Saturday, 17 March 2012

The (Invited) Grad School Visit

Since I returned recently from an invited grad school visit (and I’ve organized a few visits for philosophy grad students before), I thought it would be interesting to talk about what you should expect, should your philosopher be in the same situation.

So, let’s say that your philosopher was just accepted into a grad program (or several!) and was invited to visit the department. It is the season for such things, after all. What sorts of things should you expect to occur at such department visits?

[Note: This information does not apply to potential grad students who decide, on their own, to just go and visit a program before they apply. Departments will not wine and dine someone, nor will they pay for travel expenses or make much of an effort unless they have already accepted this person into a program. This is not like an undergraduate campus visit].

1. Much wooing.

One of the most difficult mental things to handle (in my opinion) is to switch gears from being the applicant to being the pursued. As an applicant, your philosopher had to try—on several levels—to impress the socks off an admissions committee. Your philosopher was just competing with hundreds of other qualified applicants for only a few positions. Now, all of a sudden, the tides have changed and your philosopher has become the pursued.

Departments will likely treat your philosopher to the best restaurants, alcohol, and very nice hotels. They will inundate your philosopher with meetings with their star grad students and professors. Your philosopher may even receive regular phone calls from a certain professor with whom they particularly want to work.

For you, one of the best parts about this is that if you go along with your philosopher on this visit (as a spouse or partner), you will also be treated to some of the wining and dining. The department will likely not pay for your travel expenses, but they will try to treat you well once you get there, as you might have some influence on your philosopher.

Now, it may seem from this description that the department is being a bot dishonest by only showing your philosopher the best of everything. This is true; they are being somewhat dishonest. Encourage your philosopher to ask the grad students serious questions at vulnerable times (after there has been some drinking, for example) so as to get a better idea of the “truth” about a program.

2. Information overload

Your philosopher is going to be absolutely bombarded with information on this grad school visit. Here are some methods that I used to help me stay focused and not feel too overwhelmed:

- Make a list of questions beforehand (I noted on my questions which ones I wanted to ask of which groups of people in certain situations).
- Take notes (during presentations, when speaking with people one-on-one, at all times!)
- Review these notes at the end of each day or at breaks (there will be very few breaks during a day, though)

Really, with these methods I avoided feeling too rushed and tired (while all of the other grads visiting at the same time as me were definitely exhausted at the end of each day). Be willing to talk over each day’s information with your philosopher, but understand if they are just too tired to talk, too!

3. Interest over-sharing

Your philosopher will probably have to explain her/his interest areas to professors and grad students about 100 times every day of the visit. Seriously. By the end of my visit I wondered why we were not given placards with our interests to hang around our necks the whole time.

Your philosopher will be tired of talking.

4. A tour of the living areas of the city

You and/or your philosopher can almost always find someone in a grad program to give you a tour of the area, and they will have opinions about the best places to live. Take advantage of these sorts of opportunities! Grad students especially have figured out what sorts of cheap places are good or bad to live in. Take notes so that you can have some sort of idea of where you might want to/not want to live if your philosopher chooses to attend this program.

For those of you who have never had to try and find an apartment in a college town before: it is very tricky to figure out where to live in such places. Apartments know that they can charge high rents in areas close to campus because undergrads will live there—regardless of how yucky they are. Most universities have some sort of system of transportation that can enable you to live farther away from the campus. This is why asking current grad students about apartment living conditions in the area is so important, though, because they will know the best and worst places to live in town (and they will know which units are not favored by undergraduates, which are the quietest, and which are not infested with roaches!).

As a note: In my experience, grad student housing is almost always not worth it. GSH will be overpriced, boring (like living in a dorm room), and cheaply thrown together.

I hope this guide helps you and your philosopher as you begin to receive invitations to visit grad programs. I wish all of you well in this admissions season!

~The Philosiologist

You can follow me on twitter (@Philosiologist), friend me on facebook (Philosiologist Qed), or add me to your circle on Google+ (Philosiologist Qed). You can also send me an email (left sidebar).

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Small and Non-Exhaustive Academic Dictionary: Philosopher Edition

[Brief note: Your philosiologist is currently in that weird state of consciousness, which only comes about by being both on serious cold medicine and strong coffee at the same time. Forgive me for any strangeness today].

[Brief note #2: I will be out of town next week and may or may not compose my usual weekly entry on Saturday. I will be on a grad school visit—so excited!!!—so every single second of my day will probably be occupied with discussions, questions, and attempts to not embarrass myself. I will try to make it up to all of you with a post after I return].

