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I agree that the star-paper idea is bad. Having a PhD means you can research and that you understand a certain area very well. Neither of those things are required to write three 7k word papers. That isn't a real PhD in my opinion. So, it's not surprising that people from these programs struggle to do research and to develop a larger, long-term research project.

I think the solution is just for advisors to be more aware of the need to publish and help you develop some dissertation chapters that can be turned into papers. My second chapter was published by a top journal after just writing a few paragraphs for an introduction. There is no reason dissertation chapters can't be like that, at least some of them.

Keep in mind, though, that the more people graduate with publications the less they will count for getting a job. The problem is that you need to stand out from the hundreds of other people applying to the same job.


Most grad students aren't aware that they might have to persevere through a very long haul to get a job. So for a start, programs might impress upon grad students that if they want a career in a philosophy, *they should prepare themselves for such a long haul.* Many faculty are scarcely aware of how long it can take to get a job--or would prefer not to think about it.

I personally think that the APA should write a statement aimed at prospective grad students about how hard it is to in fact get a job, how long it tends to take, etc. Something on the APA website, something departments might even collectively agree to post on their departmental websites. Fortunately this data is now finally being properly gathered, thanks to Carolyn Dicey Jennings. Once we have a fuller picture of things, there will be excuse to not advertise the facts to prospective and current grad students.

The current APA job market advice is laughable: http://www.apaonline.org/?page=placement_brochure#persistence

A representative excerpt, "Keep sending out applications until you are sure you’ll be employed. This is psychologically hard to do, but it is necessary. Many of our students have gotten jobs in the second or third round, after the competition has diminished a bit. Those jobs are no less desirable, often, than those that interview at the Eastern"

The assumption that you will necessarily get employment, even of a temporary kind, is hysterical. As is the assumption that you'll have interviewed at the Eastern APA...

recent grad

I think there needs to be more pressure for departments to have *exhaustive* placement records on their websites. In other words, there needs to be pressure for every department to list who got jobs and after how long, as well as who didn't get jobs and after how long spent searching. My department lists only successes.


A lot of departments only list successes and some don't list anything.

But getting a 1 year VAP or something isn't a success. You can have one 1 year VAP after another and then be poor and unemployed when you're 40.

Lady Professor

What should faculty tell their students? They should tell them that unless they went to a name brand, top ten, PhD program, they are signing up for, at best, years and years of low paying, year -to-year contracts in areas of the country where they probably won't want to live. And even if they did go to Princeton or Harvard, they may have significant difficulties.

Discussing what kind of dissertations students should write to maximize their success in this market is so far beyond the point as to be funny. Perhaps faculty should encourage their students to buy lottery tickets instead; that would seem like a better investment in their future than talking about the virtues and vices of the three paper dissertation.

This series is misguided because people are hard headed and think they are the exception that will prove the rule, and you are encouraging students to think in these ways by dangling before them stories of people who made it, despite the odds stacked against them. I haven't seen any empirical data, but from my experience, people who don't get a tenure-track job their first or second year on the market are not going to get a tenure-track job. Sure, there are exceptions to this but not enough to bet on. Giving students false hopes or strategies for success for a multi year search is irresponsible. If you haven't gotten a TT job, quit and do something else with your life! There is a whole world out there!

Marcus Arvan

Lady Professor: I appreciate your opinion, but to be frank--assuming you are, in fact, a professor--it really bugs me when professors tell people to give up and not try to become professors. It was fine for you to become a professor, and enjoy a nice life as one--but when other people try to do the same [or, in my case, help others who want to be professors], it is "funny" and "irresponsible."

Look, I spent seven years on the market. And I'm glad I did. I am glad I did NOT quit and do something else with my life--and while the risks may not be worth it for everyone, everyone is different. Many, many occupations are at least as risky as academia [and, I would say, in many cases far more risky]. Acting? The music industry? Professional sports? I've known people in each of these industries, and everyone knows the risks are insane. But some people are willing to take insane risks to try do something they love--and I am one of them. And I don't think it's okay for other people--particularly those who have succeeded in their field--to tell them they are being silly and "give up."

