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Thanks for the post. It's an important topic. I'm concerned, however, that the experience you describe in the post is called "imposter syndrome" in the way that being sad is called "depression." I don't know your experience, and so I could be quite mistaken. If so, I apologize. But the question "are you prepared to do what it takes to be a non-imposter" seems to speak more to someone who does not actually have imposter syndrome, but rather feels inadequately prepared---which is of course itself a serious issue worthy of discussion.

Marcus Arvan

Jdj: thanks for the comment. Anyway, that was part of the point of the post. I've met *many* people -- people who've gotten plum jobs just out of grad school, and those who have struggled -- who have said the same thing: the PhD just doesn't prepare you for what you actually have to do in a full time faculty job. And really, how *could* it? The point of post-docs in the sciences is to transition people from grad school to the full-time academic professional world. In the humanities (and in philosophy), we "throw people in the deep end." For instance, I was a graduate teaching assistant, and taught summer courses in grad school, for the better part of a decade. I also got papers accepted at good conferences, including APA's, and had some revise-and-resubmits. Still, none of this prepared me for teaching a 3/3 load where each class is 2 hours long twice a week, publishing several papers a year, advising 50 students, serving on 3 university committees, advising two student clubs, etc. -- all at the same time! No, that was stuff I had to learn -- and only could learn -- on the job. And again, I know I'm not alone in these regards. I've had friends get TT jobs at top-20 R1 schools not publish stuff for years...why? Because they had to figure it out! The idea that grad school prepares one to be a good professional academic seems to me -- on the basis of first and third-hand experience -- much like the claim that babysitting prepares one well for raising a child. They don't. Being a successful grad student and a successful professional are very different, just as babysitting and raising a child are.

Marcus Arvan

Jdj: I should perhaps add, to clarify, that as a blogger I have a certain tendency to dramatize a bit. I perhaps should have said not that some of us (e.g. me) are *literally* incompetent early in our careers, but rather that our feelings of being impostors are rooted in a very real and justified sense in which we "still have a lot to figure out". Does that sound better? I hope it does, because it expresses a bit more accurately what I meant to convey. ;)

Justin "the naive grad student" Caouette

Marcus, thanks for the post. It was thought provoking. I have a few thoughts/questions.

I do not like the term "imposter syndrome". I think that there is a fine line between faking something, believing X and claiming or acting as if Y, and not being good at something. An imposter seems more clearly tied to the faker whereas the experience you describe as imposter syndrome seems more akin to someone not thinking they are good at something or thinking they are not the right fit for a career in philosophy. A person who thinks the latter is far from an "imposter", at least as I understand the term. I just find the term to be misleading. I think many feel like they don’t belong and maybe the feeling of “not belonging” is where the connection lies to being an imposter? I’m not sure. I do worry though because many underrepresented groups in Philosophy do not feel like they belong (myself included), I would not want to call myself an imposter. It rings of a negative undertone, at least to my ears (though surely not intended by you or those that initially coined the term).

That said, I wanted to put some pressure on some of the claims you made about grad school not preparing us for a career in philosophy> Specifically, you said "Grad school doesn't prepare you for this" in reference to these three tasks:

1. Teaching 2-5 courses per year
2. Publish at least 2 good articles per year
3. Deal with tons of other stuff (committee work, student stuff, University work, etc.)

Here, I disagree. I am currently in my 3rd year of a PhD program in Philosophy. I am teaching 2 classes, I also have one lined up in the summer. So, that puts me at 3 courses for the year, accomplishing task 1 (If I'm lucky I may get some teaching in the fall as well, putting me at the higher end of your range). I may not publish 2 good articles in 2014 but I'm going to try my best, I already have one under review. I also plan to complete my dissertation in 2014, It's about 40% complete. So, if I finish my dissertation and publish an article or 2 (that's my plan anyway) I will meet your second criteria. And, I should add that I was not good enough to publish anything when I arrived, suggesting that my PhD program helped to foster that talent (helped to prepare me).

Beyond that I am the grad student representative at dept meetings, I write 2-5 student recommendations a year, I started and continue to play a role in putting on an annual grad conference, I attend monthly meetings for our PGSA organization, I attend an Ethics Research group meeting once a month and offer written feedback on the presenter's work, and so on and so on. It seems as though that I have been adequately prepared for your third task(committee-University work). Note: I am doing all of these things at the same time.

My point here is not to toot my own horn, it’s this: I think grad school prepares one for the academy if one is willing to do what it takes, if one is willing to put in the time and effort. Anyone in my department could choose to be as active as I am, and some do. But to say that grad school simply does not provide the resources to be successful as a Philosopher, or that grad school does not prepare us for the discipline is a bit misleading. I think that many programs offer the resources to be a successful professional and it is up to the grad student to utilize those resources. Just because many enter their first job unprepared does not mean that grad schools are necessarily to blame.