[Brief note #3: I am so sorry that this post is so much more boring than usual. I am too nervous to really think about anything related to philosophy. Right now, I’m usually all of my powers to memorize key information about the department I’ll be visiting this week].

If you are in some sort of relationship with an academic philosopher (or an academic of any type), you will eventually need to know some of the “university lingo,” especially if you are coexisting with a philosopher. To save you some embarrassment, I’ve compiled some definitions of words thrown about in academia, and what they should mean to you.

1. Post-doctorate (post-doc): Usually a one-year, paid position in a department where the person does not have any teaching responsibilities but they have finished their PhD and are expected to publish, publish, publish. The goal is to use this year to get oneself into a better position in the job market. Being a post-doc is kind of fun, but the post-doc will be under constant scrutiny (and, thus, anxiety). The competition for these positions is intense, but not as intense as a tenure-track job. Earning a post-doc can elevate an academic’s job prospects, which is why an academic might turn down a tenure-track position to take a post-doc, as they are sure that they could get a better position after completing the post-doc.

2. Tenure: The coveted position and eventual goal of most academics in the university. When one earns tenure (after years of hard work), one is almost guaranteed that they will not be fired. Tenure = the ultimate job security. This is different than tenure in K-12 education, as university tenure requires so much more of a person, even after they receive tenure. The process to tenure usually goes as follows:
            a. Student finishes Ph.D. Perhaps takes a post-doc or goes directly into the job market.
            b. Ph.D. or post-doc is hired as an Assistant Professor on a tenure-track.
c. Assistant Professor works hard to publish and give papers at conferences for 6-ish years (with few committee responsibilities). They prepare and submit a huge portfolio of their work to a committee who reviews it in a long process. If the Assistant Prof “passes,” they earn tenure and are promoted to Associate Professor. If they “fail,” they are usually fired and live the rest of their lives with the shame of not earning tenure (and have little chance of ever landing another TT job).
d. The Associate Professor works even harder and is given more committee assignments.
e. An academic can be an Associate Professor for an indefinite period (or for the rest of their career, if they wish). If they choose, they can work hard to be promoted to Professor (by the same process, with no danger of firing), which means a higher pay scale and more committee assignments (and more prestige, more ability to publish, and fewer teaching assignments, as well as more grad students to supervise).

3. Tenure-Track Position (TT): A position that puts a person on the track to tenure. Without being hired on this track, a person cannot earn tenure.

4. Non-Tenure Track Position (NTT): A position that does not include career advancement or tenure. Person may be “re-hired” on a tenure-track eventually, but it is not likely. NTT positions pay much less than TT positions.

5. Visiting Professor: A NTT position. Sometimes, an academic will take this position in hopes that they can impress their colleagues enough to receive a TT offer. This is rare, and Visiting Professors generally end up doing lots of work (teaching) for very little pay and no assurance of tenure.

6. Annual Review: Most universities require that department heads/chairs look over the work, teaching, and service that each professor in the department has done in a year. These are important to make sure that work is distributed appropriately and that TT professors are on track to tenure.

7. Faculty Development Leave (FDL): Usually time off that is paid for by the university. A professor is supposed to use this time to publish ferociously. Most faculty take this time when they are working on a book. Indeed, if you read the acknowledgments of most philosophy books, they will thank a university or foundation for supporting them during FDL, which implies that it is extremely difficult to invest the time it takes to write a book without time off.

8. Jobs for Philosophers (JFP): An annual publication by the American Philosophical Association where institutions advertise any academic positions in their philosophy department. This has always been published on paper (it looks like a small newspaper), but JFP has been recently added online, too, though most philosophers believe that both the online and paper additions are poorly done. This does not keep job-seekers from ordering the paper or checking online.

These aren’t specific to philosophers, per se (except for JFP), but they are really important things to understand as your philosopher progresses in academia. So next time you wonder why your newly hired Assistant Professor friend (on a TT) seems so stressed out (after all, they just got a sweet job, which is really hard to do in philosophy!), remember that they’ve got a long way to go before they earn some job security.

~The Philosiologist

You can follow me on twitter (@Philosiologist), friend me on facebook (Philosiologist Qed), or add me to your circle on Google+ (Philosiologist Qed). You can also send me an email (left sidebar).

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Three Philosophers: How to Address Break-Taking

One of the most common questions (sometimes asked jokingly and sometimes seriously) non-philosophers ask of me is how to get philosophers out of their books and articles and into the outside world sometimes. I’ve danced around the issue for a while, addressing the issue in bits and pieces (such as my post on habitualness), but today let’s address it outright.

How can I make my philosopher go outside once and while?

