Hanti’s Notes on Doing a PhD and Getting a Job in Philosophy

Hanti Lin

ika@ucdavis.edu

Last Updated: 1 June 2015

Caveat: If you are going to read any part of these notes, it’s important that you first read through the introduction to have a better idea of how these notes might or might not be helpful to you.

Table of Contents

Introduction

A personal note before we get down to business

What do I need before I enter the research-oriented job market?

Why do I need so much?

When to do what?

When to do what, exactly?

Conference attendance

Conference presentation

Health maintenance

Skype interview

On-campus interview

Miscellaneous

Omissions

Introduction

  • A bit of the background: I grew up and completed my physics undergraduate education in Taiwan before I went to the US to do my philosophy master and PhD. I found that the English-speaking, research-oriented, philosophy job market poses a terribly tough challenge to a non-English-native speaker growing up in a culture like mine. So, when I visited National Taiwan University in October 2014, I wrote up roughly 80% of this set of notes for the philosophy students in Taiwanese who are interested in doing a PhD and getting a philosophy job at a research university. But many of the points I want to make should be of some use to some philosophy students outside of Taiwan.
  • My notes might be useful to you if you satisfy a number of the conditions below:
  • English is not your mother tongue.
  • You grew up in a  culture that does not encourage students to express their ideas or say how good their ideas are.
  • You love doing philosophy so much that you aspire to be a philosophy professor at a research university, especially in US, UK, Canada, Australia or Europe.
  • You have not decided whether you want to make a living by doing philosophy research, but you want to know the cost or risk it involves.
  • In fact, even if you aspire to teach philosophy at a non-research university, you may still want to have a look -- not to follow my advice, but to know something about your potential competitors.
  • Why? Some people who aspire to be a philosophy professor at a research university might fail to achieve that goal and, then, they will move from the research-oriented job market to the teaching-oriented job market. They will become your competitors. So you may want to show that you can do some of the things they are good at.
  • But what exactly should you do if you aspire to teach philosophy at a non-research university? I have to confess that I know little about it and you have to ask somebody else.
  • Please note that I will be talking about getting a philosophy job at a research university. And you have to rely on your dissertation adviser to know how to do philosophy well, which won’t be covered here. This is not to say that getting a philosophy job and being a good philosopher are unrelated. In fact, you have to work hard to be a good philosopher in order to find a good job in philosophy, because the hiring committees are ultimately looking for good philosophers.
  • So don’t think that my notes provide a checklist used by any hiring committee. No one will hire you simply because you do most of the things to be specified below. Instead, people will hire you because they know how good a philosopher you are. And I hope my notes will be of some instrumental value for you to let the hiring committee know.
  • To build on the last point I just made: my notes will be useful to you only if you have been working hard to be a good philosopher but you don’t think you are good enough at letting people know how good a philosopher you are.
  • You want to read my notes with a grain, or perhaps a heap, of salt. Whenever I use an imperative ‘do this …’ to express advice, it does not really mean a command but just a shorhand for something pretty much like ‘you are likely to be better off if you do this ...’. To help you decide whether to follow or discard my advice, almost every piece of advice will be complemented by  the job-hunting purposes behind. It is important that you know those purposes, and think hard about whether alternative actions may serve those purposes better in your own case.
  • Some more caveats when using my notes.
  • My notes may become outdated some time in the future. Note that I was on the US/UK/AU/EU job market during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons. And I hope that my notes will be outdated very soon, for they are most likely a mere product of the 2007-8 global financial crisis and the ensuing toughness in the academic job market.
  • You should compare my notes to the opinions of others who have recent experience about the philosophy job market, either as job candidates or as hiring committee members.
  • You should compare my notes to other opnions from different perspectives. Note that I am looking at the job market as an Asian, male, non-English-native-speaker. So there should be many guides available to students before they can make a good decision. How many? As many as the perspectives that are fine-grained enough. So: 2 (female/male) x 2 (English-native-speaker/not) x 2 (job-applicant/hiring-committee) x N (other factors) = 8N. Assuming that N is at least 2, there should be at least 16 guides available to students. What I am writing is just one out of those 16 or more.
  • Also, you should talk to faculty members in your department, especially those who were recently on the job market or in a hiring committee. And do not forget those in your university’s counselling center.

