Long time readers of the Cocoon may [or may not?] have noticed that I have been posting less often the past few months. Because it has always been my aim to be open and honest here--and because, as I will explain below, I have been struggling with a kind of blogging trilemma--I would like to share where I am at, and how I hope to proceed.
The truth is, the past several months I have found it difficult to [A] compose new posts that don't go over ground I've amply gone over before, which [B] I think would be of interest to the blog's target audience [e.g. early-career philosophers], while also [C] hitting the "right notes." Let me explain. Perhaps part of the problem I am facing is that I have been blogging for three years. Like all people, my realm of experience is unfortunately narrow--restricted to my own life and perspective in the discipline. Indeed, over the past several years I have blogged about the things I've experienced: my time on the job-market, learning how to publish and teach effectively, my philosophical views, and thoughts on various aspects of the profession, etc. But, of course, over a long-ish period of time, it is not unnatural for it to become increasingly difficult to find new features of one's life and perspective to talk about--and, although I'm sure I sometimes don't avoid it, I hate to "sound like a broken record", commenting on the same things over and over again.
However, when I introspect, I don't think that is the heart of the issue I am dealing with. When I introspect, at least, the difficult I am having composing new posts seems to me to be more the result of my career-stage. When I began this blog four years ago [in 2012], I was squarely an early-career philosopher: I had been out of graduate school for several years, was very much struggling on the job-market, struggling to learn how to publish, struggling to find my feet at a teacher, and so on. Hence, blogging for a safe and supportive blog for early-career philosophers came quite naturally: all I had to do is blog about the things I was struggling with. I was, so to speak, "in the heart of it." Now, however, I am increasingly finding myself in a different position--closer to a "mid-career" philosopher than an early-career one. For although I am still untenured, I have now been out of graduate school for eight years and just passed my three-year/mid-tenure review [thanks to a reduced tenure-clock]. Consequently, although I am still grappling with many struggles--both as a human being and as a philosopher--the things I am grappling with are very different than the squarely "early-career" struggles I was grappling with just a few years ago.
My experience, as I will now explain, is that this has made it more difficult to blog on topics directly of interest to this blog's intended audience [early-career philosophers]--at least in a way that I am psychologically and morally at ease with. Allow me to explain.
I have always wanted this blog to be for and about early-career philosophers. My experience, both as a graduate student and post-grad--and both first-personally and third-personally, in terms of what I experienced myself and heard from others--is that grad students are perennially in a difficult, vulnerable position that grad programs, faculty supervisors, etc., are poorly positioned to address. For instance, there have been many articles and studies produced recently examining mental health and psychological stresses of grad school and academic life. I experienced some of these things in the most personal way--and, although I am all for departments, faculty, and institutions doing their best to address these issues, it does not take much imagination to realize that they may not be very well-positioned to do so. Faculty are not therapists, and grad students are plausibly incentivized to hide personal and psychological issues from those with power over their future. Similarly, there are all kinds of other personal and professional struggles--including the emotional tolls of the job-market, working poorly compensated part-time faculty positions [viz. the adjunctification of higher education], frustration with the hyper-professionalization of academic philosophy, etc.--that non-early-career philosophers often appear poorly-situated or interested in addressing. Etc.
For these reasons, I have always thought academic philosophy could use a place like the Cocoon: a place where early-career philosophers [grad students, job-marketeers, postdocs, contingent faculty, etc.] could share and grapple together with their hopes and dreams, successes and failures, joys and frustrations, ideas on the profession, and of course, their philosophical work! Accordingly, unless and until early-career philosophers no longer want or need a place like this [more on this below], I hope to keep the Cocoon going. But, here's the issue I face. As someone who is increasingly transitioning from "early-career" to "mid-career", my feeling is that--in terms of my own blogging about early-career issues--I face the following trilemma:
- I can blog about things I struggled with as an early-career philosopher: I've done this recently, revisiting some of the mistakes I think I made in grad school. Yet, although I think there may be some value in this, it feels sort of forced and artificial blogging about things I grappled with a decade ago. Indeed, given how quickly times change [I suspect many grad programs have changed markedly in recent years--they certainly did when I was in grad school!], I worry about being out of touch with the current reality. That is the first horn of the trilemma.
- I can blog about things I am struggling with now: Now that I am in a permanent job, I can blog about the things I am currently grappling with. I've done some of this recently as well--but here I feel like I encounter two problems. First, compared to the issues facing early-career philosophers, many of the things I am grappling with seem rather trivial. Having struggled though grad school and suffered on the academic job-market for seven years, blogging about my "struggles" now seems [to me, at any rate] a bit tasteless. Second, and more directly, it's not clear to me that the things I am grappling with now would be of much interest to early-career people. This is the second horn of the trilemma.
