Thursday, June 23, 2016

Is Alt-Ac for you?

Picking up on some posts on the jobs thread, and given that some of you might have come up empty-handed this job season, should we talk about alt-ac jobs?

During the long interval between my BA and PhD, I worked in a couple of creative industries, but I wouldn't say that either of them were very promising, career-wise. And my experience applying for government jobs was laughably bad (rejected for the same job at every possible pay grade, which is to say, they sent me six PFOs for the same job. Our Brand is Rejection.)

Have questions, or answers, about alt-ac jobs and job markets and Plans B (C, D...)? Have at it:

~zombie

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ended up with a GS-11 government job out of grad school (I' a GS-14 now). I work abroad 60% of the time. Last year I went to 21 countries. Pretty badass job. I was offered four or five government jobs fresh out of grad school with no experience outside of GTAing. Maybe it's your resume...

Anonymous said...

I did my PhD at (what most would regard as) a top department. I didn't really try my hand on the academic job market post-PhD. I applied for some things before finishing, and I got some looks from some good departments, and I landed a few post-doc options. But my heart wasn't in it. As much as I've always enjoyed philosophy, I'm just not someone who is willing to bust my ass for the chance of landing a permanent position at God-Knows-Where U. Philosophy is great, but it's not that great (to me).

It took me about a year (networking, [re]training, etc.) to find my feet outside of academia. But it worked out. I'm living back in my home city, where I'd wanted to be for years. I landed a very nice job. The starting pay is considerably higher than nearly any pre-tenure philosophy position, and the trend is toward pay higher than the majority of tenured positions. The hours are humane and flexible. I work with good, kind, reasonable people. The position is a stable one, which I imagine I will be continue working for many years to come (if not permanently). I'm doing something that feels like it makes a small but meaningful difference in others' lives. My background/degree is well-regarded where I am now. When I'm off the clock, I'm off the clock. If I feel like doing some philosophy, I do. It's good. I feel happy and fortunate.

When I made the decision to leave academia, the responses from my supervisors and friends were predictable. Everyone acted like I'd either lost my mind or lost my spine (or both). People asked, rhetorically, what else I could possibly do. People stated or insinuated that I was making a mistake I'd regret forever. I think everyone was acting with the best intentions. They just didn't want me to make a bad choice that I couldn't take back. And they didn't want me to feel like I was failing or being pushed out of the discipline. So, I'm not mad at them. But they were super-duper wrong. Every week (if not every day), I feel thankful that I listened to myself and made the leap. When I think of what might have happened to me if I committed to the philosophy grind, I feel anxious and almost scared.

My case is just one case, and I can't promise that the typical case will be as lucky as mine. But the world (and probably even your home town or state) is a pretty big place. If you're willing to market yourself, contact people out of the blue, endure some weird meetings, and spend some time outside of your comfort zone, I think there's a very good chance that you can find something meaningful outside of philosophy. My (small number of) philosophy friends who have also made the leap have also had success outside of philosophy. It takes time, but it seems like it works.

I see so many people (and old friends) struggling to find permanent employment in philosophy. They're running around the world, teaching tons of classes, struggling to publish, and trying to keep their heads above water, financially. Many of them seem to have been profoundly emotionally and psychologically injured by the process. And the sad reality is that many of them will still be forced to leave the discipline at some point in the near future. It's hard to say to them: "What are you doing? Why are you doing this to yourself?" It's difficult for me to know whether they genuinely love philosophy so much that they see this suffering as part of a worthwhile risk with a big potential upside, or whether they're just so caught up in doing what they've always done that they don't see their other options.

If you're out there and you're engaged in the painful struggle because you actively believe it's worth it, then more power to you. (Seriously. I'm not suggesting that those who live for philosophy should change their lives.) But if you're someone more like me, I strongly, strongly encourage you to think about taking the leap. It's not so bad out here!

Anonymous said...

1:43, what line of work did you end up in? I'm curious what sorts of (non-academic) jobs hold a philosophy phd in high regard.

Anonymous said...

To be blunt, this thread is going to be a bit useless if the only details we get are things like "a government job" or "a very nice job".

Anonymous said...

