Why hire new PhDs over VAPs with better publication records?
Why hire new PhDs over VAPs with better publication records?




In our newest “how can we help you?” thread, a reader writes:

In response to the VAP Treadmill thread, Patrick said the following:

In addition, based on anecdotal evidence as well as comments I’ve read elsewhere on this issue: being a VAP and having a decent publication record doesn’t always trump a freshly minted PhD with a proportionate publication record. Ex. a VAP with 4 years post-PhD and 4-5 articles, in many cases, isn’t going to be appear exceptional compared to a new PhD from a ranked program who has just one publication. To be sure, some institutions value a seasoned junior person with bona fide teaching experience but this is definitely not the case everywhere.

I am glad Patrick said this, because it speaks to an impression I have had, which is that for whatever reason a VAP one, two, three years removed from the PhD, who has been able to publish while teaching what is likely a heavy-load, nevertheless does not look as shiny (‘exceptional’, promising) as the graduate student with fewer publications (maybe none) and less teaching experience (again, maybe none). What is making them shiny then, other than that they haven’t yet come out of the wrapper? It’s almost like the fact that one is not yet in a job counts in favor of people, whereas it counts against some (e.g. VAPs, lecturers, etc.).

The help I am requesting is for a good explanation of this phenomenon, which appears to me to be utterly biased and irrational (like so much of this process), and what a VAP is supposed to do keep their shine on, if, as Patrick says, apparently publishing isn’t going to do the trick.

Good question. One reader submitted the following reply:

Here’s just my guess as a person who got nothing the first year out, a teaching-intensive job in the second round, and a permanent one in the third round. One can publish a lot based on one’s dissertation. I have published 4 papers based on it. But at some point felt that I’m getting close to milking my dissertation dry. So I started another research project and published a paper from the new research project, and have one completed draft under review and several other papers to be written. I think this speaks to future publication potential, which is good for the prospects of tenure or this thing called REF. My guess is thus the worry about having published most of one’s dissertation but having less clear evidence for the potential of future publications would make one look less competitive compared to someone who seems to have a publishable but unpublished dissertation.

While I do think it’s a good idea to develop a research program beyond the dissertation if you are out a few years (and that this can indeed help one get a job), my sense is that this probably isn’t the best explanation of what is going on here. The most common explanation that I’ve heard of why some departments hire people just out of grad school with few (or no) publications is this. Top research departments (e.g. at R1’s) may be the most interested in one’s overall “promise” as a researcher, and whether one might be “the next big star.” Whereas candidates who are a few years out may have fine publication records, a “shiny new PhD” just out of a top program is less of a known quantity and thus “might be the next big thing.” In this regard, the phenomenon seems not all that unlike drafting top sports prospects out of college programs. Although even the best college athletes drafted have never played a single pro game (and many of them fail!), teams still draft them out of the mere hope (and possibility) that they will turn out to be a big star.

Now, I personally don’t think this is a good line of reasoning. As another reader wrote:

I was on a series of VAPs. And I was passed over a number of times. I had papers in PhilSci and Synthese and PSA. In one case, they were interviewing someone from an elite school who had been out two years with NO pubs … ZERO! In another case, someone was offered the job before me … now two decades later I have over 11 times the number of citations as this person. It is a sorry world. I have had a good career, but it has been hard all the way.

Fortunately, if there are any silver linings here, they are these. First, even though some programs hire people just out of grad school with few publications, other departments really want to see a robust publishing record. Second, my experience is that jobs at teaching-focused institutions care a great deal about teaching experience, and thus, all things being equal, are likely to prefer VAPs over new PhDs. Finally, in my experience there are many people just like this last commenter: job candidates who were passed over for new PhDs, but who ended up getting a good job and succeeding in the end. In fact, speaking from personal experience here, I think that as horrible as it was at the time, my long time on the job market was a bit of a blessing in disguise. If I had gotten a TT job right out of grad school, I think I probably would have failed. I didn’t know how to publish, nor did I really know how to teach all that well–let alone do both effectively at the same time. So, while it does indeed seem profoundly unfair, I’d just say to the OP: keep fighting the good fight. There are no guarantees in this unfair world, and there is a ton of luck involved on the academic market, but if you publish and teach well, good things can happen.

But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? It would be good, in particular, to hear from people on the hiring side of things.

Originally appeared on The Philosophers’ Cocoon Read More