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

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  1. Katie, it sounds like you have been accepted at some graduate program you like. Congratulations!

  2. One man said that he never sought tenure because a good man could not expect to be involved in academic affairs and remain alive. I think this guy invented the academy.