A personal note before we get down to business

Some people might become depressed after reading my notes. At first glance, there seem to be an overwhelming lot of things to do (there are about 15 pages in the following). But there are many people who are happy to help you and let the world know how good a philosopher you are. I have many personal stories, but let me mention just one:

In January 2014, UC Davis decided to give me a fly-out. I was originally supposed to arrive at Davis one day before my job talk, as everyone else was. So I was worrying about having very bad jet lag, for I had to travel from Australia to the US. I expressed my worry to the department head at Davis, David Copp, and he said that the department was happy to let me arrive two days before my job talk and cover the extra accommodation fee. That was really crucial: whenever giving a talk, I have to be extremely focused in order to talk about philosophy in English fluently without too many grammatical errors. A jet lag could have easily made me unable to express my philosophical ideas clearly. I was, and have been, very grateful for Davis’ help.

The point I want to make is this: A hiring committee is happy to help you show the best of you. Many others are also happy to help, such as your advisor, your philosophy friends, and the people at your university’s counseling center.

What do I need before I enter the research-oriented job market?

  1. Good papers published in good journals even before you finish your PhD, and consistent productivity after you get your PhD.
  2. Good academic reputation. Benchmark: there exist people whom you haven’t met before, but who have known your name and had rough ideas about your work.
  3. Good letters of recommendation from good philosophers.
  • No more. Most of the things I am going to mention are about steps toward getting the above three. And you want to think hard about this question: To get those three, are there alternative steps that will work better to you?
  • I know I have said this many times, but let me say it one last time: you need to try very hard to be a good philosopher before we can get those three.

Why do I need so much?

  • Many people on the job market already have that much.
  • You will be competing with postdocs who have been on the job market and working as full-time researchers for years.
  • The job market is really tough. Have a look at the Job Placement of Graduates from 2005-2010.
  • If you go to a top-10 PhD program, your chance of attaining the goal could fluctuate in between 10% and 61%.
  • If top-20-to-10, chance in between 6% and 31%.
  • If top-50-to-20, chance in between 3% and 5%.
  • Don’t worry: you chance might improve if you work harder in the right way.
  • Glossary:
  • PRG = the philosophical gourmet report
  • TT = tenure-track
  • SLACs = selective liberal arts colleges
  • Ranked = something equivalent to top 50 in the US according to PGR (but which year? not stated)
  • Top 20 = top 20 according to PGR (world-wide or in the US? which year?)
  • (n) = the number of graduates from 2005-2010

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When to do what?

  • Let’s solve backwards.
  • Assuming that you finish your PhD study in 5 years, you will have 4 summers in your PhD career.
  • By the end of the 4th summer, i.e., the summer right before you jump onto the job market, you should have published a single-authored paper P in a good  journal. You should also have found at least two good people outside of your university to write recommendation letters for you. But it may take almost one year to proceed from submission to publication, so ...
  • By the end of the 3rd summer, a mature draft of paper P should have been accepted by, and presented at, a good professional conference C. Your presentation at conference C should be impressive to help you earn reputation and obtain outside letters. You will need the suggestions and/or objections from conference C to help you revise paper P before submitting it to a good journal. But you need lots of experience before your impressive debut in a good professional conference, so ...
  • By the end of the 2nd summer, a solid draft of your future paper P should have been accepted by, and presented at, a good graduate conference. But you need good ideas and time to generate this draft, so ...
  • By the end of the 1st summer, you should have had some ideas about your research topic and have started working on it.
  • Let’s review the same thing, but now in the forward-looking temporal order. No matter how many years you need to spend to complete your PhD, you need three years of focused work on an already-well-chosen research topic before you are on the job market the first time.
  • The 1st year aims at working out a solid draft for presentation at a good graduate conference.
  • The 2nd year aims at polishing the solid draft into a mature one for presentation at a good professional conference.
  • The 3rd year aims at publishing the paper in a good journal, before you are on the job market.

When to do what, exactly?

Let M be the first time when you are on the job Market.

M-4, for example, means the academic year that starts 4 years prior to M.

(M-4-?)

  • Get into a good PhD program if you can.
  • Otherwise, get into a good master program (which is the only thing I could manage to achieve at that time) or a mediocre PhD program in US/Canada/UK/EU/AU in order to get good recommendation letters for your next PhD program application. (But note that doing a master degree means you might have to find a large amount of money to pay the tuition fee.)

