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« Some questions about Killoren's Extended Narrativity Hypothesis | Main | Day 1: The 3rd Annual Philosophers' Cocoon Philosophy Conference »

11/08/2015

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Eugene

Hi Marcus,

I agree with you that "we should discourage people from entering into the profession, where by "discourage" I mean giving prospective grad students the fullest and most frank information we can about the profession." However, I'm not sure this kind of discouragement goes far enough, for at least two reasons.

First, many people deciding on graduate school are often too young to appreciate just how long the odds really are - especially since those students even considering graduate school are likely to have earned high marks as undergraduates and hence think to themselves that they can buck the trends. Or so at least I thought I could do so. Second, graduate school is often - to put it in terms that a lot of people seem to like these days - transformative. Since it is so hard to ignore the bleak reality of the job market during graduate school, graduate students in philosophy are exposed to really damaging levels of anxiety for about half a decade. Had I anticipated the kind of pessimism that graduate school might engender, I'm not sure I would have pursued it. I, for one, am just not sure I like the person that I've become. So, it might be worth mentioning this sort of stuff in addition to the numbers.

anon

On balance, I would not want to encourage or discourage anyone from going into philosophy. I'd want them to have full information about what the discipline is like, what the prospects are of getting a job (and where and after how long) and then let them make an informed decision about what's best for them.

And unfortunately, I think the current situation is that most prospective grad students and current grad students lack a full picture of their career prospects. An open and honest presentation of these facts is something the APA and the profession as a whole should encourage (and I believe Jennings' project on placement data to be a great first step in that direction).

One respect in which current placement tracking efforts might be supplemented is by tracking total numbers of offers for candidates who receive one or more offers. Obviously, successful candidates don't broadly publicize how many other offers they turned down, so grad students frequently manage to remain ignorant of the fact that it is exceptionally rare for a successful candidate to get more than one or two offers. Or at least, I think it is exceptionally rare.

If, as I suspect, it is extremely rare for candidates to get several offers, this is another important fact about the market that prospective professional philosophers should be aware of. Choosing a career in philosophy will likely dramatically constrain their options about where to live, what kind of institution to work in, and what to teach--even if they wind up with a job offer or two.

Lady Professor

Hello Marcus,
I'm sure you are exceptionally well intentioned; you seem like one of the most earnest people in philosophy. But I think you are blind to certain facts about the job market and human nature.

First off, I think the job situation is going to get worse. You may have read the recent news reports about Rider University in New Jersey cutting a number of programs, including philosophy. If you do any reading about the financial situation of the country's colleges and universities, you will see that we are in for a very bumpy ride. One professor of buisness at Harvard has predicted half of the colleges and universities in the country will be in financial crisis in the next 15 years. Even those who land a job may not be able to keep it over the next two decades. Before accepting a job and banking on a life long career at some institution, people may want to look closely at the institution's endowment and financial health.

Second, most people find it exceptionally hard to walk away from the search for an academic job. There are just too many pressures put on people to "give it another year." Sure, job seekers are adults, and some might make the decision to stay and do so for good reasons, but under circumstances where the future is bleak but almost everything in the person's life is giving them reason to stay, the responsible thing for tenure track academics to do is to point out good reasons to leave. Being a phosophy professor is great in all sorts of ways, but there are a number of non academic careers which are just as great, but also come with higher saleries and more geographic freedom.

There are many good reasons to leave and find something else to do, but the longer one stays on the adjunct or VAP track, the higher one's opportunity cost.

blaarg

Marcus and lady professor both have good points.

I agree with Marcus that everyone's situation is different. If one is getting more interviews every year, has a stable VAP, has a supportive wife, and has a mind that can cope with the constant uncertainty, then staying on another year might make sense. Whereas if one isn't getting any interviews, is struggling with depression, and etc, then one should probably drop out.

I agree with Lady that the job market is probably going to get worse. We already know that there have been less tenure track jobs posted on philjobs every year the last three years. We know the situation is worse now than before 08. We know that there is a huge student loan bubble, over a trillion dollars. I've read that a substantial percentage of students are behind on payments. We know that the adjunct and admin bloat trends are against us. The future of the university seems to be one where there are no tenure track jobs at all or at least very few.

Further research will tell you that the world economy is struggling. Commodity prices have collapsed, many countries are in recession (including Canada). The job situation in the United States isn't what the government tells you. Labor force participation is at 1970s levels (when most women didn't work). The jobs created are mainly low paying jobs. In the last jobs report Friday, it was revealed that all the jobs were for 55 and over. The 25-55 age group lost jobs.

Putting all this together strongly suggests that the number of permanent jobs in philosophy will decrease year after year for the foreseeable future.

Keeping all this in mind, I think it does make sense to tell young students that they should not pursue a PhD in philosophy, unless these conditions are met:

1. They get into a top 10 program.

2. They have an upper class background. So, their parents can support them while on the job market or pay for further education if no jobs are found.

3. They really love philosophy and cannot imagine doing anything else.

Jonathan

"One respect in which current placement tracking efforts might be supplemented is by tracking total numbers of offers for candidates who receive one or more offers."

Berkeley does this:
https://philosophy.berkeley.edu/graduate/placement

Derek Bowman

Re: blaarg

"[U]nless... 3. They really love philosophy and cannot imagine doing anything else."

