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December 05, 2006


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No one really wore sweatpants, right?

That's a pretty horrible list. Sanity in this line of work clearly is at a premium. Makes one slightly less bedazzled at one's brilliance for getting a job when you realize it comes down in part to basic civility etc. Not a gum snapper, don't pick my butt during job talks, etc...

(although, I will say, there could be a list for departments as well:

1) Don't say that your graduate program "isn't serious - is really mostly for spouses of those at other universities"

2) Hide the colleagues that will whack job talkers - each and everyone that comes through - with the same deeply ideosyncratic theoretical fixation. Hide graduate students likely to rush up after the talk for a private conversation in which they reveal that they, in fact, have written a work which anticipates and in fact renders obsolescent and useless your diss / book project.

3) don't leave your candidate to arrive at a train station in the middle of a blizzard, no cabs, miles from the hotel you've booked for him, such that he has to, like, steal the one cab that comes in a hour from an old lady screaming "I have a frigging job talk tomorrow! back off!" Yes, no one wants to go out in a blizzard, but seriously, it's kind of a nice touch not to abandon the candidate, commiserating only via cellphone. "Gosh, I hope you make it to your hotel..."

4) Make sure, um, you've actually made the hotel reservation at the hotel where you've told the candidate to transport himself through the blizzard...

5) In the Q&A,, don't call a job candidate a racist sexist and a classicist because his job talk dealt with a white male author.

That is all for now...


oops - in #5 I meant classist not classicist.


One more:

6) Don't call to reschedule a visit twice, the second time a week or so before the visit, and then become frustrated when the candidate already has other visits scheduled at that time. In particular, don't then accuse the candidate of "playing games with us" and "bullshitting."


CR--nice additions! I concur. A minimal degree of discretion means I need to wait a while before adding a few recommendations of my own.

Sweatpants: true story. Really happened.


Oh shoot, what the hell, here is one from the department side, but I don't adopt proper form: after Paul gave his job talk, a senior member of the department said, "I don't get it." Paul had to reexplain the whole thing. That reexplanation, though, might have actually gotten him the job--it showed he can respond to idiocy under pressure and is thus likely to be a patient teacher.


This is all very good advice, but I find myself very put off by the tone of the post. It strikes me that you're deeply hostile to those on the job market. Perhaps a little compassion is in order for those who have devoted themselves to the pursuit of higher education. These people have often pursued their degrees at great personal cost, accruing a tremendous amount of debt, and, unlike other lines of work, beginning their careers in their late twenties and early thirties. As they work to complete their dissertations, they watch friends and siblings jump into the work-a-day world, start families, buy houses, and pursue personal goals. Yet for them all of this has been put on hold in the pursuit of an uncertain goal. To make matters worse, the average graduate student in the humanities is perpetually asked why they would pursue graduate work, and they are often the butt of jokes having something of the form "would you like fries like that?" They know that for every position they are competing with between 100 and 300 candidates, and unless they are fortunate enough to do graduate work at a school like Princeton or Columbia, they will be fighting an uphill battle. In addition to this, they find themselves in an environment where teaching has increasingly been farmed out to adjuncts or part time professors who themselves lack little representation. One would think that such a practice is anathama to Marxist thought.

Given that finding an academic position in the United States is every bit as competitive as the NFL draft pick or getting legitimate work in Hollywood, I can see how it would be easy for people to clam up in interviews and perform poorly. After all, the stakes are high and these people are facing the possibility of either getting a position or beginning their lives ten years behind all their fellows as they strive to make it in the private sector and give up their dreams. Maybe we ought to show a little regard for the heroism of those who are willing to take such a great risk in the pursuit of enlightenment (teaching) and intellectual inquiry. I can't say that I've encountered what you describe here when I've sat on job committees.


Sinthome--I don't see the us/them in the way you do. The candidates are in the same position I've been in, that my colleagues have been in. Also, note, I begin by wondering if it's the fault of their program or circumstances. So, hostile? Not exactly, more like annoyed and put out. The suggestions I make are pretty much common sense, if one spends a little time thinking about it.

Also, am I hero? Are you? Is Paul? Because we are academics? My answer is no--not at all.

Also, I agree that the position of adjunct is anathema and actually spend a lot of time in faculty governance trying to eliminate those sorts of positions in favor of more tenure track lines.


Wow. Sweatpants.

Although that brings to mind another semi-related story. (This is not a job talk horror story - this place treated me very nicely).

I did a job talk at a canadian university, high second tier (not, say, U of T or UBC or McGill) where I had dinner with some charming people the evening after my talk. At one point, one of said people leaned across the table and intimated: "I hear at American universities, departments even council their grad students on what to wear to interviews..."

I've never felt like such a son of high-stakes American meritocracy as at that moment, there, in my test-driven suit (worn in on several occassions for mock interviews etc...) purchased especially for interviewing.

(The silly little story functions for me, in other words, as a reminder of my own willing entanglement in a economic system that otherwise I write against... Know what I mean? Work against complusion and viciousness, but I'm down deep as hopelessly careerist and calculating as they come. The paradox is that without these traits I'd likely be out of the game by now...)

Maybe this is hopelessly idiosyncratic and banal, but it means something to me...


