There has been some good discussion recently on what we should do as philosophers in these politically turbulent times. I myself have increasingly felt--especially as a moral and political philosopher--as though I should get more involved in "public philosophy": publishing pieces in non-academic outlets for a broader audience.
To that end, dating back to early last summer, I composed a handful of pieces on contemporary social, political, and economic affairs. Alas, I haven't (yet) had any luck with them (a few of them have been under review, others turned into academic pieces and submitted to journals, etc.). I've also really struggled as a writer to feel like I can hit the right level of sophistication versus accessibility. On the one hand, whenever I write something short and super-accessible (the kinds of things popular venues tend to publish), I feel like the piece is terrible--too polemic, glossing over important intricacies and supporting facts or theories (I think it's important to base public arguments on facts!). On the other hand, whenever I write something I feel better about, it seems more like an academic piece (much longer, rife with citations, etc.).
In any case, because doing "public philosophy" isn't something that most of us academic philosophers have experience with or training in, I thought it might be good to get some tips from people who have done it successfully. Here are just a few questions I have:
I'm particularly interested in question (2), in part because as John Scdwenkler notes here, "I have written a bunch of reviews and essays for popular publications. It's always been by way of contact with an editor (sometimes initiated from their end). I have tried submitted unsolicited things once or twice, and I don't think that's ever worked out."
Any public philosophers out there have any helpful tips for those of us who want to get more involved?
There has been an interesting discussion of recent philjobs appointments data in the comments section of our recent post on getting teaching experience in UK graduate programs. One thing that came up in the discussion is how many people are actually reporting their new appointments. As one anonymous commenter wrote,
Almost none of the hires made of people from my (top ten) department for the past couple years are on philjobs. Neither is there info about many of my friends who have gotten jobs lately.
This raises some interesting questions--among them, how many new hires are not reporting their new appointments, and why? It might help to have some more information on this, if people are willing to chime in. First, it might provide some insight into current sociological forces in the profession (viz. incentives not to report hiring). Second, it might also provide some insight on how representative the philjobs appointment data is, giving those interested in hiring data some idea of which demographics may be under-reporting.
Anyone who has gotten a job recently but not announced it on philjobs have willing to (either openly or anonymously) share their reasons?
Eleni Manis has kindly drawn my attention to her website, Phil Skills, which contains some helpful resources and interview testimonials for philosophers interested in non-academic careers. Along with Helen de Cruz's Doing Things with Philosophy, our own Alt-Ac Workshop, and APA's Beyond Academia Guide, it is nice to see the increasing emphasis on helping philosophers transition successfully to non-academic careers.
In the comments section of our most recent "How can we help you?" post, a reader asks, "What are the do's and don'ts for negotiating a TT job offer/ contract at a teaching college/university?"
Excellent question. As some of you may know, there was a widely publicized horror story a few years back concerning a candidate who had an offer from a teaching university rescinded after she emailed asking for a bunch of things, including limited teaching preps and a pre-tenure sabbatical. The email she received read:
It was determined that on the whole these provisions indicate an interest in teaching at a research university and not at a college, like ours, that is both teaching and student centered...Thus, the institution has decided to withdraw its offer of employment to you.
I don't know of many stories like this, but still, it is a cautionary tale--especially given that in my experience the negotiation stage can be really nerve-wracking. In any case, because schools may be very different here, it might be most helpful to hear from a variety of readers who work at teaching schools or have negotiated offers with them about the kinds of things can be negotiated at their school. Does anyone with experience here have any tips to offer?
In the comments section of our most recent "How can we help you?" post, a reader ('Amanda') writes:
So this post comes in response to a number of conversations I've had with friends on the market, as well as various faculty members, as well as reading Allen Wood's job search advice on the APA blog. So Wood suggests that you should not take a TT job just because you have been on the market for some time and it is all you got. Rather, you should see if the job is a good fit. Now from almost everyone else I've talked with, they would disagree. The job market is horrible, and anyone should be happy with any job. (Maybe those at the top 5 schools are different, but I am not even sure then).
So what happens if you are offered a TT job and the location is awful, the department members appear disagreeable, and the general environment is not one of your liking? (FYI I am NOT in this position myself. I currently have no TT offers...) If this is your only offer, should you take it? Basically everyone I've talked to says yes. (perhaps assuming you would choose this rather than leave academia). Does anybody disagree? Does anyone think it would ever make sense to turn down a TT offer in the hopes that you find a better fit in a year or two. (Or would the rule be take the job and then apply out?)
