How to Talk about the Philosophy Job Market with those on the Market

How to Talk about the Philosophy Job Market with those on the Market


A philosopher currently on the job market writes in:

I wanted to start a thread/have a place for job market candidates to talk about what is, and is not, helpful for our friends/mentors/professors/colleagues to say around this time of year.

The job market is, by all accounts, abominable (and not only for those of us who don’t land jobs—there are different stresses for people on flyouts, making decisions, losing out to someone in the last round, etc.). But different people deal with the stress of it in different ways. I’m interested to see if there is any consensus about what things to say and not say to those of us dealing with the stress/disappointment/etc. (I suspect there will be some consensus about “what not to say” and not much about anything else, but I still think this might be productive.)

I’ll start out with one small point: for me, one of the hardest things about not getting a job so far has, somewhat surprisingly, been that very few of my friends/mentors/colleagues/professors have checked in with me about how I was doing, or offered any support, etc.—I almost feel like they are all avoiding me, because there are people who I typically talk with regularly from whom I haven’t heard anything from in ages. I suspect this isn’t malicious or because they are disappointed in me; still, in my fragile psychological state, it’s hard not to read “x is disappointed in me and that is why she hasn’t been communicating with me at all” into x’s actions. (I suspect, instead, it is at least partly because people simply don’t know what to say, or how to say it, which is part of why I wanted to start a conversation about it.) So anyway, in terms of positive things my friends and colleagues could do for me, keeping in touch is high up there! 

Job market candidates (and recent/past job market candidates): what are some do’s and don’ts, from your perspective, for talking about (or avoiding talking about!) the job market with you? What do you wish people were doing that they aren’t? (Within reason!)

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Alfred H MacDonald
Alfred H MacDonald
5 years ago

“What not to say” is anything untrue/false/misleading about the job market — if something is ‘insensitive’ but still true and relevant, truth takes priority.

People have very different neuroendocrine balances and levels of emotional resilience and they vary so much that you cannot expect customized responses that reframe the state of things to whatever neurotransmitter balance you happen to be undergoing.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Alfred H MacDonald
5 years ago

Yikes. Are you, like, full Vulcan or something? Even Spock wouldn’t be so cold. Seriously, I hope this isn’t your actual policy for dealing with folks in times of stress or crisis. Sensitivity is generally important in interpersonal interactions, but especially so when the other person is having a rough time or in psychological turmoil. Sometimes, telling the truth in the wrong way can be worse than having said nothing at all; sometimes, certain truths are best left unsaid, even if it is relevant. If what you care about is saying something helpful, then you should at least make sure that whatever you say won’t making what they’re going through worse, at least without some significant payoff for them down the road (even then, things are tricky). And, actually, yeah, we can usually expect ‘customized responses’ from others because we can usually expect them to have some sense of our emotional state (or, to use your obtuse way of putting it, ‘neurotransmitter balance’) on the basis of all sorts of behavioural cues–that’s precisely what natural selection gave us empathy for.Report

some person or other
some person or other
5 years ago

I’m the person who wrote this post. Alfred–not sure if you meant to be addressing me, but I agree completely with your first point (it was a part of the other thing I was thinking about saying in the post), and don’t think it’s in tension with what I was saying. For me, a large part of the problem with the way other people have treated me while I’m on the market is that they’ve said so many false things, and also have said things that are inconsistent with other things they’ve said. I’ll post more about this later if someone else hasn’t already covered it. But a small note about this first part of your comment: I think people need to be a bit more humble about thinking they *know* what is “untrue/false/misleading”. I think very few people who aren’t really near the job market right now get what’s going on (this includes, e.g., many of my professors, who don’t seem to *get* how bad the market is because they got their jobs ages ago and our relatively insulated from the badness). What I’ve experienced seems more akin to people expressing lots of opinions that they probably think are true/not false/not misleading; the problem is that they have this weird confidence that they are right, and when they are in a position of power and I am totally desperate, it’s hard not to cling to what they are saying as true when they present it that way. So I’m not sure telling people to not say false/misleading things will get to those people.