I dread wearing an "interview suit"! The local marxist-cum-foucauldian accuses me of cultivating a poor style of dress - old cords or jeans and an equally old "hoodie." I suppose that isn't appropriate for interviews? I just can't see myself in the mid-range costume either: the pants, plain shirt/turtleneck and "sport" jacket.


Ah, the interview suit--a nightmare and not at all trivial or banal. We had a guy to a terrific interview in jeans a tweed jacket and dress shirt/no tie. Paul has even gone without the jacket--but with the turtleneck (part of his regular clothing rotation, so not a stretch).

I would not advise a hoodie. I think old cords or jeans with a jacket/'sports coat' or some sort of nice shirt or sweater would be ok. But, here it starts to run into the department/school--some places are more dressy, some areas with a discipline are more staid.

Back in the early 90s, an editor from Routledge told me that the only political scientists who knew how to dress, who were, in other words, somewhat hip or fashionable, were the theorists. Everyone else looked like an insurance salesperson.

For the men in political theory--particularly lefty, posty theory--it helps that the guys at the top of the food chain (Bill Connolly, Mike Shapiro) do not wear ties and only rarely 'sport coats.' Mike often wears jeans and nice short sleeved dress shirt (like the kinds worn in Mexico or Hawaii, but without floweres--it's also a 'dress up' look for men in the American Southwest).


Edward Said, from what I understand, used to give his grad students a very hard time for dressing badly. He was, I heard, a Brooks Brothers kind of guy.



I'm a long-time reader and occasional commenter, but this post infuriated me. I'm irritated and disappointed by your elitist whining here. A good friend of mine who recently entered the job market applied to over 150 positions (each, of course, requiring specific research and application letters) and received four interviews, half of which resulted in no offers. Worse, the offers he did receive put him in a position no better than his graduate school stipend. And he is publishing in the leading journals of our field. Not pending publication, currently published, alongside much more established names. What he doesn't have working for him is the Ivy league star-system network. I agree with Sinthome that you seem to have forgotten how much young academics risk for just the chance to participate in academia. So what if we're enthusiastic about our first book? Don't you want that sort of optimism and energy? The first book is the result of years of sacrifice and personal and financial insecurity. Hell, it's hard enough to get through the dissertation without comfy and established folks raining down jaded negativity on us.

And as for sweatpants: perhaps not the wisest interview attire, I agree, but I don't see your pal Zizek wearing much Armani:



.a.: why elitist whining? I don't see it. What do you mean big risk in entering academia? If you mean that the chances of getting a job are small, I agree. But that doesn't make a person a hero. Nor does it entitle a person to a job. I was neither entitled to a job nor heroic in getting one--if I accepted your view, I would have to think of myself as entitled and/or heroic and that would be elitist.

Also, I criticized the sense that the dissertation changes the world--not a first book. And, there is a difference between being excited about one's project (absolutely essential) and not having a perspective on one's project, particularly with regard to academia overall.

I know the system sucks--a good friend of mine has a great book, articles in the best places, and good contacts and still has never gotten a tenure track position.

But, really, I am not getting what you are saying here--what in my post really bothers you?

On Zizek--I assume that was an aside because I don't know how it links with the thread; he's not interviewing for jobs in the US.


In defense of my assertion that pursuing higher education is heroic, I think this is so because the person doing such work does so with knowledge that the chances are very low of actually getting a position and at great personal sacrifice, all in the name of values such as contributing to scholarship, the joys of intellectual inquiry, and the joys of teaching. We live in a society that tends to denegrate these values as they don't fit neatly with the drive of capital. Many of us could put our intelligence to use making enormous amounts of money and living lives of luxury, but clearly no one goes into academia to make money. I feel this resistance to the logic of capital and this ability to endorse an alternative set of values among both students and those fortunate souls that manage to get full time positions is indeed heroic. I don't see that a. made the assertion that it's heroic so you appear to be imputing claims to him/her.

I wasn't objecting to your suggestions and agree that they're common sense (although in my experience interviewing I've never come across candidates that behaved in this way). Were you exaggerating in this post, or have you really had candidates that behaved like this? All I'm saying is that maybe you could show a little compassion for what these people are going through (which doesn't equate to giving them a job).

With the exceptions of your remarks on clothing (which I agree is unacceptable), there just seems to be something deeply uncharitable about your interpretation of how these candidates are acting. In the case of the candidate giving one word answers, I can very easily see how it is easy for candidates to clam up when asked questions. Their future is passing before their eyes when they interview and they know that they only have one shot to represent themselves completely as a person and a scholar to persuade the interviewers to hire them. Lots of pressure. Perhaps part of our ethical duty as interviewers is to help place our candidates at ease so that we might better discover who they are. With regard to candidates that talk up their books and dissertations, what are they supposed to do? They know they're competing against others and that they must distinguish themselves. I agree that modesty and recognition are important, but it's also important for candidates not to be too modest, thereby giving the impression that they're vacuous and have no ideas. The interview is, after all, about their intellectual work, not the interviewers. From a Lacanian perspective, how we interpret others is just as telling as to our own desire and defenses as our statements about our own desires. Your remarks just don't strike me as very compassionate towards the difficult position candidates find themselves in.

As for your observations about candidates that talk about going elsewhere or who denegrate the program they're interviewing at, I agree completely. That's just plain idiotic.