Marcus Arvan

I would also add that I don't think the stories we have shared so far "encourage" people to stick it out on the market. The stories we have shared, by and large, are not "encouraging." Each person who has shared their story has told a story of great difficulty, illustrating just how risky a career in academia is. In my view, we owe each other the truth, not some pet narrative of what the truth is. And, insofar as the stories we share are true and real, our readers can make up their minds for themselves.

Young Philosopher

Hi Marcus, thanks for that response.

Also, I am one of those readers who appreciates the sort of site that Philosopher's Cocoon tries to be, i.e. a supportive forum for early academics, so it is really unfortunate that people are using the "Long Journey" series and threads like this to peddle the "doom and gloom" lines that one typically finds on other, let's say...less friendly, areas on the Philosophy Blogosphere. That's sad because while such individuals might think they are "informing" young academics or people thinking about graduate school, they are most likely using the internet, and Philosopher's Cocoon more specifically, to vent or be nasty. That's just bad form.

It strikes me that you've attempted to create a place where people who are interested in pursuing a job in higher education can talk about that journey, its difficulties, and how to overcome them. People who aren't interested in that and want to wallow in misery and negativity should seek out whatever iteration the philosophy metablog is currently at.

Lady Professor

Sorry not sorry. Being "supportive" can be more destructive to the lives of young people than giving people a reality check. I've see lives literally ruined by the dogged pursuit of a tenure track job.

When I applied to graduate school most of my undergraduate professors told me not to. Do anything else, they warned. Yes, this annoyed me at the time, but now I understand: sometimes you do need to be "cruel" to be kind, and when some eager young person is chomping at the bit for the privedge of increasing their chance of having a screwed up life, I think you should sound the warning bell. That is what being a supportive mentor sometimes looks like.

Yeah, many people pursue acting and other high risk professions. But 1) so what? That doesn't make it right to encourage people to enter into another high risk field; 2) there are some pretty big differences between trying to be an actor and trying to be a professional philosopher. First, many don't realize the second is as risky as the first. Second, the vast majority of would-be actors have day jobs, i.e., jobs unrelated to acting that pay the bills. This is not true of would be philosophers who suffer for years being abused as adjuncts. Part of staying the course is a result of never having another kind of job.

I'm glad things worked out for you, but I don't think encouraging people to stay on the job market for multiple years is a kind or supportive recommendation. People in that situation need more encouragement to leave than to stay. Because it isn't going to have a happy ending for most. And there is plenty of interesting and important work that one can do outside the academy.

Marcus Arvan

Lady Professor: You have one view of "reality." I have another. I don't think it's ever fine to be cruel. Our readers are adults. They don't need to be treated cruelly. They deserve the truth, and to make their own decisions. You can speak your truth, I'll speak mine--and let Dr. M speak his, Helen speak hers, etc. Because this is the reality: not everyone sees things the way you do. I don't think people need more encouragement to leave than to stay. I think they deserve to be treated like adults--adults who can decide for themselves what is right for them. Who am I, or anyone else for that matter, to decide on someone else's behalf the risks they should take, how long they should pursue their dreams, and so on? Here again, it seems you would suppose yourself to know. Me, I do not.


I think we need to be very clear with people thinking of doing a PhD in philosophy that they should not expect to ever get a job. A lot of people think they are the exception: that they are extra smart or capable. But even if they are, that doesn't guarantee they will get a permanent job. Really, unless you are independently wealthy or have wealthy parents that can support you, you should not try to become a professional philosopher. You might think it's worth it. But it's very likely you won't think that later. You'll have to sacrifice everything for years if you want to stand a chance. You are very likely to become bitter and spiteful: a small shallow person who counts publications and compares them to others you know. Just don't do it.

Here are questions you should ask yourself if you're thinking of being a professional philosopher.

1. Do I love philosophy more than having a relationship with someone I love, having a family, having stability, having a decent income?

2. Do I have enough money or rich enough and supportive parents that if I end up unemployed for a year or more I can just sit at home and write papers so I stand a chance of getting a job next year?

