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ABD in Canada

These are mostly about reducing unnecessary stress:

- Provide us with at least minimal financial security for the time it ACTUALLY takes to finish (on average at least).

- Make sure we have access to the books and journals needed for our research. It baffles me that this should even come up.

- Give us serious, relevant guidance wrt non-academic careers.

- Don't allow the possibility of 10+ hour days (morning teaching, evening seminars, &c.).

- Set aside time for grad student run activities (talks, meetings..). I'm thinking of something like 2 hrs one afternoon a week w/ no grad student conflicts.

- Help us learn to write PUBLISHABLE papers.

- Encourage collaboration.

Recent Graduate

One cultural thing which I think has to change is that, at least where I studied, your entire life as a graduate student revolved around things you have to do to get an academic job. All the guidance we were given was philosophy job market related, it was an assumption that everyone would go on the philosophy job market (although not that everyone would succeed). This is what you were being prepared for. Yet it is highly damaging as it makes it so much harder both psychologically and practically to face the reality that as a grad student you will probably not land an academic job (even if you work hard and publish loads). I would like to see philosophy departments work more closely with their university career guidance centers to actually prepare their graduates for the job market outside of academia. And the culture needs to shift in such a way that there is no shame in pursuing a career outside of academia, and dedicating significant amounts of time as a graduate student preparing oneself for life 'in the real world'.

Maybe people should also be clearer about the costs of the job market too. Just telling people "it is really bad, there are no jobs" is not enough. Many graduate students are fairly stoic types who can probably, by themselves, deal with the rejection and low income which comes with the job market. So "there are hardly any jobs" doesn't sound so bad. But in reality the harms of the job market extend far beyond the individual on the market. The job market is potentially devastating for the applicant's family, loved one's, and perhaps even dependents, often in ways which are hard to predict. I think people need to be more frank and honest about this "it is really hard, there are very few jobs" isn't enough.

Marcus Arvan

Recent Graduate and ABD in Canada: I *entirely* agree. The question then is what can be done to incentivize these sorts of changes. A big part of the problem (or so it seems from many comments at Daily Nous and elsewhere) is that there appears to be little accountability. Individual faculty members or even entire departments can fail in what seem to be basic professional obligations (I myself have heard some real horror stories), let alone transform the culture of their departments away from a sole focus on academic jobs.

What can/should be realistically done to incentivize better accountability and cultural change?

about the top

Marcus (and others),
At leading programs (the top 10 and then some), there is a strong incentive to focus narrowly on preparation for academic jobs. If a department said to their administration that they are going to help students prepare for non-academic jobs, the administration would take this as a signal that the grad program should be shut down.

Marcus Arvan

about the top: Let's have a conversation about this, because I don't understand that at all.

My spouse is in a top-5 program at a major research university in another discipline (I/O Psychology). The faculty in her program--and other top-5/top-10 programs in her discipline--very much promote an "academic track." They want their PhD students to get research jobs at top-ranked departments and institutions just like philosophy departments do. But they also invest a LOT of time and resources in getting their students who don't pursue the academic track good jobs in industry, and their departmental and disciplinary culture does not "look down" on industry jobs like academic philosophers in top departments often appear to do. This does not signal to administration that the programs in question should be shut down. Exactly the opposite is true. Because I-O Psychology departments reach out into industry (having many graduates go into different lines of work), the department:

(1) Can present itself to its administration as successful in getting its students academic and non-academic jobs.

(2) Brings in a ton of outside money, funding, and interest (including public interest), all of which university administrations love.

Now, granted, philosophy does not have the kind of obvious relation to industry that I/O psychology does. But, philosophy is in many respects increasingly (and correctly, in my view) branching out into other disciplines, in everything ranging from physics, to cognitive science, moral psychology, etc.--fields that bring in money, generate public interest, etc.

