Why DO We Do The Job Market This Way?

There’s been a great discussion lately on SWIP-L (US SWIP mailing list, but anyone can join it) about how to get and keep more women in philosophy. Loads of great stuff to take up there, and hopefully we’ll get to all of it eventually. But I wanted to pull out one suggestion from Shelley Tremain, which I think is absolutely on target. (What follows is my words, though, not hers.) The point, put very succinctly, is that the way we (at least in the US) do the job market in philosophy is TERRIBLE. It’s terrible not just for women but for anyone who doesn’t have a lot of disposable cash. Unemployed philosophers, we all know, do not in general have a lot of money. And yet:

  • The standard demand is that every applicant post a vast and heavy dossier containing writing samples, etc. This gets very expensive, and even more so (obviously) for non-US applicants. Much of this material, we all know, doesn’t even get read. What gets read is, at best, the stuff from people who make it past the first cut, and probably less than that. Given that email is much faster and more reliable, and given that we all supposedly care about the environment, it’s unconscionable not to allow electronic applications. If we can manage that for grad school applications, etc, surely we can manage it for jobs. Yes, this means that receiving departments will have to do the work of and pay the cost of printing all those dossiers. But this cost will have to fall on someone, and can we really justify putting it on some of the most disadvantaged people in our field (the unemployed)? Besides, we’re all increasingly used to reading things online rather than printing them, so printing costs may be lessened not only by the fact that not everything needs reading, but also by the fact that we can read without printing.
  • APA interviews: Why do we insist on these? Think about it: we’re asking UNEMPLOYED people to spend hundreds of dollars to get to the APA, then hundreds more on accommodation. Moreover, I’ve never met anyone actually prepared to give a rousing defense of the usefulness of APA interviews. In fact, I seem to recall lots of studies showing that interviews lead to people making poor hiring judgments. (Anyone have a reference?) Certainly, it seems to me that being good at APA interviews is not a great predictor of one’s future in philosophy. (I’m pretty sure I’d think this even if I wasn’t totally crap at APA interviews.) And, aside from economic equity and effectiveness issues, let’s at least give another passing thought to air miles. If people do think it’s useful to have a large number of initial screening interviews, why not allow phone interviews?
  • Current and recent job applicants: What else do you think would improve the process?

    35 thoughts on “Why DO We Do The Job Market This Way?

    1. My opinion on the APA is that, for most universities, its a bad deal: if you try to reasonably estimate the amount of information you actually acquire vs. the amount of money you end up spending, it comes out (INHO) obviously not worth it. And I think there is good evidence that interviews generate a lot of false or unsupported beliefs about candidates. I’d rather save the money and have a few more candidates flown out.

      It seems to me that this is better for the job candidates as well. I was pleased that the Eastern was in Baltimore this year, because the hotels were more affordable than previous years, there were plenty of cheap places to eat nearby, etc. I don’t know how much flights for people typically cost. But I bet the average candidate spent 800$ there, which is probably close to half a month’s pay. That seems like a pretty crappy deal. There’d be a lot less false hope as well: I think it happens a lot that people get many interviews and zero fly-outs. One stage of anxiety would be eliminated.

      Down the with eastern APA!

    2. I hopped onto google to see if I could find studies of interviewing problems. What I found instead was lots of sites that presuppose we know about the problems and which offer advice instead about improving. A typical list of ERRORS follows below. See especially the second. It would be nice to think that judicious philosophers would not simply announce negative opinions of theses being directed at top flight institutions by top flight people, but in my experience that’s what happens.

      It would also be nice to think that faculty are aware of their falibility and have actually researched errors, techniques, etc. It would be nice, too, if they had gender sensitivity workshops. A lot of good things don’t happen.

      Here are just a few things that typically prevent the best person from getting the job:

      1. The views of the manager with the most authority dominate the selection process. This stifles the debate. Not evaluating alternative viewpoints is a surefire way to make bad decisions.

      2. A no vote is equal to two or three yes votes. The safer decision is saying no. One strong no, even if it’s based on emotions or bad information, can override the collective decision of two or three others who don’t agree.

      3. The yes/no decision is made too soon. Most interviewers make the decision to hire or not within the first five minutes of the interview. They then look for information to confirm this decision. This is called the “decide then collect” assessment technique. In this approach, interviewers use the balance of the interview to collect information that supports their immediate assessment. It has been proven that when viewpoints are strongly held, contrary information is ignored and confirming information is more valued.

