Friday, September 10, 2010

What's Your Back-Up Plan?

On this thread at Leiter, Anon. Grad Student writes,

I agree that "it behooves all job seekers to have back-up plans in place."

However, it would be nice to see a discussion thread devoted simply to this topic on this blog. I am in the middle of finishing my PhD at a strong school, but after watching many friends get ravaged on the job market, I have been forced in to thinking about my back-up plans. But it is tough. One natural back-up plan I always had in the back of my mind was law school. But my research suggests that the law market is pretty bad right now too, so I no longer know how good of a back-up that is. Coming out of my PhD program I won't have any debt, but I have read many horror stories of people coming out of law school, even good ones, with over $100k in debt that can't find a job in this market.

In any event, it would be nice to see a thread started where people could offer up thoughts on backup plans for those finishing up their PhDs, so that those of us in this position can get some fresh ideas for how to think about this tough issue.


I'll be honest with you. I don't have any sort of viable backup plan. I feel like I'm too old to start law school, plus I don't want to be a lawyer at all. You could try to tell me to be a law school professor, but you'd just be playing with my emotions at that point. I've got a few other ideas, but nothing that represents a significant improvement over this line of work.

What's your backup plan, Smokers?

--Mr. Zero

39 comments:

Dani said...

Depending on your area of specialty, you may find work at a think tank. This is especially an option for political philosophers and ethicists. Bioethicists also have the option of looking for work in the medical field, as an ethics consultant, or even teaching medical ethics at a medical or nursing school.

Of course, all of this is my own blithe optimism that I won't be out of a job at this time next year...

Anonymous said...

ultimate cage fighting

Anonymous said...

Why not high school? Good benefits, decent pay, summers off.

Anonymous said...

Howsabout federal service of some sort? Foreign, domestic, policy, law enforcement, analyst, congressional aide or policy implementation. Often these sorts of jobs have significant research and writing components and the feds are often (so they say) on the search for people who think and write clearly. A Phd gets you higher on the GS salary scale too. You'd have to retool a bit, and there's certainly no guarantee of finding employment - but if you get in you get good benefits and get to use the brain a bit. The problem, of course, is that you become an agent of the US federal gov't - which isn't all honey and sweetness.

Anonymous said...

Learn Chinese.

Anonymous said...

How does the song go...

"That suicide is painless it brings on many changes and I can take or leave it if I please."

zombie said...

In addition to being an underemployed philosopher, I'm an underemployed journalist. A career path that may be even less promising than philosophy right now.

Think tank. Yeah... and all that medical work.... yeah. Not that many jobs there either, at least not that this bioethcist can see.

Federal jobs -- I've applied for some of those too. That is one complicated application process. They are good enough to send you separate rejection letters for every possible pay grade for which you are not qualified, however. It is quite gratifying to get four separate PFOs for a single job, lemme tell ya.

My backup plan is Starbucks barrista, I guess. Or maybe try to teach high school. Where there are also no jobs. But at least you get summers off. Or maybe I'll invent a time machine, and go back and get that law degree I was going to get before I decided to major in film and philosophy.

Anonymous said...

I thought in the States it's hard to find a high school teaching job if you have a graduate degree, because teachers unions make the schools pay more to graduate degree holders... (unless you're talking about special education)

Man with a back-up plan said...

I also think one ought to have a back-up plan. If you're still several years away from finishing your Ph.D., you might start thinking about it and cultivating some other skills, just in case. Computer programming? Policy work? Intelligence analyst? Ninja? If the end of your degree is upon you, well...borrow zombie's time machine when he's done with it.

People looking to transition out of academia (e.g., policy work at a think tank, NGO, or government position) might consider getting a master's degree in some other field (e.g., an MPP or an MPA). Yes, it sucks to go back for yet more classes, but it's a way to stay gainfully occupied while you transition.

As for law school, I vaguely recall reading somewhere that the market for fresh lawyers is a boom-and-bust cycle because everyone shies away from law school when the market is bad, leaving a dearth of new lawyers when the market picks up a few years later. Food for thought....

Two resources that people might find helpful:

University of Chicago's advice for "post-academic" job seekers

http://www.leavingacademia.com

Anonymous said...

