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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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  • ScottC

    I strongly agree with this point. A lot of schools have different hiring schedules, a lot of schools don’t use APSA for hiring, and in the age of skype, even the schools (like mine) that find interviewing at APSA to be helpful may eventually drift away from these interviews. And to me the most important point here is the expense this puts on graduate students. Maintaining this job fair shouldn’t be part of the decision about whether or not to move the schedule of the conference.

    As to that, I’m fine with when it is currently scheduled, and I’d be fine with a later September date, but I think the proposal to move it to mid-October is terrible since that will likely get in the way of mid-terms and Fall breaks at many schools.

  • howard

    i know nothing about what it takes to secure or maintain a job in political science (or anywhere in academics for that matter), nor do i know whether or not the annual conference of political scientists is scintillating or boring as can be, but i can at least claim the expertise to agree that bumbershoot is an excellent music festival (and therefore can only say that the annual conference would have to be pretty scintillating or mandatory for your career to be a better experience!).

    i continue to rank the new orleans jazz and heritage festival above bumbershoot, due to the intense regionality, but bumbershoot is a truly expansive festival year in and out.

  • wormphd

    Thank for this. In my field (English) there is some movement toward first-round Skype interviews, but it’ll be a long time before that’s the norm, assuming upper-tier schools give a shit at all. In any case, I hope at some point the job search is decoupled from the MLA conference–at the very least, schools could contact potential candidates a month or so before the conference; many departments won’t do so until a week or so before, so students on the market who aren’t presenting papers have to pay for sometimes nonrefundable costs before they know whether they’re getting an interview.

  • Ronan

    Could someone get through a succesful career in political science (researching, publishing, etc) and never attend a conference? Is it a neccessity, or just a benefit/opportunity to network ?

    • djw

      Yes, I think so. It might be tricky in the beginning, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some departments didn’t want to see a bit of conference activity in a tenure file (although with strong publications it’s unlikely to matter), but beyond that, if you can establish the networks and get the feedback you need, you could skip them altogether without much trouble.

    • The last time I attended a conference outside of Ghana was in 2006 at University of Waterloo. I have attended two in Ghana and have been accepted for one next year. But, there was a long time, when I worked in Kyrgyzstan, when I didn’t attend any conferences. Like a lot of other people I know I have adopted the strategy of not attending any conferences unless somebody else foots the bill including transportation, lodging, and food or if it is really local like in Accra. In which case I am willing to pay the transportation bill. The advantage of conferences in Africa is that the papers usually end up published as chapters in books that come out of the conference.

  • Such interviews during annual conferences is also the norm in musicology (American Musicological Society) and music theory (Society for Music Theory). I completely agree that it’s a shitty model given the expense of attending, especially if it happens to be on the other side of the continent the year one needs to go for the interview. But I can’t unfortunately see it changing. Too many senior academics think that attendance is a sign of one’s dedication to the field, and the organizations like it because it raises the amount of registration fees they collect by forcing grad students who are on the job market to attend. Good to know some disciplines have explored other possibilities though. Something to bring up the next time I’m at one of these conferences and there’s a meeting on ways to reform the discipline.

    • K488

      Nice to see a mention of AMS, and SMT! But I completely agree about this being a terrible model for interviews, having conducted more than a few at conferences. It seems unfair to the candidates to be seen one after another in very artificial conditions, and a terrible drain on their resources. Skype has served well in related situations (orals; proposal defenses), so I think it could work for preliminary interviews. And I’ll agree that this is something worth discussing in those meetings on reforming the discipline.

      • Hence the Mozart reference of your pseudonym then. But must admit that I don’t know that concerto but then as much as I like Mozart he’s really not part of what I study. Good to know I’m not the only music scholar with an interest in the various things this blog covers anyway!

    • Ubu Imperator

      Though most of the schools that seem to go for this at AMS/SMT tend to be of the R1 variety, or major state universities. Regional state universities, smaller master’s-granting institutions, and undergrad-only colleges, with a few exceptions (i.e., those with a shit-ton of money in their endowment and departments focusing on academic music rather than performance), aren’t really involved, so far as I’ve seen. Is the R1 emphasis the case at ASPA as well?

  • The one advantage of a central “hiring conference” that I can see is that it helps anchor the job market, helping make the schedule of interviews and offers more uniform. This helps cut down on the most unfair exploding offers, helps people know if they should take a temporary job or post doc or not, etc. As the philosophy job market becomes more and more unmoored from the Eastern APA, all of these problems (along with top people taking post docs and then getting TT jobs which they then defer for one or more years, leaving more people w/ nothing) have grown. I don’t know that this outweighs the drawbacks noted in the post, which are real. But, I do think there are real drawbacks with not having a more centralized hiring process, too.

