Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Should Phillis Bail?

An anonymous Smoker writes: 
Imagine a philosophy PhD student - call her Phillis -  who is about half way through her well-ranked program. Phillis is a bright student whose adviser thinks highly of her. She wouldn't fit a description like "best student this adviser has had in the last five years" but nevertheless she's a promising scholar in her mid to late-20s working in an area of philosophy that is high in demand, to the extent that jobs in philosophy are highly demanded. 
Further imagine that Phillis finds herself in the following circumstances with the following psychological profile: She has friends and family on both the west and east coast and would prefer to live near one group of them to not living near either group somewhere in the middle of the country. She doesn't currently want to own a house, nor does she want to start a family right now, but she wants to keep those options open in the not-too-distant future. She finds joy in the arts, professional sports, fine dining, the outdoors, etc. She finds philosophy intrinsically rewarding but she's not a true-believer, as she can imagine finding fulfillment doing other things, too. She has little work experience outside philosophy, however, and is worried that she is, to some extent, stuck on the philosophy-trajectory because of this. She also expects that if she were to leave philosophy she would regret not fulfilling her goal, but she doesn't expect that the regret would be debilitating. She is also mildly frustrated living on a graduate student wage and has come to find the solitariness of philosophical work a bit exhausting. Again, though, she not infrequently finds satisfaction in doing philosophy. 
Question: Does it make sense for Phillis to continue pursuing philosophy professionally, given the awful state of the job market? Why or why not? 
Go ahead and substitute for 'make sense' whatever normative terminology you find most useful (e.g. 'rational', 'the thing to do', etc). 
Surely some philosopher (you perhaps) has fit Phillis' description at some point in their lives. And if not, surely some philosopher who is paid to try and sort out how people ought to live would have some insight to share.
I don't really know what Phillis should do, and I don't really feel qualified to comment. But that's never stopped me before, so here's what I sort of think. To me, it seems like Phillis might be better off if she bailed on philosophy. Tenure line jobs are hard to come by, and it's even tougher if one is picky about being on the coast. If she can find a tenure-line job at all, she's probably going to wind up in Evansville or Des Moines or someplace. And if she wouldn't mind it too much, and wouldn't have a crushing sense of failure and regret that she didn't stick with it, and if there are other things about philosophy she finds unsatisfying or frustrating, and she can find something else on one of the coasts, maybe she ought to bail. 

But look. I don't know. I would say that my experience on the job market has been a real struggle, but I would not say that I regret my decision to pursue this career. And I don't think I'll end up regretting it, even if I end up giving up on it. Not that this really means anything. Your mileage may vary. 

On the other hand (back to the first hand?), I sometimes think about my friends and family who still live in and around the city we grew up in, and I am nearly overcome with insane jealousy. I guess my mileage may vary, too. 

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

For me, "well-ranked" program is too ambiguous to really make a call. That could mean top 10 or, to some, it could mean top 25 or even top 40. Those are all very different things. In my observation, women can be at a slight advantage in the job market, supposing they are very good philosophers, since some departments can be pretty unbalanced gender-wise and seek to rectify that. And, as you mentioned, she is in an "in-demand" field. If this means ethics or mind or something, this is no doubt an advantage on the job market. Suppose her situation was, and I have no idea, exceptionally bright female philosopher from Berkeley with a dissertation in philosophy of mind. That's an enviable resume. On the other hand, above average female philosopher from Florida State with a dissertation on phil of language. Maybe not as strong of a candidate, so it's really tough to say given the situation. In the first instance, I saw stick with it. In the second...given her vacillation, I'm just not sure.

Anonymous said...

This query and the initial response suffer from what I see as a standard problem among graduate students, and undergrads for that matter. That some definitive decision has to be made about the future NOW. I would tell Phillis to do two things:
(a) Work through the roller coaster that is grad school. Doing philosophy, and really any mentally taxing work, is kind of like inviting a kind of bipolar existence. If you've come far enough to get the MA, get the MA. If you are working on your dissertation, why not finish it and get the PhD.
(b) Start thinking of your Plan B. If Philosophy doesn't work out in the way you'd like (living on one coast or the other, in a decent position), what else would you be willing to do? Law school? Public policy? Management consulting? There is reason why you can't use grad school as an opportunity to position yourself (through coursework, volunteering, serving on committees) to be able to follow through on Plan B.

Anonymous said...

I would suggest staying in. I think it would be hard to leave without the PhD and may cause of life of regret.

That said, it's time to start working on a plan B in terms of career: trying to work part time in a profession or learning marketable skills.

Anonymous said...

As someone about to embark on a PhD course in the UK (having just finished an MA) I have quite similar sentiments to Phillis.

Question, directed at current or recently graduated grad students: How easy (or hard) is it to do some part time work at the same time as writing a dissertation/preparing for the Philosophy job market? In other words, how likely is it that one will feel able to cultivate a plan B while in the midst of one's PhD?

Anonymous said...

As someone about to embark on a PhD course in the UK (having just finished an MA) I have quite similar sentiments to Phillis.

Question, directed at current or recently graduated grad students: How easy (or hard) is it to do some part time work at the same time as writing a dissertation/preparing for the Philosophy job market? In other words, how likely is it that one will feel able to cultivate a plan B while in the midst of one's PhD?

Anonymous said...

If Phillis is unable to adopt an Epictetus-like attitude regarding securing employment and location of employment, she should perhaps bail. Also, has Phillis taught her own courses? (Do graduate wages include teaching stipends?) Teaching and doing philosophy are not the same thing and the job very much involves teaching—and sitting on faculty service committees, etc. (I know Phillis knows this, just wanted to bring it up since it wasn't mentioned.) If Phillis has already taught and can't be Epictetus, I say bail. If she has not yet taught, or not much, I'd say she should teach a bit more before making up her mind. I had a lot of doubt about continuing, but after I got a few classes under my belt, I fell in love with teaching and decided to finish and commit to giving it my all on the market. I have a VAP and am trying to finish up my diss—and am a decade older than Phillis—if that matters. I'm uncertain about my future but am happy. In the end, I second Mr. Zero: I can't pretend to know what is best. (And when I consider how people with more merit than I possess are having such a hard time getting a job, I begin to suspect I probably do not know what is best!—for instance, why am I even reading The Philosophy Smoker? I should be working on my diss.) Good luck, "Phillis".

Anonymous said...

She definitely should finish her Phd. I know a lot of people whi regret having abandoned the program, but I do not know anybody who regrets having finished the PhD. Having a Phd is intrinsically valuable, it a bug achievement and it feels great having it. Also, people start looking at you in a different way, andnyou feel more respected. This is true regardless of the job that you end up getting after you graduate. The candidate can apply to jobs after she graduates, and see what she gets. If she gets nothing interesting, she can start developing plan B. Life is long enough to do both. I do not see any real dilemma here.

Anonymous said...

Phillis should bail. In the vast, vast majority of cases, a successful career in philosophy requires one to sacrifice the very things that are important to Phillis, such as geographic location.

The longer she waits, the harder it will be to extricate herself from philosophy. Graduate school is a slow process of indoctrination into a form of life (and, in the case of philosophy, a pretty screwed up form of life as is evidenced by McGinngate). The longer you are in it, the more unthinkable it will be to leave. And a doctorate in philosophy is not going to impress anyone worth impressing. Given her circumstances, staying in graduate school is the path to madness and endless visiting positions.

Phillis: you’re not that into philosophy. That’s perfectly fine. But you’d be crazy to make it your life. Use the upcoming year, and your graduate student health insurance, to plan your escape.


The Voice of Reason

Anonymous said...

The thing about plan B is that it will probably involve going back to school. At least, that's what I take away from the fact that she has little experience outside of philosophy. If she's okay with pursuing yet another degree--probably incurring some debt in the process--then she should probably bail. If I weren't so old and in so much debt, I would have probably bailed a couple of years ago. I'm not even hoping for a job at this point; I just want to finish this damn thing so I can apply to Teach for America or something like that.

Anonymous said...

If there's one piece of advice I would give for people thinking about leaving the profession it is to stop thinking about work the way they think about academia.

There is no degree that will guarantee you a job and there are few jobs that require a specific degree.

The world of commerce is a fluid place full of a lot of people with a generic 4-year degree in communications, or business or history or what have you.

If you want to live in a big city then you'll likely either work in a large corporation or work for yourself. Large corporations have lots of employees that do lots of random things whatever the industry (Marketing, Consulting, Banking etc). Most of these firms will have lots of random jobs for random people with random backgrounds, although not the best paid or most exciting (still paying better than academia though).

There are also coveted jobs in all these industries but even getting those is less about getting yet another degree and more about building a skill set and a professional network. The get-a-degree approach is used by young people and you've already missed that boat by going to grad school in philosophy.

Starting a Plan B is as easy as getting a temp job at one of these companies and as hard as toiling in obscurity for years and years. Where you go is up to you.

Anonymous said...

Yes, she should walk away.

1) "She is also mildly frustrated living on a graduate student wage and has come to find the solitariness of philosophical work a bit exhausting."

In all likelihood, this will not change. As TT lines disappear and are replaced with adjunct work, there's a more than fair chance she will end up living a grad student lifestyle years after she graduates. She will find that, in order to get a TT job, she will have to out-perform people in the field who already have tenure.

2) "She has little work experience outside philosophy, however, and is worried that she is, to some extent, stuck on the philosophy-trajectory because of this."