1. Get an MLS and look for a library job.

2. Enroll at a community college for an A.A. or A.S. to become a pharmacy tech or nurse assistant / med tech.

3. Squat on some land and become a subsistence farmer.

ABD said...

Related question: Assuming one has a viable back-up plan, at what point does one quit philosophy and go with the back-up?


My back-up plan is to be a professional blackjack player.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Matthew Crawford's solution. Learn a skill during graduate study. Perhaps become an auto mechanic during the summers.
http://www.amazon.com/Shop-Class-Soulcraft-Inquiry-Value/dp/1594202230

Anonymous said...

I am the Anon. Grade Student that wrote the comment on Leiter's blog that was picked up on this blog. I'm glad this conversation started!

Anyway, I am still looking into it more, but my backup plan at the moment I am exploring is the medical field, particularly nursing. Nursing has huge job growth, and there are many accelerated second-degree BSN degrees you can complete in 15-20 months with a previous BA in a non-nursing field. Also, just to get your feet wet, you can get your CNA license in about 3 weeks to just do some entry level nursing work before you enroll in any accelerated second-degree BSN.

Starting salary for a nurse is around 50-60k, plus once you have your BSN you can continue your education and become something like a nurse practitioner and make over 100k.

Besides nursing, I am also looking into law school a bit still, since I think when the market gets better that field could improve more quickly than academia, and last I am looking into the military. With a college degree, you can go to officer training school and become an officer in the military pretty fast.

Anonymous said...

Some ideas:

(1) talk therapy (as a "philosophical therapist" or retrain via Social Work, say--after all, many people think you're a psychologist anyway)

(2) life coach

(3) death coach

(4) nonprofits (for one thing, they don't merely need writers, they need writers who can discover and explain why what they do is valuable and important)

(5) consulting (mostly, looking at how a business is run and pointing out the things that don't make any sense)

(6) just about anything a historian would do (if your AOS is history of philosophy, that is, in which case you have most of the relevant skills)

(7) administrative work in universities or schools (you can do the job, and you actually know something about what it is to learn something or why one would want to, unlike most high school counselors I've encountered)

(8) college recruiting

(9) translator (again, if you did a lot of work in history of philosophy)

(10) the lecture circuit (you need an agent and a better haircut)

(11) professional debunker/fact checker

(12) grants (we've all done a lot of grant and proposal writing, I suspect)

Anonymous said...

There was a post back on the job market blog some years ago in which it was suggested that entering the corporate world would be a viable option. Others shot it down. But I've had two seemingly reliable sources in the last few months tell me that it is, in fact, a viable option, and that philosophers, as high functioning people, would command a premium. Any thoughts on this? In particular, any thoughts on how one would go about getting such a job? I only know how to try to get philosophy and food service jobs.

Anonymous said...

Teaching High School? But I hear one must get teaching accreditation and pass state teaching exams to get on that job trajectory. Seems like an appealing alternative to someone who loves teaching, but passing all those accreditation hurdles can take time.

Anonymous said...

Bait shop.

Anonymous said...

I went into the market waaay back when and got lucky when the market was just as bad as this. But even then one had to have a back-up plan. Mine was nursing. Given the fact that my fellow boomers will need that profession more and more--it's still a good call.

Anonymous said...

My back-up plan was to get a degree in library science and work in a library.

Anonymous said...

In particular, any thoughts on how one would go about getting such a job? I only know how to try to get philosophy and food service jobs.

I would like to second this request, and third it, and take it to dinner. This gets to the heart of one of the many reasons that one of the many problems with our field is so intractable.

Anonymous said...

Dani 1.31

A think tank? What am I - a brain in a vat?

Man with a back-up plan said...

Also, three actual pieces of advice, instead of just links:

(1) Network. Talk to everyone you know outside the academy. Tell both of those people that you are looking for non-academic work. Describe the kind of activities that you think you'd be interested in and see if they have ideas about what you might do or who might be hiring.