I could be missing something completely. After all, I’m only a grad student and likely a naive one at that. I would be curious to hear how others feel about grad school preparation for the discipline. Am I alone in thinking I am prepared for a job in Philosophy (putting aside the point that there are not many jobs) when I hit the market next year for the first time?


Justin, he said 2-5 courses *per semester*, not per year. There really is a very big difference. I agree that teaching 1-2 courses/term is manageable while a grad student, but the work load quickly becomes unmanageable (if one relies on grad school levels of time commitment) when that becomes 3-5, which is a much more typical teaching load. 2-2 loads are *very rare*. Even 3-2 is rare. 3-3 and 4-4 are much more typical.

Also, really, there's a big difference between the work required to finish a dissertation and publish multiple journal articles in a year. The standards of quality are generally different (dissertations are often lower quality). Often, in order to publish 2+ articles per year, an author needs to have 5+ articles under review at any one time, with replacement (as one is published, there needs to be one or two to take its place in the review cycle).

Most importantly, and this is most often overlooked, the service loads of professors and grad students is *very* different. There's a tonne of service that's done behind the scenes from most grad student's understanding. And it's the big service load increase that usually catches people completely off guard.

You may not believe us, but even doing all that you are doesn't even come close to what profs have to take on.

Marcus's point, I think, is that no, you're not prepared...but that's okay. In fact, it's normal. It would be exceptional if you were prepared for all these things (and that it wouldn't necessarily be a positive thing: e.g., it would likely mean that you didn't focus enough on research as a grad student).

Justin "the soon to be banker with a PhD" Caouette

Rachel, thanks. I agree with most of what you're saying. And, you're right he did say 2-5 courses per semester and that is a *huge* difference. But, FWIW, you seem to be arguing that it is more difficult to be a prof than it is to be a grad student. Even if one agree with that I think my claim could still hold true. My claim is that grad school adequately *prepares us* to be a professional philosopher. I don't think I have to show that being a grad student is as hard as being a prof to justify that claim. Do you think so? I think one can be prepared by living a similar lifestyle and I think grad school does that for those willing to put in the work. I work 50-55 hours a week reading, writing, teaching philosophy, and doing service work. This seems to be adequate preparation for a job as a professional philosopher. But, you raise some interesting points and I’d like to raise a few points in response and ask a few questions if I may.

Regarding teaching: Teaching 2 courses that you have never taught before as a grad student (as I am this semester) seems comparable in work load to teaching 3, most of which you have taught before (intro classes, etc.). Having zero experience and prepping for 2 classes seems comparable to teaching 3, 1 or 2 of which you have taught before. But, again I may be overly naive here.

Regarding publishing I wonder if the difference is *that big*. Again, I don't think I have to show that it is equally hard, only that one is adequately trained by grad school to produce such work and juggle the other obligations that come with a professional gig. Even if one agrees that dissertation quality is lower than published quality it doesn't follow that writing a 30 page pub is less time consuming or harder to do. In fact, if one is publishing on the topic they did their dissertation on it seems that the research involved to publish would take less time, not more. If one does a decent job on their dissertation they should be able to publish portions of it. But, that’s beside the point really. My point is this: a grad student, one who is not as polished as a newly minted PhD at researching or writing finds it very hard to write a dissertation while teaching 2 courses. This seems just as hard, or comparably as hard, as the polished PhD trying to raise their level a few notches to mine a pub from their dissertation. It seems that writing the diss while teaching and taking on other duties adequately prepares one for the discipline. Maybe an example would help here: Writing a M.A thesis was as hard for me (with no teaching) as writing my PhD dissertation has been while teaching. I have less time as a PhD student and I am producing more. But I wouldn't say my M.A program didn't prepare me for this. I feel adequately prepared. Does this make sense? If not, why is the jump from PHD diss to published pub so much different than the jump from undergrad to MA thesis, or MA thesis to PhD dissertation?

Regarding the service load I would be interested to hear what you see the major differences to be. In the past 4 months, I have reviewed for a journal, and for 2 conferences. I am working on a book review. I am also involved in other ways as mentioned in the first post. What will be expected of me that is much different? I ask so I can better prepare for that transition if I am afforded the opportunity (highly unlikely (though not impossible) given the non-leiterific standing of my program). Assuming you’re right here, this information would be valuable to me and others in a similar position.

So, in closing, you may be right. Maybe the work load of a grad student does not prepare one for the discipline. You are surely in a much better position to compare than I. But, FWIW, I don't think it's okay that I'm not prepared, if in fact I am not. By the time I am done I will have spent *at least* six years in graduate school between the MA and PhD. It's a shame that my institutions have not adequately prepared me to be a professional philosopher. I have come into the field thinking that achieving the PhD will afford me at least the proper preparation to do my job well even though the odds tell me I will likely never get the chance to be a professional given the state of the job market. So not only did I get I attempt a PhD in a field I may never get a chance to be a professional in but that degree didn't even adequately prepare me for the job I so desperately want.


