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12/04/2015

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postdoc

There is such a thing as justified anger. Although it's stressful to be angry and probably better for one's career never to complain, it's not wrong to get angry and to express that when justified. Just my feelings on this.

Postdoc

Also, I was definitely told 'go to a good program, do well, publish some papers in good places, and you'll get a permanent job.' That's so false!

I am bitter about that and probably always will be. I wouldn't have done the PhD if I had known just how bad the job situation is. I knew it was bad. So I worked really hard. But it's worse than anyone ever honestly told me.

Marcus Arvan

Hi postdoc: Thanks for your comment.

I tried to be clear in my post that I wasn't denying that there is such a thing as justified anger. On the contrary, I think quite a bit of anger (including anger I had, and to some extent still have) is justified. I also didn't mean to suggest that one should simply keep one's trap shut, and never complain about unfairness, wrongs, etc.

I only meant to tell the story of my experience, which is that focusing on these things was not *good* for me, internally or externally. The more I focused on my frustration, the worse things seemed to go for me. The more I focused on trying to put my frustration aside and focus on what I could do to improve things, the better things went. That's all I was trying to express--that, and maybe, if others reading the post find themselves where I was (angry, festering, etc.), maybe it might be worth trying another option.

I'm not saying it will work for everyone, but I will say it profoundly transformed how things went for me. Things were *really* bad for me...and they only started to look up, personally and professionally, when I made a conscious decision to change how I was responding to things. My experience was that internal anger has a way of "seeping out", affecting how one treats others, and how they treat you in return. I was genuinely shocked at how much things changed for the better, in so many different ways, once I consciously changed my perspective. That was my only point.

Benjamin Yelle

Thanks for this post Marcus,

I'll say that as someone who went to a "good"/mid-ranked philosophy program (The University of Miami) I went into graduate school with "my eyes wide open", I knew what job prospects in academic philosophy are/were like. So I never felt like I was sold a bunch of lies, I knew it was going to be tough to get a job.

But, and in this I think that I try (or maybe strive) to do what you are suggesting: I try to keep a positive attitude about Philosophy, the job market, etc., for the simple reason that: trying to be a young academic is hard enough (publishing, sending our papers (getting rejected almost all the time) teaching etc.). People feeling the need to visit cyberspace to lecture us all about what a bad life decision we've made or the regrets they have just makes it harder. That is, so much of the frustration is not "constructive"; it's just (at best) venting or (at worst) "haters hating" or "trolls trolling".

Maybe some people see it as their mission to take up comments sections in places like this to "inform" people who might be thinking about graduate school in Philosophy about what a bad decision it is and how they ought not do it. To this I have a couple responses: Perhaps I am wrong, but I don't think that the internet is flooded with misleading information about how easy it is to get a job in philosophy that is sending people off to graduate school unwillingly. Second, the Philosopher's Cocoon is not that place (or maybe it is...not my blog and not my call)

I agree, there is justified anger; I recognize and appreciate that. And I am absolutely not saying that people ought not be angry. But anger like that is rarely constructive personally, professionally, etc. It eats you up inside and makes it harder to live with yourself.

I think that part of what makes the Philosopher's Cocoon a great place is that it strives to be a supportive place where we can talk about the former considerations, i.e. academia is tough and support can help so here is stuff to help with that. And that is a great service.

Postdoc

I appreciate the cocoon as much as anyone. But it is a little bit like you're suggesting 'don't be angry'. It's a little bit like you're saying you got a job because you weren't angry and those who didn't it's their fault for being angry.

I don't know...

There is some truth in that for sure. It doesn't help me be less upset.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Benjamin: Thank you for your very kind comment.

Aside from frustration "eating me up on the inside", the single most surprising thing I found was just how much it affected things on the outside.

I know that "the power of positive thinking" is supposed to be a bunch of claptrap, but I really found--in the most startling way--that my internal attitudes, positive and negative, both functioned like self-fulfilling prophesies. I suspect it is because, as internal as one might try to keep one's feelings, they inevitably bubble up in how one engages with other people. When people see an angry, unhappy person, they run the other way. Conversely, when they see a person trying their best, showing good will, it tends to generate good will in return.