In the comments section of our most recent "How can we help you post?", a reader asks:
The following question will be relevant to people who are soon to decide about which graduate school to attend in the UK (but will also be relevant for US students currently at graduate school):
When one is selecting a supervisor for one's PhD thesis, what's most important: (1) the supervisor's energy, engagement with your project, level of expertise, etc; or (2) the supervisor's seniority and worldwide reputation? Obviously, in a perfect world, one would want one's supervisor to have all these attributes, but this isn't a perfect world. If one has to decide between a supervisor that fits the attributes in (1) but not those in (2), and one who fits the attributes in (2) but not so much those in (1), what should one decide? (Let me pre-empt an obvious reply: get them both on your supervisory team. Sure, but that's not possible if they're at different institutions.)
I've heard it said that one should never be supervised by someone who isn't at the top rung of the career ladder, because it will make it much harder to get a job after one's PhD. Does this sound right? Can relatively inexperienced supervisors place their students?
A few days ago in the comments section of our most recent "How can we help you?" post, an anonymous reader asked:
How common is it to be suspicious of and resentful towards your institution's administration? I would love to take a job elsewhere, in part to spite them, but it might not be worth it if it's a problem almost everywhere.
The reader then added in a follow-up comment:
I won't get into specifics about my administration, but the resentment is due to a combination of the following: the need to fight for almost everything despite being at a financially healthy university, a general lack of respect for faculty and their role in the institution, and a history of ethically questionable behavior.
It might indeed be helpful to find out (A) how common these kinds of sentiments and experiences are, as well as (B) what kinds of things different institutions actually do that lead to happiness or unhappiness/suspicion/resentment among faculty. (Important note: in line with the Cocoon's mission, I am not looking for--and will not allow--comments outing specific institutions. Only reports that preserve institutional anonymity will be permitted.
For my part, I will say--with full honesty--that it has been an honor and privilege to work at my institution. Although I am only one person, my experience has been that faculty, students, and staff here are treated honorably and with respect.
What are your experiences?
In the comments section of our latest "How can we help you?" post, 'UK grad student' writes in:
I'm a graduate student now, but I was wondering what I can do to gain relevant teaching experience before I go on the job market in a couple of years.
The problem is that my institution, like, I think, the majority of institutions in the UK, does not allow graduate students to design courses or teach as primary instructors. We can apply for seminar teaching, and for giving one or two guest lectures. But if we never design a course, we won't have any evidence a committee can look at demonstrating that we'd be able to do so. I suspect that this could be a major issue when applying for teaching positions.
The official reason why graduate students are prevented from designing and teaching courses is that the university is concerned with the quality of teaching -- the assumption being that students are worse than more senior researchers and professors. (Of course it is not clear that this is a good reason!). I wonder if students at other institutions with such a policy have been successful in getting their institution to somehow allow students to gain some teaching experience besides seminar leading.
But I'm also interested in advice about how to put together some evidence that one would be able to design and teach an entire course even when one does not have a chance to actually do this during their PhD.
My query may not be relevant to all early career researchers -- especially not to those who have gotten their PhD in the US, where, as far as I know, gaining some teaching experience as a primary instructors is easier.
An anonymous reader followed up:
UK grad student,
I would think that this would not be an impediment to getting a job in the UK, given that it is the norm there. The US market is different. But then again so are the Ph.D. programmes. You should only worry if you plan to apply for jobs elsewhere.
I would recommend that you do some seminar teaching and guest lecturing. Then someone will be able to speak to your abilities in reaching such audiences.
Fair points - but (A) in my experience, many UK PhDs are indeed looking for jobs abroad, and (B) given the kinds of institutional restrictions 'UK grad student' mentions (i.e. grad students not being permitted to teach), it is not entirely clear to me how grad students in the UK might go about doing some seminar teaching or guest-lecturing.
Can anyone with experience in the UK provide more determinate practical advice? Is it possible to get seminar teaching or guest-lecturing gigs while in grad school? If so, how? If not, are there any other options available? These seem to me vital issues for UK grad students, as (at least in my experience) teaching-focused jobs in the US appear to care very much about candidates not only having teaching experience, but a track record of success in the classroom.
