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05/24/2017

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Pendaran Roberts

Here are my thoughts.

1. Working in a hot area makes you more employable than if you don't.

2. Doing original work in a hot area is even better.

3. Doing work in an area that isn't hot makes you less employable than 1 or 2.

4. Doing original work in an area that isn't hot is a gamble: you could end up producing something that becomes hot; however, there is a huge risk of just being even more obscure.

So, what to do? You can risk 4. But as this is your life and not a poker game I suggest...

Aiming for 1 or 2!

Important note: you have to get your PhD done quickly, as what's hot changes. If you take 5 years, you may find that your area is no longer hot. Aim for 2 years!

What if you're not interested in currently hot areas? Become interested! Probably you can figure out something about them that interests you and work on that.

If you really can't stand the currently hot stuff, I'd suggest not doing the PhD. The job market is so so bad that if you don't have the advantage of being hot, well... it's going to really suck for you!

TRUST ME!

recent grad

Pendaran,

My dissertation was not on a hot topic. I have a job.

Snark aside, almost all advice I see says not to do a dissertation on something just because it's hot. It's better to just do good work in an area you're interested in and let the cards fall where they may. It's not a guarantee of a job, but it's a saner route in life.

Amanda

I think the best way to split the difference is to be sure to do something in an area that you like, however, make sure that the topic is (1) a new take on things, i.e., not derivative from the work of others, and (2) something that non-specialists can understand. The second is especially important; what increases your chance of landing a job is broad appeal, as those on search committees come from every area of philosophy. Hence a safe bet is doing something that would be mildly interesting and make sense to a philosopher of any sub-discipline.

Pendaran Roberts

"My dissertation was not on a hot topic. I have a job."

So what?

"Snark aside, almost all advice I see says not to do a dissertation on something just because it's hot."

I think this is bad advice by badly informed people.

Look at the AOSes of advertised jobs. If you work in an area where you can only apply to OPEN jobs, this is going to seriously hurt your chances.

Now, of course, you shouldn't do a PhD in an area you don't like. So, figure out something in a hot area that you do like, or my advice is not to do the PhD.

Anon UK reader

What are we understanding by 'hot area'. My understanding of a 'hot area' is something like the epistemology of disagreement (c. 5 years ago), not just 'epistemology'. But Pendaran's comment ('look at the AOSes of advertised jobs') suggests that something as general as 'epistemology' or 'ethics' counts as an 'area' that might be hot. Obviously you should do your PhD in a hot area so defined. But surely the question is about more narrowly defined 'areas'?

I'm a PhD student, so I'm not well placed to answer that question. But being interested in your area is obviously a necessary condition for writing a good PhD on it. An unfashionable area you're interested in is much preferable to a fashionable one you're not interested in.

I recommend speaking to several (as many as possible) more senior philosophers about your topic choice. If you pick something unfashionable, you might find that, all the same, most of those who you speak to think it sounds like an interesting topic. if that's the case, its being unfashionable probably won't hurt you too much on the job market, I imagine. I may be wrong about this, but I don't think I am. What matters is your ability to interest other philosophers in your work in the context of an interview and a job talk.

recent grad

Pendaran,

You say: "The job market is so so bad that if you don't have the advantage of being hot, well... it's going to really suck for you!"

I cited my own case as a counterexample. You then asked "So what?" When you make a claim like the above and I give a data point that runs counter to it, that's *relevant*.

Also, in your second comment you're now talking about AOSes. With some exceptions, such as philosophy of race, AOSes are much too broad to assign a label of "hot". One can do hot or unhot work in virtually every AOS.

At some point, it might pay off if you listened to other people's honest advice. I am not the most informed person and I make mistakes, but I do put thought into things and I have a TT job. I would especially recommend following Amanda's advice. My work, though not hot, was original, accessible, and interesting enough to non-specialists. It was clear from interviews and job talks that this was a huge advantage.

Pendaran Roberts

"I cited my own case as a counterexample. You then asked "So what?" When you make a claim like the above and I give a data point that runs counter to it, that's *relevant*."

Your one data point is irrelevant.

AOSes can most certainly be hot. Look at what areas you see advertised. For example, you seldom see metaphysics jobs.