      4. Most managers don’t know how to conduct a proper interview. Even managers trained in behavioral interviewing don’t use it because it’s too complicated. Instead, they substitute their emotions, gut feelings, and intuition. Making matters worse, they don’t know what they’re looking for with respect to real job needs.

      The quote above is VERY typical from a lot of sites; the specific source is:

    3. I find it quite bizarre and interestingly telling at the same time that grand APA meeting occurs right over the Xmas holiday and during usual family gatherings. I recently have been thinking that perhaps academic philosophers are more often than other academic types from significantly dysfunctional families. It would be an interesting question to pursue. Why the persistent coldness and cut-throat nature of the discipline? One reason why it is so hard for people with feminist and more caring sensibilities to break in. Why do not masses of philosophers find the cut-throat nature of interactions totally appalling? Mabye because they are used to this sort of thing in their own families. Just a thought…….

    4. This last is just silly. The Eastern is held at the only time when it can be guaranteed that no one has any teaching duties. Perhaps you’d prefer to hold it in the summer and make it difficult for those folks who have to do summer work to make ends meet to show up.

    5. Anon., the American Historical Association met this year from Jan 3-6; that seems a more family friendly option. And I expect they have many more members.

    6. J.J.,

      I don’t see how your comment bears on my remark. A quick search revealed several schools whose spring semester begins before January 6th. There are also `winter sessions’ at many places during the stretch of time you mention. Again, the Eastern APA is held at the only time when it can be guaranteed that no one has any teaching duties.

    7. Let me see: a national organization presumably accepts your premise, but rejects an implied conclusion. Hmmmmmm. Let me look back at my critical thinking text. Must be something about counter-examples….

    8. “The point, put very succinctly, is that the way we (at least in the US) do the job market in philosophy is TERRIBLE”

      As far as I am aware*, this is how the academic job market is done in the US, period. Classicists interview prospective candidates at our APA (American Philological Association) conference, and I know that scientists – while they may not hold interviews at conferences – require that their candidates make multiple visits to the campus, regardless of where they live.

      *I’m in the UK, where we see job advertised, apply for job, get shortlisted, go to interview (and hopefully get expenses paid) at university in question on same day as other shortlisted candidates and then usually find out whether we’ve got the job or not within 24 hours.

    9. JJ,

      What exactly is the counterexample? Do you think the AHA accepts that we ought not to schedule interviews at a time when people have teaching duties, but denies that between Xmas and New Years is the only such time? Surely not, as it is simply false that folks don’t have to teach before January 6th (feel free to check).

      Again, I’m just pointing out (contra Socrates’ cousin) that the meeting time for the Eastern APA is not bizarre, but has a perfectly rational explanation…which I gave…and you attempted to rebut with the observation that a different profession met at a different time (without, of course, giving any justification for why they met at that time)…which I rebutted by pointing out that Jan 3-6 conflicts with some folks’s teaching duties.

      If you think interrupting the holidays is too much a price to pay for the guarantee that there’s no conflict with teaching schedules, that’s fine. Maybe the AHA agrees. Hell, I think I might agree. But it’s silly, as I pointed out above, to think that the meeting time is bizarre. It’s not bizarre. It’s just unpleasant.

    10. Ah… You have conceded that it’s unpleasant. Yes the whole grand affair is unpleasant, and highly unpleasant for all, so why do academic philosophers put up with it? Because, in the case of seniour philosophers, they had to suffer the same cruelty when they were juniour? For me, to submit to something highly unpleasant is bizarre. The APA affair need not, as the contributor from the UK, pointed out, take place at all.

    11. Anon, It’s a really good idea to try to articulate an opposing point of view in the strongest interpretation, not the weakest. If you do that, the chances go up that your rebuttal will be really interesting.

      In addition, you might learn something, or at least temporarily occupy a different point of view. That’s a really good experience, and I assume that you are advanced enough to do that for yourself. Of course, we all have a strong desire to defend our previous statements, but that is awfully limited and unfortunately very boring.

    12. JJ,

      Ok… If I’m misinterpreting you, I’m sorry. Why don’t you state, in a straightforward manner, how your point about the AHA bears on my remark that the timing of the Eastern APA has a rational explanation. Or, if you prefer, you could continue to batter me with suggestions from logic-for-idiots.

      FYI, I interpreted your remark in the only way it constituted a counterexample to my claim. I take it that this is itself a measure of interpretational charity.