3. Is philosophy the only thing that'll make me happy?

If you say yes to all these, then apply to top programs. If you get into one, go for it. Otherwise, don't bother.

recent grad

I must say I agree with the spirit of Lady Professor's and blaarg's posts. I don't think we should be paternalistic and force people not to pursue their philosophy dreams, but I think everyone should be very clear and very discouraging to those who want to enter the profession (and who won't be getting into top-5 programs). It's possible to do this without being rude. I certainly wish my undergraduate advisors, my older graduate school friends, and my grad advisors had all done it.

Lady Professor

I put "cruel" in scarequotes because I don't think it is actually cruel to discourage people from staying on the job market for multiple years. It is, in my opinion, actually cruel to encourage people to stay on the job market under the present conditions. There is nothing patronizing about refusing to encourage people or actively encouraging people to explore other options. And by your logic how could I be paternalistic if you aren't? I encourage people to walk away and explore the big wide world, any you encourage people to stay. We are both encouraging some course of action, and obviously people are free to decide as they see fit.

What you don't seem to fully acknowledge is that it is much harder to walk away than to stay. Hope springs enternal, many have never had another job, many have their identity heavily invested in being a philosopher, are worried about sunk costs and disappointing their advisors, etc. For all those reasons, encouraging people to walk away and find some other life is, in my view, more respectful and kind than encouraging people to stay on the market for multiple years.

The Facts

There is something a little perverse in the comments. People are making pretty strong claims about the likelihood of not getting jobs in philosophy, and especially from lower ranked programs. But there are data available, the data collected by Carolyn Dicey Jennings. The data are imperfect, but there are tenure track jobs out there. All of life, and certainly any career choice, involves risks, and we are making choices in sub-optimal conditions. We do not know all we would like to know in order to make an informed decision, and we cannot easily predict the future. But the data reported by Carolyn should put a brake on the idea that no one but those from the top 5 (or top 10) Ph.D. programs gets a job.
I have a tenured job; I left a career to pursue philosophy. I had a long hard path before I got a tenure track job. From my experience, those who manage to stick it out AND get a T-T job usually find the path to tenure easy. As one publishes, one's research has momentum, and this easily careers one to tenure.

Kristina Meshelski

To answer the original question, my program at UVA had a "star paper" MA (2 papers) and a traditional dissertation. While I was there they changed to the star paper MA, it had been an MA thesis before, and there was a problem with people finishing their degrees on time. I think this was a good change, one of my MA papers is now published, and that helped my career.

BUT, publishing advice is tricky. Just because someone is good at publishing themselves doesn't mean they could give you good advice about what is publishable.

Writing starred paper dissertation, not sorry

I disagree with the point about starred papers dissertations being bad for a long-term research program. I'm writing such a dissertation right now with exactly this problem in mind, and I see the starred paper model as a solution. Each paper is meant to be the first in a series of future papers on a given sub-topic within the "covering concept" (e.g. one paper on how the central idea has implications for pragmatics, one for phenomenology, one for philosophy of perception, etc). This way, I've developed a background not just in one topic, but also in three other areas of philosophy. It's designed so that I will have multiple projects to follow up on post-dissertation. This avoids the problem that confronts many people after completing a traditional dissertation - they're sick of their topic, they've argued their point, and they don't have anything else to say. I'll be producing new material long after those people hit a wall.
The way I see it, the only downside of this approach is that some people will listen to posts like yours and think that my project is less rigorous because of its format. All this talk of "troubling new trends" is just "back in my day" stubbornness, and it's bad for people who are trying to adapt to the new realities of the market. Stop it.


The Facts,
Thank you! And I'd add the empirical data-- both Jennings's and the surveys Marcus did here-- don't support Lady Professor's claim that people who don't get jobs within a year or two don't get jobs either. In fact as far as anyone can tell from hard data worries about staleness are terribly overstated. (Correct me if I'm wrong Marcus or anyone else who has actual data on this). Whatever one thinks on whether what's she's saying is paternalist I'd hope we can agree on this: If you're presenting misinformation as truth and urging people in the strongest possible terms to act on that misinformation you are doing them a grave disservice. I'm sorry if this is sounds angry or is a bit lacking in civility, but getting advice like this (often well intentioned) that's not based on any real facts but instead on what people in TT positions just somehow "know to be the case" has caused me an incredible amount of stress and has led me to make a bad turn or two in my own career path.

