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The annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, APSA, takes place every Labor Day weekend, beginning on Thursday and going through Sunday. When I lived in Seattle, I this annoyed me primarily because of the conflict with Bumbershoot, an excellent music festival that took place over that holiday weekend. I’ve occasionally heard people grumble about the timing of the conference, for a variety of reasons–it created more conflicts than necessary, the cost of flights, trains and hotel rooms are generally a bit higher, and the timing of the conference often meant having to cancel a class during the first week of the term for many people on the Semester calendar. I’m inclined to agree with all three of these arguments, and as such view the scheduling of APSA as suboptimal. So when I saw this petition circulating on facebook, I figured why not and clicked through with the intent to add my name. After reading it, however, I decided not to do so. Reasons #1 and #3 are sound, but #2 is not:

2)  The Academic Job Market.  Due to its timing, the APSA Annual Meeting does not play as useful a role in the academic job market as it might.  Whereas other disciplines have systematically incorporated initial interviews into their annual meetings, the APSA Annual Meeting falls awkwardly before most application deadlines, which makes it difficult for most departments effectively to screen applicants at the Annual Meeting.  Enhancing APSA’s role in the job market would be beneficial to both applicants and hiring departments.

A number of disciplines, including economics, english, history, and philosophy, have followed this model, where initial interviews for tenure track jobs took place at the annual meeting. This is, as I understand it, typically a “long short list” of candidates, maybe 7-12 people. After these short interviews, 2-4 top candidates go for a much longer and more involved second round interview in the form of a campus visit. My understanding is that both philosophy and history are seeing a move away from this model, using skype/phone interviews for the first round. Most political science departments go straight to the campus interview, or do a round of phone interviews first. I’m quite skeptical of the assertion of the superiority of this model; no evidence is given that a 30 minute interview in a hotel room in the middle of a conference provides particularly useful information above and beyond what is already in the application packet and could be ascertained through a phone interview. But beyond that this strikes me as a terrible idea for two reasons. First, it degrades the experience of the conference itself; making inherently miserable and stressful for all graduate students attending. Second, and more importantly, it imposes a significant cost on the many broke graduate students (to say nothing of adjuncts and the unemployed) who may be applying for jobs. Even with judicious cost-cutting measures, the costs of attendance can easily exceed a thousand dollars. Many–perhaps most–graduate students do not have notable conference travel support from their departments or universities. (At UW, the policy for PhD Students was that we could be reimbursed for airfare only for up to three conferences during our time in the PhD program. I know plenty of people who would have been happy to have that level of support). Their educational debt is likely sufficiently crippling without imposing a $1,000 cost for being seriously considered for a job. This is a particularly acute concern when the search for a tenure track job often takes several years, with the first few years out of graduate school spent in visiting or temporary faculty positions with little conference travel support (and, of course, many job seekers will never actually find a tenure track position). Third, a good part of actual value of conferences for graduate students is an opportunity to present and get some feedback on your work, but APSA is often off the table because it’s the most competitive conference in American political science, with acceptance rates in some sections as low as 10%. Graduate students would be more likely to get this benefit at a smaller regional conference where they’re more likely to get on the program (and smaller conferences are often quite a bit cheaper to attend).

I’d be happy to see APSA moved back a few weeks, but moving toward this job market model strikes me as a plan for which the costs significantly outweigh any possible benefits. I won’t be signing this petition.

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