As I comment every time a "Plan B" thread is raised, this lack of non-philosophical experience can be a killer, and Phillis will continue to lack this experience for as long as she continues to *not* get experience elsewhere. She lacks this experience because she has yet to go get any such experience. If that causes her anxiety, there's only one way to fix it. The longer she waits, the more insulting she will find entry-level work experience. If she's anything like most philosophy grad students at well-ranked programs, by the time she finishes the PhD she will be flat-out opposed to gaining entry-level experience in anything else. The longer she waits, the more worried she will become.

Get out now. The longer you put off starting the rest of your life, the more difficult it will be for you to do so.

Anonymous said...

"How easy (or hard) is it to do some part time work at the same time as writing a dissertation/preparing for the Philosophy job market? In other words, how likely is it that one will feel able to cultivate a plan B while in the midst of one's PhD?"

All the time you devote to Plan B, is time that you are *not* devoting to your dissertation and/or the job market. You will end up doing a half-assed job of both. Pick one, and stick it out.

Remember that you will be competing on either market with people who are not trying to cultivate two different career paths.

Anonymous said...

"All the time you devote to Plan B, is time that you are *not* devoting to your dissertation and/or the job market. You will end up doing a half-assed job of both. Pick one, and stick it out. "

I disagree.

I would rather call this "hedging your bets" which is not a bad strategy.

I hedged my bets, finished my PhD and now have a high paying job and the pride in completing a very difficult project that I was passionate about.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I regret having finished the Ph.D. I have taught ethics for 10 years and am thoroughly disillusioned with the field, especially the people with highly unethical characters who decide to become ethicists (as well as journal editors and heads of associations/societies). So, I'm trying to move on to a legitimate profession that pays better, but at every turn I'm met with skepticism and rejection because I'm "over-educated" and yet "under-qualified" (perhaps they mean too many academic credentials, including those in the professional field, not enough practical work experience). Phillis should give up on the Ph.D. and instead pursue a professional degree. Even a Masters in Library Sciences would give an incredible boost to her job prospects.

Anonymous said...

Everytime we do this...we end up just getting conflicting anecdotes. I don't think that that's necessarily a bad thing. I think it might be helpful if those who feel like they succeeded in academia would say how long it took them and whether they were otherwise similarly situated as the woman who asked for advice.

I say she should focus on transitioning out of academia while taking advantage of the healthcare and TA wages/Fellowships to pay the bills. If she finds something then that's GREAT! If not then it sounded like she was early enough in the program to double-down and finish.

My anecdote: I did the above and ended up taking the necessary exams and steps to become certified to teach in public K-12 while in graduate school which was comforting to know. I ultimately ended up finishing my degree and have a long-term stable job that pay decently well in a philosophy department that has a lot of interpersonal problems. It's a mixed bag.

Anonymous said...

Really, only Phillis can answer this. We can all provide advice and give anecdotes, but there is no right answer.

But Phillis needs to remember this: right now, this is your exit. This is your chance to get off the highway. Should you stay in and see it through to the end, you are taking a huge risk. Should you not get a job and find yourself lamenting the sad state of the field, and complaining about all the time lost on your PhD, remember this thread. Because if you stay, you *might* get a job in the field. But if you leave, you *will* be able to start on another path.

Anonymous said...

one point worth noting: if you're at a prestigious school it might be worth completing the PhD to make yourself more hirable outside of philosophy down the road.

A potential boss might be very impressed by a PhD from Harvard but not care at all about a PhD from Pitt, and no amount of explaining that these are peer departments will make a difference.

students should keep this in mind when choosing grad schools as well.

PhDIsSweetness said...

Absolutely she should finish the PhD. She's very close to getting the world's premiere academic qualification, and yes I know about sunk costs but in a sense she's gotten this far and should finish things up.

It's tough to predict what the job market will look like next year, let alone in three years, nor whether her field will be in demand or not, and so on.

So she should get her PhD. Then look for jobs. If she doesn't find an academic gig that suits her (totally reasonable) tastes, then she will have a huge advantage in getting a non-academic job that will allow her to live the sort of life she desires.

Basically, if she leaves now she has nothing. She is one of myriad liberal-artsy people, unemployed, who are competing for scarce jobs, good and otherwise. If she finishes then she has a PhD in philosophy which is awesome and will get her a good job, somewhere. Go to Washington and work for the federal government. Get a think tank job. Work for Coca-Cola and bring in the dough. Or a PE firm on Wall Street. The world is your oyster. Trust me.

Anonymous said...

Why is Phyllis "not just that into philosophy" just because she has some very modest desires (viz. to make a liveable wage; start a family; own a house; and live in a city that doesn't totally fucking suck).

Those requirements all seem perfectly reasonable to me, and the the fact that Phyllis might not be willing to take a shitty temporary job in some podunk town, for minimal pay and no benefits, to me speaks highly of her intellectual character. It's not that she's not devoted to philosophy; it's that she's not willing to be buttfucked in exchange for some sort of ideological purity.

Finish the PhD and then find a job that compensates you fairly and enables your life goals. Maybe that'll be in philosophy; maybe not.

Anonymous said...

"If she doesn't find an academic gig that suits her (totally reasonable) tastes, then she will have a huge advantage in getting a non-academic job that will allow her to live the sort of life she desires."

Every market year, people ask how to turn their Philosophy PhDs into non-Philosophy jobs. So now's as good a time as any to ask; how does one do this?

What exactly is her "huge advantage," and how does she make that advantage apparent? Because from what I can tell, a Philosophy PhD is an albatross around one's neck when looking for non-academic work.

In other words, details please.

Anonymous said...

Philosophy makes you awesome, not employable. Now do you want to be awesome or do you want to be employed? Choose.

Anonymous said...

Whoa Nelly! While I did assert that Phillis just doesn’t seem that into philosophy, I didn’t mean to endorse the idea that a would-be philosopher ought to be willing to sacrifice all her other preferences and values at the altar of Philosophy. But unfortunately, professional success in philosophy does require that you give up many things; geographic mobility is at the very top of this list. I don’t like it, but that’s academia.

I have no reason to believe that a PhD in philosophy is an asset on the non-academic job market (although I’m not sure it is an albatross exactly), and every year you stay in graduate school, you incur opportunity costs. That’s not to deny the rewards of graduate school. If you’re independently wealthy, it’s as nice a place as any to while away your salad years. But even if there is some value in getting a PhD, it’s risky for ambivalent students to invest years in a graduate program because the longer you stay, the more difficult it is to leave at all (see comment at 2:06) or leave without feeling like some sort of failure.

I think every ambivalent graduate student (or potential graduate student or potentially ambivalent graduate student) should read this essay:



The Voice of Reason

Anonymous said...

"Every market year, people ask how to turn their Philosophy PhDs into non-Philosophy jobs. So now's as good a time as any to ask; how does one do this?

What exactly is her "huge advantage," and how does she make that advantage apparent? Because from what I can tell, a Philosophy PhD is an albatross around one's neck when looking for non-academic work. "

I'm always amazed by how few people realize what a massive credential the PhD is, and how it can be leveraged outside of academia to your professional advantage. I guess it is because a lot of people in grad. school are terribly sheltered and coddled, or at least unaware of all the other opportunities available, work-wise.

So for example, the federal government is a big entity. It has many parts. Find a part that appeals to you and work there. Perhaps you would live to live overseas and go to cocktail parties and help make foreign policy? Join the State Department. Or investigate major crimes and terrorism and carry a gun and drive around Miami with an expense account? Join the FBI. Protect the environment? Join the EPA. Sell your soul to Satan? Work on the Hill. With a PhD you will likely come in as a GS13 or higher, which, counting benefits, means more than $100k a year. That will enable you to do fun things, like travel around the world and not have a shitty life. Go to usajobs.com and go nuts.

Also there is this thing called business. Businesses sell goods and services. People are needed to run the businesses. At the top-level, the corporate level, the core skills necessary are conducting rigorous analysis; making sound judgments; and communicating accurately. These are philosophy skills. These jobs will pay well in excess of 100k. To get these jobs you should go to the relevant company's website, and apply for them.

If you are a technical type (logic, maybe some m&e grads, whatever), or just a good bullshitter, go to work at private equity firms, or hedge funds, in the nyc area. You will be part of the problem, for sure, and i will hate you, but that downside will be mitigated by the 400k+ you're bringing it each year and the multiple models you're hooking up with regularly.

Just think of things that would be fun, understand that, as a philosophy PhD you are ipso facto awesome, and then go after that job. Use alumni contacts. Use you college job assistance office. if you can't figure out how to pursue your dream, repost here and I would be happy to give you some guidance. It is not that hard though.

Recently went to my high school reunion. Mostly nice people, some jerkfaces, whatever. Most awesome person there was this formerly-mousey girl who now produces soft-core porn for cable companies. I'm sure she makes a ton doing it and so yeah she is basically awesome.

so That is what you should do. Get the PhD (fucking awesome) in philosophy, which is oldest, most difficult, most important, and most excellent academic discipline in the world and then go work for NASA.

David Wallace said...

For non-academic jobs (I speak only from second-hand experience) it's less a matter of whether a CV is good in itself and more what case you can make around it. I think it's somewhat easier for Phillis to make the case that she pursued to completion her PhD, learned a lot of important skills, demonstrated the ability to complete a major project, has lots of self-motivation, etc etc, than it is to explain why she hasn't just wasted three years on a half-completed project with nothing to show for it, and why her dropping out of the PhD isn't a sign that she doesn't see things through. (I'm sure either case could be made, though, so I don't think this is decisive.)