I believe that what this question really infers is that (1) being tied up in one’s work all the time is unhealthy and (2) that philosophers never want to leave their work behind and take a break.

Before we proceed any further, I want to get clear on something. I believe that there are three types of philosophers in academic philosophy, and these types of philosophers respond differently to suggestions from us that they leave their work and take a break.

[Note: The most interesting part of this study is that it doesn’t matter what type of philosophy that your philosopher is in or how successful they are—these three types of philosophers are found across the field in all levels/types of philosophy].

Philosopher #1: Philosophy is Everything

This is not the most common type of philosopher, but it is the type we usually think of when we think about philosophers. The PE philosopher really only wants to think about, talk about, study, and breathe philosophy. The PE philosopher doesn’t have many interests outside of philosophy, because everything else just seems so bland, unpredictable, and/or meaningless. If the PE philosopher does have other interests, they will probably only have one or two, and they have somehow become experts in these interests.

If you were to suggest to the PE philosopher that they take a break from their work and try out some new interest, this philosopher becomes very baffled. “Why,” they might ask, “should I try doing something that does not interest me at all, when there is such interesting reading to be found in this book?” This PE philosopher is really, really happy in philosophy.

Philosopher #2: Philosophy is Compartmentalized

Surprisingly, this is actually one of the most common types of philosophers I’ve encountered. The PC philosopher has the ability to absolutely devote themselves to philosophy at certain times, and then at all other moments of their lives they do not talk about or interact with philosophy at all (they compartmentalize philosophy and other interests).

This type of philosopher tends to be interested in things that are completely different than philosophy. For example, the PC philosopher might spend a lot of time in physical activities, such as competitive dancing, biking, marathon-running, rock-climbing, or hiking. Some of the PC philosophers are really into pop-culture stuff, like entertainment, horror movies, and comic books. It might even look—to the untrained, non-philosopher eye—that the PC philosopher is not even really a philosopher at all (“When do they get their work done!”). The PC philosopher, though, can get down to work and get pages and pages of technical, difficult work done in a very short amount of time. Some of the most successful philosophers I’ve met are actually PC philosophers.

I don’t know that you would even broach the idea of taking a break from work with this type of philosopher, as they don’t usually seem that busy. If they do seem really busy, it’s often because they’ve put off their philosophy work until the last minute (and then manage to whip out some masterpiece in three hours).

Philosopher #3: Philosophy is Another Interest

The PAI philosopher is interested in just about everything—everything, that is, that is written about academically in books. [My philosopher is actually this type of philosopher]. This type of philosopher is even harder to get “outdoors” than the PE philosopher, because they find all of their joy and satisfaction in reading, listening to lectures, and watching documentaries about everything. Their interests have to correspond in some way to cognitive development. This PAI philosopher just sees philosophy as one game among many on the cognitive spectrum; it just happens to be the game they are best at right now.

The PAI philosopher responds to the suggestion to leave their cognitive activities behind with perplexity. “The world in books is so interesting. I need to know everything. How can doing this activity increase my knowledge?” The PAI philosopher can be “bribed” to go out with the promise of a trip to a bookstore or library, or the permission to order a new book online.

In conclusion, I do believe it is healthy to take a break of sorts from academic work at times (just consider what happened to JS Mill in his early twenties!), but philosophers are different and will respond to such requests with different reactions. You may find that you need to promise your participation in a philosophical discussion with the PE philosopher or let the PAI philosopher peruse some books at the conclusion of a new activity.

~The Philosiologist

You can follow me on twitter (@Philosiologist), friend me on facebook (Philosiologist Qed), or add me to your circle on Google+ (Philosiologist Qed). You can also send me an email (left sidebar).

Saturday, 18 February 2012

The Waiting Period: Graduate Admissions Survival

If you have a philosopher who happens to have applied to graduate schools this year, you are likely in thick of waiting. This waiting period is almost always intensely stressful for both you and your philosopher.

Depression during this waiting period can be exasperated by your philosopher, especially if they persist in checking their email frequently or if they insist on monitoring acceptances/rejections on online forums (such as gradcafe). This is especially dangerous for philosophers who are also working on MA theses (it’s the worst kind of distraction from work).

So how can you help alleviate the depressive effects of the application waiting period?

1. Make an alternate plan.

This may seem rather dreadful, but it will help both you and your philosopher if you develop a backup plan (what to do if your philosopher doesn’t get in anywhere). If your philosopher knows that they have alternate options—even if these aren’t ideal—then it might ease their mind a bit. For sure, having a backup plan can also do wonders for your mental health.

