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Shay Allen Logan

The American Association of University Presses hosts a (small) job listing here: http://www.aaupnet.org/resources/jobs-list

A Humanities PhD makes you at least competitive for many of those jobs. The pay is on par or slightly lower than faculty pay. I've also worked (briefly) in a university press, and can personally attest to their being fun and interesting workplaces.

Grant writing is another option. Grant writing consultants are often (though maybe not generally) small firms (here's an example from near me: http://www.evagarland.com/). Contacting them directly with a (Short!) cv and/or asking to chat with them about their work may lead to opportunities. Again, the humanities PhD will be helpful.

Not totally external to the university are positions in writing centers, faculty development offices, and the like. If you're willing to be in a university setting without being a faculty member, these offer great options, and your PhD will help you land these gigs. If you're at or near a university currently, reach out to people in these roles and ask to chat. They'll be happy to help you figure out how to land a job.

Finally, I've heard that a technical writing masters opens up a lot of options, but only anecdotally. I don't actually know personally what you do with such a degree.

Now, to a different point that's not totally on topic: developing a "STEM background" is also not hard. Many schools offer programming bootcamps that can get you up-to-speed with basic programming in a relatively short order. I know it's scary to do this, especially if you've had bad STEM experiences or don't think of yourself as a STEM person, but you're totally capable of excelling at this sort of thing. I promise this is true. I've taught in both math and philosophy departments, and I know what kind of students can succeed. If you can do the sort of thinking philosophy demands, you can do the sort of thinking math demands. And that means you can do science too.

I also have several friends who got degrees in accounting after leaving humanitiesademia. None of these people had "STEM backgrounds". It seems to have worked out for them job-wise, and also seems to have been a relatively painless academic experience.

And, finally, a word of warning: many of the people you talk to in these fields will try to tell you how competitive they are. Try to get numbers out of them, to get perspective. When I've done this, I've heard a lot of things along the lines of "Oh you wouldn't believe how competitive my field is! Many times there will be ten other people applying for the job you want!" I then have to try very hard not to laugh out loud.

Derek Bowman

Here are some of my interviews that might be relevant:

Philosopher/MBA: https://freerangephilosophers.com/2016/09/05/benjamin-jarvis/

Philosopher/Academic Admin: https://freerangephilosophers.com/2016/12/02/james-chansky/

Philosopher/Real Estate: https://freerangephilosophers.com/2017/11/02/philosopher-liz-swan/


Philosopher/Educational testing:

Lawyer: https://freerangephilosophers.com/2016/08/08/max-pines/

I also have links to some general resources here, but I haven't updated them in some time, and I think there is at least one broken link I haven't fixed: https://freerangephilosophers.com/resources/

Calvin Warner

It might be worth mentioning that if OP is considering another degree to further her career, then why not a JD? I say that with the massive caveat that almost no one should pay for law school, but someone with a Philosophy PhD would absolutely crush the LSAT once they familiarize themselves with the test, and what many people don't know is that law schools are very generous with scholarships these days. A strong LSAT score can very much open the door to going to law school tuition free with a small living stipend at a school you've heard of.

Also, I completely second what Shay mentioned, that when folks in other fields say things are "competitive," find out what they mean. Harvard Law, synonymous with prestige and success, has an acceptance rate of 15%. Compare that with the Harvard PhD in Philosophy acceptance rate.

Finally, a plug for my own niche: undergraduate admissions. These departments tend to be full of people who are passionate about higher education and want to help students succeed. I can't speak to what admissions at a private school might be like (I hear it's almost like a sales job, but I don't speak from experience on that), but at the major public institutions, the staff just want to help students find their way to college and help them navigate the process of applying for admission and scholarships. In my own position, I get to make a lot of presentations and interact daily with students, which was a large part of what I enjoyed about teaching Philosophy.