How many hours per week, on average, do you devote to service work?

More on the service comment: I'm guessing that your service time commitments add up on average to, at most, 1hr/week. Is that right? A monthly PGSA meeting, a monthly department meeting (where grad representatives usually just observes and doesn't have to prepare anything for the meeting), a reading/presentation group that I doubt takes up more than a few hours/month...

I'll be generous and guess this comes to 2hrs/week.

Prof service loads are usually at least 10hrs/week, often considerably more.

These numbers also go up if one is part of an underrepresented group, particularly women and people of colour (and doubly so for women of colour), where committees usually require at least one such person as a member. Women and people of colour (and those with intersectional identities) are often called on to take on greater advising loads, since students from underrepresented groups tend to seek such people out.

Marcus Arvan

Justin: I'll be curious to see what Rachel (and others who have gotten full-time faculty jobs) will have to say on this, but my experience -- first-, second-, and third-hand -- has been that the difficulty/amount of work of being a full-time faculty member are not merely an incremental step above graduate school. The difference really is *that* big. I will say this, though. You sound like you are doing an *amazing* job preparing yourself, and that you appear to come a lot closer to the work-load of a faculty member than almost any grad student I've ever come across. I never taught two courses a semester as a grad student, and it really sounds like you are working your tail off.

At the same time, while I empathize with your situation -- my path through philosophy has not been easy, as I've explained in many posts on this blog -- I have to disagree with your claim that, if Rachel and I are right about the differences between grad school and full-time faculty work, "it's not okay" that grad school doesn't sufficiently prepare people for the job. For, part of what I was getting at in the post is that *nothing* -- aside from the kinds of post-docs that exist in the sciences -- can really prepare one for a full academic job.

Perhaps an analogy will help. I had a friend who played major-league baseball. Here is what he told me about his experience: college baseball is an incremental step up from high-school, rookie leagues a step up from college, AA-league ball an incremental step up from rookie leagues, etc...but the major leagues is something else *entirely*. I've heard similar things about professional football. Most great high-school players do pretty well in college. But moving to the NFL is something else *entirely*. More than 50% of first-round draft-picks -- people who have succeeded wildly at every level before the pros -- don't make it at the NFL level.

I realize the academic philosophy/sports analogy is far from perfect, but all I can say is that I had a similar experience, and that I've had many conversations with faculty members (old and young) who've reported the same thing. I've literally had conversations with people where they say, "People think grad school is hard. They have *no idea* how much more difficult it is being a faculty member." To which I say, "I know, right?". And this isn't to toot my own horn, either! It has been a real struggle. I have worked harder than I ever expected I would. And I worked very hard as an undergraduate and in grad school. I also had *wonderful* preparation. I taught courses in grad school for the better part of a decade, won a teaching award at one point, took (and aced) courses in metaphysics and epistemology from people like John Hawthorne, Ted Sider, and William Alston while at Syracuse, and then did well-enough in courses from really great people at Arizona after I transferred there, etc. And I finished a dissertation. And yet, despite all that, my first full-time faculty job felt like stepping into a foreign world. Why?

Here's my experience: success in grad school is one thing. If you're a rock star in grad school, you publish maybe an article or two in a good journal...over the course of 6-8 years, while maybe teaching a course per semester. Now think what the standards are as a full-time faculty member. Now, you are expected to publish 2-3 good articles per *year* (so, basically, one published article in a good journal per semester), while teaching a full course load (often, prepping and delivering 3-4 courses at a time in areas, often outside of your AOS), supervising independent studies and senior theses at the same time, serving on time-consuming university committees, supervising student clubs, collecting assessment data for your department, helping to write a long departmental assessment document for SACS, and...I could go on.

None of this is to diminish the difficulties of being a grad student (trust me, I know; being a grad student was really, really tough). Further, for what it is worth, I think it is a crying shame that we *don't* have the kinds of post-docs that exist in the sciences. I fully agree, in one sense, that it's not okay that this is the way things are. I think it's pretty nuts that, in the humanities, people tend to go straight from grad school to full-time faculty jobs -- and there is a surprising number of people who don't make the transition adequately, and who don't get tenure. In one sense, it is crazy -- I agree. But it's just the financial reality. And just like professional athletes get "thrown into the fire", so do we. It is what it is, as they say. That's what my post was about, and part of the message was that there is a sense in which it *is* okay, because...well, it's more or less impossible to prepare someone to be a professor (some things, like parenthood -- or so I've heard -- are essentially trials by fire).

