Thursday, December 13, 2007

Intellectual Agonistes

Another gem from a Philosophy Job Market Blog:

"So last year in the interview I had with a teaching school, I got the question, "Which do you see as your primary focus--teaching or research?" No problem, right? I'd gamed out that question before hand and I had what I thought was a pretty awesome answer.

I launched into my whole thing about how I didn't really accept the dichotomy of teaching and research. I was all about how I want my teaching to compliment my research by always forcing me to sharpen my knowledge of classic texts and ideas in the face of inquisitive young skeptics, and how I want my research to compliment my teaching by giving me fresh ideas to bring into the classroom and allowing me to model for my students the sort of curiosity I want them to learn in my class. So the thing about teaching and research is finding the right balance to make each compliment the other and blah, blah, fucking blah.

And the best thing about this answer is, I really think it's true. Maybe I'm an insufferable asswipe for buying into that shit, but I swear to god, I buy it all. So not only was I giving an awesome answer to the teaching/research, question, I even believed it. Holy shit, right? I figured I was hitting that one out of the park.

As it happens, I wasn't hitting it out of the park. I wasn't fouling the ball off, let alone connecting for a respectable base hit. I wasn't even striking out. No, I was standing at the plate with my eyes closed, swinging wildly at nothing in particular while I peed my pants for fear of getting hit by the ball.

No doubt, some schools would have eaten my answer up, but not the school I was interviewing with. The farther I got into my whole thing, the more the department chair's eyes narrowed and the less interested he got. By the time I was done, I knew I'd lost him. He'd asked whether teaching or research was my primary focus, and it was clear as day I'd lost him as soon the first word out of my mouth wasn't "teaching."

So I fucked up that interview. Oh, well. I'm still not changing my answer to that question." (Pseudonymous Grad Student, "I Made A Lot of Mistakes, In My Mind, In My Mind," A Philosophy Job Market Blog, Dec. 5, 2007).

And in the comments...

This advice to 'be yourself' is simply bad advice, since it presupposes that 'being yourself' with no job is preferable to 'compromising yourself' with some job. And no one thinks that's true -- except for the rare case where the job would actually make you miserable.

If the thought is 'Well there's nothing you could have done; they just didn't like your style," I can see the point. But it's just asinine to console job seekers with the thought that market conditions permit a strategy of such self-weeding.

The people who have good jobs but are drawn to this blog, as I am, by the pathos of reliving their earlier struggles need to remember better what those struggles involved. Don't forget how much you simply lucked into your job. Do remember your smarter, more deserving classmates who got a worse job or none.

The saddest thing about this profession is how normal it feels at each stage to assume that the weeding was warranted. It does look warranted, since some jobs permit and motivate lots of research and some nearly forbid it. (And likewise, in reverse, for teaching.) But we can all see, looking back at the people we know, that the weeding was thoroughly haphazard.

So yes, you do have a 'say' in where you wind up: like anyone, you too can be unjustly passed over for a job. (Anonymous, comment to the above, Dec. 6, 2007).


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