Thursday, September 11, 2014

[Untitled Post About Dealing with an Anxiety Disorder/Depression in Grad School]

An anonymous Smoker writes:
In the course of getting my M.A. in philosophy, I was diagnosed with two anxiety disorders and major depression. During treatment I learned that, while I may have always been prone to anxiety or have had one of the disorders in particular since a very young age, extremely stressful environments can trigger the onset of mood and anxiety disorders and also worsen their symptoms. I just recently graduated with my M.A., maintaining excellent academic standing while also pursuing treatment. I would say I was anxious and depressed for 3/4 of my M.A. experience. I did not tell any of my advisors about my struggles in any detail, as I felt it might negatively impact how I might be perceived by potential letter-writers. Now that I’ve graduated, and am focusing more on my health, I am starting to feel a bit better. But now I’m plagued by the question of whether or not I am well suited for academia. 
I wanted to get other people’s opinions on whether it would be extremely unwise for me to enter a PhD program. I have been told and have read that the stress only compounds as you begin to have to focus on publications, writing a dissertation, the job market, etc. Knowing that stress could possibly trigger a relapse, and feeling as though the initial stress of graduate school is what triggered the onset of these issues in the first place, am I setting myself up to have a miserable 5-7 years ahead of me if I pursue the PhD? What are other people’s experiences, if anyone will share, struggling with mental health issues during the course of PhD work or working as a professor?
I've thought about this question a lot, and I keep coming back to the same three things: 1. It seems to me that if you are under the care of a good doctor whom you trust, and your symptoms are well controlled, you'll probably be in a position to be successful in a Ph.D. program; 2. Nevertheless, there is always some probability that your symptoms will return in what you correctly see as a stressful environment; and 3. I have no idea what I'm talking about. So rather than offer any concrete advice, I'd like to open the floor to the Smokers. What say you?

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

I feel for you, friend. Honestly, I spent my PhD the same way - I've not been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or depression, but I spent at least the middle half of my PhD in the depths of both. It was a rare day where I didn't either break down in uncontrollable tears and/or find myself unable to get out of bed in the morning. I hope Zero is right that you could avoid all of this if you were being appropriately treated. The small bit of sunshine that I can offer is that it all stopped once I got a job. Maybe it will come up again in a few years before I go up for tenure, but I can't remember the last time that I cried or felt dread. So it might come up again - but it might not last for your whole career. Whether it's worth taking that gamble, especially given the state of the job market.... I have no idea, honestly. But I feel for you. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Good therapy is very important, and perhaps medication, if and only if your doctor determines that you need it.

Anonymous said...

I have mild versions of the same, which I don't really take care of properly. There was a lot of dark times in graduate school. So like 2:01 said, I feel for you. PhD is really a drain on anyone's sense of self. I wish I could say it would be fine. But it's just fucking rough. Especially the job market. THere's no way around that. Once I got a job, things got a lot better. But there is still a lot of anxiety, which I've got some help for. Probably I should go see a therapist, not just a psych. So good for you for taking care of it, and thinking about your decision carefully.

Anonymous said...

I struggled with (undiagnosed) depression throughout my time in a PhD program. It's a tough slog, but I would also keep in mind the very real possibility that, once you're done and looking for a job, the depression will grow immensely. Take the doom and gloom predictions about the job market very seriously. I have NEVER been as depressed as I have been the last two years looking for a job. And this isn't your run of the mill doldrums--we're talking true darkness and paralysis. (Maybe I should look into this good therapy people have mentioned.)

Anonymous said...

I'll second 2:09pm. As someone who is very familiar with the philosophy of mental health, I have a healthy dose of skepticism toward the medicalization of mental health treatment. In many cases, understanding your unhappiness (something that can be done with professional therapy or with good friends) is better than medicating it. Having said that, my 1 cent:

Almost EVERYONE I knew in graduate school went through significant periods of anxiety and depression. This, by itself, does not make anyone abnormal or indicate an underlying mental illness. Graduate school is a trying time for many (and, I think, many of us who choose to go to graduate school in philosophy are especially sensitive to the pressures of external validation).

Jerome Wakefield, one of the leading theorists of mental illness, notes the difference between a mental illness and an (equally serious) 'problem with living' in terms of the cause of a person's suffering. A lot of suffering that is typically labeled depression, for example, is patently not depression because it is entirely normal. Moving to a new city, facing tight deadlines, getting your ideas thoroughly trounced in public, facing deep uncertainty about your future ability to get a job, wondering if you will be able to retire or maintain a relationship with a spouse, etc. These are all things to which it is entirely normal, i.e. neither bad nor sick, to respond to with dread, sadness, fear, and anxiety. Grad school and academia contain all of these things.