Who knows, though? Maybe I'm wrong about all this. I'll be curious to see if there is a significant contingent of people out there who have made the transition from grad school to full-time faculty who felt totally well-prepared when they got there. If there are, I'll be happy to backtrack, and grapple with the fact that some people found the transition a lot easier than I did. :)


Here's why it's okay not to be fully prepared: this is how jobs work. When one is trying to advance in one's career, one moves into jobs and positions for which one needs to learn how to perform well. Someone getting a promotion from, say, Sergeant to Lieutenant in the police will be moving into a position she isn't "fully prepared" for. But that's fine: the jobs of Sergeant and Lieutenant are different. What's important is that she's able to learn, and learn relatively quickly, how to perform in the new position. Grad schools generally prepare people to do that. If they don't, then that's a serious failing. But it's not a failing that grad school doesn't fully prepare one for what's required of junior assistant professors. In fact, it'd be very odd if they did (and I think it'd be a bad thing).

Also, you need to know that most jobs in academic philosophy are *not* like the ones your professors have. You probably won't teach somewhere that has a grad program. You'll probably have to teach courses you've never taught before on a fairly regular basis. That is, it's just false that you won't regularly have new preps each semester. You'll usually have at least one, sometimes 2-3. If your department has the ability, and your chair likes to protect new faculty, your first year or two may require fewer preps, but there's no guarantee that either of those conditions are present. (I'm very lucky that I only have one new prep my first year, and possibly no new preps my second year.)

Justin "I'm done with toilets" Caouette

Rachel, thanks again. To your first post: you’re right! I do not spend 10 hours per week on “service”, unless you consider philosophical blogging or editing a book to be service to be service (which is not crazy but likely not considered service by most). If that counts I do much more than 10. But assuming it doesn't, I think I average about 5. Let me explain: Our semesters are 13 weeks long and I have calculated, thanks to organizing a planner to keep track (something that has really helped me stay organized—which is hard), that I have spent roughly 60 hours doing service work. My quick math tells me this is roughly 4.5 hours a week which is a bit more than the generous 2 you offered me.

Here is a quick run-down, please let me know if I am including “non-service”.

*17 hours: I reviewed a paper for a journal earlier in the semester and that took about 15 hours of work. Not being too familiar with some of the science details I had to research the pieces that were referenced to check if the argument could hold. I spent 2 full work days reading the argument and commenting on it’s pros and cons before rechecking some of the scientific claims being made in the paper (it was for an interdisciplinary journal dealing with neuroscience). I then had an email exchange with the authors and editor once changes were made in light of the comments they received which take about 3 hours (email reading +re-reading the piece to see if the argument still went through, etc.). Now, it’s an open question whether I should have taken the project on. My point is simply that in grad school while teaching and writing, I am afforded the opportunity for lots of service work.

*21 hours: Semester meeting totals: Dept meeting (4 at 5hours total); PGSA meeting (2 at 4 hours total); GSA meeting (1 at 3 hours total); Research group (1 at 2 hours total); Reading group (5 at 7 hours total).

*5 hours: Reading fellow grad students proposals or papers: A few MA students have sought me out to look over their proposals and asked for advice. I gave them detailed comments as well as met with them and talked about them in person, this totaled about 5 hours. Attending presentations of fellow grad student to offer comments in writing and during their presentation was not included, this would add an additional 5 hours

*5 hours: Recommendations: writing 3 letters of recommendation for students trying to enter a study-abroad program. (The writing of the letters (first time doing so always takes longer), looking over the students dossier, Emailing or meeting with student to learn a little more about them, making the copies on official letter head, walking them down to the office by hand, etc.)

* 8 hours: Panelist for discussion with grad students on inequity in Philosophy: (2 sessions lasting a total of 6 hours and a few hours of prep for those sessions.)

*3 hours: Interview with radio show about Philosophy: met with djs for one hour a week before, a bunch of emails discussing ideas and the on-air interview which lasted an hour)
*(Over 100 hours) edited book collection: From what I have been told, these publictaions are more akin to service than to research. If so then I spent about 5 full weeks doing this work (not counting the chapter I co-authored). But for the sake of argument I won’t count this collection.

So to answer your question: 4 or 5. Which is much less than 10, point made. But what else will they have me doing if I am ever afforded the opportunity? If they have me doing toilets I’m throwing in the towel. I did toilets while working at Wendy’s as a teen. Never again! ;) Seriously though, I am curious. I never hear much talk about service around the department.

Oh and your point regarding minorities and women is spot on. I talked about this at length with Nicole (my dept chair) and she has explained to me how this comes about.

Also, FWIW, I’m not just basing my assumptions about the discipline from my current program alone (2-2 work load), I am basing them off of 3 programs(not much better, I know)and 5 institutions in which I have been affiliated.

Marcus and Rachel, I'll respond to you both in due time--got work to do ;). Thanks for the dialogue. I can always count on my fellow cocooners to deflate my assumptions about the discipline.