Anonymous said...

First post: "In my observation, women can be at a slight advantage in the job market, supposing they are very good philosophers, since some departments can be pretty unbalanced gender-wise and seek to rectify that."

Your observation does not match the empirical data, so can we finally put this myth to rest? There might be some reason to believe that women are at a *slight* advantage on the high-end TT market, but those jobs only go to top 10 program grads, anyway. Move beyond that, and women are still disadvantaged relative to men.

Anonymous said...

One thing Phillis should consider is whether her current unhappiness with philosophy is a steady, guiding phenomena or a passing phase. I, for one, spent a great deal of time as a very unhappy graduate student contemplating dropping out, but, on the whole, I am happy in philosophy and glad that I've stayed (even without yet having a stable job). I think a lot of my unhappiness was less with doing philosophy and more with how I felt that I was on a career path where shame and failure were inevitable. Is Phillis unhappy all or most of the time or just some of the time? Can she remember ever being happy while doing philosophy? If the answers to these questions is "all" and "no" then leaving seems like the right course. If not, this may just be a completely normal passing phase of angst and insecurity.

As far as geography is concerned, I think it's worth considering that, in philosophy, you can probably have some of the things you want but not all of the things you want. A well paying, tenure track job on the coast is a difficult thing to come by. Especially if by "coast" Phillis really means "New York, DC, LA or San Diego." If "coast" also includes places like South Carolina, Florida and Washington then options do open up a bit. If location is really a top priority (and there are plenty of reasons wht that would be perfectly rational) it might require some out of the box thinking. I know several people with geographical restrictions who are currently making things work. They are happy, but none of them are on the tenure track.

Anonymous said...

Just to add another anecdote: Phillis's situation sounds like mine in graduate school. I elected to finish the Ph.D., and during my year on the job market I applied both to academic philosophy jobs (only in cities I found desirable or very desirable jobs in non-desirable cities) and to non-academic jobs (e.g. a hedge fund). I thought of both types of jobs as having some virtues that the others didn't have (e.g. non-philosophy jobs: more opportunities to engage with the real world). I didn't think of the non-philosophy ones as "second tier."

I ended up getting a philosophy job and being excited about it. But I think grad school is much easier if you don't mentally put all your eggs in the academic-job basket, but rather think of your options as being whatever they happen to be the year you finish the Ph.D. (Or, possibly, two years: but no more!) This seems to be more in line with the way many science Ph.D.'s think about it. And there are lots of exciting things to do with one's life!

Anonymous said...

I think on the issue of job location there is no way to know what will happen either way. I got my PhD about seven years ago from a strong program, and that year there were like six people in my group on the job market. They ended up getting jobs or post docs in places like Portland, Sacramento, Buffalo, Boston, Princeton, and the New York area. So there's just no telling where you will end up and it can go either way. I don't think there is a way to really know this until you go out on the market and see what happens. I happened to get my job in the New York area and that part has been pretty good for me, but you can't really plan where you will get your first job.

Anonymous said...

Has Phillis learned anything about herself or about the profession of philosophy in graduate school that she didn't know when she signed up? If she entered graduate school in 2009 or later, she already knew that the job market could be very bad when she graduates and that she won't have geographic flexibility even if the market is good. She doesn't sound as if she's had any major revelations about her personal needs and preferences, her abilities, or her interest in the field.

So I'm puzzled about why this question is coming up for her now. If it doesn't make sense for her to stay in philosophy, it presumably didn't make sense for her to start graduate school in the first place. Maybe the initial decision was unwise, but I don't understand what's leading Phillis to question her earlier decision.

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of great comments here, and I agree with a lot of them. My own thoughts on the matter:

This may be a total red herring, but I feel like it really matters why she decided to go into philosophy in the first place. What about it attracted her such that she pursued it? I feel like she should:
a. reflect on what features she was attracted to
b. reflect on whether those features still attract her
c. reflect on whether those features can be found by pursuing another career path that is a little more accessible (i.e. she stands a better chance of finding and keeping a job, while not sacrificing the original features)

When she gets to c (assuming b is a yes), if she CAN find another path with those features, she should think hard about taking that path, if NOT then she should stick with philosophy.

My personal experience is that I left school without the phd, and got an entry-level position in a university. Realizing that I didn't want to have that job forever, I decided to finish the degree (I had only writing left to do) while holding the job. Once I had earned the degree, I was able to convince hire-ups to promote and develop me, and now I'm on a much more satisfying career track, one that is a much better fit. I'm very happy I both finished AND left the philosophy track, in case someone is looking for a heartening story in that vein! :)

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon 11:59

What planet are you on? You really think a PhD in ***Philosophy*** alone will get you into the State Department at 100k a year? Or the FBI? Or NASA? Or 400k a year at a hedge fund? That is just fucking absurd in the extreme. Literally NONE of those employers are even going to give a philosophy PhD an interview. Unless they also have degrees in economics, criminology, psychology, physics, or some other STEM field. Seriously,get a clue. Stop giving people utterly bullshit advice.

Anonymous said...

"What planet are you on? You really think a PhD in ***Philosophy*** alone will get you into the State Department at 100k a year? Or the FBI? Or NASA? Or 400k a year at a hedge fund? That is just fucking absurd in the extreme. Literally NONE of those employers are even going to give a philosophy PhD an interview. Unless they also have degrees in economics, criminology, psychology, physics, or some other STEM field. Seriously,get a clue. Stop giving people utterly bullshit advice."

It is not bullshit advice. In fact, I *know* that it happens. I *know* quite well one philosopher who did it! And guess who that philosopher is? Me!

But don't take my word for it. Do some research! You can get a good job at any of those federal agencies with a philosophy PhD, either by applying directly or through an alternate program, like the Presidential Management Fellowship. A little research will yield the relevant information.

Now, I do not get too upset over loudmouths on the Internet. But I must say I am baffled when someone who (I presume) has no experience with non-academic jobs for philosophers, tells me that I know nothing about non-academic jobs for philosophers, when in fact I am a philosopher in a non-academic job and thus have first-hand experience.


-Ludwig Motherfucking Wittgenstein

zombie said...

"You really think a PhD in ***Philosophy*** alone will get you into the State Department at 100k a year? Or the FBI? Or NASA? Or 400k a year at a hedge fund? That is just fucking absurd in the extreme. Literally NONE of those employers are even going to give a philosophy PhD an interview."

Speaking from my own (albeit limited) experience, I have to agree. I dipped my toes into the government job market during my third year on the market. I got a LOT of PFOs, a mixture of "you're overqualified" and "you're underqualified." The jobs were all related to my AOS. In no case was just having a PhD in philosophy an adequate qualification.

Entry level government jobs don't pay no 100k either.

Got a funny PFO today. Funny because I had not even applied for the job. That is efficiency -- I was rejected without putting any effort into it whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 5:40... (Anon 4:59 here)

You did it. So everyone can? That's a good strong induction. A data set of point. Impressive.

Look...if it were the case that Gov't and Business interests were willing to hire Philosophy PhDs to 6-figure salaries, then NO ONE would have trouble landing a TT job in philosophy, because a huge mass of philosophy PhDs would be siphoned into 6-figure jobs. But it is next to impossible to land a TT job. It stands to reason then, that Gov't and Business are not raking masses of newly minted philosophy PhDs off the board. Why might that be? You'd have us believe it is due to the ignorance of philosophy PhDs...we just don't know the hidden truths that you know. But that is bullshit. Again, because if there were a golden parachute out there for philosophy PhDs, you can bet it would be all over this sight. Yet it is not. That leaves one option: Gov't and Business are not interested in hiring failed philosophy PhDs to 6-figure salaries. Period. Which means your advice is worthless.

You say you got a 6-figure with your philosophy PhD. I say, it is an easy claim to make, sense you are anonymous, and we know nothing about your background or whether you had other degrees (e.g. a STEM) degree to pair with your philosophy degree, or whether you benefited from nepotism, or the "good ol' boy" network, or the value of a prestigious alma mater. (Some idiots in business, will, one assumes, hire anyone with a Harvard/Princeton/Yale PhD regardless of the field of study).

Bottom line your sampling is too damn small to be informative and your results show evidence of being repeatable. I'll even go one further and invite anyone to NON-ANONYMOUSLY post about the 6-figure Gov't/Business position they landed with ONLY a Philosophy PhD from a non-elite university with NO undergrad STEM degree or further post-secondary education.

I await the flood of responses.

Anonymous said...

Gov't jobs are a great option for philosophy PhDs who desire to work outside the field. In fact, I recommend them to philosophy *BAs*, several of whom I know are working in the civil service in various capacities.

An entry level gov't job for a PhD pays well in excess of 100k when you include benefits. A philosophy PhD would comes in as a GS-13, which is 89k with locality pay. Then add 5% for TSP. Add then OT at about $45 an hour, depending on what you do that's probably good for 10k a year. Obviously, if you are working for State (e.g.) and living overseas, you are additionally getting COLA, Post Diff, either free housing or per diem, etc., etc. Each agency will have different perks. But the point is that if you join the feds as a newly minted philosophy PhD you will be making about 100k right off the bat, no matter the agency.

Anonymous said...

"You did it. So everyone can? That's a good strong induction. A data set of point. Impressive."