I'm happy to see people contributing to this query. From looking at the comments and the various job possibilities, I understand why people stay in philosophy for years struggling to find a job: the alternatives just aren't all that interesting. Please forgive me if this sounds disrespectful for the people in those professions. What's interesting is somewhat (completely?) subjective. However, I suspect that many who are really interesting in philosophy find the capitalist world where so many jobs are about buying and selling to be asinine and meaningless. If what you love is truth and wisdom, can you get excited about selling houses (real estate), increasing the profits of some business for its share holders (MBA), contributing to the bloated out of control university admin (it's like joining the devil!), or, worst of all, being a lawyer (yes, I know some lawyers are not evil, but it seems to be a questionable profession). People wonder why PhDs stay on the job market subjecting themselves to all sorts of abuse. It's not that they can't see alternative careers; it's that they can't see meaningful alternative careers, but this might be expressed with 'I don't know what else to do.' This mentality will be seen as immature to many in the work force: you do what you have to do to make money and support yourself. Fine. I get that. However, all I'm saying is that it's not surprising academia has a bloated job market.

Derek Bowman


I don't know that you're being disrespectful, but I also don't think you read any of the interviews. The lawyer I interviewed is almost surely doing more meaningful work in the world as a public defender than I am teaching required courses to students whose parents can afford to send them to a private college. And the the real estate agent also enjoys teaching classes as an adjunct and working as an editor, writer, and a writing consultant. And the MBA... well, you can follow the links.

Don't get me wrong - my default reaction to alternative careers is the same as yours. That's why I started doing these interviews - to correct my own a priori ideas about (and resistance to) other careers with reflections from philosophers with actual experience pursuing those careers.


I also have spent a good deal of time trying to correct my default reaction to alternative careers. I think one thing that has helped me is thinking about the following fact: most people in non-philosophical careers find their work rewarding. I'm not substantially different from those people. So if I find myself in a non-philosophical career, I'm likely to find it rewarding.

I recognize the obvious counterarguments (most people in non-philosophical careers don't have my level of philosophical training, etc.). I want to propose, though, that if you closely examine why you think you're likely to not enjoy a non-philosophical career, there are two reasons -- neither of which is particularly compelling once looked at closely -- that probably come to the fore.

The first is, when boiled down, essentially "But I'm so much different than all those people." This isn't compelling because no, you aren't.

The second is, when boiled down, essentially "I can't imagine doing anything else." This isn't compelling because humans are *always* bad at imagining being different than they are, yet have remarkably fluid personalities. There's a good deal of psychological literature on this.

The fact of the matter is, if you take a non-philosophical career path, you'll probably enjoy your work. Why? I'm not sure. But most people enjoy their work, and you're almost certainly not exceptional. So you'll almost certainly enjoy your work.



I think you misunderstood what I'm saying. I think public defender can be a meaningful job. I am also sure that other jobs can be meaningful, even to someone with a philosopher's mind. I'm just saying that on the surface the alternative jobs, especially ones that do not require further degrees (a JD is a 4 year degree), don't look meaningful. You agree. I think it is for this reason or partly for this reason that the academic job market is so bloated. A further point I'll add, about which we might disagree, is that I think that there is some truth in this prima facie perception.


The problem with your objection post-doc is philosophy, as a career, is generally not about a love of wisdom. It is filled with doing things like publishing for the sake of publishing, pushing undergrads to take your classes so your department stays open, teaching students who are getting a degree only for the sake of having a piece of paper, etc. As much as I love my job, I think anybody who sees the career as a philosopher is primarily about the love of wisdom has their head in the clouds. I believed that as an undergrad, and after a few years in grad school learned better. Moreover, I agree with Derek that you are really not offering a fair view of other professions. A career as a public defender is about as far from meaningless as things get, a home is where people live and make some of their most important memories and helping people find the right one is not meaningless, many businesses (not all) like fb are doing incredibly awesome things like helping those in undemocratic countries band together and change their nation etc. I think you need to try taking a broader view of things.


Just to add to what Amanda says - in many ways a postdoc is the time of one's academic career where one is closest to the ideal of doing philosophy that many of us dream of. However, as Amanada points out, a regular TT job - even at a research university, is full of what can be drudgery - admin work and grading, etc.

And unless you have experience in other jobs, you might not realize that they can have a lot of interesting features to them (of course with the caveat that what interests people is subjective). One of my former graduate student peers got his PhD and went to work in intelligence as an analyst for the US government. He apparently uses a lot of research skills and he (someone who really likes philosophy) finds it very interesting work.