It might be true that your anxiety or depression are more severe than most (and so, pragmatically, it's in your interest to medicate these feelings) but the unfortunate truth is that professional academia is just as stressful as graduate school. Your entire career (assuming you end up even having the opportunity to have one) will be dependent on external validation of your ideas, your teaching, and your collegiality. It's impossible to get tenure without others thinking well of you on those dimensions.

So I guess it depends on what drove you to undertake something that, by your own lights, has made you miserable (depressed and anxious) above and beyond your background disposition to these feelings. If you enjoy reading philosophy it is possible to do so without being a professional philosopher. If you enjoy discussing philosophy it is possible to do that without being a professional philosopher. If you enjoy teaching philosophy it is possible to do so without being a professional philosopher(at the high school level for example).

On the other hand, if you enjoy teaching philosophy to undergraduates or if you enjoy conferences or publishing, then it might worthwhile to stick with the professional philosophy thing. My guess is, though, that if you really enjoyed these things, then graduate school wouldn't have been such a miserable thing for you. This is obviously not a situation that lends itself to easy answers. If the environment of philosophy itself is what is making you miserable, however, I think that speaks pretty strongly against staying in it.

zombie said...

Since the writer is asking for advice about pursuing a PhD, and not about treatment options, I have two cents worth of advice:

My grad school experience, including writing a diss, was a cakewalk compared to the job market gauntlet, and having a TT job and working towards tenure. Seriouly, I feel 10 times the stress today, right this second, that I did in grad school. But if I had to hazard a guess, and if getting the MA was the cause of great distress for you, the PhD will be worse.

So... it depends. What's your ultimate goal? Are you going to look for a job in philosophy? (When you graduate in 7 or 8 years, the job market might be better or worse.) Could you, would you be happy/happier doing something else? Would having a PhD be satisfying in itself, and satisfying enough to justify the suffering you might experience getting there?

I would tell just about anyone right now that if they're thinking about trying to make a career of philosophy, they should think long and hard about whether anything else they might pursue would give them equal (or near equal) satisfaction -- assuming that other thing allows better employment prospects than philosophy does. If yes, they should do that other thing.

Anonymous said...

"As someone who is very familiar with the philosophy of mental health, I have a healthy dose of skepticism toward the medicalization of mental health treatment."

As someone who is very familiar with mental health challenges, I can say that blanket philosophical/ideological "skepticism" toward such "medicalization" is bogus and downright irresponsible--and is supported in general neither by patients nor medical practitioners.

Anonymous said...

It is certainly possible to do a PhD and do well in a program with these issues. There will be stress, of course, and you should be prepared for things to get horribly bad, but unfortunately things will not be better outside of academia either. I have suffered from pretty severe bipolar disorder for years, and it is a constant struggle. I've been employed in TT positions since I left graduate school (up for tenure soon and I anticipate no issues with it), but even with the far lower stress level I have now, it is just as difficult, and sometimes even more so, to handle things now than it was back when I was working on my PhD. This is just the nature of mental illness. Our situations don't make us like this our brain chemistry does. These things apparently get worse with age, and you definitely need the help of a good doctor as well as a support network, whether that is reliable friends or family (preferably both). I don't think the inherent difficulty of doing a PhD will add to your suffering that is due to mental illness, so I wouldn't let that be a reason to stop you. Insofar as there are lots of other reasons to go through with or avoid doing a PhD, I would follow those. Unfortunately, your mental illness will follow you wherever you go, whether it's ultimately a relatively cush job in academia (as I'm lucky to have), or anything else. It's never going to be easy or go away,as much as I hate to say that. What people like us can do, however, is be prepared.

Anonymous said...

One more thing (I'm the commenter who spoke of having bipolar disorder)- having a job in academia in some ways can be much better for someone with mental illness than having a job in the business world might be (I know, I know- one has to actually *get* a job first- but hear me out). I have been hospitalized before, and it was relatively easy to have colleagues cover for me (though it is always a struggle deciding how open to be with others concerning your mental illness). If I had worked in the business world,would I have been fired after missing a week of work because I was doing a stint in a psychiatric hospital?

Also,at a 9 to 5 type job, I would have definitely been a complete failure, because you can't control when you have mental health issues and crises. Before I got into academia, I was never able to hold a job for more than a couple of months. I'm almost certain that if I had not gone this route I would have ended up in a very bad place- maybe even on the street,or dead. Both would have been very real possibilities.

So I guess this is all to say that for all its stress,following the academic path can actually be a benefit for some with mental illness, as I'm certain it was in my case. Philosophy very probably probably saved my life.

Anonymous said...