Or so my experience was. Early on in my career, when I was overcome with frustration, I found that "nobody seemed to treat me well." Where were all the people who should be *helping* me, I though (say, on the job market, or whatever)? Well, as far as I can tell, the answer is: they didn't want to deal with a clearly bitter dude. It was only when I changed *my* attitude that other people of good will seemed to come out of the woodwork to lend a helping hand. (Note: this wasn't even my intent at the time. I wasn't trying to "be good to get treated well in return. I was just sick of being bitter on the inside, and it just so happened that the moment I stopped being bitter, things miraculously changed for the better on the outside!)

Marcus Arvan

Hi Postdoc: I can understand why you might take it that way, but that's really not the message of the post.

I didn't receive a job the moment I stopped being frustrated. Things were very touch and go for a very long time after that, and I would be the first to say that luck is a large part of getting a job.

The message of this post was simply that I found myself better off *immediately*--long before getting a job, and regardless of what happened--not being angry (or, at least, trying to let it go, as far as I could--and again, I'm human: it did bubble up from time to time). The anger just provided nothing positive. It harmed my soul, it harmed my relationships with family and friends, it harmed my professional relationships, it harmed my research, and it harmed my teaching. It just wasn't worth it, for *me*--and I found myself far happier, and more productive, to the extent that I was just able to let it go.

That's my only message, and why I thought it might be worth sharing. It is of course up to every reader to find out for themselves whether the same is true for them.

recent grad

Marcus,

I agree that I've been much happier when I let the (justified) anger subside and focused on other things.

But I think we have some responsibility--how much, I don't know--to wake the profession up to the point of wanting to do something. I kind of like the idea of professors not being able to go anywhere on the philosophy internet without coming across catcalls, sarcasm, cynicism, anger, etc. concerning the job market. And sometimes I think this sort of ubiquitous anger could be more effective at motivating change than something like merely making more information available. I recognize that I might well be wrong--it is an empirical question after all.

Marcus Arvan

Hi recent grad: I think you make very legitimate points.

I think we do have a responsibility to do something about the current situation in academia--though, as you note, it's far from clear what will work best. It's also possible that public expressions of anger, particularly if there are enough of them, may have some positive effect (and here again I think you are right that it is a difficult empirical question to answer).

My point, again, wasn't that there isn't justified anger--or even that expressing anger is never productive. My point was simply that it made my life intolerable, that I found another option surprisingly made things better--and that perhaps, if others try it, they might find the same. That's all.

We must of course all figure out how to balance (A) our moral responsibilities to protest social injustice, versus (B) our responsibilities for our own well-being and to those we care about on a day to day basis (our family, friends, etc.). In my own case, I found that the only way I could treat those around me the way I should treat them is by moving beyond my frustration. It is then my hope to discharge my duties (whatever they are) to help improve things in the profession, in whatever small way I can, in a similarly positive way (and, of course, I have never shied away from criticizing practices or institutions I consider problematic--though I try, not always successfully, to do so in a measured way). Anyway, once again, I don't propose that "my answer is the correct one." I only told my story because, well, out of the hope that *someone* might find it helpful.

Lady Professor

I suppose I would be lumped together with those described as pessimists, but I see myself as a realist. As I've said before, I can tell that you are a sincere person, Marcus, but there is something disturbing about calls for positivity given the present state of the market and other problems in the profession.

While a commentator above seems to think grad students have full information about the difficulties of the profession and market, my experience reading comments on blogs and reading applications for jobs shows this is not the case. People seem to think that the key to landing a job is simply publishing lots of papers, they underestimate the role played by social networks, and they seem positively clueless about the state of higher education more generally.

Graduate education is, to a large extent, a prolonged process of indoctrination. This often leads people to see philosophy through rose tinted glasses; a responsible response is to point out many of the serious difficulties and even injustices that characterize philosophy as a profession.

In this environment, the endless calls for positivity and support start to look naive and/or sinister.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Lady Professor: Thank you for your charitable, and challenging, comment.

