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« Reader query on joint JD/PhD programs | Main | Reader submission: the perspective of a long-term non-TT faculty member »

06/29/2017

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O

I think the author is exagerating. How many people do you know who enjoy writing philosophy? I know very few, even among professors.

Marcus Arvan

I absolutely love writing philosophy. I wake up just about every weekday looking forward to doing it--and it seems to me from what I read by my philosopher friends on social media that a large number of them enjoy it about as much as I do. I don't think Trevor is exaggerating--at least I don't have any clear evidence that he is.

UK reader

Hm. The best I could say for my relationship to writing philosophy is that it's a love-hate one. Come on, surely everyone hates at least some aspects of it? Didn't Wittgenstein compare it to torture? (Or maybe that was reading philosophy?) I love the sense of discovering new ideas, but there is a fair amount of hard grind in there too. I think anyone not expecting to have to grind out words against their will at least sometimes is fooling themselves.

Trevor Hedberg

A deep enjoyment of writing philosophy does not require enjoying it in all cases or enjoying absolutely every aspect of it. (In fact, I'm not sure anything that I deeply enjoy could meet such a high standard.) But it does require that there be a strong and steadfast interest in writing philosophy -- one that is not easily overwhelmed by other things.

As far as how common this characteristic is, I would say most, if not all, of the professors who supervised my graduate studies had it. And I met many folks at department colloquiums and conferences who seemed to have it. It doesn't require being elated about developing your ideas in writing (though I do know a few people like that); I suspect it manifests more often as a calmer, subtler passion.

In my own case, my enjoyment of writing stems far more from the long-term gratification achieved at the completion of a project than anything that is done along the way. (That part of the process can be, as "UK reader" states, a grind.) Thus, I would not say that writing philosophy always makes me "happy" but would say that it is something I value and that I enjoy. This might amount to a weaker criterion than the way "O" was reading it, and I can see how the original post might not provide enough explanation on this point. But I stand by the main thrust of that section: I think graduate students who like to write philosophy and are committed to doing so are overwhelmingly more likely to complete their programs and enjoy the experience than both those who are lukewarm about writing philosophy and (especially) those who dislike writing philosophy.

Marcus Arvan

I only find revisions (viz. revise-and-resubmits) a grind. Drafting papers is basically always enjoyable for me--and since I usually draft far more than I end up having to revise, writing on the whole contains far more joy for me, on balance, than its opposite.

Elizabeth S

I would add one more question to the list: Can you thrive without external validation? In my experience, philosophers (and many of our thesis advisors) are much better at tearing arguments apart than helping their tutees develop their arguments. There were a few of my cohort in grad school who could have answered "yes" to all the questions above and yet dropped out because they had problems with (sometime near constant) criticism. [Trevor: thank you for this! I plan on sharing it with eager undergrads]

Pendaran

I'd add another point to consider: How well do you deal with rejection?

Publishing is for many a necessary condition for obtaining a TT job, but this process involves a lot of rejection. In fact, for many, the stack of rejections will be much higher than the stack of acceptances.

The job market is brutal. You'll likely be rejected from dozens, nay hundreds of jobs. You'll go to interviews and get rejected over and over.

If you don't take rejection well, or don't think you'd like to experience this kind of life, then graduate school probably isn't for you.

Trevor Hedberg

Elizabeth and Pendaran -- thanks for the suggestions. I think that your points are related: the lack of external validation during graduate school is in part tied to the frequency with which your work will be criticized and rejected. People who do not handle this well are definitely not going to enjoy graduate school in philosophy or the time on the job market that usually follows one's graduate studies. Something about this should probably be added as #9 on the list above. I don't think this is as central as #1 or #2 because some graduate students will develop the required mental resilience toward rejection as their graduate studies progress.

Amanda

Funny it makes sense that one would do better in philosophy if they don't mind rejection and don't need external validation. However, most professors I know crave external validation and continue to be crushed by journal rejections, even well into a successful career at a research university. Maybe the important quality is not whether one doesn't mind rejection, but whether one will keep going despite minding it. Or, as others have put it, whether one can "handle it well", where well means "keep going" as opposed to, "it doesn't bother you."

Amanda

Marcus, did you always love writing, or did it change once you decided to write about big ideas instead of the stuff others told you to write about? I think I am going to change my writing style (i.e. write about what I enjoy writing about, and in the style I enjoy) after I finish one last round of revisions for the "try to please the authorities" paper. I hope I have more fun.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Amanda: great question! Yeah, actually I used to hate it. There were two things that led me to love it: (A) writing on big ideas instead of the small "nuts and bolts" papers others told me I was "supposed" to write, and (B) a transformative writing tip I learned very late in grad school that dramatically improved my writing efficiency. I've written on both before on the blog, but your query is such a good one that I'll probably write a post, "Why I love writing philosophy", sometime next week. :)

Amanda

Cool, sounds great!

Tim

Small point: I think more schools than people realize allow 'stapler' dissertations. The fact that you've never heard of someone at your school doing one doesn't mean they're not allowed. Nor does the fact that your director of graduate studies says they aren't allowed in fact mean they aren't allowed. You should look into it carefully on your own by examining the official policies of your department -- the ones that are written down, not the ones someone says out loud. If there isn't clarity in those sources, try to force clarity to be given to the topic by, e.g. making sure it gets brought up at a department meeting.

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