I'll say this: I'm in a similar boat. Depression/anxiety. Had it since I was a teenager. Went through my philosophy BA. Stress of just doing my degree was gruelling. Wanted to go into academia, but knew how tough getting a job would be, and knew that mental illness would only make it unbearable.

I may go back one day.

My advice? Get out of academia. Get help. Get treated. Get yourself to a place where you're healthier, happier, stronger, more confident. Come back when you're feeling better.

There are stories of people with mental and non-mental illness struggling throgh and getting their doctorate and getting a tenure track job and raising kids and saving the universe all at the same time. And it's ok to admit you're just not as strong as them, that you don't want to put yourself through that.

Be kind to yourself first and foremost. Get happy, get safe, and then come back to academia later.

Anonymous said...

Don't do it, at least if your main goal is a TT job. Do something else.

Finishing a dissertation that is good enough to impress your committee is hard and draining and stressful enough. Doing research that search committees and anonymous journal referees are going to find brilliant is ridiculously hard on one (and, if one has or will have a spouse or partner, or children, it gets much worse). It can be, and likely will be, brutal.

(I'm speaking as someone who has had success publishing in top-10 journals, who went to a top-3 Leiter program, and is now in a nice research postdoc at a prestigious university; I'm now in my 4th year applying for TT jobs, and haven't yet even come close.)

Anonymous said...

I embarked upon a PhD in philosophy while in treatment for major depression and PTSD. I was in treatment throughout my entire graduate studies. And I now have a PhD (and job) in philosophy.

So, it can be done.

But it wasn't easy. And unfortunately, I think its fair to say that the culture of the discipline made it *far* more difficult that it otherwise might have been.

Anonymous said...

I don't think I'm in a position to give any advice here. But I do want to reiterate what others have said here: trying to get a tenure track jobs these days is brutal; trying to get tenure is brutal; having to deal with rejections from journals, and oftentimes very aggressive referee reports, is brutal. and for me at least, these are constant sources of extreme anxiety,every hour of day (many hours at night), seven days a week, and so on.

Anonymous said...

I was diagnosed with moderate generalized anxiety disorder and severe social anxiety disorder shortly after I finished my Master's degree. Both of these conditions pre-dated graduate school, but graduate school certainly worsened them. Mainly, graduate school (I think) introduced somatization disorder into the mix -- physical manifestations in the form of chronic arthritic pain, digestive problems, etc.

The thing is my diagnosis came *after the fact* so while all this was happening, I had no idea what was happening to me. I just knew how I felt, which included a fuck ton of physical pain. I self-medicated with alcohol -- a lot. There was also a strong sense that I didn't "really know" what was happening around me at the time. I unfortunately got caught up in a intradepartmental faculty war, and between my anxiety and being caught in all of this, I basically ended up in the worst possible condition I could have been in.

So, I took my MA and left. I got a 9-5 job in higher education admin and finally got to a licensed psychologist (yay benefits), which is when I was diagnosed. I was in treatment for about a year. We used a low dose SNRI (dulexotine) with use of alprazolam on an as-needed basis to prevent panic attacks when I detected them coming. The goal was to reduce or completely eliminate my dependence on medication through cognitive behavioral therapy. My therapist was optimistic; despite the severity of the somatization, she didn't think my anxiety was so severe it would be resistant to cbt.

After about a year of treatment, I was off the SNRIs and very, very rarely (maybe once every 4-5 months) needed alprazolam. I wouldn't say I "cured" my condition was extremely well managed. I decided to apply for my Ph.D., which I started a year later, while also working full-time. I was a bit worried that two full-time gigs (school/work) would cause relapse of the somatization, if nothing else, but actually, it was alright. (Well, it wasn't alright, there were lots of problems with my Ph.D. but none of them were the result of my anxiety, and none of them triggered it. The problems were all professional issues.)

I don't think there is a generalizable recommendation that can be made here, which is why all I've done is share my experience. Grad school is stressful, and academic jobs generally don't get less stressful as time goes on. But I think anxiety disorders are inherently resistant to generalization. I know people who have the same diagnosis as me, and for whom medication is a non-negotiable: they simply could never be functional without it. For me, it was a transitionary tool to use while I was learning to manage my behavior using techniques of cbt. Other people I know have responded poorly to the same style of therapy and require something different.

I think the best advice anyone can give you is: learn to listen to yourself. My biggest challenge was learning to separate the broken cognition, coming from my disordered thinking, from the ones that were actually reflecting the world around me. Learning to do that was hard, because I had to literally learn when to listen to myself, and when to ignore myself. But once I managed to do that, my life changed completely. It's not that the disordered thinking went away -- its just I learned to recognize the wolf in sheep's clothing in my own mind.

