘preparation’ foisted upon them…). Lin’s document does us a service by highlighting how much a distraction the PhD has become.Report

gradjunct
gradjunct
6 years ago

I found this comment in the “Mental Health” section to be somewhat misleading: “Realize that there are good jobs you could find if you have to leave academia.” I would ask, good by what standard? Equivalent pay? Equivalent workload/off time for philosophical reading/reflection? Equivalent intellectual stimulation and reward? And who can find these jobs? Disaffected PhDs with undergraduate degrees in STEM fields from nationally reputable R1 schools to augment their PhD? Or, PhDs with undergraduate degrees in the humanities, or from less reputable schools? And where can these people find these jobs? And how many of these jobs are there to be found (as opposed to the number of people looking for them)? It seems to be an increasingly common trope that philosophy degrees are in growing demand in the marketplace, but while this may be true for undergraduates it does not pass the eyeball test for philosophy MAs and Phds. If it were the case that there was a plethora of “good” jobs for philosophy PhDs in the private sector (jobs with equivalent pay/intellectual reward/workload, that did not require lengthy retraining or acquiring another degree), one would expect to see some siphoning off of applicants from the academic job market (assuming baseline self-interest and rationality). But, in fact, the opposite is happening. There is more competition than ever for tenure track and post-doc positions on academic market. Finally to say that one “COULD find a job” is trivial and vacuously true. One COULD also become president or win the powerball, but that does not make either modality a realistic prospect to be pursued.Report

Hanti Lin
Hanti Lin
6 years ago

Anon is absolutely right when he talks about “the main purposes of presenting a paper in a conference”. I was too cynical. So I just modified the document before I mislead more people. Now the phrase is: “the main job-hunting-related purposes of presenting a paper in a conference are …” I guess I should find a time to reconsider the wordings. Many of you have given very good comments but, sorry, I won’t be able to incorporate them very soon, because I am attending the Central APA Conference and will remain busy before I finish my talk on Saturday. I’d love to incorporate your suggestions/comments after the conference.

There is a danger of reading my notes only. There should be (and should have been) more job-hunting guides available to philosophy PhD students from different, even competing, perspectives. A student needs to have access to different views and to authors of different backgrounds before he/she can select the advices that suit him/her in order to make a good decision. (I just added something to this effect into my notes.) Unfortunately, there seem to be not many such notes or guides available online—but let me know if you know some sources.

A bit of the background: I grew up and received my (physics) undergraduate education in Taiwan before I went to the US to do my philosophy master and PhD. I found it terribly tough for a non-English-native speaker to survive on the English-speaking philosophy job market. So originally I wanted to write something for the philosophy students in Taiwan who might aspire to get a PhD and find a research-oriented job in the English-speaking academia. But then I found that most of the points I wanted to make should be of some use to many philosophy students who want to find a research-oriented job in the English-speaking academia, independently of their origins, mother tongues, or cultures. The product is the notes you have seen. Last but not the least: as stated in my notes, the whole thing is based solely on my limited experience in the job market, conversations with my philosophy friends, and the academic orientation I attended when I was a new master student at the Philosophy Department of Carnegie Mellon University. Yes, that academic orientation at CMU really shocked me; it was, by the way, August 2008, shortly after the global financial crisis. In hindsight, my notes are most likely a mere product of that financial crisis and the ensuing toughness in the academic job market. (I was on the job market in 2012-14.) And I really hope that my notes will become inapplicable soon.Report

K.I.
K.I.
6 years ago

I apologize for not being clear: I second Roger Clarke’s statements–viz., I grant that Dr. Lin *does not endorse* the careerism as a desirable state of affairs, but rather accepts it as a necessity. And in fact, I sincerely appreciate his efforts, as I will likely follow his advice if and when I attend grad school. I only wish it were not the case that pedigree of program matters as much as it does, that ‘publish or perish’ seems to be the norm, and that philosophical dialogue takes on instrumental value in service of ‘networking’. I think the field loses something crucial in this environment.Report

Hanti Lin
Hanti Lin
6 years ago

I cannot help but say one more thing before I focus on preparing for my talk. Following Justin’s comment, there is certainly more to philosophical activity than that which is involved in getting a job. I love doing philosophy. Philosophy is sooooooooo fun. I hate to attend a conference to impress people. I love to attend a conference to do philosophy. One of the most enjoyable things to me is doing philosophy when taking a bath. I love doing philosophy so much that I take my dream job to be a research-oriented philosophy job. I tend to think that my notes are scary (and hopefully not too cynical). But I did most of the things I mentioned in my notes, for the sheer reason that I really love philosophy and really want to make it my life-long career.Report

