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I'm interested to see how people answer as the sample size gets bigger. I wanted to note, though, that I'd answer this question very, very differently based on what kind of information I'm allowed to consider when deciding. I found grad school extremely emotionally and psychologically difficult, but I'd without question do it again if I knew I was going to come out of it and end up with the job I have and love. If I had to decide again knowing only how bad the market is, and how bad my chances of getting my job - or even any job at all - are, then I would almost certainly not do it. I'd be very curious to hear from others whether their answer depends on them having a good outcome as things turned out.

Marcus Arvan

Rosa: Thanks for your comment and for taking part in the poll! I agree. In fact, I briefly considered a second poll question on that issue, and might pursue the question further in a subsequent post and/or poll.


I answered as someone who has a job. The job did not come easy, and it certainly took its toll on me and my family as we had to move. But I am in a very good space in my life now, and my academic job is quite rewarding.

I would have answered this way from the beginning of my time in a TT job. I was very happy getting one, and have remained happy, even with disappointments along the way.


I answered "Probably" but if I were going to do it again, I would not do it where I did it and would pursue a joint degree (e.g. JD, certificate in cognitive science, MS in ecology,...).


I answered "probably not". This is in large part because I have a family, and my oldest kid is close to starting grade school. I don't want to be bouncing around once he starts, but it looks like I should expect to bounce around for a few years at best.


I answered definitely not. I was naive going into it. I knew the job market was competitive but could not have imagined how bad it really is. I don't love philosophy enough to subject myself to the abuse, and it's been very hard on me. I regret it more than anything In my entire life.

recent grad

I am on the tenure track and I voted 'definitely not'. The risk was much greater than I realized and I got lucky.


One of the reasons I find this question difficult to answer is that I suffer from a particularly strong case of grass-is-greener syndrome, in which I perpetually covet a set of careers that I am not pursuing. So if I could pursue something else but maintain my sense of having already experienced graduate school in philosophy, I probably would do it - but that isn't because of anything wrong with graduate school in philosophy!


I answered "probably not"--and I'm one of the lucky ones with an excellent job! But it's a shitty community, with many depressed and otherwise unhealthy people.


Given the intended audience of this blog, I’m guessing most people participating here would be professional philosophers, i.e. people who ‘made it’ in terms of acquiring a job. This likely skewes the result as these will probably think more positively about their former choice of pursuing a ph.d. in philosophy than those who made the same choice but subsequently failed to obtain a position.

Marcus Arvan

PDWNPPIS: I expect you may be right that the audience may skew in that direction (though it is hard to know how much). In any case, those are good reasons to take the poll results with a grain of salt.


Absolutely. But, forewarned and forearmed, I would have done a few things a little differently, just for my own peace of mind.


I voted 'unsure'. I would definitely not re-go to grad school at the time in my life that I did begin grad school. What I would do instead is give a different career that I was interested in the shot I never really gave it (supermodel, in case you're curious). But if after a couple years down the supermodel road things didn't pan out, I would then go for a PhD in philosophy and be very glad that I did. Thus I am unsure what I would end up doing, but not because I'm less than happy as a philosophy PhD.

senior post doc

I voted "unsure" because I am now 40 and still don't have any permanent position in sight (I am paid decently and I love my work, but I do not know what will happen to me in the future). Still, my colleagues in the humanities are in a similar situation (and I would not have wanted to study economics).

Recent PhD

Academia sucks. I started worrying about philosophical problems back in high school before I even knew people studied this stuff professionally. Philosophy is in my bones, but the Academy is a disaster. The pay sucks for the hours you work, despite being a scholar you're treated with little respect, and publishing in academic journals (even if you're pretty good at it like me) is a horrendous, I repeat, HORRENDOUS, experience.

Journals are overrun with submissions, and editors are overworked and underpaid. The outcome is that most journals are horribly run and look for any excuse to reject instead of fairly evaluating work. Sometimes you'll submit into voids, where submission isn't even acknowledged. Other times you'll simply get a form rejection letter months later with no explanation. R&R's can be rejected because of one unreasonable referee even if the majority of referees say to accept. It can take years to get something you really like published, while something you think is just okay is published right away. The entire process seems random, unfair, and irrational. And when you do get accepted? Well, don't even get me started about dealing with the morons at Springer who can hardly speak English!