That being said, I do wish that people would stop saying things that were internally inconsistent (e.g. “you’ll get a job because your work is excellent!” and then, when you fail to get a job, “oh, you just didn’t get a job because the market is all luck/weird politics/things that have nothing to do with merit”). If we’ve gotten far enough along to be on the philosophy job market, I’m pretty sure we’re intelligent enough to see that these things are in tension with one another, and that the person saying them is hence untrustworthy: the problem is not just that she’s not uttering true things (which seems to me a bit too high of a standard to hold people to when none of us really knows the deep “facts” about why everyone who gets jobs does and everyone who doesn’t doesn’t), but that she’s uttering things at least one of which, it seems, she can’t possibly believe.

But I don’t understand the second part of your comment at all. That is not how communication works. We constantly expect customized responses (and *give* customized responses) to our friends, colleagues, students, children, etc., that are often customized in light of our understanding of their varying levels of “emotional resilience” etc. (I wouldn’t put it that way, but whatever). There’s nothing wrong with doing this. And I think it’s part of having a friendship, or being a mentor, etc., to come to know/think about what the best way of communicating with someone is. Also, nothing about it conflicts with communicating “the truth” to people–there are different ways of doing so. People are not robots or computers! We can talk to each other qua grown ups without thinking that a “one size fits all” approach is right, and doing so doesn’t put anyone in the wrong as far as I can tell.

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frustrated job marketeer
frustrated job marketeer
Reply to  some person or other
5 years ago

I just wanted to echo the frustration about internally inconsistent comments: I’ve received almost the exact same set of comments from multiple people. It’s clear they mean well, but can still be irritating.Report

one grad student
one grad student
5 years ago

I want to second the point about the importance of people checking in with job candidates and offering their support, or at least a chance to vent. I did expect failure and disappointment when I started applying for jobs. What I did not expect was how isolating the experience would be, in particular how little interest people would show in how I’m coping with the inevitable failures and disappointments. I suspect that this happens because many people think unsuccessful job candidates just want to be left alone. That may be true in some cases, but not for everyone. Many of us do feel the need to vent about our travails and setbacks. And not being asked about how we’re doing only makes it harder to cope with rejection.

The hardest part about being on the job market has been, of course, getting my hopes up and then coming to accept that it’s not going to happen this year. But the second hardest thing has been seeing the change in people’s attitudes as I went through the cycle of hope and disappointment. Two months ago everyone in my department wanted to talk to me about the job market and wish me luck with the interviews. Now hardly anyone even seems to remember I’ve been applying for jobs this year.

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Rutabagas
Rutabagas
5 years ago

In the grand scheme of market things, this is a pretty minor gripe, but it kind of bums me out when (otherwise supportive and great!) people have tried to tell me how to feel about things. It seems like if I ever express optimism about my chances, someone will remind me that it’s a lousy market out there and I shouldn’t get my hopes up. If I express pessimism about what a lousy market it is, someone will jump in and say that I shouldn’t count myself out yet. I know they mean well, it’s just that it gets kind of old for every generic “how’s it going?” market conversation to turn into a tiny therapy appointment.Report

Kate Norlock
Reply to  Rutabagas
5 years ago

Oh, Rutabagas, I worry so regularly about this. Facebook, especially, seems to encourage a kind of imperative cheer that I try hard to avoid committing myself, because it’s a bit concerning to see people commanding someone: Hang in there! Cheer up! Take care of yourself! BE WELL! I have yet to come up with really good alternatives, but sometimes the encouragement does take the form of mandatory optimism. Report

Recent grad
5 years ago

I interviewed for my dream job and afterward everyone in my department asked me how it had gone. EVERYONE. I was so grateful for their interest, but the truth was, I didn’t think it had gone well and felt devastated by that, and the constant questions about it (and my uncertainty about how to answer) were very hard to deal with.

I honestly don’t know what they could have done instead. Maybe, “Hey, I’m hoping for the best for you with [university]!” would have given me an opening to talk about the interview if I wanted to but not put me on the spot if I didn’t?