Ryan
Ryan
6 years ago

@Justin/8

I think you’re overlooking the points these posters were making. As I get them, they just were bemoaning the fact that Lin’s interpretive framework is appropriate for getting a job in the first place. So I don’t think that just saying, ‘Well, wait a second, all Lin is doing is talking about getting a job in academic philosophy; his comments aren’t to be taken to extend to all aspects of doing philosophy’ is a good response. The whole point they’re making (again, as I get them) is that the strategies Lin outlines for getting a job in academic philosophy have less and less to do with, and perhaps are even in competition with, these other aspects of doing philosophy.Report

p
p
6 years ago

I found this advice actually unhelpful – it might help some people, but I suspect it is bad advice for many. Moreover, some of it is turning philosophy into a senseless production of mostly forgettable articles whose main purpose is to be published (rather than contribute to our thinking about something important) at a stage where this is not desirable.Report

Kenny
6 years ago

Note also his secondary explanation for the same thing – are you really sure you wouldn’t take the job if it were the only one offered?Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
6 years ago

I think this sort of project provides two worthwhile services to the profession. First, although it can’t improve the overall job situation for new PhDs, it can at least equalize access to information about what the job market is actually like for those who are not getting good, frank advice from their advisors. But second, it should serve as a useful tool for any prospective graduate student, or for any current graduate student or PhD who is reevaluating how much of themselves they want to invest in this career path.

Hanti Lin says @14 “But I did most of the things I mentioned in my notes, for the sheer reason that I really love philosophy and really want to make it my life-long career.”

But why is a career in philosophy – given that this is what such a career looks like – the best way of incorporating your love of philosophy into your life. Is the “philosophy” that you love really identical with the “it” which you’re trying to make a life-long career? Please note that I don’t mean this as a personal question to Prof Lin. This is the question that we should all be asking ourselves.Report

Marcus Arvan
6 years ago

Hanti Lin’s advice seems to me fairly well-suited to obtaining R1 research jobs–but (A) most jobs are *not* R1 jobs, (B) some of the advice Lin offers is arguably counterproductive vis-a-vis obtaining other, more common types of jobs (teaching jobs/SLACs), and (C) the overall job-market data over the past several years (viz. publication rates and types of new hires) does not fit very well with Lin’s advice on the whole (most hires do not have any top-20 journal publications, but lots of publications at lower-ranked journals). If anyone’s interested, I say a bit more here: http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2015/02/on-lins-doing-a-phd-and-getting-a-job-in-philosophy.html .Report

Roger Clarke
Roger Clarke
6 years ago

Bowman: I hope that a career in academic philosophy doesn’t look much like the job market. I really, really, *really* hope I’m done with the job market. Really. (I gather getting tenure is like being on the job market, but we don’t have it in here the UK.) Am I naive to think a career in philosophy doesn’t look like what Hanti Lin describes, once one has a job/tenure?

(This is not to deny that we should be asking ourselves the question you pose. You’re right, and it’s an important point.)Report

Manyul Im
6 years ago

Career advice for philosophers doesn’t seem evil or crass to me. I mean, grinding lenses is a career that can both support a great philosopher while it competes with philosophical activity, but it’s probably better to be in an academic career for a number of reasons. People hire their future colleagues in academia for all kinds of irrelevant and stupid reasons sometimes; if some things irrelevant to being a good philosopher are systematically the basis for hiring, we should all try harder not to fall prey to them. Of course, meanwhile, good philosophers may be losing jobs to other good philosophers for dumb reasons — someone had a quicker, more confident sounding, hand-waving response to a question, wore a better fitting outfit, or seemed to a department’s members at some subconscious level like an easier person to get along with (because of ethnicity, class, gender, accent, etc).