Philosophy of science though is hot! Lots of jobs in philosophy of science.

Anyway that's my advice. Don't work in AOSes that you don't see jobs for. You'll have to apply for OPEN jobs and those are extra competitive.

Amanda

In addition to my earlier comment, I feel the need to add that I agree with Pendaran on the "don't work in Metaphysics" advice. I know so many people who insist on doing metaphysics from my mid-ranked PhD program. It is such a bad decision unless you are from a top top program. There are very few jobs in metaphysics, and I just shake my head at my fellow grads who insisted on working on that AOS anyway. I do think it is critical to work on something you love, but my guess is if the only thing you love is metaphysics, you aren't trying hard enough to seriously consider topics in other AOS's.

Guy

Amanda,
In general, one does not stand much of chance on the market in any area of specialization unless one went to a school that is widely recognized as strong in that area.
And that makes some sense.

Amanda

Hi Guy,
If you look at who got hired at I don't think you are right about that. I would argue that plenty of people got hired in ethics or history of philosophy, for example, even if they came from a school that wasn't "widely recognized as strong" in that area. (The exception, as usual, is hires at top research schools) And besides, it is irrefutable that there was anywhere from 5-15x as many jobs advertised in ethics, philosophy of science, and history of philosophy when compared to metaphysics and epistemology. Some AOS's give one a better chance of getting a job than others.

Anon UK reader

As an epistemologist PhD student, I find this kind of depressing. But it's not as simple as you guys are making out. Sure, there are more jobs advertised as being for ethics as an AOS than epistemology or metaphysics, but that needn't mean it's significantly easier to get a job as an ethicist. For one thing, it seems to me that there are significantly more people doing PhDs in ethics than in epistemology, so you're competing with more people. For another, I wager (though have no proof of this) that jobs advertised as 'open' more often end up going to epistemologists and metaphysicians than to ethicists.

I may be wrong about both of these things, but we need to know this before we can draw any conclusions from how many jobs are advertised in a particular AOS.

On the other hand, I wouldn't recommend doing a PhD in aesthetics. For some reason (which I truly cannot fathom), departments just don't hire aestheticians. If you really want to game the system by choosing an in-demand AOS I'd suggest political philosophy. This opens up jobs outside philosophy departments too. But I'm someone who just can't get excited about (the academic side of) politics, so for me there would simply be no point in doing this.

anonymous

Pendaran, to be fair, you just gave some unsubstantiated advice that didn't appeal to any data or anything, and so I don't think it's quite fair to say to recent grad that their 'one data point is irrelevant'. We might wonder what you are basing your advice on (just trust you, you say). We might worry that you are basing it on your own anecdotal evidence. In which case the anecdata of others is highly relevant.

Marcus Arvan

anonymous: I agree. My own anecdotal sense, based on my experience on both sides of the market, is at odds with Pendaran's claims. No doubt some people get jobs working on "hot" topics--but that anecdata alone isn't sufficient to justify any particular advice. This is why I would like to hear from more search committee members. I suspect things look very different on different sides of the market. As I mentioned in the OP, working on a hot topic might seem advantageous from the job candidate side (like Pendaran's)--but if on the hiring side you have hundreds of candidates working on N variations of the same "hot topic", it can seem disadvantageous, as all of those candidates may blend into each other while candidates working on less "hot" topics may stand out more, coming across as more interesting and original.

Amanda

In my experience, persons working in ethics or history of philosophy have been far more successful than metaphysicans or epistemologists. The former are subjects teaching schools really like, along with "diversity" areas like feminism etc. That is just what I have noticed, take it for what you will. I still think my earlier advice is the most important: work on something that has a broad appeal to philosophers working in all fields and something that can be explained to non-specialists.

Amanda

Marcus, I would like to hear from search committee members as well. However, they, just like us, will of course only be offering anecdotal advice. I personally have no issue with anecdotal evidence, as long as no one is pretending that theirs' is the final word on things. I think one reliable way astute persons learn is from listening to a wide range of anecdotes and assessing that evidence in conjunction with their own experience and maybe data.