- I can blog about things I think I learned during my time as an early-career philosopher about how to grapple effectively with "early-career" issues: This is broadly what I've tried to do [along with Helen] in our Job-Market Boot Camp. Yet here too I encounter some hesitancy. First, my experience as an early-career person is just that: my experience. Everyone's experience is different. I cannot realistically pretend to know that my ways of grappling with the challenges I faced are the right way or best way, and I certainly cannot know what other people--with very different perspectives--are grappling with, let alone the best way to help them do so effectively. Second, to the extent that I do offer advice, I feel like I run the risk of seeming a self-congratulatory "know-it-all"--which is not my aim, and not something I have ever wanted to be. My honest-to-goodness aim, ever since starting this blog, has been to be as helpful and honest as I can be--and I am currently struggling with the issue of how to do so effectively. This is the third horn of the trilemma.
Anyway, these are the issues I have been struggling with recently, and truth be told, I am not sure what the right answer is. The only answer I have come to is this: I will keep doing my best, and to do well by our readers, for as long as the Cocoon has any. This week, I hope--the above risks well in mind--to begin a new series on things I think I've learned during my time in the profession so far. I will really try not to be a know-it-all. ;) Still, it seems to me--at this point in time--perhaps the way I can be of most help. That, at any rate, is my hope.
I would also like to conclude, at the risk of sounding a bit like a broken record, with a few remarks on the Cocoon's Mission. As I have mentioned many times before,
This blog aims to be a safe and supportive "grass roots" forum for early-career professional philosophers -- graduate students, post-docs, and entry-level faculty members -- to discuss their work, ideas, and personal-professional issues. Philosophers who are not in the "early" stages of their careers are also invited to become contributing members, as their experiences in the profession may, for obvious reasons, be very much relevant to the blog's aims.
Blog participants (i.e. any philosopher who wises to participate!) are invited to post (A) working papers and ideas, as well as (B) comments, questions, or concerns on issues including but not limited to:
- Navigating graduate school
- Work-life-family balance
This is not intended to be "my" blog. My hope is to serve as primarily as blog moderator, and for the blog's content to be driven by and for any and every early-career philosopher who wishes to contribute. As blog moderator, I promise to rigorously ensure a safe and supportive environment for all. I will not approve, and will immediately remove, any contributions or comments that I (or anyone else) reasonably finds remotely derogatory or threatening. Finally, anyone who wishes to make an anonymous post (e.g. to discuss an issue they are not comfortable attaching their name to) is welcome to email me their post and request that I post it anymously. I will post any and all such requests, provided they otherwise satisfy the aims described in this mission statement.
Although I am proud of the friendly community we have built here at the Cocoon, I have always wished for it to be more of a group blog than it has been. Although we do have a few consistent contributors--Helen, myself, and a few others--I have long wished for it to be a group blog where many early-career philosophers would feel safe and supported in posting about their experiences, struggles, and work. Last year, when I asked why so few early-career people blog, I found the answers disheartening. Mostly, it seemed, early-career people are afraid to blog--afraid of the judgments of others, of the negative impact it might have on their performance on the job-market, etc. Although I appreciate these concerns, my own experience has been that--as long as one strives to cultivate a kind, helpful online presence--the benefits of blogging can significantly outweigh the risks.
Indeed, although I obviously cannot speak for her, as Helen and I have both explained here and here [respectively], in a manner of speaking we both appear to have found blogging liberating, and furthermore, not harmful to our career-prospects. Further, my experience at least was that living in the kind of fear commenters have described about why they do not blog is a miserable experience. I lived in that kind of fear throughout most of grad school, and during my first few years out in the profession--and I felt little more than anxiety and loneliness. It was no way to live. The Cocoon, much to my surprise, was a way out. Although I have written things on the Cocoon that I regret, and which I am sure have ticked some people off from time to time [we're all human, right?], it has nevertheless been wonderful on the whole to finally feel like I can be myself and not have to live in fear. If you are living in fear, as I was--and if you are miserable with it, as I was--then perhaps it might be worth trying another tack: namely, blogging for the Cocoon. Indeed, are you struggling with publishing, teaching, or the job-market? Blogging on the Cocoon could be a safe and supportive place for you to work through your struggles, helping others to see in turn that they are not alone! Similarly, are there things about the philosophical profession--or about academia more broadly--that you think need improvement? Again, the Cocoon can be a safe and supportive place for you to have your voice heard, your concerns engaged with.
Finally, to assuage concerns about fear, I would like to note that the Cocoon welcomes pseudonymous blogging. Provided the contributions respect the blog's mission, we welcome contributors blogging anonymously. So, what are you waiting for? If you have any interest in contributing, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to have you on board, and I'm sure the community would too!