Okay,so I want to begin by apologizing for what is going to be a very negative post. Marcus I know that in the past you have written about falling out of love with philosophy, and I believe managing to re fall in love at some point. In any case, I have been feeling pretty down about philosophy lately, and find it hard to motivate myself to do my research, and other things that I should be doing to make myself a better philosopher. Here are some of the reasons I feel that way. (And,yeah, I realize these problems are problems for a lot of people, def. not just me, which is why I'm posting).
1. Being on the job market is a full-time job, and it has become even more so with the extended market. It seems like I am constantly either completing applications or preparing for interviews. Why this is frustrating, is it leaves little time to do anything else, and to improve my CV so I am more likely to get a job in the future.
2.Blind review is a joke. I know many people, both professors and students, who send their papers around to buddies before publication, or present them at conferences, and hence the person reviewing the paper knows who they are reviewing. What bothers me most about this is the guise of blind review and how people pretend that publishing is a fair assessment of philosophical ability. I do think there is some correlation between publishing and merit, maybe even a strong correlation, but it is absolutely not a fair game of blind review. I know a better person than me would just push on and write and submit the best work they can, but the insincerity of it all really saps my motivation.
3. I know that even when I do write great work and publish it, like less than 10 people will ever read my work. Once again, some people are better than me and can appreciate the intrinsic value of philosophy writing. I, however, love philosophy in so far as it is a conversation with others. I could do any old job and write my own philosophical musings in a journal. What makes the philosophy profession worthwhile is interactions with other philosophers. My writing however, seems to rarely result in such interaction.
4.Most work (or a lot of work) that gets published in top journals is 3/4 literature review and then makes a tiny point at the end. I find this kind of philosophy boring, both to read and write. Now it is fine that others like it, but I wish it was at least even and there was more space for new ideas that made major points rather than small adjustments to what has been said before. I do think a few journals are trying to expand their purview, which is a great development.
5. When I go to philosophy conferences, it seems that there is clear hierarchy for those who are big shots and those who are not. People have consistently been incredibly rude to me at conferences, as if their whole point is to tell me my paper is horrible and why the hell did I bother to present it? This happens all the time, and not just to me. Why does philosophy have to always be about showing someone how wrong they are? Why? In addition, it is common that I will raise my hand at a conference and am never called on, while all the big shots are called on.
6.The profession does not take teaching seriously. I was given absolutely no training as a teacher in grad school, and this is common. I wish we just cared a little more.
Okay, that's it for now. If anybody has any insights on how to get out of my super negative rut it would be much appreciated. And yes, I know my rant came off as whiny and unappreciative and I am sorry for that. It is because , however, that complaining in other forums is seen as socially unacceptable that I come here.
Thanks to all.
Amanda's frustrations resonate with me in part because (A) I did indeed temporarily fall out of love with (academic) philosophy in grad school for similar reasons; (B) I still struggle with some broadly related frustrations today; but most of all because (C) I have heard these kinds of frustrations (and many more) expressed repeatedly by other people I know in the profession, particularly (but not only) by early-career people.
Because in my experience frustrations with professional philosophy are not uncommon, I think indeed it might be beneficial to explore two issues in today's thread--namely:
- Things that people find frustrating about the profession
- How to grapple most effectively with those frustrations
I think exploring the first question may be helpful sociologically, to learn and draw attention to potential or at least perceived problems in the profession; and in turn, that exploring the second issue might be helpful not only to individuals (helping people like Amanda grapple with their frustrations in productive rather than unproductively), but also helpful to the broader profession, perhaps by drawing attention to ways in which we might all chip in to make our profession a better, less frustrating place to be.
I am not going to give much of a list of professional frustrations I've experienced. I've been quite fortunate on the whole, and am much more curious to hear about other people's experiences. But, in brief, most of the frustrations I've encountered are the usual ones--indeed, broadly the ones that Amanda mentions herself: multiple years on a brutal and seemingly-capricious job-market; frustrations with anonymized peer-review (which still seems to me problematic compared to other alternatives); and so on. Instead of focusing on these frustrations, I would like to focus briefly on a few suggestions for grappling with them.
