Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Leaving Las Vegas

In comments, clp asks
This is slightly off topic but it's something that I was hoping to have some discussion on. I'm an assistant professor with a tenure-track job, I went on the market this year nevertheless and managed to land several interviews and several fly-outs. However, despite these successes, I've been seriously considering leaving the profession of philosophy. I was wondering how many of you have thought about seriously leaving philosophy or have actually left philosophy, particularly for something outside of academe. What were your reasons? What were your experiences? Was it difficult? Thanks (and I apologize for posting out of place and if this has already been covered). - clp
I thought it was worth its own thread. What say you?

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

Can we have your job then?

Anonymous said...

I am curious what your reasons are for wanting to leave.

Anonymous said...

This book was recommended to me. It contains more specific advice for ex-academics than other change of career books.

Anonymous said...

I know lots of people that had rough patches in the early stages of their careers (back in the '90s), who thought very seriously about leaving; and some who went ahead and did so. Almost everyone seems to be happy with their decisions, except one person who has stayed in the field and still has not been able to get their career off the ground several years later. If at some point the prize no longer seems to you worth the game, the wise thing to do really is to make a change. There may be an entirely understandable sense of failure at first, at having spent years pursuing a goal that one then does not attain. But that sense will likely evaporate quickly into the narrative of whatever the next stage of one's life brings.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering how many of you have thought about seriously leaving philosophy or have actually left philosophy, particularly for something outside of academe.

I think a lot of people in the discipline mistakenly conflate philosophy itself with either 1) tt-jobs in research schools and four-year institutions (and thus overlooking the meaningful teaching of philosophy done in community colleges); or 2) academic jobs, in general.

This is ironic considering how much important and influential work has been done by philosophers who had little, if any, stable academic appointment. Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, and Leibniz all relied extensively on non-academic jobs while they pursued their respective projects. How many lenses did Spinoza grind? How much time did Leibniz waste in the Harz salt mines and on the Guelf history project?

Kant managed to get a university appointment, but he was lecturing between 16 and 24 hours a week at the outset of his career. After publishing the Phenomenology, Hegel worked for a newspaper and then taught high school for eight or nine years before re-entering academia. Marx had hoped to find an academic appointment but failed to do so, largely on account of his politics. Nietzsche wrote his most important works while leading a state-less, wandering existence. And then there are the women who did philosophy during this time and never had any prospect of academic employment.

I respect the magnitude of a decision to alter significantly one's career path. And it's certainly true that having an academic appointment with time for research greatly enhances one's opportunity for doing philosophy. Still, implicitly reducing the practice of substantive philosophical reflection to those fortunate to secure university appointments seems grossly mistaken and, considering the history of western philosophy, incredibly ironic.

The fact that people speak in such terms is perhaps indicative of a larger problem diagnosed elsewhere: namely, that "academic culture is so focused on producing researchers and scholars that it doesn't even have the language to describe people who deviate from that path. It literally cannot describe a way to be a scholar without being an academic."

John said...

I frequently consider leaving during my darker hours. Of course, I'm a grad student in the pre-market phase of my career, so take that for what it's worth. If you've already been on the market and had as much success as you say, I don't see why you would want to leave the profession.

zombie said...

I cannot say that I have considered it, no.

But I am only one year out from my PhD and in a nice postdoc, and looking for a longterm, stable, permanent job in academe.

Maybe I'll feel different in a couple of years. But I really like teaching, so maybe not.

Anonymous said...

a friendly nod to the leaving academia blog may be in order:

Kevin Timpe said...

Make sure to pick your style before heading out for the rest of those on-campus interviews.

Anonymous said...

My advice is to think very carefully before you decide that law school and being a lawyer is the answer. There are many good reasons to think it's not. (I know this wasn't mentioned, but it's a common enough path for the ex-academic.)

Anonymous said...

I've thought about it. I have a tenure track gig at a good place and I'm incredibly lucky to have gotten it. I'm a good teacher, I have some pretty good ideas about my specialization (at least I think think I do - as it turns out, publishing doesn't seem to be a problem), I enjoy interacting with students and I enjoy the flexibility that comes with academic life. Why have I considered leaving, then?

It's hard work, all the time with little remuneration for the work that I do. The reward is substantial (intellectual joys, pedagogical joys, etc) but it's not a monetary reward and I don't much like working so hard and still having trouble making the family budget work. I don't like having homework all the time. On top of that, I get a sinking feeling that grad school is a ponzi scheme and I want to keep my brightest students from going on (or at least not materially contribute to this mess).