If you're a conservative or a libertarian like I am, you'll be discriminated against. If you're a white male, you'll be discriminated against. You are not allowed to express conservative views or libertarian views. People will just disrespect you and be a-holes. You might lose your job, or that's my fear. So I stay in the closet. Mostly. You'll be told you can't say 'he' or 'guys' and constantly have your language policed. It's all falling apart in my opinion. Students are no longer treated like adults there to learn but as glorified children who we have to teach. And the worst part, perhaps, is the moral anguish. There is so much pressure to be positive about academia, about doing a PhD, but I feel moral pressure to tell my students to switch majors. It's not a pleasant experience being a salesman for a product that you think is a total rip off. Honestly, it's hard to think of a single positive thing to say about academic philosophy.

Do I regret the PhD? I don't regret the skills and philosophical ability that I have now as a result of the degree. I am proud of my publications. I suppose they'll still be around long after I'm gone. I've advanced human knowledge, and I value that greatly. I hope that my work benefits humanity in some way or another. All this said, I certainly regret pursuing the job market. I should have left immediately after finishing the PhD. The problem is that once you start that academic path it's hard to leave. You end up identifying as an intellectual on one end, and on the other, you lack most of the experience and skills that the private sector is looking for. So, I ended up just feeling stuck and hopeless. I am now trying to leave.

I guess for some, they love being an academic. For me, I don't. I love philosophy, not academia. I had a fairy tale in my mind of what academia was like. I hate what it is.

Number Three

Probably not. I had so many interests and so much energy as a twenty-something. I could have done so many things. Now three years on the job market have reduced me to something grotesque. If I had a permanent job already, I might feel differently.


I voted 'definitely' but only because I was lucky enough to actually land a tenure-track position, which I am now reasonably happy in. The few years I spend on the 'job market' were so disappointing that I can very much understand the 'probably not' and 'definitely not' votes. In fact, for my last year on the 'market', I was right there with them. I had completely given up before receiving an unexpected and fateful email invitation to a phone interview, months after I had stopped applying.


I think number three's comment is important to notice.

'Now three years on the job market have reduced me to something grotesque.'

This is a problem I have too. I am so exhausted, psychologically, from philosophy that the idea of attempting now a entire new career is difficult mentally. The mental aspect is something that often goes unmentioned, but shouldn't be. Now, some may have stronger constitutions that others, but I think the philosophy job market could put a crack even in the strongest.


I answered definitely, but I had similar doubts as Rosa as to what I was supposed to assume. I enjoyed grad school, and am now in a job I like. My answer of "definitely" involved interpreting the question as: "if you knew how things would turn out, would you do it again?" And so given that knowledge, I say yes.

Of course, if I don't get tenure, maybe I'll feel differently...


I said 'Definitely Not', partly for reasons that Recent PhD has already set forth. I was interested in philosophy, or just intellectual life generally, because I thought this was a special area of the culture where you could think (relatively) freely and independently--challenge taboos, explore uncomfortable or socially unacceptable questions, take seriously and give a fair hearing to seemingly weird or 'bad' ideologies, etc. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. Academic philosophy is a profoundly narrow-minded, boring, insular, parochial, ideological world. I've had far better philosophical conversations--freer, more rational, more interesting and enlightening and thought provoking--with people who have little or no training in 'professional' philosophy. And I'm not free to tell my students what I really think about anything that matters, or even what many great thinkers of the past really thought, because some significant percentage have been converted into little snitches and commissars who'll run to the higher-up thought police. Publishing is much the same: the system of peer review and all the rest selects for minor, boring, conformist ideas; the arguments of ordinary or obscure people are very obviously held to far higher and often utterly unreasonable standards while eminent people are typically able to get sub-standard worthless stuff published and discussed... I could go on but I won't. I figure pretty much everyone knows this on some level. (I suspect that one reason for the generally shitty vibe in the discipline and the high percentage of seemingly nasty and maladjusted people is just that we all sort-of-know that we're doing this in bad faith, that we're cowardly and fail to live up to the high standards we tell the students are intrinsic to philosophy, etc.)

Like Recent PhD, I honestly can't think of a single positive to say about the world of academic philosophy! People in philosophy tend to have high IQs? We're kind of 'clever' and we know a lot about the latest developments in some narrow area of journal culture? In the end I doubt that I even really learned anything from my 'training'. Perhaps the only worthwhile thing was that, having become an expert, I now really know in a deep way just how misguided and useless almost everything that goes on in this area of academia really is. And I know in a deep way that what we're offering for most students really is just a form of indoctrination and maybe a credential. But it wasn't worth wasting years of my young life and thousands of hours of hard work on things that no one will ever read in order to learn this. Maybe I should emphasize that, like Recent PhD, I am speaking here as someone who always loved real traditional philosophy and still does. But it's clear to me now that most of what goes on in academia is not just divorced from real philosophy but in many ways profoundly antithetical to it. Most of us are "court intellectuals" at best, and any real philosophy happens despite our jobs and institutions, etc.


