Our books






Become a Fan

« Responding to prospective grad student emails | Main | What is like to be a philosopher in Panama? »

02/08/2020

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

a philosopher

Thanks for this post. It speaks to much of what's been on my mind lately. I only at the moment have a small point, about why it's difficult to get interesting, authentic work published in journals. Many referees, although certainly not all, approach their job as one of finding argumentative flaws or raising other objections. This, of course, leads to people writing pieces which are "referee proof", which usually means writing narrowly on some small topic in a highly technical manner in order to make a small interjection. If referee norms were more in line with rejecting for lack of substance, originality, or insight, we would get more authentic pieces into journals.

I say all this as an analytic philosophy who enjoys this sort of adversarial game in person, but loathes it in publishing. I will say that lately I've had some run of luck with positive referee reports which were clearly written with an eye to originality and insight, with less concern on technical details. So perhaps the tide is turning on this? One can hope.

another one bites the dust

Inauthenticity is more of a problem for some people than for others. I also left philosophy late after having a postdoc and having published over a dozen articles. I remember my first year on the market I applied for 60 jobs or so and got one interview for a one year teaching position. My competitors were about 5 years older than me on average and had already finished postdocs. One of them was already teaching at the university I was interviewing at. I knew right then that I was going to have a very difficult time on the job market. Things were so bad that people much older than me and much more advanced in their careers were applying for entry level positions. I remember that one of the other interviewees was in his 40s!!!!

In this kind of competitive environment it was very hard for me to be myself. Both on the job market and in person at conferences or in any professional atmosphere, even getting drinks after a talk, I was thinking of the dire situation I've put myself into by doing a PhD in philosophy and how I may end up in my mid 30s with no job and no relevant skills to get another middle class job. This in fact scared me so much I started having panic attacks at night and was unable to sleep. The fear utterly destroyed my authentic self and made me in fact feel guilty for being myself, because I had the idea that my authentic self was not witty enough and didn't come across as smart enough. I felt that my authentic self was too critical as well. So, I started to hate myself and everything about myself. I felt I was too dumb, too slow, not affable enough, not cool enough, not attractive enough, not funny enough...

In the end, I left philosophy, in part because I couldn't find a decent job but also because it was just too stressful. I was so unhappy I wanted to die. I was getting drunk every Friday to deal with it too, which was making me feel ill. I decided enough was enough and I had to leave. It's been two years now. The first year was hard. But this year is much better. My sleeping has improved, my happiness has come back, and I am starting to have new interests. I do not yet have a new career and may or may not bother with that at all. My partner now has a good job luckily and our financial situation is much more secure than it was a few years ago. I could just work in the gig economy to pull in some extra change and we'd be fine. I might be an Uber driver. After philosophy, I am no longer an ambitious person. It destroyed that part of me, I think for good.

Do I hate philosophy now? I hate the professional discipline. I think it sucks. It's far too competitive. It's too elitist, and there is far too much cronyism. Philosophy is not for people like me. My skin is too thin, my fear of rejection too high, my anxiety too bad... I fancy myself a strong thinker and that is what others say about me too. I had zero trouble writing a dissertation and figuring out the publishing game with almost no help. However, I cannot continue day in and day out living a life of fear. I cannot continue to compete like crazy for years and apply for hundreds and hundreds of jobs over years and work to make people like me by being witty, telling good jokes, fostering the acceptable political views, and on and on. That's a horrible way to live!

Yay yay no more APA

Fabio’s post resonated with me and I feel much the same way, although I haven’t left academia. I got a teaching position that doesn’t require much research, and now life is totally different.

I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to know that I never have to go to another APA, which I absolutely loathed. I hated networking and posturing in conversation, which I now don’t have to do. I hated working on papers that didn’t make a meaningful difference to a philosophical problem, but which I knew were likely to be published, just because of the way they were written. I don’t have to do that anymore. Basically all of the things that I hated about the profession are gone because my job does not require me to deal with “the profession” at all. All I have to do is teaching, service, and whatever research I want to do. And that’s it. And it’s beyond amazing.

TT prof

TT professor here. Like Yay yay, Fabio's post really spoke to me. So much of philosophy research seems to be to be such a waste of time. So much of it is just tinkering with solutions to philosophical problems that only exist because people need something to write about (for prestige, for jobs, for promotions, or whatever). It makes me think of a passage from (I think) a Dostoevsky novel, where a character says philosophy is something it's good to spend a few years on, but a waste of a life otherwise.