It seems clear, from this and past discussions, that you and I fundamentally--albeit sincerely--disagree about what is best. I will concede that I do not think it is at all obvious who is right, and say that I appreciate the sincere discussion and disagreement [as in many areas of life, I suspect there are few clear answers here, and we are fumbling the best we can in the dark for the best answers we can find].

What I will say is this. There is nothing sinister in the experiences and viewpoints I try to share. I have fought, and will continue to fight, as hard as I can, and in every way that I can--and I mean this sincerely--for positive change in the discipline, and the academy more generally. Like many people, I suspect, I am often frustrated by who little I can seemingly do. Many of us can only do our own small part, in whatever way we can--and it is often not clear what we can do to improve things.

In any case, I am sincerely doing my best, at least as I see it, and I am sure you are doing yours as you see it. Perhaps someday we will find out which approach is better, perhaps not. The best we can both do is share, and debate, our own experiences, and let others make up their own minds. Like I've said, my own experience has been that being positive is more productive than being negative. But, if that's not been your experience, or the experience of others, I am more than happy to listen, hear, and sincerely think about those perspectives.

Derek Bowman

Marcus,

I find much to agree with in your post. In particular, I think the point about the importance of changing your perspective and, thereby, your attitude. My experience also matches yours in that I often find that good will is answered with good will.

But the problem is that, often, good will is not enough. In a recent interview I sat across the desk from a provost who described an article in the local paper about the plight of adjuncts with sincere sympathy. Yet he took no evident notice of his own personal role in creating and maintaining those conditions by pressuring/requiring departments under his purview to rely significantly on part-timers. Even the more self-aware good will of tenured colleagues is evidently impotent to make any actual changes.

Under such conditions, "simply aim[ings] to become the best teacher, researcher, and colleague I could become" only serves to further enable your own exploitation and that of other academic laborers.

Postdoc

Lady, I sympathize with you. I agree there is something sinister or niave in the positivity.

I was definitely a totally clueless graduate student. I mean I knew things weren't easy and that the PhD wasn't enough. But it's far worse than I could ever have imagined. I guess I grew up being told work hard and you can have the profession you want. I did work hard. I have many articles published.

It doesn't help.

But I would like to know what other than publications is necessary? I know connections are important. I didn't realize this in time.

Postdoc

Under such conditions, "simply aim[ings] to become the best teacher, researcher, and colleague I could become" only serves to further enable your own exploitation and that of other academic laborers. - Derek

Yea. I feel that way too. But what is Marcus supposed to do. He needs a job. The people in power have expectations. He could quit. But then what.

There just are no easy solutions.

Marcus Arvan

postdoc: you write, "I guess I grew up being told work hard and you can have the profession you want." With respect, those were not reasonable things for you to think. Like many other people, I learned growing up that life is hard and unfair--a place where you can do everything right and not get a good result, and where all too often things are a matter of luck, where bad and undeserving people sometimes get better results than good, hard-working people. I'm not this is the way the world should be, but it is the way the world is, and always has been.

You write, "I did work hard. I have many articles published. It doesn't help. But I would like to know what other than publications is necessary?" I sympathize with your frustrations, and although I cannot say much given that I am on a search committee, it is common knowledge that people are not hiring a CV. To paraphrase Tyler Durden from "Fight Club", you are not your publications, and you are not your CV. Job advertisements in philosophy make it clear that people are looking to hire researchers, teachers, and departmental colleagues--and only one of these things (at most) is encapsulated in a list of publications.

Finally--and this too is common knowledge--there is the human element. For better or worse, empirical research and commonsense both indicate that personal elements (who you know, whether people like you, etc.)--and again, luck--all matter immensely. Again, I'm not saying this is the way things *should* be. I fought my mom, dad, and wife on for most of my life, saying, "Yeah, but...it shouldn't matter who you know, or who likes you. It should matter how good your work is." To which they said to me, over and over again, "You're being naive." And I was--and I finally got it through my thick skull before it was too late. This is not a world where people judge solely (or even primarily) on "merit." I really wish it was, but there's a wealth of evidence--from everyday life and empirical science--that merit, luck, and relationships all *messily* determine occupational outcomes. This, for better or worse, is the reality--and although we can of course do all we can to try to change it, it is important to recognize that it is the reality. Only then does one have any chance to respond to it appropriately.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Derek: You are absolutely right. Good will is not always enough. We need to fight to improve things. But the question is: how? How is it best accomplished? My own feeling is that I can do more *in* the academy than without. I may be wrong--but, aside from the fact that I needed a job, that is why I did not quit.