2. Reassure. Reassure. Reassure.

You will find yourself having to do lots of reassuring during this period. Prepare to be patient with your philosopher every time they descend into the slough of despond. Reassure your philosopher that they are really intelligent, they haven’t heard from every school yet, just because someone has been accepted on gradcafe doesn’t mean that all decisions are final, just because they didn’t get in this year doesn’t mean that they can never try again, etc. Just because they didn’t get into one of their lower-tier schools, doesn’t mean that they won’t get into an upper-tier school. Remind them. Here are two stories that might help your philosopher:

Story 1: A philosopher thought they had received rejections from every school to which they applied, as they had seen people post on gradcafe about each of their schools. Well guess what? An oversight had led to an acceptance letter—from their first school choice—either not being sent or being lost in the mail.

Story 2: An extremely intelligent philosopher received rejections from every place they applied one year. Instead of giving up, this philosopher applied to exactly the same places the next year and got in to several of them.

3. Bake treats.

This speaks for itself.

4. Distract your philosopher.

This is a good time to ply your philosopher with distractions. Help them train for a marathon; make a goal to watch all of the AFI top 100 movies; encourage them to prepare a paper for publication; refinish some furniture. Distractions are really necessary to keep your philosopher from being despondent sometimes.

When all else fails, direct them to Ph.D. comics.

~The Philosiologist

You can follow me on twitter (@Philosiologist), friend me on facebook (Philosiologist Qed), or add me to your circle on Google+ (Philosiologist Qed). You can also send me an email (left sidebar).

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Special Valentines' Day Post

I have a special entry today, for all you lovers of philosophers. First, I thought it might be fun to play a game I like to call “Poetry alterations in the name of parody.” Without further ado, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “To Harriet” (from “Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem”), altered [alterations in brackets].

[Imagine that this is a philosopher, speaking to Philosophy(n)].

“To [Philosophy]”

WHOSE is the [tenured university position] that, gleaming through the world,
   Wards off the poisonous arrow of its scorn?
       Whose is the warm and partial praise,
       Virtue's most sweet reward?

   Beneath whose [books] did my reviving soul
   Riper in truth and virtuous daring grow?
       Whose [syllogisms] have I gazed fondly on,
       And loved mankind the more?

   [Philosophy]! on thine:--thou wert my purer mind;
   Thou wert the inspiration of my song;
        Thine are these early wilding [articles in excellent journals],
        Though garlanded by me.

   Then press into thy breast this pledge of love;
   And know, though time may change and years may roll,
        Each [invited conference-lecture] gathered in my heart
        It consecrates to thine.

Now that I’ve butchered Shelley (shivering), I thought it might be fun to return to some of your questions. Remember that entry, way back in June, where I asked for questions from you to answer in a series of blog posts? Yeah, I never really got to all of them. Some of your questions were about relationships, either with philosophers or non-philosophers, so today seems like the sort of day where I should answer a few of them.

[Disclaimer: I am not an expert in love, but I am an expert in loving philosophers].

Do you have any thoughts on how a philosopher might present himself as to be more appealing qua philosopher to the opposite sex? (I'm guessing hint #1 would be "Stop using 'qua'!") I am most interested in a male philosopher appealing to females, but any thoughts on other permutations of the same issue would certainly be very interesting.


I’m having flashbacks of myself as a young teenager (awkwardly unattractive), reading all the books and articles I could find about making oneself attractive to a particular gender/subgroup of gender.

Very simply: there is not one universal way to make yourself more appealing to a group of people—no matter what gender or sexual orientation. Sure, you could go the physical route and try to win a date on your looks alone, but your looks will fade and your brilliant, philosophical mind will not.

Have you ever read J.S. & Harriet Mill’s On the Subjection of Women? In this text, the Mills say something to the effect of “Look, you can’t really understand a woman or womanhood until you understand all women—from different ethnicities, time periods, locations, at different occupations. The meager understanding that you have of women is based on your idea of who they are and what they should be.”

Now that my Mill-studying philosopher is cringing at my paraphrasing, in summation: Every woman is different. I can’t tell you how to attract a woman because each of us is attracted to different things.

If you want to attract a significant other, try to be in places where you will interact with all sorts of women. Join a book group. Be yourself. You will find that there are women out there who are not turned-off by philosophers, even if they use strange words and make us qualify every statement. Don’t spend your life trying to attract women—try to interact with and understand them. The rest will fall into place.