If you want to avoid jobs selling stuff, you might also consider high school teaching - assuming you really like the teaching part of being an academic (and if you don't, the University job after a post-doc won't be that enjoyable).

True: a PhD is not required; however, it often caries a higher salary.
True: you might have to get certified to teach in an allied discipline (history? English? etc.) or take more schooling to get teaching credentials, but some private schools will hire you with a PhD. You may be able to teach some philosophy in addition to whatever your main subject is.

You'll also presumably have some teaching experience already.

Just a thought.


Again, I didn't say that the alternative jobs are meaningless. I don't even believe in objective meaning. Meaning is a human creation. Whether you can find meaning in a job is dependent on your own psychology. What I was saying is that an academically trained philosopher who spends his days trying to discover abstract truths is going to have a hard time finding many of the alternative careers meaningful and/or interesting (I kind of slid between these two ideas in my original post, which was probably a mistake, but I'm going to continue doing it). Of course, non-philosophers may think that selling houses is more meaningful/interesting than thinking about whether there are properties or tropes or whether time is real or.., maybe they even think these debates are meaningless. But I have a hard time seeing many intellectuals, those with intellectual minds, enjoying selling houses, or doing admin work, or running a business, or... That's all I'm saying. Well that and the consequence that this is why I think the market is so bloated. Now, I can see those with intellectual minds getting excited about other intellectual pursuits, but that requires many years of training most likely, and all academia sucks jobs-wise. In sum, when intellectuals leave an intellectual life to be accountants, or house sellers, or... I suspect that's a very hard transition, and so it's not surprising many don't want to make it.


Well a number of people with a philosopher's intellectual mind who Derek interviews, who had tenure track jobs or the equivalent, willingly left to do other things. And I know people who have done this as well. So maybe a lot of philosophers think they can't find other work meaningful or interesting, but I think they are probably mistaken.


I'm interested in a technical writing career. I am already a technical writer in a sense, as I write analytic philosophy. I enjoy writing. I'm good at it, and I think I wouldn't mind writing repair manuals all day, as odd as that might sound. Transitioning to real estate, accounting, admin, or whatever seems to be a waste of my talent for analytic writing. So few people can write these days that being able to write precisely, clearly, and grammatically must be in demand. As far as law is concerned, I have no interest in trying to deal with that mess!

Any advice on how to pursue a technical writing career? I presume my PhD in Philosophy and list of publications in academic journals should help make me stand out (see https://philpapers.org/profile/755), assuming employers know what writing analytic philosophy involves. Any advice on how to proceed would be useful. The job market in philosophy is dead, or at least I have no luck with it.

Sam Duncan

I don't mean to be disrespectful or dismissive, but I've heard a lot of reactions like postdoc's and I think that as much as anything they're due to the enculturation we get in grad school. Most professors at schools with PhD programs have never had a job that isn't research focused and they've a hard time seeing any job that isn't like there's as fulfilling or meaningful. And they pass those judgments onto us. Moreover, they judge the success of their grad students by how closely the jobs they get resemble their own. So the model of success is getting a research focused academic job and the less one's work looks like that the less one is a success. And if one has to work outside academia then one is a failure. I got more than a whiff of this attitude when I happily told some of my former profs that I'd gotten a full time gig at a community college. Rather than being as happy for me as I was for myself, their reaction was mostly commiseration. It was though I'd told them something like "Well I'm gonna lose the arm, but they're sure the cancer didn't spread" rather than "Hey I have a rewarding, not very stressful, stable, and reasonably well paid job." I think these values do a lot to explain why people stay so long on the market and why we have a hard time imagining that any other career could be fulfilling. They're really harmful to grad students though since the truth is that there just aren't enough full time academic jobs of any sort to go around. Not only that the attitude that any work outside academia isn't meaningful is really harmful to us as a profession. When someone justly proud of the small business she's built or his work helping people get the house they've always wanted hears us just dismiss what they do it doesn't endear us to the general population. People pick up on that attitude and I think it's done more than anything to eat away public support for the humanities. Heck, if I heard a public employee say that about what I do, then I'd want to cut his funding! Think about how we feel when say Marco Rubio dumps on us.