The thing I find most troubling is your jump from these (presumably) specific and rather extreme cases of poor job applicants to general and pedantic "Advice to Graduate Students." As tenured faculty, the power dynamic is already in your favor, not the newly-minted Ph.D's. What's the point of perpetuating an ungenerous and snarky attitude here? Additionally, the only time I have seen excessive jobtalk rambling and cocky leg-swinging activity (and I have seen that), the culprits were already-established faculty attempting to make a lateral move from one tenure-track/tenured position to another.


Everything I mentioned above actually happened. These might be specific and extreme--but they all happened. Ungenerous? I don't see what kind of generosity should be bestowed on someone who, to use one of my examples, is rude to students and secretaries during her/his campus visit. Snarky? Ok--guilty. I thought it was funny. If others didn't, they didn't. I didn't want to adopt a tone of sincerity because I find that even more condescending in this case. I had more in mind a shared sense of horror--like, ohmygod, how can people act that way? Not everyone shares that view. Ok.

Sinthome--I don't see heroism here. People make a choice. I don't buy the huge self sacrifice. All sorts of people make choices for careers that are not motivated out of a desire to make as much money as possible. Some make choices that involve security. I don't have the disposition for sales--the riskiness, the possibility of not meeting quotas or expectations, the ability to get fired, etc. Unbelievably risky, in my estimation. Academics, if they survive the risky years, have job security that few have.

There is a difference between describing one's project with enthusiasm and acting as if one has changed the world.

I'm describing candidates interviewing for jobs. A successful job interview makes demands on a person--demands that are actually much less than what happens after they actually get the job. Why paper over this? Particularly with some kind of fantasy of the selfless, heroic, genius giving his all for the life of the mind?

Kareem Harper


this was a hot post *evil grin*


McKenzie Wark

For candidates: try not to get drunk at the faculty dinner.
For departments: try not to give the candidate food poisoning at the faculty dinner.

First one i witnessed, second one happened to me... (and i didn't get an offer)

I'm sorry, but candidates who clam up under pressure are not quite ready for the workforce. Will they also clam up in the classroom? At meetings?

I have sympathy for the person who suffers this, but when you are hiring, you are answerable to the needs of the students, your colleagues, the institution, as well as the candidate.


"I'm sorry, but candidates who clam up under pressure are not quite ready for the workforce. Will they also clam up in the classroom? At meetings?"

This is probably true. I haven't at all been trying to make a case that such candidates should be hired, just that maybe we could be a little more understanding and compassion. Two very different things. I agree that some of the things Jodi mentions are pretty egregious. Someone really wore sweatpants to one of the interviews, Jodi? Rudeness to students is also a thumbs down in my book. I'm more tolerant of a candidate talking up their work, so long as they aren't actively denegrating the work of those interviewing them-- "As my research shows, Jodi Dean's take on Zizek is nonsense." I guess I just had a hard time believing some of what she wrote in this post. Sweatpants?!?!

As for our responsibilities, some things come to mind that are pretty silly but, I think, important. If the interview is at a professional conference, interviews should not be conducted in hotel rooms where the candidate has to sit on a bed, or at round tables. The American Philosophical Association banned the former practice, the second practice still continues. I know it sounds silly, but if there's a large interview committee, round tables situate interviewers in the peripheral vision of the candidate and it's very difficult to make eye-contact with those whom one is addressing. In addition to Wark's observation about dinners, if it's an on-campus interview that lasts all day, don't use the restroom with the candidate! Give them their privacy. Somehow it just seems incestuous to engage in such basic bodily functions in the presence of those making a decision as to whether to give a candidate a job. I had a full day campus interview for one job and was not given a moment alone the entire day. I got the job, but there was something downright weird about having the two gentleman interviewing me right there at the next urinal.

It also strikes me as compassionate to avoid having dinners and lunches at places with heavy food such as Mexican restauraunts or Indian joints. And finally I think it's kind to be welcoming and opening. This puts the candidate at ease, providing a much better opportunity to get to know them and perhaps allowing better insight into who they are as they'll be more likely to open up and forget "canned" answers.


Thanks, Kareem!

Ken--food poisoning, egad! I can add some additional advice for department members: don't smack loudly on candy throughout the candidate's talk; don't get up and leave in the middle of the talk; don't look through your personal calender during the talk; don't paint your fingernails during the interview.

Sinthome--yes, sweatpants. The pants were loose at the bottom rather than with elastic, but they were still sweatpants (black or navy, I think, but I could be wrong about my recollection on that one).

On welcoming and open--sure, the department is trying to hire someone here, not turn people away. There can be jerks who can blow it for the rest of the department, reflecting badly on everyone else with their ill manners.

On talking up their work: what I have in mind is not someone describing her dissertation and the debate into which she is attempting to intervene. I have in mind something like: everyone else is wrong and my dissertation has shown this or, well, according to the new notion of space I develop in my dissertation, it's clear that blah, blah, blah, or 'oh, you are interested in X, I show in my dissertation that..." or "funny you should mention that, my dissertation begins with the lines....and then I say, and in the next paragraph I use the provocative yet ambiguous image of..."