As postdoc put it (thanks postdoc!), I could just quit, but then what? There are no easy solutions. The best that I can do is try to make a decent life for me and my family, while doing the most I can to fight for positive change.

Postdoc

A lot of people of my generation were taught as I was. It is false. But it might have been mostly true for a while.

But yes, I have learned that who you know is incredibly Important. I wish I had spent less time doing philosophy and more time sucking up.

And you totally twisted the meaning of Tyler's quote.

Anyway, I appreciate the cocoon, but sometimes it gets under my skin.

Marcus Arvan

Postdoc: you're absolutely right that I twisted Durden's words--but Durden didn't have any good answers in the book/movie, either (indeed, that's the story's irony--he's protesting a broken system without a workable solution of his own).

Sometimes things get under my skin on the Cocoon, too--but that's what online discussion is for, to discuss and debate things, right?

Anyway, I used to think the way you do: that knowing people="sucking up." I felt that way for most of my life--but, while there certainly are sycophants who do suck up to people, my wife, friends, and family have thankfully disabused me of the belief that knowing people=sucking up to them. Knowing people need not involve sucking up at all. One of the things I learned--from my wife and father--is that it is good to be the kind of person who *genuinely* likes other people of good will--not to suck up, but rather because life as a whole is just better when people are genuinely interested in one another. It took me a while to appreciate that fact, but in my life, at least, it was a good fact to learn.

Derek Bowman

Marcus,

Thanks for the reply. You may well be right that you can do more good inside the academy than outside - and you're certainly right that you need a job. For the moment I still work in academia (as contingent faculty), and I'm applying for more permanent positions because - so far - I haven't figured out a better alternative for myself and my family.

The point of my comment was about the specific model you offer for a shift in perspective and its unsuitability as a general model for people working as contingent faculty (especially part-time adjuncts or severely undercompensated full-time contingents). By reinvesting yourself in teaching, research, and being a good colleague, you are continuing to place yourself (and your newfound mental well being) at the mercy of those who control the conditions of your academic work. And at the same time, you will find yourself going above and beyond, doing extra work for free, for the very organizations that are exploiting your labor. Pay people less, offer them less jobs security, and watch them work even harder - what bottom-line conscious manager wouldn't love that?

Lady Professor

Hi Marcus,
Thanks for the response. It is obviously your blog to run as you see fit, but I wish you weren't so quick to equate "supportive" with "positive" or "optimistic". Sometimes, the most supportive thing a person can do is encourage people to find the strength to walk away.

Hi Postdoc,
Advisor and program status matters more than it should. I think candidates may not realize how important *interestingness* is; it is far better to have a novel or original project that is somewhat broad in scope than to demonstrate mastery over your subject area or have a bunch of publications. There are so many candidates who are obviously smart and productive, but they are working on small, rather boring, topics. If you can, it is good to get feedback on your materials from as many people, philosophers and non-philosophers, as possible. It is easy to fall so far down the rabit hole of some particular question that one loses all sense of its general significance.

But at the end of the day I do think it is important to acknowledge that who gets hired often turns on factors that are far beyond candidates' control . The philosophy job market isn't a meritocracy. Luck plays a huge role in the process.

postdoc

Lady,

My research is mostly in one subject area, as I graduated recently. But it's not THAT narrow. It's in an area that has long been investigated. Not some niche area I and a few others invented.

How important is advisor and program status?

Some people seem to think it matters very little, while others seem to think it's the number one selector.

I guess it's irrelevant really. I am not in a position where I can do anything to help my CV other than conferences and publications.