If you can learn to do that, you can become your own source of guidance. Getting a Ph.D. in philosophy is a pretty horrible venture regardless of one's mental states, but for some reason we all decide its worth it. If you do decide its worth it, just make sure to PAY ATTENTION to yourself and also don't forget to take care of yourself. And, most of all, be able to recognize if and when something is making you miserable, you aren't required to continue with it. There are plenty of other things you can do in life and philosophy is not the only worthwhile pursuit.

Anonymous said...

"Extremely unwise" is strong language. I wouldn't make the blanket statement that it is across the board, extremely unwise. However, I would take into account the factors that triggered the onset of the worst symptoms, and the factors that are helping you cope. Before you enter any graduate program you are going to want to pay careful attention to their health insurance coverage for students. Quality of coverage and costs carried by students vary wildly from program to program. If possible, I would try to talk to someone (a current student with a similar issue, someone in HR) about how the coverage works before you accept any admission offers. Is the a limit on the number of mental health visits you are allowed per year? Will you need a referral? How much say do you have in the choice of health care provider? All of this is information I would get upfront. It may be that certain program would be a better fit for you than others simply because certain programs offer better benefits than others.

The other factor I would consider is how much of your current treatment plan is location dependent. How much will moving disrupt the progress you've made? This assumes, of course, that you are planning to apply to a variety of programs across the country. It may be in the best interest of your health to think about what locations you feel you can be healthy in and only apply to programs in those areas. Program cultures, university cultures and regional cultures also vary and some may be more anxiety inducing than others.

The short version: I don't think applying is immediately a bad idea, but I think there are better and worse ways to do it given your particular health concerns.

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone should tell someone with an illness not to pursue a certain line of work. Many people, in many different professions, suffer from mental heath issues, and many of these people thrive with appropriate treatment.


Academia, especially in the humanities, is probably one of the very worst environments for someone with depression and anxiety. There is the high stress and lack of employment opportunities as have already been mentioned. This creates a high stakes environment that is emotionally taxing.

In addition, academic life in the humanities involves a lot of unstructured time and social isolation. This, combined with the high pressure and stress is a terrible combination for people with mental health issues. People can go off and "hide" for long periods of time, but eventually everything will come to a head, often with very distressing results.

In short, I don't think academic life is the best option for people with mental health issues; you would be better off in a career with more structure and social interaction. Again, that's not to say don't give it a go--I know tons of people with mental health issues that are in academia now--but if you have other things you care about, do those things instead.

Anonymous said...

This post makes me sad, and I fully agree with other commenters who note that there's no clear-cut answer here.

I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety halfway through my philosophy Ph.D. program. I received treatment and completed my degree before moving on to law school, where I worked very hard (ultimately with success) to get off of medication. I'm still off of it a couple of years later, but the echoes of the underlying condition never seem to go away entirely.

Depression and anxiety can make any endeavor a massive challenge, whether it's a Ph.D., a law degree, or a completely different career path. My view is that you should start by thinking carefully about whether your mental health situation will continue to improve if you pursue some salient alternative to a Ph.D. program.

My own experience: I never considered dropping out of my program, or stalling on my plans to go to law school, because of my health issues. My reasoning was that it would only make me feel more wretched to be forced away from what I was interested in, and that I would struggle to find a meaningful alternative for myself. Obviously that's a very personal choice, and the calculus may come out differently for you.

I would also add that I completely disagree with those who suggest that a Ph.D. is particularly stressful (compared to reasonable alternatives), or that a TT job is a bad place (compared to many other jobs) in which to suffer from depression/anxiety. Whether that's true will depend entirely on the disposition of the person and the particulars of the program or job. (The job market is horrible as well, of course, but that's true for people seeking employment in many different areas.)

I found law school an order of magnitude more stressful than my Ph.D. program. And the job market for law can be exceptionally competitive and aggressive, even if it takes a different form from the philosophy market.

I now work as a lawyer, not a philosopher, though my wife just completed a successful search for a TT position in the social sciences. Of course, my wife's position has its sources of stress, but it's not obviously worse than mine. In fact, it's probably significantly better. She definitely works fewer hours, and has more time to sleep and unwind. Also the autonomy her position affords her (much greater than mine) is a significant source of psychological comfort for her. Because I'm office-bound, I can't hide from my co-workers when I'm not feeling up to interacting with them, and it's much harder to arrange the sequencing of my tasks around my mood. Increasingly, I'm drawn back toward academia, even as I know that it can be a tough road, and I'm not likely ever to be 100% better.

So: I see no harm in applying for Ph.D. programs, assessing the strength of places where you get in, and even beginning a program under some degree of uncertainty of completion if it looks like that program is strong enough to give you a reasonable shot at a job. If you choose to do this, it's possible to play things by ear, knowing you can withdraw without penalty.

