Placement GuideA Guide to the Job Market
Preparing yourself for the Job Market
Once a year, in the late spring, the Placement Director will hold a meeting to discuss job placement strategies and procedures. The first step towards a successful job search is to attend these annual meetings beginning early in your career. No amount of written material can substitute for the opportunity to ask questions about your own particular case, and to benefit from a variety of informed points of view.
In addition, the Professionalization Seminar run by the Director of Graduate Studies provides a crucial source of guidance about how to begin preparing for the job market during one’s graduate career. In that context, there are many things you should be doing as a graduate student to lay the groundwork for success on the job market. Here are just some suggestions:
1. Make an effort to get teaching experience in a wide range of courses. Save your teaching materials, evaluations, notes from students, etc., and encourage the professors you TA for to sit in on your sections and give you written evaluations and advice. If you have the opportunity to teach a course of your own, either at UCI or elsewhere, it will usually be in your best interests to take it.
2. Be sure to attend colloquium and conferences in the department. These events provide you with a opportunity to gain a broader perspective on contemporary philosophy. And they are an excellent context to develop a professional network and to interact with philosophers from outside the department.
3. Join and attend a meeting or two of the American Philosophical Association, to get a feel for the profession and to make contacts. If you have a paper that you and your advisor think might be suitable, go ahead and submit it as a contributed paper; speaking at a meeting will give you valuable experience and exposure.
4. Do the same for whatever speciality associations are relevant to your areas of research, and attend independent conferences and workshops when possible in your area. (Consider submitting papers that your and your advisor think suitable.) These smaller meetings are often an excellent opportunity to build one’s network of professional contacts.
5. If you write a paper discussing the work of a living philosopher that you think is particularly good, ask the person you wrote it for and your advisor about the advisability of contacting that philosopher about it. To prepare the ground for this sort of thing, it often helps to write to the person with a short question or two first, to demonstrate your interest in, familiarity with, and understanding of their work. If that goes well, you can offer to send the paper. If that goes well, you might eventually be in a position to ask for a letter of recommendation (and letters from people outside UCI are particularly helpful). Another way to make good contacts outside UCI is to attend seminars in your area at nearby institutions (UCSD, UCLA, USC, etc.).
6. If you have a paper you’re proud of, that your advisor and others like, consider sending it to a journal. Publications are extremely helpful on the market. Indeed, for better or worse, they’re becoming the rule rather than the exception in successful job searches. Here it is crucial to get advice about which journals would be good venues for your work, and about how much a publication in those journals would help you.
7. Be aware of your web presence. Goofy pictures or blog entries could come back to haunt if a potential employer takes a moment to run a search on your name. On the other hand, you should prepare and maintain a professional and informative web page on (or easily accessible from) the department of philosophy site.
8. Begin familiarizing yourself with the sorts of jobs that are being listed (e.g. on PhilJobs) early in your career. This will help you develop an intellectual profile that fits the sorts of positions that are currently being advertised.
Going on the market
Applying for jobs is a long process, which begins in the spring when you make the decision to go on the market, and lasts at least through the winter of the coming year. It requires a great deal of work and is emotionally draining. Some people find it possible to be very productive on other projects while applying for jobs for the first time, but this certainly isn’t the norm. Thus, it is important (if possible) to carefully consider whether you’re prepared to go on the market.
Being prepared to go on the market involves at least the following:
1. Your dissertation is nearing completion. This does not mean it is complete, only that it is in a position where it could be reliably brought to completion in a period of three or four months. Thus, while there can still be work to be done, the main lines of argument in the dissertation should be clear to you.
2. Your advisors are on board. The blessing of your advisors is very important for your success on the market; the more enthusiastic their blessing, the better.
Note that condition 1 effectively assumes that you will not make much progress on your dissertation while you are on the market. There are exceptions to this, of course, but experience suggests it is a reasonable guideline.
When you and your advisors decide the time has come, you’ll need to spend part of the summer preparing your dossier. You should have a complete draft of the dossier to your advisor and the Placement Committee by the early September, so it can be vetted and revised in good time. The relevant issues of Jobs for Philosophers will appear in October and November, and the deadlines for application can come as soon as two weeks thereafter. (Once you and your advisors have decided where you intend to apply, you should give a copy of this list to your letter writers.) Your dossier will include:
- Cover Letter: It’s worth preparing a substantial cover letter that serves to introduce the reader to the dossier: a summary of your research and teaching interests, perhaps noting where further information can be found. Especially outside the US, this may be the one item the dossier-scanners read, so you want to make it worth reading. You’re explaining why they should want to hire you. It’s okay if your letter runs over a page, but keep it under two. If you have special reasons to be interested in a particular job -- some emphasis in the department that you think you fit especially well, people there you might hope to work with, a geographic preference, etc. -- then you might consider taking the time to add a paragraph to your standard letter.