Re-reading the Meditations, including the lengthy objections and replies, I came across this passage
I wrote “Meditations” rather than “Disputations”, as the philosophers have done, or “Theorems and problems” as the geometers would have done. In doing so I wanted to make it clear that I would have nothing to do with anyone who was not willing to join me in meditating and giving the subject attentive consideration. For the very fact that someone braces himself to attack the truth makes him less suited to perceive it, since he will be withdrawing his consideration from the convincing arguments which support the truth in order to find counterarguments against it." (Meditations, second set of replies, CSM II, 112).
Descartes makes a striking psychological observation about belief polarisation: people are indeed less willing to take an argument or evidence seriously if it conflicts with earlier beliefs they hold, especially about matters that are closely tied to personal identity, such as childhood vaccinations, climate change, gun rights or abortion. Now it may seem a bit rich that Descartes cautions against readers who would not give his arguments their full due, especially given how he responded to, say, Thomas Hobbes, or Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia.
But if we bracket for a moment how Descartes responded to his own philosophical interlocutors, the mindset he promotes is certainly worth striving towards. How can we cultivate this, say, in refereeing, or in Q and A sessions of conferences? Listening to arguments, trying to give them their full weight, and holding back the urge to counter-argue? I am curious if readers have tried debiasing approaches to cultivate this mindset, or to encourage it in others, for instance in conferences.
In the comments section of our newest "How can we help you?" post, a reader writes in:
[H]ow long is typical to give a candidate to decide whether to accept a position? I was offered a one-year job which I would like to take if I do not get a permanent position. However, I was only given a week to decide. And I have a flyout in two weeks. I am not sure what to do, because if I ask the job for more time to decide I would have to ask for a lot. After all, I doubt the search committee will make a decision immediately after my flyout which is already a week after I am supposed to give the final word on my 1-year position.
Should I just accept the 1-year position and go back on that if I get a permanent job? I don't feel great going that route.
I've not been in that kind of position before, so I'm not sure what to advise. However, having gotten several offers over the years (both TT and non-TT), my experience has been that two weeks to decide seems pretty standard. One week seems to me a bit quick. What do you all think? What should this person do?
In the comments section of our newest "How can we help you?" post, a reader writes, "A post taking up applying for dissertation fellowships would be helpful or even some pointers to good fellowship lists."
Anyone with experience have any helpful tips?
In the comments section of our newest "How can we help you?" post, a reader wrote, "A post taking up how applying for Post-Docs importantly differs from applying for jobs would be helpful." [Note: the reader added, "I suggest [this query] as a "top 15" 4th year doctoral student who has not published"].
I have to confess that I had never thought of this issue before, but it seems to me a good query. Are there any important differences in applying for postdocs than for other jobs? Are there particular things one should have in mind--or strategies to pursue--when applying specifically for postdocs?
If you have experience here on either side of the market (either applying for or hiring for postdocs), please do chime in!
It's been nearly a month since we've had a "how can we help you?" post, I thought now might be a good time for another post in the series. For those of you not familiar with the series, this is a chance for you to post openly or anonymously in the comments section on anything you could use help with right now as an early-career philosopher. After you post your query in the comments section, I will then post new threads to discuss your query.
Given that the academic job-market is moving increasingly to on-campus visits, offers, etc. (though there are still new job advertisements appearing), readers may ask about:
As someone who was on the market for many years before getting a job, some of these things are issues I had trouble grappling with on my own--so, if others are going through them, perhaps we can help! But these are by no means the only things one can ask about. You may post queries on anything you could use help with as an early-career philosopher:
Please do fire away. We're here to help!
A new meta-analysis just appeared in the Journal of Moral Education on the neural correlates of moral judgment and moral sensitivity in parts of the brain associated with self-hood (full paper available here). Here are some of the key findings:
The default mode network regions were commonly associated with moral functions across diverse domains of moral tasks...The results showed that during [moral] judgment tasks, the ventromedial and dorsomedial prefrontal cortices, temporoparietal junction, middle temporal gyrus and connected superior temporal sulcus, middle occipital gyrus, temporal pole, fusiform gyrus, inferior temporal gyrus and precuneus were activated. In the moral sensitivity condition, the dorsomedial, ventromedial and ventrolateral prefrontal cortices, cingulate gyrus, temporoparietal junction, orbitofrontal cortex, middle temporal gyrus, middle occipital gyrus, fusiform gyrus, lingual gyrus, temporal pole, inferior temporal gyrus, precuneus, cuneus and amygdala were activated.
Allow me to try to parse this out a bit.
I am pleased to announce this call-for-papers for the 5th Annual Philosophers' Cocoon Philosophy Conference, provisionally scheduled to be held at University of Tampa on October 14th-15th, 2017 (for an idea of what past years of the conference have been like see here)!
