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It might be both easier and more productive for placement officers to build good relationships with their local career centers. Likewise for directors of undergraduate studies helping majors to find work after graduation.

Plato's friend

It seems that philosophy faculty are probably not the best people to help those graduate students leaving a program with the intention of seeking non-academic employment. They are not especially qualified, and they have other duties directly related to their work as professors. Remember Plato's Republic; the just society is the one in which each person does her own job.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Clerk: Why would it be easier and more productive? In my experience, career centers are usually not very useful. Most jobs are found through actual networking, that is, through knowing people who know people. And this takes personal investment.

Why, if my wife's professors can do it, can't philosophy professors?

Marcus Arvan

Plato's friend: The only reason philosophy faculty are not "qualified" for it is that they do not, in fact, do it. My wife's faculty are not any more "qualified" to perform this function than philosophy professors--and they have at least as many academic obligations as philosophers (usually far more in fact, as they have to apply for grants, run research institutes, etc.).

In short, it seems to me just a (rather poor) excuse to let philosophers off the hook. If my wife's faculty can--and regularly do--help their students find fantastic jobs outside of academia, with no more training in it than us, why can't we do it?

Also, Socrates' "Just City" is, like, one of the worst ideas ever! Plato had this figured out by the time he wrote "The Laws", and Aristotle had it figured out too. It's no way to run a city. Nor is it a (moral) way to model graduate programs or faculty obligations after.

Josh Mugg


I tend to think letting students go earlier than later is a good thing, provided that students understand what the expectations are and are given the resources to meet these expectations. Granted, it is possible that their philosophical ability will develop later, but is this grounds for allowing them to stick it out in the program? It is also possible that they will never get their stuff together, that they will never secure employment within academia, etc. Even if you do not favor 'weeding out', surely there exist situations in which students should be let go because of their poor performance.

The amount of people who want to work in academic philosophy seems to be greater than the amount of academic jobs in philosophy. So they will have to be weeded out somewhere. I suggest that doing this in the first year or two of PhD might be a good place to do so.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Josh: I have simply seen too many counterexamples to be comfortable with a policy like that--real cases of grad students who were poorly-regarded in their department, and cases of people who might be encouraged to leave, who ended up surprising everyone. They are not, in my experience, uncommon exceptions. They are entirely common ones. And I think it is a big mistake--for all of us; for philosophy, and for individuals--to preemptively prevent such common exceptions from occurring.

Let me just give you a few examples:

(1) I was probably a PhD student who, in a program that encouraged people to leave, might have been encouraged to leave.

(2) Several other people in my program who were lightly regarded/struggled have now been wildly successful in the discipline (far more than I).

(3) My favorite case from another discipline. Einstein finished 2nd-lowest in his graduating class, and was discouraged by one his professors from pursuing physics further ("You can do what you like: I only wish to warn you in your own interest", Einstein: Life and Times, p. 61).

The fact is: often enough, well-meaning faculty are simply *way* off in their estimation of a person's promise. This is, in my experience, in large part because a person's 'promise' can dramatically change in unexpected ways as a result of their development as a *person*. Many people (myself included) struggle in grad school for all kinds of reasons--because of youthful immaturity, unexpected life-challenges, and so on--and yet can and do develop while in grad school, often in a highly irregular rather than linear fashion, but one that has good outcomes in the end.

We should not impose our views about what's 'best for people' because they have struggled in grad school or 'who's promising and who's not' because--the simply fact is--what is best for people, and who is promising, can and often does change. If someone clearly cannot cut it in grad school (they cannot do even halfway decent work), that's one thing. But, for all that, we cheat people--and our profession--by pushing people out before they have the chance to develop. I, for one, am more thankful than you can probably imagine that I was not pushed out.

Josh Mugg


But the fact remains that there are more people in philosophy who want academic jobs than there are academic jobs in philosophy. There will have to be some weeding out mechanism somewhere.

Also, there is already a 'weeding out' mechanism in place that is earlier than the PhD--PhD admissions. Folks who went to small schools, do not test well on the GRE, did not do well in the first two years resulting in a lower GPA than desired, etc. This student might flourish in grad school, but the profession's system currently weeds them out. Do you favor expanding PhD enrollment to give such students a chance?

If you did want to give the maximum students a shot at philosophy, you might push the weeding out back a bit. Allow lots of folks to join the PhD program, but make it hard so a high percentage drop out. There will have to be some mechanism by which folks leave. Without kicking folks out of a PhD program, the only two we have are PhD admissions and a bad job market.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Josh: I think the entire focus on weeding out is misplaced. Of course there will always be weeding-out procedures: grad admissions, inability to do coursework, inability to finish a dissertation, too few academic jobs for too many PhDs, etc. My point is that our focus should be more on ensuring good *exit* options at every weeding out point. Not everyone gets into a good program in my wife's field, and not everyone in good programs--but thanks to disciplinary norms in her field almost everyone has good exit options (the ability to score a decent job inside or outside the field). That, I think, should be our focus. It is almost entirely ignored as of now. Philosophy grad programs have few if any mechanisms in place to help thos who do not make it in academia (or choose to leave) to do well after leaving. That is the problem. I'm trying to say we should do much more to solve it.

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