Jacques

Derek Bowman is right. There's no way around this point. The more that the losers in the academic system (like me) devote ourselves to noble goals like "being a great teacher" or "doing good research", or whatever, the more the evil system within which we work will be exploiting us. That's how it all works. The more under-paid, free or precarious labor we provide -- with a big smile, to boot! -- the less other, more privileged people have to do, and the less the pressure on anyone to change this exploitive system.

Besides, we should question the assumption that it's _possible_ to be the _best_ teacher or researcher one can be under these sick and twisted institutional conditions. Might years of humiliation and exploitation and alienation and systematized disrespect have a crippling effect? Maybe a lot of us would do all of these things better, in a more meaningful way, if we did them somewhere else, and not for a wage, and not in these institutions...

Lady Professor: I think you're a bit too optimistic in some ways. Ideas that are truly "original" or "interesting" tend in our profession to be ignored, rejected, dismissed without due consideration. That's been my experience, anyway. Interesting arguments and hypotheses are dismissed because some authority figure once had some "intuition" to the contrary, or made some obviously terrible argument. Especially when those ideas are important, have social-political implications, etc. Most of the most highly praised philosophy in our culture is exactly the kind of thing that you say turns off search committees -- "smart and productive" people working on "small, rather boring topics". In fact that's a rough approximation of our entire discipline nowadays. Even when people work on something intrinsically important and interesting, such as justice or God, their work tends to consist in trivial stuff -- e.g., "Defeasible Justification in Reliabilist Theism: An Objection to Smith", where at most they are twiddling away at some tiny little detail in some counter-counter-counter-argument, where the original argument or idea is being discussed for purely sociological reasons.

I mean, let's be honest: the kinds of people who make up the more successful, powerful contingent in our profession are not, for the most part, particularly adventurous or original or rebellious people. They are good students, who never left school, and who have spent their entire lives being graded, ranked and sorted, jumping through one hoop after another. They are some of the most thoroughly domesticated human beings on the planet. How likely is it that, by the time they get tenure, they are especially concerned to seek out "interesting" or "original" ideas that may be truly challenging? And that may, therefore, present some kind of threat, intellectual or political, to the very complicated and delicate hierarchy within which they operate? All this to say: You're right it's all very bad and many should get out now, but please don't congratulate yourself or the profession on the whole for its good taste. You and your friends are probably not looking for big, interesting novel ideas, though you tell yourself that. You are probably looking for other good students who'll do what they're told and show a proper deference to the whole hierarchy, starting with the appartchiks on the search committee and leading up to the dean, the provost, the media, the corporations, the government. And to the Great Dead Philosophers too, of course, who have to fit in there somehow. Of course you may be an anomaly. But if you're like most people in your position, you're not as interested in interesting-ness as you think you are.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Jacques: Thanks for your comment.

By and large, I actually *agree* with you--and with Derek and Lady Professor. If one is so beaten down, so humiliated, and so exploited that one cannot find happiness in this line of work, then one should probably quit. One should probably stop contributing to the system that landed one in that position--in part for one's own well-being, but also to protest that very system.

But let me reiterate, and clarify, a few things about this post, and past posts I have written on the subject. As I tried to make clear in this post, I did not pretend that the story I told should generalize. I did not claim that everyone--or even most--should "suck it up", put their anger aside, and find happiness in this line of work. What I did do is describe it as a possibility--one that worked, surprisingly and quite wonderfully, for me. I went from being an angry, bitter person to a person who *was* able to find happiness in my work--a person whose life improved immeasurably from trying something I hadn't tried before. And evidently it works for some other people too (such as Benjamin Yelle, who chimed in earlier).

That was my only point. As I wrote in the post, I came to the conclusion, "I either need to quit or change my attitude." I found that changing my attitude worked. If I'd found the opposite, I should have quit. And so, I want to say, that's the relevant question. *Can* you find happiness in this line of work? If not--if all it does is make one bitter, angry, etc.--then, by all means, it would seem the right thing to do is to walk away. My only point (and I think it was Benjamin's too) was only that, for some people, there might be a better option. I didn't *think* I could be happy in this profession for a very long time. But then I made a change, and found I could be. It was a surprising change--one I did not expect--but it was also a wonderful one: one that improved my life, my family's life, etc.

