Ever since this piece on the hiring process in philosophy was published in Inside Higher Ed, there has been a lot of discussion about the role that pedigree should play in hiring committees' decisions about job candidates (see here, here, and here). However, there has been little discussion about publications or, rather, discussions about publications have been about what kinds of publications are most helpful. The underlying assumption seems to be that publications in reputable journals are a good thing on the job market. Many people I know delay going on the market until they get a paper accepted somewhere reputable (I hear that there are some departments, usually departments with a particularly good pedigree or reputation, that encourage students not to publish).
Given that it seems to be common wisdom that publications are helpful, two anecdotes I heard in the past week or so scare me a little bit. Both anecdotes are about departments that were searching or are planning a search. Both departments see their department as mainly a teaching department, but they do have research requirements (I think 3/3 or 3/2 loads). Also, according to both anecdotes, these departments consider publications in top journals as counting against a candidate!
I can think of a couple reasons a department might see publications as counting against a candidate. One might be that a publication (or publications) in good journals indicate a level of ambition to do philosophical research and so indicate that candidates will not be happy with the amount of teaching they will be expected to do. Along these lines, departments might be worried that an unhappy candidate is more likely to leave, and if you are worried that the administration is not likely to replace the hire, you might aim to get someone you are confident will stay. Or, the department might take the candidate's research ambition as a reason for thinking that candidate won’t be the kind of colleague who will be fun to have around (all work and no play) or that the students will suffer because of it.
Another reason might be that the departments in question think that applicant’s with publications are likely to get “better” offers from more research oriented schools. Given this, the department thinks it better to aim for “more realistic” candidates.
With respect to these reasons, I think the second is a really bad reason to count publications against a candidate. Given the state of the job market, it seems unlikely to me that candidates with a publication are out of the reach of any department. This may be different with respect to candidates from NYU with four publications in J. Phil., but, at least with respect to the general population of applicants with publications, it seems true.
The first set of reasons might be good, if the inference from publications to strong research ambitions were a good one. Of course, we have good reason to think this inference isn’t good. While research ambitions would explain the publications on an applicant’s CV, so does the fact that the common wisdom with respect to publication is that publications help you get jobs.
I’m not sure if the anecdotes I mention generalize (someone get the experimental philosophers on it … ZING!). If discounting publications isn’t widespread, that is all to the good. If it is widespread, someone needs to tell us graduate students what we can do to alleviate the worries of the relevant departments. I, at least, would not count myself unlucky (in fact, quite the opposite) to get a job in a department like those I described. I did my undergrad work in a department with a heavy emphasis on teaching and was extremely pleased that there were extremely qualified philosophers there to guide me.
The fact, if it is a fact, that I have publications does not mean that I’ll neglect my teaching duties, or that I won’t go out to lunch or the pub with my colleagues. It just means that I had something (maybe) interesting to say and thought that putting it out there might improve my chances of landing a job in philosophy. Many of my colleagues, I’m sure, feel exactly the same.
John Basl is a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.