A lot of philosophers should consider becoming computer programmers, including those who currently have no programming experience. There are tons of jobs, most of which pay more than you'll make in academic philosophy. You'll probably be able to live in the town you want to live in. If you have no experience, spend a few months studying and then enter a coding bootcamp. Even if you do have experience you'll probably have to do that.

Programing isn't as interesting as philosophy, but when you're a philosophy professor you don't actually spend that much time reading and thinking about philosophy (unless you get a good job at a research university, and you probably won't get one of those). Instead you spend tons of time grading papers and managing your relations with bureaucrat-kings who have no accountability to faculty or students, and who view universities as businesses and students and faculty as exploitable resources.

Seriously, more philosophy ph.d's and grad students should seriously consider programming as a career option.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:22 has it right...This thread is doomed. There are simply too many variables in play for anyone to give anything like useful advise to those seeking non-academic employment. The individual's gender, age, and appearance all make tremendous differences (younger, more physically fit/attractive people, are always going to have better job options), as do the individual's academic affliation (Ivy League alums can get jobs in most locations and fields on their pedigree alone) and academic background (people who who hold undergraduate/graduate STEM degrees will have more options than those with humanities backgrounds). I am male, 40, unattractive, and state-school educated, and when I went looking for a summer job this year in between teaching gigs, the best I could get was minimum wage manual labor in a local factory. I suspect that's about as well as I could have done if I was looking for permanent work. Thankfully, I go back to teaching in the fall.

Anonymous said...

"There are simply too many variables in play for anyone to give anything like useful advise to those seeking non-academic employment."

So you mean, it's just like the academic job market?

Anonymous said...

I don't think that the "too many variables" problem renders a thread like this useless. I found similar threads like this enormously helpful in my own (tortured) decision to leave academia and become a lawyer. It is true, of course, that it's silly to give specific advice like "you should go to law school / become a programmer / pursue university admin", but I think it's very easy for philosophers who aren't happy and/or who don't have jobs to fall into the trap of thinking that there are no other options, that the "real world" is worse or lesser than philosophy, and that you're just generally stuck. It's also very hard to find ANY kind of advice from people who understand, except other philosophers who think you should just keep trying. It can be very encouraging for others to read that people have made the transition, landed on their feet, don't regret their decision, and are happy. When you're in the thick of "philosophy or bust" / "the job market controls my destiny" thinking, it is very difficult to contextualize your situation and take alternatives seriously. I agree with the general sentiments expressed by commenter 2 above, and think that some others can and should find them very encouraging, notwithstanding the fact that the comment will probably not help any particular individual form a detailed, personalized exit strategy.

My own experience: I received my PhD from a top 5 program, went to law school expecting to become an academic, went on the philosophy job market once, received zero interviews for TT jobs, and decided not to go down the path of bouncing around postdocs / temporary positions in the hope that something works out. I took a job in "biglaw". It is not an ideal job by any means, but I am very happy with my decision. The hours are very long and, at times, the work can be a slog. Other times, the work can be very conceptually difficult, interesting, and rewarding in ways that are very similar to philosophy. The skill-set transfers very well and I believe that the vast majority of philosophers have the capacity to thrive as lawyers. The pay is substantially better, if you want it to be. The ability to control where you live is a major plus. The ability to quit your job if you don't like it, and try something else, is very freeing. I am legitimately excited about my career prospects, whereas in philosophy "thinking about my "career prospects" was just mostly sad and/or kind of funny. I have no doubt that I will not be at my current job somewhere in the next 2 to 5 years. I will switch to something else and I also doubt that I will stay at that next job for a decade. This is completely normal in the "real world." You don't have to know exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life if you quit. (I realize this is much more difficult for those who are older, have families, etc etc., though it is worth saying that, while far from the norm, "older"people make massive career transitions every single day.) One thing that is certainly true is that, if you leave academia, it will likely take several years before you find a job that you find anywhere near as interesting, rewarding, awesome as the dream philosophy job, whatever that means to you. But if you don't have that job, and feel generally terrified about pursuing it for the next X years only to end up with a decidedly-not-dream-philosophy-job, I can say that while life on the outside will take some getting used to, philosophy being like an actual body part that you suddenly wake up without, but you may well end up happier for all that.

