Friday, June 24, 2011

Bad Advice

The following question and answer comes from this interview with Julian Young (Kenan Professor of Humanities at Wake Forest):
What advice would you give to young graduate students and aspiring university professors?

Don’t. Not in the current job-market. Not unless you are extremely good and can get into a top graduate school. They still have reasonable employment records. But if you can’t get into a top school, forget it.
As I hail from a non-"top school" (and cannot think of myself as "extremely good" though I think I'm at least ok), I have to take issue with this. I don't have any particularly profound counter-advice (or a particularly inspiring story). So, I'll just have to witness to the fact that it's possible to land (what I think is) a fine job in academia even if you don't measure up to Young's criteria. (Maybe Rusty Jones--though I don't know his background story--is an even better example, since it's not every day that Harvard hires a Ph.D. from Oklahoma.)

What Young says is probably true (Rusty Jones being the exception to the rule) if anything other than a "research" job would not make you happy. But as a baseline standard, that strikes me as a bit like refusing to drive anything other than a Bentley. And that's hooey. (So is driving around in your Hyundai and bitching about how you really deserve to be driving a Bentley.)

(I hope that if anyone at Arkansas reads this they understand that I don't mean to imply anything negative about the department there. I learned how to learn in that program, and learned from people that I trust immensely.)


  1. I think I agree. Someone might object that the fact that you got a job you like doesn't mean that others will, which is true. But most people from my non-top program got decent (and in some cases very good) jobs, and the situation may well be the same for Arkansas PhDs. What I don't know is whether things are still like that or whether the job market is now so much worse that hardly anyone outside the top programs gets any job at all in philosophy. Anyone who wants to go to grad school should be warned that they might well not be able to get a job as a professor, but getting a job shouldn't be the only reason for getting an education. And having a PhD doesn't make you unemployable. I don't know the exact state of the market, but I think people should be told as much as possible about it and then left to make their own decision, rather than being just told not to study what they want to study.

  2. I agree that people should be told as much as possible. Perhaps better advice (though often repeated) is to find out what other recent grads at a program one is thinking of entering have gone on to do (and to have a realistic sense of what sorts of jobs one might be competitive for given one's talents, "pedigree," and so forth). Certainly, there are stories of people getting stuck in strings of part-time, non-permanent, etc., positions. (And so one has to have some sense of how much of such "drudgery," as it were, one might be willing to endure, if it comes to that. But that must be, in the end, a personal decision.) And the increasing use of adjuncts, etc., is generally not a good thing from the POV of the prospective job seeker. Looking at the hiring thread from this year on Leiter's blog, it appears that the jobs are mainly going to people from very good schools. But it's also not clear to me how comprehensive that listing is of all jobs that might be ok (or even good, depending on what one's aspirations are, including for example permanent positions at community colleges).

  3. Agreed. I suspect the listing is not complete, given that even at my school (which is roughly average if you judge by SAT scores) some people (not me) think we should deliberately avoid hiring people from prestigious programs. In other words, I bet there are lots of schools that hire people who don't have great pedigree. But, of course, that might be a bet I would lose.

  4. the list was pretty comprehensive. most of the desirable (and conceivably gettable) jobs i applied for were eventually claimed on it. (by people from pretty tony programs, too.)

    some that i didn't see show up there would have tended more toward the 4/4 or 5/5 end of the market, or toward jobs where one would be hired as the only philosopher in a broader program.

  5. j.,

    Fair enough, and when you say that the jobs that don't show up there tend toward the 4/4 or 5/5 end of things, that seems right. Those sorts of jobs are probably not of interest to the "Top 10" types, though I would suggest that if you mean to imply that no desirable jobs are in the 4/4 or 5/5 end of things, then it ain't necessarily so. (I'm not assuming that's what you meant.) Of course, that may depend on what you want (in various ways).

  6. right, it ain't. athough the heavier the load, the harder to love—especially for inexperienced teachers who don't have several courses prepped, like long-timers.

    which reminds me, i found it vindicating to read the part in cavell's autobiography where he confessed being totally up a creek, and unprepared by his education/training for, the load he was assigned when he first started teaching.