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« Reader submission: 'On (probably) leaving the profession' | Main | Dissertation Reflection Series, Part 1: Is It Really That Hard? »

06/26/2017

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Prospective Student

Dear All,

I'm a prospective PhD student, but I'm also a prospective J.D. student. I would like to enter a joint J.D./PhD program. I don't really care where. I love philosophy, and I want to write a dissertation and attend conferences. Surely, I want to teach; but I'm sticking to weak generalizations about my interests because I'm still a student.

My dilemma is this. I'm not really interested in the philosophy of law or value theory. I want to do a joint PhD/J.D. strictly out of interest and financial gain. I'm hoping to write a dissertation in metaphysics or in a related area. But I'm also hoping to graduate with a J.D. so I can leave academia if I can't find a job. I'm okay with not finding a job in philosophy. I'm not ok with not writing a dissertation, publishing, or attending conferences. I hope to do this my entire life, even if I'm not a professional philosopher.

That being said, will departments think that this is not feasible if I lack an interest in philosophy of law? For example, I am thinking about applying to UCSD for metaphysics and then UCSD law school; would it be audacious of me not to include that information in my statement of interest for UCSD and then, if I were accepted, to inform the department that I would like to go ahead with the joint program (or otherwise do a joint program elsewhere).

Thanks all.

Nate

I have a question about alt-ac jobs. I'm not sure at this point that I want to leave academia, but I've come across a non-academic job opportunity that I think could be both enjoyable and rewarding for me. This year was my first year post-ph.d. on the academic market. I didn't land a position, but I had seven interviews (which I'm given to understand is pretty good in this climate). I've got an above-average publication record, and I'm somewhat confident that I can land a TT job in the next few years.

So, my question is this: how difficult is it to return to academia after leaving? That is, if I pursue this other opportunity will I be a viable candidate for academic positions if I decide after a few years that I want to go on the academic market, or is leaving academia for even a short time a death knell for one's academic career?

Craig

Prospective Student,

My advice here is not to do the JD/PHD if you aren't interested in philosophy of law or value theory. You are right to suspect that programs will look askance at this.

This is in part because a phd is hard and requires tremendous concentration, and disrupting it for three years to study a topic mostly unrelated to your research is going to make it far, far less likely that you'll succeed. (As an aside, admissions committees will remember your application. Nearly a decade after I was admitted, people on my search committee still occasionally mentioned bits of my application packet. You don't want to start your entry into the field by being duplicitous.)

Moreover, by seeking the JD/PHD, you are going to limit the schools you might attend, on both hooks. There are good law schools where you won't find good phd programs (not naming names, b/c I don't want to be a jerk), and there are good phd programs without competitive or any law schools (e.g., UCSD does not have a law school). If you want a shot at academia, give yourself the best possible shot by going to the best possible school--it matters significantly. If you want a shot at a comfortable law job, do the same, give yourself the best possible shot by going to the best possible school--it matters significantly (though differently) here too.

Finally, your goals as I understand them would be far better served considering these projects in serial. A JD/PHD program is not a good way to save time or money or to increase one's employment chances--it is a good way to do interdisciplinary research. If you want a possible out supposing you don't end up, for whatever reason, in academic employment, apply to law school at that later point: 1) You won't waste time in law school if you don't end up needing to do so; 2) Your chances at admission to top law schools will skyrocket with the additional education; 3) your performance in law school (and so your shot at a good job) will be significantly better if you're a bit older and if your attention is not split across two programs. Many MA students and a fair number of PHD students attend law school at that point. I have one good friend doing the very thing now, and my impression is that he is quite pleased at how things are going.

Amanda

For teaching schools, I do not think leaving is an issue. I know several people who left and came back and got TT jobs. I think as long as you explain why you left and your packet looks good, all will be fine. Research schools are more hit and miss. Some research professors do not look well upon leaving, but others are okay with it if your publication record is still superb.

The problem with leaving has less to do with what search committee members think, and more with other practical issues. Many who leave do not have the motivation to come back, as having a full time job and still maintaining a connection with philosophy is hard. Also, lack of access to library resources makes it very hard to research, not to mention you probably won't have any time. This might not matter if your record is already good enough, but inertia will keep many out of academia permanently.

Another Prospective Student

I have a question that is somewhat related to the question of the first prospective student, but broader (perhaps too broad).