Anonymous said...

Academia is so brutal, so demanding, and so ultimately unrewarding. I retrained as a brewer/distiller. There are loads of jobs out there and it is a basically cool thing to do, so even if you don't earn as much as you'd like, you have the admiration of your friends. The pay is pretty good, though. There's even scope to start your own business if you are that way inclined. It's pretty portable, so you can go where your significant other needs to work. The retraining didn't take long and was way easier than philosophy. I would say to all people thinking of leaving the profession, retraining in just about anything will be easier, academically, than what you are doing now. Be pragmatic. Find something that will fit with the rest of your life (hobbies, friends, family, children etc). Academic philosophy asks too much of us. Even if you are really successful and get a paying job, no one will ever read your work or give a shit what you think about Trolley Problems etc.

Derek Bowman said...

Readers of this thread may be interested in my new website FreeRangePhilosophers.com where I present interviews of philosophy PhDs working outside of traditional faculty jobs and faculty members engaged in various forms of philosophical outreach beyond the academic classroom. My first interview is with a philosopher who left the tenure-track in order to better pursue his vision of philosophy, and the second is with a philosopher-designer who found a way to combine both of her passions in a non-faculty position.

Anonymous said...

Derek, that website is an awesome service to the profession, especially if it grows with more interviews. I know about 12 former philosophers who left for non-academic jobs, do you take recommendations for interviews?

Derek Bowman said...

@9:07: Thanks!

I'm definitely taking suggestions for interviews. I have several other interviews at various stages of 'in process.' But if the site is going to be successful at exploring the wide range of different interests, experiences, and opportunities of philosophers working and/or doing philosophy outside of the academy, the list of interviewees will need to go beyond my current list of people I know and people I've read about.

The best way to send suggestions is using the Contact page of the website, though it's also easy enough to find my email address on my personal website.

Also, if you're someone who has your own story to tell, don't be shy about nominating yourself.

https://freerangephilosophers.com/contact/

Tim said...

Definitely feeling the gtho of academia, but also frustrated with the coachosphere/blogosphere line that pumps up transferrable skills developed in grad school and the need to just translate to emlpoyer language. Thank you all for the frankness about needing to retrain. So I think I will start taking Lynda.com classes on SQL and Python and what-not. That will give me a better shot at a job in 6 weeks than perpetually refining my cover letters, no?

Anonymous said...

I would be very interested to hear about non-academic jobs for philosophy PhDs. I got my PhD from a bottom Leiter ranked program two years ago. I did well with publishing in top 20 journals, but for one reason or another (may never know) I've had little success on the job market.

So, I've been thinking of leaving academia for a year now. However, my background is all humanities, and so it seems there are few options for me. Yes, law school is an option, but I really hate the idea of being a lawyer.

So, I'd love to hear about some realistic non-academic options for a humanities background philosophy PhD. I get the impression that a lot of the success stories are not realistic options for most people.

Some of my friends who have left academia are having zero luck on the job market.

Anonymous said...

Well, you could try editing (especially in the more corporate world; don't think books/magazines/newspapers so much as content marketing). One generally needs experience to get those jobs, and the way in tends to be via internships, but your academic experience is portable and can go some way to securing an internship. Content marketing is huge, and not at all experiencing death throes.

Just don't call yourself or anyone else a "thought leader" if you can help it. They'll want you to, but it's dumb as fuck.

Anonymous said...

"but your academic experience is portable and can go some way to securing an internship"

And how do you suggest paying the bills while one works as an intern?

Anonymous said...

10:23 - You can, e.g., copy edit. If you advertise on craigslist/kijiji, by local schools, colleges, and universities, you'll get some business. A lot of these editorial internships pay a little, too. Not enough to live on, but enough to supplement what you'll make elsewhere. You can wait tables. You can adjunct a course or two. In short, you can do whatever the hell else you were going to do. (Note that you could also have tried to do this one summer when you were ABD, when you had some time and money to spare.) Get roommates or live with your parents/relatives, walk/bike around, make your food from scratch and buy lots of beans, rice, and flour, eat vegetarian... cut costs wherever you can, until you can snag something that will allow you to live less frugally.