Marcus Arvan

Justin: I realize your last comment is addressed to Rachel, but still, I'd like to chime in. Part of what I don't think you're quite appreciating -- and which few (if any) grad students can appreciate -- is just how much more *efficient* one has to become at the professorial level. 15 hours -- 2 full work days -- reviewing a paper for a journal? There's no way I spend that much time reviewing a paper. I can (and have to) write a good, thoughtful review much, much faster than that. I just don't have the time to spend 2 full days reviewing a paper along with all of my other responsibilities, so I must find a way to do a good job at the same task in a fraction of the time (also: fwiw, I do not count reviewing as service in my own head; it's just something I have to get done).

This is just one example, but it really is ubiquitous. On average, I think I take about of 1/10th of the time I took as a grad student to get the *same* work done I did then. So, if I'm spending 40 hours on something now, I probably spent weeks on the same task in grad school. No joke. This is the (nearly indescribably) "je ne sais quois" of what is so different about the work-load in a faculty position.


15hrs to review a journal article?!

Wow. I often spend at most 1 or 2. I don't think I've ever spent more than 2.

Letters of rec: for those sorts of letters, you should develop boilerplate, and just tailor a few sentences to make it specifically about a particular student. They shouldn't take more than 15-30min each.

This is partly my point from earlier: if you keep up your time commitment habits that you have in grad school, you'll be immediately buried by service requirements of being a prof. Right now, you're spending way too much time on those tasks.

Marcus Arvan

Rachel: yep - my point exactly.


...on the journal reviewing point, that might be post-worthy on its own.

I always check the paper (or *at least* the abstract) before committing to refereeing. If I'm not sufficiently familiar with the material, I simply don't agree to referee the paper. Of course, that means that as a graduate student, one is less likely to be familiar with very much literature, which means they should be turning down most requests.

I get it, it feels *good* to be asked to referee a paper (it feels amazing, in fact), but you have to balance that with whether it's a good idea to spend your time doing that.

I don't mind refereeing an article if I have to go quickly scan through another paper or two to familiarize myself with something, but I'm *not* going to referee something for which I really have to get up to speed on something. That's not a good use of my time. I take a pass on those.

Most of the papers I agree to referee are on topics I've published on (or they're *on* me and my work). This means that I'm already 'up to speed' on the background literature and I can generally very quickly read the papers in order to review them. If I decide to recommend an R+R for the paper, I'll go through it a second time and make a few more detailed comments. I aim for 2 pages, single spaced, comments for an R+R paper, and at most half to one page of notes for 'reject' decisions.


Another *huge* difference I've noticed is between faculty and student governance. Students want every decision (for the most part) made with everyone present. Faculty delegate to committees who *report* to the group, but generally don't require approval for most decisions. The student governance is far less efficient than the faculty governance.

Consequently, even though far more is being covered in a faculty meeting, they're generally significantly *shorter* than student meetings (which are covering less).

Justin "the believer in fallible preparation" Caouette

I agree! With everything said in response.

Marcus and Rachel, I agree that 15 hours is way too much. I took on an article that was very neuroscience heavy. There were philosophical arguments made but I needed to do the empirical research in order to do a good job. But this speaks to my point about preparation. I have learned not to take on projects like this in the future. Without that knowledge I may have hurt my progress in a professional position, I may not have been prepared for a professional job. It seems that going through this process has helped "prepare" me to be better efficient with my time, in the future. More experiences like this next year will build on this, IMHO.

The differences that Rachel is pointing to are likely true. I have no reason to think they are not. But because they are different does not entail that I can't be properly prepared. Does going through this process guarantee success? No, but that's not what preparation is supposed to do, is it?

It seems like we are working with a different understanding of preparation. I'm willing to say the AAA baseball player is prepared to play major league ball (assuming he spent enough time and energy on his craft and exhibits the skill set)even though AAA did not afford him the opportunity to see a 101mph fastball. The failures of skill, (i.e. not being able to hit a 101mph because you lack the skill) seem different than failures of preparation. Sometimes a failure of prep will cause you to lack the skills but it surely isn't the case all of the time.

As I become more efficient at certain tasks, including writing, I free up more time. If I am habituated to already spent 50-55 hours at work then I don't see how learning to utilize my time is not adequately prepping me for the discipline. Showing that I need to be better (now) is not a point in favor of the claim that I am not prepared once I have my PhD or that grad school in general doesn't prepare one for the profession. If we get to strict with our understanding of preparation I worry that many cases where we would want to say one is prepared one won't be.

But, I defer to the both of you on this and assume I am either just misunderstanding what is meant by Preparation or I am just diluted regarding my take on the discipline.

That said, I wanted to say one more thing about agreeing to review that 15 hour article. BTW, I agree that this should be a topic on its own, Rachel. It’s hard to say no as a grad student and in this job market. Given that I focus on free will I looked at the review opportunity to do some research on my topic and my hope was that this knowledge could help me in the future. Almost killing two birds with one stone: do relevant research and get a quick vita line for service to show that I may have what it takes to be that multi-tasker you both suggest I need to be. I agree it took far too long, and I have learned a lot to reduce significant time in the future. Same for the edited collection: I spent far more time than I needed to by doing things out of order and inefficiently.

