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« Syllabus design: an occasional series. Part 3: Learning Outcomes | Main | Job market well-wishes »

08/07/2016

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Just a Guy

Thanks for this very important service to the field. Is this affiliated with Derek Bowman's similar project, Free Range Philosophers?

Helen

No, it isn't affiliated with Derek's project, although Derek did mention it to me, and my interviews. The main difference in focus is that this website will be for students (of all ranks), and that it will feature philosophers with Bachelor's, Master's and PhD holders, although for the moment I have quite some PhDs - I hope to also get a good group of people with an undergraduate degree.

postdoc

Testimonials are deceptive and provide no useful data whatsoever. If you ask the entire community for testimonials you'll find people with PhDs in philosophy who are now making a million a year managing a hedge fund, and other amazing stories no doubt. But that doesn't mean that you, as a philosophy PhD, have any chance of actually becoming a hedge fund manager. You don't!

The lottery is a good example. Your chances of winning are one in a number with a ton of freaking zeros. However, if we did testimonials, we could find hundreds of people who have won huge amounts of money playing the lottery. This makes for good advertising, but it's useless for informing people whether they should be buying tickets. It's deceptive and takes advantage of people's hopes and dreams. Even though hundreds of people have won the lottery and made millions, you are not going to win the lottery!

What we need is real statistical data indicating what those who leave academia with PhDs in philosophy are likely to be able to succeed at. My guess is that most end up doing admin somewhere after working a few years at entry level jobs trying to gain experience, but that's just a guess. We need actual data to see what if anything philosophy PhDs and BAs etc can likely do. Right now, those who drop out of academia (50% of us at least) drop off the face of the map! Who knows what they're doing? Who knows whether they're doing anything? Maybe they're just decreasing the labor force participation rate.

We don't need testimonials. They are deceptive and useless at providing adequate information for job seekers. We need real data. In the absence of real data, let's not deceive people and play on their dreams. It only makes all those philosophers who leave academia feel bad for not being a millionaire hedge fund managers (99.9999999999999% of them) and instead being poor.

jdkbrown

This past spring, we hosted a sort of reunion for our philosophy majors at Gustavus, on the theme "How are you thinking about your philosophy major now?" We had alums from the past fifty years come back and address exactly the questions you're asking. Among them, we had philosophy professors, a baker, an emergency room nurse, a musician in the US Army band, and a community activist. Here's a link to videos of many of the sessions:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLHuAoPzfQhGEVo9HLe7oqLnXP2H6fwDcW

If you'd like, I can try to put you in touch with some of the participants.

Derek Bowman

Postdoc,

You're certainly right about the ways in which such testimonials can be misinterpreted and misused. And there's no doubt that the sort of statistical information you call for would be extremely useful.

But I think you underestimate the value of individual stories. It is precisely the idiosyncratic nature of various success stories - their dependence on individual aptitude, opportunities, life circumstances, etc - which cannot be captured by statistics. Some of these stories will turn out to be genuine outliers - more like lottery winners - while others may reveal patterns that someone might reasonably try to follow.

It's also important to think about who these different sources of information (statistical; testimonial) are likely to be most useful for. I imagine that students considering a degree in philosophy would find the statistical information most useful: is this a good bet?

But for those who already have the degree - or have already sunk a lot of time and energy into getting it - I think the individual stories are more likely to be useful: offering models of *how* others with similar educational background have moved into other things.

Marcus Arvan

postdoc: Although I am not aware of any statistics regarding philosophy MAs and PhDs outside of academia and agree that such statistics are important to gather (does anyone out there know of any?), there are plenty of statistics available for those with BA degrees.

See e.g.,

http://www.studentsreview.com/unemployment_by_major.php3

http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/philosophers-dont-get-much-respect-but-their-earnings-dont-suck/

http://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2015/09/philosophy-majors-out-earn-other-humanities/403555/

Also, like Derek Bowman, I think you may be underestimating the value of testimonials. Reading how philosophers with MAs and PhDs found jobs in other industries can provide readers with some real guidance--viz. realistic pictures of how someone with an advanced degree in philosophy can move into other fields.

postdoc

If the testimonials are randomly selected and the sample size is large enough they could be useful. Otherwise, they will just be deceptive. Most likely there is going to be a selection bias of some kind or another, because these testimonials will come from people who opt to give them. I fear we'll get a lot of outliers, because those who are extraordinarily successful will be more likely to send in testimonials. No one wants to brag about failure.

In fact, Helen's call for testimonials includes the bias in it: 'If you are a philosopher with an interesting career [...].' It sounds like she's going to exclude or minimize mention of the boring careers from these testimonials. Who wants to hear about those? Limiting the testimonials to careers is also a bias. How many never find a career? Being a waitress isn't a career in the normal sense. So, Helen has set it up so that the sample is going to be biased. As a result, we cannot place much credence in the testimonials as indicators of real world jobs that the readers can realistically hope to obtain.

As such, I call for this project to be halted or seriously overhauled. It lacks empirical validity.

Helen

Postdoc: There is already statistical info available which indicates people with philosophy degrees (undergraduate degrees) have among the highest mid-career salaries in the humanities.

My aim for this website is not to have a detailed statistical analysis of how people with PhD degrees fare. That would require a very different methodology than the snowball methodology I'm using now, so even if I had lots of testimonials it would not be a sociologically valid study.

The aim of the website would be simply to give people who study philosophy an idea of what to do next with their degrees, and also to signal to employers that employing a philosopher is a good bet and hopefully in this way increase the status of our discipline (there are still too many disparaging comments about how philosophers are useless, viz the welder vs philosopher comment, so I think that there is some PR to be done for our discipline).

I don't mean by "interesting" careers exceptional, high-flying, high-paying etc careers alone. I mean by interesting simply that they are of interest to some people, for instance the people who provide the testimonials. I do have some people who fall into the exceptional category, but I do not see the harm in showing that it is at least possible with a philosophy degree to become, say, a successful politician, hedge fund manager or TV-writer.

postdoc

I want to point out that the payscale data is based on self selected reporting, and the sample size for philosophy is 31, with 8 mid career.

I can't say we have very good statistical data even for BAs. I know of nothing for PhDs.

Helen

Dear jdkbrown, I would be grateful if you could me in touch with them. Thank you for the link and suggestion!

Just a Guy

I don't share the view that testimonials are counterproductive. Certainly some testimonials are pretty astounding (i.e. "I majored in Philosophy and now I'm a VP at JPMorgan Chase") but I think the average reader recognizes other factors are at work in those exceptional cases. As someone who recently went through the process of leaving academia, testimonials were very valuable in terms of generating new ideas for industries to look at. Like many academics, my first instinct was to look at careers in alt ac-administration, publishing, non-university teaching. But due in part to testimonials I realized there were other fields that my skills were well suited for-marketing, social media management, corporate training, diversity training, etc. There is no field where one doesn't benefit from the clear writing, critical thinking, public communication and creative problem solving skills nurtured in philosophy coursework. But without people going before me and sharing their experiences, I would have been left to rely on my own ideas about what value my degree had, and that picture was totally incomplete.

postdoc

Testimonials can give one ideas for possible careers. However, with a biased sample it is unlikely that they will give good information about realistic options. This is my concern about this project. It's good advertising for philosophy, but it probably will not produce an accurate depiction of realistic careers. It will be good PR, like Helen wants, but it will not be good information (that is not to say that no one will find it useful, just that it will be misleading.)

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