Frankly, I would find someone who said my work on X is nonsense interesting--of course, I would, they would be talking about me. The attitude I'm criticizing involves the insularity and self-centeredness of the graduate student. In many ways, the graduate student needs this in order to get through the process. But, this same attitude makes for a poor junior faculty member. It suggest to me someone who isn't outside himself enough to think about the needs, mindset, place, etc of the students. And, such an attitude could indicate that the person as a professor would blame everything on the students for being too stupid to recognize his greatness.

McKenzie Wark

I'd be more forgiving of the sweatpants. A little gentle advice can fix a fashion mistake, but its a lot harder to make a teacher out of someone with no real interest, etc.


Ken--fair enough. But I still wonder what led or could lead to that choice. Weight gain and no time to shop? Abject graduate student poverty? No thought about what an interview means?


Was the student male or female? Perhaps, if a woman, she just had a child.


"The candidates are in the same position I've been in, that my colleagues have been in...."

Sounds like right-wing individualism to me.

Nobody is ever in the same position as another, especially in a job interview. Obviously, some candidates have degrees from elite institutions, and others do not. And some candidates were raised in working-class families without any college-educated relatives -- and never had anyone at all who could advise them in regard to those things that others in the academy assume to be common knowledge.


I'm, possibly excessively, hostile to attempts to portray a decision to go into academia as especially heroic, or risky, or self-sacrificing. They always seem to be based on a fantasy of the expected life of a college graduate.

Sinthome writes: "Many of us could put our intelligence to use making enormous amounts of money and living lives of luxury." Really? Straight out of an undergraduate arts degree? Being a graduate student strikes me as far more comfortable than the unemployment, insecure employment, or mind-numbing underemployment that faces most graduates going into non-academic employment, at least for their first few years (probably about as long as a postgraduate degree), and perhaps, depending on their luck, for their entire careers.

And claiming that a career in academia, that is to say, a career in which one will spend a fairly significant amount of time preparing people to become the functionaries of capital, is somehow "resisting the logic of capital" strikes me as more than a little absurd. I'm not trying to say that academic work is necessarily politically useless or reactionary; but at best it allows for some small and occassional chances to resist the logic of capital, it's not somehow exterior to capital in toto.


Can't a brilliant job talk, publications and a personable demeanor compensate for sweatpants?

I can't hear you; you're wearing sweatpants!


Re: "The attitude I'm criticizing involves the insularity and self-centeredness of the graduate student. . ."

I agree with this characterization of some coddled and spoiled grad students. It is important that such a post be explicit about the sorts of graduate students it is pointing to. It should also be accompanied by some bonafides from the poster, such as a history of sacrifice for one's degree and/or beliefs, and a history of living outside of a university, rearing children in less than secure circumstances and so on. Jodi certainly seems to have such a history, though I don't have enough information regarding how much of a struggle it was to get the PhD and the tenured position. Her post "APSA revisited: bring on the noise" and others also show an admirable level of sympathy with non-elite, non-tenured, non-secure people as well.

If accompaning bonafides are not there, then this kind of post could sound like it was written by a coddled, spoiled and perpetually juvenile graduate student who got the posh tenured position and resents the hoi polloi who disturb this tenured life with their unrefined manners.


"Really? Straight out of an undergraduate arts degree? Being a graduate student strikes me as far more comfortable than the unemployment, insecure employment, or mind-numbing underemployment that faces most graduates going into non-academic employment, at least for their first few years (probably about as long as a postgraduate degree), and perhaps, depending on their luck, for their entire careers."

Meh, I don't know what your stipend looked like, but $1200 a month living in a major city like Chicago while pursuing a highly uncertain career is far from comfortable. Many of those about me also accrued a good deal of student debt to supplement their income as well. In the mean time we watched our friends from undergrad go into engineering, business, and various medical fields such as nursing and begin their lives right out of undergrad. That, of course, is anecdotal but I personally haven't witnessed getting post-undergrad work as being uncertain in the way you describe. I will agree that those I know who went into the business world experienced a good deal of uncertain employment. My sister became a mortage loan officer right out of undergrad and made a great deal of money right off the bat, but has been through three jobs in that time due to lay-offs and, in one instance, corporate corruption like Enron (Worldcom).


I was pointing to your general attitude toward graduate students highlighted by statements like the following: “I was neither entitled to a job nor heroic in getting one--if I accepted your view, I would have to think of myself as entitled and/or heroic and that would be elitist.” Jodi, first, I wasn’t claiming heroics for every grad student on the market. Yes, your examples of job-candidate stupidity were worthy of criticism. Second, you are the tenured professor with the balance of power, and I have to look at your own CV for a minute here. You have a BA from Princeton and a PhD from Columbia. Ivy League (perhaps even, dare I say, elitist) networks play a huge role in fast-tracking people for jobs in humanities departments. Steve picked out a good quote above and I will use it again: "The candidates are in the same position I've been in, that my colleagues have been in...." Well, no, actually, the majority of candidates are NOT in the position you have been in for interviews. Many very worthy folks who are negotiating the market without the Ivy League handshake know very well they could go for another year or two without getting another chance to interview. Who wouldn’t choke up a bit in the interview process knowing that? Perhaps some acknowledgement of that divide is all I’m hoping for here.