(2) Informational interviews. Find people who are currently in jobs that you think you might want to pursue. Email them -- yes, out of the blue -- and ask if you can take them to lunch for an "informational interview" about their work. This is a normal thing outside of academia. You take them to lunch somewhere casual and ask them about what they do on a daily basis, how they like it, how they got that job, what skills they use/need most in their job, etc. It's hard for introverts, but it's easier than getting a job in philosophy. I've done several of these, and people are happy to talk about themselves and what they do. If you'd like to find some kind of connection before you make your "cold call" email, look for people who went to your institution. If you went to Fancy Pants U. and want a job at Acme Corp., go to Google and type site:acmecorp.com "fancy pants".

(3) Find out if there's a career center at your institution. There probably is. If not, try your undergrad institution. They can offer advice and connect you with alumni for networking/informational interview purposes. If you're still a student, your career center will probably even help you write non-academic resumes and cover letters.

(4) Re: applying to consulting firms. If consulting appeals to you, the big consulting firms (e.g., McKinsey) have an application process in the fall for jobs starting the next year. Doesn't that sound familiar and comforting? Look here for information on McKinsey careers for people with advanced degrees and try the Vault's rankings of consulting firms for a list of firms and their description of management consulting to get a better idea of what's involved.

Word Verification: Faust St.

Man with a back-up plan said...

Also, some actual advice, instead of just links:

(1) Network. Talk to everyone you know outside the academy. Tell both of those people that you are looking for non-academic work. Describe the kind of activities that you think you'd be interested in and see if they have ideas about what you might do or who might be hiring.

(2) Informational interviews. Find people who are currently in jobs that you think you might want to pursue. Email them -- yes, out of the blue -- and ask if you can take them to lunch for an "informational interview" about their work. This is a normal thing outside of academia. You take them to lunch somewhere casual and ask them about what they do on a daily basis, how they like it, how they got that job, what skills they use/need most in their job, etc. It's hard for introverts, but it's easier than getting a job in philosophy. I've done several of these, and people are quite happy to talk about themselves.

Man with a back-up plan said...

Still more advice...

(3) Contact the career center at your institution (or your undergrad institution). They can offer advice and connect you with alumni for networking/informational interview purposes. They may also help with non-academic resumes and cover letters.

4) Re: applying to consulting firms. If consulting appeals to you, the big consulting firms (e.g., McKinsey) have an application process in the fall for jobs starting the next year. Doesn't that sound familiar and comforting? Look here for information on McKinsey careers for people with advanced degrees and try the Vault's rankings of consulting firms for a list of firms and their description of management consulting to get a better idea of what's involved.

Word Verification: Faust St.

Anonymous said...

Teaching at a public highschool is going to be more or less impossible for a PhD in philosophy. Yes, WE know that depending on your program you could teach English, Math, Forgein languages and what not, but the powers that be don't know that. They see: 0 credits in discipline X, and you need at least a minor to teach. An AOS in mathematical logic and four publications in the 'journal of formal logic' will not get you a job teaching Algebra.

Private schools are a different animal though.

All in all, easiest and quickest thing to do is probably what you would have done upon graduating college: go to a good temp agency, and bounce around until one of the companies you work for sees something special in you, and hires you full time. It will take less time than APA in most cases -- this economy being a different case.

Anonymous said...

For those of you interested in nursing, there is also this program at UCSF: http://nurseweb.ucsf.edu/www/ps-em.htm There might be similar offerings in other states, if you're feeling ambitious.

M said...

I am an MA graduate, and my dream in life is to do a PhD in 18thC philosophy.

It breaks my heart that funding is difficult. My plan B's (which are still not easy to find) have been.

1. Work at a thinktank (I have a sociology degree)
2. Admin/Higher education support staff
3. Tutoring philosophy -in the UK there isn't a system of community colleges
4. Reinvent myself by writing with fake names and attempt to submit academic articles as an 'independent scholar' (does that work for people?) - like Kierkegaard's Johannes di Silentio
5. Train to be a teacher - i got rejected for some application; fucking hell am I taht bad?
6. Freelance journalism

Other things I've considered

7. Bulimia and self destruction. (its crushing to have your dreams dashed because of lack of funding, especially when you worked hard to learn about your AoS and cant even get a fucking admin job)

8. Create millenarian religion, militaristic political party that will cause world war 3 and possibly world war 4 (which will be known as the darwinian war)

nice subject

Anonymous said...