    13. JJ,

      I’m not failing to hold a different point of view. I was honestly confused about how your remark about the AHA bore on my claim…so I inquired. You responded that it was a counterexample. Since I only saw one way in which it could be such, I responded based on that interpretation. I don’t think I’m being uncharitable. I think you’re being unclear.

    14. Never having been involved with the process, I throw this out as a mere hypothetical. The scheduling could be an attempt to winnow out prospective candidates who have religious observations during that period. In the name of fairness I ought point out that said people are privileged to have their ceremony coincide with a guaranteed break from teaching.

    15. JJ and Anonymous– You’re talking past each other. Anonymous is responding to the claim that the timing of the APA is ‘bizarre’, by giving a plausible and oft-cited justification for it: freedom from teaching commitments. JJ is arguing that this justification is not wholly satisfying, because other fields, which surely share similar teaching schedules, manage to have their big conferences at other times. So there’s still something more to be explained. You’re both saying totally reasonable things, actually, but you’re really managing to annoy each other. And now that these reasonable things are out there, there’s no point arguing any more over which of you is being unclear or uncharitable, etc. So, very politely, I’d like to ask you two to stop arguing about the exact structure of your disagreement.

    16. I’ve always heard that the meetings are scheduled as they are because it’s a “dead period” as far as big hotels in Eastern cities having other conventions from more wealthy groups (like doctors or lawyers) so that we can get the hotels more cheaply. I’ve organized meetings several times for a smaller professional society at other times of the year and in a lot of varied parts of the country, and it is surprisingly expensive. Unless you have a certain minimum number of participants who actually stay at the official hotel, the hotel will charge the organization a lot extra for the meeting rooms. Also, it is generally more expensive for people to fly into smaller cities in other parts of the country. Note that I do not mean to defend the overall way in which the job market works, but simply pointing out another likely reason for the scheduling. Nobody in philosophy departments doing the hiring that I know of enjoys this timing any more than the graduates who are applying do, and it is quite difficult in fact to get colleagues to agree to participate, precisely because they do have family commitments. While I’d be the last person to say that philosophers are socially adept, I do reject the idea that they come from or continue to participate in dysfunctional families, at least just on the basis of the timing of the APA.

    17. In my department (14 tenure or tenure eligible faculty) we do not conduct APA interviews. The data show that they do not provide good information. Instead, everyone carefully studies the dossiers of 12 or so candidates recommended by the search committee and we invite the top three or four. Our on campus interviews are 2 days long and include 2, 2-3 hour sessions with the whole department. We have had great success with our hires, in general they are good department citizens, have active research programs and are good teachers. We have a pretty good record of tenuring our assistant professors. I know that this is a sample size of 1. But, we get along nicely without the APA nightmare.

    18. The historical precedents may also be playing a strong role. I haven’t done a rigorous search, but I checked out a number of Phil Reviews from the early 1900’s that contain the reports and minutes of the APA, which was founded in 1900, I think.

      It does look as though the meetings have been being held in between Xmas and New Year’s Eve since very early on. Interestingly enough, they used to be held at colleges/universities. E.g., in 1903 it was held at Princeton from 12/29-12/31; the smoker was held at the Princeton Inn.

      I would have thought it is reasonable to think of a society almost entirely consisting of men, deciding it would be nice to get out of a home almost certainly crowded with hyper children and relatives. There is no meniton of students and the membership list I went through for 1922 listed only faculty.

    19. Just so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle, I wanted to call attention to the really interesting material about interviewing that JJ offered in an early comment. Seems like something everyone should be trying to pass on to their colleagues.

    20. Thanks, Jender. Let me add something that went along with #2 in a couple of other versions:

      – To minimize false conclusions, require written documentation with substantive proof for all “no” votes.

      It’s much harder to locate and accurately articulate a problem than just to feel that somehow someone’s central thesis isn’t plausible or just doesn’t convince you. The latter sorts of judgments may be quite unreliable.

    21. While I certainly support collective efforts to promote change, I think one of the positive attributes of the suggestions, one which strongly recommends them, is that no institutional body, no group, and no committee — not the CSW, not SWIP, nor the APA itself — is required to sanction them. Each feminist philosopher can take it upon her/himself to motivate these changes in her/his department. Each department can take it upon itself to set an example for others.

