Monday, August 17, 2009

What kind of person does well in a small philosophy department?

Is it possible to look at the survey data below and construct a description of the sort of person who would do well at a small philosophy department? Well, the data was hardly gathered from a scientifically respectable sample, and, even if it were, it would be a precarious endeavor to generalize from that data to an "ideal" faculty member in a small department, but perhaps looking at the concerns and, particulary, the advantages, it might be possible to make a first attempt.

Picking up on the questions I asked in the last post, I'm thinking about this question in the context of new folks on the job market. If you want to succeed in a small department, you should be the kind of person who... happy putting teaching ahead of scholarship on your priority list
...can handle a heavy teaching load content to be in a department that may not enjoy prestige on campus content to be a member of a "service" department--i.e., a dept. that serves other majors.
...enjoys forming close mentoring relationships with undergraduates
...can teach a wide variety of courses content to be the only person on your campus who works in your field
...can be happy without much, if any, intellectual engagement with campus colleagues
...can find intellectual stimulation interacting with people from different disciplines able to recruit majors, primarily through teaching engaging and interesting courses willing to advise a philosophy club or honorary society willing and able to serve on college committees and in other service capacities
...derives satisfaction from seeing students learn
...doesn't require professional accolades or prominence in the discipline
...enjoys learning about areas of philosophy you've never studied before
...enjoys the freedom to create new courses
...enjoys seeing the same students in multiple courses

Again, this is a rough list, and the imprecision of social science has to be borne in mind here. Doubtless there are people who thrive in small philosophy departments who have few, if any, of the above characteristics. But given what people in the survey said about what the advantages were, and what their concerns were, this seems to be at least a fair first pass at the sort of qualities needed by people who will be content working in small departments.

Other suggestions?


  1. I think it is a wonderful starting list. I think there should be some such context of being not the only person in the department, but one of, say, two in a department where the two philosophers are in completely different areas and the person realizes and doesn't mind having to contact others outside her department for help with papers.

    For example, in my department there are two philosophers. One is a philosopher of religion and the other (me) is in contemporary ethics and epistemology. And, to be honest, I know next to nothing about philosophy of religion. So, I cannot help my friend with his papers beyond the general comments about structure of the argument, etc, and vice versa. But this is not a bad thing. It has often proven very rewarding to have someone who is unfamiliar with the literature to look over the work. As well it keeps one in contact with people from other departments (and it has been my experience that they are in small departments as well). With all the technology we have, it is not a bad thing to be somewhat isolated. It can also be very rewarding. So, in order to do our own work, we do not have be surrounded by those who write on our issues and are intimately familiar with the literature we read. We can be around others far removed from our stuff and still produce and be intellectually stimulated. As I am daily with my department.

    Jim McBain
    Pittsburg State University