We also already see the importance of outside funding in philosophy in Europe, and here in the states via Templeton grants, etc. Philosophers who successfully integrate into industry could well found endowed chairs at research departments, as well as found research institutes such as the Freedom Institute at the University of Arizona (though I'm not a libertarian myself, and could not disagree more philosophically with certain lines of well-funded inquiry).

Long story short: I think philosophy sells itself short by adopting the perspective you suggest. Indeed, I think that perspective is arguably responsible for shrinking budgets, shrinking departments, etc.--that is, that we philosophers may only be contributing to the problems we find ourselves faced with (shrinking budgets, fewer jobs, etc.) by virtue of our self-conception about what our departments and students should be doing. If philosophy has found itself "painted into a corner" (and, in terms of funding, interest, and prestige at universities, it almost certainly has), that suggests to me that we should do exactly the opposite of keeping on with what we are doing. We should instead change how we conceive ourselves. We need to adapt.

When philosophy is envisioned only--or primarily--as self-contained academic field with a only few top researchers doing research of interest primarily to other top researchers in a small number of departments (with few majors), we make our field seem *less* relevant to outsiders, and less warranting funding, especially by those who hold the proverbial purse-strings (why fund a department with only a few majors that doesn't bring in any money?).

Instead, I think we might want to consider doing precisely what other, more flourishing disciplines have done: we should be *expanding* our field beyond academia, not limiting it. That's how other academic fields have flourished, and the reasons why seem plain. The more philosophy is engaged with other disciplines that attract interest and money--such as physics, psychology, etc. (see again Templeton grants)--the more likely we are to be better funded and better able to justify our existence to university administrators. Similarly, the more of our graduates (including PhDs) transition successfully into industry, succeeding beyond academia's hollowed walls, the more we can say (A) a PhD in our field is useful, and (B) the more likely we are to have philosophers outside of academia make money to potential fund academic endeavors (indeed, this historically *is* how many endowed chairs have been paid for--by people who studied philosophy that always cared about it but went onto make money elsewhere).


Marcus, ABD in Canada, Recent Grad...

I think the difficulty with idea of a department preparing a student for the non-academic job market lies in the fact that there is no well worked route into non-academic work for the philosopher. This is a stark contrast with how things work in in the sciences. If you have an advanced STEM degree, and you cannot get a gig in academia, your skills will likely be directly applicable to numerous private and public enterprises. Corporations will need you, Govt's will need you, think-tanks and private research labs will need you, there will be many modalities for you to pursue. The same cannot be said for people with advanced training in philosophy. The skill set is not directly applicable to non-academic work. For one thing, the skill sets very widely depending on philosophical interests; while some philosophers have backgrounds in computer science, math, logic, and physics, and could more easily transition, others have backgrounds in the humanities and cannot transition. While some attended prestige undergraduate institutions, others attended obscure schools. Where does a department begin to craft a coherent program to bring students with such diverse problems to something like the equal footing? Is that even possible (liekly it is not), and if they cannot craft an approach that will benefit all, is it fair to spend department resources helping only the few? I take these all to be serious questions. But then maybe I am just overly pessimistic about the situation.

Marcus Arvan

gradjunct: I think the situation you are describing is partly a result of philosophy having an overly narrow self-conception and approach to philosophical training--that is, it is a symptom of a larger problem we should try to solve as a discipline moving forward.

Philosophy in the analytic and continental traditions have both largely--though not entirely--conceived themselves as largely self-enclosed disciplines with their own unique methods (conceptual analysis and a priori methods in analytic, phenomenology in continental, etc.). Insofar as these methods do not extend out in an interdisciplinary fashion, academic philosophy cultivates skills and methods largely of interest only to philosophers. Something similar used to be true of some other academic disciplines, including psychology. Contrast training in Freudian psychoanalysis, for instance--which was poorly validated and not so useful to industry--to modern I/O methods, which have direct application to many domains and require the development of skills that can be transferred to other disciplines and industries.

To see how philosophy might benefit from expanding its self-conception and approach to training in a similarly fruitful way, consider experimental philosophy and then moral philosophy.