(M-4)

  • Already in a good PhD program.
  • Take care of your coursework for breadth of knowledge in philosophy.
  • You will need breadth to convince the hiring committee members that, although you do not work in their areas, you are able to give good feedback to their works and, hence, you will be a good colleague to have around.
  • Start talking to students and faculty members in order to find a dissertation supervisor.
  • Go to every talk in your department. (I didn’t do that at CMU, and I do regret.) Try very hard to ask questions during the Q&A session. Try to approach the speaker to ask more questions and, if possible, explain how your work is related to his/hers. See what other students, especially the more senior ones, do.
  • This simulates your future conference attendance. You will need the skills learned when you attend a conference, especially in order to: impress people, earn your reputation, find people to write recommendation letters for you. More on this in section Conference attendance.
  • You conference attendance will, in turn, simulate your future on-campus interviews. More on this in section On-campus interview.
  • Go to every after-talk dinner/drink if financially possible.
  • This simulates your future conference dinner, which is another important opportunity to accumulate your reputation. Conference dinner will, in turn, simulates the dinner that follows your job talk.
  • By the way, the Philosophy Department at Carnegie Mellon University (where I got my PhD) financially supports every graduate student who goes to the after-talk dinner. I am proud of CMU!
  • Find a good research topic, and work hard to produce a rough draft on that research topic by the end of summer. You will need to finish a better draft by the Xmas in the next academic year.

(M-3)

  • Find a good supervisor.
  • “Good” means: willing to know what you need and to support you accordingly.
  • Finish a draft by Xmas, and submit it to graduate conferences.
  • Learn to be a good presenter and slides maker, and give good talks in graduate conferences by the end of summer.

(M-2)

  • Connect your research topic to other areas of philosophy. Have breadth of knowledge in philosophy.
  • This is meant to help you have random philosophy chats with people not in your field.
  • Remember: people want to hire you partly because their departments do not have anyone working on your thing.
  • Know the significance of your work in a broad philosophical context, and be able to explain it to people not in your field.
  • Start establishing your personal network by conference attendance
  • Give fantastic talks in fantastic conferences by the end of summer.
  • Survive tough questions during your Q&A.
  • Be able to ask good questions during others’ Q&A.

(M-1)

  • Excel at philosophical chats, including:
  • 5-min introduction to your work
  • explanation why your work is important
  • random philosophy chats not about your field
  • Have already accumulated good reputation by conference presentation and attendance.
  • Think about who will write letters for you, especially those outside of your university.
  • Submit papers to good journals
  • If possible, teach as a primary instructor (and, depending on the state law, pass the relevant exam for being an instructor if English is not your first language).

(M) October: Go to the job market for the first time

  • Apply for 40~80 jobs,
  • including positions that you now think you won’t take if offered.
  • This might be immoral.
  • But here is the point: are you really sure that you won't take this job if this is the only offer you get? Note that this is an indicative conditional not a counterfactual.
  • in all job markets: US, Canada, Australia, UK, EU, Asia (don’t forget Singapore and Hong Kong).
  • Already have publications, in good quantity, in good journals:
  • Good journals = the journals in which the papers you read were published
  • Good quantity = at least one single-authored publication
  • Better quantity = two single-authored publications, or one single-authored plus two first-authored publications
  • Already have some good reputation.
  • For example: there exist people knowing your work before meeting you in person.
  • Already find at least two good people outside of your university to write recommendation letters. It’s likely that you came to know them by conference attendance.
  • Already have good teaching experience.
  • have syllabi for courses you can teach
  • have experience of working as a primary instructor, if your school permits
  • Fix the content of your PhD dissertation.
  • Prepare for Skype interviews.
  • More on this below.
  • Continue your hard work in philosophy while waiting for interviews.
  • The anxiety of waiting might make you question why you ever want to find a job in philosophy.
  • So this is meant to:
  • remind you of why you love philosophy,
  • and, of course, prepare for next year's job market.
  • Prepare for on-campus interviews if you get some.
  • An on-campus interview is pretty much like attending a conference, but you are the keynote speaker!
  • More on this below.