Also, no one has answered me yet: do I have to do toilets or not?

Marcus Arvan

Justin: I suspect doing toilets will not help you very much (unless you wish to pursue janitorial work). ;) Anyway, on the main substantive issue, I suppose it all depends on what one means by "prepared" or "well-prepared."

There are a couple of things one could mean here.

(1) You're prepared, or well-prepared, for a job if you can expect to feel relatively comfortable in it and perform its essential functions very well, within the first 6 months on the job.

(2) You're prepared, or well-prepared, for a job if you can expect to feel relatively comfortable in it and perform its essential functions very well after a year or two.

I suspect most ordinary people would identify "prepared" or "well-prepared" with (1). I am suggesting that if you want to say philosophers are prepared for full-time faculty jobs by graduate school, you have to endorse (2) [again, some people -- the few -- may be rock stars who can step right in and not feel overwhelmed...but I've known few people who claim to have had that experience]. Anyway, do you really want to endorse (2)?

Justin Caouette

To be honest I don't see a problem with (2). To be able to perform the essential functions of my job "very well" in a year or 2 would be great! This gives me about 3-4 years to get tenure (which shouldn't be too hard if I am "very good" by that point) after a year or 2 of hiccups. I would feel comfortable in saying I was adequately prepared if the scenario played out like that.

Interestingly, A close friend of mine just started working for the Department of Welfare in Massachusetts and he was told that it would take him about a year or 2 to feel comfortable in his job and to be good at it. So, I guess Philosophy is not alone when it comes to taking some time to feel comfortable.

Matt DeStefano

Marcus, interesting post. I've always considered impostor syndrome as an inability to internalize one's accomplishments, rather than these mere feelings that one is inadequate. For example, a close friend of mine won an essay contest and I told him "congratulations! Your essay must have been very good", and his response was "It really wasn't, I must have either gotten lucky with a judge partial to my topic or nobody else entered the competition".

In this situation (not to rely on the Wikipedia definition too much, but this seems to be a common thread), my friend has externalized his achievement and written it off as luck.

Feeling as though you don't know what you are doing (or you are not prepared) isn't really impostor syndrome, as far as I understand it. When you start to write off all of your achievements as having some external source other than yourself, then it might rightly be called impostor syndrome.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Justin: in that case, we have resolved our disagreement! You and I are working with different conceptions of what it is to be prepared (or well-prepared) for a job. I think that if it takes a couple of years for one to feel (and be) good at a job after getting it, one isn't prepared for it at the time one starts the job. You think that, no, one can be prepared for it even if it takes that long to become (and feel) good at it. The truth, I suspect, is somewhere in the middle. There's a *sense* in which grad school prepares one to be a professor -- that sense being that you can actually become good at the job in a couple of years (which a person without a PhD in philosophy couldn't do) -- but there's also a sense in which it doesn't (one has a *lot* to figure out after becoming a professor that one feels quite unprepared for upon first getting the job). How's this sound as a resolution?

Hi Matt: thanks for your comment. That may be right, which is why I qualified my first claim (about feeling unprepared) not as a case of impostor syndrome, but actually *being* an impostor of sorts! But thanks for pointing out the exact definition. If that's what impostor syndrome is (strictly speaking), then I guess I'm apt to say that not many professional philosophers have the syndrome. I, at least, haven't met many people in the profession who behave as though they are unable to internalize any of their accomplishments. Most professional philosophers, in my experience, tend to be fairly proud people who are happy to embrace their accomplishments (and not necessarily in a bad way). I guess my point in the post is that there is a kind of ("sub-clinical" level of?) impostor syndrome that, in my experience, is *very* common among early-career faculty. The kinds of insecurities I refer to may not be full-blown impostor syndrome, but they certainly seem to me like a significant variation of it, one worth talking and thinking about.

Justin Caouette

That sounds about right, Marcus.

Josh Mugg

Matt and Marcus-

I started my MA a prof told my cohort to adopt a kind of hubris. His reasoning was that such a hubris is needed if one is going to attempt to make substantial contributions to problems philosophers have been puzzling over for centuries. Is this a good attitude to adopt? Is there room for epistemic humility here?

Also, although I know plenty of folks who fall into the hubris adopting position, I also know plenty of folks (mostly grad students and especially grad students early in the process) who do have imposter syndrome. They do well in their coursework, present at conference, maybe even publish. And they are proud of this work. However, they still fear that it has all been luck thus far and that their success will all dry up soon.

Wesley Buckwalter

Marcus thanks for posting about such an important topic. I know of many inside and outside of philosophy who suffer from some form of this syndrome.