And I hope you feel better. I know how awful it is.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:26 reminds me why I still bother to read philosophy blogs.

My best wishes to you.

Jaded, Ph.D. said...

I noticed this website going around Twitter a few weeks ago that is pertinent to this discussion that might have some useful resources.

It's called: PhD(isabled): What it's like doing a PhD with disability and chronic illness.

It's worth a look if only to know that our OP is not alone!

Anonymous said...

Culture of this discipline.

Grad students who have intellectual disability/mental illness drop out of our (top 40 program) at a higher rate than others, for reasons of mental anguish/difficulty.

There can be bullying/hazing in this discipline, disproportionately targeting those with anxiety disorders/mental health, as those struggles are deemed to indicate sub-par philosophical acumen

I've seen people take brief leaves for personal/mental health reasons, and upon their return they have been bullied and singled out for reasons of said sub-par philosophical acumen

One fellow grad student with PTSD was denied disability accommodations and retained lawyers; this was further stigmatizing.

Our discipline is (now!) more attuned to the issue of sexual harassment, far far less attuned to mental/intellectual disability. Thus the prevailing bullying/stigmatizing is seen as "practicing rigorous philosophy."

We're a den of sharks. Don't jump in.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, much of what 12:08 says is surely correct.

We philosophers are sick. I don't say this to disparage us. Rather, it's my hope that we can be well someday.

Jaded, Ph.D. said...

PhD(isabled) Twitter feed offered some cursory thoughts on this topic. The thing that really stood out to me is the point about institutions making things challenging, not necessarily the discipline itself. Nicely put in very few characters!

Here's the thread:

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of academics, in a variety of fields, who have dealt with anxiety disorder and depression throughout their careers. The same is true of other professions as well. Those who do not have to deal with these issues often write off entire fields: don't enter [stressful field], as it will only make things worse for you. Great advice, if you can also avoid other triggers too: do your best to have lots of money so as to avoid financial stress; never get your heart broken; make sure nobody you love ever dies; etc. All bullshit. Life is stressful, and all stress can be managed. Maybe you need a support group. Maybe you need to seek professional help. Maybe you need to pay more attention to some parts of your life than others. But you can do this.

That said, don't tell anyone who doesn't *absolutely* need to know. Professional academic - especially philosophers - like to believe that they can power through anything, that those who have succeeded did so because they have a stronger backbone and more toughness than others. And many of them will pounce on anything that can be seen as a sign of weakness. Some people will judge you as unworthy based on nothing other than their ill-advised and unformed opinion of your mental health. These people may be your professors, your advisors, your classmates, hiring committees, and especially your competition.

If this is something you want, then do it. You can get the help you need, and you can get through it. If you can get into a good program, you hav just as much of a chance as anyone else.

That said, I tell *everyone* not to apply to grad school. Don't do it. Not because of the issues you are dealing with, but because chances are pretty good that you will never, ever, not ever find a TT job.

Jaded, Ph.D. said...

Some more thoughts from PhDisabled:

The takeaway for me being: Institutions should be more accommodating; doing a PhD with depression doesn't have to be something you go alone.

Philosophers' Cocoon also has a discussion here:

Anonymous said...

I was diagnosed with depression at the age of 17 and did not cope particularly well with university on a psychological level (despite external academic success). I was constantly anxious and unhappy, convinced that I wasn't as good as anyone else, convinced that I would never 'make it' in academia and a massive perfectionist (i.e. sometimes not even starting to write because the thought that what I put on the paper would not be 'remarkable' was too much to bear!!)

The decision to undertake a PhD has to be based on a rational assessment of what you want to do with your life. I left academia and spent seven years or so exploring other jobs, but have recently returned to begin a PhD in the knowledge that a) it's what I definitely want to do b) I have already worked in and enjoyed academic jobs and c) I have taught myself new ways of working that are less destructive.

Any career can be stressful and can have a negative impact on your mental health. If doing a PhD is truly what you want to do, then doing something else may not make you happy in the long run. But if it is, I'd say do it, but learn to work in a way that doesn't hurt you. For me, that means working every day, 9-5, setting myself deadlines, giving myself almost every evening and weekend off. It's working so far! If you have the chance, what about taking some time away from academia to experience another facet of life? It might give you the space you need to make a considered and proactive decision.

Anonymous said...

Another common academic bugbear: impostor syndrome (

Sometimes just having the name for a thing can be helpful for recognizing bad patterns of thinking in oneself. I was certainly comforted when I learned about impostor syndrome (while in graduate school).

Anonymous said...

I am sorry to change topic of conversation, but I need an answer to this. This will be my fourth year post PhD in the market. So far, I have been a lecturer. Is it still possible for me to get a tt job? Should I give up?

Anonymous said...