The thing is, most non-academic jobs are going to require that you retrain. That's almost always going to come at your own expense. It sucks, but that's the way the job market works. People here are asking about their non-academic options, and I offered a feasible one in a domain that's growing. What's more, I offered one which requires minimal retraining and for which most of us can use our pre-existing skills.

I could have said that content marketers would fall over themselves courting you, but that's not true so I didn't. Nobody is going to cream their pants just because you've got a PhD in philosophy. Hell, if you're on this thread, even philosophers didn't cream their pants when they saw your CV.

I'm sorry our options suck, and that it's up to us to make them work for ourselves. Unfortunately, them's the apples, and we can't afford to waltz around passively.

Anonymous said...

Bah! There are loads of philosophy jobs outside academia. At least 80 "Philosophy Specialist" jobs at this company alone, for example.

(Deeply sorry for this. But it's funny in a grim way.)

Anonymous said...

Here's the problem on threads like this with stories such as the first two posted above. It's great to see someone for whom it has all worked out outside of academia. I really mean that. But in the present context telling these stories reads as manipulative. We can all point to individuals from our respective Ph.D. institutions who have similarly had it all work out academia. Guess what folks: it works out for some inside just as it works out for some outside. Breezily saying "oh yeah, it's great out here. Wicked job, no stress, lots of travel and sex, never have a deadline I can't meet without staying late, never need money, bosses be throwing me fine ass promotions so much I ask them to stop, blah blah blah" is meaningless unless we compare trends to trends. And it's meaningless data specifically given to manipulate those inside to drink the alt-ac Koolaid. It's great in here too under similar circumstances, i.e. when things work out.

Anonymous said...

Your friends are back at it. http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/08/two-bumptious-malicious-white-dudes-say-adjuncts-arent-exploited/

Anonymous said...

Hi all, I have a question. I am currently on a postdoc in a very good place, and could probably continue my career with another postdoc, or a lecturesip, and hope that eventually somoene will offer me a permanent position. Or I could go back to my thirld world country and accept a permanent research position over there for the equivalent of 24K per month (approx.). A thirld alternative would be to stay in the US and find a non-academic job, although I have no idea what that job could be. What would you do in my situation? I am in my late 30s, single, no kids.

Anonymous said...

I am the person who wrote the comment about the three alternatives. Sorry, I meant 24K per YEAR

Anonymous said...

Hey Anonymous, another anonymous here--your choice is a tough call, but knowing how difficult it is to find a permanent academic position as well as a non-academic job here in the US, I would go for the permanent position in your home country IF you are sure you can get it and IF the 24k per year would provide for a decent standard of living there. Of course 24k per year is poverty in the US, but since you say you are from a third world country I am guessing that it goes a lot farther over there.

Anonymous said...

12:14,

Here's the thing: it's not just about the job. Do not make a major life decision just on what job you might hold. Do you want to stay in the US? Is this where you want to live? Ask yourself the pros and cons about living - outside of the job - in the two countries.

But even if the job is the only deciding factor, there are questions to consider. Do you want to live a life that may involve picking up and moving - sometimes to undesirable locations - in order to stay employed? Are you ok with the idea that you might sink another several years into your career and still come out with nothing? Do you want to put yourself in the position where you are asking this question again in your late 40s?

Sven Viko said...

this blog is as dead as the profession

Anonymous said...

No, no, we are all just thinking very hard about it...

Anonymous said...

My two cents as someone who left philosophy: look at tech jobs. Many tech startups, and even established companies sometimes, need smart people and require a very minimal knowledge base because their field changes so quickly. They are happy to see folks with degrees in computer science of course, but they need brilliant people who can learn quickly, handle deadlines, service clients, work independently, etc. Weirdly, I've never seen the skepticism about the value of the humanities that I saw within the humanities. Recruiters know that if you dominated a liberal arts curriculum, and especially if you have a graduate degree, that you are sharp, organized, adaptable, and so forth.

Too many people in philosophy try to leave philosophy for fields that are just as much in decay (like publishing, say). If you decide to leave, do it right. Tech companies have money. Can you imagine that? An institution that isn't facing budget cuts and hiring part time workers with PhDs?