on sweatpants--not a deal breaker at all; can definitely be compensated for with a great talk, skills, etc. still, not the best choice if one has a choice; the candidate was a woman but had not just had a child and the odds are against her being pregnant (although this is of course not impossible; I say odds are against because I saw her 5 months later at an academic meeting and there was no change in her appearance, although she was more dressed up for the meeting).

on class--I mention at the beginning that part of the problem may well come with grad programs not training their students; students who are first generation grad or even college students may need that preparation more than other students do; on the flipside, the privileged may also need that training/guidance so as to avoid coming across as insufferably arrogant.

candidates: I was talking about campus visits in this post. Let's be clear: hundreds of people don't make it to this stage. They don't make it to this stage for lots of different reasons--unimpressive graduate schools, boring dissertation topics, fields of interest and expertise that don't mesh with the needs of the program, a methodology counter to the interests/preferences of those reviewing the applications.

I know that I have been dismissed in advance for positions (more senior ones at this point) because of my approach/methods--a book on aliens made me too weird, working on Zizek seals the deal, too outside the mainstream. I know as well that I was pushed for a position at one place in order to make the other posty candidate look more mainstream; vis a vis, a liberal, for example, the candidate seemed radical; vis a vis me, he seemed balanced and an important bridging figure between different parts of the field. He got the job. I think the school made the right decision--but, I can say that because I already have tenure so my life doesn't depend on it.

Back to candidates--most who come through the door, who make the campus visit, have cvs that look a fair amount like mine. They might not be Ivy--Paul went to U of Michigan and U Wisconsin-Madison; actually, at this point, only one other person in my Dept has a PhD from an Ivy (Penn). But, yes, they have degrees from top programs (well ranked departments).

I think that a lot of graduate programs are rackets to earn money and prestige for a school. The programs have very little chance in placing their graduate students in tenure track jobs--and it's not fair to the students. If the students want to pursue a PhD anyway, they should be fully aware of their prospects and not delude themselves.

Another dilemma: some of the best schools turn out PhDs that are clones of the hegemonic tendencies in the discipline. Departments like mine are not interested in that. Yet, the schools that are turning out more interesting people may not be training them well, so when they apply, they don't know the foundations of their area, have problems making clear arguments (instead, one gets gestures and statements like 'questions should be asked about' or 'we need to look at' which unfortunately don't go any further and fail to deliver) etc. In the ideal world, one finds candidates that are well-trained and creative. That know their field but don't simply repeat it uncritically. This is harder than it might seem.


Arabica--bona fides? You mean I need to show that I have suffered in order to note those things that screw graduate students at the campus visit? I don't buy it. (To me, it relies on a notion of politics arising only out of identity and experience and I don't buy that either.)

Mannerss? It doesn't seem to me that my description above is about manners at all (although I am elitist enough to find smacking during a meal absolutely unbearable; unfortunately, is an attribute of some of my colleagues; I've never heard a job candidate smack).


"I think that a lot of graduate programs are rackets to earn money and prestige for a school. The programs have very little chance in placing their graduate students in tenure track jobs--and it's not fair to the students. If the students want to pursue a PhD anyway, they should be fully aware of their prospects and not delude themselves."

This is what concerns me. We're turning out more grad students than there are positions and increasingly we've temped out intellectual labor in the form of adjunct positions. This is the reality and every graduate student needs to be aware of it, but from a Marxist perspective it's obscene. I'm not suggesting that every graduate student is appropriate for every program-- many would be more appropriate for junior colleges --but it astounds me that student to position ratios are so low... Especially given that so many in academia (in the humanities and social sciences anyway) have something of a Marxist orientation. All of this makes me a little touchy when tone suggests that graduate students going on the market are being mocked, as it sounds a lot like arguments I hear from rightwing populists about how those upset that a factory is moving overseas or closing should just move or get a better education. I then think about all the things the graduate student goes through over the course of their education: perpetual anxiety from uncertainty of the outcome, putting personal lives on hold as they're often seen as "undatable" due to their poverty and uncertain future, mounting personal debt, dealing with primadona personalities in their faculty that don't make more of an effort to help land them a position and who sometimes make their dissertation work far more difficult than it has to be, and so on and so. There are a lot of boobs out there on the market, but my kneejerk reaction is to feel sympathy.

McKenzie Wark

I think the discussion flipped from one version of personalizing the problem (silly things grad students do in interviews) to another version of personalizing the problem (what elitists tenured faculty are).

But as Sintome is pointing out here there's a systemic aspect that one needs to look at. But that then changes the genre of the discussion.

It started out as anecdotal, and don't we all have anecdotes! (Hey, i was also blackballed on political grounds for one job, at least according to my 'spies'...)

From the anecdote it seems to me there's a wrong way and a right way to politicise the topic. The wrong way is the politics of resentment. Don't we all despise people with tenure, or with better jobs than ours, at better schools, or went to the Ivys, etc?

The right way, imho, is look for the system, the relations.

This incidentally, might also provide some tactics for people with good reasons to feel resentful. If one doesn't have a lot of cultural capital, and the letterhead of a famous school at one's disposal, what to do?

Bourdieu, in Homo Academicus, gives many examples of tactics for making one's way. France is a very different academic world, obviously, but its a book that is not without its uses.

"Anger is an energy", as John Lydon said. It's a question of turning resentment into cunning. In what way is being outside of 'privilege' a way of seeing what it is and how tp exploit its weaknesses?