No interviews? No problem!!!
V-J. APA Committee Session: Intelligence Analysis: Opportunities for Philosophers Arranged by the APA Committee on Non-Academic Careers and the Chairs’ Caucus
1:30-4:30 p.m.
Chair: Neil Manson (University of Mississippi)
Speakers: Steven Rieber (Office of the Director of National Intelligence)
Noel Hendrickson (Institute for National Security
Analysis/James Madison University)

Anonymous said...

My serious (surefire) backup plan is personal training (i.e. in a gym, not some "life-coach" bullshit). Nothing glorious, but definitely workable, and I haven't a doubt that I'll be entirely hire-able once I pass my examinations (this summer). The field is exploding at the moment, and I think it's sustainable. Otherwise, I'll try temping and looking for government work, I think.

As a native French speaker, though, I'll also be applying to French universities in addition to English ones. Since my program demands that I also learn German, my hope is that at some point I can apply for some sort of position in German-speaking universities as well. Just broadening the pool should prove helpful or, at least, heartening. And hey, there's always translation work or teaching a language, isn't there?

Anonymous said...

Teaching High School? But I hear one must get teaching accreditation and pass state teaching exams to get on that job trajectory. Seems like an appealing alternative to someone who loves teaching, but passing all those accreditation hurdles can take time.

Yes, it'll take time for accreditation. But people are talking about going to law school. If people are seriously considering dropping 100k for a law degree, here's something that's better for those who value more time off over higher pay.

Also, as someone said in this thread: private schools are another matter. Less hurdles, e.g.

Anonymous said...

One of my friends from college is in finance, and he keeps telling me that firms like his would love to hire someone with my analytical skills. My backup plan is to follow his advice and go the finance route.

Of course, like the rest of you, I still have my sights set on a tenure-track philosophy job. I think I'd be happy in the business world, but I'd really love to work as a philosopher.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, nursing is a terrific plan B. High demand for nurses has resulted in a number of alternative programs, where those with a B.A. need only take 12-15 months of coursework to obtain an R.N. Combine an R.N. and Ph.D. in philosophy and you can also look into Medical Ethics jobs or other hospital positions. Hospice is another underserved area that is often interesting to people with a philosophy background.

I have friends who began in Philosophy grad school and ended up in law, business, and library pre-professional schools. Other friends took a handful of additional required courses for a highschool teaching degree (and private schools may not require this). Others ended up taking no additional coursework, but finding careers in business consulting or fundraising/foundation work. Of all the people I know who started philosophy grad school, only about 1/3 ended up finishing it and getting a tenure track job. Some have full time non TT, and others did part time work but eventually gave up. Others gave up before even getting the Ph.D. Some (both male and female) chose full-time parenting instead. You have to be willing to choose philosophy grad school even knowing the high odds that you'll abandon it as a career later, but it's very hard to ask people to sacrifice 5 or 6 years of their lives with no promising job prospects to follow.

On the other hand, you can usually scrape by as a grad student on your tuition waiver and small stipend, so if it doesn't work out, hopefully you've only lost the time and opportunity costs for other careers. It's not like law school where you might go into serious debt AND face a bleak job market. But law degrees are also more versatile, and more lucrative when things work out well.

In short, phil grad students should have some purpose they'd like to achieve in school beyond simply graduating and getting the job. If this doesn't work out as a career, would you still have gained something vital here? Will you regret going down this road? Long ago I decided I was willing to pay that price even if the end result was 3 more years of law school. It's easy for me to say it was worth it, because things worked out, but I'm pretty sure it would have been worth it even if they did not.

The need for a back-up plan also does not disappear simply because you have lucked out and found a job! Universities are hiring for so many non-TT jobs now, and facing budget crises, and the tenure hurdle can be very high. Having a plan B at all times can also help broaden your skill set and outlook. A little extra dose of pragmatism doesn't hurt most phil. profs!

Anonymous said...

I applied for every federal job in the DC/Maryland area (where the majority of federal openings are) that a PhD in general or a BA in the social sciences qualified me for over the period of about seven months. I never even got to the point where a human being read my application.

