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09/10/2014

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Elisa Freschi

Thanks, Helen, for this unconventional post. I see a further problem with the broad availability of professional advice, that is, that it increases the professionalisation of philosophy. Let me start from the beginning: At least in Europe, India and Japan (the examples I am more acquainted with, but I am confident that the same applies to the US), there are WAY more PhD holders than tenures. It is thus UNAVOIDABLE that some of the PhD holders will either have to be adjuncts for the rest of their lives or find a non-academic job. The former can be done with a positive attitude ("it is not ideal, and I keep on applying for TT positions, but I enjoy philosophy so much, that it is nonetheless worthwhile") or with the feeling that one should have gotten something more and that the present situation is hell. If the second applies, one runs the risk to be forever unhappy. Now, it is good to do one's best and also to use some strategy but I am afraid that some people focus ONLY on strategy and forget about philosophy. They publish only "fashionable" papers, speak only to important people, go only to conferences in which they could meet those people and so on. They loose touch with what they are really interested in and spend weeks on 'tailoring' their letters. If this does not land them in a TT job, it will end up landing them in eternal unhappiness ---since they have already lost in their way the fun part, which is the privilege of doing philosophy, discussing with smart colleagues, no matter their official position, and reading interesting books, no matter if out of fashion.
Once again, I am all for being intentional and making good professional choices ---but let this not become our core concern!

Helen De Cruz

Hi Elisa: You are certainly right that job market advice raises the stakes, emphasizes success in the job market at the expense of love of philosophy. Those who write about the job market, such as Kelsky and others, say that their pragmatic attitude is a welcome antidote to the "loving what you do" rhetoric in academia. It might ultimately be because we love what we do that we are willing to put up with years, even decades, of uncertainty and low pay.
So they want to shift from this love rhetoric to trying to focus on what it takes to get a job in academia. I agree this sometimes comes at the expense of doing what one likes. For instance, philosophy still sees the lone thinker - like Descartes who goes into a room with a hot stove and emerges with a full-fledged system - as the essential philosopher, and so co-authoring is discouraged. There was even discussion on a forum (Leiter's I think) about how one can never tell who thought what with co-authoring. This is not ideal for people who prefer to work collaboratively (like me), and who like the dialectical process of writing with someone else. A friend who goes up for tenure told me: "This is the last paper I'm sole-authoring. Once I'm tenured, I'll only co-author, since I don't like being alone with my thoughts".
So one should try to find a balance between what it takes (after all, a TT position comes with the promise of tenure, and thus greater freedom) and not giving up everything one loves in philosophy, e.g., topics that are felt as less prestigious such as feminism and philosophy of race.
Finally, I've noticed that people who focus too much on strategizing (e.g., speaking only to important people) might not be pursuing the best strategy, even if one looks at it purely instrumentally. Rather, this sort of attitude is not appreciated by senior folk and it just radiates lack of collegiality.
So, finding a balance between doing what we enjoy and find valuable, and strategizing seems key. A difficult exercise.

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