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Either the authors of that paper don't know what "percentage" means, or those numbers are really, really depressing.


You could have saved me a lot of stress posting this earlier Marcus! But interesting.


A few quick points/questions.

1. Does 'satisfaction' really get at the idea of 'meaningfulness?' I can think of jobs I would find very satisfying, race driver?, that I don't think are actually very meaningful, at least not compared to, lets say, being an MD.

2. How well does this data generalize to Philosophy PhDs in particular? I imagine many of those with PhDs in psychology who leave academia end up being, well... psychologists. Intuitively this is a meaningful profession.

3. How were participants recruited/how was the survey administered? I noticed that the N for the non-academic categories is comparatively low. My point here is to get people to think of selection effects, which worry me with such different N's for the categories.

Okay. Just some stuff to think about.


Interesting point Pendaran. It would be interesting to see a poll of just say, humanities Phd's. Which might or might not be very different. I don't really agree with you about the satisfaction and meaningfulness distinction though. I would find a career as a pro athlete both very satisfying and meaningful, and I would equate the terms. But also, I tend to think that for those who care about meaningfulness, they would only be satisfied with a meaningful job. A very wealthy banker, for instance, might not find his job "meaningful", but he also likely doesn't think or care about meaning much. While a philosopher who was a wealthy banker probably would not find the job meaningful, nor would he be satisfied.



I'm slightly confused. You say you don't agree with the distinction, but then it seems to me that you endorse and use the distinction later in your comment. Maybe you're just saying that you personally think they would 'equate' for you?

I can think of many jobs I would find interesting (e.g. pro video gaming, race driving, chess master) that I would not find meaningful. It's true that not finding something meaningful can negatively impact your enjoyment of it, but only if you dwell.

I think, empirically speaking, changing 'satisfaction' to 'meaningfulness' on the survey will not make much difference. However, I do sometimes wonder what people really mean when they say they find a job satisfying. It's just a complicated idea 'job satisfaction,' and it can take so many different forms. The different ways that you might be 'satisfied' are probably relevant to the past discussion.

I might be happy in my non-academic job but do I find it meaningful? I might find my non-academic job interesting but do I find it meaningful? Maybe I find it more meaningful than my academic job but is it as interesting? Maybe I am more happy in my non-academic job, but I also think it's pretty boring (but don't care as it pays well).

Personally I think I would be happier in a non-academic job, as academia is very stressful. However, I suspect I wouldn't find it as interesting or as meaningful. I am one of the few these days who thinks philosophy is very important to the world. Actually, I think many of our biggest problems today are in fact philosophical problems.

Putting this all aside, my bigger worry with the survey is about the results of the study generalizing to philosophers and other humanities degrees. For some reason, it is more natural for me to think of social scientists finding satisfying non-academic careers. I also worry about selection biases and related problems because of those different N's.


Pendaran I agree that the big problem with the study is lumping social science and humanities together. I am less sure there would be a big difference between philosophy and other humanities, but maybe. One thing that is funny about this claim I make is personally I wish philosophy departments would move to the social sciences schools. They are already part of the social sciences at a few institutions. However what philosophy has in common with other humanities subjects is there is no obvious alt-ac job like there is for say, psychologists and economists.

As for the meaningful/satisfaction distinction, I should have been more clear. I agree there is a distinction. What I meant was I don't think the distinction would make any meaningful difference for the purpose of this study. I don't think so because I suspect those who care about meaning would not be satisfied with a job that is not meaningful. (On the whole). I could be wrong about this, of course.


An important question in interpreting these data is who these 4,000+ PhDs were. I won't speculate on whether the sample suggests that the table isoverly optimistic or pessimistic, but the sample was drawn from students who enrolled between 1982 and 1996 at 15 top universities.


Here is what I thought was a particularly good article about philosophers working outside of academia. I think he makes a good case for why many philosophers should be more open-minded about the possibility that they will be happy. He also clearly explains the relationship between philosophy and computer programming:



Amanda, the guy had a friend who knew the CEO of a company who hooked him up. It’s unclear what happened after to land his current job. I’m very suspicious that a normal person who doesn’t know CEOs can get into the field without a BA.

What we need is some real data and not anecdotes!

Also, I’ve heard programming isn’t what it used to be in terms of pay and job prospects. Maybe this is outdated or misguided. I know people who have struggled a lot in the field. So, basically, I don’t know what to believe.

I think philosophy has twisted me too much!


My main point was that he describes what is intellectually interesting about being a programmer, from the perspective of someone who was a philosopher.

As far as getting hired,I do have a close friends who is programmer who got hired right out of grad school, with no connections. So it happens. And the article does describe how and why someone without connections could get hired. It is not very dated, he got his first job 3 years ago. But I was not trying to make some major statistical claim that it happens all the time. I just thought philosophers considering an alt-ac job might find it a particularly interesting article.

And sure stats would be great, but also hard to find. A study on philosophers who tried to get into programming might not have a lot of data points, I'm not sure.


"As far as getting hired,I do have a close friends who is programmer who got hired right out of grad school, with no connections. So it happens."

Out of grad school in what subject? What experience did he have with programming? Most philosophy PhDs will have no or limited experience with programming. I think most philosophy PhDs are smart and could learn programming, but I doubt you can walk into a job after taking some community college classes without good connections.


A PhD in philosophy. I could ask him to write a post on it. I honestly am not sure what his background was before he entered grad school in philosophy, although I do know he went into philosophy grad school straight from undergrad.

Marcus Arvan

Amanda: if your friend is interested in writing a post, please do let me know!


I will check....

T dorn


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