Thursday, April 17, 2008

In which the werewolf is admitted to paradise

Like many of us kids fresh out of philosophy grad school, I sent off a total of 99 job applications this year. I applied all around the country and the world, to places from Louisiana, Nebraska, and Idaho to Wales, Bulgaria, and Turkey. When I read Jobs For Philosophers and saw that the National University of Singapore had five tenure-track jobs, I mostly thought of it as a crazy place I'd mention in conversation to illustrate how I'm scouring every corner of the globe for philosophical employment.

Today I accepted one of those jobs. Now that I've visited the place and seen the details of the offer, it looks like a complete dream job. They'll have me teaching a light load of two courses per semester to bright and motivated students. This will give me plenty of time to focus on research, which is something they want me to do and which I can do very well. I'll have a lot of good colleagues -- the Philosophy department at NUS has 19 academic staff, including political philosopher and eminent Mill scholar C.L. Ten. Crooked Timber readers will note that one of my colleagues will be famous academic blogger John Holbo (whose super-cool wife is fellow Crooked Timberer Belle Waring). More good colleagues are probably on the way -- they were hiring 5 people this year. The food is amazing. Amazing tropical fruit and delicious Asian food with spices and weird meats and coconut milk are cheap and plentiful. And the money is enough to blow a grad student's mind. In going from TAing to an Assistant Professorship, my salary is going to multiply by something like 4 or 5. My plan is to live on half of it, save a quarter, and spend the rest on a variety of bold schemes to promote the good of humanity.

Now for a story that longtime readers might appreciate. Before giving my job talk, NUS had me give an hour-long presentation to the graduate students and advanced undergraduates to prepare them for the talk and also evaluate my teaching abilities. Since my talk was on the Humean theory of motivation, I taught them about the puzzle involving cognitivism, internalism, and the Humean theory -- if you accept all three, you end up having to say that humans can't make moral judgments, so you'd better deny at least one of the three. I'd planned the talk to include about 20 minutes of student questions, but a third of the way through, the students hadn't asked me anything.

So I looked at them and tried a trick that I had spontaneously come up with in the previous session of the lecture I've been teaching at Texas. I said, "If someone asks a question, and it's a good question, I'm going to dance." Amid lots of giggling, a brave young man raised his hand and asked a question -- I've forgotten what it was now, but it was good, and the students laughed again when they saw me dancing. After that, good questions flowed freely. When students see that their teacher is willing to do comical and mildly embarrassing things to reward student participation, they get the idea that class really is a place where they're suppose to participate.

I wondered at the time what the NUS faculty evaluating me thought of that stunt. They didn't express emotion in any obvious way, and it seemed kind of high-risk, high-reward -- would I look like a dynamic, exciting teacher, or a maniac?

Apparently they didn't think too badly of it, because they've offered me an amazing job.

21 comments:

Matt said...

Congratulations, Neil! I hope it will be a very happy and rewarding experience for you.

brock said...

Congratulations, Neil!

Jonathan Ichikawa said...

Awesome! Congratulations!

Michael said...

That's awesome

Robert Gressis said...

That really looked like an excellent job. I'm glad you got it, bub! Lots of hedons should accrue to you from now on.

And if you ever want me to come out and give a paper...

snarkout said...

Congratulations! Belle's description of Singapore street food suggest that you left out an important quality of life factor (one that lies somewhere between 5x salary and a light courseload)

Justin said...

Congrats.

I'm not sure whether I'm more wowed by the fact that you're going to meet Belle and John or that it sounds like a sweet job.

breakerslion said...

Congratulations. From Texas to Singapore, eh? Sounds like you have a penchant for meeting good people in culturally challenged places. Of course, that could be said about nearly every place in the world.

hoperu said...

Congratulations Neil! I am sure it is a relief to have things settled. I assume you get to teach classes in English? As for the food, location and all, you will have to start posting pictures once you get moved.

Tre said...

Congratulations! I'm excited for you. I'm jealous of all the time you'll get to spend in the food stalls.

dkwatson said...

Although I told you so via alternative methods of communication earlier, congratulations again!

Also, it sounds like your method of using dance to combat lack of class participation is nicer than the one I used to use. I would look at the class, tell them they seemed sleepy, and then make them all stand up and do "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes." Of course, I picked this strategy up from a co-teacher in Japan. It's even more embarrassing for students at the college level.

Most potentially embarrassing thing done while teaching: Performing the scene from Fahrenheit 451 where the main character is yelling at the loud speaker on the train.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Thanks to everybody for their good wishes, and congratulations to Jonathan, Robert, and anyone else who has found a wonderful job of their own!

Janet D. Stemwedel said...

Awesome! Mazel tov!

What will you be teaching?

Brandon said...

CONGRATULATIONS! I'm very excited and happy for you.

Dan said...

Enough suspense already! Was it the one-leg pogo or the no-legs shuffle?

Ian said...

Congratulations Neil! I'm delighted for you.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Fortunately, they'll have me teaching in English -- that's the language of the university.

Next semester they're going to have me teaching a grad seminar (I can't wait to teach on metaethics) and a historical course (I'll make it Hume and Kant, I think).

Then in the spring semester I'll be doing political philosophy (I'm thinking Hobbes, Locke, Mill, Rawls, and Nozick) and another metaethics class on the undergrad side.

I actually stuck with two-legged dancing in these cases, Dan -- I've found that the pogo and the double amputee work best if I warm up the audience first with other moves, and I didn't really have time to do that.

Anonymous said...

congrats Neil!

Anonymous said...

Congrats Neil

Kenny said...

Congratulations!

Anonymous said...

Way to go, Neil! Belle is a great guide to the good steet food (I was there last summer). I was pretty fascinated with Singapore; it'd be a really fascinating place to stay for a while and get to know better.