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Friday, March 31, 2006

Job Seeking

A kind person has contributed an entry about me to Wikipedia. There I am in the categories 'living person' and '21st century philosophers'. I must say it's rather humbling to be mentioned alongside such august scholars, especially since were another category 'academics who have never had a permanent contract' to be formed, my name would unfortunately be included there too.

I had hoped to be able to report today that this condition would be very temporary. However, yet another interview has been and gone, and the signs aren't looking promising. The draining part of the job seeking process is that, with posts so extraordinarily thin on the ground, while you know your chances are slim, you still need to think yourself into the post and imagine integrating it into your life story. This one would have involved a significant shift of focus to my non-mathematical interests. I would have had to rechristen the blog 'Philosophy of Real Mathematics and Mental Health Ethics'.

There are plenty of us out there with a considerable range of experience of being interviewed, not that I feel in my case it makes me perform any better. Perhaps this experience could be put to some use. To reverse the tables if only briefly, isn't it about time that the interviewers and their chosen methods be assessed? When I talk to people in other professions they are flabbergasted to hear that an employer intending to take on a person for possibly 30 years, limits the contact time with a candidate to a 20 minute talk to faculty and a 20 minute interview with half a dozen people. This is the minimal British package interview. There are more elaborate ones, and I can recommend the History and Philosophy of Science department in Cambridge for also requiring candidates to pass between pairs of faculty for brief conversations. In the category of 'panel which had best prepared to ask good questions about your work', the winner for me by a stretch is Notre Dame, Indiana.


Bill Satzer said...

I am amazed that you should have any trouble finding a position considering your evident erudition and the wide readership of your book and blog. I hope this is a temporary condition and that you quickly find a position that suits your evident talents.

March 31, 2006 5:33 PM  
John Baez said...

I would be glad - I would always have been glad - to write something in This Week's Finds explaining why it's a calamity for the philosophy of mathematics that you don't have a position where you can think full-time about this subject. The only reason I haven't so far is the fear that it would embarrass you while not achieving the desired goal. Perhaps I've been stupidly mild-mannered. Perhaps I should go around to philosophers threatening to throttle them if they don't hire you.

It's a truly sad situation. It sucks. I suppose we should all take whatever satisfaction we can that you're not being imprisoned by an authoritarian regime, or starving in Africa, or being blown up by suicide bombers, or all the other things that happen to so many nice people. The universe is the nastiest most beautiful place there is.

In sadly few hours - 3:30 am - I'm getting picked up by a shuttle which will take me to an airport from which I'll fly to Chicago. I'll spend the next month and a half there talking to Peter May, Eugenia Cheng, Aaron Lauda and others about n-categories. I'll let you know how it goes.

Sigh... I feel guilty for having such a nice life.

April 01, 2006 6:38 AM  
Fabien Besnard said...

Dear David, I know how you feel. Don't know if it's a consolating thought, but the 20 minutes interview do not count that much. At least in my experience, people already made their choice beforehand in many cases. In one interview I'd been, some of the people were not even listening to me. I felt humiliated. They did not even think they had to be polite with me. The only thing I regret is not to have said to them what I thought... Of course I did not because I thought to have a chance. This is the worst to my mind : you're not in position to fight back... Disgusting...

April 01, 2006 9:22 PM  
Anonymous said...

"To reverse the tables if only briefly, isn't it about time that the interviewers and their chosen methods be assessed?"

At my institution, it is routine for the chair-person of the interview panel to end each interview with the question: Do you have any comments on the conduct of this interview?

It is not clear what would be a sensible response to this, since presumably the panel has yet to make a decision. In my experience on panels here, all but one candidate has said, "Everything was fine." The one exception said that he objected to the shallowness of the questions, which he felt had not probed his research area well enough. He was not successful.

Good luck in your own search.

April 02, 2006 2:07 PM  
daniela said...

I'm sorry you haven't find an academic position at the moment.
As soon you have it be sure you also have a Phd student (candidate) waiting for you!! Not everybody has one....
I'm the italian girl who contacted you last year during the Mykonos meeting.
Once again, good luck
Best Whishes,


April 02, 2006 5:10 PM  
david said...

Thanks everyone for the support. What you'd like to know before an interview is whether you have any realistic chance. What's disheartening is the thought that whatever you say won't make a difference. Perhaps they could inform you with comments like:
a) You're just invited to make up numbers;
b) There are two candidates we'd prefer, but if they turn out to have two heads, then we'll seriously consider you;
c) Half the panel like you a lot. Just give them enough to work with and you should get the job.

April 02, 2006 7:36 PM  
MathCogIdiocy said...

Checking in a bit late.

I would hope that you wouldn't have too much trouble finding a position. It actually never occurred to me that you weren't tenured or on a tenure track. After all anyone who makes me resurrect the french I learned 30 years ago just to read an entry ...

April 03, 2006 11:52 PM  
dennis said...


I do not know whether the following consideration applies to your case.

I suspect anyone attempting to address advanced mathematics inside philosophy faces a stiff uphill battle. I get the impression from my brief experience that professional philosophy is not in a good position to judge refereed papers, let alone substantial projects, which reference advanced mathematics (or even, for that matter, mathematics that is not all that advanced). All in all, I would guess that knowing advanced mathematics and writing philosophy about it puts one at a disadvantage within professional philosophy in terms such things as acceptance, currency, and authority. (This may be a skewed view due to my limited experience in philosophy.)

(I am, of course, not criticizing you, but, if I may so bold, the current matrix of concerns and priorities in professional philosophy.)


April 14, 2006 1:35 PM  

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