Sam, I have to disagree. I think my finding the alternative careers to sound boring isn't because of enculturation. It's simply because what I find the most interesting are intellectual pursuits, which is why I got into academia in the first place. It's my personality/nature that explains why I got into philosophy, and this also explains why I don't like the idea of being a real estate agent etc.

The alternative careers are not intellectually that interesting, or at least prima facie do not appear to be (I admit I've never worked any of those jobs). If it is a life of the mind that you find interesting, real estate agent might not be appealing. Since a young child, philosophy was one of the few subjects I found to be interesting (including some other academic subjects I won't get into). I never found any of the alternative careers mentioned to be interesting, going back as far as I can remember.

This isn't a comment about objective meaning, or objective value, or anything like that. I am not demeaning real estate agents. I am sure in our capitalist society we need real estate agents. They play an important role. I just can't see many intellectual minds being interested in real estate, at least not intrinsically.

People need to be careful to distinguish between 'not finding a career meaningful/interesting' and saying 'that career is meaningless.' The latter is a value statement; the former is not.


I think it's kind of rude to say that you can't "see many intellectual minds being interested in real estate" when Derek has an interview with a former tenure-track philosophy professor who is now in real estate. And it is exactly this kind of attitude that Sam was trying to point out does not endear us to the public: the idea that those who don't have academic jobs therefore are unlikely to have "intellectual minds". You seem dead set against the idea that intellectual minds can find a number of careers outside of academia interesting. But how plausible is this? There are thousands if not millions of non-academic jobs. You really think out of all those opportunities there is a not a number of them that would fit well with an intellectual mind?


'Well a number of people with a philosopher's intellectual mind who Derek interviews, who had tenure track jobs or the equivalent, willingly left to do other things. And I know people who have done this as well. So maybe a lot of philosophers think they can't find other work meaningful or interesting, but I think they are probably mistaken.'

This seems like a non-sequitur. Not everyone is the same, so there being a number of people who willingly left, and you knowing some, doesn't mean, or even particularly suggest, that there aren't others who rightly think they wouldn't find most other work meaningful or interesting.

'I think it's kind of rude to say that you can't "see many intellectual minds being interested in real estate" when Derek has an interview with a former tenure-track philosophy professor who is now in real estate.'

Why would that be rude? Couldn't it simply be that the real estate person is a somewhat unusual case of an intellectual mind?

I don't get your reasoning on this thread Amanda.


I am a bit sympathetic to Post Doc.
I worked in another field. I quit my decent paying job, in part, because the employ prospects were insecure (unlike philosophy :), and in part because I found the work intellectually not very challenging. I was reading philosophy in my spare time. This indicated where my interests really were.
The work world out side of the academy can be quite dreary. Do not kid yourself.
I have been very fortunate, though the path has not been easy. I am tenured, etc. It was a very good move for me.

Sam Duncan

Postdoc I have a few (maybe not entirely connected) thoughts. For one, I don't see how you're not making a value judgment. If you say that you can't see an intellectual mind being interested in x, then that comes pretty close to saying that "If you're interested in x, you must either be not terribly bright or unreflective or both." If you told me that you can't see an intellectual person being interested in what I do, I'd certainly take that as a judgment on what I do and an insulting one at that.
Second, from what I've seen from the outside looking in I have a hard time believing that a reflective intelligent person could be really find the life of an assistant professor at a research focused institution interesting without a healthy dose of self-deception. The junior faculty I know at R1s (or schools that fancy themselves R1s) do an insane amount of work and have an incredible level of stress. And given the publication requirements common at such places it's not as if all that work is research on what they find interesting. Research schools generally expect at least five publications in "prestigious" journals in five years and given the high rejection rates of such journals that means one needs way more than five papers under review to have a realistic shot at tenure. To me it seems that a lot of what people at research focused institutions do is research for the sake of publications numbers rather than research because they find it interesting. It honestly reminds me of nothing so much as the drudgery of legal work (which I have some first hand experience with having spent some awful months as a paralegal) but for much lower pay than most lawyers earn. Heck if I worked the 70 hours a week many profs at R1s claim to work as a paralegal I'd have earned more than they do. Granted I don't have first hand experience in an R1 job and there may be an element of sour grapes here I suppose (I don't think so but I don't suppose I'm magically above a liability to self-deception myself.) But beyond the stress and the publish to publish pressure there's also the fact that publishing in the "prestige" journals means that one has to confine one's interests to what such journals find interesting. That puts most of the philosophy I find most interesting off the table and puts the focus squarely on the sort I personally find least interesting and meaningful. Now I'll admit to not finding contemporary analytic LEMM at all interesting for the most part, so I suppose someone else might find working on those topics more rewarding than I do. But personally if you offered me a choice between spending my days reading modern analytic metaphysics or philosophy of mind and selling real estate I think I'd honestly go for real estate.