Those are merely negative reasons and any job will have negatives and quite possibly even morally ambiguities. There are also some positive reasons why I've thought about leaving. I've been in academia for a long time as is necessary in order to have a tt-job and phd and I understand the culture. My skill set, while honed, is very narrow. I'm just interested in doing other things and think I have the capacity to do other jobs well. There are other skills to learn in other occupations, whereas staying in philosophy will be a continued sharpening of knowledge and skills that I already have (presuming I stay within my specialization). I also don't like the fact that I've become so risk averse. The thought of leaving academe scares me, but I can't really say why. It's not like it's likely that my kids will die of exposure if I do leave or even that I'll end up working in a crappy job for eons (btw, no way I'll ever become a lawyer).

Maybe it's also that after so much work, so much time by myself in a room for hours on end, putting off all sorts of life experiences and nervously trying to get the permanent job I have now, after all that, I look around and realize that *this* is what I've been working so hard for. A job. That's it - a job. I'm a functionary in an institution and I think I was naive to think that philosophy might allow me to escape that. Insofar as institutions go - it's pretty good, don't get me wrong. But it seems sort of depressing that I'll likely spend the rest of my professional days doing more or less what I'm doing now.

Those are some reasons why I have thought of leaving - in no particular order. The grass is always greener though. I'm likely to stay in philosophy but those are some of the reasons that I have thought about leaving.

Anonymous said...

WOW, Annon 11:10 I feel exactly the same way and I am one year away from tenure at a SLAC. I can't beleive that there are others out there that feel this way....

Anonymous said...

I am on the job market this year, and decided to also apply for work outside of the Academy. After a rather lengthy application and interview process with the FBI, I received a conditional job offer for the position of Intelligence Analyst. The fit between the skills we acquire and cultivate in philosophy and what is required for this position within the FBI is a tight one. So, add the FBI to Law School on the list of options outside of a teaching job in philosophy. I ultimately declined the conditional job offer to give it one more shot on the academic job market before officially throwing in the towel.

Anonymous said...

I am 11:10 from above with a quick note regarding the FBI thing. I did my phd abroad and in the later years of my program took a break for a half year to work at an American Embassy in the political section. It was tricky to get the job, but as I worked there I realized that many of the skills that I acquired in philosophy (esp. as a grad student) were immediately transferable (necessary though not sufficient to being a good diplomat). I was offered a couple of jobs with the feds (not at State though, you have to take and pass their exam). Maybe add that to the FBI thing.

Anonymous said...

What a great post, 11:10. I'm recently tenured at a SLAC, 3/2 load, sharp and inquisitive students, and generally I love my job... but I have my moments too. So I'll add one more consideration that for me has grown increasingly important: location. Grad school gave me the opportunity to live in a *really* great place for six years--just about the best place I can imagine living long-term--and six years away from that now, my wife and I are still frequently wistful for it. My wife (who now works part-time by choice) works in a medical field where her full-time earning power would be easily two times mine, so we've definitely entertained the thought of moving back to that wonderful place. It's not a place with a lot of academic options for me, so... well, maybe it'd be better to be an assistant manager at a bookstore in paradise than have the best job in a pretty drab place.

Anonymous said...

If you don't love what you do, it's not irrational to think about doing something else. But:

1. Many people don't love what they do. If you do leave, you should really think hard about whether you are going to be happier elsewhere. I consider myself extremely lucky to have a job that I love. I get up in the morning and I think about philosophy, and I talk about it with students and colleagues, and then I go home and hang out with my spouse and kids. I win. It was a long, hard road, and I was (and had to be) extremely lucky even after lots of hard work. I can't fathom a guess at what proportion of people love or even like their work (as opposed to extrinsic aspects of their work, like being around their co-workers and getting paid). My guess is that it is very, very small. Relatedly,...

2. The one aspect of my job that I don't like much, one that the OP mentioned, is the fact that it never ends. There is never, ever a time when I couldn't be doing something for my job: working on a paper, grading, reading something else. As the OP put it, I always have HW. But. My wife has a completely non-academic job, and she's the same way. She works every weekend. She's on her Blackberry when we're out and about. Projects come up, and she's got to stay up until 3am getting something in under deadline. She has to fly to meetings and leave the kids for a few days. It's just what work is like, these days, for grownups, if you don't work at Wal-Mart. (And I'll bet the Wal-Mart employees take a load of shit home with them, too.)

So, ask yourself: is my dissatisfaction the result of my job? Or, am I just unhappy being a grown-up?