Since I do not consider myself especially a genius, nor did I benefit from any luck, yes, it seems to me that since I did it others can as well.

Every year hundreds of newly-minted BAs/BSs become FSOs. They are immediately posted overseas and make 100k. Now, if they can do it, why can't you? That just doesn't make sense. Lots of new MAs from Liberty U. and Bob Jones U. and similar places are selected as PMFs to work in the civil service in Washington. Why can't a philosophy PhD from a good school, with all her education and judgment and erudition do the same? Of course she can.

I have only received degrees in philosophy. I have never benefitted from nepotism; in fact, I didn't even get a cent for my BA from my parents. I'm just a regular dude, reasonably smart, fairly dorky. What I do have, I suppose, is a willingness to take a little risk, to try new things, professionally and otherwise, and I a minimally sufficient work ethic. Also, I do not really whine very much.

Oh, and someone who chooses to try something non-philosophical after getting a PhD isn't a "failure". She is, rather, interested in trying something non-philosophical. Or so it seems to me. Perhaps I am erring?

Anonymous said...

6:58 and those who don't believe him. I'm in a weird position to comment on this. I left philo recently and after a totally depressing herculean effort landed a non-academic job that pays little (a job I dislike, ha!). It was maddening trying to convince folks out there that I have some skills to go with a philo PhD. But my current job is such that I come in contact with loads of successful youngish people doing impressive shit for a good pay. Those folks come from all over the place, including PhD programs, off-beat jobs/careers, you name it. It takes a really smart person to make it happen and I suspect 6:58 is one such. Have seen them with my own eyes. Sad thing is, I'm not made out of the same material, try as I might.

Anonymous said...

The last time Smokers discussed non-academic job prospects, I posted a comment in which I'd worked out exactly what each and every person I could remember in graduate school had ended up doing. (I'm about twelve years out now.) Everyone who left academia was fine -- very well-paying jobs in government, law, business, computer science. The only folks who might plausibly be counted as struggling were some of those who remained in academia but couldn't find permanent positions. It seems to me rather pointless for this discussion to devolve into bickering about exactly how promising a government job may be for philosophy PhDs. It won't work for everyone, sure, but as 11;59 points out, it's certainly a live option for some.

Anonymous said...

This one is VERY simple:

If she will be happy doing *anything* she should walk away and never look back.

Anonymous said...

I would just add to 11:06 and 12:31 (recognizing they had very different points, but I think they are related). I think people worry too much about "what can you do with a PhD". The answer really is "not much".

It's an answer I give as a PhD that left academia. People ask me, for example, "how does your PhD help you in your current career?" and I say "not much".

Truth is, I got a lot out of my PhD studies. I learned how to be a knowledge creator instead of just a knowledge learner. I learned what expertise means. I battled through the defense process which is far harder than any politics you get in the private sector.

But at the end of the day, what has allowed me to do (relatively) well in the private sector is being smart, working smart, always trying to upskill in my new profession, but also importantly moving on from the PhD.

It was something I did. Now I do something else.

When I look at my cohort from grad school, the meaningful percentage that went into the private sector all pretty much got there the same way. They started working somewhere / on something for extra money in grad school and then when they finished their degree / dropped out, put more energy into it and moved up (or stagnated as the case may be) the career ladder the way everybody does.

There, in my opinion, is no magic bullet for getting a new career. Only in the absurd world of academia and philosophy is there a single publication that lists all the jobs in the field once a year, the same time every year with one place everyone goes to interview.

The world is becoming a more and more unstructured place. Making money in this environment is a question of skill, perseverance, networking and luck.

So, my advice for Phillis, and anybody else, is that if you have even one inkling that you might want to leave the field try to find a good paying part-time or temp job in an industry in the town / city you are in. That is the kind of thing that could lead to a good paying career.

Anonymous said...

I love teaching and writing about philosophy, but I absolutely loathe the culture of academia in general and philosophy in particular. Most of the philosophers I have met in my life are scumbags. The same is true, honestly, of the academics I have met in general. Is it worth it? Well, I have a job--not a very good one, but a job nonetheless--and that's good. But I find the profession so incredibly nauseating that I feel guilty for even belonging to it. As a result I have neither the desire nor, honestly, the chops to succeed in academic philosophy. If given the chance to do it all over again, I would have done something else. Academics are obnoxious asshats.

Anonymous said...


Is that really true, or are you being hyperbolic? Because if it is true, your and my experiences with philosophers (and academics in general) differ pretty radically. I've certainly encountered a few asshole philosophers, but they come nowhere near constituting more than half of the philosophers I've met. (I'm just going to use 'asshole' where you use 'scumbag' and 'asshat'). I'd say the asshole rate seems about the same (maybe even lower!) as it is for most groups I've interacted with (though of course the ways philosophers tend to be assholes is different from the ways many others tend to be assholes--there are many ways to be an asshole).

So I'm curious about the cause of this difference in perspective. Here are some possible, partial explanations I've considered:
(1) There's some difference between us--perhaps geographical, perhaps subfield, perhaps something else or a combination of several--that makes you more likely to come into contact with philosophers with very different personalities from those of the ones I come into contact with. So if I were to meet your acquaintances, I would believe there's a higher asshole rate than I currently do, and if you were to meet mine, you'd believe there's a lower rate than you currently do. If this is the case, there's probably more assholes than I believe and less than you believe, assuming that neither of us are confined to very small communities that are outliers with respect to assholery.
(2) There's some difference in the way philosophers treat us. So even if we were exposed to the same group of philosophers, we'd still have different exposures to certain aspects of their behaviors. I'm still a student, so there's a particularly important relationship type that I've yet to experience: the colleague relation. Maybe philosophers tend to treat their students well, but their colleagues like shit. I'm also a straight white male, so there may be homophobic/racist/sexist tendencies in philosophers that I don't experience myself and have overlooked due to carelessness or privilege. If this explanation is right, you probably have more accurate picture of the field's asshole level, and I should adjust my views.
(3) We have different takes on what constitutes an asshole. Perhaps I am especially conservative or you are especially liberal when it comes to ascribing this property (and similar ones). But at least, on this explanation, we differ in what behaviors we would consider sufficient for someone's being an asshole. Could you think of a philosopher or two who is what you would take to be the standard kind of philosopher-asshole and describe their relevant properties? Or better yet, describe one who you take to just barely be an asshole.
(4) We extrapolate differently from our observations to conclusions about thoughts (and motives, desires, etc.) and unobserved behaviors. Perhaps I am significantly more charitable (and perhaps over-charitable) in my interpretation of various behaviors. It would help if you could describe an example of a case where someone is behaving in a way that merits your believing that they're an asshole (and presumably there are many such cases).

Let me know if any of these strike you as being the right explanation(s). Or feel free to offer up your own. If it turns out that it's not (3) or (4) doing most of the work and that you have a more accurate picture of the field, I suspect I'd agree with the advice you implicitly offer to Phillis, and perhaps even take it myself.

Anonymous said...


Everyone will have anecdotes that they believe should sway your decision. It's all bullshit. Don't ignore it all, but realize that it won't be terribly helpful.

This may sound silly, but make a list. Two columns: what you are willing to sacrifice for the chance at a career in philosophy (and yes, it is a chance, as there is nothing you can do to guarantee success), and then what you are not willing to sacrifice.

Don't try to do this in one day, or even by yourself. Talk to those who are most important to you. Talk to those people whose continued, immediate presence you are not willing to sacrifice, perhaps.

Really look at that list, and really think about it. Don't try to fudge, either. Don't assume that, maybe, you won't really have to sacrifice something because maybe, just maybe, you land a job in your dream location. If location is that important, it goes on the list of things you are not willing to sacrifice. Really think about this list. And really ask yourself, if you had to choose between a career in philosophy and X, can you really live without X?

If it looks like you are willing to sacrifice a great deal, then go for it. And who knows, you may end up lucky (or, you may end up someplace that appeals in ways you don't yet see).

I know you are in a PhD program, but this is what I tell my undergrads who want a career in philosophy. Because, I tell them, they will be asked to make sacrifices. Their time, a major portion of their young lives (the time they are best-suited/able to make a career change), etc. And if it's not worth the sacrifice, don't do it. I have no doubt that you are smart, talented, and hard-working enough to thrive in other situations. And leaving a PhD program does not mean you have o give up your own intellectual pursuits, even if it means you won't be a professional.

Best of luck.

Anonymous said...


This is 11:46. Although I was certainly hyperbolizing to an extent, my main point is that I find the culture of academia in general, and philosophy in particular, to be unbearable. This is true regardless of the ratio of assholes to non-assholes in academia. There could be, and probably are, far fewer assholes in academia than I think there are (for the reasons you mention, and others besides), but that's not really the issue. Even the non-assholes--the ones I've known, at least--are all to willing to play the academic game with gusto and enthusiasm. Even if they don't like it on some level, they pretend to go along with it. What else can they do? As a condition of possibility for working as professional philosophers, all of us--myself included--have to pay token obeisance to inane concepts like "rankings" (of journals, of programs, of historical philosophers, etc.). We all have to scrounge like rats for pieces of "academic capital," all the while deceiving ourselves that we're somehow different from the money-grubbing pukes on Wall Street. In my experience, the ones who take this game really seriously--and are good at playing it--end up being the superstars and academic wunderkinder. By and large they are insufferably arrogant assholes who believe themselves to shit gold bricks. (Colin McGinn is far less an outlier than people are making him out to be.) The non-assholes, who are perhaps a bit more circumspect about the whole thing, seldom achieve that level of prestige.