It's amazing how snobby, narrow-minded, and unimaginative academic philosophers can be even though philosophy is supposed to be *the* discipline that trains people to be the exact opposite. The assumption that a "real philosopher" should only work in the academia (and a tenure-track job is the only fitting career choice for such a person) is not only false, but harmful to aspiring philosophers/grad students, especially given today's dismal job market and increasing professionalization (and subsequent mundanization) in the discipline. I have friends in law, engineering, journalism, advertising, public health, and other fields who are as intellectually "competent" as any philosophy friends I have, with some clearly more open-minded, curious, interesting, and original than many professional philosophers I have read or met.
I'll spare you the rest of my rant. The question here is rather simple: How should one go about choosing a career? The first thing anyone would tell their kids or students is that they should explore different options. The same goes for someone with a PhD in philosophy. They should, ideally, explore different options before committing the next 5, 10, or 30 years of their lives to one (kind of) job. Choosing the academia because you had the opportunity to venture out of it and found the "real world" unstimulating is very different from doing so because you *think* everything else is dumb and boring. So not only is there nothing wrong with considering alt-ac options, but it's actually the rational thing to do before throwing yourself into the madness of philjobs.


Sam and tracker summarized a lot of my thoughts. While I wouldn't say I would find a job at a top research university boring, (as long as I got to do a good amount of ethics I think I would love it) I do think there are plenty of good arguments to make the case for why an intellectual mind might rather have a job outside of academia.

Anyway, an academic job is a great thing.I think, anyway. However, it just honestly makes me kind of sad that some philosophers think it is the only, or nearly the only thing, an intellectual mind might like. It makes me sad for them, and sad for the relationship that philosophers have to non-academics. It really puts non-academics in this class of "others", and I think unjustifiably so. And this is true even if you believe a few intellectual minds are exceptions. The attitude that makes me sad is the following: "most people with intellectual minds will find most non-academic jobs unfulfilling". For what follows from this judgement is that you either assume that most people outside of academia do not have intellectual minds, or if they do they most not enjoy their work. In my view, this is a mistaken judgement that will lead to many other mistaken judgements.

Guy, I am sure you are a smart person. So I am honestly puzzled how one would think that because they had a non-academic job that they didn't like, that therefore in general, "jobs outside of academia are dreary".Surely you only had one job, or not more than 3 or 4, and there are thousands of possible jobs. If all you meant was really *some* jobs outside of academia can be dreary, well yes, of course. But that doesn't say much. As I said, I honestly just find it strange that one could think with all the thousands of opportunities out there academia is the ONLY one that is intellectually fulfilling. (Or one of very few).


I’m really surprised that a few people are having issues with what I said. I’m not sure how to help these people understand me. However, I take all my points to be obvious and non-contentious. The alternative jobs listed here for those with PhDs in philosophy do not seem to be the types of jobs an intellectual (or most intellectuals) would find interesting. I talked to a few friends about this and to my wife, and they all thought this was obviously true. And honestly just think about it. I think some of you are so sour about philosophy you have accepted absurd claims in defense of leaving. Academia sucks. We all know that. We also know that a TT job is far from the ideal. I’d even go so far as to say that western universities aren’t worth their tuitions fees, not for a humanities degree at least. However, as much as I hate modern univerties, the fact remains that none of the alternative jobs for a PhD in philosophy listed on this thread are intellectual jobs. Being a lawyer can be an intellectual life but mostly isn’t, and anyway requires huge fees and years more of schooling. The other jobs are not intellectually interesting. Does this mean they aren’t valuable? No. Trash collecting isn’t intellectually interesting, but if we didn’t have people to clean our junk up we’d all die of disease. Its being a valuable job doesn’t mean it’s an intellectual job. Not all jobs are intellectual. Real estate isn’t as intellectual as philosophy. This is just a fact everyone knows. Anyway, I’m sure this is going to set off a series of posts condemning me for stating the obvious.