    • Steve LaBonne

      Scientists manage just fine without a “central hiring process”, unless things have changed a lot since my academic daye.

      • Lee Rudolph

        The two big annual meetings (winter and summer) of the American Mathematical Society have had hiring components for well over 30 years, although my impression is that back then it was limited to applicants coming out of a post-doc (or “named instructorship”) and looking for a first tenure-track job. Certainly in those days it was very rare for a graduate student to write any articles (the multiply-authored papers emanating from science labs really had, and still rarely have, any analogues in mathematics) before the write-up of the main result(s) of the thesis, usually done after getting a job. I got my Ph.D. in 1974 and went to my first AMS meeting in 1976, after the second of three years as a J. D. Tamarkin Instructor at Brown; at that time I had one (mathematical) publication, the main result of my thesis, which I never presented at any conference, and one pre-print which I presented at that AMS meeting (it eventually got published several years later in the form of a three or four line addendum to my review in Mathematical Reviews of a proof by quite different methods of a slightly different result by a couple of other people). I had gotten that instructorship on the strength of my thesis and references, and got the five-year non-tenure-track assistant professorship at Columbia that followed it in the same way. In those 8 years I don’t recall any of the various graduate students presenting at any AMS conferences, either, though they may well have gone to interview for jobs. A lot has (obviously) changed since then, of course.

      • Karla

        I can speak to only chemistry and biology, but you’re right. It’s possible that chemistry departments could expect applicants to come to an ACS meeting, but I’ve never heard of that happening. There isn’t any one big biology meeting – yeah, yeah, FASEB, but that’s only every other year in the spring, and many biologists go a whole career without attending a FASEB meeting. Specialty meetings (defining “specialty” broadly, since ASCB has ~10,000 attendees and SfN something like ~30,000) aren’t scheduled with any regard to hiring schedules.

  • “This is, as I understand it, typically a “long short list” of candidates, maybe 7-12 people.”

    At one of my visiting positions, the committee interviewed 18 people at the AHA for a job. How many of them traveled there just for that interview? Unknown.

  • Matt_L

    Traveling to the American Historical Association (AHA) for job interviews as a grad student was expensive and a shitty experience. I still remember of the stench of vomit in the men’s bathroom just down the hallway from the ballroom where they did cattle call interviews for schools too cheep to rent a suite. Ultimately I landed a job based on a phone interview and a campus visit. I resented the conference interview experience and expense so much I stayed away from the AHA for five years. Fuck’em.

    My university does phone interviews with eight semifinalists and then campus interviews for the top three. Its the most fair thing I’ve seen. I would like to move to Skype interviews, but there are some old farts who won’t do it.

    I think keeping the professional conference as far away as possible from the hiring calendar is a great idea. They need to do this with the AHA.

  • cpinva

    interesting. in the accounting field (unless it’s changed radically), I went through 2 or 3 interviews, depending on the size of the firm. in the smaller firms, you first interviewed with HR. if you got a call-back, the second interview was with the managing partner. in the larger firms, it was: HR first, tax or audit partner next (I always got the tax partner), then finally with both the tax/audit and the office managing partners.

    the nice thing about the second & third interviews was that they normally took you out for a nice lunch too, on the firm’s dime of course. HR tended to treat you like a piece of meat. a well educated piece of meat, but meat nonetheless. the partners treated you as potential partner material, a fellow professional.

  • Thom

    My history department has done long short list interview through AHA and sometimes via phone/Skype. I find the conference interviews to be much more informative, despite the pain for all. However, we never use the cattle-call room. For visiting positions, we rely only on Skype. One value of the conference version is getting 2-3 department members away from their offices where they can concentrate fully on the interviews without other distractions. The expense is enormous for grad students and also for colleges of modest means. On the other hand, we are talking about a decision that is expected to result in employment that may last for 40 years, and will certainly last for at least three years.

    • Matt_L

      It is an egregious abuse of power for a history department to require a grad student to book a cross country flight, a hotel room (even when it is shared), plus pay for meals while at the conference along with the conference fee, just so a department can get two or three department members to focus on the task at hand. This amounts to asking the least well paid members of the profession to foot the bill for a nice little junket for the members of the hiring committee. If it is so important that the department hire the right person by having two sets of in-person interviews, then the department ought to pay for the expenses of the conference interviews for the interviewees.