(M+1)

  • Have already defended your PhD dissertation and obtained the PhD degree.
  • Get a tenure-track job at a research university if you can.
  • Otherwise, get a postdoc job.
  • Work super hard if you only get a teaching job
  • Why? Next year, you will compete with postdocs, who have way more time to do research and accumulate publications.
  • Continue developing your strengths mentioned in (M) in order to get a tenure-track job
  • have more good publications
  • present in more and better conferences
  • get better reputation
  • get better letters

(M+X) Be prepared to have X = 1~5 years.

  • Try to get a tenure-track job at a research university, if you prefer research to teaching.
  • Continue developing your strengths mentioned in (M) in order to:
  • move to a better place if you don’t like your current job,
  • get paid more if you want to make more money

Conference attendance

  • The main job-hunting-related goals of presenting a paper in a conference are:
  • 1. to impress people,
  • 2. to earn your reputation,
  • 3. to find people to write recommendation letters for you,
  • 4. to simulate your future on-campus interviews.
  • You will achieve goals (1)-(3) only if you are a good philosopher and you do real philosophy in a conference: you care about the philosophical ideas you are working on, and go to conferences primarily because you want to see what others make of your ideas and what others have been thinking about.[1]
  • But how to achieve goals (1)-(3)? Well, it depends on your personality and/or the culture in which you grew up.
  • Some people should just recall those goals before a conference but forget them and be oneselves during a conference.
  • For those who do not feel comfortable about expressing ideas in public and
    defending views in real time (as I did back in 2010), they cannot just forget those goals and be themselves.
  • Philosophers talk about philosophy all the time during a conference: at Q&A, at lunch, when drinking at a bar, etc. If my 2010 self were to be myself at the graduate conference at the University of Western Ontario, I would skip every event that is not directly related to my research topics and hide in my hostel room and.
  • But what to do if you belong to this category, as I did back in 2010? I do not know any universal answer. But here is a tip I personally found useful: (1) Recall how much you love philosophy, and imagine how much fun and meaningful it must be to your philosophical life if you share your philosophical ideas with others, get critical feedbacks, proceed to refine your ideas, and make yourself a better philosopher. (2) Practice this imagination before every talk in your department. (3) Find how fun and meaningful that actually is by attending the events after the departmental talks, in which most people are already your friends. It’s comfortable, and very fun, to practice with your friends in your department![2]
  • But how to achieve goals (1)-(3), exactly?
  • If you only keep in mind that “I need to impress people”, you will probably screw up.
  • If you only keep in mind that “I should be myself”, this will probably not help you.
  • A better recipe is this: Giving a good talk plus doing well at the Q&A is already impressive enough. Then those interested will continue to talk to you after your talk, in a bar, and at dinner. Instead of you approaching to a philosopher and advertising yourself, just give a good talk.[3] 
  • So don’t just hide in your hotel room after giving a good talk. People want to talk to you!
  • Be able to introduce yourself and your work in 3~5 minutes.
  • Be able to ask good questions during Q&A. This means that you need lots of practice. So attend every talk in your department. Good questions work by, for example:
  • bringing out implicit assumptions that the speaker has to make,
  • suggesting potential, interesting applications of the speaker’s ideas,
  • pinpointing a crucial idea that the speaker does not explain clearly, so that there will be fruitful follow-ups,
  • pointing to incoherence or inconsistency of the speaker's ideas,
  • etc.
  • Be able to chat philosophically during the conference dinner. This means that you need lots of practice. So attend every after-talk dinner in your department if financially possible.
  • A workshop in your field is a good place to advertise yourself: most participants are in your field; it is relatively easy to explain to them your ideas; they are in a better position to evaluate your ideas; and your reputation will be known through those experts in your field.
  • So, in a workshop, you should try to attend every formal or informal event.
  • Depending on your personality or the culture in which you grew up, you may even consider trying to force yourself to do so. Of course, I am assuming that you already practice a lot before, during, and after many departmental talks.
  • Notice that even philosophical chats at a bar are opportunities to advertise yourself. But do not over-advertise yourself.
  • We do philosophize in a bar over beers or whatever beverage you like. Think about this: you have spent lots of money in order to fly to the conference site and find a room in a hostel; to have more bang for your bucks, it is not a bad idea to go to the bar with philosophers to earn your reputation through philosophical chats, or just to enjoy the sheer fun of philosophical chats.
  • But you need to attend a not-too-specialized philosophy conference in order to achieve goal (4) that I listed at the beginning of this section: to simulate your future on-campus interviews. More on this in section On-campus interview. But here is the spoiler. Attending a conference and all of its accompanying events, formal or informal, does simulates an on-campus interview: from eating breakfast with philosophers at 9:30 am, to drinking and eating dinner with philosophers until 9:30 pm.
  • You need money to attend conferences. Lots of money.
  • Expenses include: airfare, accommodation fee, and dining/drinking fee.
  • Get airfare from your school’s funding, your supervisor’s funding, or your parents’ pockets. It helps to get you more money by making your paper go to a very good conference. Save some money you earn as a TA.
  • Save accommodate fee by staying in a local graduate student’s couch. Ask local organizer’s for help. But note that some conferences are held, not at a university, but at a hotel; in that case, there might be no such things as local students.
  • Be prepared to burn at least 2,000 US dollars a year if your papers are good enough to be accepted by two conferences and if you need to stay in a hotel. So, just in case, save at least $250 per teaching month (assuming that you teach 8 months a year).
  • Teaching during summer is an option for getting more money.
  • High conference season: May-July.
  • So do not let summer teaching interferes with your opportunities at the high season.
  • To avoid ordering the kind of beer that is wrong to you:
  • Know beer styles: pilsner, stout, porter, wheat beer, ale ale, pale ale, etc. Watch out for IPA (indian pale ale), which is very bitter, very popular in the US, and could be very good if you know how to enjoy it.
  • Ask the bartender for small samples before you buy. Asians, don’t be afraid; many people do that.