I am also a prospective PhD student. Given the state of the job market, I have thought that should I get into graduate school (especially if at a school with weaker placement rates) that I should prepare myself for a plan B career while I'm in graduate school. But while I have seen lots of stories about what paths philosophy graduate students take--from law school to management consulting to programming to the civil service--nobody discusses how one goes from being a grad student in philosophy to those various paths. I would feel much more comfortable about going to graduate school (especially at a lower ranked program) if I knew there were steps I could take to ensure that I could relatively smoothly transition to another career.

But, it seems to me that in most of cases where former philosophy graduate students find other jobs, the grad students had to acquire knowledge and skills that were not much if at all relevant to getting a PhD (or MA), and possibly also network with people in these alternative professional fields. But how does one do that while also being a successful graduate student? How does one find the time or energy to do so? What can a grad student in philosophy start to do early on to make their transition to another career, should they not get a desirable academic job post-graduation or drop out of graduate school, be as smooth as possible? Or, is it foolish to be thinking that far ahead in the early stages of one's career as a graduate student, and thus distracting yourself from philosophy?

Amanda

I don't think it's foolish to think that far ahead, it is very smart! The first step would be just deciding what your alternative career is going to be. Once you know that, you can take small steps here and there to prepare throughout graduate school. You just have to make the time. How you do that will entirely depend on what career you pursue, which is why making that decision early on is key.

From the other side

Another Prospective Student,
You really should not knowingly go into a PhD program that is weak (or weaker). What counts as weak? I think you should only really go if (i) you get into a top 25 school on Leiter's list, or (II) you get into a very highly ranked school in your specialty (that is, a top 10 in your specialty). For example, in Philosophy of Science, LSE is rightly highly ranked (even though it is not in the top 25 for programs overall). I have sat on hiring committees and seen people just pass over files from lower ranked schools. They do not stand a chance, even at state colleges.

Trevor Hedberg

I think this last bit of advice -- only go to top 25 programs or top 10 programs in your specialty -- is too strong. Lots of unranked or low-ranked programs have good placement records, and while some high prestige schools may only hire from other high prestige departments, low prestige schools are often wary of hiring from high prestige departments because they perceive such candidates as flight risks -- they worry that the candidate will try to get a job at another institution shortly after being hired, and so they don't want to gamble on such a candidate.

Bottom line: I think placement record should be considered in addition to a program's ranking when you're evaluating what programs to apply to.

Amanda

I don't get why so many people are think that low-ranked schools don't place. It just isn't true. Look at phil jobs and there are lots and lots of people from non-ranked schools that got jobs. When I counted earlier this year non-ranked placed better than mid-ranked. Some low-ranked schools like Saint Louis University, Oregon, Vanderbilt, have very good placement records overall.

UK reader

I've got a question I'd love to hear some thoughts about.

I'm mid-way through my graduate student career, and am working pretty squarely in mainstream epistemology. However, I also have some other non-philosophical academic interests - particularly in history and literature. I've actually written up a couple of papers, one in history, one in literature, and have been told by academics in both disciplines that these papers have a shot at being published in reputable history/literature journals. My question is: Should I try and publish them?

Now, I know that my focus should be on publishing philosophy papers, and it absolutely is. But I do also have this other work already completed, and it seems a shame not to make something of it. So my question really is: Could having publications in (high-ranked) history and literature journals hurt my philosophy job chances (assuming I also have publications in philosophy journals)? Perhaps it might suggest I'm not committed enough to philosophy? Alternatively, could it help my chances? Or is it completely neutral? One thing I'd add is that, although the papers would be pretty squarely in history and literature, I do have a story to tell about how the issues they explore link up to my philosophical work. And I do have a area-of-compentence in aesthetics, which might perhaps tie-in nicely to having a paper published on literature.

Recent Grad

Given that the job market is about to start-up again, I have a question I'd love to hear some views on. I just graduated from a lower-ranked Leiter program without any publications (I know!). I have two papers under review (including one that is approaching a 12-month review time) and am currently drafting more. Given my low Leiter rank and current lack of publications, I expect I'd be most competitive for visiting positions, if that. My question is about taking high-teaching load visiting positions--let's say high prep 4/4's or low-prep 5/5's--vs. low teaching load adjunct positions that leave time for research (there's plenty of adjunct work to be had where I am). I've heard advice going both ways. Younger faculty tell me it's always worth it getting a VAP position on my cv, even if that means teaching something like a 5/5. Older faculty warn me against the, well, dismal prospects of life under something like a 5/5. Any thoughts?

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