How To Win Friends and Influence Philosophers

I’ve just been reading Vincent Hendricks’s slides giving advice to graduate students on how to gain visibility in philosophy.  (Hat tip: Lemmings.)

 While I agree with some of this advice, I myself would advise students differently in some respects. 

I agree that keeping one’s CV and web page up to date is essential.  And, I would add, so is making sure your page makes you look good.  I don’t mean that you need to hire a web designer but that (for instance) you shouldn’t have a section headed ‘publications’ which lists a numbers of things which are not publications (e.g. drafts, unpublished conference talks).  It can come across as if you’re trying to be misleading, and people will notice. 

Also, I disagree with the advice to accept all kinds of invitations including requests to do grunt work.  While it is vital to accept as many invitations of the right sort as possible, it seems to me that students often spend a lot of time doing things which earn them no professional respect (such as taking out the garbage at conferences).  Networking requires you to talk philosophy with people at conferences; you can’t do it if you’re too busy running around cleaning up their lunch wrappings. 

Also, I would have cautioned against accepting certain kinds of invitation to review a book.  A book review takes a long time to write, considering how little weight reviews are given in assessing someone’s research record.  And getting one published in a third-rate journal is not going to get you noticed (worse, it might have a negative, is-that-the-best-(s)he-can-do, type of effect).  Your time would probably be better spent working on getting a paper ready to send to a good journal. 

Basically, I’m saying that being selective matters.  Taking every opportunity to talk at a conference, to help organize one, and to write to/co-operate with big names, etc., is a good idea.  But if you present yourself as someone who’s got nothing better to do than make tea and write book reviews for bad journals, people might think that’s true.

(Don’t get me wrong here: I’m not saying you shouldn’t be a good citizen by helping out at conferences and so on.  I’m just saying you don’t do yourself any favours by accepting all requests to do this sort of thing, at the expense of writing a good dissertation in a reasonable time frame and trying to get work published in good places.)

11 Replies to “How To Win Friends and Influence Philosophers”

  1. I agree totally with Carrie. Being selective matters. Reviews count for so little, I tend to think the only point of agreeing to do them is to get a free book. Certainly when I’m looking at job applicants, reviews are just white noise. Publishing papers should be selective too: publishing in bad journals is at best worthless, and I agree with Carrie that it can actively hurt you, because it might suggest that was the best place you could get it accepted.

    The graduate students one remembers from conferences are the ones who asked good questions and who were good in discussion, not the ones who made the tea. When hiring, we’re looking for good philosophers, not good servants.

    And to echo Carrie: of course one ought to do their fair share of making the tea at conferences etc. These things have to be done. But do them qua good citizen, not to get noticed; and don’t let yourself be put upon into doing more than your fair share, to the detriment of your ability to actually attend the conference.

    And yes: don’t list works in progress or papers under submission under ‘publications’. This seems to be becoming common, and I think it’s a terrible practice. It looks like you’re trying to pull a fast one – to make it look like you’ve got more published than you in fact have. By all means, list such things under a clearly separate heading, but heed the merits of disquotation and only list publications under ‘publications’.

  2. There’s a difference between what sorts of things will be noted down by the interview panel for jobs, and what sorts of things are a good way to get general “visibility” (which I guess was what the original slides were about). A book review that people read, and are impressed with, can certainly be a way of making people familiar with someone’s name. And I often google for book reviews when I’m considering reading something, to see what others thought, so I do end up reading quite a few. So I don’t think I’d be quite as decisive as Ross about these matters. It’d be interesting to see what others in the profession felt.

    (Also, I’ve often heard people recommend book reviews as a good way of getting used to/trained in the publication game, which is another way of justifying it as a good thing for grad students, besides visibility/good citizenship/direct job-prospect enhancement).

    I agree absolutely on the importance of keeping things up to date, and making sure that the CV doesn’t generate the wrong impressions.

  3. I don’t mean to hijack the thread, but I totally agree about not listing papers in progress or under submission under “Publications”. What’s up with that? I’ve seen it in an alarming number of cvs, and it makes a really bad impression. Did some placement advisor thought this was a good idea and then it spread or what?

  4. Many thanks for a terrific post, Carrie. I can only agree that a reputation of no more than fine tea making and writing short reviews for journals no one reads is something to avoid. However, I would like to dissent slightly, along lines perhaps shared by (2).