Of course starting any new position involves a learning curve. On the job training is very important in many professions. No doubt that performance generally improves after many years of practice. Clearly it takes a lot of very hard work to become a good teacher and author of philosophy, specifically. And I found your discussion of whether or not, in your view, the formal training philosophy graduates receive is adequate for *competency* or *preparedness* in their field to very thought provoking.

However I would suggest that a discussion of those questions regarding competency or preparedness in training would be best served by decoupling them from the phrase ‘imposter syndrome’ and the present psychological issue. Taking the situation you feel faces the common assistant professor and describing a few ways in which generic use of the word ‘imposter’ or phrase ‘being an imposter’ could apply to that situation orthogonal the specific syndrome of that same name that so many also write about is confusing and perhaps a little dangerous.

The key thing to keep in mind about feelings of imposterism (in many professions ranging from STEM fields, among experienced CEOs, the rich and famous, to philosophy professors) is that potentially no amount of effort or accomplishment will ever count as justificatory. Given this it is extremely troubling to think that this syndrome “can be a good thing”, “overcome by a ton of hard work”, or “depends on how you define success”. Many reports suggest that Imposter Syndrome is actually associated with highly
achieving, highly successful people, which in philosophy would certainly include “those consistently publishing in "top-ranked journals" let alone much more broad definitions of disciplinary success. Your question "are you prepared to do what it takes to become a non-impostor?" is at the very heart of the troubling thinking perpetuating impostorism.

To reiterate, I think you raise a number of good points. I wholeheartedly agree about the value of hard work and motivation, and a number of points made throughout the discussion. I simply worry that this post is confusing a number of issues with imposter syndrome specifically, in a way that might not be too helpful for folks struggling with the syndrome of that name.


Josh, NO.

The best attitude one can take, I think, is humility and something like the pessimistic meta induction about one's own views. Just leave ego out of it: "Oh, you think I'm wrong about x? Yeah, probably!" It's fine to be somewhat confident in one's own work, insofar as one (rightfully, I hope) regards oneself as an adequate authority on a topic, but we're all probably wrong about our views. I aim to move debates forward, not at being "right" per se.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Wesley: thank you for your very thoughtful comment. I *wholeheartedly* agree. FWIW, you are not the first to raise these concerns (I received a private email raising similar concerns).

I didn't mean to imply in my post that the points I was making were the correct account of the syndrome. I was just trying to relate the closest expriences that I think I have had to something like it, and then open the issue up for discussion.

I now see that the experiences I discuss in the post seem more like ordinary professional insecurities than a genuine case of Impostor Syndrome, and that it is important to distinguish these things precisely so that troubling thinking perpetuating impostorism (and certain views about how the syndrome can be overcome by mere volition) are not perpetuated.

So, thanks again for raising the issues you did. I think they are spot on, and I appreciate you raising them (and the points themselves) very much.

Marcus Arvan

Josh: I think that is a *great* question. I have a lot of thoughts about it, and hope to post on it shortly. The short-answer is that I think performing well requires a certain *combination* of confidence and humility (much as Rachel's comment implies). But I think the "right amount of each" is very difficult to achieve, and that there are some interesting psychological issues that arise, as well.

Anyway, thanks for raising the issue. I plan to write a post on it ASAP.

Matt DeStefano

Josh: That's interesting advice, and I could see it being useful to incoming graduate students. When you are first attempting to make a substantial contribution to an existing body of literature, it would be quite disheartening if you truly felt you had nothing to contribute. I imagine there is a golden mean of hubris that philosophers ought to strive for, as Marcus points out in the above comment. Excited to see his post on it.


Perhaps there is a strong and weak reading of the hubris claim. On the strong reading, one actually thinks that everything one argues for is right. Rachel is right in claiming that this is a bad policy. However, perhaps there is a weaker reading according to which one believes that one can move the debate forward. I will admit that even doing this requires thinking (at least somewhat) highly of oneself. It requires thinking (at the very least) "really smart folks have missed something that I can draw their attention to."

Matt: Undergrad papers I get often err on the side of lack of confidence. They recognize (rightly!) how hard it is to make a contribution and that lack of confidence can lead to their concluding only that the issue at hand is complicated.

Further question: can the acceptance/ belief distinction help here? Perhaps I ought to adopt a policy with regard to my philosophical projects where I accept that I am brilliant (or something like this), even though I ought not believe it?


I don't see why one has to think highly of oneself in order to move debates forward. Perhaps what it really involves is not thinking too highly of those who have come before us (at least in terms of publishing). They're flawed human beings, just like the rest of us.

I think either believing or accepting that one is brilliant is hubris, and a bad policy (insofar as it's a policy). Most people who do that come off as smug, arrogant, and not brilliant. The people who scare me the most with their brilliance tend to be the most gracious, humble people I know. I'm not implying a causal connection, but pompous asses tend not to be as smart as they think they are. (Case study: McGinn.)


