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.