My advice to Phillis is simple: if you find academic culture obnoxious, think long and hard before becoming an academic. That's sound advice, no?

Anonymous said...


I don't think your comments are very helpful to someone like Phillis. Highly subjective views about academic culture aren't that useful. I'm sure Phillis can make up her own mind, based on her own experience in grad school, whether most philosophers are assholes or not.

And your schtick about rankings and the culture they are symptomatic of and have a role in creating is tricky. On the one hand you're right that rankings encourage obsequiousness, game-playing and arrogance, but on the other hand most competitive career ladders encourage similar behaviour and attitudes. Many of my friends in non-academic careers complain of just the same sorts of things.

And though I accept that rankings have the negative effects mentioned above, they also have positive effects which you neglect to mention. I came to philosophy from a different humanities subject which has far less of a culture of ranking. In place of open, systematic ranking comes valuing more general institutional prestige combined with nepotism, patronage, and a lack of accountability. Potential graduate students are placed in a position of ignorance which in philosophy rankings play a (small) part in rectifying.

All of this is to say that most work cultures, in and out of academia, come with their fair share of problems, and that your jaundiced view of philosophers would probably be replaced by an equally jaundiced view of lawyers/bankers/[insert competitive profession here] were you in one of those fields. Phillis should bear this in mind if she's reading your advice.

Anonymous said...

9:14 -- This is 11:46. Suffice it to say that I disagree with you about rankings--profoundly. To suggest that the only two options are rankings, on the one hand, and patronage and nepotism (as though these don't exist in philosophy, in spades!), on the other, is to present a false dichotomy.

Also, the idea that academic culture is made any less unbearable just because other professional cultures are just as bad, or worse, is risible.

If Phillis wants to spend the rest of her life trying to ingratiate herself to idiots and cretins just so they'll give her tenure, or publish her articles, or whatever, that's her business. But that is exactly what I decided to do, more than 20 years ago now, and I not a day goes by that I wish I had chosen another route. Academia is a truly fucked up and dysfunctional profession filled with pathological narcissists, egomaniacs, emotionally and socially stunted man- and woman-children. If that's just my subjective and jaundiced view, fine, but I'm sticking to that view.

Anonymous said...

11:46, this is 9:14.

I didn't mean to suggest that EITHER you have rankings OR you have nepotism etc., and indeed that's not quite what I said. However, I can see why one might read that into what I said so I'll be clear here and agree with you that nepotism, patronage, popularity contests etc. DO exist in philosophy - of course they do. The point I wanted to make was just that these problems are, in my experience, worse in certain other humanities subjects, and that I think the ranking culture in philosophy goes some way to making the problem less bad (but admittedly nowhere near non-existent) in our field. I don't wish to say more about rankings because that's an argument for another day.

Nor did I suggest that poor cultures in other areas of employment make academic culture more bearable. All I did was point out that most other areas of (competitive) employment do often have bad cultures, with all the same problems you cite philosophy as having. Thus philosophy's poor culture isn't much of a reason for dropping out, because it's highly likely you'll get the same in whatever else you go and do. Heck, I even have friends working for charities complaining about their asshole colleagues.

Finally, your opinion about philosophy's culture isn't universally shared by any means - and certainly the absoluteness with which you state it puts you in a minority. I wanted to put some balance into the picture, because frankly you're axe-grinding when someone has asked for advice. So, to return to Phillis, who gives no suggestion she has problems with academic culture, she should probably not pay much heed to your advice. An escape from philosophy is not an escape from the problems you bring up.

scarecrow said...

I've been in philosophy quite a while -- I have tenure. The people who voted on my tenure were definitely not "idiots and cretins", and I don't think the people who referee my papers are, either.

My experience is that philosophy has maybe somewhat more than its share of assholes, approximately its proper share of narcissists, and a much lower proportion of cretins than other fields. (*Much* lower.)

So that's another data point.

Anonymous said...

11:46 here. Of course my opinion is in the minority. How else do you account for the fact that so many academics stay in academia? Obviously they find it at least tolerable. (I don't, but I'm stuck.) All that means, as far as I'm concerned, is that academia is a big circle jerk. "Let's all pat each other on the back about how smart we are, etc." Big fucking deal.

It's my opinion, and if you don't agree, that's fine. If you like academia, good for you. I envy you! Presumably you don't feel trapped the way I do.

But let's be clear: I'm not axe-grinding. I'm stating that a young person who is considering going into academia has to decide whether s/he can tolerate the culture--not according to MY standards, but his/hero own. If s/he can't, that is a fucking good reason not to become an academic, no matter how worse (or better) it is in other professions. Graduate students tend to idealize their professors and the profession; hell, I was the same way when I was 28. It took a good 20 years of slowly-building disillusionment to realize that I had fucked up my life as royally as a person can. So, what these graduate students need to do is think long and hard about whether the profession, and the people who populate it, are really as fucking awesome as they think. Better to come to figure that they're not EARLY, and bail, than learn the hard way.

Anonymous said...

I would readily agree that philosophy would be much more fun if one didn't have to deal with (many, not all of the) other so-called "philosophers"--especially the disciplinary gatekeepers--or jump through all the stupid little hoops that characterize academic life. How anyone could go to the APA, for example, and NOT feel as though s/he is surrounded by profoundly fucked-up people, is beyond me. (And we have JOB INTERVIEWS in that insane asylum, for Christ's sake!) Buy hey, to each his own... If you like philosophy enough to deal with the trainwreck that is professional philosophy, you are a true believer.

Anonymous said...


I go to the APA, meet up with friends, and have fun, go to bars, the occasional talk...etc.

Maybe you're just 'doing' the APA wrong?

Anonymous said...

I don't see why 3:23 can't have it both ways. I also go the APA, hang out with friends, have fun, drink, chat, and so on. But aside from a handful of people (from among both friends and acquaintances) I tend to agree that most of the people at the APA are profoundly fucked up academics.

I guess I read 3:23's various comments with some sympathy. I like my job. A lot. (Good location, tenure, solid colleagues, both in the department and the university.) But the profession more generally makes my blood run cold.

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree that most of the people at the APA are profoundly fucked up academics.

I've been to (I think) seven APAs. I don't have the slightest idea whether most of the people there are profoundly fucked up. They seem perfectly ordinary on the surface... but I suppose a lot of profoundly fucked up people do.

Still, I wonder whether like 6:26 are full of shit. It wouldn't surprise me.

Anonymous said...

There's really no reason to be rude about it 6:44. I'm not quite sure what you mean by 'full of shit' but I suppose it wouldn't hurt for me to be a bit clearer about what I meant. I used the expression 'profoundly fucked up' only to gesture back sympathetically to what 3:23 wrote. I'm not actually suggesting that everyone (or most everyone) around me when I'm at the APA are genuinely fucked up individuals. It only feels that way. (I certainly don't think of myself as above it. If these people are acting in fucked up ways, then so am I.) But I take 3:23's point to be something along the lines that academics take themselves way too seriously and are excessively self-important, and this can be intensely off-putting to some of us, even when we are participating. Surely this represents a plausible (and reasonable) perspective and dismissing it as merely "full of shit" isn't terribly charitable. But you're right, I may be full of shit. I don't agree with 90% of my past selves; so I shouldn't expect anyone else too.

Anonymous said...

LOL @ people who claim to have fun at the Eastern Division meetings. I’ve been around for a number of years, have been to my share of APAs, and know lots of philosophers. Given these sterling credentials I offer the following protip: anyone (well, anyone post-PhD) who claims to enjoy the eastern APA is actually part of the problem. Really. I know of only one exception to this sweeping generalization, and I see this as a regrettable character flaw in an otherwise decent man.

This may provide a good litmus test for the OP: go to the eastern next year and hit up the smoker. Try and find a good vantage point from which you can survey the crowd. Be sure to carefully study the miserable job candidates in ill-fitting suits haunting the periphery of the room and the anxious junior faculty members trying desperately to impress big shots who are, in turn, desperate to get away so that they can chat with other big shots. If you are overcome with warm fuzzies and a desire to declare “My tribe!” then you are a true believer and should stay in philosophy despite your qualms. (If, on the other hand, you are filled with existential angst and despair, then you may want to mull things over a bit longer.)

Anonymous said...

8:26, so harsh. But right on. I now have a non-academic job. Sure, I see ambitious people playing career games, advancing, inflating their egos and so forth. But game-playing in philosophy, combined with aggression, obsequiousness and ego-mania are far more obnoxious, again, in my experience. Philosophers tend to almost think that their dignity (and/or maybe their standing as "rational agents") directly depends on career advancement and quality of their written work. Other philosophers are often judged in these terms as well. I'm yet to meet a non-academic ambitious person who wraps up her identity in her career to this extent.

Anonymous said...

3:23, oh yes. This reminds me of the time I sat near an older philosopher who was vigorously shoving his index finger up his noise for good 15 minutes while intently--anxiously--listening to a Big Name delivering his Big Ideas. Thank god not all philosophers go for nose picking at the APA, but weird, anxious behavior abounds.

Anonymous said...

I think the people composing the pathological part of the profession are the ones who love to post about how fucked up everyone else at APA meetings is.

I guess it's a fun way of feeling superior, but it's not healthy.

Anonymous said...

LOL @ people who claim to have fun at the Eastern Division meetings.

