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02/15/2013

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David Morrow

I've thought about this a lot. In the two nearest possible worlds in which I didn't get a PhD in philosophy, I'm a policy analyst or a computer programmer. The former is a way to continue thinking about applied political philosophy. The latter is a hobby of mine that involves a skill people actually pay for.

If you're interested in applied ethics or political philosophy, there are probably particular issues that you feel strongly about. One could always work for an NGO devoted to one of those issues. At one point in grad school, I considered leaving academia to work for The Hunger Project. Social entrepreneurship would be another option. In some cases, there may be other ways to address the issue: Given my interest in climate ethics, I sometimes wonder if I should have become an engineer to work on renewable energy or something like that.

Mark Alfano

Hi Jason,

As a lot of people on this blog have indicated, it's not only hard to get into Ph.D. programs, but also hard to finish (if you aren't at a swanky one with good financial aid), and even harder to land a job afterwards. Of course, if you start a Ph.D. in Fall 2014, you'd be searching for a job in 2019-21. Maybe things will have improved by then, but I wouldn't bet on it.

So, the question I think you need to ask yourself is this: Given that, no matter how good I am, there's a high likelihood that I will not end up with a job after my Ph.D., would I be willing to do it just for its own sake? If the answer is affirmative, then sure, go ahead. But if it's different, I would strongly caution against applying a second time (or, for that matter, accepting an offer this year).

Jason Chen

Thanks David and Mark.

For me, pursuing political philosophy is my passion and I probably would do the PhD for it's own sake. I just wanted to know what my other options were.

Neither of you thought about teaching at a community college or high school?

Mark Alfano

Hi Jason,

I was actually offered a teaching job at a high school a couple years ago but turned it down because -- at the last minute -- I received a post-doc offer from Notre Dame. If that offer hadn't come through, I probably would have ended up teaching high school and doing SAT tutoring on the side. The latter is a nice way to supplement your income, especially in big cities where there are a lot of rich people who care about education (e.g., NYC, Boston, Chicago, SF).

I also interviewed for, but wasn't offered, a job at a community college. I don't really understand why (some) people look down on these jobs. You get to teach topics you care about, which is obviously a good thing. Tenure is fairly easy to achieve. The pay is often surprisingly good. And there are plenty of community colleges in desirable locations. I'm not sure how easy it is to get on the tenure track at a cc without a Ph.D., though. That's something you should take into account.

Anthony Carreras

Hey Jason,

I recently took a full-time job at a community college. A few things worth mentioning: 1) I do believe you can get on the tenure-track even with an MA. I know several community college professors with tenure who have the MA but not the Ph.D. Though it's possible the rules are different at some places. 2) Not all community colleges are tenure-granting places. In lieu of tenure in the traditional sense, some community colleges have their full-time profs on continually renewed multi-year contracts. 3) I think with the market being the way it is, it is very difficult for someone with just the MA degree to get a full-time position at a CC. Very many Ph.D.s now apply for CC jobs, and often times MAs are just shut out of the search process. Also - with a Ph.D. you will likely start your CC job at a higher pay-grade, likely a significantly higher pay-grade if you have teaching experience in addition to the Ph.D. (Exacerbating this problem is the fact that CCs rely enormously on adjunct labor, especially in a discipline like philosophy.) Of course, this doesn't mean you can't apply for CC positions now. But I think for someone who sees teaching at a CC as a viable option, it makes good sense to go for the Ph.D. first and get some teaching experience while you do it.

Also, I should mention, I like my job a lot. I think the CC route has a lot to recommend it, though it is not for everyone. Making time to write can be difficult (teaching loads are typically 5/5, plus some teaching in the summer), and you won't have very many other philosophers to talk to. But if you like teaching a lot and are turned off by "publish or perish", a CC may be a good fit.

David Morrow

Jason: I didn't mention CC jobs just because I don't think of them as a viable option anymore for people without PhDs -- but I don't really have good evidence for that. As for high school, I hated high school with such a deep passion that I could never see myself working in one. But I have philosopher friends for whom teaching in a high school seems like a very good fit. As I implied in my comment in my earlier post ("So You Want To Be An Expert?"), I think that a job that allows you to read, teach, and talk about philosophy -- without publishing anything -- is perfectly compatible with an intelligible vision of what a philosopher's life should be like.

Marcus Arvan

Jason: I've read elsewhere that only an MA is necessary for teaching at a CC -- but I think Mark is right that landing a TT job at one with only an MA will be tough (there are just too many PhD's out there looking for jobs). Anyway, I do think it is a decent backup option. I did some CC teaching while in grad school, and it was an enjoyable experience. Teaching at a private high school also seems to me a decent option, if you can land it.

Been There

In this job market getting a tt-job at a Community College is very difficult. And adjuncting for one, save as a brief stop-gap, is a real horror story. There are no easy answers.

Dustin Faeder

I did a philosophy MA at Tufts, then taught at a couple colleges, then taught philosophy as a "graduate student instructor" at the University of Michigan in exchange for free law school. Now I'm happily practicing law and only need to work 20-30 hrs/wk because my wife also works and her job provides health insurance. For awhile I though the MA was going to be useless, but oddly it ended up being quite lucrative.

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