Michel X.

I'm not going to wade into the discussion above, as I don't find it particularly constructive, useful, or even novel. I do, however, want to turn to Marcus's original question, and his proposal. And I want to register some light disagreement with them.

First, most of the philosophy books that I encounter are not 300-400 pages long to begin with: they're in the 150-200ish range. More importantly, though, I don't really see a strong connection between longer dissertations and the development of a broad and tenure-able research program. I certainly see that a longer dissertation might yield more potential articles, or a combination of articles and a book. But it also seems to me like it still runs into the possibilities of topic exhaustion and not really knowing where to go from there. If the idea is to develop a research program beyond the dissertation, I'm not sure that longer and more exhaustive dissertations are the way to go.

If you'll forgive some (naive!) horn-tooting for the sake of discussion, I actually think that I've got a pretty strong and sustainable research program (although it has yet to be tested). But the bulk of it concerns projects entirely distinct from my dissertation project (loosely related to some of its concerns and in the same subfield, but very clearly distinct from it). That's not because my dissertation is particularly exhaustive (or not). It's because my dissertation was preceded by a candidacy paper on a different topic in my AOS (they're supposed to aspire to be a dissertation chapter, but it was clear from the get-go that wouldn't be the case for me; I was just exploring another topic in a little more depth). And it's because throughout the PhD process, I have taken the time to read widely, and to write and present lots of non-dissertation work. I cultivated my other interests, and began the process of thinking about them seriously.

TL;DR, I think that's how grad programs can best prepare students for the long haul: encourage students to diversify their input and output. Remind them to write down their paper ideas, and to make a special note of topics they think might be rich enough to merit a book-length treatment. Push them to start setting their ideas down, to start presenting them. It does take some focus away from the dissertation, but I think it's worth it. It keeps me sane, anyway.

Lady Professor

I don't think just mentioning the existence of some empirical data helps support your position. If you think the research really shows plenty of job opportunities for philosophers many years past the date of their degree, let's see a cite.

Not do I understand why my questioning the wisdom of encouraging people to stay on the market for multiple years makes people So Angry. I've seen firsthand how this advice destroys people's lives. But if you feel good about encouraging people to invest more of their lives in this endeavor, carry on.

And for those grad students who are undissuaded and ready to pack for your multi year sojourn on the job market, it really doesn't matter whether you do a three paper dissertation or a traditional dissertation; both can be broken up and published in various configurations. If the papers are on a similar theme, you can probably get a book out of them as well as articles, and you can probably turn chapters of the traditional dissertation into freestanding papers.

Of course, doing any of this while on year to year contracts, far from family and friends, earning little money, and moving frequently is...challenging.

Derek Bowman

Re the exchange between Marcus and Lady Professor:

See here for an important discussion of this issue in the context of attempts to recruit members of underrepresented groups into philosophy.



Thus, the placement rate for tenure-track positions could be as low as 17% for new graduates in this time period (268/1562).* (Incidentally, 17% is the percentage that I estimated as a placement rate for tenure-track jobs at the Philosophy Smoker Blog in 2012.)


17% success rate! If someone had told me that years ago...


According to this data about 50% find permanent jobs. http://dailynous.com/2015/09/01/philosophy-job-placement-data-update/#comment-76919

"First, over the 2012-2014 period, on average, 53% of job seekers found permanent (tenure-track or similar) academic employment, with the trend worsening over the years:"

The data is suspect though given the about 50% drop out rate. "One thing worth noting is that though 169 programs were contacted, only 87 added or updated information to the project database."

The programs included seem mostly to be highly ranked. I haven't done any analysis, but just looking through the names a lot are easily recognisable.

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