Tuesday, September 18, 2007

UK job market

As the next crop of PhDers gear up for the job market, I thought I’d try to systematize some info about the UK system that might not be transparent to outsiders. It's not always totally transparent to insiders either, but I’m hoping that everything I say below is accurate, at least as a rule of thumb. I’d very much welcome queries, corrections and supplements.


  1. The UK job market has no unified system for applications. Jobs come out in dribs and drabs, and you apply individually to each one you fancy going for at the appropriate time.
  2. Three main categories of job that PhDers look for:
    1. “Lectureships”. Usually these jobs comes with responsibilities to teach, to do research, and to do certain amounts of administrative work. These come with the equivalent of tenure. These are sometimes called “permanent” or “continuing” lectureships to distinguish them from (c) below.
      People sometimes think of these---very roughly---as US assistant professorships (though coming with the equivalent of tenure).
    2. “Postdocs”: (normally) full time research positions, often held for two or three years.
    3. “Fixed term lectureships” (including “teaching fellowships” and “replacement lectureships”). These are usually positions covering teaching needs within a department. Pay and conditions vary wildly: some of them are de facto full-time teaching positions, some of them will have the same conditions as the non-fixed term lectureships.
  3. It’s far more common in the UK than in the US for PhD-ers aiming for a research career to try for a postdoc position for a few years. Postdocs are pretty prestigious things to get. However, over the last few years quite a few PhD leavers have moved straight into continuing lectureships, which offers the extremely nice feature of instant job security, if less upfront time to spend on research.
  4. Lectureships come in grades: Lecturer A and lecturer B are the entry-level grades (lecturer Bs getting a bit more money than lecturer As). Then come senior lectureships and “readerships”; then professorships. You can roughly map the UK lecturer/senior lecturer/prof divisions onto US assistant/associate/full prof. But I don’t have enough familiarity with the US system to know how closely it matches---and of course there isn’t a tenured/untenured line to be drawn as there is in the US.
    Fixed term lectureships are the equivalent, I guess, of US visiting professorships.
  5. Sometimes but not always UK jobs will be advertised according to US norms (e.g. specified with AOS/AOC, advertised in JFP). But to get the full whack, the best thing to do is to sign up for the most popular UK academic job website, www.jobs.ac.uk.

Appointments procedure

  1. What’s asked for in a UK application will vary. There’s often an application form to be given out, writing samples will be asked for (perhaps with a specified wordlimit) and of course you need to include a CV. References aren’t typically required at the initial application stage. But often US applicants find it easiest to send their standard application pack, including references, teaching reports and whatever. This’ll probably mean that US applicants end up providing a *lot* more info than their rivals at the initial stages. Obviously you can contact the dept for guidance if you’re worried your application pack will be out of sync with what’s officially requested.
  2. If you’re invited for interview, you should be aware that the setup will differ markedly from US norms. Often, there’ll be a shortlist of 4 or 5 for a continuing lectureship, and often all candidates will be interviewed on the same day, and even taken out for dinner together. Some people find this totally awkward, and hate it. I sort of enjoyed the camaraderie. But it is standard practice, so don’t be surprised by having to socialize with your competitors. (Remember: there's nothing like the APA smoker to go through in the UK system: the interview days are a one-stop-shop). The institution will tell you what to expect, but often the formal proceedings will include a presentation and an interview, carried out over one or two days.
  3. Any presentation will typically be to the whole department, who’ll give feedback to the appointments committee who run the interview and who actually make the hiring decisions. Presentations can be of various formats: from 20 min presentations with 10 mins for questions, to hour-long presentations with substantial discussion time. For fixed term lectureships, you might be asked for a teaching-based presentation (“give a presentation suitable for a first-year course”). For postdocs, obviously a research presentation is appropriate. For continuing lectureships, it’ll probably veer towards the research. The institution will give guidance, and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification/advice if you’re unsure what they’re wanting (particularly if they ask for something totally impossible e.g. “a twenty minute presentation accessible by second year undergraduates that gives an overview of your research programme”).
  4. As mentioned, UK appointments are made by appointments committees, not by individual departments. The makeup of appointments committees can vary, but it isn’t atypical for there to be just two philosophers in a committee of five or more for a philosophy-only post. Obviously, these philosophers have an influential voice, both in the interview itself (you can expect them to ask the majority of the questions) and in the hiring decisions. But for continuing positions probably also be asked questions by non-philosophers. For obvious reasons “are there interdisciplinary aspects to your research?” is a question often heard at that stage of the interview.

