Job-market Mentoring: How Are Programs Doing? (Guest Post by Marcus Arvan)

The following is a guest post* by Marcus Arvan (Tampa) seeking information about what graduate programs in philosophy are doing, doing well, or failing to do, in regards to job placement. It originally appeared at The Philosophers’ Cocoon. Of particular value would be the perspectives of those who have recently been on the market and current graduate students currently preparing for that, but all are welcome to share their experiences and knowledge.

Please note Professor Arvan’s request to not “out” graduate programs that are doing a poor job. Along those lines, as per the comments policy, while pseudonymous posting is permitted, no handles may contain the word “anonymous” or “anon.” If not logging in via a social media account, a working and accurate email address is required; email addresses are not publicly displayed.

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Job-market Mentoring: How Are Programs Doing?
by Marcus Arvan

One of the things that has struck me in my experience with the Cocoon’s job-market mentoring program is that some grad students and recent PhDs appear to receive comparatively little job-market mentoring from their graduate programs. Accordingly, I think it may be helpful to open up a discussion on what grad programs are doing and not doing, so that we can perhaps see:

  • What is “standard”/”normal” (i.e. what kind of job-market mentoring do grad programs generally provide?).
  • What programs with particularly strong job-market mentoring do.
  • Respects in which some programs fall short on mentoring, compared to other programs.

My hope is that an open discussion of these topics might lead programs with substandard mentoring to see what other programs are doing, and what they (“undermentored” programs) could do better–as I tend to think that everyone on the market should have good mentoring (you know, fairness and all).

However, before I open things up with a few prompts, I want to institute some basic ground-rules. I ask that commenters not “out” graduate programs with poor mentoring practices, and that comments to that effect not be approved by the moderator. Rather, I ask that willing readers merely share a bit about what their grad programs do/don’t do in a way that preserves graduate program “anonymity.” My aim here is to generate a helpful discussion, not one that puts particular programs under scrutiny.

With that in mind (preserving program anonymity), here are a few questions for you all:

  1. What kind of job-market mentoring does your graduate program actually provide? (placement director?, mock interviews?, job-market materials development groups?, etc.)
  2. Where do you think your program succeeds in terms of job-market mentoring? (i.e. what does your program do that you think works well?)
  3. Where do you think your program could use improvement?


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7 years ago

We have a placement director and we do mock interviews and job talks. However, I have heard from several of our graduate students that they generally feel adrift on the job market, with little direct guidance. Many of them don’t realize that they have to put together such things as mock syllabi, teaching statements and research statements until September. I can’t help but feel that this partly explains our poor placement.

Here’s something virtually every PhD-granting department ought to have: a set of explicit deadlines, distributed to grad students at the beginning of January, outlining what they will need and when they will need it. In addition, sample documents from recently successful grad students would, I imagine, be invaluable.

Junior TT
Junior TT
7 years ago

I’m a relatively new placement director at a mid-to-large-sized not-so-Leiterrific PhD program. I’ve done a bit of poking around into best placement practices for grad programs, and everyone I’ve talked to has mentioned Fordham (and Nathan Ballantyne in particular) as a model of how best to support students on the market.
I defer to anyone who has direct knowledge of their practices, but from what I understand, they have a placement handbook distributed to all job candidates. I think it’s also standard to have multiple faculty look at all of your application materials and offer suggestions for revision. I believe each candidate has the opportunity to do at least one mock interview and one practice job talk. One recent candidate in particular mentioned that faculty had even looked over his application materials for specific jobs, and offered comments tailored for those positions.
As a job candidate in the not-so-distant past, this kind of help sounds AMAZING. As a harried junior TT faculty, however, the time & energy investment required would put me over the edge… and I say this as someone passionately committed to getting our students jobs!!!

The Doctor
The Doctor
7 years ago

During my first three years of graduate school, I did not receive any advice, information, or guidance about going on the market. It seemed to be generally assumed at my institution that students understood the ins and outs of academia (and thus, what they should be doing) before they even entered graduate school. I didn’t even know where to find CFPs for conferences, or why I would even want to go to a conference in the first place. My last years of graduate school were much more hectic then they needed to be as I clamored to publish, attend conferences, etc., as well as polish my job market materials and finish a dissertation.

So my advice would be: start them early. Get all of the faculty onboard with encouraging students to publish or present excellent term papers and/or dissertation chapters. They might not know that what they wrote is good enough if someone doesn’t tell them. Workshop market materials early and often throughout their time there.

And if you were not on the market yourself within the last five years or so–do not believe that any advice you gleaned from your experiences on the market will be helpful to today’s market. Seek out people who recently landed jobs, who came from schools like the one you are at, who landed jobs your students might be interested in, and get advice from them.

Chris Surprenant
Chris Surprenant
7 years ago

Marcus, can you say a bit about why you want to preserve program anonymity in this discussion? I understand not wanting to out graduate students or young faculty, especially if they are being critical of their programs. But information about what specific programs are doing can and should be incredibly helpful to potential graduate students when they make their decisions. It also can be very useful for programs that want to do a better job in this area. It’s much easier to change policies when you know what other people are doing, especially when they’re more successful than you.