If I didn't get a VAP at the last minute I would probably have fallen back on the closest thing to a sure thing I found, the US military. If you are below a certain age (33 if I recall) you can join as an officer, and they are very interested in PhDs in any field. Like most people I have serious moral reservations about the US military and being a part of it, but my moral reservations about my daughter not having healthcare would have trumped those. That is the best backup plan I could find, probably because 17% or so of the adult population is out of work and 10% or so are looking for work.

Anonymous said...

To anon 3:30, who said they applied to tons of jobs in the D.C. area but never got a human being to read their app, I think you pointed out the problem yourself.

There will be tons of paper and online applications, particularly for the spots you described- "any social science BA" as a qualification is going to get hundreds of responses. So you have to do the legwork yourself to stand out and make human contact happen. Networking is huge, of course, and you should do it every single opportunity you have. Follow up calls or emails regarding the status of your application are very important (although sometimes HR will specifically request you not do this).

The informational interviews suggested in another comment can be extremely helpful as well-- they give you a specific example of how someone got there, and often lead to more contacts ("let me give you x's name, their area of expertise sounds right up your alley").

You could be extremely qualified for the job, but if your paper application is identical to a bunch of liberal arts folks except they've been networking, interning, schmoozing... Welcome to the world outside academia, you have to play the game to win. Don't be a recluse in the proverbial philosopher's chair... Do the legwork, get out there!

Anonymous said...

Also, for the folks talking about teaching high school as an option, it's probably more accessible than you think. In North Carolina, for example, you can do lateral entry with just a B.A. degree. You start teaching (paid, benefits, all that jazz) while taking classes at night or over the summer to get your certification. Your teaching degree is usually transferable to other states, as most states have reciprocity agreements.

NC isn't the only place to do this, many states have 'alternate routes' to a teaching degree as long as you have a BA.

Still, the other commenter may be right that schools are reluctant to hire phds because they are too expensive. A good bet might be finding a state that is low on teachers (like NC) but applying to mainly wealthy schools, or private schools.

Anonymous said...

To anon 1:20pm. I am not new to non-academic life. I have worked for the US government before, I have worked in HR departments before, and a whole assortment of crappy jobs in between. The activities you describe simply do not work given the way the federal government interfaces with applicants. When you apply to a job with the federal government you fill out a questionnaire. That questionnaire is scored and based the scores you are either referred or not referred to the selection agent. If you are not referred to the selection agent then no one sees your application. An automated email is sent to you to inform you of this. That email address does not even accept replies (they get bounced back). If you call a government department and try to make some human contact then they will ask you for your application number and if you were not referred to the selection agent they will simply tell you that there is nothing they can do. The whole reason they have this system (the USAjobs system) in place is so that they will not have to deal with thousands of glad handers for each job they advertise. The federal government is not the only one doing this. Most large retailers are adopting a similar system to reduce the strain on HR departments. They want to reduce the effectiveness of networking by people who are outside of whatever industry is in question because of the time that gets wasted having to deal with those people. There is an incentive for every large scale employer to do this, so I don't think your advice is actually all that useful.

Where do people get this idea that just because a person went to graduate school they have no familiarity with anything else? I have worked more jobs in the last 10 years than parents worked, combined, in their entire lives. Most people in my graduate department (which is a top 20 department) also have an extensive work history outside of academia. We aren't babes in the woods, and the assumption that advice like 'legwork and networking are the key' is going to be illuminating also feels condescending to me.

Anonymous said...

http://careers.guardian.co.uk/forums?plckForumPage=ForumDiscussion&plckDiscussionId=Cat%3afbe1954f-19a7-4006-82a3-08b5319f4c1dForum%3a7296f258-6ce7-4743-b359-795e7661e245Discussion%3a342af609-b264-44b6-b34f-fccf35698616

This may be of interest to some, and it may be worth its own thread.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:54,

If you find some of the advice condescending, you should probably assume that it's not meant for you.

You're right that lots of grad students have non-academic work experience. Some of the comments on this thread, though, suggest that some people on here have no experience finding (real) jobs outside academia. They would like some help. Perhaps you could use your experience and knowledge of the non-academic world to offer something more positive.

Anonymous said...

9:14
Oh, come on, 1:20 *was* being condescending, plus he didn't know what he was talking about. (My wife calls this 'dumbdescending', which needs to be a real word.)