By the way… in the end, after the department’s first choice declined, I did get the job!Report

Michael Cholbi
Michael Cholbi
5 years ago

“Sorry to hear of your struggles in the current job market. As you know, the market is very challenging, even for very qualified candidates. Please know that I’d be happy to discuss your professional situation if you like, but I’d also understand if you’d prefer not to. In any case, however you proceed from here, I will support your choices and wish you the best. Stay in touch!”Report

at least I got a fly out this year
at least I got a fly out this year
5 years ago

I personally hate being asked how an interview has gone. If it went poorly, I am miserable about it. If it went well, talking about how well it went just gets my hopes up when the odds are still good I’m not getting the job. Psychologically, the best thing for me to do after an interview is completely forget about it–I try to convince myself as soon as it is over that I’m not getting the job. If I do get it, I get a pleasant surprise. If I don’t get it, I’m already emotionally prepared. Every time someone asks me about how the interview went, I fall back to square one, emotionally.

If you’re interested in talking to someone about an interview, maybe say, “I’d love to hear about what happened at your interview, if you want to talk about it.” That leaves it open to the candidate to avoid the conversation completely, if that’s what they need. It also allows them to talk about it without the conversation be framed by a value judgment about how it went.

But really, what I think I appreciate the most is just distraction. Being alone with the anxiety and hope and everything else is terrible. Given the opportunity, I will talk at incredible ends about how the interview went, etc., but it isn’t healthy for me to do so. It doesn’t help me flourish. I need to be dragged out of that headspace. I need to be motivated to think about things other than the job. So, if you’re trying to help someone on the job market, maybe just make yourself available to distract them. Ask them to read a draft of yours, or offer to read a draft of theirs. Take them out to lunch, just to chat. Ask them to help you with some pedagogical challenge you’re facing. Get them to give a talk for the undergrad philosophy club, or whatever. Interact with them, like you would any colleague or friend or student. Let there be an opportunity for them to interact with other people without it being about the job market. Report

HFG
HFG

I think this is the only way to approach things. I’ve never expected to get an academic job after grad school. But I’ve been happy with every paying gig I’ve managed to scrape together. I just keep doing the best I can, and if one day this series of gigs ends up in a tenured position, that will be amazing. If one day the academic employment well runs dry, I’ll still have this experience behind me.

I don’t know if that’s useful for anyone else, but it makes life easier for me.Report

Helen
Helen
5 years ago

With being on the market for many years vividly in my memory, the following has been said to me while I was applying for jobs and did not get any results “You are such a brilliant philosopher, and you have so many good publications. I am confident that you will get an offer soon.” Although said with the best of intentions, it did not lessen my anxiety one bit, quite the opposite even. Report

noFunOnTheJobMarket
noFunOnTheJobMarket
Reply to  Helen
5 years ago

I find the ‘you have so many good publications’ thing the most frustrating. I’m sat here watching people with either A) weaker publication records, or B) years on the job market landing the jobs I couldn’t even get an interview for and it just feels like the publications counted for nothing in the end. I know it is probably not true. But hearing people say ‘you have a great publication record, I’m sure you will get something soon’ makes me want to scream. Report

Tom
Tom
5 years ago

Don’t:

(1) Don’t tell me `something’s going to work out eventually’ or other things like that, e.g. `I know you’ll get a great job if you just keep at it’. This is (a) ignorant, and (b) makes me acutely aware that you’re either trying to therapy-ize me or that you’re utterly out of touch with what the job market is like. For each of us on the market there is a very real chance that we won’t *ever* get a job in academia, and we all know it. So don’t try to paint over it.

(2) Don’t offer unsolicited advice about your job searches. This is especially true if (a) you’re not an academic (looking at you grandma) or (b) you got your academic job more than 8 years ago. I’ve already given myself more work aimed at making me a better candidate to do than I can possibly do. I decided on these things to do by researching like a mofo, possibly spending money on academic consultants, etc. Despite my not having a job, I’m almost certainly better informed than you (provided you meet (a) or (b)) about what I need to do to get one.