Conference presentation

  • Why do you want to give a good talk?
  • Think for your job-hunting self: this is the best, most natural way to impress people.
  • Think for your philosophical self: you want to make your ideas clear to the audience, and receive their feedbacks to make you a better philosopher.
  • Think for your audience: have you ever attended a talk with really bad presentation and found that you were just wasting your time? You audience spends time and patience when attending your talk; so you should do something in return. Everyone is busy.
  • Learn how to do research from your supervisor, who must be a good researcher. But your supervisor might or might not be a good presenter. Even if your supervisor is a good presenter, his/her presentation style might or might not suit you.
  • Go to TED.com and watch some philosophy videos, and see if you can find presentation styles that suit you.
  • Never just read your paper, because it almost never impresses. If your presentation has to take the form of reading your paper, it is probably because you have not been sufficiently familiar enough with your own work, which is a bad sign.
  • If English is not your first language:
  • Slideshow is necessary, not a mere option. Slides are not only for your audience, but also for reminding you of what to cover and what to skip.
  • Speak slowly. Your brain usually cannot process a second language as fast as you want it to.
  • Give up on correcting your accent. Face it: it’s too late given how old we are. Focus more on intonation, gestures, and other presentation skills as remedies.
  • Words on slides should be concise: brief, clear, and to the point.
  • It is really hard to strike a balance.
  • So prepare your slides earlier, or be prepared to re-edit your slides over and over again until you exhaust yourself at 4 am in your hostel room and realize that you have to wake up at 8 am.
  • Pictures/graphs on slides could be very helpful. If you use logic, probability, or any other mathematical tools in your research, try to represent them by pictures or in terms of plain English. Some tips:
  • Try very hard to use only three things on slides: pictures, plain English, and the symbols already on keyboard.
  • Try very hard to avoid specialized symbols.
  • Sets of possible worlds can be replaced by circles with dots inside.
  • Probabilities can be replaced by areas.
  • Orderings can be replaced by Hasse diagrams.
  • Boxes and diamonds in modal logic can be replaced by ’necessarily’ and ‘possibly’.
  • Why write "A⋀B ⊨ A” when you can simply write “A&B entails A” to make everyone understood?
  • Key to a good introduction: Let your audience be clear about the goal of your talk and its importance in 10 minutes for a 30-minute talk, and in 15 minutes for any longer talk.
  • If you are presenting one of the most important slides in your talk, say explicitly that it is important and, if time permits, ask people if they have any question for clarification.
  • Key to a good conclusion: Remind your audience what you have achieved. State some take-home messages.
  • If you use slides, the additional use of a handout could be a bonus or a disaster.
  • Do not let your handout distract the audience from your speech and slides. Your handouts never impress people; only you the person does.
  • One of the main functions of handouts: keeping record of the most important claims, examples, formulas, and/or graphs, so that people can remember your main points and ask fruitful questions during Q&A.
  • Another main function: it’s a souvenir for people to remember you after the conference.
  • A good design principle: try to make your handout no longer than two pages on a single piece of paper.
  • My experience is that I usually had no time to work on handouts because it had taken me so much time to re-edit my slides. I hope you can do better than I did.
  • I found Q&A to be most terrifying.