As in the past, the Cocoon conference will be unique in several respects:
To submit a paper to present, please email the following to me at firstname.lastname@example.org by May 15th, 2017:
Decision emails indicating whether your paper has been accepted should be sent out around August 1st (papers will undergo peer-review). Finally, please bear the following in mind: In order to ensure that the conference is well-attended, there will be relatively few Skype sessions -- so the probability that your paper will be accepted is higher should you state in your submission email that you can attend in person.
I look forward to receiving this year's submissions, and to another great conference!
In the last installment of this very occasional series, I talked about learning outcomes in a big-picture, ‘what are they and what’s the point?’ kind of way. Today I want to look at the issue more concretely, using an example from some of my own courses to make a few points. There are also a few ruminations about the point of graduate courses. So join me below.
I am happy to introduce our second alt-ac workshop writer, Claartje van Sijl (Ph.D., Utrecht University).
Dr. Claartje van Sijl is a philosophical career counselor & trainer. She assists academics throughout the world with questions of purpose, direction, balance and confidence in life and career. She is a licensed Working Soft® coach. Read more about her work at on her personal website.
How to create an Alt-Ac Philosophical Company and do work that you love
“What are you going to do with your degree in philosophy?” Every philosophy student sooner or later hears this cliché question. Perhaps even more widespread is the assumption that a PhD in philosophy narrows down your remaining work opportunities to the academic job market. Go figure.
Fortunately, as you know, academic skills are transferable, and so are philosophical skills. In a previous entry in this series at the Philosopher’s Cocoon, Calvin Warner already identifies a number of interesting skills of academically trained philosophers. My personal story of my transition from academic philosophy to an Alt-Ac career as a self-employed philosophical counselor is essentially skills oriented, too. But the interesting part of the transition begins only after you have identified the skills that constitute your craftsmanship…
Going Alt-Ac as an independent philosophy professional: why, when and how?
I did my PhD on Stoicism in its social and cultural context. About half way through my PhD project I realized I did not want to continue in academia. I struggled with the personal process of doing a PhD, for which I sought an external coach. I worked very hard to complete my PhD, but it depleted me more than having two children around that time. I could no longer see the meaning of my work and think as clearly and creatively as I used to. I had no idea what to do after my PhD. All I ever pictured in my post-PhD future was a happily-ever-after life as an academic. And so did almost everyone around me. Since then awareness about the reality of the academic job market has changed, fortunately. Marcus’ and Helen’s workshop here at the Philosopher’s Cocoon testifies to the widening scope of options for philosophy PhD’s.
After obtaining my PhD I was determined to use my talents to do meaningful work that did not drain me. In my PhD work I was mainly involved in academic discussions with people who have been dead anywhere between 20 and almost 2,500 years. I felt lonely and my work felt meaningless. But I still loved philosophy — as I do today. I am fascinated with the way philosophy helps to elucidate complex problems by questioning assumptions and suspending judgment about “self-evident” views. With more than 10 years training in academic philosophy, unsurprisingly the core of my craft is the ability to wonder and to ask questions from a fundamental position of not-knowing. My Alt-Ac path has enabled me to make a living of this craft in a way that is more energizing and satisfying, and that appeals to more of my talents than I ever imagined possible during my PhD.
Even if I did not fancy a future as an academic philosopher myself, I do love the passion, integrity, and curiosity with which researchers strive for knowledge and excellence in the face of failure, criticism, uncertainty. But I also look behind the scenes, at the personal struggles. Working hard is the norm in the academic world. I see how long-term career uncertainty confines academics and makes them doubt their worth. How they make their life’s happiness dependent on the critical judgement of a supervisor, peer reviewer or grant committee. How the pressure to perform inadvertently disconnects them from the meaning of their work. These personal tragedies hurt. Hence the plan to combine the two and become a philosophical life and career counselor for academics. Since starting my company I have helped hundreds of researchers to connect reason with their heart’s wisdom, to move forward harmoniously towards fulfilling their vision with enthusiasm and confidence in life and career.
But I am getting ahead of the story. When I defended my PhD thesis, this was not clear at all. I distinctly remember telling my former colleagues over drinks after my defense that I did not consider ever becoming self-employed. Within a year I had founded my own coaching and training company. Why? Because during that year I had realized from conversations with fellow PhD candidates and from my temporary gig as a student advisor that I am able to let people feel safe to open up and have deep, helpful conversations. I decided to professionalize these skills by enrolling in a coaching and training program. There I learned that self-employment is a common and convenient working format for coaches and trainers.