You all are a little too close to the situation to view it with perspective.

Any process that produces excellence uses a mass to distill.

I didn't choose academia, I ended up in business, and it's the damn same everywhere.

For all the talk about proletarians (not that there is all that much), when you see a group that in our age of knowledge production is treated as such, we are shocked, just shocked.

I agree that we should always treat people with respect; I hope that as established academics you advise your students that the chances of becoming a celebrity is pretty low, but still don't wear a hoody and sweatpants to the interview with the man.


Vow! It made me rather anxious reading these comments. To be self-centered, I put myself in an interview of humanities professors, asking me questions about all of the things "I think".
Dear professors, I did this, published that - is not that enough? For enginners, corporations and small companies frequently ask brainteasers. I hate it, too. The reason is not that I am so stupid that I cannot use my brain, but I cannot admit being used as commodity, who has to show its immaterial capability. I did this and that should be enough, whwther you like it or not. And yeha, this is much more comfortable and lazy life...
One of my wealthy and good friend had told me his rich father's saying: "People who cannot be anything. can only become professors or leftists". Yeah, we should be proud of being "nothing".


"Meh, I don't know what your stipend looked like, but $1200 a month living in a major city like Chicago while pursuing a highly uncertain career is far from comfortable."

I am a graduate student in Chicago, living on probably just under $1200 as a TA and knowing many others who do the same. Yes, it's not a lot of money, but to say it's "far from comfortable" seems an exagerration, but then your definition of "comfortable" might be different from my own. "Comfortable," for me, means having a roof over my head, food on my plate, clothes on my back, and the chance to pursue a graduate education while my peers have already entered the "real" world.

And as a graduate student, I didn't feel offended or put off by any of Jodi's statements. I'm not so naive to think academia is much different from any other competitive job market. A "trial by fire" (though having to be polite and considerate is hardly fire) might be the best way to ensure quality educators.


Candice--if you are in political science, please apply for a job at my college!


The issue was never one of whether graduate students should be polite, as nearly every post indicated. They should be and this is good advice. Nor is there any excuse for lying on applications. The issue was about structural issues in higher education pertaining to the admitting too many students to graduate programs and farming out academic positions to associates or the temping of intellectual labor. Jodi, I'm not sure why you would invite someone to apply to your college just because they agree with you, unless you already know something about Candice's skills as a teacher and her research. Perhaps you know something about Candice that others do not? Or perhaps you're not as merit-based/egalitarian in your evaluations as you've let on in the past. I hope it's the former.

Candice, I'm glad you're comfortable, but the issue I was referring to was one of job security in the future. As you're well aware, that stipend you're living on lasts two to four years. It is indeed a privilege, I agree. All that concerns me is the question of whether those who undertake graduate work and complete that work will have positions at the end of their schooling. If you have completed your work and successfully defended your dissertation, it is my belief that you deserve gainful employment with benefits at an instutition of higher learning unless *you* choose otherwise. If you are not fit for that work then you shouldn't have been admitted into a graduate program in the first place or you shouldn't have been granted a graduate degree. In saying this, I do not mean to imply that you should be at a major research institution or an ivy league school or at a liberal arts college such as where Jodi teaches. Jodi, I understand that as chair of your department you have to select candidates according to what is best for your program and the mission of your program. I do, however, wonder about how you're screening candidates such that you're getting these sorts of interviews. I can't say that I've had similar experiences when I've sat on selection committees, but perhaps I've been lucky. I think Wark puts it best when he points out that the issue is a systematic one, and I was objecting to a certain glee or jouissance I detected in your evaluation of these candidates, when I think that these candidates very much deserve sympathy as they are victims of a system that you've acknowledged as often being a cash cow of universities.

I do not believe we should be training and graduating people in graduate degrees if we do not believe these people are qualified for their jobs. Jodi has claimed that she's a socialist and argued pretty vigorously for socialist principles. Well as I see it, adjuncts and graduate students newly on the market are the proletariat in this case. While it is perfectly legitimate for Jodi as chair of her department to reject certain candidates as unsuitable, I believe she should nonetheless be more cognizant in her remarks about the plight of graduate students entering a harsh and unjust market.


Or to put it a bit differently, why is this so glibly being accepted by anyone claiming to be a socialist?:

"I'm not so naive to think academia is much different from any other competitive job market"


Jodi - since you are recruiting on your blog now... in your estimation, how open are political science departments to giving interviews/jobs to - or even considering applications from - those from outside the discipline. (Often jobs are listed in a primary discipline or "in a related field.") While I don't doubt that there are many qualified people doing doctorates in political theory, do they have a monopoly on jobs in political theory? That is, how likely is an application from someone doing their degree in social theory and political sociology to be taken by a political science department? (Part of the problem, I suppose, is that political theory as such is a conservative discipline in Canada, at least insofar as the political science departments are concerned - three PhD programs are strongly Straussian - with the result that in order to do a PhD in social or political theory in Canada, you have to do it in an interdisciplinary or sociology department. Mind you, my own personal preference is to remain in Canada.)


Sinthome--re my response to Candace--um, perhaps you can lighten up a bit, that was meant as an enthusiastic tongue in cheek remark.