I do agree with most of the comment authors that we should be careful, however, with what kind of career advice we give. At some point, you want to say that the best advice is to learn how to talk about your work in ways that other people can understand and find compelling, particularly with respect to how your work might be relevant to their own or to the institutional mission, or something that actually is relevant to why you would be a good philosophical fit with the department. After all, in most jobs, the goal of the institution isn’t to find someone who will be his or her own best interlocutor in an inner dialogue of genius. It’s to hire someone who will be a good teacher and intellectual colleague in a Philosophy department. To think of academic philosophy as a career isn’t tantamount to careerism because it is a career path, though one that shouldn’t come apart too much from the activity of philosophical thinking, dialogue, and analysis.Report

Fritz McDonald
Fritz McDonald
6 years ago

I think some of this advice is useful. The most useful thing in Lin’s advice, I think, is the suggestion to start working early in graduate school on having good, polished work that you can present well. Keep in mind you will need, on the market, both a writing sample and a job talk: both of these should be very good work. I think, as Marcus points out above, that some of this advice, simply as advice meant to increase your chances of getting a job, might be somewhat off-track. So people should read Marcus’s post, and it helps for us to have research like Marcus’s. I like Hanti Lin’s suggestion that more recent grads might put together additional guides like this. Guides from people in positions at SLACs or at community colleges might be useful. None of this, however, is a substitute for a good placement director at your graduate program. Preferably, you should have a number of people on your committee who have experience placing students in tenure-track jobs. They should be actively involved in giving you advice and helping you get a job. If you do not have support like that from your PhD program, your program is doing you a disservice. Before accepting entry into a philosophy program, I would encourage students to get an idea from current students in that program what support for placement is like there.Report

Formal Epistemology Fan
Formal Epistemology Fan
6 years ago

Hanti describes how through hard work he, as a foreigner lacking confidence in his English proficiency, was admitted to a top US program in his AOS, and then got an excellent research postdoc and R1 TT job. He published multiple articles in top journals, and traveled extensively to present his work. The comments suggesting there is something lacking in the quality of his work are simply ignorant. And except for the comment about focusing on a primarily teaching oriented career, none of the comments offer constructive advice for significantly different paths in philosophy.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

Three quick points I’d add (I think these notes are great.) First, there are other countries with developing hotspots of analytic philosophy besides Singapore, Hong Kong, etc…

Second, and more importantly, though I am a huge believer in Hanti’s rule as rule of academic writing, experience shows that even otherwise virtuous people are impressed by useless formalism, centered formulas, and middle school algebra. Insofar as you’re already willing to make use of rhetorical tricks to make yourself look better…in for a penny, in for a pound, eh?

Third, for God’s sake, don`t get interested in more than one topic at a time. This is the WORST THING you can do for yourself as people on hiring committees want to slot you as the-person-who-does-so-and-so. So, if you float between two fields, or worse, work independently in both, then you need to explain at a minimum why they are connected. But better not to do this at all so as to make yourself more categorizable. Never mind that almost no even mediocre philosopher on your shelf worked in a single topic or that the resulting work is bland, tedious, and generally an articulation of the narcisus. Search committees want to see you as a person with a dedicated SINGULAR research profile. Save your other interests for after the job. (I wish someone had stressed this to me more when I was a graduate student.)Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

*narcissism of small differencesReport

Formal Epistemology Fan
Formal Epistemology Fan
6 years ago

In response to anonymous 25, I thought I’d point out that while it isn’t for everybody, Hanti was able to do original work on multiple topics, formalize all of them elegantly, and make connections between them in a unified project. I say this having written a positive report for one of Hanti’s publications, and having heard a major figure say that a problem he had posed decades ago had just been solved by Hanti.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

As I’m sure you realize, working in a couple of closely related areas of (formal) epistemology/language isn’t quite the case I had in mind. I meant working on, say, ancient skepticism and consequentialism. Or philosophy of logic and aesthetics.

(Hanti is great. I’m a big admirer of the man and the work. I am not attacking him, buddy.)Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

(For the record, I have been very successful publishing in two to three very separate areas. I have a bit of a pet peeve about this, as I get typecast as one of them (which depending on where))Report

Formal Epistemology Fan
Formal Epistemology Fan
6 years ago

Actually @28, one year the placement officer in my graduate program made fun of a JFP ad listing a wildly disjunctive grab bag of maybe five unrelated areas. After the hiring season was over I met a professor from the advertising university who told me they found a candidate who was a perfect fit. More realistically, I know some people who have luckily landed a job as the person who happens to do some weird pair of AOS/AOC that some department wants.
But if you are chosing your area to maximize your chance of a job, do ethics?

