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I'd be really interested to know how everyone copes with 8. I'm not even in grad school yet (heading there this fall) and I'm already noticing my life narrowing — I have shelves full of books that I don't have time to read because they aren't related to coursework, I've abandoned my intentions to study more broadly in my final year of school (I had planned on auditing classes in other departments), etc. I was hoping that stipend-funded summers would give me time to pursue my other interests, but it looks like I'll be expected to be doing research full-time (at least if I want to succeed as a philosopher). I'm still convinced it's a sacrifice worth making, but I'd love to find a way to pursue my other interests, to some degree at least.


Specialization is somewhat inevitable, and it is less daunting than some make it sound. You are supposed to gain mastery of an area in philosophy during your Ph.D. You are supposed to be on the road to becoming an expert, and to be able to publish in scholarly journals that other experts publish in. I have found this part of the career path quite exciting. You enter a community of scholars who share the same passion. It is a long road, and it does require sacrifices. But for the right person, it is really enjoyable. In time, as your career progresses, you can branch out more. You can develop an expertise in different areas. But you should expect your reading to narrow as you begin work on your dissertation.


Academic philosophy is a vampire that'll suck you dry.

1. In a hyper competitive environment in which all your peers and you are competing for the few jobs available, you can have no real friends. Everyone is a competitor in some sense. It's like the hunger games. Kill or be killed.

2. In an environment where you have to move around the country and even the world from one 1-2 year position to the next, you can't have a girlfriend or boyfriend or a spouse or even be with family and friends (the few non-philosophy friends which you can have).

3. A successful early career academic gets rejected 80% of the time. If for every 5 articles under review, one comes back an R&R, you're doing well. That's what success looks like. If you could obtain those numbers with jobs, it would be extraordinary. You'll get way way more rejections.

4. There is little money in academic philosophy, unless you become a superstar. Most likely you'll make less than median income for years, and you'll work harder than people who make significantly more.

5. You'll work all the time. I worked 60 hours a week. There was all the time spent at the computer, then thinking about philosophy at the store, on the toilet, having a shower, and so on. I'd wake up thinking about philosophy and go to bed thinking about philosophy, when I could sleep.

6. You won't get paid for most of your labor. You'll write articles on the weekends, stress about them, struggle and struggle more, and you won't see a penny for your labor, at least not directly. If you get into a conference, that's an award. Hillary gets paid 100s of thousands to give a talk. You'll pay to give a talk. And if you're going to be successful, you'll have to like this.

7. Most of those articles you toiled over will never be cited. Few will read them. Many who read them will not like them, some may hate them. You probably won't get any positive emails.

8. Even if you get a TT job, you won't really have free speech. Look at all the professors who are fired for expressing their beliefs. Be careful about anything you post on facebook. Don't express anger or frustration. Don't hold any beliefs that are not mainstream.

9. If you're a women or minority, you'll feel that the system is sexist/racist against you. The hyper competitiveness and all the rejections will make you paranoid, perhaps justifiably so. If you're a white male, you'll feel the system is biased against you. This feeling will be hard to avoid when every job explicitly doesn't encourage you to apply.

10. As you struggle working 60 hours a week for less than median wage, the university will build a 30 million dollar hotel and a 10 million dollar lazy river and swimming pool.

11. There is a good chance you could end up in your late 30s unemployed when that next 1 year position fails to materialise. The government will have cut all benefits by then and funnelled the rest of the middle class' wealth to the big banks and corporations.


'postdoc' is right on all counts. It is indeed a vampire. 'Reader' writes that specialization is about entering "a community of scholars who share the same passion". If this is meant to be a passion for philosophy or truth or wisdom or beauty or anything else that is clearly deserving of passionate attachment, my experience is that specialization is most definitely not about entering into any such community. A more realistic account of what it means to specialize would have to include some of its many serious downsides. I'll mention just one cluster of problems:

Extreme in-group bias, status-seeking, snobbery, worship of institutional power. People will deride or dismiss an idea because it's coming from an outsider, a non-academic, a junior person, etc. while the very same is treated with great respect when voiced by a high-status academic. (Just one example off the top of my head: people have written papers about Nagel's off-the-cuff, bizarre and unsupported claim that he just "wouldn't want" a world in which God exists.) I regularly see "experts" ignore a question or comment from a nobody and then take up essentially the same question or comment with great seriousness when reiterated by a higher-status person (who is usually oblivious to the fact that he's just borrowing a point raised earlier). People will decide what a "good" journal is without ever reading more than a handful of articles, based on the fact that big names publish there sometimes, or whatever. People will accept that "peer review" is a legitimate criterion even though we all know from experience that it's often less reliable than a random number generator.

So the "community" will usually be defined by shared acceptance of certain baseless prejudices, which change for sociological reasons every so often. When I was a grad student Davidson and Quine were obviously deep and important, Heidegger was dubious and Sartre was kind of a joke. Then things changed for no apparent reason and people say things like "You still read Davidson?" Many of them have only a glancing familiarity with Davidson, of course, just like many of those who reject 'continental' philosophy have no idea about that tradition. Or just like people attribute this or that to Meinong without ever reading Meinong; but they read something Kripke said about him in grad school, and that's enough. The other day an "expert" in my field said something like this: "Analytic philosophy is about being _clear_ and since there's no way that anyone could reasonably object to clarity, there's no reason for anyone not to be an analytic philosopher". I count two elementary fallacies implicit in this remark, reflecting extreme bigotry. But that's what the "community" is often about.

And what is the shared "passion"? Let's be realistic. The only passion common to most people in the community is probably a cluster of materialistic impulses: get some good publications, make some connections and get a good job with benefits, get tenure if you can, and then, once all that's taken care of, struggle for professional status and recognition. A "community" formed under these economic and institutional constraints is astronomically unlikely to be oriented towards anything more noble.

Trevor Hedberg

Hi, Marcus. I'll add two items to your list.

1. Lack of money. Grad student stipends are generally pretty small -- barely enough to live on without taking out loans. I'm not a believer that you need a ton of money to live well, but I think it's also safe to say that most people will need an income of significantly more than $15,000-$25,000 to be financially secure.

2. Fleeting friendships. Postdoc alludes to the difficulty of forging friendships in a competitive environment, but there's an additional difficulty that shouldn't be understated: the graduate student body at your institution is constantly changing. Some students graduate, some drop out, some take leaves of absence, some transfer to other institutions, and new students arrive every fall. It translates to an environment where there is limited overlap with you and your fellow grad students, and genuine friendships that are formed can be severed rather abruptly. (Obviously, you can keep in touch with people online even if they are far away, but many people who leave your program are more likely to become professional acquaintances in the long run rather than genuine friends.)

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