  • You might have to respond, in real time, to questions you’ve never thought of.

  • I don’t think I am good enough at Q&A to give you a good set of guidelines, so you want to ask someone else. The following only reflects the mistakes I used to make or are still making:

  • Get the point of each question, and answer to the point. If you want to also answer to something that the audience does not ask, make sure that it is related or will help the audience know your view better.

  • If English is not your native language: when someone asks a question that you do not quite understand (for whatever reasons), do request clarification, and do not guess. You won’t look stupid by requesting clarification in the western world. The worst case is that you just guess and answer to something totally irrelevant while the audience mistakenly thinks that you are evading the question.

Health maintenance

  • When attending a conference:
  • You will probably sleep for just 4~5 hours when you attend a conference in which you give a presentation. It’s partly because you might get too nervous (and this is particularly true if you haven’t had enough experience about conference attendance or if English is not your mother tongue). And it’s partly because you might need to:
  • wake up early in order to attend every talk (assuming that you are attending a workshop in your field rather than something like APA),
  • return to the hotel late in order to discuss philosophy with many people,
  • stay up until late in order to re-edit your slides and to rehearse your presentation.
  • The following is a quite personal note: If English is not your mother tongue, you may have to rely heavily on the exact wordings in your slides or handouts in order to guide the way you speak and to help you memorize when to say which, and when not to say which. In that case, slide-editing may be endless: you might feel a need to re-edit after every rehearsal. Hence the trade-off question: Should I continue editing or get some more sleep? The worst case is when you decide to go to bed but cannot really fall asleep because you are still worrying about the current status of your slides. What to do? The obvious advice is to prepare the slides as early as possible before the conference. But my (frustrating) experience has been that I still end up with staying up until late. And I suspect that I got arthritis because of this. Please do manage your time better than I do. Philosophy is soooooooooo fun, so you want to live healthy in order to enjoy it more.
  • The following is a super personal note: If English is not your mother tongue and if, after reading the above paragraph, you feel: “it’s so unfair”, then what should you do? I am sorry that I have not come up with a good advice. But here is the advice I have been following: Remember this feeling of unfairness and remember how much you love philosophy; this is a weapon to make you work harder and more efficiently; and this is a secret weapon that English native speakers will never be able to copy from you. Should I include this passage into the “Mental Health” section?
  • If English is not your mother tongue, and when you are having dinner with philosophers at a conference, make sure that you don’t let your dinner turn cold and get yourself too hungry. When you discuss philosophy at a conference dinner, the processing of English plus philosophy may consume too much of your brain power so that you might forget to eat the food right in front of you. Take it easy. Pause and have a bite before you continue to philosophize. That said, when the topic switches to something you are not familiar with, you might be unable to follow and then have lots of time to focus on eating.
  • Prepare enough fruits and water in the hotel, just in case you stay up until very late. OK, perhaps plus a cup of instant noodles.
  • If you decide to stay up until late, prefer shower rather than coffee to keep you awake.
  • Drinking until late is unavoidable during a conference, if you want to maximize the time for philosophical discussion and self-advertisement. And there is also a trade-off to think about: Should I go back to the hotel earlier to re-edit my slides or to sleep longer? And there might be some headache questions, such as: I will stay in Bob’s couch, and Bob is still discussing philosophy with others over beers. I just came to know Bob today. Should I tell him that I want to go back now?
  • Thank God, this is not Asia: No westerners would force you to drink alcoholic beverages, nor should you feel any peer-pressure to drink beers. Feel free to order juice or sparkling water even if everyone else orders a beer.
  • Watch out for dehydration if you drink too much alcohol.
  • Physical health:
  • Watch out for arthritis, especially when you work too hard and become too tired. It can be extremely painful, to the point that disrupts your sleep. It usually helps to take ibuprofen to reduce pain, but do ask your doctor. The best cure is to dine and sleep well.
  • Personal note: When I got arthritis the first time, my PhD supervisor said: “Congratulations, you are now a real PhD candidate!” He was joking, because the probability of getting arthritis seems to depend not just on one’s workload but also on one’s DNA.
  • When using your laptop, switch between mouse and trackpad. Consider learning how to switch between your two hands. If you also have a tablet, try to use it for some non-typing work (e.g. checking emails and looking for papers).
  • When you commute, walking is better than cycling, which is better than driving.
  • Remember: you won’t be young anymore.
  • Mental health:
  • Watch out for the pressure that comes from staying on the job market for too long. It could crush you.
  • Realize that there are good jobs you could find if you have to leave academia. For example: in grad school my backup career plan was that, if I was unable to find a sufficiently good job in philosophy on earth, I would go back to Taiwan, borrow some money, and run a cram school to teach college calculus. (Yes, the cram school industry in Taiwan is crazy and extends to preparation for grad school entrance examination.) This plan fits my love for mathematics and my need to make a living.
  • Realize that failure to get a job might be due to bad luck and might have little to do with your expertise. The hiring committee members are looking for not just a researcher or teacher, but also a philosophy friend they are happy to have around.
  • When waiting for results on the job market, most people would only be able to check email all day long without getting things done, and most people would question why they ever wanted to be a professional philosopher. It helps by going back to your research in order to refresh your memory about why you love philosophy.
  • Be sure to have some philosophy friends you can share your feelings with. It would be fantastic if your supervisor becomes one of your best philosophy friends.
  • Try to make your family members support your decision to study philosophy, even if they still think that you should study something else instead. It would be nice to have their spiritual support when on the job market.
  • If you have a romantic partner, let him/her know the kind of career you are pursuing as soon as possible. Romantic relationship could be the strongest support you could possibly have when you are on the job market. Dream, with your partner, about the life of working as a professor in a research university. This might be your strongest motivation for moving on.