I'm not saying that everyone has to be happy as an academic. But, if you can't be happy with this life, and you're like me, I'm skeptical about your prospects for satisfaction anywhere.

But, maybe you're just not like me at all.

Anonymous said...

I'll bet the Wal-Mart employees take a load of shit home with them, too.

Yes, they do, as it partly off-sets the terrible pay, but if they get caught they get fired and probably prosecuted. (I know it's not what you meant, but it's true, and what I thought of immediately.)

Building on what some people have said, if one is in this situation it can't hurt to take the Foreign service Exam, if you think you'd like that sort of thing. I took it and passed the written exam when I was deciding whether to return to grad school after a break. It's not a hard exam for philosophers, if you have some knowledge of current events (that's a big part of the exam, but reading a newspaper every day for a while should be enough.) I never took the oral exam as I decided to go to grad school instead. But I have several friends in the Foreign service and they all like it most of the time and find their work interesting. But, and to me this was a very big "but" it's important to keep in mind that your job will be to implement policy, and you may think the policy is very, very bad, depending on who is president. But you don't get much say in that- your job will be largely to implement policy that you'd have only a small part in shaping in most cases. But you'll get to live in some interesting places, get reasonably good pay (better than many, though not all, academic jobs) and have excellent job security, good benefits, and a decent retirement plan. So, it's worth considering. Some bits even have academic aspects to them. The test is free and offered a few times a year.

Anonymous said...

9:42 makes a good point (about being a grown up). Think about the discussion here a while back about wearing ties/suits to interviews, and the complaints around that. If you work in a professional setting outside of academics, you can only say, grow up.

I've spent a number of years working in the corporate world while teaching part-time, and very much enjoy the combination. So it might not be an either/or decision. I have a friend who has done the same, and he's published articles and also a book (from a very good press). But before giving up your job note: (1) Full-time academics have enormous flexibility and freedom compared to others. And (2) academics can cultivate their idiosyncrasies and individuality; professors don't have to play nice with others; but many employers/work environments don't tolerate that.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure if this was posted somewhere on this blog already, but I wanted to make sure it was because it is entirely relevant.

Anonymous said...

After I finished my PhD, I realized that no longer were my living role models academics. The one person who has a PhD in philosophy and who I truly admire is Patrick Byrne, the founder and CEO of Generally, I have found that those who have become philosophy professors, especially tenured ones, fit into the class of philosophers that Socrates pejoratively describes in Book VI of the Republic.

One thing I have found remarkable is how genuinely friendly colleagues outside of academia are when contrasted to those I have had within the academy.

zombie said...

After reading your reasons for wanting to leave, I'm inclined to think that you're not going to be happy in any job, because all of the factors you cited will be true of many, if not most, jobs. Sure, you can liven things up by frequently changing jobs, if you can handle the financial insecurity. Or you might be able to go into business for yourself, and do whatever you want when you want. Again, if you can handle the financial insecurity.
Myself, I think academe is a pretty good gig. Maybe I won't feel that way ten years from now, but at my age, and with my investment of time, and the fact that I have a family, I can't afford the luxury of only doing what I want to do. This is the decision I've made about my future. I'll change course only if I crash on the rocks and can't get a TT job.

Gordon Knight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I went into philosophy because it was what I did for fun. I don't have, and never will have, a TT job. I publish once every two years just for the giggles, work at a steady non-TT job.

Its not materially very satisfying, but if you love teaching and are sort of an idiot w/respect to anything practical, its a good life.

Where else can you just walk in a classroom, ramble on about the argument from evil and get paid for it?

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:00 pm has it right.

I've done this around 30 years in a 4/4 position. Yeah I've taught thousands of students but managed to pub in some T-1 journals as well--settled now for half my life in a smallish city. . .but the truth is that I see my life as truly blessed. I still adore teaching and will be next week in Chi-town to do probably pretty meaningless stuff at the APA. Remembered 200 years from now? Nah--but the time I can control in my own life is worth millions of dollars to me that the Donald can cash out in his own sort of time-consuming filthy lucre; I unapologetically love my career and wouldn't trade it for anything. My heart breaks for those hordes of same-minded grads these days that face the same long odds I did way back when during the last educational-hiring recession. Yes, I understand and acknowledge the criticism of the system for its big-picture flaws of enticement and disillusionment for those not prepared to take on those odds--but if you simply love to teach, write, and think and manage to persevere in doing that by getting a sustainable job--it's a Jimmy Stewart wonderful life. Leave it? When I stop breathing.

Paul said...