Interesting -- until this comment, nobody said 'Eastern Division'.

I haven't been to an Eastern meeting since I was on the job market. I have no desire to attend one any time soon. But the other Division meetings have been very enjoyable to me, actually. I'm honestly surprised that others hate them, or hate the other philosophers there, or whatever it is.
If only they weren't so goddam expensive, I would go to every Central and every Pacific.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I’d agree that if old people picking their noses ruins your day, you shouldn’t attend APA meetings. (Not because there are so many, but because other behavior seen there is likely to bother you too.)

You can probably arrange to stay away from the elderly if you pick the right sessions and groups, and there are certain subfields loaded with the young and (relatively) fashionable. But on the whole it’s best to skip the Division meetings if you’re, shall we say, squeamish.

Anonymous said...

Nose-picking pales beside the self-absorption of (at least a part of) the profession. Pop on over to NudeChaps, where two of the bloggers are discussing their own celebrity.

Anonymous said...

11:46 here. Thank you, 3:23, for the vote of confidence. Evidently my opinions are not as outlandish as some have suggested.

Again: One can enjoy reading, teaching, and writing about philosophy without enjoying the culture of academia and professional philosophy (both of which, I contend, tend to breed, or at least to attract, assholes). The question is whether one enjoys the former enough to tolerate the latter. I don't think people who are willing to make this compromise are irrational-indeed, I envy them. But this is not true of everyone, including me-and these are the folks who need to think longest and hardest about committing themselves to a career in philosophy.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that if Phillis isn't a "true believer", she ought to get out of academic philosophy. This is a field for true believers--people who are looking for a vocation rather than just a career. If one doesn't value philosophical inquiry highly enough to make certain sacrifices in order to engage in it to whatever degree it is in one's power to engage in it, it seems to me that one hasn't come to appreciate the role that philosophy has, since at least the time of Socrates, been recognized as properly playing in a life.

I'm well aware that this will probably be an immensely unpopular position, but that's my position.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to give Phillis the same advice I give everyone considering a PhD (recognizing that she's already in a program, of course): if you can be happy with with just the degree, then finish. If you need a job in the field in order to justify the time, energy, and other opportunities lost in the pursuit of the degree, then walk away. If the degree itself isn't enough, then it's not worth completing.

Anonymous said...

@ 6:37--speaking for myself, I do not derive any satisfaction from recognizing that other philosophers are fucked-up. After all, the most fucked-up philosophers are often the ones who have the most power and prestige in the profession, whereas little ole unfucked up me is an obscure peon. If a profession full of fuck ups, the major league fuck ups are naturally regarded as gods among men.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 8:54. I just think it's sad that those of who love philosophy have to make so many, and such awful, compromises just to do it. As has been suggested by others, it would be great to be able to do philosophy full time without having to deal with the culture of philosophy. But alas, so few of us are independently wealthy.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if all the critics could say a little about exactly what is so fucked up about 90% of philosophers. That might be more useful to someone like Phillis.
I mean, we all know that the Eastern meetings of the APA are dreadful. And now we know (those of us who were blissfully unaware before this) that some older philosophers pick their noses during talks.
But what makes the whole profession so hellish? I'd like to know, and maybe Phillis would too.

Anonymous said...

For the record: I don't consider myself to have made "so many and such awful compromises." The main compromise I've had to make is living in a part of the country I would not have chosen. But I don't think of this as "awful", nor does my partner.

Anonymous said...

I'd be skeptical about a lot of the negative advice if I were here seeking advice. Remember that it benefits current young philosophers to keep the population of young philosophers as small as possible.

Too cynical?

Anonymous said...

This is going nowhere. Some people like academia and the philosophy profession, and some don't. The former obviously don't see things in the same way as the latter--they don't understand what's so wrong about philosophers, or the profession, or the APA, or whatever; they don't see themselves as having to make compromises, etc.--so there's nothing the latter can say that will "convince" the former of anything. Non disputandam de gustibus est. If you like philosophers, academia, the profession, etc., that's one good reason (though obviously not the only reason) to become a philosopher. If you don't, that's a good reason (though obviously not the only reason) not to become a philosopher. If Phyllis thinks about it carefully and decides she's one of the former rather than one of the latter, then that's one reason for her to consider sticking with philosophy.

All right? Can we stop talking about this now?

Anonymous said...

I love reading and writing philosophy and I love hearing talks at the APA meetings (including the Eastern) and elsewhere. It's a pleasure to hear excellent philosophers present their work. I'm probably one of the 90% you guys think is fucked up and I'm genuinely curious why you think we're so awful.

What if you just skip the smoker?

Anonymous said...

Most of the most useful "life advice" that I know I learned in the military. One piece of which is to take things one step at a time. That is, don't get too wrapped around the axle about how your life will look and how you will be feeling two years down the road, or when the dissertation is done, or whatever. There will be a time to confront those issues, but that time is not now. Now is the time to write the best dissertation that you reasonably can. Which is not to say the perfect dissertation, which is impossible, or even an A- dissertation, which is not worth the time.

Finish the dissertation with a solid B effort, see how you're feeling then, and move out accordingly. You don't know how you're going to feel a year down the road. Perhaps you'll decide you love philosophy and can't stand to do anything else; perhaps you'll meet a rich bond trader and move to the Hamptons. Life has a funny way of frustrating the best-laid plans, but also of rewarding diligent effort and an ability to fight through adversity.

Anonymous said...

A lot of coastal people have inaccurate views about the rest of the country on a number of counts. Culturally, for instance, a big city in the midwest, southwest, or south is usually going to have a lot more going on than a small town in a coastal state. It's really more of an urban-rural issue on that point, which is of course also an issue, but a different one.
I personally wouldn't deliberately add to the horror of being on the academic job market by having a strong geographic preference.

Anonymous said...

I think Phillis should keep in mind that her situation is unique, in that she is already most of the way through towards the PhD. So general 'Is Philosophy for You' advice may not apply. Instead, the question is whether 2-3 more years of writing and job searching, with a PhD at the end (if nothing else), is better than stopping now and having all the grad program years go to waste with nothing to show for them. This seems like a no brainer...is it just me?

Anonymous said...

"having all the grad program years go to waste with nothing to show for them"

This is one of the problems with the culture of academia. All those years of grad school are not a waste, regardless of if/when she walks away. To say so suggests that the credentials (the degree) are of more value than the education. The credentials only matter if they are needed for employment (primarily academic employment, as many non-academic employers will be more interested in the skill set than in the degree itself), or if Phillis wants them for personal satisfaction (though it sounds like she might be fine walking away without the degree).

Academia at large - and philosophy in particular - is obsessed with credentials: degrees, rankings, etc. These kinds of statements sound just like what my students say, as they are often more interested in grades and GPA than in knowledge and skills; they care less about what they learn and more about what is recorded on official paperwork.

One of the reasons it's so hard for some people to leave - and I am not at all assuming this can be an easy decision for Phillis - is the accepted idea that walking away from a grad program is a failure: at best, there will be those who think those years have all been wasted (as if she couldn't possibly have taken anything away that wasn't a degree); at worst, people (especially academics) will assume she wasn't capable of completing, and so bowed out before being shown the door.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Phillis has already decided that she likes philosophers and the culture of academia, etc., in which case the concerns raised by several of us are moot, and I'd agree that there's no point to discussing them further. For the record, though, I don't think it is helpful to frame these concerns in terms of the "fucked-upness" of individual philosophers. Yes, many philosophers are arrogant, out of touch, socially awkward in weird ways, etc., but I don't think that's really the issue for many folks. I think it is more that the profession (and perhaps academia more generally) is fucked up in various ways, and that's what folks find objectionable. But if you don't see it that way, or if you don't consider these problems to be a big deal, or think they can be fixed, or whatever, then obviously you won't share the concerns that have been mentioned.

Anonymous said...

7:30, I kind of agree -- except, nobody has a preference deliberately. But I would say, try to keep an open mind even if you think of yourself as Hypercoastal.

9:26, not just you, that's how it seems to me. Finish, unless you have the clear sense that you're wasting your time, running out the clock.

Anonymous said...

OK, this will be my last post since 2:55 has helpfully informed us that this conversation is pointless.

Phillis: I think you have been given bad advice by some of the posters above. First, let me stress that a PhD in philosophy may be intrinsically valuable, but it won’t, by itself, open up the doors to any non-academic careers, and by staying you are incurring opportunity costs. Even the Presidential Management Internship Program cited by someone above (which is, by the way, super competitive) does not require a PhD; you could take your MA and apply.

Second, many students go off the rails when they become ABD. You may finish in two years, but it may well take another five. That’s a lot of time to devote to a career that you are ambivalent about.

Third, while you have a clear sense of your values now, it will be very hard to hold on to them when faced with the realities of the academic job market. Should you be so lucky as to secure tenure-track employment, there will be tremendous pressure on you to take any job, even if it is in a location far away from family and friends. Those kinds of sacrifices may make sense if you are crazy about philosophy and can’t imagine doing anything else. But they are just plain crazy if this is not the case. And while you may be strong enough to resist the siren call of a tenure-track job in an undesirable location (should you be fortunate enough to receive one), most people lack that fortitude.

I think people currently in graduate school have a tendency to over value the degree and underestimate the costs, and you may want to keep that in mind when evaluating the advice you have received above. And no, I’m not encouraging you to leave because I think that will help me in some way! I’ve just seen a number of people really mess up their lives by chasing the dream.