I was wondering what drew you to your philosopher. As a philosophy student, I often have a hard time connecting with people on a romantic level. And I've heard, from past romantic partners, that I'm often too logical and realistic, i.e., I'm not optimistic enough and I don't let myself fall in love as fast as they do. I know a lot of my colleagues feel the same as I do when it comes to a romantic relationship. So I just assume our philosophy training often gets in the way of having a romantic relationship, e.g., we over think things, or approach love very logically. Was your philosopher like this at first? If so, how did you stick it out?! Or are you exactly like your philosopher, to where it was not a problem? Hope this all made sense. I don't want to generalize that all philosophers are like this, but about 70% of my colleagues have discussed, and seem to have, the same problem. This is of course applied to dating a non-philosopher. I don't think we have ANY problems dating a philosopher :)

Short Answer.
I was attracted to the following qualities: his quick mind, his sense of humor, the ability he had to talk to anyone, his penchant for long and meaningful conversations, the amount of literature he had read, his blog, and (superficially) he was just the right height.

Long Answer.
My philosopher and I met in college, but we did not consider dating until a mutual friend convinced us that we would be a great match. He invited me to book club. After one night watching him at book club (and subsequent conversations in person and over email), I wanted to date him.

I am a practical person—pretty steady, though hot-headed about some things.  When my philosopher and I began dating, I was less practical and extremely shy. He is definitely more even-keeled and logical than me (it should be noted that he is an analytic philosopher). He was logical and careful from the beginning, but I always really liked it because I knew that he wouldn’t do anything irrational (he was a safe person).

One smart thing that my philosopher did was that he tried to be gentle with me (philosophically) at the beginning. It’s not that I couldn’t handle it or that I was less intelligent than him, but he wisely recognized that turning on the philosophy full force at the beginning—when I was not used to talking and reasoning in the same way, as I had not had his training—would make me defensive. He started with dropping in small moral dilemmas, and then worked up to harder stuff. I wouldn’t say that my philosopher was untrue to himself by “going slow” with philosophy, either.

One of the things my philosopher did (and still does, actually), is “test the waters” every so often with new bits of philosophy. He frequently asks me for permission before engaging me in philosophical discussion, and then we debrief at the end. These extra steps that he takes really keep me from feeling attacked, and they leave me with a better taste in my mouth about philosophy. This also works to my philosopher’s advantage, as if I feel better about philosophy, I will be more likely to “put up” with more philosophical discussions.

We spent almost our entire dating relationship over the phone, talking every night for hours. I took an advanced philosophy class to try and understand his life better (it was so hard!). He was a double-major in literature and philosophy, so he already had grounds for understanding me. The “secrets” to our relationship working were communication and understanding.

There really was no “sticking it out,” in the traditional sense. I’ve loved almost every minute with my philosopher. He is so easy to love.

I am definitely not a philosopher myself (my intro professor informed me, gently, that philosophy was not a major that I should ever consider).

I think the problem with philosophers finding dating partners and with non-philosophers who are unsuccessful at dating philosophers is often that you go looking for the wrong kind of person. Is it really so bad to date someone who isn’t as “exciting,” but who is a great conversational partner? The most successful philosopher-relationships I see are those between two intelligent people—usually in different disciplines.

Philosophers: There are many non-philosophers who would love to date you. Be gentle, but also be yourself. If you find that a potential partner “can’t handle” (in a reasonable way!) the philosophical part of you, then they probably aren’t the right person for you. On the other hand, though, don’t be that philosopher who always drives their dating partners into philosophical corners and attacks. I have no sympathy for you if you can’t get that part of yourself under control.

Oh, and don’t be all arrogant and show-offy and patronizing about being a philosopher. Really. It’s a total turn-off.

Non-Philosophers: Give philosophers a chance; they really mean well. It might help you to understand your philosopher better by taking an advanced philosophy class or by reading some basic stuff (I can give you some recommendations, if you want them).

One thing we non-philosophers sometimes don’t realize is really both the blessing and the curse of dating philosophers (my philosopher refers to this as “volatility”). On the one hand, philosophers are really fun to converse with, as they bring a degree of thoughtfulness to a conversation that is hard to find anywhere else. On the other hand, though, conversations with philosophers can quickly turn to attacks if we or they aren’t careful. The whole trick to getting along with a philosopher is learning how to balance the two (it takes work on both ends).

In conclusion, philosophers are wonderful, interesting life-partners! I am never sorry that I decided to (somehow) gather up enough courage to attend that book club meeting.

~The Philosiologist

You can follow me on twitter (@Philosiologist), friend me on facebook (Philosiologist Qed), or add me to your circle on Google+ (Philosiologist Qed). You can also send me an email (left sidebar). So, are you going to go out and snag yourself a philosopher this year?