Serf while I am not as negative as you, I do think you get at a lot of important points - many of which I am sympathetic to. I am curious if you are still working in academic philosophy, and if so why?


Hi Amanda. The main reason is just that as far as I can tell I have no other realistic options that wouldn't be at least as bad for me. I don't want to work at Starbucks, and because of my overall situation in life I can't devote the time and lost income I'd need to retrain for something else that would probably be either very uncertain or very unfulfilling. If someone offered me a nice job in the civil service I'd probably take it, just to have a change; but I'm pretty sure I'd be very unhappy with that whole system too. This whole society is pretty awful, so I doubt there's anything else I could have done for work that wouldn't be pretty awful; this was crushing though because when I was young I had some illusions about academia--didn't realize that it's just as awful as government or the corporate world, and worse in some ways... Teaching philosophy is not so bad when you just think of it as punching a clock. The pay is not terrible and you don't have to be "in the office" too often compared to many other jobs. And there is still some pleasure for me in talking to kids about free will or skepticism or whatnot.


Your last remarks suggest that you were doomed to be disappointed by any career choice. That is too bad. But you cannot blame philosophy for that. Indeed, had you not chosen philosophy, you would not be here at the Cocoon complaining - you would be at some mid-career investment bankers' blog complaining about how unsatisfying your career in banking is ... and how you wished you had pursued philosophy.


Lord. It's probably true any career would have been disappointing in some way. I'm not a "career" kind of guy. Which is one reason I don't seem to fit into the modern western world too well. Still, everything I said about the job and the discipline is at least roughly true most of the time. That I am "conplaining" or that--if you want to press this point--it might not fully rational for me to answer "Definitely Not" because of counterfactuals or whaterver... That is really beside the point, at least if the point was to survey people's experiences and judgments about this line of work.

But for what it's worth, I do think there are far better things I could have done with my life (while earning money). I just wasn't aware of those options back when I could have started. Not investment banking though, that's for sure.


Another thought:

"you cannot blame philosophy for that"

I don't blame philosophy for the general awfulness of life in this society, or my depressive personality. But I do (and should) blame philosophy for the really uniquely horrible stuff I mentioned in that original post. For example, the dishonesty and irrationality and snobbery and insularity and cruelty that pervades the entire system. All of that is very real and very damaging and there's no good reason it has to be that way. And it's especially awful that we've corrupted and degraded things that were meant to be more noble and pure and good than investment banking.

Getting this kind of dismissive and condescending response to the substantive points I raised is a nice illustration of what I was saying. And probably the next thing will be for someone to accuse me of hasty generalization or something. Should I emphasize that I said "illustrates"? We do a lot to avoid dealing directly and honestly with the rather obvious ugliness of our profession.

The reason for this post was a student's concerns about whether it's worth going to grad school, etc. If anyone reading this is thinking it over, take seriously what I'm saying here: It really is pretty much as I'm saying (even if I'm depressive, etc) so if your motivations are in any way idealistic you'll need to be either very very very resilient in the face of extreme injustice and irrationality or else you'll very likely end up pretty embittered. It might then be wise to consider some line of work where it's clear from the start that it's just about making money, etc. You make your soul less vulnerable that way. And you'll probably make a lot more money too!

Marcus Arvan

Serf: I share some of your concerns about the profession. Indeed, early in my career, they made me angry and bitter.

But here's the thing: I found (at least in my own case) that it is possible to rise above those things. At one point, I got so frustrated with the some of the things you mention that I just started writing on big ideas that excited me, started teaching the way I thought best, and tried to start being nice to people (despite the fact that people in the profession often weren't very nice to me).

Here's what happened: I ended up actually *liking* my job. Why? Because, even though there was all this pressure to *not* do things authentically (i.e. write on really narrow things, cozy up to mean but powerful people, etc.), I actually gave authenticity a shot and...it worked out. I wake up in the morning wanting to teach (no joke!). I have metaphysics in ten minutes and I'm stoked about it. I also wake up excited to write. And I have written and published things that go pretty strongly against mainstream thought. My work may or may not be good, and it may or may not have made me a lot of friends--but I was able to publish it, and I enjoy the heck out of doing it.