Former Ac

I've got some experience here, being a PhD who left and is now working a non-academic software job. The requirements of my job aren't as intellectually satisfying as academia was, though they are by no means mindless. The job is enjoyable for other reasons: its less stressful, less isolating, gives me the choice to live where I want, and pays better than academia. The job also allows me to listen to whatever I want while I work, and I try to listen to at least one lecture a day, so I don't think that my exposure to new ideas has changed much. It is definitely possible to have a fairly low-stress non-intellectual job and pursue intellectual projects in your free time.

The biggest drawback is not that it is not intellectual, but one that I hadn't really anticipated as much. Academia allows you to express yourself through your job. Who you are makes a difference to the job you do. Who you are comes through in how you teach and what you research. Who I am doesn't really seem to make a difference to the job I do anymore. I may be better or worse at it than someone else, but my interests, personality, values, etc. don't make a difference to my work.

I am sure that academia is not the only way to have this sort of job, but it is also worth bearing in mind that leaving academia seldom means completely starting over, and there are surely many kinds of highly intellectually stimulating jobs that are much harder to get in your 30s with an education focused on philosophy.



"However, I take all my points to be obvious and non-contentious. The alternative jobs listed here for those with PhDs in philosophy do not seem to be the types of jobs an intellectual (or most intellectuals) would find interesting"

Wow. There is clearly nothing else I can say. I understand exactly what you are saying and for whatever reason you can't understand how presumptuous, snobby, and narrow-minded that comes across. Not to mention strange: an analytic researcher, teacher and a lawyer aren't jobs intellectuals would find interesting? And by the way, I have a very nice tenure track job so it is not the case that I am "so sour about philosophy (I) have accepted absurd claims in defense of leaving".

I just hope your attitude is in the minority.


Former Ac,

You make a good point. There are really two issues. One is how many jobs outside of academia an intellectual mind would find interesting. My guess is hundreds. The second is how many intellectually interesting jobs someone who is leaving philosophy in their 30s has a good chance of getting. The second is clearly a smaller number, unless one has the means to spend a few years training. However, I still think with some creativity there is a decent number of options that one could do if they have the means for about a year of searching and training. It is very hard to find a good alt-ac job in like a month,of course


Amanda, I don't appreciate being called names. I never called you any names. I was careful not to say things too offensive or mean. I understand that some people think what I'm saying is offensive, and I'm sorry about that. However, I'm just trying to express what I think to be true in an effort to help.

Anyway, I'm not going to try to argue my point further. However, let's assume at the very least that the majority of PhDs (or at least many) hold my views. I asked all my friends and my wife (mostly PhDs), and they all thought what I was saying was obviously true. So, even if they're all horrible people, they think I'm right. If so, this is probably one of the reasons so many stay looking for an academic job forever.

How can we address this problem? I think plausibly all philosophy PhDs should be required to also get some training in some other field they find interesting. So, this way when they finish their PhDs, they've already started a back up plan B. If they have a backup they like already formulated and started (took some programing classes already, for example), then they might not stay around on the market so long. It's very dangerous to stick around on short term contracts into your late 30s. So, we would be doing a world of good to our students if we took this idea up.