"I am sorry to change topic of conversation, but I need an answer to this. This will be my fourth year post PhD in the market. So far, I have been a lecturer. Is it still possible for me to get a tt job? Should I give up?"

What have you published in those 4 years?

Anonymous said...

@7:33am - Is there a particularly high burden involved in giving it one more try? Unless the psychic or financial strain is just more than you can bear I can't see any good reason to not give it one more year. 4 years post graduate school without a TT position doesn't strike me as an excessively long time. Give it one more year and then reevaluate at the end.

I say this, obviously, without knowing the specifics of your situation, but the mere fact that one is 4 years out of school and doesn't yet have a TT job doesn't strike me as sufficient evidence that one will never get one.

zombie said...

7:33 -- Maybe and maybe. It depends on your circumstances. Can you continue working as a lecturer? Do you have any translatable skills that would enable you to get a nonacademic job? Have you been productive as a researcher? Have you improved each year you've been on the market (more papers, more interviews...)? Is your AOS one where there are lots of jobs and/or few applicants? How's your pedigree?

If you haven't been very productive research-wise, you'll be considered stale, probably. Everybody knows the market is terrible, and extremely competitive. SCs that have paid any attention to it know this too. But it's also a buyer's market, so you gotta have something to sell -- and even then, you might not find a buyer.

Anonymous said...

@11.16 AM -- In those four years I have published two articles in very decent but not top Journals, a couple of Encylcopedia entries, and a couple of pieces in Journals that are not well known in the English speaking academy. I should also mention that I got my Phd from a top 20 program.

Anonymous said...

Apologies for hijacking, but I wanted to comment about the issue of "staleness," from the perspective of a recently-tenured faculty member who has served on multiple search committees.

Applicants become "stale" after the PhD because, upon graduating, you are now considered "professional philosophers," whether or not you have a tenure track job. This is because you have completed all of the training, and have been granted the highest degree in the field. Once you graduate, you are now judged by a different set of criteria, because you are no longer a student, no longer an apprentice, no longer someone who requires advising.

Obviously, those who secure tenure track jobs and research-heavy post-docs will have the best opportunities to fight becoming stale. We all know that. We also know that many applicants will not have the time or the support to do the research that they otherwise would be capable of doing. That said, however, we really don't have the luxury of judging you on promise alone. That's a luxury granted to graduate students because they are not yet professional philosophers. But those who hold PhDs are.

Every year out of graduate school that you do not publish is a year you go stale. This may seem unfair, but search committees want to hire people who can demonstrate production. Or, they are willing to hire straight from graduate school based on promise. But once you graduate, you cannot get a job on promise alone.

Anonymous said...

I don't think 7:33 changed the subject much actually. However, without any details (as others have said), it's impossible to tell.

Also, what kind of job are you trying to get? The answer to: "can I get a job 4 years post-PhD" will depend in part on:

1. What kind of job you want to get
2. How your qualifications post-PhD suit you for that job

Zero research but stellar teaching and service would doom you in terms of most jobs but might make you very attractive to community colleges, for example.

Anonymous said...

'Staleness' also is something that is somewhat relative to the kind of job you are trying to get. Some non-elite teaching schools view the teaching experience you have gained as a plus that outweighs being on the market for a while. Some of these teaching schools also worry about hiring someone with no proven teaching experience at all. If they make a bad choice, its too late regardless of the person's pedigree, publications, or their Six degrees of Kevin Bacon academic fame.

bzfgt said...

I don't think graduate school is very stressful at all. It's one of the few times in your life you'll ever have a job from which it's almost impossible to get fired no matter what you do, actually probably the only time. I can't understand people who say it's a high stress situation at all.

bzfgt said...

Addendum: I mean that last comment to be about grad school as compared to other situations, and am not suggesting that your experience of stress in school is invalid.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of depressing, is it just me or does there seem to be a paucity of positions on philjobs this year?

zombie said...

I think it's still a wee bit early to judge how many job ads there will be this year. They started trickling in in July, but the trickle is only just starting to get stronger. I know my dept hasn't yet posted its ad. I'd expect things to start picking up.

That said, not looking good in my AOS this year. So far.

Anonymous said...


I've never really understood those who claim not to be stressed out by graduate school. Perhaps I have a bit of anxiety myself. But the following seem like reasonable considerations that would cause a fair amount of stress and anxiety:

(1) The opportunity cost of spending 5-7 years pursuing a degree with an especially competitive job market, and whose skills are not generally viewed by the private sector as highly transferable.

(2) The quality of your work, or at least how your work is viewed, contributes to the sorts of recommendations you will receive for positions and thus the number and type of positions for which you will be considered. Similarly, the quality of your work will either translate to publications or it will not. So sure, you won't get fired for being a sub-par graduate student. But you likely won't get hired after that 5-7 year period.