Anyway, I sometimes wonder whether people who who get so frustrated with "the game" of professional philosophy ever actually tried playing the game their own way. Before I actually gave it a shot, I was miserable. Now I'm not. Sure, there are still things that bug me, but that's life for you.


Hi Marcus,
Those are good points. I do try my best to do pretty much what you're describing. In fact, pretty much since the start of my "career" I've always just studied and written about whatever was exciting to me. And I do often enjoy teaching. For people like me it's at least somewhat intrinsically satisfying to communicate and explore ideas. On the other hand, the fact that I've done all that (i.e., tried to "play the game" in a way that felt "authentic" for me) is one of the things that makes me especially bitter and angry. I'm actually doing a pretty great job, most of the time, and even succeeding by the (dubious) standards of the system; and yet none of that matters, because of the very nature of the system. If anything, the degree to which I remain sincere and committed is what partly facilitates my exploitation. The system works well when I'm "happy" with the intrinsic rewards; then I'm not going to quit, or make a lot of noise about what's going on behind the scenes (e.g., exploitation of serf-teachers, censorship, persecution of vulnerable dissenters...on and on). Moreover, it's those very things that seem to have often cost me dearly within the system. The more "authentic" I am in my writing or teaching, the more I'm regarded as a crank or fool or a bad person by others in the profession. It's good to be authentic, and there's some comfort in that, but being authentic will be antithetical to "giving it a shot" or "playing the game" for many people--and for almost everyone who is truly curious and independent-minded.

I'm very happy for you if you've found a way to feel good (enough) about your job and the profession. I'm happy you _have_ a job. However, my situation and experience makes it humanly impossible to feel good just in virtue of the intrinsically good and rewarding aspects (such as publishing things I really believe once in a while, or teaching subjects I enjoy). I've had papers rejected from top journals despite unanimous rave reviews from referees, for reasons the editors refused to explain. I've been told several times that I'm not going to get a first-round interview, despite being objectively far better qualified than other applicants, for some reason such as (i) I am a man, (ii) someone else has a degree from a more prestigious school, (iii) it's been a while since I was in grad school. And I know I'll never have any real job security or benefits, a sabbatical or any kind of institutional support for my research. And I know that I'm being paid 1/3 of what faculty are paid to teach the same courses in order for them to have these same perks and others... It's not humanly possible to write off all that as simply "things that bug me", or to just say "That's life for you". Again, I'm very glad that you have a position you find good and satisfying all things considered, with just a few downsides you can tolerate. However there are far more people in positions like mine than there are in positions like yours; and that's necessary given the nature of the system we're in. Thus, I think your advice is useful and reassuring for people who have a realistic chance at ending up in a position like yours, but not for the rest of us (the majority).

Marcus Arvan

Serf: Those are all fair points. Like I said, there were many times I felt similarly (including several years I thought I had little chance of getting a permanent job). That's why I answered the poll "unsure." I guess if the intrinsic rewards aren't enough, then yeah, the thing to do is to get out. My point wasn't to deny the problems with the profession you were raising. It was simply to note that they are not in principle things that cannot be surmounted if you enjoy your work enough, as I do (albeit, I'll admit, with some all-too-real luck in finding a job).


Marcus you are too nice and objective to run an academic philosophy blog. If this is really what you're like (and you really do have a job) then the whole system must be a little less awful tan I tend to think.


Okay Serf. I understand how it can be hard to move on to another job when you are an adjunct (are you?) or something similar. I do think it is very possible for philosophy PhDs to get good jobs, but I think it often does take 6 months to a year of looking and training. And if you are barely getting by on your salary, that can be nearly impossible. Still - depending on how unhappy you are with your position, and how comparatively happy you might be with another position, perhaps you could come up with some long-term plan that will get you out within maybe 5 years. Idk that's all up to you and I'm sure you've thought of it. It just depresses me that some very smart and talented people will spend their entire working career in a position they are so sour on. I have friends who are adjuncts, and some lecturers, and luckily they are happy. They happen to get paid well and get good benefits, which isn't true in most states. For those who are mobile looking at other temporary positions in states that treat the "underclass" much better might be a good move.

Marcus Arvan

Serf: Thanks for the kind words. I am sorry you've had such a negative experience in the profession. I know it can be really tough.

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