(Sorry for misunderstanding your intent, but I couldn’t help reading comments in light of the ones above to the effect of “why is Hanti telling us to save money to go to conferences rather than dictate profound thoughts after giving away our Viennese fortune and hanging out in Cambridge, or wandering the Black Forest pondering the technological self-destruction of the enemies of Being?”)Report

Formal Epistemology Fan
Formal Epistemology Fan
6 years ago

In fact, to use your example, I have a friend doing philosophical logic and aesthetics who got a job at a university which wanted exactly that. I had previously interviewed there without the aesthetics and failed.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

“Don`t get interested in more than one topic at a time. This is the WORST THING you can do for yourself as people on hiring committees want to slot you as the-person-who-does-so-and-so.”

That’s interesting. I work on about five topics in five different areas and I received 14 interviews this year.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

I understand. I really did not mean to offend. However, the one resounding comment I have gotten after the market is that I am too X-y (for one of my areas) or Y-y (for another) for a job—and that it would behoove me to concentrate on just one area. Which, to be honest, I have no intention of doing. I like all my areas and, as I said, I publish in top places in all of them. But whatever, your mileage may vary. Advice always to be taken with a pinch of salt.

And anonymous 32. Whatever, good for you… Go soak your head. Without more information, I have no idea whether you are a counterexample or merely annoying (for example, if you work on ethics, epistemology, reasons, basing-relations, and assertion norms, then you are hardly spreading your wings, eh?)Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
6 years ago

Don’t the conflicting Anonymouses just give further demonstration of how capricious the job search process is? The same thing that is a strength at one institution is a weakness at another, with no clear signal of which is which and no real option on the part of applicants to apply only for the jobs that seem like a good fit in that way.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

Anonymous 33, no need to be a jerk about it. You gave very strongly worded advice to readers without providing evidence the advice is correct. I gave counterevidence. Also “if you work on ethics, epistemology, reasons, basing-relations, and assertion norms, then you are hardly spreading your wings, eh?” This does not describe me.Report

Kris McDaniel
Kris McDaniel
6 years ago

I hesitate to add this to the mix, since I worry that there is some truth to what Derek Bowman writes above. But if I may gently add a few words….

It seems to me that there are two highly defeasible reasons for a search committee to care about whether a junior job candidate has a “unified research agenda”. The first reason is that search committees want to hire someone that they will be able tenure down the road. A person who can present a detailed plan of how their work will develop over the next 2-3 years provides some reassurance that they will produce potentially publishable materials during that period. A committee might get nervous if a candidate indicates that he/she is planning to work on three apparently unconnected lines of research especially if there is little in the candidate’s file to indicate sufficient expertise in some of those areas to hit the ground running. (If the candidate needs to spend the next 6 months, say, mastering one of the areas, is any work going to be produced during that time? The clock is ticking.) A committee might also get nervous if, when asked what you plan to work on next, you just say “philosophy of language” rather than something much more specific, since that suggests that you don’t have a next project in mind and will spend months trying to figure out what to write on, rather than hit the ground running. (Again, the clock is ticking.)

The second reason is that often departments are hiring in an area because they believe they have teaching needs in that area. One way to reassure someone on a search committee that you will continue to teach in an area that they have needs in is to provide them evidence that you will continue to do research in that area. If it looks like you won’t do research in the area in the next few years, maybe you’ve lost interest in the area. And then maybe you won’t want to teach it any more.

All that said, there are clearly other ways to reassure search committees about tenureability and willingness/eagerness to teach in certain areas. I have never had a ‘unified research agenda’, and did not pretend to have one when I went on the job market a decade (gulp!) ago. My gentle suggestion is that, rather than worry per se about a unified research agenda, you think about ways to soothe the concerns that lie behind the question, “what is your research agenda for the next few years?” One way to soothe the question is by having that sort of focus, but it’s not the only way. It’s not even obviously the best way.Report

OftenBewildered
OftenBewildered
6 years ago

The author of 1 seems to be a bit confused about what follows from what Hanti said regarding luck. Nonetheless, I have heard it said on a number of occasions that the idea that personality might play any role in landing one a job is somehow immoral or unacceptable. I confess, I have just never understood why – and I’ve really tried to. (I’ve also been told that it’s people like me who are part of the problem.)