      Besides the duration of employment, what is the difference in hiring a one-year visiting versus a tenure track assistant professor? In a TT hire you have three to five years to check out the potential lifetime hire before you give them tenure, so why is it so important to interview in person at the intermediate stage? You still have a chance to vote them off the island after you have seen them perform in the job. With a one year, it is still imperative, even more so, to find someone who can jump right in with their teaching responsibilities and won’t behave like a sociopath towards the students or colleagues. If you can sniff that out in a phone interview for a one year, you ought to be able to do the same in a TT hire.

      Admittedly, it is far more pleasant to chat with people in person. Their body language and deportment can give you some information, but it also opens the door to subjective opinions about appearance, race, and sexism which have no place in the process. A phone interview considerably reduces the potential for these sorts of subjective outcomes.

  • Joey

    I think not signing the petition just because of reason #2 is a stupid idea if you agree with the other two reasons. Which are good ones.

    Also, while there are, as mentioned in these comments, problems with the conference interviews format, they do give an opportunity for grad students who maybe don’t stand out on paper (e.g. maybe haven’t published yet) but who might have interpersonal skills that would be valuable e.g. in teaching, as a colleague, or even in communicating / discussing research findings. So the change of date might redistribute advantage towards these people. Phone interviews and even Skype interviews (lag?) do not facilitate the kind of interaction that in-person meetings do.

    The dollar cost issue seems negligible to me given the other advantages that candidates from elite (and hence rich and generous to grad students) institutions have. But I suppose adding to those doesn’t make much sense.

    • stuck working

      The problem is that, in practice, selecting for “interpersonal skills” means “I like that person who is most like us” which tends to reproduce the existing predominance of white men in the profession.

      • djw

        This is my strong suspicion. Getting a “good feeling” about an in-person interaction certainly feels like useful information to a lot of people, but there are good social-psychological reasons to be skeptical that it’s the useful information in anything like the way they think it is.

      • Joey

        This is probably true. However, this is an argument against any kind of interview, including an on-campus one, and not just against conference interviews.

    • djw

      I think not signing the petition just because of reason #2 is a stupid idea if you agree with the other two reasons. Which are good ones.

      My preference for moving the date of the conference is considerably weaker than my preference for not turning it into a job market conference.

      • Joey

        Rather than your personal prefernce, what about your ideas of what might be a good outcome for everybody else?

        • djw

          To be clearer: I think avoiding turning APSA into a job market conference is considerably more important than changing the days on which it takes place, so I won’t be signing the petition. I don’t know what ‘everyone else’s’ preferences are. Neither do you. Signing the petition that I think adhering to would do more harm than good, because I have a hunch others would prefer to make that change doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

  • TF79

    I’ve been on search committees for fields that do the centralized meeting interviews and those that don’t. The two benefits of the meeting model that I’ve seen are 1: Economies of scale for both the departments and the applicants. When I’ve been on committees doing phone interviews, we end up talking to maybe 6 applicants (due to scheduling constraints, etc), whereas the in-person meeting interviews upwards of 20 applicants are interviewed over 2 or 3 days. I do think this benefits good people from lower-prestige programs who might not otherwise make the smaller phone cut. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Skype becomes more popular as an alternative to the meetings (i.e some applicants interviewed at meetings, some interviewed via Skype). 2: The meeting model synchronizes the hiring cycle, so that everyone knows when applications need to be in, when interviews will occur, campus visits shortly after, offers out shortly after that, etc. Everyone is more or less on the same page. When on committees for fields that don’t do the meeting model, the process stretches out for an entire semester, and the potential for gaming, exploding offers, etc, was much more prevalent due to the fact that interviews, visits, offers were all all going on simultaneously. Now some of the differences can probably be chalked up to idiosyncrasies of fields and departments, but I do think there are some benefits, in addition to the costs noted, of the meeting model.

  • azelie

    I’m a humanities person with experience in two fields that do conference interviews, married to a political scientist. I really wish my main field would move away from conference interviews (expense for grad students and recent grads, horrible memories of conferences on the market that make one disinclined to participate in the national meetings for years and years after getting a job). I notice that my husband and his colleagues tend not to have the same visceral dislike of APSA. There could, of course, be other explanations for the disparity in enthusiasm for conference participation, but I think the job market thing certainly plays a big role.

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