Do:

(1) Buy us beer/wine/marijuana/… and then chat about whatever comes up — it may or may not have to do with jobs — while we consume it (probably at an alarming rate).

(2) Encourage us to hang out outside the office. Major bonus points if you can get us into the woods or mountains or some such.

(3) Be available for and honest about our requests that you read a draft of this thing or that thing related to our job search. This is seriously helpful. Report

runtownexpress
runtownexpress
5 years ago

Sample of one: concrete help — especially practice interviews, whether over Skype or in person, and comments on writing samples — did more to encourage me through the valley of the shadow of job market death than did pretty much anything else. Hugs were also nice.Report

Jurgis
Jurgis
5 years ago

I am relatively new in the job market and haven’t yet sent out that many applications, but one thing that keeps me positive for now are statistics that our placement officers quote: we need to get 50 to 80 applications out there to get a few interviews and possibly a job. When I reach number 70, I will start worrying. At least that’s what I tell myself now…Report

another
another
5 years ago

Like others here, I’ve received the same pep-talks over and over: ‘you’ve got pubs, you’ll do great, hang in there, etc.’ But this is coming from people who I have every reason to believe sincerely wish me the best. So what if I’ve heard it before? And so what if some of the advice doesn’t point toward a logically consistent theory of job success? If there are people in your corner and they are expressing it, just be thankful they’re there.Report

Tom
Tom
5 years ago

Ooooh, another one: if I finally get an interview somewhere, be excited for me. I’m sure as hell excited about it. I don’t care that you’ve never heard of the university, or that it’s not a leiterific job. It’s a job. Don’t make a face when I mention University of Southern X, or Regional Private U. I just want a damn job and am very thrilled to get an interview, I don’t care where.Report

The Doctor
The Doctor
5 years ago

I would recommend that one allow the person who is on the market to bring up the topic. For those of us on the market, the market consumes much of our daily thought, strength, energy, etc. Sometimes we just want to think/talk about ANYTHING else. Unsolicited questions or comments about the market–especially from someone not struggling alongside us–are often unwelcome. I suggest that if you wish to speak with someone who is on the market, ask them how their research is going, or their teaching, or their classes… Odds are, if they are on the market and want to talk about it, they will say: “Actually, I have very little time to work on my X, because I spend all my time writing cover letters…” If they don’t want to talk about the market, then they will be happy to chat about what they are working on lately.

I want to second Runtownexpress’s comment… Whenever possible, offer help. Look over Statements of Research Interest, Statements of Teaching Philosophy, Writing Samples, Sample Syllabi, etc. Offer to give a mock-interview. But please avoid the tendency to have ‘fun’ with a mock interview! I know you will find it amusing to role-play a caricature of the ‘Hostile Interviewer’, but that character is (almost) entirely fictional and it doesn’t help the candidate to prepare. It just makes an already stressful situation worse. The candidate will not find it fun or amusing.Report

H.F.Ghost
H.F.Ghost
Reply to  The Doctor
5 years ago

Thank you! Jokes are nice and all, but if someone with a TT job at a research institution thinks that my potential failure (after all my hard work) is funny, then I’d like to know who raised them, so that I can write that person, or those people a letter, and tell them that they did a horrible job.Report

Brian
Brian
5 years ago

I believe the past colleagues and friends that lose touch would most likely do the same even if we were to land an ideal job. It was most likely circumstance that brought them into our lives and circumstance that takes them out. Yes, if extenuated, then communications could carry on. The fact is that many people have enough to worry about and keep them busy that there’s not enough time to continue the upkeep of having a large social network. I personally try not to resent them or think of excuses about why this may be l, but instead relax and hope they are well. The job issue is relative in a way I haven’t heard anyone say yet. No one cares about philosophy. Of course the job situation is terrible in many ways because most adults in this country laugh at the idea of people focusing on it. This is a reality that we have now. Yes in the intellectual world philosophy is highly respected, adualated, etc. but the job market outside of that believes you can read their mind or some shit. You might as well be a psychologist because they cannot tell the difference. It’s something we all must deal with and I hope you the best. Report