I agree with almost everyone here that there are lovely things about the profession. But there is a negative thing about it which I still can't swallow: loneliness. The idea of spending years and years in front of my laptop or in front of a book, interrupted only by occasional boring parties in which people ask me about the weather, makes me think that I should do something else, at least at some point of my life. I feel envy for my friends who are now coaches or librarians or book sellers. Not because being a coach or a librarian or a book seller is particularly exciting; but because they get laid at least every other week. I bet that philosophers' average is not even close to that. We tend to be socially isolated. Marta Nussbaum once started a philosophy paper saying that philosophers do not screw very much. Why is that? Any idea?

Glenn said...

I encourage as many currently tenured philosophy lecturers to leave the profession as soon as possible. As many as possible.

You've prompted me to write a blog urging more to do so. This is largely self serving on my part, since I want vacancies to open up, so my insights aren't really what you're looking for I'm sure.

Anonymous said...

Reading all these comments, I've been struck by how different my attitude is toward my tenured position than many of the folks who are posting here. I think it's because I don't see myself primarily as a philosopher or even a philosophy professor, but as a teacher and member of the college community.

My job continues to be enjoyable, challenging and an opportunity for creativity because I see so many ways that I can participate in the improvement of the education of students, generally, and my institution.

I suspect that for *any* job to be enjoyable you need to see it as more than something you do for a paycheck....I think there's a need for a broader vision or goal. If you think you've already accomplished all you might want to accomplish in your career, you probably aren't going to be very happy in that career. It may mean it's time to change careers or it may mean it's time to think more broadly about what you could be accomplishing where you are.

Anonymous said...

Last year I had the kind of job many of you dream of. A semi-selective LAC in a great city on a coast; 3/3 teaching load that could be brought down to 3/2 regularly; <100 students per term; only 1 or 2 preps a term; one year away from what would surely be tenure.

But for many of us, life is more than just the guild. The fine city were we lived was not for us. Such cities are expensive, and while my salary was very good for the profession, not singly sufficient to secure housing long term. My wife worked. But then we had a son who has a previously unseen genetic mutation. 13 different doctors the first year; two different kinds of therapy weekly. (Who knew that a 2 year old could need an occupational therapist?) On top of that, my department was disfunctional beyond all belief and provided no emotional or social support. Our family is, of course, on the other side of the country.

So I strongly thought of leaving the discipline for something that would pay better, put us closer to home, and not make me feel like I was always behind as other commentators have noted. I spent years trying to apply my way out of paradise, and was in my last year before calling it quits.

Instead, I left my job at that university to go to a school that most of you would dread going to. 4/4 teaching load, with 4 preps this term. In a town that most of you have never heard of. Took a $20k/year pay cut to work at a school whose hiring pracitices make Calvin look good. And what is called tenure here is a joke.

All that said, I'm both better off and happier here. Sure, life is not perfect. But we have afford a house (and much more than we need) on my reduced salary, so my wife can stay home with our son and give him the care he needs. My colleagues, though many misguided, are good to me and care about me as something other than a publisher of papers. I've touched some students' lives, as teachers years back touched mine.

There are more goods under the sky than those recognized by much of the discipline. If you let the Gourmet Report dictate your career, simply by sheer numbers most of you will be disappointed. The guild is crule and indifferent. But for some of us, it's about more than what our grad programs would recognize.

So thoughts of leaving--and the rationality of such thoughts--will depend on what you're looking to find, both in the guild and outside of it.

Anonymous said...

This is related, but only in a Leibnizian sort of way. Here's my attempt at establishing relevance. The easiest way to avoid having to leave Las Vegas is to follow the sage advice of Barack Obama and stay the fuck out of Vegas. (Oh, how dare he! Boo the smoking Kenyan. Let's tell people to go to fucking Vegas in the middle of their personal financial crises.)

Here's a way to discourage people from making that bad first step. We can give them numbers that will tell them what they can reasonably expect if they make it through a PhD program. I think this number could be useful.

1. # of publications.
2. # of TT job interviews.
3. # of years on the market.
4. Department ranking year you finished PhD.

If you're blessed, your number might be this:

If you're not, your number might be this:

It might be useful to index this to AOS.

My guess is that once they have a reasonable sense of what program they get into, they can have a reasonable sense of what it would take to succeed given some assumptions about how productive they can be in the waning years of graduate school.

Anonymous said...

This is off topic, but I have an urgent sort of question.

I got a job offer. (Pardon while I squeal like a child for a second.) I've yet to talk to the Dean about the details of compensation and any negotiations about salary, benefits, and so forth. And, frankly, I'm terrible about negotiating.