Craig--unfortunately, the norm in my department is highly disciplinary; this has been an issue in a variety of instances, like folks with a PhD from Berkeley Rhetoric, with law degrees, or with degrees in public policy. It's very hard to get them through the department. As I see it, we need a larger critical mass to push the issue. Fortunately, other schools are more open. One of the theorists at Johns Hopkins, for example, has her degree from the Berkeley rhetoric department. And, my advisor in political theory at Columbia was actually a PhD in sociology who had been hired as a political theorist. The reverse also held: one of the political theorists at Columbia went on to accept a job in sociology at UC San Diego.

Back to Sinthome--I'm not chair anymore, thank goodness. It's a rotating position. Paul will be chair next year. My constant complaining about being a bureaucratic is because I'm the head of a standing committee, a position which, weirdly, makes me an officer of the colleges, and some kind of chief executive officer of the faculty. The reality is course releases, lots of meetings, and the privilege of herding cats and being blamed for all sorts of different things (lack of office space, inadequate secretarial support, too few tenure lines, caps on senior faculty salaries etc).

On screening candidates--we've been wondering about that, too. Some think we haven't screened for a liberal arts background. I don't think that's it--very few of us have anything like a liberal arts background. Others think we are looking too much at the margins of the discipline (these are the people I tend to like), but that's not it either. I still can't account for it. ALthough, as I mention in the post, I'm consolidating 10 years of interviews in one list (we've had 6 candidates this year thus far).

Additionally, against your 'fit for work' bit--I don't think of PhD degrees as the same as trade degrees (MBAs, JDs, MDs). A PhD should establish expertise. But expertise isn't enough if the job is teaching and research. There are no guarantees.

And, victims? Really? I don't buy it. When you go to graduate school in the humanities (political theory is technically in the social sciences, but that doesn't really matter since we are the edge of political science), you know that you have a less than a 25% chance at a tenure track job in a 4 year college or university. You don't go for the career. You go out of passionate idiocy, because you can't think of yourself as doing anything else. If you get a job, it is an extraordinary privilege. You are not entitled to it--in the US no one is entitled to work. That's one of our problems--the Soviet constitution actually had a right to work. We don't.


I looked over your original post and the ensuing discussion and I think I've been a lot harder on you than I should have been, as your original remarks were pretty innocent and obvious. I think I condensed my frustrations with how academia has been colonized by corporately oriented administrations into your claims. I hope you didn't take my remarks to suggest you were doing this. And you know I'm on the market again this year even though my job is secure, so I'm sensitive to these issues. I guess I have to watch my own transference, eh, as I respect you and your program and would hate to perform in some of the ways you describe or be on the receiving end of those evaluations. As for this:

"And, victims? Really? I don't buy it. When you go to graduate school in the humanities (political theory is technically in the social sciences, but that doesn't really matter since we are the edge of political science), you know that you have a less than a 25% chance at a tenure track job in a 4 year college or university. You don't go for the career. You go out of passionate idiocy, because you can't think of yourself as doing anything else. If you get a job, it is an extraordinary privilege. You are not entitled to it--in the US no one is entitled to work. That's one of our problems--the Soviet constitution actually had a right to work. We don't."

Right, I agree. We all know this. My question is more why it is this way. I recall "dinosaurs" in my own graduate program, for whom it seemed sufficient just for them to get a PhD to land a marvellous position. It's astonishing to me that the average graduate student is now expected to have publications in respected journals and presentations in order to land a job.

As for your candidates, you have a lot more experience with this than me. I've only sat on a couple of search committees and we've never been so fortunate as to screen six candidates at a time. At least you're getting all those nice meals!


Sinthome--thanks. Re meals: Paul has gained 5 pounds. And good luck on your job front. If you are applying in philosophy departments, I expect that this is quite challenging given the dominance of analytic approaches. I would think, though, that your strength in the history of philosophy, that is, your knowledge of the Greeks, say, would be an asset.

Our philosophy department is hiring in TT lines this year and next year. This year it seems that they are basically converting the ongoing position of the person who's been teaching for 5-6 years (despite the fact that they are conducting a search). She was hit by a car this fall (in front of our library)--and they've promised to wait on a decision until she can walk again. My recollection is that the position is both traditionally described--metaphysics, maybe--and combines an interest in issues or topics courses like environmental philosophy.

The other position they first described as epistemology with an ability to teach a course in philosophy and feminism. This changed in the context of conversations with my committee (it's called the Committee on the Faculty; there is another one that deals more directly with curriculum. Both together advise the provost on which departments and programs get lines). At any rate, I was pushy (more than I should have been) and insisted on a feminist philosophy line with an emphasis on epistemology and a strong possibility of doing continental. The department's big worry was finding someone they could talk to and understand. They didn't want someone who thought that everything they all did was wrong--but I think that really meant that they don't want a person they can't recognize as a philosopher.

Dinosaurs v. new life--why is it this way? I think the answer is easy--tenure.

My sense is that a number of liberal arts colleges are in the same position as HWS. A bunch of folks were hired in the late 60s and early 70s. These folks are hitting retirement age and now there is more hiring going on than say, 10 years ago. At the same time, this is constrained for all sorts of financial reasons--cut backs on government tuition aid, cut backs on various sorts of federal funding programs, etc. Except for the flagship schools in the state systems (and even these to an extent), many universities come under all sorts of cost-cutting demands and constraints. And, we know how they meet them: adjuncts, on the one hand, and larger classes on the other hand.