(3) The critical nature of philosophical discourse, even when cordial, paired with the competitive nature of the discipline and market often translate to feelings of inadequacy. Even if an essay is a good term paper, it might not be ready for a conference. Even if a paper is ready for a conference, it may not be ready for publication. Even if it is ready for publication, it may not be accepted. Even if it is accepted, it may not be in a journal that will help your career much. I've noticed a constant trend of "never good enough" or "never finished" in my experience as a graduate student. Experiencing this day in and day out, coupled with the knowledge that your job prospects rely on your work, can cause significant stress and anxiety.

(4) Absent the (very wise) suggestion of trying to set a normal and healthy work schedule for yourself (which may itself be difficult due to the ebb and flow of grading and research), you are never "off the clock." If you aren't reading you are likely writing or vice versa, and if you are socializing it is likely with professors and other graduate students. Sure, you don't have to punch a clock, and beers with other grads, professors, or guest speakers counts as networking. But that also means keeping a 40-hour work week is very difficult. Pair this with the low stipend offered by most programs and it means you are working more hours for less money.

In my experience graduate school, even in a healthy department with supportive faculty and peers, carries with it high stakes and opportunity costs. While I suppose this might not stress some out (or promote anxiety or depression), I can absolutely understand why it often does.

bzfgt said...


Yes, all those things are true, and I never said none of it stressed me out, just that it isn't a high stress environment compared to everything else. I didn't really think about my job prospects much until I had a kid three quarters of the way through or so. Otherwise, while all that stuff is true it just seems like a lot of it is even more true if you are not in grad school. And where that's not the case, a lot of the stressors seem like things that enhance quality of life--you're working on projects you actually care about and that you can get fairly intensive feedback on, which is a bit stressful but also kicks so much ass that that seems to kind of more than balance out the stress of leading a mostly meaningless existence that characterize so many other ways to get your daily bread.

Anonymous said...

I wonder about the number of jobs this year. I know another commenter on here seemed to think they were dispiriting but for my part I don't think they're all that bad. I guess it's really hard to judge the new all philjobs system versus the old one. But for my part I never remember a JFP where I found much more than about 20 jobs I could apply for without really stretching. But then as the additions and the later print JFPs came out that would more than double (usually close to triple.) So far I've found 9 this year, which doesn't seem terrible considering we're two weeks away from when the JFP used to come out and we can expect the dribble of jobs post-normal JFP time to be much heavier than in years past. There's also the fact that I'm being somewhat pickier than in the past since I have a moderately comfortable VAP job unlike the past. Any thoughts from others? Or anyone have an objective read on this with say numbers?

As for the nominal topic of this post: I'd say get treatment. Sometimes the problem is pretty easily solved and sometimes it is just a chemical imbalance. My dad used to have terrible anxiety issues even though things were going great in his life, but his GP put him on a really mild anti-depressant and it made a huge difference. I used to buy into the antidepressant skepticism but the marked change in him has made me rethink that a bit. I feel a fair amount myself but with the fact that my job is year to year, worries about PhD staleness and such I'm inclined to think anxiety is just an accurate reading of reality.

Anonymous said...

Stupid question from a first-timer on the job market: What are preps?

I understand that 3/3 teaching load means teaching 3 classes each semester, but what does, like, "3 preps" mean?

Anonymous said...

3:28: it means how many new courses you need to prepare per semester. If you teach the same courses every term, you have 0 preps. If you teach 2 new courses every term, you have 2 preps. Etc.

Anonymous said...

3:59 writes: "3:28: it means how many new courses you need to prepare per semester. If you teach the same courses every term, you have 0 preps. If you teach 2 new courses every term, you have 2 preps. Etc."

I swear, it really is like the blind leading the blind around here sometimes.

3:28, the number of preps is the number of different courses you are teaching (as opposed to the number of sections). If you were teaching two sections of Intro and one section of Ethics this term, then you would have two preps this term. If you were teaching three sections of Intro and one section of Ethics, you would still have two preps. If you were teaching five sections of Intro, you would have only one prep. The only time you'll have zero preps is when you are on sabbatical or summer vacation (i.e., when you are not teaching at all).

Anonymous said...

"3:28: it means how many new courses you need to prepare per semester. If you teach the same courses every term, you have 0 preps. If you teach 2 new courses every term, you have 2 preps. Etc."

And if you use someone else's course materials, you have -1 preps, because someone else did all the work for you.

zombie said...

Every class requires some prep, if you're teaching it right. Courses you've taught before require less prep (assuming no substantial revisions on your part), but they still require prep.