Good luck with your decision.


The Voice of Reason

Anonymous said...

It's one thing to be semi-content after a few years of grad courses, and another thing midway through dissertation writing. Taking courses and writing 20 page papers is rather enjoyable. Doing a dissertation? For most people, not so much. Some people also really like reading and writing about philosophy, but dislike teaching.

If Phyllis really likes to write and do research, has a good working relationship with her advisor, and has done enough teaching to suspect she will really enjoy it, then I say go for it. If none of the above holds true, then perhaps it's time to get out.

My small sample of data indicates that everyone who left philosophy was able to find a job, either with Ph.D. or without, and is doing fine. Some of them are disappointed that they never finished, or did finish but never found a philosophy job. Others are making six figures and either laughing at or sad for those poor miserables who remained in philosophy.

My main concern for Phyllis' future happiness in the profession is not her enthusiasm level but her picky feelings about good places to live. She likely will not have that sort of control, unless she's a top job candidate in her year. So if that's a very important issue to her, or might become even more important down the road if she has children, then she should consider relocating to where she wants to be and finding a job in that place. Personally, I think she (and some of the commenters above) should loosen up and recognize that cities on the U.S. coasts are not the only places for excellent living, but if that's how she feels, she should know she's a leaf in the wind come job-finding time.

Yes, the philosophy profession sucks in unique and awful ways. If someone can't see that, I can only hope that person is not helping to make it suck worse. Try accomplishing some simple, useful goals by working with a committee of academics. Under rare or difficult cases, it's possible. Even less possible with philosophers. The entire field is dominated by a small, narrow-minded group, almost entirely white and male, concerned to carefully police the boundaries of what counts as philosophy at all. The petty gamesmanship and obsession over rankings is exhausting. I don't think Leiter's blog can go a week without some intricate system of polling and ranking, based on the biased opinions of the same little group, and the saddest thing is that lots of philosophers take it very seriously. Decisions about hiring, tenure, and bonuses hang on whether someone published in a "top 4" or inferior journal, as determined by a process reminiscent of boys debating membership standards for their treehouse club. What person with decent life priorities can tolerate this kind of nonsense? One who really likes teaching and philosophy, that's who. So if Phyllis really likes those things, then she should churn out a dissertation and give it her best shot. If there's a high probability she's not going to be happy doing the actual work of dissertating, teaching, or residing wherever she was able to find a tenure-track job? Get out.

Anonymous said...

Something else Phillis should consider:

Being a grad student means you devote a large amount of time to your research, a little amount of your time to your teaching, and hardly any time (or perhaps no time at all) to service. If (and that's a big if) she lands a job, chances are those will all be changed: she will spend tons of time on service (committees, organizations, advising), a large amount of time on teaching (she will likely be teaching more sections, and a greater variety of courses, which will involved more prep and more grading), and comparatively little time on her research.

If this is not appealing to her, then perhaps she should consider leaving.

Anonymous said...


My advice would be to bail out. I did the same, and may be my experience could help with the decision (i'm not from the US):

I finished my Masters in philosophy, and immediatly started my Ph.D. It seemed to be the natural thing to do, as Philosophy was the only training I ever received. I was 26. I told myself, that academia would be the only and most worthy profession for myself. I soon taught my own courses, and had a rather attractive stint at a rather prestigious research institution.

Then depression kicked in. I had always existential worries, but now, well into the first year of my ph.d., I ran into a wall. Was this the thing to do with my life? I always felt before, that I kind of deceived myself; that I tried to forcefully convince myself, that I'm a true believer into the higher cause of philosophy. But I realized, with great frustration and panic, that I really only lied to myself to a great degree, because I couldn't imagine anything else to do with my life. I think, this is the reality with many young philosophers and somehing, that I encountered more than anything else with fellow students: To be in a state of shock due to the overwhelming sense of having no other possibilities, and thus giving it all in the only thing you learned. So, in true John Perry style, you procrastinate to the extreme when it comes to finding out how the "real" world works and how to make a place for yourself there, and instead go into overdrive with your research, in full view of the years of hardship and desperation.

I asked myself some questions then, and the answers determined my decision:

a) Do I truly love philosphy, and do I truly consider it as a lifelong mental enrichment? YES

b) Can I truly enjoy and do philosophy, although it's intrinsically connected with supreme existential worries like financial insecurity, horrific job prospects etc.? NO, because philosophy would lose the exact thing I love about it: It's spirit of intellectual freedom. I feared, I would start to hate what I wanted to love for the rest of my life.

c) Do I want to "bring the field forward" with my research, and do I really love academia? To my suprise, I found myself with a big "NO". I don't find it desirable to particiapte in a circle of selected few, with publications that have zero impact apart from storms of dissent in the ivory tower. This is not the goal of philosophy for me, and the image of academic freedom and a life of dedication soon lost all it's magic for me.

d) Do I love teaching? A hesitant "yes", but not if it's connected with the above worries. A simple, research-free university teachning position would indeed have been something I probably would have liked.

Anonymous said...


And then there were some really simple questions:

Do I want to live in the the same town as my girlfriend? YES

Do I want to have enough financial ressources to go on vacation, fix my bike, invite someone to dinner, buy books and vinyl records, make donations etc.? Is it worth to renounce simple earthly pleasures for the higher cause? Is this the good life? YES, NO and NO.

And so forth and so forth.

Due to extreme luck, networking, an open mind and the willingness to leave a life I took for granted, I started an internship at a company after a few months of serious downtime. I worked my ass off, day and night, and to my suprise, my philosophical skills and sharp thinking impressed my boss. The internship went into a well-paid permanent position, and now I'm the "In-house philosopher", devising thought experiments, scenarios etc.

I know, I was lucky. But it was the best thing I could do, and it started out in hopelessness and despair. It's not worth it to stick with academic philosophy out of an ill-judged sense of perserverance. Most people will lose out, and unless you're willing to live a life of extreme dedication and willing to give up almost everything most people take for granted in a healthy way of life, it's simply not the thing to do.

I never loved philosophy more than I do now. I'm in contact with many philosophers, have healthy debates, try to keep up-to-date with current research, but it's a hobby now. The most fulfilling hobby I could imagine. And I left the academic trainwreck before I started to hate what I love.

Anonymous said...

I want to warn Phillis that 5:46 offers a very narrow view of the profession. For example, I have been working on the tenure track for eight years (now tenured) and I have never, not once, heard anyone mention the notion of “top four” journals, except on the gossipy blogs. Never in person, ever. In hiring decisions nobody ever mentions Brian Leiter. (My employer has no graduate program so there is no question of our being ranked.) I think some people grossly exaggerate this aspect of the profession. It is irrelevant at the very top of the ladder (why would John Hawthorne pay attention to that crap?) and just as irrelevant once you get down a few rungs, so I guess it’s mostly an issue in a certain belt; my point is that’s a very small percentage of the discipline.
Philosophy is very male and very, very white, so if that bothers Phillis (and it well might) it’s a significant factor. But I’d take the other dire warnings with a grain of salt.

6:59 is more resonant with me, but I would add that the amount of time philosophers spend on service is hugely variable. It’s varied hugely for me just over the course of my career. I’m doing a very time-consuming service gig now but did almost nothing pre-tenure. One of my colleagues does literally no service work at all. And I don’t get asked to referee much, but I know some people get asked all the time. YMMV.

Anonymous said...

1) Everyone I know who has left the profession of philosophy is *fine*. Solid upper middle class jobs. People act like leaving the field is a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

2) None of these jobs were handed to them because they had a philosophy PhD. But the PhD is an asset as a credential *after one has some experience.* This is not a bad thing, but it does differ from the academic world, where the PhD is mostly what gets you your first job.

3) That said, the marginal value of the PhD over the MA isn't much. If Phyllis is close to finishing -- not just ABD, but chapters written, etc -- she should finish while looking for an exit strategy. If not, the diss probably isn't worth the opportunity cost.

4) There are lots of nice places to live that aren't on the coasts. I live in one of them, and I teach at a directional regional university. It is not a cosmopolitan place, but I have a house and a kid and a fantastic quality of life. If Phyllis stays in the academy, I'd encourage her to keep an open mind. (Not that there aren't locations that suck. But mildly adaptive preferences are conducive to happiness.)

5) That said, my family isn't around here, and that's becoming more important to me than it was in grad school. My siblings can move back near my parents; I can't, barring some extraordinary luck in the academic market.

6) While many grad students shudder at having a job with a 4/4 load, my case is an extremely fortunate one. One is far more likely to end up with no T-T position at all, especially if one is not willing to move anywhere. So one thing Phyllis should consider -- how will she feel if she completes the diss and strikes out?

Anonymous said...

4:56 is spot on. 11:59 not so much.

Anonymous said...

6:59 here again:

"I have been working on the tenure track for eight years (now tenured) and I have never, not once, heard anyone mention the notion of “top four” journals, except on the gossipy blogs. Never in person, ever. In hiring decisions nobody ever mentions Brian Leiter. (My employer has no graduate program so there is no question of our being ranked.) I think some people grossly exaggerate this aspect of the profession."