As someone at a teaching institution, the research requirements are minimal enough that my dissertation pubs carried me easily. As a result, I get to write on what I want (if at all), pursue non-academic interests, perfect my teaching, have a life, and so on. I think I would be deeply unhappy if I were at a more research-intensive school. My reasons are largely Fabio's.

a philosopher

My own story (and feelings) is much like "another one bites the dust"s, except that I've responded by leaning into my authentic self more. Facing the fear, anxiety, insecurity, stress, etc, my response has mostly been "fuck that". I don't have the energy to put on a professional persona, or figure out what people want to see. So I've just been riding through the end of my post-doc as myself. I applied to a bunch of jobs this job season, with no interviews. The whole exercise now feels like a total waste of time, although I'm super happy that what I've been writing (and publishing) is stuff I'm genuinely excited about. I feel like even if I don't get to go on in philosophy (and that seems very likely), the (very small) bit of work I've gotten to do was worthwhile --- not merely small interjections into a debate. I only regret that I didn't have more time to write and publish one or two more papers (although nothing stops me from carrying on them with, even if I become an "independent scholar").

In any case, I'm a very competitive person. While having to compete in philosophy has worn me down, and I don't see myself continuing much longer, I do have other competitive pursuits which genuinely excite me right now. I'd rather be my authentic self and pursue them than try to hone an inauthentic philosophical persona over the next five years on the off change I'll get a decent full-time permanent job in philosophy.

Come to think of it, I think clinging to my authenticity (whether in what I've written, or now in pursuing other competitive pursuits) is most of what's kept me sane lately.

The pursuit of professional success in philosophy via inauthentic image crafting or worthless paper-writing is a dark hole I don't want to go down.

way-of-lifer

There are philosophers who explicitly weave together the personal and the philosophical, and I am on board with admiring them. I myself tend to write about topics that are of personal urgency, but tend not to show, in my actual write-ups whether they be articles, conference papers or something else, that these are personal issues for me. Nevertheless, the philosophical process for me is a personal one. I am very much on board with Pierre Hadot in thinking of philosophy as a way of life, as a way of dealing with You.

Some may think my omitting indications to the personal nature of the questions I write about inauthentic. But any writing involves editing. I would claim that those who disclose the personality of the topics also think carefully about how much to say about the personal aspect of these topics. That is no less authentic -- it's about communicating your ideas after all, and there is no obligation for self-disclosure in philosophy (which I like).

I've felt that not just has my writing not diminished my authenticity, doing professional philosophy -- very much as a junior, I admit -- has fortuitously helped me become more authentic. The philosophical community is allowing and supportive of some personality traits of mine, such as ambition, that my peer support communities in other realms do not encourage.

That said, the community is not supportive about everything. What shakes me to my core about some professional philosophers is talking about vulnerable groups like they were chess pieces to be moved about to accomplish an argument. This is not just a feature of philosophical writing -- it's even more a feature of "controversial" dinner table conversations at conferences. "Say, what do you think of transracialism", uttered by a white cis dude not working on the topic, does not come across to a minority philosopher as an icebreaker but rather as treating minority positions as intellectual curiosities.

But there is authenticity also in the rage I feel at such dinner tables. So as a whole, with regard to authenticity, I have only gained.

Late Bloomer?

I feel like I've only lately found my "authentic" philosophical voice. Unfortunately it arrived around the same time I started being in real contention for permanent academic positions, and I have begun to worry that those few places (on the internet and in print) where I've expressed myself in my "real" voice might be hurting me on the mid-career-scholar job market.

Tbh, I think getting out of academia might better allow me to do the kind of philosophy I really want to do, but it's been a sad, slow process of realization that staying in the university system is potentially more likely to stifle my authenticity than to promote its flourishing. Still, like "a philosopher" above, I think I'm starting to lean into my "more genuine" self (or selves) and am kind of looking forward to the freedom of philosophical expression that leaving the academic discipline of philosophy might offer me.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Philosophers in Industry Directory

Job-market reporting thread

Current Job-Market Discussion Thread

Cocoon Job-Market Mentoring Program

Categories