Experimental philosophy, whatever else you might think of it, develops a number of practical skills transferable to other industries--among them, the abilities to run studies, use sophisticated statistical software, apply for grants and other types of funding, manage research teams and/or labs, etc. And experimental philosophy is still in its relative infancy! Presumably, the more focus there is on training and doing work there, the more advanced training will become providing philosophers with more transferable skills.

Now turn to moral philosophy. Prevailing methods in the field--e.g. reflective equilibrium, the method of cases, debating the nature of reasons and metaphysics of moral facts--may indeed be of great interest to philosophers. But it is not so easy to see how those skills or body of knowledge translate to industry. Now consider the emerging science of moral cognition, which (in my view) pretty clearly demonstrates the centrality of "mental time-travel" both to moral cognition and moral motivation. Turns out normal adult human beings have robust mental time-travel abilities. It also turns out that moral responsibility and motivation diminish to the extent that mental time-travel capacities diminish (adolescents have compromised mental time travel abilities, psychopaths far more impoverished ones). Finally, it also turns out that if you prime people to engage in mental time travel (imagining possible futures), they display improved prudential and moral behavior. If philosophy were to become progressively more interdisciplinary, engaging with, building on, and doing naturalistic research in these area, not only might the field develop more transferable skills, but also more transferable knowledge that industries might hire people to put to use. After all, I will now explain, a more interdisciplinary approach to moral philosophy will plausibly make empirical predictions--predictions that may help us improve moral behavior and social cooperation, not only in industry but perhaps in society more broadly.

Notice, first, that the findings just mentioned (about mental time-travel) have practical use outside of philosophy right on their face. Industries and organizations have interests in improving employee and consumer prudential and moral behavior (preventing theft, improving cooperation, etc.)--so, the more that moral and practical philosophy engage with and exploit these findings to develop better theories that might actually improve human behavior, the more "useful" and transferable moral philosophy itself might become.

To take another (hypothetical) example, suppose it turns out (as I argue) that mental time-travel supports rejecting a dominant conception of moral epistemology (viz. moral truths are discovered through reason, intuition, or argument) in favor of a moral epistemology which holds that mora truths must be negotiated out in a certain way involving mutual compromise. I may well be wrong about all of this--but the theory does make predictions, among them that changing the way people approach moral problems as individuals and groups may not only increase moral motivation, but also a willingness to cooperate productively (instead of so divisively, as we see so plainly in life and politics today). The point here is not that I am right (though I hope I am broadly on the right track). Even if the correct naturalistic picture of moral cognition supports a very different account, the point is that such an interdisciplinary approach is highly likely to make empirical predictions and (potentially) interventions that might be of use to industry, other fields, and psychology.

Let me be clear. None of this is to say that philosophers should entirely cast aside prevailing methods or lines of inquiry (the nature of reasons, for instance, matters!). It is simply to say that philosophy probably can--and I think should--branch out *more* into new methods, skills, and lines of inquiry that would not only benefit the profession, but also, more to the point of the present thread, benefit grad students by providing more transferable skills and knowledge.


Would refocusing philosophical training on interdisciplinary work have consequences for the non-academic job market beyond that kind of STEM-y skill? A shift from "few transferable skills" to "some transferable skills already oversupplied by other academic departments" isn't much of a solution.

If we're reasoning back from the conclusion, surely there's some rationale X for why philosophers need to know how to program we can convince ourselves of ...

Michel X.

One thing that I think would be really nice and would make a world of difference is if one's supervisors explicitly set aside a day every month for looking at and commenting on their students' work. Like, say, "on the 12th of every month (other, more pressing commitments pending, of course) I'll have a look at the dissertation work you sent me since the 12th of last month" sort of thing.

I know of too many students who send their work into an unresponsive void, and the subsequent nagging must be unpleasant for everyone involved. Just knowing that there's a particular day by which one should send one's work (or letter requests, or whatever), and being able to count on one's supervisor to spend at least part of that day on one's work/supervisory needs, could make a world of difference. And not just for the student, either!