Finally, the Oxbridge section:

  1. Oxford and Cambridge are exceptions to almost every UK rule. Their unique college-based setup means that their jobs are titled differently and graded differently: [for example, in Oxford] CUFs and University Lectureships are the main continuing jobs they offer. Those are, again, both tenured positions. See this discussion on Leiter (by Michael Rosen) for the lowdown. Oxford and Cambridge also have a vast stock of postdoc positions (called in Oxbridge “junior research fellowships” or JRFs) and a vast stock of fixed term appointments “lectureships”. All terribly confusing even to UK folk.
  2. Not all Oxford and Cambridge JRFs are advertised on jobs.ac.uk, though I believe all continuing positions will be. I found the only way to get comprehensive listings for JRFs is by looking at the Oxford Gazette: http://www.ox.ac.uk/gazette/ (this comes out weekly, and you can sign up for email notification). From the homepage, click on “weekly issues”, then an issue, then “appointments”. Amusingly under “positions outside Oxford”, it lists all and only positions available at Cambridge. That’s quantifier restriction for you. Two warnings: these positions are often (though not always) advertised across disciplines, so that a philosopher will be competing with biologists and mathematicians and whatever. Also, at least when I applied, each JRF position that came up (and there are lots) seemed to require it’s own research statement, of varying lengths with varying requirements. That’s hugely time-consuming for the applicant (Oxbridge: please introduce some uniformity!)
[updated in the light of Brian's queries in the comments about whether the Cambridge continuing positions are relevantly like those in Oxford or relevantly like those in the rest of the UK. I don't know about this. Be very pleased to receive information.]

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Sleeping bookie

I've spent more of this week than is healthy thinking about the Sleeping Beauty puzzle (thanks in large part to this really interesting post by Kenny). I don't think I've got anything terribly novel to say, but I thought I'd set out my current thinking to see if people agree with my take on what the dialectic is on at least one aspect of the puzzle.

Sleeping Beauty is sent to sleep by philosophical experimenters. He (for, in a strike for sexual equality, this Beauty is male) will be woken up on Monday morning, told on Monday afternoon what day it is, and sent to sleep again after being given a drug which will mean that the next time he wakes up, he will have no memories of what transpired. Depending on the result of a fair coin flip, he will either be woken up in exactly similar circumstances on Tuesday morning, or be left to sleep through the day. Beauty is aware of the setup.

How confident should Beauty be on Monday morning that the coin to be flipped in a few hours will land heads (remember, he knows it’s a fair coin). Halfers say: he should have credence 1/2 that it’ll be heads. Thirders say: the credence should be 1/3. (All sides agree that on Sunday his credence should be 1/2).

What I’m interested in is whether there are Dutch book arguments for either view. The very simplest takes the following form. Sell Beauty a [$30,T] bet for $15 on Sunday evening. Then, if Beauty’s a halfer, on Monday and (if awoken) Tuesday mornings, sell him [$20,H] bets on each awakening for $10.

If H obtains, Beauty loses the first bet but wins the sole remaining bet (on Monday morning), for a net loss of $5. If T obtains, Beauty wins the first bet, but loses the next two, for a net loss of $5 again. So Beauty is guaranteed to lose money.

This is in some sense a diachronic dutch book. But as several people note, it’s not a particularly convincing argument that there’s something wrong with Beauty being a halfer. For notice that the information here is asymmetric: the bookie offering the bets needs to have more information than Beauty, since it is crucial to their strategy to offer twice as many bets if the result of the coin flip is tails, than if it is heads.

Hitchcock aims to give a revised Dutch book argument for the same conclusion that avoids this problem. He suggests that the experimenters put the bookie through the same procedure as they put Beauty through, and the bookie’s strategy should then simply be to offer Beauty the bets every time they both wake. That has the net effect of offering the same set of bets as above for a sure loss for Beauty, but the bookie and Beauty are in the same epistemic state. This is the sleeping bookie argument.