    22. RE: philosophy personalities. I really don’t see how a traditional male philosopher, i.e. a person who overavlues the “masculine” and abuses the “feminine”, could participate in a healthy family unit. It depends, of course, on how you define “healthy family unit.” …

    23. Calypso is right.
      With the exception of NY, the Eastern APA cities have much cheaper hotel rates during the holiday season.

      The Eastern Division conducted a survey a few years ago, by the way, and found that although people were not happy with the present arrangement, there was no alternative that was preferred by anything near a majority.

    24. James, please excuse you if you’re talking about a survey well vetted by statisticians. If the survey wasn’t, I’d worry about what the results really show.

      I’ve forgotten what the percentage of responses needed is, but it’s something like one-third. If you don’t have that, you might as well just throw dice. Unfortunately, it is very hard to get a third of a group of academics to respond to surveys.

      Secondly, asking the right questions is extremely tricky. You can in fact quite easily end up testing for something other than what you think. I’d wonder if the survey actually tested for risk adversity.

      Thirdly, expecting agreement on a different time from a survey seems too much, perhaps particularly from philosophers. Here also the number of alternatives offered would make a huge different to the results.

      I was involved in a drawing up a survey for my university which we knew might have politically significant results, so some faculty who do statistics were involved from the start; it became clear why it can be so expensive to commission a survey.

    25. As to the point about dossier printing, it is going to be really hard to save trees by picking an appropriate alternative policy. I’m guessing that my department is typical in that there will have to be at least one hard copy of each dossier which search committee members have access to and can check out to look at. I can see a reason to think it is fairer if departments pay for printing them out rather than the likely somewhat strained applicants. But the environmental issue seems to me to cut the other way.

      I would predict that more would be more dossiers printed if there were no costs to applicants to send dossiers to departments. If it costs nothing to send a dossier, a rational applicant will send one wherever s/he thinks s/he has even a miniscule chance. It makes sense to blanket the hiring departments with applications, even for those jobs that don’t seem like a good fit. So more applicants would likely submit to each job. On the other hand, the relatively small cost of paying for the materials oneself (I’m guessing it is about six dollars) is enough to keep one from spamming hiring departments, but not large enough to make it rational to omit sending to places one has a real chance. So I think the current system probably saves more trees overall since each department would likely have to print each application at least once, and there would be more applications. I suppose that you could delegate a first cut before printing to someone, but with the tight time frames this would be very hard on one person and would also make it harder for candidates without the standard virtues easy to assess virtues (the right recommenders, educational background, or publications) but perhaps other virtues instead to get their materials in the hands of people who might view them favorably.

      I’m not saying this is dispositive, but I think that it needs to be taken into account.

    26. Good and important points, MVR. It seems to me there are lots of ways to deal with these. First, it has to be realised that the electronic route saves a lot of air miles, which is important and needs to be a part of the calculation (though I certainly don’t have the knowledge myself to know exactly how to weight these things). More importantly, I think there are lots of ways to deal with the issues you raise. (1) A Department could say “supply ONLY the following things. Your application will not be considered if you send materials that are not requested” (“unless you provide good reason for the extra materials”?) . (2) Perhaps too much work, but an online electronic application facility (like those used for grad school apps) could limit the amount of material that can be sent. (3) I’ve been on lots of hiring committees, and writing samples never get looked at until a long list is compiled by the committee on the basis of CVs and letters of reference. My understanding is that this is a fairly standard procedure. Only printing writing samples from long list applicants would save a lot of paper. But am I wrong about others’ procedures?

    27. I think that you are right Jender that in the normal case only certain things get looked at in the first sorting of the files. But I do think that it can vary from person to person which things those are. (I’ll sometimes look at writing samples really quickly to help me decide a close call, for example.) But on the searches I have part of the first round already involves everyone who will be narrowing it down to a final short list. If different people look at different things it would be good if all of them had access to each of those things. Maybe that could be done electronically.

      Still, if there were twice as many files, it would make even the first sorting of the files harder for those who did them and more apt to overlook certain sorts of strength. What I’m partly worried about is that the sorts of rules required to regularize an electronic process may cut out ways in which genuinely strong but unusual candidates can tailor their applications to their strengths so as to get noticed. A strong candidate with an interesting project done well but with less illustrious committee members will have an even harder time if the sample isn’t easy to get at.

      I suspect that any workable process would have to allow candidates to submit all relevant materials at once, and that decisions about what to print would have to be made at the level of the hiring department based on that department’s judgements about what they want to know.