By the time people have campus interviews – or whatever the equivalent is, depending on which system you are in – there is already something like a consensus on the part of the search committee that the person deserves a job. You don’t get to final round interviews without having seriously demonstrated that you are a very promising academic. Once an enormous pool of candidates has been whittled down to a final few, other factors come into play. Ideally, assuming that the position carries a teaching load, it will matter how effective the candidate is – or appears to be – as an educator. Faculty also have all sorts of service requirements that involve being on committees, attending meetings, negotiating with administrators, amongst other things, that involve interacting with people across different departments, schools and so on. And of course there is what one needs to offer to one’s home department.

It has never been clear to me how character, or certain sorts of human factors, could fail to matter. Students won’t enroll in classes if the lecturer is unpleasant/disengaged/rude/tardy/disorganized/unable to communicate and so on. As a person who will be representing the department/school/university surely it is alright to hope that your new colleague isn’t rude/difficult/unpleasant/uncommunicative/tardy and so on. There is *always* work to be done within a department, and surely it is alright to hope that your new colleague is going to be willing to carry their share, without complaint, be pleasant to deal with and so on.

More broadly, I really don’t understand what is immoral or unacceptable about wanting to like the person you may well be passing in the hallway every other day for the rest of your professional life. No one is suggesting that a department give a job to the guy at the coffee cart because he makes the chair laugh on her way to work every morning – and who cares that he doesn’t know how to do research. But to think that character shouldn’t matter when it comes to hiring choices is, in my view, to fail to understand something about what it is to have a job.

(I am not suggesting that interviews are the right way to get an accurate gauge for someone’s character but that is a different matter.)Report

Manyul Im
6 years ago

@ OftenBewildered: My concern with character or personality as something to factor in has always been that those kinds of judgments creep into how comfortable people feel with a candidate. That can bring into play all kinds of class, race, gender, and ethnicity biases. I’ve seen it happen, live and in person among colleagues that I have otherwise respected.Report

Hanti Lin
Hanti Lin
6 years ago

If you have had a look at my Notes, I highly recommend that you also have a look at the feedback from Eric Schliesser:

http://digressionsnimpressions.typepad.com/digressionsimpressions/2015/02/against-philosophical-zombies-on-lins-getting-a-job-in-philosophy.html

Eric makes a good point: “But many of the checklist of skills that Lin mentions, which, in turn, track proxies and heuristics used by hiring departments, can be traced to substantive views (note plural) about the nature of excellence in philosophy that we ought to try to aspire to. To decouple those skills/proxies from those substantive (perhaps incompatible) visions is to confuse means and ends.”

I agree, and this helps to cancel some unintended implicatures of my Notes.Report

Formal Epistemology Fan
Formal Epistemology Fan
6 years ago

Recent areas potpourri: Carleton VAP advert with AOS Ancient, AOC aesthetics, animal ethics, non-Western.Report

Formal Epistemology Fan
Formal Epistemology Fan
6 years ago

“Schliesser’s impression of what X said was that P” does not entail that “X unintentionally implicated that P”.

Hanti’s publication record includes collaborative work, and I’ve seen job candidates lose out because they conceded an objection instead of disputing it. I’m not sure what Schliesser means by being a “collaborative philosopher” and avoiding asking “killer questions”, in his case this seems to involve maintaining a high profile internet persona making “killer” remarks directed at other philosophers for their professional or personal activities rather than their research.Report

UK anon grad
UK anon grad
6 years ago

One other thing regarding using conferences, even in part, to ‘impress people, to earn your reputation, [and] to find people to write recommendation letters for you’ is that, when one meets people who do obviously think about and intend these kinds of things, they are usually less likeable than people who don’t. So unless people are very good at acting and manipulating (i.e. to the point that nobody will realise what they’re doing), then this is probably a bad thing to do.Report

p
p
6 years ago

My advice is to be yourself as much as you can. Conferences and formal meetings often force us to behave in not entirely “authentic” ways anyways, and the result is usually that we are less likable characters than when we go for a beer with a friend. To also perform all kinds of utilitarian calculations of the sort Lin mentions seems to me to be a recipe for really undermining yourself. People are not stupid and they can generally see if you are “acting” so as to impress (and once they do see this, few things are more off-putting). And if they fall for it, and then discover the real you – you will not score many friends that way. Btw. I have been on a few search committees – the funny thing was – the publication record of the ABD’s or very fresh PhD’s was ultimately of little consequence – in fact, prematurely published papers can do harm since you put your name behind something that is not really good enough even if it got published by luck. Dissertation is a promise of better things to come, your published work looks like this is what the final outcome will look like.Report