What I’d like to claim (inspired by Bradley and Leitgeb) is that if we concentrate too much on the epistemic state of hypothetical bookies, we’ll get led astray. Looking at the overall mechanism whereby bets are offered to Beauty, we initially described this as one where an agent (bookie) is offering bets to Beauty each time they are both awake. But I’d prefer to describe this as a case where a complex agency (the bookie and the experimenters in cahoots) are offering bets to Beauty. The second description seems at least as good as the first: after all, without the compliance of the experimenters, the bookie’s dutch book strategy can’t be implemented. But the system constituted by the experimenters and the bookie clearly has access to the information about the result of the coin toss, and arranges for the bets to be made appropriately, even though the bookie alone lacks this information.

Now dutch book arguments are only as good as the results we can extract from them about what credences are rational to have in given circumstances. And clearly, if Beauty knows that the bets coming at him encode information about the outcome on which the bet turns, then he needn’t (perhaps shouldn't) simply bet according to his credences, but adjust them to take into account the encoded information. That’s why, to get a fix on what Beauty’s credences are, we put a ban on the bookie having excess information. That's why the first dutch book argument for thirding looks like a bad way to get a fix on what Beauty's credences are. But this rationale for forbidding the bookie from having excess information generalizes, so that we shouldn't trust dutch books in any situation where the mechanism whereby bets are offered (whether in the hands of a single individual, or a system) relies on information about the outcome on which the bet turns. (Equally, if the bookie had extra information, but the system of bets doesn’t exploit this in any way, there's as yet no case against trusting the dutch book argument, it seems to me.)

The moral I take from all this is that what’s going on in the head of some individual we deign to call “bookie” is neither here nor there: what matters is the pattern of bets and whether that pattern exploits information about the outcomes on which the bet turns. This is effectively what I take Bradley and Leitgeb to argue for in their very nice article. What they suggest (roughly) is that a necessary condition on taking a dutch book argument to give a fix on rational credences, is that the pattern of bets be uncorrelated with the outcomes on which the bets turn. I conjecture (tentatively), that this is really what the ban on bookie’s having extra information was trying to get at all along. The upshot is that Hitchcock's sleeping bookie argument is problematic in the same way as the initial dutch book argument against halfers.

But more than this. If we refocus attention on the issue of the goodstanding of the pattern of bets, rather than the epistemic states of hypothetic bookies, we can put together a dutch book argument against thirders. For suppose that the experimenters offer Beauty a [$30,H] bet for $15 on Sunday, and then a genuine bet of [$30,T] for $20 on Monday morning no matter what happens, and (so he can’t tell what’s going on) a fake bet where he’ll automatically get his stake returned, apparently of [$30,T] for $20 on Tuesday. Then he’ll be guaranteed a loss of $5 no matter what happens. Of course, the experimenters here have knowledge of the outcomes. But (arguably) that doesn’t matter, because the bets they offer are uncorrelated with the outcomes of the event on which the bets turn: the system of bets offered is the same no matter what the outcome is, so (it seems to me) the information that the experimenters have isn’t implicit in the pattern of bets in any sense. So I think there’s a better dutch book argument against thirding, than there is against halfing. (Or at least, I'd be interested in seeing the case against this in detail).

All this is not to say that the halfer is out of the woods. A quite different dutch book argument is given in a paper by Draper and Pust, which exploits the standard halfer’s story (Lewis’s) about what happens on Monday afternoon, once Beauty has been told what day it is. The Lewisian halfer thinks that once Beauty realizes its Monday, he should have credence 2/3 that Heads is the result. And that, it appears, is a dutch-bookable situation.

Notice that this isn’t directly an argument against the thesis that Beauty should have credence 1/2 in Heads on Monday morning. It is, in effect, an argument that he should also have credence 1/2 in Heads on Tuesday. And, with a few other widely accepted assumptions, these combine to give rise to a contradiction (see for example, Cian Dorr's presentation of the Beauty case as a paradox).

If this is all we say, then we should conclude that we really do have here a puzzling argument for a contradiction, where all the premises look pretty plausible and the two crucial ones both seem prima facie defensible via dutch book strategies. Maybe, as some suggest, we should revise our claims about updating of credences to make halfing in both circumstances appropriate: or maybe there’s something unavoidably irrational in Beauty’s predicament. What will finally come out in the wash as the best response to the puzzle is one matter; whether the dutch book considerations support halfing or thirding on Monday morning is another; and it is only on this narrow point that I’m claiming that there is a pro tanto case to be a halfer.