With more PhDs being produced, programs and departments have a broader field of choice. So, they become more selective and have higher expectations.

Another reason for expecting folks at hire to have articles: ABDS and new PhDs are competing with folks who have been out 3-5 years. These folks generally do have publications. Maybe they have been on postdocs or in a series of 1 year temporary positions. But they know that their life depends on getting that TT job.

Two years ago when we hired someone to replace me in a one year position we had nearly 100 applications. Paul and I adopted a rule of thumb: include on the short list those who need to remain in the game, who are at risk of losing their chance. This meant, no ABDs because they were still in the student slots. The new PhDs were the ones with no place to go if they didn't get a job.


As someone who applied for the one-year to replace you, I'm happy to learn of your "rule of thumb": keep the new Ph.D's in the game.

I agree it's a good rule, though I wondered if there wasn't a bit of nepotism going on as well, even though L.T. is good as well as hilarious.


On nepotism--that's tricky. We wanted somebody who did contemporary continental theory and were pretty interested in finding someone who knew Deleuze. Since Paul and I were staying around town, we would benefit from the conversations. Also, our students never get any Deleuze since I can't teach it. It was also the case that we were not inclined to pick anyone doing Rawlsy-ish stuff since that's what our students get in the philosophy department.

We couldn't write the ad this way--it wouldn't get through the department and it could potentially give us a way, way too limited field of candidates.

So, with these ideas in mind, it's not surprising that the graduate students of our friends would look very good to us. For me, it was like continuing and intensifying a conversation that occurs in texts and every year at APSA. So, this did give an advantage to the grad students of our friends.

I'll add something else here: we wanted to support a particular way of doing political theory in the context of the methodology battles in political science. Lots of places won't look at theorists who do contemporary continental, particularly those who combine Deleuze and phenomenology.

And, one last thing, getting the grad students of our friends (those who share our way of thinking about political science) on the short list doesn't mean they get the jobs. These folks can look great coming in and then have real problems at the interview stage (see the post above--although this doesn't apply to anyone who interviewed for the theory job).


In Britain in the 1970s, members of most far left political organisations were obliged to work on the factory floor - even those with first class honours degrees from Oxford, Cambridge etc. Why don't these Marxist graduate students who can't get teaching jobs go into the contemporary factories (call centres, etc) and start putting, say, Zizek to active use? (Note: this is not intended to denigrate the work done on Zizek, Deleuze etc. by those who have managed to get employment in the academic world.) You know, I'd be interested to see if Zizek's Svjekism could become an organised alternative to trade unionism...

Anyway, as someone who has recently made the mistake of going to grad school (thankfully only at the Master's level) I enjoyed reading this discussion.

John Reeve

"You know, I'd be interested to see if Zizek's Svjekism could become an organised alternative to trade unionism..."

Well, I did that when I graduated with my BA in Philosophy. There just aren't many jobs in the TX panhandle where they take you seriously if you have a degree like that.

So I started at a factory refinishing large aircraft, but found that working 12 hour shifts wiping crap off airplanes with buckets of acetone five days a week was unconducive to contemplation... though the two months I was there did teach me aboput as much as I learned at the university, minus the rigorus reading schedule.

I found the prospect of working a six day week at the facility --the management decided we call all use the extra overtime-- unconducive to having a life (in the most biological sense), so I quit.

The call center I went to next wasn't any more conducive to organization. The workers were better at whining to get minor concessions from management, but in order to work there, I had to lie to people over the phone and shill products that no one needs.

The worse part was being unable to have anything to write or even doodle on, as it was forbidden by my overseer (probably because I suck at selling things).

Frankly, even if I was forced to get out of academics enitrely (though I'm optimistic about my job prospects, even as I am ABD), at least my time in graduate school was a respite from the terrible expereinces of day to day labor.

But most of the people I encountered working here in Texas are openly hostile to even the suggestion of any organization among workers (especially by floofy college kids), and it would be very difficult to convince them otherwise.


Well, it was one example of how the academic world shouldn't be viewed as the only place in which theory can be put to work. But, yes, I take your point - most people aren't interested in organised resistance, they just want to escape the workplace and get home to their families or down to the local bar or whatever... in fact, the only reason I did my undergrad (at age 26) was to escape a bad call centre job.

But, still, if such defeatism is the reality of our situation, then that makes all this academic Marxism (or post-Marxism or whatever) look seriously out-of-touch.

J. Maggio

I found this post to be both entertaining and helpful.

I should note that "wearing sweat-pants" is the least of my concerns when I interview people. (I worked at a legal consulting firm in my pre-academic life.) A person's attitude is much more important than his/her attire.

The line about "one-word answers being mysterious" was hilarious.



hi Jodi,
I liked the post. I thought it was funny, and at least slightly useful re: job market tips. I started a comment re: the discussion but it got too long so I put it up at mine. One other piece of advice for grad students:

When attending a job talk, remember that it will be you up there some day. Don't throw curve balls and don't shit-talk afterward, or you will deserve these when they get done to you during your time on the hot seat.

take care,

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