Pendaran Roberts

"Sure, there are more jobs advertised as being for ethics as an AOS than epistemology or metaphysics, but that needn't mean it's significantly easier to get a job as an ethicist. For one thing, it seems to me that there are significantly more people doing PhDs in ethics than in epistemology, so you're competing with more people."

There are more people doing jobs in ethics than any particular area but less than are doing PhDs in all areas of philosophy combined. So when applying for ethics jobs your chances are still better than they are when applying for OPEN jobs.

"For another, I wager (though have no proof of this) that jobs advertised as 'open' more often end up going to epistemologists and metaphysicians than to ethicists."

Well, if OPEN jobs aren't really OPEN, then sure I guess maybe things are more complicated than they seem.

But taken at face value, it's better to have an ethics AOS where you can apply for the dozens of ethics only jobs, then to have a metaphysics AOS where you can only apply for jobs that are OPEN (and the hand full of metaphysics jobs that come up each year).

I think a lot of PhD students get into philosophy totally naive as to their prospects (I did). Not all AOSes are created equal by the job market gods. Keep that in mind!

Anon UK reader

It seems that the worst AOSes for the job market is are aesthetics, epistemology and metaphysics, in that order. (See: https://public.tableau.com/profile/mark.alfano#!/vizhome/philjobs/philjobsmaptimelines )

Funny, because according to this poll of philosophers (or, at least, Letier-blog-readers) epistemology is the most important area for a department to be strong in: http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2012/07/what-areas-are-most-important-for-a-strong-phd-program.html

I wonder why there so few jobs in epistemology. There are significantly fewer than in metaphysics.

Pendaran Roberts

Little off topic but wanted to share this.

Looking at the data available here,

https://public.tableau.com/profile/mark.alfano#!/vizhome/philjobs/philjob

Thanks Anon UK reader for the link!

There has been a 9% increase in fixed term jobs and a

15% decrease in TT jobs

Between 2013 and 2016

not so hot history

"history of philosophy" does not seem to be hot at all. Better, perhaps post-medieval history of philosophy is, but ancient and medieval aren't hot. If I didn't miss anything, there were 3 jobs in ancient 2 years ago, 3 this year. And no job in medieval in either year.

Michel X.

not so hot history: I assume you're restricting to TT jobs, right? (Otherwise, there were definitely a few more ancient jobs).

For TT medieval this year, I see Seton Hall, Sacred Heart, Seattle, NUI Maynooth, and Providence College. (Plus a few postdocs and a couple visiting positions.)

For 2015-6 (TT AOS: Medieval), I only see West Georgia and Colgate (and just a couple postdocs/visiting positions).

---

It seems weird to me that, according to Alfano, aesthetics/phil. of art tops the lists for fixed-term positions, and yet virtually no TT jobs are ever advertised. You'd think that the demand might translate up the chain of jobs.

Also, FWIW, for this year I count 43 (real) open TT jobs (2 high school) on PhilJobs, 10 of them "open but...". From the hires reported so far, it looks like 18 people were hired for them, of which 9-10 are LEMMings of one stripe or another, depending on how we count (since people tend to have several AOSes), 3-4 are primarily historians, and 2 work primarily in ethics (up to 5 if we double-count a little due to multiple AOSes).

Amanda

As Michel notes, there were a lot of medieval jobs this year, and not very many people working in that area, so it seems a decent bet. Not to mention many Catholic schools simply advertise as "history of philosophy", but would count medieval as a big plus. A number of jobs just say "history of philosophy", and it seems they would be happy with anything from Aristotle to Kant. The thing with history is it will always be taught in philosophy departments, so there will always be schools who need historians, especially religious schools. In addition, (although I don't have official stats on this) I get the strong impression there are far less people who complete history Phds than ethics or epistemology. Lastly, those who do ancient philosophy can also look for jobs in classics departments, and those who do medieval or Kierkegaard or something can look for jobs in religion departments.

not so hot history

Michel X.: the Colgate job was either Medieval or Kant and a Kant scholar landed it. West Georgia went to an ancient philosophy person (I think).
You're right about this year, I forgot (I knew that Providence had an opening, even though I think they wanted somebody who does mostly Arabic. I wonder who got the job).

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