How to become a philosophical entrepreneur
There I was, highly educated as an academic philosopher, with a solid professional training as a coach. But I hardly knew a thing about starting a company. I have since met many people who are a lot more savvy about running a business than me. At the time I was basically clueless about marketing and initially did not take any business or marketing course. I made almost every mistake I could as a start-up entrepreneur. But looking back I realize that I did at least one essential thing correctly that made my enterprise viable: I sat down and defined really precisely what my niche was going to be. Whom was I going to help? And what exactly could I help them with? Some people doubted my plans to become a counselor for PhDs and postdocs, thinking my focus was too narrow. In hindsight, I can say it is not, not at all.
So this is my first piece of advice for you, if you consider starting your own philosophical company. Focus is key. Figure out who already loves what you are doing. What are their problems? What keeps them up at night? What golden future are they dreaming about? What solution do you have to offer them?
In the comments section of our most recent open job-market thread, a reader writes:
Is it time to abandon hopes of getting any first-round interviews by now? It's hard to figure out what the timeframes are this year, there are both places I applied to in November/October who have not gotten back with anything and places I applied to in December. One does not know what to think anymore[.]
Although I have not been on the market for a couple of years--and so would be curious to hear what other job-candidates' recent experiences have been--my experience was that, depending on the kind of job one is talking about, it is not too late to still hope for a first-round interview. In my case, I was contacted for my first two non-TT jobs in February and March, respectively. Further, I have known--and heard of--a number of people getting full-time, one-year jobs (VAPs, Instructor positions, etc.) very late in the game (as late as July or August). So, of course, the longer the market goes on, the fewer jobs will still be hiring--but still, in my experience at least one need not give up hope yet!
But this is just my experience? What have recent job candidates experienced? How late in the game did you get an interview or offer? For what kind of job(s)?
A reader wrote in asking me the following question:
[Y]ou got a job at a place where you'd hung around for quite a while. I imagine that all aspects of that felt different, and that much of the advice given to job hunters should be modified for that type of situation. In particular, I imagine that
(a) the interview and
were both quite different. Any advice for people in similar positions?
I will say that, for obvious reasons, it felt different interviewing for a job at a place where I was already working. It's one thing to interview with people one has never met before--and quite another to do so with people one already knows quite well. However, I will also say that I tried very hard not to treat the two types of interviews--and contract negotiations--any differently. Although I can only speculate--and would be very interested to hear from other 'inside candidates' or search committee members who have interviewed or hired them--my sense is that there are some real dangers to approaching interviews or negotiations differently as an 'inside candidate.' I have heard of more than a few inside candidates who were given the impression that they were front-runners for a job, only to have the committee ultimately choose an outside candidate. Consequently, I think it may be a bad idea as an inside candidate are to have or demonstrate any kind of attitude that one deserves the job because one already works there, or otherwise treat the interview(s) or negotiations differently.
But this is just my sense. What do other past or present inside candidates think? And what do search committee members who have interviewed or hired inside candidates think?
The following is a companion piece to Part 3 of this series, Johnny Brennan's 'Having Children in Graduate School.' In today's post, a contributor who prefers to remain anonymous relates her experiences and tips regarding having children in graduate school as a woman. I hope you all find the post helpful and informative! The author also asked me to note that if there are any readers who could use support or wish to talk with her further on the topic personally, she is happy for me to put you in touch with her (so please do feel free to send me an email at email@example.com).
There was a great post on Philosopher’s Cocoon a few weeks ago about having children while in graduate school for philosophy. It carried some great advice such as trying to work out expectations in advance and keeping communication with your partner open. Some posters raised valid concerns about the post’s author being male, including both concerns about how pregnant persons might be treated differently and have different experiences from non-pregnant expecting partners and also concerns about how being a mother (as opposed to a father) may affect perceptions, treatment, and experiences as well.
I am a fourth year Ph.D. student in philosophy, and I am a mother of two: a nine month old and a 2 ½ year old. The post was brought to my attention by a friend and colleague who noticed that there was a interest in hearing from the perspective of a mother who had also been pregnant while in graduate school. So I’m happy to contribute some thoughts of my own on what it is like to have children in graduate school, both as the pregnant partner, as a mother, and as a breastfeeding mother, each of which raises its own challenges.