So, "preps" represent the different classes you teach each term. In some cases, having a higher teaching load could require less prep because you are teaching multiple sections of the same class. I have a relatively light teaching load, but I have to prep for each class, so I might have more preps than someone teaching more classes overall. Generally, you're most likely to see "prep" referred to in concert with a high teaching load, as in "5/5 with no more than 2 preps" or some such. That higher teaching load, needless to say, may require fewer preps but will still require a lot of work (unless you use 100% multiple choice-machine graded exams and no papers.)

Anonymous said...

I agree with zombie. This is the only way I have ever seen the term "prep" used in an academic context.

Prep = how many different courses will you have to teach during a term?

Which is different from overall teaching load.

Anonymous said...

What do Smokers say about the new job season so far? I think jobs are coming along quite nicely.

Anonymous said...

I'm coming to this thread very late, but I wanted to chime in to express agreement with Zombie's 9/11 5:25 pm. I thought academia would be a better place for the social anxiety me than any other career option, since so much of the work (preparing for class, grading, developing new courses, conducting research, etc.) is done alone. Grad school, I thought, would be the hard part: if I could make it through and secure a TT job, I'd be home free.

I was so wrong. The job market was awful, of course, and anyone who says "well, everyone is nervous at interviews and interviewers know that, so it's no big deal--and besides, most philosophers are socially awkward themselves, anyway, so they're sympathetic" just doesn't know shit about anxiety disorders and the biases people, including those who suffer from them, display toward those who have them. But I was lucky enough to secure a position, only to find myself facing the constant pressure to network with strangers, talk to strangers on the telephone, go before plagiarism juries made up of strangers, organize events (with high school teachers who are strangers) for high school students who are strangers, go to the Dean's events with strangers, participate in assemblies and graduation ceremonies amidst giant roomfuls of strangers, serve on committees with strangers, etc. I found all the interaction with strangers intensely exhausting and stressful, and also nothing like my experience in graduate school, where I could expect to have to interact only with a handful of familiar professors and students every day.

I took my position as an ABD, but in the end couldn't face either my dissertation defense or doing what needed to be done in order to secure tenure. (I could do--and did--the teaching and publishing and working well with colleagues in my department, but I couldn't do all the stuff that involved stressful social interaction with strangers.) I'm now mostly a former academic, and with no idea what else I could do. Every institution in my region is happy to hire me for pennies to teach as an adjunct, of course, so for now I cook dinner, take care of my kids, and teach a course (again, for pennies compared to my former salary) every now and then.

Anonymous said...

"Grad school, I thought, would be the hard part: if I could make it through and secure a TT job, I'd be home free."

This, of course, is common to many in academia (and may perhaps be enhanced by anxiety issues).

One thing I tell everyone I can is that students are largely ignorant of all the work faculty do. Many students, even many graduate students, have no idea how much time is involved in service work, for instance. Just today, as I was writing a letter of recommendation while eating lunch, a student asked if she could meet with me. No, I replied, I was busy, and she needed to come during office hours. She was confused, and wanted to know what I could possibly be doing if I wasn't teaching or meeting with a student. (This is an extreme example, but not an uncommon occurrence.)

TT jobs look easy, in part, because students only see a small part of the job (which, for many, is also the most fun part of the job): working with students. I repeatedly offer to teach an extra class, if I could be exempt from service. All I ever hear is laughter.

Derek Bowman said...


It's not about whether the job is easy or whether it involves a lot of work. It's about security and stability in your position. Do you know what (and how many) classes you're teaching next semester? Do you know whether you'll have a job next fall? Do you have good reason to believe that there will be some reward for the work you're doing?

zombie said...

I'm tempted to apply for that Columbia job because they've ignored me four times already, and I like things in sets of five.

I'm finding the pickings in my AOS pretty slim so far, although there are a couple of jobs I particularly covet.

Anonymous said...

Are people planning on using a wiki this job season? The phylo wiki? Just curious.

Anonymous said...

So has this blog just sort of officially tuned out of engaging with the discipline anymore? Is the future of the rankings of departments (for better or worse) not relevant early professional development in philosophy? Who runs this thing anymore?

Anonymous said...

What 8:29 AM implied. This blog is officially dead.

Anonymous said...


Do you have any idea how many venues there are, moderated and not, which are covering the BL/PGR fracas? We don't need another.

Anonymous said...

I personally cannot share the enthusiasm about the job listings thus far - seems to me rather slim overall. Hopefully there will be at least 30-40 more within the next month or so.

Anonymous said...

I dunno...that position in 'Lonergan studies' looks pretty hot

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I was really worried about my prospects this year, seeing how my specialty is Bernard Lonergan, but finally there's a job up in my AOS. Thanks Boston College!

I am not clever enough to do it, but someone should turn that job ad into a meme.

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