Exactly this. I teach at a state university with a graduate program, so we have some faculty who have made something of a name for themselves in their sub-fields, and some faculty who have not. We're a good, but not great undergraduate program. We have modest research support, and fair research expectations. The only time Leiter has ever come up during a job interview was when the candidate brought him up. The only time anyone mentions journal rankings is when they fill out their annual reports, and want to note to administration that a journal is highly ranked (because merit raises are based on this kind of reporting). But other than that, nobody cares. My colleagues and I never talk about such nonsense. Not in the department, not at conferences, never. Also, in my time here, never once has an outside reviewer for a tenure application mentioned it. Outside reviewers mention the quality of the work and its contribution to the field; never once has such a reviewer mentioned the journal's ranking.

"I would add that the amount of time philosophers spend on service is hugely variable."

It certainly can be, and admittedly, much of this depends on the department. My first job was in a very small department, and we all had to carry a fair share of the work (and we traded service assignments so as not to get bored). I'm now in a larger department, and it's easier to step away from work. We all do student advising, but we don't all sit on committees. (I, for instance, represent my department on the faculty senate.) But in comparison, I do much more service as a faculty member than as a student (when I advised no students, was never required to serve on a committee, etc.). I have found that service is required for tenure, and then post-tenure, one has the freedom to contribute (or not) as they see fit.

But my larger point is that the life you live as a grad student is rarely the life you live as a faculty member.

Anonymous said...

I wrote the 4:56 comment. Your experience may not match my own, but all I can report is my own, and I think mine is far more standard for the field for reasons I will explain below. I have many years experience with colleagues at home, at conferences, and visitors who discuss the "gossipy" or "rankings-oriented" aspect of the field. It absolutely has been a factor in hiring, tenure, and promotion decisions whether someone posted in a journal deemed top quality, middling, or irrelevant. I also find it very hard to believe that this doesn't matter in a lot of departments, when it comes time to evaluate progress. My university actually requires us to give a rating to journal quality during the annual review process, and I cannot imagine we are an entirely idiosyncratic outlier.

Just because nobody mentions Leither and his blog per se in an interview doesn't mean it's not relevant in hiring. Are you even kidding about that? The departments ranked as tops on his list have a much easier time placing students. Students from top departments attract eyes on their cvs and writing samples; students from less glamorous places are lucky to rate, and only if they've done something specially impressive or targeted for the particular position. People decide where to attend school on the basis of those rankings! Again, I see this as the norm rather than exception.

I completely agree that this aspect of the profession is "grossly" exaggerated. I find it ridiculous! I think - no, I know - we've missed out on some good job candidates because of the snobbery about rankings. I know that my colleagues' work isn't always evaluated with comparative fairness because one might publish in PPR or JP while another might be publishing in a top-notch but not top-ranked journal like Phronesis, Archiv, or Kant-Studien.

Again, I realize that experiences vary, and perhaps it's different in a Ph.D. program vs. an all-undergrad program, big university or small college. Some people may not share my experiences. But I find it hard to believe most schools pay no attention to this rankings stuff in hiring or evaluations. It reminds me of nothing so much as a bunch of guys poring over D&D hit points or ERA statistics, and I say that without any negativity implied toward D&D or baseball. If you don't see this in our profession as a whole, seriously, look around.

11:35 said...

Just because nobody mentions Leither and his blog per se in an interview doesn't mean it's not relevant in hiring. Are you even kidding about that?

Huh? I didn’t even say that. I didn't mention interviews at all. Are you confusing me with someone else?

The departments ranked as tops on his list have a much easier time placing students.


People decide where to attend school on the basis of those rankings!

Right, that’s what the rankings are for.

I feel that we are somehow not engaging. I meant to be expressing doubt that, as you put it, your experience is the norm. This will be hard to settle; I just wanted Phillis or whoever to know that there is a different opinion out there.

Anonymous said...

Again, 7:30 is spot on.

Anonymous said...


Next year, when this blog has its annual thread complaining about the market, pay close attention to the comments. You are going to find a very large number of people complaining about the following:

1. People from low-ranked programs getting TT jobs.
2. People who have only published in low-ranked journals getting jobs.

You will witness a large number of people who will complain that they have better credentials, higher-ranked publications, letters from top philosophers, etc. They will complain that the system is broken, or the fix is in, or hiring committees have no idea what they were doing, because they ignored to objective proof of superiority that was right in front of them. How dare they not care as much about rankings as the applicants were led to believe they would?

Then, someone from a recent hiring committee will pop in and explain that looking for the best candidate is more than weighing rankings and counting lines on a CV, and that person will be called an idiot who doesn't know how to do his job. He will be told that he's harming the profession by refusing to hire the objectively better applicant.

I'm not saying they never matter ever to anyone. I'm saying that they don't matter nearly as much to many schools (particularly smaller, teaching-focused schools) as applicants from top programs are led to believe.

Anonymous said...


Wait, so you don't play D&D or do sabermetric analysis???


Anonymous said...

I've been on many hiring committees. The candidates from better-ranked departments definitely are more likely to get an interview as well as the job itself. I have little idea how it works at other schools but the placement records indicate that the way we screen credentials is fairly typical. I don't like the way we do it, as I fear this approach causes us to overlook candidates who might be better suited for the job. I have no doubt that people who come from highly ranked programs and still don't get jobs will find this information irritating, but their potential complaints won't make it any less true.

Anonymous said...

On the complaining (visceral hatred?) about the profession, etc., on this thread, here's my $.02 and personal experience:

I've been insanely lucky (and I know it). I sure as hell don't think I "shit gold bricks." But I was able to land an incredibly fantastic TT job right out of my PhD, in a fabulous location (yes, on one of the Coasts), that gives me a ridiculous amount of research support (and light teaching load), has amazing colleagues/dept., simply fantastic students, and it even pays rather well. (Unlike Phillis, I had a spouse (& KIDS!) in grad school. (Happy to report that I still do). Yes, I took out loans; but not an insane amount.) I imagine some of you think I'm lying about the incredible luck I've had. But it's true.

I got crazy lucky. Did I work my ass off? Yeah. I sure as hell did. But so do the majority of grad students I knew/know. I didn't "deserve" it any more than any of them do. Was I from a top-10 Leiter School? Nope. (Top 40-ish). Did I publish my ass off? Yes. But even that's incredibly lucky, and, again, I know it (getting a good referee, hitting a journal at just the right time, having great mentors, etc., etc., etc.)

So, given that, I'm sure many of you will laugh when I say that I simply don't share your hatred/dislike of the profession. IS the Eastern APA somewhat ridiculous? Sure it is. But so is a lot of shit in life. You make out of it what you want. I try to seek out quality people who I respect, they are kind & passionate human beings, we enjoy each other's company, we talk philosophy, we laugh, we have a drink (or several). Forgive me, but that's not so horrible. Given my luck noted above, perhaps it's easy for me to feel this way. But I think in all this, so much of it is what you make of it. Be a DECENT HUMAN BEING. Be kind to people. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Don't assume everyone in the profession is evil. Try to see past the bullshit, and instead try to appreciate the good that's in the profession. Be nice, for fuck's sake. I don't get all this toxic cynicism about, well, *everything* in the profession.

I know a whole metric fuck-ton of really, really genuinely cool human beings who are philosophers. I like these people. I'm not sure who you guys who seem to hate everyone in the profession are hanging out with. Maybe make new friends. I dunno.

But here's the thing. We have an amazing profession. I genuinely lament that the market is so bad and things are so shitty for so many cool, kind, and very talented people. That sucks. BAD. And I ahte it. But it doesn't mean *everything* sucks. There's a whole lot of good in this profession and the academic life as a whole.

Just last week my kids wanted to go to the beach. So I said, "screw it" and on a random Tuesday decided to set aside philosophy and hang out at the beach with my kids, on a whim. We can do that shit! Was I up later that night working? Sure. But -- for god's sake -- my *job* is to be a philosopher! And my friends in the corporate world NEVER have that kind of flexibility & life. Do we put up with shit and, sure, "play the game" (just like every career has a "game" to play, sorry). Well, yeah. But -- dammit -- I just have to defend this life and this profession. I think, for one, that it's fucking great. Sure, (I hear you saying) it's really easy for me to say that. I get it. But... come on. The way some of you talk you make it sound just awful. And, I'm sorry, even for all the shit, it's still a pretty great thing.

In other words:

I love philosophy. Fuck me, right?

-- Actually Happy Philosopher

Anonymous said...

Here, I made a quickmeme that sums up my point:


Anonymous said...

I just puked in my mouth a little.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:30 pm said,

"Just last week my kids wanted to go to the beach. So I said, "screw it" and on a random Tuesday decided to set aside philosophy and hang out at the beach with my kids, on a whim. We can do that shit! Was I up later that night working? Sure. But -- for god's sake -- my *job* is to be a philosopher! And my friends in the corporate world NEVER have that kind of flexibility & life."

Actually, that kind of flexibility isn't so uncommon in the corporate world - i.e. telecommuting. I have a job that allows for a fair bit of telecommuting and I too can decide to go to the beach on a whim and make up for it by working later in the evening. I'd have to let my boss know, but it wouldn't be any problem. And I work with very smart and cool people. Philosophy can be a very cool career, but there's also cool careers in the corporate world.

Anonymous said...

That kind of flexibility, if anything, is more common in the middle-class/upper middle-class corporate world than it is in philosophy. Most middle-class corporate jobs come with a set number of personal days per year. If a person wants to go to the beach, it's often as simple as writing an e-mail and notifying folks that they're taking one of those personal days.

At times, academia is far less flexible than the corporate world. Even the good jobs. If you're teaching Tuesday/Thursday, you'd damn well better not be at the beach on Tuesday or Thursday.