Thursday, April 20, 2006

Can a Candidate with a non-English Ph.D. get a Philosophy Job in the U.S.?

I occasionally receive queries on how to get a job in the U.S. Here is my best guess on the matter. Further comments and suggestions are welcome.

The U.S. probably has the largest number of academic jobs of any country in the world, or at least the largest number of desirable academic jobs. So it is natural that some scholars with foreign Ph.D.’s consider applying for American academic jobs. What are the chances that they’ll get one, at least in philosophy?

If their Ph.D. is from the U.K., Canada, or Australia, their chances are roughly the same as people with equivalent American Ph.D.’s. Otherwise, their chances are relatively few. For one thing, few people know enough about non-English Ph.D.’s to assess their value relative to American Ph.D.’s.

The philosophy job market is competitive. Search committees are naturally risk averse, and candidates with a non-English Ph.D. are risky. Here are some possible concerns: Was their training rigorous enough? Is their research good enough? Can they relate successfully to their American colleagues? Can they teach well? Can they teach in English? Can they satisfy the constantly evolving demands and sensitivities of American undergraduates?

Even so, there are things such candidates can do to improve their chances.

1. If you are willing, consider getting a (good) Ph.D. in the U.S., U.K., Canada, or Australia, even if it’s your second Ph.D.

2. Publish in English, in well respected journals or with well respected publishing houses. (Publications in foreign languages are unlikely to help you get a job in the U.S.)

3. Go to meetings that include philosophers based in English-speaking countries (preferably U.S.) and make friends.

4. Try to get invited to visit departments in English-speaking countries (preferably U.S.), teach some courses there, and get good student evaluations. If you live in the U.S., get a temporary teaching job somewhere (even at a community college) and start accumulating good student evaluations. Perhaps invite one of your local faculty friends to observe what a good job you do while you teach, so they can write about it in their letter of recommendation.

5. Get letters of recommendation from people who know the American system, preferably people who work in English-speaking institutions. Make sure they explain why you are such an outstanding (i) scholar, (ii) teacher, and (iii) colleague (fun to talk to, person with integrity, etc.). Make sure they also explain anything that might appear weak from an American perspective (e.g., your knowledge of English).

6. Distinguish between research and teaching institutions and write different cover letters for each. Research institutions are looking for people with proven publication records in English in prestigious journals, and care a bit less about how well you teach. They might be turned off if you explain in too much detail how much you love teaching. Teaching institutions are just the opposite. They’d like to hear that your mission in life is teaching, and want to see less interest in research. They might be turned off if you stress your publications too much, because they might worry that you are not really committed to teaching.

7. Your cover letter should be as brief as possible—no longer than one page. It should explain the following: who you are, what your main achievements are, and why you are qualified for the position. Address everything in the job advertisement. E.g.: if they need you to teach Nepalese Philosophy, explain why you are qualified to do that. Also, address anything about you that might appear weird. E.g.: if you are a senior candidate applying for a junior position, explain whether you are prepared to be demoted in order to get the job.

8. In the dossier, give the best evidence you have that you can teach successfully in English. (Make sure some of the people who write you letters of recommendation address that.)

9. Writing sample: the best writing sample is a paper forthcoming in the best journal (or at least, a good journal) in your field. Next best is either a paper from the last couple of years in a good journal or a new (unpublished) but polished piece. Single-authored papers are much preferable than co-authored ones.

10. For research institutions, make sure it's clear that you are productive and have projects you are working on. On your CV, list the titles of your works "in progress".

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