Finally, here's one big problem to think about--one I have some experience with (as I explain below). One of the most frustrating things about the modern economy (for me, at any rate) is that, when it comes to issues of exploitation, etc., there seem to be few alternatives. Literally every profession I am aware of harmfully exploits people. My wife worked in the service (restaurant) profession for several years, and the amount of exploitation in her profession was absolutely abominable. She knew one immigrant dishwasher, for instance, who worked *20* hours a day, in three jobs around the clock, who literally slept for 3 hours in his car between jobs and routinely fell asleep on the job (in her place of work) because he was so perpetually exhausted. Similarly, my father has worked in the garment industry for his entire life--a system that takes advantage of cheap labor all over the globe. And I worked in the mental health industry for a couple of years. I, and the other case-workers I worked with, made poverty wages (similar to an adjunct), had no autonomy in the workplace, and worked in a dangerous workplace. I not only had to walk to work everyday in the freezing cold at 6am through one of the most crime-ridden areas of the city; I worked with some very dangerous patients who routinely got violent, and I had very little institutional support to handle their actions safely (I literally went to work everyday worrying I would be killed at work).

Long story short, things may be terrible in academia. We could all leave and go work in other industries. But those industries would almost certainly have similar--if not worse--pathologies. The simple fact is, we live in a very unfair world, and while we should all do what we can to find some solace and happiness in it (the point of my post!), and do what we can to improve things, the unfortunate fact is that, all too often, it seems there is very little we can do. All we can do is do our best, making the best decisions we can--for ourselves and others--in difficult, incredibly nonideal circumstances.

Marcus Arvan

Jacques: A quick follow up.

While it is fine to criticize the discipline, etc., I would like to ask--bearing the Cocoon's mission in mind--that commenters avoid making (arguably) derogatory generalizations about the personal properties of entire classes of people.

Arguing that too much work in the discipline isn't on big, groundbreaking ideas is fair game--as that is criticizing certain types of norms and practices. But I think comments like, "People in the discipline are generally X", arguably run afoul of the Cocoon's mission (as in, "You and your friends are probably not looking for big, interesting novel ideas, though you tell yourself that").

In short, please do feel free to critique the discipline, practices, etc. But please, I ask also that we do it in a respectful way that does not engage in (arguably) hurtful generalizations about the personal properties or people (or entire classes thereof). I, for one, care very much about interesting work, I've tried to publish such work myself, and I don't think I'm probably just "telling myself that."

Lady Professor

Jacques:
Despite your hostile and oddly personalizing tone (I'm really not the enemy here!), I agree with much of what you say. Pedigree of program and advisor is the single most important factor in getting jobs both at research universities and colleges. There will be some local variation in what counts as high status, but this is by far the most important "qualification." And, many candidates from high status programs are excellent philosophers doing interesting work. But not all of them are, and they are certainly saved by their petigree.

But if you aren't the product of the roughly 10 star-making programs in the world, what should you do? The dominant answer I see on blogs is "publish." While publishing can correct for some of the bias in favor of pedigree, I think it does so far less effectively than candidates realize. Sadly, many journals seem to favor the highly narrow work you describe which actually ends up hurting job seekers more than it helps. Every search comittee I've been on has complained about how boring many of the candidates are. If you can carefully argue for a bold thesis, or if you can frame your research in a way that connects it to fundamental, interesting questions, you will be better off than if you squeeze out another Phil Studies paper.

And you should strive for a *general* level of interestingness. When Postdoc says that he is contributing to some debate that has "long been investigated" in his subfield, I get worried. I interpret this as saying he is making a few moves in an established, but relatively recent, debate that is of primary interest only to those working in that specific subfield. Maybe if you come from a high status department you can get away with that, but without that safety net I think you'll have trouble landing a permanent job. That's not to denigrate the kind of work described; chipping away at a hard problem that has been studied by one's subfield peers is often important and necessary. But when it comes to landing a job without the advantages conferred by pedigree, my advice is: go big or get out.

