Wednesday, December 27, 2006

In D.C. - Secret Service and APA

Well, I am now on the last leg of my travels. I have many tales to tell, which may or may not appear here at various times in the future. After a long transatlantic flight, complete with all the usual nightmares of catching planes, standing in security lines and all the traditional airport fun, I was very glad to get to my hotel last night. To say that I was tired would have been an understatement. However, after a mostly uninterrupted night of sleep, I am refreshed.

For entertainment this morning, I went for a walk. Having spent the previous day sitting in a plane, this felt very good. The air was clear and chilly, but not too cold. After some time wandering around, I found myself at the entrance to the Washington zoo. This seemed like an opportunity that was too good to miss. So, I spent a couple of hours meandering around. I watched a Giant Panda have breakfast and saw all sorts of other interesting critters. It was very therapeutic.

After the zoo, I decided that it was time for lunch. So, I found a nice-ish looking cafe and got myself seated. That was the point at which I realized that I was definitely in Washington. At the table beside me were four Secret Service agents and an FBI guy. They were all dressed in black and carrying guns, as they sat amongst a crowd of normal looking folks eating soup and sandwiches with their kids. One of the Secret Service guys was even wearing a bullet proof vest! It made me realize how unmilitaristic Europe and even Louisiana is, compared to this neck of the woods.

My lunch time neighbors also got me wondering about the name 'The Secret Service'. If these guys are supposed to be so secret, why do they have who they work for emblazoned on their shirts, along with their names and ranks?

Next up is the American Philosophical Association (APA) conference. I have been to many of these, but I never can quite get used to them. Last night, the hotel was placid and quiet. Today, it has slowly filled up with people. The job candidates look so nervous and awkward in their suits. The interviewers and those here on other missions, who already have jobs stand around gossiping. There are way too many people with beards.

Tomorrow evening will be one of the scariest events of the year: The first APA 'Smoker'. For those who have never been to an APA, you cannot know the true horror of these events. The first thing to know is that the term 'smoker' is highly misleading, as the events are entirely smoke-free (as indeed is this whole hotel). What the first smoker involves is roughly three thousand philosophers all drinking free beer in the same huge hotel ballroom. It is an horrific spectacle, which is made worse by all the machinations of job candidates attempting to ingratiate themselves with prospective employers. Watching the patronising behavior of some of the faculty members can be quite nauseating.

Should any job candidate happen to read this, just remember getting an academic job is not a rational process (despite the huge pretence to the contrary). Loosen up a bit. Have some fun. If you think that you might be in line for a position at a fancy school, but they expect you to kow-tow to them now, just imagine how things will turn out if you get the job. It is better to focus on finding people you get along with. This will make you happier in the long run. Also, remember almost nothing is critical at this stage. There are many meetings, Deans to be dealt with and so on, before they can even decide to invite you to their campus. So, at the smoker, go and 'say hello' where you need to, but don't force things. Afterwards, grab a few friends (or if you are here alone, other job candidates) and go have a beer away from the conference hotel. If you do not stay out too late, or over do it, this will put you in a much better frame of mind for the interviews to come.

The CP


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