Great question! A while back at an Eastern APA meeting, I had a good discussion with another early-career philosopher who said he thought many grad students don't give their choice of AOS nearly enough thought. As he put it, many of the grad students he knew just picked whatever AOS interested them the most. While there may be something admirably authentic about this, his sense was that many of them found themselves in a bad position later on because they picked an AOS where there were too few jobs. And indeed, readers may recall I've done some informal reporting in recent years of jobs by AOS...and the data are pretty striking. Some AOS (particularly ethics) have consistently comprised a large proportion of advertised jobs, whereas other AOS (aesthetics and "core" areas) appear to have far fewer jobs available. For this reason and others, I agree with Amanda: it would be great to hear how people feel about their choice of AOS in retrospect. Here, in brief, is my answer...
I would absolutely choose my AOS (ethics and political philosophy) all over again. There are not only consistently a good number of jobs in these areas, which is something my previous job-marketeering self cared greatly about and has continuing effects on my life to this day (namely, my having obtained a job). More broadly, my AOS's have made a profound difference in how I see the world and live my life.
First, my views in ethics have not only affected the way I see politics and moral debate, but have also affected more personal areas of my life such as my marriage and friendships. For example, I first came up with one of my central views on ethics--that morality is best understood as requiring negotiation and renegotiation rather than discovering moral truths through argumentation--as a result of disagreements and impasses my spouse and I found ourselves in. At one point, my spouse and I were having arguments about all kinds of things: about what time to go to bed, how to divide household duties, and so on. We kept giving moral arguments to each other (the sort of thing philosophers do)...and we consistently got nowhere. Worse, our disagreements festered and in some cases drew a wedge between us. Then, as I was sitting in bed one night, trying to think through how to better approach the issues between us--in a manner of speaking, thinking through how various ethical theories might help (viz. virtue, respecting autonomy, maximizing utility, arguing about reasons)--it occurred to me that none of the going theories was very helpful. There I was sitting in bed--trying to figure out how my spouse could respect my autonomy and I hers, or what the virtuous thing to do was--and it occurred to me: in trying to figure out the right thing to do in my head (by running through the arguments and theories), I was approaching things in precisely the wrong way. What I really needed to do is get out of bed and talk to my spouse and work with her to negotiate (and renegotiate) productive compromises. Which is when it occurred to me: maybe that is how we should think about morality—not as a matter of making arguments or “giving reasons” but working together to negotiate and renegotiate compromises (within some limits).
To my astonishment (and I'm not kidding here), that simple change of perspective--seeing "the right thing to" as not something for me or her to discover through arguing at each other, but rather as something to negotiate with each other--rather quickly transformed our marriage. The more we both took the view on, the less we found ourselves arguing at each other and instead working together to negotiate compromise solutions to issues that divided us we could both accept as "good enough" given our differing perspectives and interests (and then renegotiate later if we felt a given compromise wasn't good enough!). Because we both found this worked--helping us work together as a couple rather than against each other--I began to think about the deeper philosophical foundations of morality, and came (surprise, surprise) to believe that it's what diachronic rationality (or rationality across time) requires (at least when dealing with people who don't have inherently oppressive ideals). My work in my other AOS, political philosophy, has also deeply influenced my life--specifically, on what justice requires in terms of responding to injustice.
Now, of course, my philosophical views may be wrong, and this is something I also always try to bear in mind given my limitations as philosopher! Still, for all that, it has been a wonderful thing to have an AOS and research interests that directly engage with my day-to-day life struggles as a human being trying to figure out how to live, who to vote for, which social movements to support, and so on. I love abstract philosophical puzzles--everything from consciousness to vagueness to counterfactuals--but, for me, philosophy really comes alive the more relevant it seems to living. And that, at the end of the day, is the biggest reason why I would absolutely choose my AOS again!
But this is just my story. What's yours? Would you choose your same AOS again? Why or why not?