      Relatedly, any process that shifts too many costs to hiring departments will have an effect on how many applications financially constrained departments will be willing to look at, at least if they can cut their costs by looking at fewer files. It would be worth keeping that sort of incentive in mind if some new system were really to be proposed.

      As you can see I have background worries that proposed reforms will have unintended consequences. I may just worry too much about this sort of thing.

    28. I agree with Socrates’ cousin that it is “quite bizarre and interestingly telling at the same time that grand APA meeting occurs right over the Xmas holiday and during usual family gatherings.” It is interesting that the APA was set up for Dec 27-30, but even more interesting that this has not been changed over the years. For mothers of young children, but especially for working mothers, this is probably the worst time to have a yearly professional conference that one must attend. Mothers of young children, particularly those who work full time, are eager to spend school vacation playing with their children, spending their days together, or going away on a family trip together. Parents who work full time (moms, dads, whoever), typically love to spend that holiday week at home together or on vacation together. It is the only time of year with a week’s time to spend. Working families are starved for the opportunity to spend a week together. That they must sacrifice it in order to attend the APA each year is terrible.

      That the meeting date has not been changed over the years shows something. Dec 27-30 is not a hospitable date for mothering, or caring parenting. The date should be changed to a better time when one would not be leaving one’s children and family for a business trip at the optimal time for togetherness and quality time. People in more traditional professions would never stand for their yearly big meeting to be held at the height of family time. People who value family time and caring for their children would never want to leave their families at the height of family time.

      For those without children or families, again I feel it is not an ideal time. It is a traditional time to gather and reunite with old friends. It is easy to see that a more supposedly “traditional” philosopher type, with few friends and no family, or minimal family, would be well suited to having a yearly conference at this time. Then, one’s colleagues would function as the old friends with whom one would reunite, at the APA.

    29. Well put, philosophy queen. I also like the way you challenge the belief that what has come to be regarded as the traditional philosopher–a man too much in the real of logical abstraction and remote from the world of affective connection–is not really someone traditional at all, but rather an oddball and a dysfuncitonal eccentric.

    30. “In fact, I seem to recall lots of studies showing that interviews lead to people making poor hiring judgments. (Anyone have a reference?)”

      Here are some useful links from a post at A Philosophy Job Market Blog:

      “The “interview illusion” is well-discussed in the psychology literature – most recently by David Myers. For a brief discussion of his conclusions, see here.

      The phenomenon was apparently coined by Richard Nisbett at Michigan. Other psychologists who have researched the issue are Mark Zanna, Robin Dawes, and Frank Bernieri. I see no evidence of an abandonment of the view in their research to warrant skepticism here.”

      If the links in the above quotation do not come through, you can find them by scrolling down through the relevant post from here:

    31. MVR– your worries seem like legitimate ones. It would be very surprising if there was a solution not subject to any worries, though. PQ and SC– The timing of the APA seems to me like a great example of one of those things that can be nicely critiqued by a Dominance understanding of discrimination. On a traditional Difference understanding, there’s nothing discriminatory about the timing. But the fact is that the timing makes it very difficult for those with big family-care responsibilities to attend, which can be a huge disadvantage. And the fact is that women tend to have significantly bigger family-care responsibilities than men. So it works to the disadvantage of women, and counts as discrimination on the Dominance approach. (Kymlicka has a nice clear discussion of these in his intro book on political philosophy.) And many thanks for everyone who’s offered references on the interview illusion. I will try to read up and do a proper post on it!

    32. While the discussion over at the peasoup blog (the link to which Richard gave us) included some interesting data about interviews, I think its overall focus and motivation are disappointing. The discussion was initiated and transpired (as far as I could tell) in order to consider whether the interview process was beneficial and worthwhile *for departments*, that is, whether they would end up making the right hiring decisions, whether it was worth the cost *to them*, etc. The discusion seemed to lack understanding of and/or be indifferent to the fact that how and where most philosophy interviews take place in North America further disadvantages some people from the outset. In addition, the participants in that discussion seemed entirely unaware of the ways that gender bias, white skin privilege, disability, stereotype threat, and so on, can condition the interview context.

    33. All true, Shelley. But in a way that may enhance the discussion’s usefulness to us. If we’re trying to convince departments to change their practices, it helps to be able to argue that *even if* they don’t give a moment’s thought to issues of justice, departmental self-interest should motivate the changes that we want. After all, some won’t give any thought to issues of justice, and many will want to weigh them in the balance with self-interest.

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