Those are the *last* people that we should encourage to go into a career in philosophy. If you can't imagine doing something else with your life, you need to spend some time trying out other options, seeing what the world has to offer, and expanding your imagination. If you can't imagine doing anything else, you probably also can't imagine doing all the things you have to do to (try to) get and keep an academic job.

blaarg

Re Derek

I just mean that they've got to really love philosophy. Not knowing what else to do isn't enough of a reason to go to grad school. Putting off having a real job isn't good enough reason to go to grad school. And so on. They've got to really really really love philosophy.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Eugene: Thanks for your comment. I mostly agree with you!

Grad school was a transformative experience for me in just the sense you say. It led me at many points to think my earlier self was in no position to make such a fateful decision, and to wish I could go back in time to make a different decision.

But this is precisely why I think we have a duty to be so frank with our students--not just giving them the horrible job-market data, but also our stories, and the stories of others we know. When I not only give my students the data, but tell them how touch and go my own career prospects were--how much luck was involved, how close I came to not making it to where I am today, and how many people I know who wish they never went into philosophy--in my experience almost all of them change their intentions on the spot, deciding not to risk grad school in philosophy.

This happened with several students just this semester, all of whom were talented. I think we can get through to them on the transformative nature of grad school--and that many (if not all) of them can use that information to make the right decision.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Lady Professor: Thanks for your kind comment!

Although I could be wrong, I don't think I'm blind to the facts of the market or human nature as your remarks suggest.

First, I agree the market is likely to get worse. But this, in itself, doesn't undermine the argument I make in the original post, which is simply that the rational and moral thing for any *particular* candidate to do--right here, right now--depends immensely on their personal situation; and similarly, that who we should encourage/discourage--right here, right now--should be sensitive to these individual differences.

Second, human nature is not monolithic. I majored in psychology as an undergrad, got a cog sci minor as a PhD student, and my wife is a PhD student in psychology--so I have a pretty good background on the empirical science on this stuff: sunk costs, anchoring, irrational optimism, etc. One thing I know--and which my wife always emphasizes whenever we have a debate about social policy--is that there are significant individual differences on just about every psychological measure one can imagine. The point of my post is that we should be sensitive not only to general features of psychology (e.g. people tend to not to want to give up on something once they've sunk costs into a situation), but also the respects in which people differ (e.g. people can understand when they are in a bad situation, and choose to leave). Indeed, contrary to your concerns that people tend to stay on the market for far too long, I've come across many comments--over at the Smoker in particular--where people who have gone on the market for one or two years say, "This is it, I'm done."

In other words, the very point of my post is that, yes, we should be sensitive to trends--and general features of human nature--but *also* to individual differences, which are real and not to be discounted.

Marcus Arvan

Derek: I agree with you that we shouldn't encourage people on those grounds (given the hazards involved). But I do disagree with the thought that people should never pursue a career in philosophy out of love for it, or simply because they truly cannot imagine enjoying anything else as a career.

My love for philosophy was the one saving-grace for my career. I had other jobs before entering to philosophy--and the simple fact is, I did not enjoy any of them. Besides my wife and family, there are only two things in this world that I have ever loved to do: music and philosophy. And because I love them--because I enjoy waking up everyday doing them, whereas due to my nature every other job strikes me as a miserable chore--taking the risk to do philosophy for a living, even if I failed, was worth it for me. I

Similarly, I know people who went into other risky lines of work--professional art, the music industry, etc.--whose love for their craft has been the saving grace for their lives...irrespective of whether they ever succeeded.

I understand this may not be your experience--but it has been mine, and again, I know people in other risky fields who say similar things about their own lives: that despite not succeeding in their risky occupation, they are glad they stuck with it through hardship simply because they truly love it. There is more to this life than the safe path of an office job (or whatever). For some of us, taking the risk to do what we truly love is the only thing that truly makes sense for us. And many of us wouldn't trade it for anything.

All that being said, I don't think "loving philosophy" should be seen as sufficient for taking the risks. As I mention in my comment to Eugene above, I think we should strongly discourage everyone from entering the field, giving them the most stark and frank discussion of the risks possible.

anon

Hey Jonathan, Thanks for the Berkeley link. I'm glad they list all offers in placement data and wish other departments would follow their lead on this.

Derek Bowman

Marcus,

Thanks for the reply. I agree that love of philosophy can be a reason that, together with a host of other factors, can make it reasonable to choose to take the risks involved with pursuing a career in philosophy. All life choices are risky, and there aren't really any "safe" career paths in today's economy, though some are certainly safer than others.

But I do think there is something especially pernicious about the "only do it if you can't imagine doing anything else" advice. First of all, it puts the focus on the ways in which other jobs feel like a "miserable chore." This leads you to compare the best parts of philosophy with the worst parts of other jobs. It ignores the fact that pursuing (and, if successful, doing) a job in philosophy will also involve many tasks that are miserable chores.

(NB: I think both your job market boot camp and "long haul" series do a good job showing those "miserable chore" aspects of a career in philosophy.)

I think it also encourages a romantic view of the struggles involved with a career. Exploitative working conditions and unreasonable professional expectations then appear as instances of heroic suffering - like an artist starving for her art, a lover making sacrifices for his beloved, or a martyr following a religious calling.

Finally, I think it contributes to both a feeling of desperation helplessness if things aren't working out - if I can't imagine doing anything else, then I don't have any other options.

Derek Bowman

I meant to add:

The essay "In the Name of Love" by Miya Tokumitsu is also relevant here. It highlights the pernicious effects of "do what you love" as career advice, both in general, and in academia. (Apparently the essay is now part of a book by the same author: Do What You Love And Other Lies about Success and Happiness)

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/01/in-the-name-of-love/

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