Sam Duncan

Postdoc, I guess if I'm arguing for anything it's that we ought to approach the question of whether to stay in academia and what kinds of job we ought to look for if whether we stay in academia or leave it more philosophically. I think a lot of people stop with the question, "How likely am I to get a tenure track job?" and make their decisions based only on the answer to that question. We ought to dig deeper and ask ourselves what reasons we have for wanting such a job, whether those reasons are reasons we should endorse, if a tenure track job is the only or best way to get the things we want out of it that survive such reflection, and whether those things are worth the sacrifice needed to get a tenure track job. I think it's clear that some of the reasons that people have want for wanting tenure track jobs, especially tenure track research jobs, shouldn't survive reflection. For instance, the obsession with prestige and fame that seems to motivate many people in academia. (For one thing one of the very few things I'll agree with Aristotle on is that it doesn't make sense to pursue fame or reputation for its own sake. For another, even if it did "academic famous" is a particularly poor sort of famous.)
I also think that the fact that it somehow uniquely enables an intellectual life is not a good reason to want a tenure track job since: a. There's good reason to think that it often doesn't. and b. Other jobs might do nearly as well or better in that regard. I guess we ought to define what we mean by an intellectual life or at least ask ourselves that question. My wife works for special events in city parks and rec. In the position she has to do a fair amount of research and problem solving. If that isn't an intellectual life I don't know what is. The same goes for every successful small business owner I know. The same goes for most medical professionals.
All that I'm saying is that we ought to take a good hard look at our own assumptions as we would any other set of unargued premises and ask ourselves whether they hold up or not. Also, if you want perspective it might be good to ask people outside of academia. After all, most of the New Yorkers I know think that it's obviously impossible to have a halfway decent life if you live outside New York City and most of the people from my hometown (Hillsville, VA) think it obviously true that life in any big city is hell on Earth, but neither claim is true. If nothing else talk to your former students or college friends about what they think of their non-academic jobs. Some will loathe them and find them intellectually stultifying I'm sure, but I'm betting some might find what they do pretty enjoyable and even intellectually stimulating.

Derek Bowman

If the original questioner (or anyone with similar concerns) is still reading, I've updated the Resources page listed above. Among other things I added a link to earlier discussions here at the Cocoon:



I don't think there's much point engaging the debate above. I would just encourage anyone who shares Postdoc's concerns to actually read some of the interviews.

There's no interesting version of the question of whether these careers are more or less 'intellectual' than an academic career. But many of my correspondents have been very reflective about the specific benefits and challenges that have come with their various career changes. I've certainly learned a lot from their experiences, and I think others will to.

(See also the other interviews from Helen de Cruz and from Eleni Manis, available from my Resources page and from the Cocoon threads linked in this message).


Postdoc: Ummm...I never called you a name. I said what you ares saying comes across as snobby. And I still think it does. You don't seem to understand how someone could be offended when you say that you can't imagine most intellectual minds being interested in X, and how that can come across as calling them a name, i.e. "not intellectual". (By the way, that doesn't mean you ARE calling them a name.) You also accused people who hold my position as holding it not for reasons, but because they are "so sour on philosophy".

It would be great if PhDs got training for alt-ac jobs while in grad school. Not sure how I feel about it being required.

Shay Allen Logan

I think there's an obvious ambiguity plaguing the (by now quite heated) discussion going on.

On one way of using the word "intellectual", it means something close to "someone whose happiness depends on their spending most of their time doing the sorts of things stereotypically associated with a life of the mind." Of course, it then follows (trivially and obviously) that intellectuals aren't going to be happy in a lot of non-academic jobs. It bears repeating that, on this use of the word, many intellectuals will be unhappy even in academic jobs. Intellectuals, on this use of the word, are pretty much fucked. The world being as it is, they're almost all going to be unhappy.

Of course, there is another way to use the word "intellectual" on which it means something more like "someone who enjoys doing the things stereotypically associated with a life of the mind and who regularly partakes in such activities." This doesn't require that intellectuals *exclusively* enjoy those things or that they spend most of their time doing them. I think something close to this is how *I* use the word "intellectual", at least most of the time. Whether something like this is the usual meaning of the term is an empirical question I'm not qualified to comment on. In any event, it's incredibly obvious that an intellectual in this sense can be happy doing a non-academic job, can find the work that job requires interesting, etc.

Postdoc is right about the first sort of intellectual: they won't be happy outside the academy. (Again, for the most part they won't be happy in it either. So much the worse for them.) Amanda, Derek et. al. are right about intellectuals in the second sense: they can be very happy doing all sorts of things.

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