Marcus Arvan

Lady Professor: I would caution against generalizing too far on the basis of the search committees you've been on. Although I cannot comment on how I have thought as a search committee member at a liberal arts college, I interviewed at many small schools as an applicant, and not only were few (if any) of the faculty interviewing me from "pedigree" programs; the people who ultimately got the jobs (over me) were, by and large, not from "pedigree" programs, either. There are obvious reasons for R1 schools to want to hire the person with the best pedigree and/or publishing record. But not all schools, or all types of schools, may be looking for the same thing in an applicant.

Your suggestion to "go big or go home", however, does sit with my experience as an applicant. I've read many, many stories of candidates on the market (at The Smoker and elsewhere) who report having multiple pubs in top-5 journals but getting no interviews. I only started to do well on the market myself once I started to try to publish big ideas, even though I didn't publish in the best of journals (and it was philosophically a lot more fun, too!).

Jacques

Marcus,
If you are an adjunct for more than a few years, you just will be humiliated, exploited, beaten down, etc. And that's the best or only option for a great many people now if they want to be part of the 'profession'. So it's not conditional: you just will feel that way and be treated that way, therefore you will probably not be capable doing your best teaching or research; you probably won't be capable of being a more than mediocre version of yourself in any dimension of life. At least that's a very likely outcome.

I realize you're not (explicitly) saying that anyone else should try to do what you describe. I guess I'm making a different point of my own here: people should *not* try to do what apparently worked out pretty well for you. If you're an adjunct, or whatever, you should not try to do your best teaching or research; you shouldn't try to treat the people whose comfortable lives are funded by your enserfment as if they were friends or "colleagues", etc. You should treat your job as what it really is, a total dead-end clock-punching kind of thing; you should either find some realistic way to get a tenure-track job, which may involve doing a lot of stuff that isn't especially good or admirable, or else (better) invest that time and effort in figuring out some kind of exit plan.

Marcus, there are important (if possibly somewhat hurtful) truths about "entire classes of people" that sometimes need to be noted. Sure, such generalizations fail to capture the infinitely nuanced variety of human experience, etc. It's still just true that the people in our discipline tend to have some of these not-so-wonderful traits, and that explains a lot. (Of course, their presence in the discipline is also explained in part by its properties.)

Marcus Arvan

Jacques: I respect your experience, and opinions, and you have every right to have them and argue for them. It may even be true that, "there are important (if possibly somewhat hurtful) truths about "entire classes of people" that sometimes need to be noted." Be that as it may, the Cocoon is not a place for such comments to be made. There are many, many fora where one can make hurtful comments. The Philosophers' Cocoon is not one of them. It has a very specific mission (http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/mission-statement/ ), and commenters are asked to respect it. My aim in creating this blog was to create an alternative to the (countless) areas of the web that are dominated by negativity and hurtfulness--and I do ask that commenters respect that aim.

Jacques

Marcus, I know the blog is meant to be "supportive", a "safe space" as it were. But you'd agree, I hope, that on some interpretations this aim would make it impossible for the blog to also be a philosophical space. In saying some mildly negative things about the kinds of people who populate our discipline -- roughly, that we tend to be conformists and nerds rather than Socrates, and without singling out anyone -- it is possible that I might be hurting someone's feelings. Should grown-ups who claim to be philosophers really be so troubled by this kind of thing? Obviously it's your blog and you decide where to draw the line. I find it impossible to believe that any important kind of "hurt" could result from this kind of remark.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Jacques: Thanks for your reply.

I would just say we all know--from everyday life and commonsense--that there is a world of difference between criticizing institutions and actions, on the one hand, and attacking people *personally*, on the other. The former is within the scope of respectful good-faith debate--and it is what Socrates did (for the most part). The latter (e.g. mocking people's background or personal qualities) is not. And the latter is what I think some of your comments amount to--for instance, "the kinds of people who make up the more successful, powerful contingent in our profession are not, for the most part, particularly adventurous or original or rebellious people. They are good students, who never left school, and who have spent their entire lives being graded, ranked and sorted, jumping through one hoop after another." Although you may not see this as particularly aggressive, telling an entire class of people that they are probably "some of the most domesticated people on the planet" and "not particularly adventurous or original", seems to me unnecessarily hostile and personal. And I'm not the only one who seemed to picked up on this. Even Lady Professor, who (with all respect!) does not mince words, remarked on your, "hostile and oddly personalizing tone...".