Not sure how to implement this, but more accountability for senior faculty. The amount of energy I spend working around them & their dysfunction is exhausting.

Pendaran Roberts

I think the first thing that needs to be done is that faculty need to start being honest with their undergrads and grads about the job market. If you're a philosophy student, you're surrounded by successful philosophers. So, it's very easy to get the impression that this is a fine career option. Successful faculty also tend to be biased, because well they were successful. It is also a problem that the market has gotten worse and worse and faculty tend to have left the market many years ago. This is a recipe for a lot of false hope, wasted money and time, and bitterness. All students need to be briefed using the best empirical data about what they're getting themselves into.

Marcus Arvan

Skef: That's a good question. However, I don't think we should be too quick to answer in the negative--for many reasons:

(1) All things being equal, more transferable skills is probably better than fewer. I have come across more than a few stories recently of philosophers transitioning successfully into industry, and many of those cases involve seem to involve philosophers working specifically in areas that develop the kinds of STEM-y skills I mentioned.

(2) I am not convinced that the skills in question are as oversupplied as you think (in part because of the stories just mentioned of philosophers with such skills successfully transitioning to industry). It's also the case, empirically, that most jobs are found through networking--so, if philosophy (like my spouse's field) grew an increasing network of philosophers in industry, it might be significantly easier for philosophy grad students to transition.

(3) I think you are underestimating the extent to which not just STEM-y skills, but the *content* of philosophy could become more transferable if our discipline were to become more interdisciplinary. For instance, as I mentioned above, it may well turn out that empirically-oriented action theory, moral philosophy, political philosophy, etc., may make predictions of use to people in industry, politics, etc. I don't think many people in psychology a few decades ago--in they heydey of psychoanalysis--would have imagined how industry-relevant their discipline would become.


I think your history of psychology is off a bit. Psychologists were involved in operations research (as were philosophers, for that matter), since the 1950s (perhaps earlier), and training in psychology has long been put to use by the marketing and advertising industry (very thoroughly since at least the 1960s).
But, on another note, philosophers are often able to contribute constructively to administration in higher education. Unfortunately, this does not generally help those having a hard time getting an academic job, because administrators are most often chosen from among the ranks of academics. But it does suggest that we have a skill set that is useful outside of academic philosophy.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Phil: Fair point. The history I gave was indeed a bit crude, and it's good to get clear on it. Still, the field has changed rapidly and on a very large scale, in a manner that has progressively increased the discipline's industry-relevance (http://abcnews.go.com/Business/americas-20-fastest-growing-jobs-surprise/story?id=22364716 ). My hope--which I partly advocate on metaphilosophical grounds, but also on grounds of utility to students and growing our discipline--is that, like psychology, philosophy can make decisions as a profession that point it in a broadly similar direction, increasing outside interest in philosophy and the ability of philosophers to cross disciplinary and industry boundaries.


One could name many accomplished university administrators who are philosophers: Amy Gutmann (Univ. of Pennsylvania, probably the most accomplished), Paul Boghossian (NYU), Richard Feldman (U Rochester), and Ann Cudd (Boston U). And there are many at more obscure places as well.

Marcus Arvan

Phil: I'm a bit concerned about the example of philosophers becoming administrators, for as you note it is typically established, senior academic philosophers that move into administrative ranks. It's not clear to me how well this supports philosophy as providing a relevant skill-set (e.g. administrative skills), so much as it indicates that academia sociologically works in a certain way (viz. established academics can move into university administrations). That being said, I would be curious to see whether less-established, earlier-career philosophers who move into industry do move successfully into administrative positions.


Hi Marcus,
Sorry for the confusion. My point was to illustrate that clearly philosophers (that is, people with training in philosophy) have valuable skills. The skills manifest themselves when philosophers move into administrative positions, for example. But they can also be put to work in order contexts.

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