So does anyone know what it is reasonable to negotiate about and the process of negotiation? Will he give me an offer and then will I have a couple of days to consider it, during which time I can counter and ask for more money, or a lowering of teaching duties for the first year, or what have you? Any advice at all about how to manage this upcoming conversation would be greatly appreciated! Thanks! (And !!!!!!!! )

Anonymous said...

I would hope your dissertation director or someone in your graduate program could advise you in this.

Anonymous said...

there are many useful links about job negotiation in academia here:

Anonymous said...

This is anon 8:43 here.

I have talked a bit with our placement direct about this, though I didn't get as much information as I wanted. My dissertation director has been out for decades and at my institution for over 20 years now, and I doubt that he could give me a good assessment of the ins and outs of job negotiations. I figure there are a lot of folks who frequent this blog who have dealt with this quite frequently, and so I thought I'd ask.

Anon 9:41 - that link is phenomenal. Thanks for posting it!

FBI? said...

what kind of FBI jobs are philosophy PhDs qualified for? special agents or professional staff? and what kind of each?

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 8:01am writes:

Here's a way to discourage people from making that bad first step. We can give them numbers that will tell them what they can reasonably expect if they make it through a PhD program...It might be useful to index this to AOS.

I like your suggestion and think it would only be useful, in general, if it's indexed to AOS. I'm inclined to think overall PGR ranking exerts a greater influence within some AOS's than in others.

Also, the sheer quantity of publications needs more nuance: some journals just aren't impressive.

Lastly, next to the number of TT interviews for a given year, it'd be helpful to know, say, how many TT jobs were advertised in that year's October JFP. Normally, six APA interviews might not be such a big deal; but this year many would kill for that.

clp said...

Hi all - this is clp. Thanks Zero for making this a unique thread, and thanks everyone for your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and jokey remarks. 11:10, I've found your thoughts to be especially in accord with some of the reasons I've had in considering leaving the profession.

The main reason I've been thinking of leaving has to do with my own happiness. I do love philosophy, but at times I am so personally tied to it that my entire self-worth and happiness hinges on it, which has been incredibly debilitating and, obviously, unhealthy. Recognizing this and knowing full well that I could be happy doing something else have helped me tremendously. At this point, I haven't decided to leave the profession.

If the amount of stress I've been experiencing the past few years continues to be so crippling as to prevent me from achieving happiness, it's just not worth it. I am currently in the process of realizing this, and my attitude towards my place in the profession is shifting. So we shall see what happens.

Thanks again everyone.


Anonymous said...

clp - I have had similarly unhealthy ties to philosophy/progress. Having a bad week on my research would lead to feeling like a failure more generally. Therapy really has helped, as has getting on some anti-anxiety medication. Before you leave your job, you may want to consider (if you haven't already) talking things through with a therapist and seeing whether some of the reasons for your stress and anxiety have to do with brain chemistry rather than philosophy.

FWIW, one of the best things I've done is get involved in things outside of academia - taking a class (in my case, in a language) and beginning to volunteer regularly. It's expanded my circle of friends/acquaintances and has given me additional ways to help define who I am. Now, even if I don't make progress on an article, I can nonetheless think about the progress I made in my language class and not feel like a complete failure. I know that this is purely anecdotal, but it may be worth considering.

Anonymous said...

To answer FBI? @ 12:14:

Philosophy Ph.D.s, with a couple years of experience, could qualify for a Special Agent position, though, for a number of reasons, this track would probably be harder than one of the professional support staff positions. With respect to the latter positions, a job as an Intelligence Analyst is probably the best fit. As noted in my earlier comment, parody between the skill sets in each domain is strong, and the FBI was VERY interested in my educational background and experience. Formally, the tasks of an IA and a philosopher (when researching and writing papers) are quite similar: come up with an initially plausible thesis, rigorously support it with evidence/argument, revise/nuance it when/where necessary, and hopefully emerge with a well-supported conclusion that is true. The content and context are different, but the process is structurally very similar. They want folks with exceptionally refined analytic abilities. Also, any additional language proficiency is a huge plus. A Ph.D. will likely allow you start at GS-11 (that was offered to me). A Ph.D. will very likely get you in the door (an initial interview) and then some. There are other important personal attributes for which they are looking. Browse the FBI website sometime. If this a serious option for anyone, take a look at the automatic disqualifiers before wasting your time (and as they say, their time). Don't even bother if any of these disqualifieres apply to you.

Anonymous said...

clp--Just wanted to weigh in and say that my experience mirrors 9:39's.