- Curriculum Vitae: There are no set rules on how these are prepared; the Placement Director will have some samples; many examples can be found on the web. Roughly speaking, Areas of Specialization (AOSs) are those in which you expect to do research and feel qualified to teach a graduate seminar. More than three may look implausible (although there are exceptions). Areas of Competence (AOCs) are areas in which you could teach an upper division undergraduate course. Here it would be reasonable to list four or five.You may want to prepare alternative versions of your CV depending on the AOSs and AOCs of the particular job. Your advisor and the Placement Director will help you with this.
- Dissertation Abstract: There are various ways of handling this: a short summary (1-2 paragraphs) on your CV, a longer chapter-by-chapter summary, perhaps included at the end of your CV, a separate chapter-by-chapter summary or a discussion included in your Research Statement. Talk this over with your advisor and the Placement Committee. No matter what, there should be at least a few sentences of summary somewhere on the CV and a longer overview of your dissertation research somewhere in your dossier. Whatever you write must be readable and accessible to those outside your AOS, and include enough motivation to get them interested. Keep in mind that these readers may not read the whole abstract, so put the punch lines up front and make it easy to skip around.
- Letters of Recommendation: You will need at least three letters of recommendation primarily about your research, and at least one (perhaps one of these, perhaps a separate letter) that addresses your teaching record and skills. Consult carefully with your advisor and the Placement Committee when deciding on potential letter writers. It’s standard practice to begin with members of your Doctoral Committee (as they will be best acquainted with you dissertation). If you’ve been in contact with well-known figures in the field, consult with your advisors on whether or not it would be appropriate to ask them for letter. Letter writers will need time to read, think and write, so make sure you contact them early and have all documents you expect them to read in their hands by the beginning of September. The Placement Director will, insofar as this is possible, vet your letters before they are sent out.
- Writing Sample: Your writing sample should be around 25 pages of the best work you have. It should not be a minimally re-worked chapter of your dissertation. It must be a free-standing article that works on its own. Indeed, there are special requirements on a good writing sample that do not always apply to free-standing articles. Thus, even if you have a highly polished article on your dissertation topic, this does not automatically mean that you have an effective writing sample. The writing sample is best viewed as a distinct sub-genre of the philosophical essay. The Placement Director will help prepare your writing sample to meet these demands.
- Teaching Information: At least one of your letter writers will be addressing your teaching directly; make sure you provide this person with whatever ammunition you can (teaching evaluations, syllabi, handouts, etc.). Include on your CV a list of all the courses you’ve TA’ed for or taught, making clear which are which. Many institutions will want to see a more elaborate Teaching Dossier; this should include syllabi, student evaluation data, and a Teaching Statement. You should discuss the details of this Dossier with your advisor and the Placement Director.
- Research Statement: For some positions and many post-docs, you will need to include a research statement that describes work-in-progress and/or future research plans.
Interviews and Campus Visits
Traditionally, hiring institutions scheduled interviews for the Eastern APA meeting in early January. A few institutions still follow this practice, but most interviews are now being scheduled via Skype. Nonetheless it’s probably wise to be prepared to be at the Eastern APA if necessary.
Interviews generally run from half an hour to an hour. The interviewers will be faculty members (and sometimes graduate students) with a wide range of expertise, often enough including no one in your AOS (that’s why they’re thinking of hiring you). Typically, interviewers begin by asking you to give a brief (five to ten minute) synopsis of your dissertation. This needs to be prepared, rehearsed and honed. Often enough, people will interrupt before you get through your entire spiel, so you should put the main points up front, then circle back and fill in at increasing levels of detail. It’s a good idea to practice describing your dissertation to everyone you know.
After the general discussion of your dissertation — during which people are trying to determine how good a philosopher you are, how good your thesis is, how good you are at explaining, what you’d be like as a teacher and colleague, etc. — you’ll then be asked about your teaching. The balance between research and teaching questions can very a great deal. With the Placement Director you’ll work through one or more mock interviews to help prepare you for this stage of the process.
If you’re successful at the interview stage, you’ll be called back for a campus visit, during which you’ll be asked to give a colloquium presentation (and possibly to do some teaching). The talk should be different from your writing sample, but could come from another chapter of your dissertation. The Placement Director will schedule a mock job talk at UCI to help you prepare for this.