    For one thing, I can’t see why writing, say, one or two reviews is harmful for a student: if writing 500-1000 words once or twice over six years is thought to actually prevent someone from writing an article, then I suspect there is something else posing as the obstacle. Moreover, I do think writing a review or two (and I would argue only a review or two and no more) can be great, short practice for helping a graduate student begin to get in the habit of writing for the profession, not just a supervisory team and/or coursework (as I argue here: ). Of course, reviews do serve an additional purpose for those of us who write books: our publishers (and our employers) expect reviews will be produced discussing our books.

    But let me be more supportive of everything else you say (not that any disagreement on reviews is that great — I imagine we’re very similar in the end). I most certainly think graduate students should try to get noticed at conferences. The trick is doing this well. People are often needed to give out name tags, register, etc. and often graduate students take these roles. This can be fine —I always do it myself— but they should ensure to be out and about, rather than pinned to a desk all day. What is more, some graduate students think “good questions at a conference” is equal to “trying to destroy people presenting papers,” as if hyper-aggressive types make desirable colleagues. I think good questions —mixed with plenty of charity— can be a big plus. Graduate students sometimes fail to forget that a special factor we’re all looking for is who will make great colleagues, i.e. people we enjoy working beside. Remember this last point and success will follow.

  5. Some book reviews turn out to be more important than publications in the highest quality journals. Chomsky wrote such a review about 40 years ago, for instance, which almost single-handedly dethroned Harvard-style behaviorism, inter alia. (And it was motivated by more than just to ‘get a free book’ out of it). Content is what you’ll be remembered for if at all, not that you published in [journal exemplar here]. As it should be.

  6. tbrooks – I don’t think we disagree much if at all; it’s probably a good thing to do a couple of book reviews for good journals. But I can’t agree with the indiscriminate policy Hendricks recommends.

    Cory – surely the material point is that such influential book reviews are a very, very tiny percentage. (Though I’d be prepared to bet the number of great reviews that should be influential is much higher.) Sadly, from my experience of the philosophical grapevine, having published in [journal exemplar X] is far more likely to get you airtime than content (with honorable exceptions of course). What you get remembered for may be different to some extent – at least, I wasn’t making any claim about that.

  7. I totally concede that you can make a name for yourself by publishing debate changing reviews; but accepting any and all invitations to do reviews probably isn’t the best way of maximising your chances that this will happen.

    I completely agree with Thom about good questioning etiquette. Philosophy is not (or shouldn’t be) a blood sport; if you can’t make your point and remain collegiate, don’t bother.

  8. I must say, I am pleasantly surprised that a professor of philosophy would even bring up the subject of visibility; this kind of mentorship, common in some fields, is not mentorship I have witnessed much of in our field.

    I cannot resist making a plug for review-writing and wine-serving; every occasion on which I’ve done this seems to have yielded goods in my direction. Of course, the reviews had to be good – we don’t want negative attention! – but in my experience thus far, positive demeanor and activity is rarely harmful and often fun. Like most fun things, I find the only difficulty is limiting such activities enough to do less visible work (research, grading, etc.).

    I admit that, having just got tenure, I try less often to be visible.

  9. I’m surprised by how negative everyone seems to be about book reviews. Even Thom thinks that people should only write 1 every 3 years. Writing book reviews is a rewarding activity. Set aside the free book; if there is a new book in your field you really want to get to grips with, writing a book review is a good way of getting your thoughts in order. It’s not a distraction from philosophy; it’s part of the process. At least I find it so. I have written literally dozens in the past 6 years (I don’t keep track), and it certainly hasn’t prevented me from publishing.

  10. Hear, hear, Neil! And lest we not forget, we’re not (I assume) talking about unsolicited reviews which the young’un takes it upon him- or herself to write. Opportunities for book review, in my experience, rolled around on email listserves when needy philosopher-editors sent out general calls, or a particular publisher or editor noticed I was actively posting/blogging on the topic of a new book. So connections are also made with those philosopher-editors, who are usually senior philosophers in a position to contribute to one’s own development.

    All the more reason to encourage our students to join philosophical communities such as email listserves, especially if, like me, their otherwise excellent institutions are geographically isolated.

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