In the comments of our newest "how can we help you?" thread, Jonathan Lauret writes:
...I'm an undergraduate student majoring in philosophy, and I'm entering into the process of looking for what graduate schools to apply to.
I just today have been scanning through the internet for information on graduate school situations involving philosophy, and the tone is almost always very disheartening and depressing due to a number of given reasons. Most posts or blogs wrote about really rough conditions involving the application/hiring process, the amount of experience required for a very punishing and unrewarding job (typically), and the sheer rarity of any resulting enjoyable professorial position.
I don't know what exactly I'm looking for in regards to the particular positions out there for graduates in philosophy. I do know that I love the discipline, that I hold it in value not due to some sort of desire to be famous or great or sage-like, but to get a better grasp or understanding of the world I live in. I feel as though teaching and talking to students/other people who have their own ideas and feelings on these things will bring me what I'm looking for in a profession.
I guess the question that comes from all this may be, where do these sorts of feelings fit into the grand scheme of going into graduate school and later entering the academic job market?
I think this is a great query, in part because we might be able to help Jonathan, but also because this is a kind of inquiry I expect a lot of get fairly often from undergraduates (I know I do). Indeed, I'm hoping a lot of you chime in, as perhaps this thread can function as an online compendium of different people's responses to these kinds of questions--one we might direct our undergraduates to in the future to hear different perspectives on the issue!
Anyway, here are a few of my quick thoughts. Following Brad's reply to Jonathan here, I will say that I love doing philosophy just as much now as I did when I first happened on it 23 years ago (!) as a seventeen year-old. I love it. I love reading it, I love thinking about it, I love writing it, and I love discussing it--online, at conferences, and in class with my students. That being said, I am honestly not sure that if I had to do it all over again, I would. Why? Not just because I had somewhat of a hard go of things (e.g. a variety of difficulties in grad school and then seven very painful years on the academic job-market), but because as much as I suffered to get a permanent job in the field (and, my spouse will tell you, we both suffered tremendously), it is clear to me that I got profoundly lucky. I won't go into all of the details, but in brief, I finished grad school and ended up in a tenure-track job by the skin of my teeth. There were many, many difficult times that I regretted ever going into philosophy--and had a variety of things had gone only slightly differently, I suspect my career might have gone very differently...in a way that I think may have very well led me to regret going into philosophy simpliciter. This is just my story, of course, so please do take it with a grain of salt (I'll be curious to hear other readers' stories!). But let me conclude by just adding this: I would be far, far more willing to recommend hazarding the risks of academic philosophy if our discipline devoted more resources (as some other fields do) to ensuring that graduate students have better opportunities outside of academia if the pursuit of an academic career doesn't work out (though I think our field is beginning to make some inroads here). A lot of the terror that I (and my closest family members) faced was directly the result of the sense that, if I didn't finish my PhD or get a TT job in philosophy, I had few good career options outside of the academy (along with a mountain of debt). Things would have been much different, I think--and a degree in philosophy much less of a terrifying risk--if I had felt prepared and well-positioned to do something else if academia didn't work out.
Anyway, these are just my thoughts, which may not be very representative. With that in mind, what do other readers think? How would you respond to Jonathan's query given your experience in the philosophy profession?