I agree with Eric’s claim that intrinsic motivation is a necessary condition on getting through the process. But I think there’s a tension between this statement:
“… my impression is that about half of our successful students end up teaching community college… Those who land at four-year schools (often after a couple years of looking) are generally (but not universally!) at lower prestige colleges. ”
and this later statement:
“At the same time, you’re in a very anxiety-producing situation: Your whole career depends on how good your dissertation is …”
I have the feeling that the first statement hold for UF grads as well. Even though we’re constantly pressured to think that the second statement holds also, it’s difficult for me to imagine that it could possibly hold given that UF grads will likely be teaching at small four-year colleges or community colleges. When an applicant sits across from an interviewer from a small liberal arts college, does the subject of research (let alone a specific dissertation topic) even come up that much? It seems to me that the interviewer will much more likely be asking to see sample syllabi, teaching plans, discussing how eager the candidate is to sit on committees and engage in the sort of community (or church) oriented, extra-curricular activities. I’m just speculating on these things. Can anybody provide an eye-witness account?
A brief comment on Jesse’s question regarding the following statement by Eric:
“At the same time, you’re in a very anxiety-producing situation: Your whole career depends on how good your dissertation is …”
There are two readings on which Eric’s claim is clearly true and one on which it is clearly false.
First, the quality of a person’s dissertation does effect the kinds of letters his/her committee members can write and, hence, the kinds of departments that are likely to take the person seriously as a candidate. Thus, the quality of one’s dissertation does effect one’s initial job placement, which (consequently) effects one’s whole career.
Second, a person’s dissertation is the material from which s/he usually draws when developing papers for publication. So, the quality of a person’s dissertation effects his/her potential to publish, which (consequently) effects his/her whole career.
Third, the quality of a person’s dissertation does effect his/her career in the senses noted above. It does not, however, necessarily determine one’s career. For instance, one could write a great dissertation, get a terrific initial position, publish poorly, fail to get tenure, have to return to the job market, etc. Similarly, one could write a good (but not great) dissertation, get a decent initial position, work diligently, publish high-quality articles that generate interest in the person as a candidate for more desirable jobs, etc. So, the quality of a person’s dissertation does not effect one’s whole career, if by “effect one’s whole career” we read something like “seal one’s fate.”
A (more direct) follow up, regarding Jesse’s question: “When an applicant sits across from an interviewer from a small liberal arts college, does the subject of research (let alone a specific dissertation topic) even come up that much?”
From my experience and the experience of those with whom I’ve spoken in the past couple of years, it’s a mixed bag. Some such colleges will spend little, if any, time talking about your research. Some will spend about 1/3 to 1/2 the interview addressing your research. The one constant is that such colleges will spend more time talking about teaching than research universities will, but the amount of time varies. So, prepare for a comprehensive interview — one in which you’ll discuss your research and your teaching … and (possibly) your service to the department.
I saw Jesse’s comment on The Splintered Mind about community college jobs and had some general comments.
In any case, I’m an M.A. graduate from FSU that was lucky enough to snag a tenure-track teaching position at Miami Dade College with just the M.A. I spent the year after my M.A. working in Student Affairs at CU Boulder.
I never experienced the job market the way a Ph.D. might, so I’m not entirely sure how what I have to say will compare to that experience, but I have seen my peers go through that particular job search and can draw some basic comparisons based on that information.
The community college level hiring process is substantially more formal. Job candidates aren’t likely to meet extensively with other faculty members, go to social events, and engage in informal conversations or gatherings. Community college hiring is often done through selection committees, and there may not be a representative from your discipline on that committee. It’s reasonable to say that, until the very last stages of your hire, you may not be interviewed by a member of your discipline. There may not even be another member of your discipline at your school or campus. You are right to suggest that your research will not be a central factor in the hiring process, but you may be asked to speak about your research or a topic in your area simply so that your interviewer(s) know you are fluent with that subject.
A community college is not likely to pay for your expenses, or will provide you with limited compensation for travel, since such schools tend to have seriously limited budgets. I would highly advise keeping some money (around $800 if possible) on reserve to interview for those positions you are serious about.
It is a mistake, however, to assume this market is not as competitive (there are often many, many applicants and a full-time position may only open up when a current faculty member decides to retire) or that simply because you have a Ph.D. from a reputable institution you are at an advantage over M.A. candidates. An M.A. candidate may be hired for many reasons over Ph.D. candidates. Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t have so much do with pay differences (I start out in my rank in the same pay bracket as someone with a Ph.D.) but more to do with a perceived commitment to teaching in difficult situations.
In retrospect, I can see why. During my interviews, I spoke to my personal values as a teacher and mentor to my students, of the skills I wanted to cultivate in students, and of my understanding of the diverse composition of the student body I would be teaching. I realized during my faculty orientation that the reason I was hired was because my responses were exactly in line with the values of the college as an institution. So my responses were “what they wanted to hear” without being canned. A measure of sincerity is really worth a more than a degree, especially considering that the very urban environment I teach in. I have students who are self-confessed former drug dealers, former homeless, teen mothers, recovering alcoholics, political refugees, elderly, and so on. I spoke directly to the social justice issues the college strives to address, and so without realizing it, set myself apart from other candidates. The things that I felt would be detrimental to my application – my lack of a Ph.D. and the fact that I’m fairly young – didn’t really matter in light of my understanding of the college.