Skype interview

  • At this point, you must have been very good at presenting your own work --- thanks to the experience of conference attendance.
  • So, tough questions are those you do not expect. Here are some examples that I encountered in real-life interviews:
  • E.g. Most philosophers are males, so how would you encourage female students in your class?
  • E.g. Can you teach history of analytic philosophy? (Oops, I did not prepare for this, but I cannot say I cannot teach!)
  • E.g. We know that you do not work on X, and our job ad does not mention teaching X, but can you teach X? (Then why didn't you mention this in your job ad?)
  • Internet connection might be unstable. If you do not completely understand the question you are asked, request clarification. Do not guess.

On-campus interview

  • I guess you will be very nervous during an on-campus interview. Worse, there are tricky issues about giving good advice:
  • Following a set of guidelines mechanically will probably make you look unnatural.
  • It is likely to be unhelpful if you follow the golden guideline “just be yourself” and ignore all the other guidelines you know. If you do that, you will probably only be able to keep in mind that “I should be myself” but become so nervous that you are still not yourself.
  • It is really so hard to give advice about this stage. But I will try my best.
  • Let’s start with distinguishing two modes:
  • Defence mode: defend your ideas, do it well, and do it until you die. People want to know if you have done your research well.
  • But note: you need to be a good philosopher and know your own work well before you can keep defending your ideas well in response to a sequence questions in real time.
  • What if someone discovers a subtle inconsistency between your ideas, or a natural counterexample to your view, that you have not thought of before? If you know your work well, you should be able to suggest possible ways out in real time. Don’t give up!
  • Friend mode: Recognize that there is no need to defend yourself immediately; do not only talk about your views; invite people to express their views. People want to know if you can be a good friend and a good colleague to work out things together. Note that you might be around for the next 30 years if you get tenured.
  • Timing:
  • Defence mode during job talk and Q&A.
  • Friend mode during lunch and dinner.
  • When meeting with faculty members in their offices: well... something in between these two modes.
  • I am not telling you to switch between those two modes mechanically. If you are a good conference participant, then you already have the ability to switch naturally and unconsciously. I mention those two modes because you might be so nervous during an on-campus interview, so much so that you are unable to manifest this switch ability, and that you are not yourself and just fall into the wrong mode at the wrong time. (I was that nervous during my very first on-campus interview for a tenure-track job.) So what to do?
  • You need practice, lots of practice, by conference attendance. An on-campus interview is like a conference in which you are the only speaker, the keynote speaker.
  • An on-campus interview is indeed like a one-day conference: you have breakfast with philosophers at 9:30 am, meet with philosophers whom you do not know not very much and talk about things philosophical or non-philosophical, eat lunch with philosophers, give a talk to philosophers, go to a bar with philosophers, eat dinner with philosophers, and return to your hotel room at 9:30 pm.
  • I believe that practice is the key to prevention of nervousness. You will be more of yourself when you are not nervous.
  • Have you discovered the “grand” practice scheme? You attend departmental talks and the accompanying drinking or eating events, as a practice to prepare for your conference attendance. And you attend conferences as a practice to prepare for your on-campus interview.
  • When meeting with the dean:
  • explain how your work is related to other departments (and, possibly, the dean’s department).