Julia
Julia
6 years ago

I have some thoughts about going to conferences to impress people, earn your reputation, and find recommendation letter writers. I agree with Hanti that conferences are good places to do all of these things, and that graduate students are well advised to seek out conferences for these purposes. However, it seems that some people don’t really know how to implement this advice. If you are already a kind, hard-working, well-prepared, and interested graduate student, then simply going to conferences and being yourself should be very impressive. At least I am always impressed when I see graduate students present who have obviously thought a lot about how to structure their talk, present their view, made a super helpful handout, or easy to follow slides. And I am impressed by people who ask interesting, thoughtful questions, including ones that show me where I am missing something or going wrong.
Asking a “killer question” at a talk doesn’t have to mean that you’re asking the most aggressive, destructive question of the Q&A. The “killer question” can be the one that shows how a problem can be solved, or how the speaker can make significant progress on something. In other words, I’d say the most “killer question” is often the most helpful question asked in the Q&A.
So, graduate students who aspire to be very impressive at conferences should try to live up to this ideal – being a thoughtful, kind, and well-prepared participant in the profession. Does that mean you have to fake it sometimes? Be not yourself? Yes, maybe. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. Aspiring to be a good member of the profession seems like a worthwhile aim to pursue.Report

Hanti Lin
Hanti Lin
6 years ago

P @43 is right when saying that trying hard consciously to impress people will make one less likable, defeating the very action of trying hard to impress. And, continuing Julia’s point @44, this is a matter of implementation. I have to admit that my notes are incomplete in a way that is very unsatisfactory to me: I listed job-hunting related goals and sub-goals, but say little about implementations. I did not say (and I hope I did not lead people into thinking) that everyone should do utilitarian calculations at every moment during a conference. And I am still trying hard to figure out how to give good implementation strategies (which I hope I can include in the next major update). It has to be a list of conditionals. Let me give some examples.

1. One of the job-hunting-related goals of attending a conference is to impress people and to earn reputation.

2. No matter what, you should be a good philosopher before you can really impress philosophers. Learn from your dissertation adviser.

3. To achieve that goal, you need to keep that goal in mind throughout the whole conference if you grow up in a culture that does not encourage students to express their ideas or explain explicitly how good their ideas are.

4. To achieve that goal, you should just be yourself if you grow up in a culture that already encourages students to express their ideas and explain explicitly how good their ideas are.

5. …

There have to more conditionals. And the antecedents I just stated have to be refined. But let me say that (3) is one of the most helpful things that my PhD adviser gave me. My first conference presentation was at the 2010 Graduate Conference at the University of Western Ontario. After the last talk of the first day, I wanted to return to my room and just be alone, but people were thinking about going to a bar on campus. At that time I had never been to a bar except with my closest friends who speak Taiwanese Hokkien or Mandarin Chinese, let alone going to a bar to talk about philosophy in English with people whom I came to know on that day. In Taiwan, my home country, college students going to a bar will be regarded as “bad people”. What’s worse, at that time, I was still trapped in the Asian (or Taiwanese, anyway) mindset that it is usually (but not always) a self-humiliation to make myself in the following situation: I claim or defend something in front of people whom I do not know much, and those people disagree. Today’s Hanti would say: “Come on, this is what we love to do in a bar, because we are doing philosophy, and it is good and even fun to have disagreement and know what other people think of your ideas.” On that occasion I turned out to resist that Asian mindset because I was so lucky: my PhD adviser was the keynote speaker of that graduate conference, so he told me, at that moment, that returning to my room was “not an option”. (This is his exact wording). And, you know, according to the Asian tradition, I was supposed to follow every advice of my “master” or “sifu” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sifu) . So I forced myself to go to the bar with people and talked about philosophy after the last talk of the first day. But I confess that, when people drank enough and were talking about where to eat for dinner, I left the bar, bought two cups of instant noodles, and returned to my room to enjoy being alone.

Any concrete advice about how to overcome that Asian mindset? I am not sure. But the following is something I personally found very helpful: recall how much you love philosophy, and imagine how much fun and meaningful it must be to your philosophical life if you share your philosophical ideas with others, get critical feedbacks, and proceed to refine your ideas. I guess this might be helpful not just to Asians but also to, say, anyone who is shy.Report