In my personal experience, anon's reply to Amanda largely has things right:
I cannot tell you how your career will go. But I can share my experiences, which may be some grounds for hope. I had a rocky start. It took a while to get a TT job. I publish in very good specialty journals. I referee for journals on a regular basis, including some of the most selective journals. Though it was slow at first, my work is read (and cited - even frequently). I even get invited to talk at places despite the fact that I work at a state school that really is concerned with teaching undergraduates. I have a rewarding career. But it did not come to me over night. Push the bad thoughts aside, and do the parts of the profession that you enjoy.
This reminds me of some Stoic advice my father repeatedly gave me as a young boy: "Don't worry about the things you cannot control. Focus on what you can control. Do your best, work hard, try to enjoy what you do, and let the cards fall where they may." Although like most people I struggle to live up to this advice, all of these years later--particularly after all the ups and downs of graduate school and job-market--it still seems to me among the best advice I've ever received. The more I've been able to "let go" and just try to enjoy research, teaching, and university life for their own sake--and balance them against other things that matter (being a good spouse, etc.)--the happier I've been.
But I would also suggest adding a few addenda to this advice. First, I would also suggest to try to be the change you want to see in the discipline. Although this advice probably sounds a bit trite, I think it may be important to remind ourselves of it. In my experience, it is all too easy to fall into the same habits and norms as our predecessors. Memory, as they say, is short. It can be all too easy to forget, when you are on a hiring committee, how terrible the process is for candidates. Similarly, it can all too easy to forget, when you are reviewing a paper for a journal, how dispiriting it can be to receive a brutal, meanspirited review. And so on. My suggestion is: don't just fall into line, doing what everyone else does. If you were frustrated with the job-market when you were on it and you now find yourself on a hiring committee, consider doing whatever you can to make the process better for candidates. If you are like Amanda and are frustrated reading journal articles that seem like 3/4 literature review followed by one small philosophical move, try writing and submitting the kinds of more ambitious articles you would like to read (you might be surprised!)--and try being more open to those kinds of papers as a reviewer. If you are sick of feeling left out of the crowd at conferences, try to be cognizant of others who seem like they're "on the outside" of things at conferences, saying 'hi' and including them in your conversation or trip out for food or drinks. If, like Amanda, you believe that teaching matters, say so, and make it a point to insist on getting teaching experience--and don't be ashamed of it: because, for a good many jobs (and for the world we live in), teaching does matter.
Finally, I would also suggest not only being the change you want to see in the discipline, but also kindly and consistently pressing for positive changes you want to see in the discipline. One of the more depressing things I've encountered is just how many early-career people seem to live in fear. For instance, every time I have asked why so few early-career people blog, the answers are always the same:
Acedemic [sic] philosophy in the web 2.0 world has become so heavily "political," sensitive, and norm-volatile that any/everything you say can and will be held against you in the "court of public opinion." - Anon | 07/26/2015 at 04:10 PM
One simple reason: I'm going on the job market for the first time this year and I don't want to say anything that will sabotage my job search. AnonGradStudent | 07/26/2015 at 04:36 PM
Like others, I fear that blogging might be held against me. Nothing is anonymous. If someone wants to identify you via an IP address, they probably can. The cost/benefit calculation doesn't make much sense for me, personally. - another grad | 07/26/2015 at 07:15 PM
I don't blog or post named comments on blogs (although I do frequent all of the major ones, with this one being most useful to me) because I don't want my name attached to anything an advisor, admissions committee, search committee, etc. may see. It is important to have a very controlled online presence. Posted by: Anonymous | 07/27/2015 at 12:26 AM
I understand these sentiments--I really do. I lived with the very same kind of fearful outlook for much of my early career. Still, although I understand the outlook, here is what I found at least in my own case: it was an awful, paranoid way to live. Yes, of course, there are risks to putting yourself out there and pressing for changes you would like to see in the discipline--and by all means, if you do put yourself out there, it may make sense to do it cautiously. But, at least in my experience, there are real risks and personal costs of keeping one's head down, suffering in silence, and doing nothing. If you're not willing to press for a better profession now, when will you: in the future? What makes you so sure? If the "cost/benefit calculation" doesn't make sense to you now, what makes you think it will make sense later--say, when you have tenure? If you want a better profession, I say we should all do our small part to make it happen. Press for the positive changes you want to see in the discipline, kindly but consistently. I, for one, will be on your side--and you might just be surprised at how many other people turn out to be as well. :)
But these are just some of my own general thoughts, and they may not be right. What do you all think? In particular:
- What things do you find professionally frustrating?
- What do you think is the best way to grapple with those frustrations?