Rachel: True, folks who honestly regard themselves as brilliant come across as jerks. (This is likely because they are in fact jerks). However, acceptance can be context sensitive. So I might accept that I am a great philosopher (relative to those who have come before me) when sitting at my computer working on a paper, but I should not accept that I am brilliant in other settings (e.g. drinks with friends). In fact I have never adopted such a policy.

My suspicion is that the right attitude here is one of moderation between the extremes of arrogance and timidity. If so, the prof from my MA was wrong.


Humility and timidity are not the same thing, though. I was advocating humility, not timidity.


Indeed. Humility would be the medium between arrogance and timidity.


One important difference between graduate school and being a brand new professional philosopher not mentioned above is the lack of consistent guidance and feedback one can rely on as the latter. Many graduate students get into the habit early on in their program of feeling like they must run *all* of their work by an advisor or other mentor *smarter* than they are before presenting it to others or submitting it to, say, conferences and journals. While this is(I think) an important part of becoming confident in one's work as a graduate student, it can have a seriously detrimental effect on one's professional prospects if the habit is not kicked either later on in grad school or very quickly upon starting your first professional gig. One of the most jarring features of the transition from grad school to a VAP or TT is that you are almost entirely on your own in the latter. Even if you have excellent mentors who continue to provide amazing support early in your career, you will not be able to rely on them to confirm that things like emails to rockstars in your subfield, comments for conference presentations, book reviews, and other relatively minor features of your work and research are on point. I think that for many new professionals heavy reliance on this sort of thing can go a long way towards contributing to the genuine sense that one is an imposter or doesn't *belong* in the profession. So here is(I hope) one helpful suggestion for a way to work towards diffusing this clearly harmful and potentially crippling form of imposter syndrome (though not precisely of the form Wesley helpfully makes explicit, I think it is similar in kind). Do whatever you can to establish your independence in your work and the way you conduct yourself professionally as much and as early as you can. Throw yourself right in the deep end. If it turns out you don't know how to swim (and you might not), you need to learn (and you almost certainly can if you managed to complete a PhD in the first place). And, if you can't learn, better to discover this sooner rather than later.

This is by no means intended to suggest that you should not seek out feedback on your work and professional advice whenever and wherever you can get it. Such feedback and advice is invaluable. But, insofar as you can, learn how not to rely on it too heavily. This can be very scary at first. The first time I submitted a book review without asking a mentor for feedback, I was convinced it would be rejected flat out and that I would reveal my incompetence. It wasn't, because I wasn't really incompetent, and taking the plunge there really did help me internalize some of my successes and shake off (at least a little) the feeling that my previous accomplishments should be chalked up to blind luck/favoritism (that's a whole other topic for the ladies and has a lot to do with the specific variety of imposter syndrome Wesley is referring to)/whatever.

Anyway, this is largely anecdotal, but I've seen a lot of folks making the transition from grad school to the profession suffering from the feeling that they are imposters, can't hack it, and living in fear of the inevitable moment when someone will find them out rely similarly on this notion that they need a mentor to confirm that their work is good. It's not something that receives much attention in these kinds of discussions. But, I think drawing attention to it might be really helpful to the folks experiencing it, and suggests something practical you really can do to help diffuse this feeling. For many of us, going on the market for the first time helps, too. We learn very quickly that a lot of the (best!) advice can be completely contradictory, and that no one really knows (entirely) what they are doing. ;)


I really appreciate this post, and this discussion, but as someone who -- allegedly -- suffers of impostor syndrome, it seems to me to miss the point by focusing mostly on performances like teaching, or in general on duties which come with a first academic job. I was feeling an impostor throughout my graduate studies, and I am feeling an impostor right now while in a relatively undemanding (in terms of non-research duties) postdoc.

To feel like an impostor *in philosophy* doesn't (just) mean to feel unequipped to do the job properly. That's something one might easily feel when first hired as bartender or delivery boy. To feel like an impostor, to me, means that one feels terrified by any sort of social interaction with other philosophers because one finds peers discussing philosophical topics that one ought to be familiar with but feels totally clueless about them -- not knowing at all what to say. I spend all my energies, when conversing with other postdocs or in fact even with grad students (not to mention senior philosophers!) trying to keep the conversation at a "general level" where it will not be evident that I don't know what I am (or they are) talking about.

Impostor syndrome in philosophy is not about (the perception of) not publishing enough, or teaching clumsily. It is about having the constant, oprressing experience that one's peers just *know* much more than you and are able to have a deep philosophical conversation, while you're too busy trying to catch up with what they are saying to even start formulating interesting responses. Because you are just not good enough.

Of course, I might be wrong. It might be that *actual* impostor syndrome is exactly what you describe it to be. And that I feel what I feel not because I have impostor syndrome. But because I AM an impostor. Which is what I actually believe.

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