Miscellaneous

  • Features of different job markets:
  • US: Yes, this is the one that attracts most of the best people, probably because of the size of the market.
  • Europe: There are very few tenured jobs (exceptions: the Netherlands, …?).
  • Australia and UK: They do not have tenure-track jobs, but instead just short probation before tenure. But I heard that their tenure is "not so firm" compared to a US tenure.
  • Singapore and Hong Kong: The philosophy departments there are extremely international in terms of faculty members.
  • Taiwan: It might have one of the best jobs in the world: researcher at Academia Sinica, with tenure-track, no teaching duty, almost full-time research, but an unclear amount of administrative load (ask Tzu-wei Hung).
  • Even if you want to find a job in your home country, you might get paid more by showing that you've got an offer from a word-wide top university.
  • There are certainly other job markets in the world, such as Israel, China, Korea, and Japan, to name just a few. But I know little about them.
  • Watch out: Departments should protect their tenure-track, young assistant professors from unreasonable teaching or administrative load. But some departments in Asia may fail to follow this principle. If you are returning to your Asian home country to find a philosophy job, watch out.
  • The maximum teaching load in a research university should be 4 courses a year.

Omissions

  • How to do good research?
  • Ask your supervisor.
  • How to have the best of luck?
  • Ask your God(s) if you have one (or some).

Concluding remarks

If you feel depressed after reading this, go to do philosophy, do real philosophy, do more philosophy, and recall how much you love philosophy. I can assure that at least 95% of your PhD career will focus on doing philosophy, which is the fun part, and which is the reason why you want to get a job in philosophy. Only 5% or less of your PhD career will focus on doing something specifically for getting a job. Thank God. This is proof that God loves philosophers.

Feel free to drop me a note (ika@ucdavis.edu) if you have any question or comment.


[1] I thank David Sobel for reminding me of this. Omission of this was the greatest mistake I made in an earlier version.

[2] I regret that I did not practice enough at my department when doing a PhD. My first conference presentation was at the 2010 Graduate Conference at the University of Western Ontario. After the last talk of the first day, I wanted to return to my room and just be alone, but people were thinking about going to a bar on campus. At that time I had never been to a bar except with my closest friends who speak Taiwanese Hokkien or Mandarin Chinese, let alone going to a bar to talk about philosophy in English with people I came to know on that day. In Taiwan, my home country, college students going to a bar will be regarded as “bad people”. What’s worse, at that time, I was still trapped in the Asian (or Taiwanese, anyway) mindset that it is usually (but not always) a self-humiliation to make myself in the following situation: I claim or defend something in front of people whom I do not know much, and those people disagree. Today’s Hanti would say: “Come on, this is what we love to do in a bar, because we are doing philosophy, and it is good and even fun to have disagreement and know what other people think of your ideas.” On that occasion I turned out to resist that Asian mindset because I was so lucky: my PhD adviser was the keynote speaker of that graduate conference, so he told me, at that moment, that returning to my room was “not an option”. (This is his exact wording). And, you know, according to the Asian tradition, I was supposed to follow every advice of my “master” or “sifu” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sifu) . So I forced myself to go to the bar with people and talked about philosophy after the last talk of the first day. But I confess that, when people drank enough and were talking about where to eat for dinner, I left the bar, bought two cups of instant noodles, and returned to my room to enjoy being alone.

[3] I thank Julia Staffel for telling me this implementation strategy, which I have been following without recognizing.