Long story short: You're more than welcome to criticize actions and institutions here--but please avoid making things "personal." It's not easy maintaining a safe and supportive blog, and from past experience (lest things spiral out of control, as they can *very* quickly), I've found it very important to draw firm lines in certain places. This is one of them.

Postdoc

I just wanted to tune in on what CVs are hirable. There are obviously differences between departments. But the idea that publications hurt or aren't that big of a deal goes against everything I've ever been told by anyone. Pedigree and connections probably matter just as much. I didn't realize this till it was too late. And apparently if you go to a top program you can get a job without publishing. But still everything I've ever been told is to publish. The better the journal the better and the more the better. This has been told to me by many successful people.

Derek Bowman

Marcus: Just to be clear. I completely agree with your thought, "I either need to quit or change my attitude," and I think it does provide a suitable model for many people who find themselves struggling to find permanent work in the field.

My only point of departure is to emphasize that the particular attitude shift you described is (a) only one possible attitude shift for being more happy in your life and (b) that your particular attitude shift is not a good model for others for the reasons given.

(NB: I also completely agree with you about the widespread generality of the problem of exploitative and (unlike most academic work) dangerous labor conditions.)

Marcus Arvan

Hi Derek: Thanks for your reply. I agree with your point of departure--and it is one of the main reasons I explicitly (and repeatedly!) said the post is not intended as "advice" at all, let alone advice that plausibly applies to all, or even most, people.

The point in telling the story was simply to highlight that sometimes (again, not always, or even most times!), one can transform one's situation--internally and externally--by changing one's attitude and approach to things. If people try what I did and it totally doesn't work for them, then they have learned something--perhaps that this line of work is not for them. Still, be that as it may, I am not a special snowflake. There may be people out there who would benefit--just as I did--from trying out what I tried. And I think it would be a shame not to share the experience, given that (A) it might help people, and (B) for anyone who it might not help, those people can figure it out on their own that it won't.

In any case, I'm glad that we agree on how widespread the problem is. It's why I think there are no simple answers. The best we can do, I think, is help each other make the best decisions we can--for our own well-being as individuals, and in fighting for better conditions--on a case-by-case basis. That's what I'm trying to contribute to, in some small way, here at the Cocoon: not "giving advice" that I think will enable everyone to solve their problems, but rather sharing information that might enable people to better think through their options.

recent grad

Hi Marcus,

For what it's worth, I don't think anyone is really misinterpreting your information as advice. I imagine what's going on is people, myself included, are chiming in with our own thoughts on the manner, e.g., why we should be angry. This is compatible with reading your post as non-advice. For example, my original comment above seemed to be read by you as missing the non-advice nature of your post. But I didn't miss it at all. I was just chiming in with my own thoughts. I think this is what others are doing as well. After all, you're very explicit in your post that you're not giving advice.

recent grad

matter*

Marcus Arvan

Hi recent grad: Thanks for clarifying, and for sharing your thoughts. :)

Peter

As someone who once dreamed of becoming a "Philosopher," who majored in philosophy as an undergrad, and pursued it post-bac, and then moved on... I can say that other fields truly are less hard on the soul and less frustrating, and (perhaps more importantly) are just as fulfilling.

In this blog, I frequently see comments asserting something to the effect of: "You're right about the field of philosophy having [bad quality], but other industries have [bad quality] to the same degree or worse." As someone who has actually experienced other graduate programs and other professions, and worked in several interdisciplinary contexts, I can confidently assert that this is not the case. Academic philosophy as a profession really does seem to be more stressful (on average), less reliable (on average), and even less satisfying (on average) than other industries. Occasionally, I read this blog because it's interesting, well-curated, and has some relevance to me as a budding academic, albeit in a differing field. Other times, I read this blog because it makes me feel good about my decision to pursue my current work and to abandon philosophy as a profession. It has been a pretty effective distress tolerance technique for me.

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