More Dialogue
More Dialogue
7 years ago

I second Chris Surprenant’s question to Marcus. If there are programs doing things exceptionally well I see no reason for this information not to be public.

More Dialogue
More Dialogue
7 years ago

First off, a million thanks to Marcus for the post and for initiating this discussion. I believe that much remains to be done in our field regarding Best Practices and Why They Work on the subject of preparing students for the job market.

1. My program did most of the easy practical things mentioned already in previous posts: job seeker’s handbook; mock interviews and job talks; placement director reviewing your dossier; email blasting job opportunities.
2. The heads-up about what the dossier needs to look like and how to tailor it based on the school one is applying to was definitely helpful. Our placement director was also in the habit of letting people know where they need to be at given points on the hiring cycle. For instance, have your dossier ready to go by September, start applying to places in October etc. I think my department was also pretty solid in connecting people to job opportunities that had a good chance to pan out; i.e. steering folks towards schools where we had a longstanding relationship and many of our students had been hired in the past.
3. My contribution here follows in the spirit of the post of The Doctor, above. I was quite far into completing the PhD before I gained any genuine sense of where I needed to be in terms of job-market readiness. Getting my dossier together and even interviewing for some real jobs was easy enough, but being prepared on the research side of my credentials was a disaster in comparison. My department gave absolutely no guidance (at the administrative, department level mind you) on how to do this. We were told at our introductory, welcome session in the fall of our first year in the department that it would be good to try and publish prior to completing the PhD. But that is literally all the training we received in this area. Like The Doctor (above) I received no guidance on how to find conference and journal CFPs; or how to write for conference submissions; or what publishable work needed to look like; or how to advance a research interest to a present-and-publish stage. My dissertation director was also absent in mentoring me in these areas. By the time I did start to find my sea legs I was quite behind the curve. As a result I spent a lot of post PhD time trying to fill up my CV with stuff that really needed to be there much sooner. My suggestions for improvement in these areas should be obvious from my comments, but I’ll be explicit anyway: get people started on the presenting and publishing track on day one. Monitor students’ progress and help them build a research program; or, institute presenting and submitting to journals as part of your PhD program alongside doctoral comps and qualifying papers.
I would also add a couple of other substantial suggestions: placement directors and mentors should help people learn to identify the job openings for positions they have no chance of getting (for instance, don’t apply for a “metaphysics” position at Oxford if you’re an ABD at a low-ranked program and writing on medieval theories of being); and swap out bureaucratic, departmental/program requirements that take away from students’ time they could spend on developing their research agenda.

Marcus Arvan
7 years ago

Hi Chris and More Dialogue: Thanks for your queries. In all honesty, those are issues I struggled with, and remain uncertain about–and I am not sure I can provide an entirely adequate answer (again, I myself am still unsure–for the reasons Chris gives–whether a more open discussion might be a better approach). However, let me explain my rationale.

My overall rationale was that (A) just about all of the good that can come from a discussion like this can occur with program anonymity, and (B) protecting program anonymity might avoid potential moral hazards with open discussion (e.g. allegations and/or inaccurate information about specific programs). For instance, consider the two goods Chris alludes to:

(1) Helping potential grad students make informed decisions about their decision of which program to attend.

(2) Providing programs that want to do better with job-market mentoring information about how to do so (viz. “It’s much easier to change policies when you know what other people are doing, especially when they’re more successful than you”).

As far as I can see, both of these goods can be advanced by program-anonymized discussion.

First, potential grad students can get an (anonymized) survey of how different programs approach job-market mentoring–that is, they can get an idea of which kinds of things “good mentoring” programs do and what kinds of things “bad mentoring” programs do. A potential student could clearly use this kind of information when deciding among programs. They could ask grad students at programs they are applying to what *their* program’s job-market mentoring resources are like, asking for specifics. In short, or it seems to me, a program-anonymized discussion of mentoring practices can empower potential grad students to inform themselves regarding the program(s) they are thinking of attending.

Similarly, it seems to me that a program-anonymized discussion can effectively advance the second good Chris discusses: programs’ ability to reflect upon and improve their own mentoring practices. It is not necessary to publicly know specifically which programs have good mentoring practices in order to get a good picture of what *types* of things are good mentoring practices, and how one’s own program falls short of doing what other programs do better.

As a long-time blogger, my experience is that the moral costs of particular approaches to discussion can be hard to foresee–so in this case, I wanted to play it safe. Since, or so it seemed/seems to me, most of the good that can come of a discussion like this can be achieved with program-anonymity, while additionally, program-anonymity promises to prevent the kinds of difficult to foresee moral hazards attendant to online discussions (e.g. allegations, etc.), the balance of moral reasons seemed to me to favor the approach I adopted. As I said above, I am not sure that I am correct here–but this itself is just an indication of my moral uncertainty, and in cases of moral uncertainty I prefer to tread carefully.

Chris Surprenant
7 years ago

Hi Marcus,

Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I see your reasons for wanting to keep it anonymous. That seems fair. If there was an intelligent and thoughtful discussion of what various best practices are, then the student could do his/her due diligence when investigating the program to see what, if anything, the program did to support students in this area. I know I spent quite a bit of time looking at program placement records, but I didn’t even think to ask these sorts of questions when I was considering different programs.

Thanks for taking on this project.