The best thing a prospective faculty member at a community college can do before an interview is to research the college’s missions, strategies, retention rates, student population, and history within the community. Demonstrating that understanding and a true dedication to teaching is what will place you in that sort of a job. A C.V. that highlights teaching experience, a well-written and reasonable statement of teaching philosophy.
I wasn’t even asked to provide letters of reference until after the position was offered to me. (I was later informed they were shining, and they did help me negotiate my salary).
Interesting discussion — thanks! Those comments about seeking community college jobs seem on target to me, based on my second-hand experience, though my impression is that the CCs vary a lot.
And yes, dissertation quality isn’t *as* important for CC jobs (for those students writing dissertatons!) but as Rico points out, it affects your letters and your tenurability at schools that want to see publications for tenure. The individual chapters must also meet a minimum level of quality (as perceived by your chair) for your chair to give you the go-ahead. That can be a real hang-up in some cases!
Wow, Dr. Schwitzgebel’s article was illuminating, but unfortunately, it looks as if the game is already up for us:
“To get into the top-ranked philosophy departments is considerably more difficult than to get into UCR. To my knowledge no UCR undergraduate has ever been admitted to a top-15 philosophy Ph.D. program…..When I was a student at Berkeley, it seemed that almost all my classmates were from top universities (Harvard, Princeton) or renowned liberal arts colleges (Amherst, Swarthmore). The few who weren’t from such name-brand institutions seemed to have done time at such colleges (a classmate from Northeastern, for example, had spent a year at Oxford and had letters from professors there). I don’t want to suggest that it’s impossible for a student from a middle-tier school to get into a top Ph.D. program, but the odds appear to be long even if you’re valedictorian.”
“The best 1-2 majors at U.C. Riverside every year have GPAs around 3.9. Those who apply to graduate schools typically land in schools ranked in the 25-40 range.”
“Coming out of U.C. Riverside, my impression is that about half of our successful students end up teaching community college (some never complete their degree and don’t show up on the official “placement” lists). Those who land at four-year schools (often after a couple years of looking) are generally (but not universally!) at lower prestige colleges.”
From all of this I deduced that one generally does not obtain a tenure-track position at a well-respected (relatively speaking) national university in philosophy unless one obtains a Ph.D from one of the top 10 or 15 departments (NYU/Princeton/Rutgers/Michigan/Stanford/Harvard/Berkeley/etc.), and that one generally does not obtain admission to these departments without the prerequisite of having attended an “elite” undergraduate institution (Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford, etc.). So, it would seem to me that the prospects of getting a tenure-track position at even a relatively “average” school (e.g. large state schools of the caliber of Maryland, Oregon, Wisconsin, etc.)–to say nothing of tenure at an elite school (Ivies, Michigan, UVA, Berkeley, etc.)–seem highly improbable for someone like me (FSU undergrad) from the moment I turned 18 and enrolled at college…
I realize, of course, that it is “possible” to overcome the burden of a substandard (FSU) academic institution through tremendous writing samples, recommendations, etc., but I get the impression that this is quite a rare exception.
As a counter example (and Dr. Schwitzgebel did the comparison with Harvard law/medical vs. Harvard philosophy), it is MUCH easier to get into an elite law program from a substandard academic undergraduate program (indeed, law schools value “diversity” which means it was to my advantage in some sense that I wasn’t the 50th guy from Princeton applying to Harvard law..)
Not to sound too much of a negative note, but it does seem that one’s future prospects in philosophy require careful planning going back to choice of undergraduate institution (and who knows they’re going to be a professional philosopher at that age?)
Yikes! Thanks for expressing that, Mark. I was trying to be realistic and objective about the slender chances, but maybe I didn’t temper it enough. In light of your comment here, I’ve added the following update to my post:
Okay, you’re at Cal State Whatever or Southern Iowa Christian, and you would love to be an Ivy League professor of philosophy someday. Is there simply no hope? I would hate to counsel despair. At every step, there are a small number of people who do the unlikely: Get into a top-ranked Ph.D. program from a non-elite school, get an elite starting job from a middle-ranked Ph.D. program, move from a non-elite university to an elite one later in their career. I’d like to think — and I’m sure it happens — that a great student from a non-elite school can make an impression on an admissions committee simply by having a very strong all-around application. Maybe our best UCR students have been a bit unlucky. There’s certainly some degree of chance in the process. Is your glowing letter from someone that someone on the admissions committee happens to really respect? (It’s a small world!) Does your writing sample really resonate with someone?
It can also help to be pro-active. For example, can you drive across town, or apply to an exchange program, or take some time off, to take or audit courses at an elite university (as my friend from Northeastern did)? Can you attend talks, colloquia, conferences around town and out of town, and possibly make some connections or at least give your letter writers fodder for backing up their claims never to have seen so energetic and dedicated a student?
All that said, bear in mind that for anyone an Ivy-League career is a longshot. (Well, maybe Kripke was destined.) I would not advise pursuing a career in philosophy if you wouldn’t be happy teaching at a non-elite school.
Thank you for your reply. I guess the only point I’d make is that what concerned me most is not the difficulty in having a star-studded “Ivy League” career, but that it seems that having a tenured career at a “decent” national research institution (Penn State, Maryland, Wisconsin, Washington, etc.) is also quite a long shot for someone who doesn’t get a Ph.D from a top 15 (loosely) institution. Maybe I’m interpreting you a little too harshly…