Monday, 20 June 2011

PhD position in Konstanz and how to get women to apply for jobs

Over the weekend, Franz Huber (Konstanz) got in touch with me regarding a new PhD position they are advertising within the Formal Epistemology Research Group in Konstanz. He asked me to draw the attention of potential candidates, especially women, to the position. Franz is clearly committed to having as many female applicants as possible, as this is of course likely to increase the chances that the position will be filled by a woman. Here is the ad:

The Formal Epistemology Research Group invites applications for a PhD position in Theoretical Philosophy for an initial period of two years, starting October 1, 2011, or some date agreed upon. The position is subject to the positive evaluation of an interim report. Applications should include at least two letters of reference as well as a description of the dissertation project and/or a writing sample. They should be sent to: by July 31, 2011.

Here is the link to the Formal Epistemology Research Group in Konstanz.

Besides advertising the position here as one for which women are particularly encouraged to apply, I’d like to offer some considerations on ‘gender differences’ concerning matters such as applying for jobs. I know the readership of this blog is overwhelmingly male (it’s just the demographics of the area), and it is pretty clear to me that men in general have no idea of what goes on when a woman sees a job ad which might be suitable for her. Typically, a woman’s first reaction is often to think that she is not suitable, that she does not fit the profile; in short, that she is not ‘good enough’. This phenomenon has been widely documented by studies in social psychology, and is certainly not restricted to PhD positions or academic jobs more generally. Typically, if there is a list of five items in the job description and a woman satisfies 4,8 of them, she will think she has no business applying; by contrast, if a man satisfies 3 of them, he already feels he should apply. There are all kinds of reasons why this is so, none of which entails gender essentialism; it is simply a consequence of how women’s potentials are perceived throughout their lives and of the fact that they have internalized a general feeling of inadequacy.

What I mean to say by all this is that if you, fairly senior male researcher, know of a suitable female candidate for this position, or any other position, she will typically need much more support and encouragement to go and apply than a male candidate. You will need to tell her in all words that yes, she’s very talented, that she has what it takes for the job, that she should definitely apply. In fact, this holds also for women who have already taken up positions in environments that are predominantly (or overwhelmingly) male in their composition; such women are much more likely to feel inadequate and ‘not good enough’ from the mere fact that they are one of the very few women around. (This is essentially related to all kinds of unconscious mechanisms usually referred to as ‘implicit biases’, also widely documented in the psychology literature.)

The bottom-line is: as long as a given area is marked by serious gender imbalance, it is much harder to be working in the said area if you belong to the under-represented gender (and similar considerations hold for any other minority as well), simply because the feeling of inadequacy is constantly looming large. So it is only fair that the people in the under-represented group (women, in our case here) should receive additional support and encouragement, as they are swimming against the current non-stop. (Of course, there are a few women who somehow manage to neutralize the swimming-against-the-current effect, but this doesn't invalidate the point that the effect is there alright.) It would be very nice if senior people, both male and female, could keep this in mind when coaching their students and younger colleagues.


  1. Two posts elsewhere dealing with similar issues, with interesting discussions:

  2. And now a follow-up post: