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Another failed philosophy grad

While the author's intentions are surely admirable, more information like what they gave in point #4 and less of everything else written above would be helpful. This site already has plenty of content encouraging people to consider non-academic career options. Most philosophy Ph.D. will be pursuing non-academic careers whether they like it or not. Many of us (or at least just me) are woefully unprepared for this. Please give us more practical guidance.

Samuel Kampa

Hi Another failed philosophy grad,

I don't take it for granted that most readers of this website are seriously considering non-academic career options (though I'd love to be proven behind the curve on this). Since you're well past the "I need a pep talk" stage, feel free to reach out to me via email with any specific questions you might have, especially if you're interested in the ed tech industry or tech start-ups in general.

Another failed philosophy grad

My point was not that most readers are now seriously considering non-academic career options. My point is that most PhDs in philosophy will eventually be pursuing a career outside of philosophy whether they like it or not. I take this to be a reasonable induction given the number of individuals graduating with PhDs and the number of positions that have been available in the past.

I don't have any specific questions because I am completely clueless about finding a job outside of academia. Where do I even begin to look when my resume consists of nothing but college teaching for the past 10 years? I need something like "A Total Beginner's Guide to Finding a Job Outside of Academia." Something like this would be incredibly useful and received with gratitude. Otherwise people like me will have to resort to googling in a largely uninformed way.

Samuel Kampa

One more thing, Another failed philosophy grad: I would gently encourage you to find a more uplifting (and accurate) pseudonym. Trite as it might sound, one's self-esteem (and how one interprets or denigrates one's past accomplishments) has a material effect on one's ability to secure non-academic employment. As crucial as it is to get specific advice and do your homework, it's important not to overlook the little things that affect interview performance. That's part of why it's important (in my view) to listen to seemingly non-actionable pep talks every now and then.


To me, the "seriously, forget academia" line was much stronger and clearer here than in most of the alt-ac posts I've seen previously on Cocoon, and although I've appreciated those posts too, I really appreciated the frankness here. That said, it would also be great to have a post that was more of a panel from several people who have left academia pooling concrete advice. Samuel Kampa though thanks for welcoming emails from readers!

a philosopher

I think the requests for more concrete advice are misplaced, and display a fundamental misunderstanding. Samuel gave great concrete advice: there are multiple job markets outside academia, and getting a job in them requires area-specific skills and knowledge. As Samuel says, an attempt to produce a "how-to" guide, without knowing your specific interests, would be as worthless as sitting in on seminar about the academic job market aimed at a general academic audience (e.g., grad students from both English and Math).

If you want a place to start, yes, do some Googling. You'll find dozens of pieces on tips for transitioning out of academia. You'll also quickly find that they all say the same (mostly empty and generic) things, and are of little use.

Then, take Samuel's advice, and just get out there are start networking. Figure out what sort of job you want and start talking to those people. Go to mixers (okay, okay, I know that's not an option at the moment --- COVID19). Visit industry blogs in those areas. Watch Youtube videos. Whatever. Just get out there, meet people, and learn that area. It's going to be a long, messy, mostly awkward and painful process (likely taking a year or more). There is no actionable how-to guide that lays out the 21 steps needed.

The world is huge, and there are many, many, many opportunities out there. More than you can imagine. Just start digging around and explore it. For me, these sorts of explorations were an exciting time of imagining new possibilities and finding out about all the really cool things people did outside philosophy.

Sorry if all that comes off as harsh, but I'm just being frank.

Samuel Kampa

I think *a philosopher* is right about the impossibility of giving maximally concrete yet maximally generalizable advice (though I'm sure someone else can strike that balance better than I can). While career books and posts like this can lead you in the right direction (or at least give you a sense of which directions are dead-ends), it's up to you to get your hands dirty and get as good a beat on your target industry as you can. Now, I could write a post just on getting a job at a tech start-up (since that's the industry I know best), but even that would probably be less than fully actionable, since there are many different kinds of tech start-ups at many different stages of funding, etc.

To echo *a philosopher* again, one of the best things you can do, once you've resolved to leave academia, is reach out to strangers who have careers you're interested in, ask to have a cup of coffee with them, and come prepared with detailed questions. In retrospect, this probably should have been one of my numbered points. Hindsight...

In an open relationship with Academia

Thanks for your post, Samuel.

In response to some of the comments above:

I've had a non-academic job for a year between my PhD and my postdoc. I was an advisor in ethics for a government agency outside the US. 70% of my time was for doing research. 2/3 of my colleagues were philosophers. In a nutshell, I was doing research in ethics (mostly applied), but outside Academia.

On skills: My PhD in normative philosophy was a big asset. But this wasn't enough to land the job. I also needed to prove that I can communicate clearly (e.g., not just for ten specialists), analyze complex phenomena in a short time (you can't ask for extensions forever, you need to deliver), work in teams, and target new publics for our publications ("knowledge transfer"). After I was hired, I was told that these skills made a difference between the candidates.

When I got this job, I quickly realized that there were at least 5-10 other public agencies that hire philosophers. Before that, I never realized the existence of these positions. Philosophy departments do a terrible job at advertising them. Just because you don't hear about these positions doesn't mean they don't exist.

I really like the idea that I could "alternate" between Academia and the public sector. There is no need for me to make a firm decision between the two. I am lucky to be in a country where the academic world is not too conservative. People keep an open mind, and would hire someone from the public sector (provided, of course, that I can explain why this experience is relevant).

In the past year, one thing I think I learned is that, at least in ethics, cities, states or countries with strong public institutions are more likely to hire philosophers. This makes sense. Public institutions are not organized around profitability and quarterly profits, and are interested in making justified decisions. So, if you're starting to look for jobs outside Academia, my advice would be to look for cities, states or countries with strong public structures (Of course, some private companies hire philosophers, but I think, as a rule of thumb, that public institutions are more likely to hire philosophy PhDs).

Samuel Kampa

Thanks, *open relationship*. I'm pleasantly surprised to hear that philosophers are in demand at public agencies. That's a world I don't know at all, so I appreciate the additional perspective.


In an open relationship with Academia, writes

"When I got this job, I quickly realized that there were at least 5-10 other public agencies that hire philosophers. Before that, I never realized the existence of these positions. Philosophy departments do a terrible job at advertising them. Just because you don't hear about these positions doesn't mean they don't exist."

So help us do a better job by providing a list of these agencies, maybe? Departments are filled with philosophers who never had to go looking for alternative jobs.


I like this post. And I agree that advice that is aimed at both practicality (concrete how to stuff) and to be general (apply to philosophy PhDs in general, regardless of skills, experience, and preferences) cannot be very helpful. I also agree that the possible non-academic job market for philosophers stretches far and wide.

However, I nonetheless think that panels consisting of multiple persons in distinct, non-academic, industries, can be immensely helpful. I am organizing one of these for my own grad students. While it is not finalized, my aim is to have the following panelists (all philosophy PhDs)

-an engineer at Google who landed a job months after finishing a philosophy PhD in M&E. This person had a minor in computer science as an undergrad, but little experience. They will talk about getting jobs in the tech industry.

-a bioethics coordinator at a major hospital who will talk about jobs for philosophers in healthcare.

- a therapist with a private practice business.

-an employee of a standardized testing agency

-an academic administrator

-a teacher at a private high school

While the jobs above certainly are not exhaustive of the possibilities of non-academic jobs for philosophers, I think they are jobs that will both interest many grad students, and jobs that have a decent employment opportunities. I think graduate school programs are ethically obligated to look into these non-academic opportunities, and to make alt-ac career possibilities a central part of the graduate program, especially post COVID-19.

Yes, faculty at PhD institutions are professional academics, and rarely experts on on-academic careers. But they do not need to be experts to talk to experts, and to learn general information that when presented to their grad students, gives students a strong starting platform to go do the dirty work themselves. Many students, of course, will not. They will learn the hard way. But it is still the job of the grad program (I would say) to offer the fighting chance, even if it is declined.

You made my day

"To echo *a philosopher* again, one of the best things you can do, once you've resolved to leave academia, is reach out to strangers who have careers you're interested in, ask to have a cup of coffee with them, and come prepared with detailed questions. In retrospect, this probably should have been one of my numbered points."

I seriously wonder what world this guy is living in and whether I am living in the same world as he is. Like what is the advice exactly? Email someone I've never met and try to arrange a coffee date? Is this a joke? Stop trolling people! LOL

I guess his dating advice is just google people and find someone and email them and ask for a date. LOL That's how I get all the ladies!

I am literally cracking up right now falling off the couch laughing.

This really made my day! Thanks.

Marcus Arvan

"Email someone I've never met and try to arrange a coffee date? Is this a joke?"

You made my day: I personally know people who have done this and gotten jobs this way. You'd be surprised how willing to help people in this world can actually be if only you take the initiative, reach out to them, and ask. But sure, feel free to just haughtily dismiss it and fall off your couch laughing. Unfortunately, I suspect that people with these kinds of dismissive attitudes may ultimately find themselves left stuck on their couch unemployed. I don't say this to be mean or unsupportive. I say it because I genuinely think it is true, and because I think you might be better off if you recognized it.

In an open relationship with Academia

The APA published a Beyond Academia document in 2016. Philosophy PhDs are usually qualified for policy advisors positions (for instance, I just made a quick search on the US federal job portal and I found this: https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/552528000
It says that "you may substitute education for specialized experience as follows: Ph.D. or equivalent doctoral degree")

I don't see the point of listing the institutions I have in mind (since I'm going to list organizations outside the US). But if you still want a list, here it is:
- Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
- Women and Gender Equality Canada
- Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada
- Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
- All jobs stemming from the canadian Recruitment of Policy Leaders program
- etc.

you made my day

If only I'd recognize that the only thing holding me back in life is that I don't think emailing strangers is an effective career progression strategy! What a sad tragedy! LOL


YMMD: "I seriously wonder what world this guy is living in and whether I am living in the same world as he is. Like what is the advice exactly? Email someone I've never met and try to arrange a coffee date? Is this a joke? Stop trolling people! LOL"

Yes, that's exactly what you should do. It's not funny. It's what real people do. The fact that such an option makes a random philosopher laugh just shows how naive many philosophers are about how getting a job works outside academia. There are other options as well; you need not email a random total stranger. Try asking friends (or friends of friends) for contacts with whom they can connect you. Try your alumni network. Try just getting yourself out in the world, e.g. going to meetups for professionals or taking up some hobby, and meet people that way. I don't know.

Before someone interprets this reply as snarky, well, I'm not the one literally laughing at good advice from earnest people.

Amanda: "Yes, faculty at PhD institutions are professional academics, and rarely experts on on-academic careers. But they do not need to be experts to talk to experts, and to learn general information that when presented to their grad students, gives students a strong starting platform to go do the dirty work themselves. Many students, of course, will not. They will learn the hard way. But it is still the job of the grad program (I would say) to offer the fighting chance, even if it is declined."

I think this is just an argument that philosophy faculty should become experts in these other fields, or at least get their foot in the door. How? Well, start doing more research that actually engages with real-life problems or industries. There are plenty of genuinely philosophical problems all around us, problems such that engagement would have real value for these industries. Check out a site like 80,000 hrs, think of all the issues now surrounding privacy and AI ethics, or questions about animal sentience and the morality of eating meet, questions about the epistemology of medical research or epidemiological models, questions about how to thrive and live a good life while social distancing or while surviving a crushing depression ... I could go on, and on, this stuff is easy.

If philosophy faculty take up projects with real world impact, that will situate them to collaborate with people in industries outside philosophy. This will position them to learn something about those industries and what those people need. That will position them to not only better advice their grad students, but also will model for their grad students philosophical projects of value outside the academy. Further, if those grad students see their advisors taking up these projects and engaging with industry, they themselves will be more apt to do it too, and hence better position themselves for jobs outside the university.

TT prof

There was a time when I was making concrete steps to leave academia. I cold-emailed a few people who weren't in academia and had phone conversations with them, some as long as 30 minutes. I imagined if we were in the same cities and I'd asked for coffee, they probably would have agreed.

I encourage "you made my day" to take a moment to reflect on the fact that the world does not always operate the way they think it does.

Marcus Arvan

Mike: it seems to me judging by "you made my day"'s response that they have little interest in heeding testimony by you, me, Samuel, TT Prof, and others that yes, not doing this stuff actually *does* hold people back in life. That's fine, I guess, though I do wish they were less dismissive (if only for their own sake).

Anyway, you are absolutely right when you say "It's not funny. It's what real people do. The fact that such an option makes a random philosopher laugh just shows how naive many philosophers are about how getting a job works outside academia."

My mother worked in non-profits as a career-coach for many years, and anyone who works in her line of work or who has actually tried it themselves will tell you that, yes, reaching out to strangers actually works and can be vital to getting a job. People in the real world *want* "go-getters", not people who just lazily upload resumes to Monster.com.

Will some strangers turn you down? Absolutely. But, to go back to you made my day's (bizarre) dating analogy, the very *same* thing is true in dating. I never dated online (that was after my time). But, you know what people in my generation did? They *walked up to strangers* to strike up a conversation. Aside from meeting people through friends, that was literally the only way to get a date! And would one you get turned down? Yes, of course: most of us got turned down a lot! Dating, in this regard, was a rather miserable thing. But if you just sat laughing on your couch, you'd get no dates. So, unless you did want to be a lonely couch surfer, you had to get out in the world and do it.

Anyway, judging by their initial comment and response, I don't think "you made my day" is likely to appreciate such guidance, however accurate it may be. It's sad, I think. Too many people *do* hold themselves back by thinking they know better than everyone else.

Derek Shiller

Great advice! One thing that I think this post brings out well, is that while a philosophy Ph.D. is seldom enough to get you a job outside of academia, the barriers to entry are not as high as you might expect. Once you get your foot in the door somewhere, it is often possible to advance your career much more quickly than it is in academia. The trick is to build that small extra skill set that will make employers take a chance on you.

On cold emailing, this isn't something I did when I left academia, but in retrospect I wish I had. The information you can get firsthand from someone working in an industry that you want to break into is likely to be much better than anything you can find on the internet. I've had the chance to offer career advice on skype calls or over coffee to both strangers and acquaintances, and it has always been a positive experience for me.

you made my day

They always say 'don't feed the trolls,' so I am hesitant to try to inject any reason into this conversation. But I'll try. Anyone who is emailing strangers to ask for a coffee meeting is going to seem like a weirdo. Also, anyone important enough to be of any help, a.k.a. not the janitor, is going to be way too busy to take time out of his day to meet up with someone for coffee they've never met or heard about before. Finally, probably most people would be afraid in this day and age to meetup with a stranger, especially a weirdo, which will be you if you follow the advice. Now, yea if you email enough people, like 100s of people, someone is going to agree to get coffee with you, but anyone who does is likely to turn out to be a weirdo. Notify your friends before you go just in case you don't come back. Maybe it's just a generational thing? I'm sure that once upon a time emailing to meetup was something people did. But I'm telling you guys that these days that seems pretty strange. Now, maybe just emailing and asking some questions is fine, and I could see this working to help someone out. But that's not the advice I was laughing at.

Marcus Arvan

you made my day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sRS1dwCotw

I don't think it is at all reasonable to say that people who are telling you from personal experience that it works are trolls. I made the same arguments you just made to my mom when I was a young man ("young people don't do that!"). I learned as I got older that I was wrong and she was right all along.

Other people in this thread have explained that reaching out to people worked for them. Instead of contesting their testimony, how about you actually try it instead? The world of industry outside of academia revolves around getting to know people, and NO ONE thinks it is weird to get an email out of the blue. It happens all the time. Seriously. The fact that you *think* it is weird says a lot, I think. I am 100% certain that no one at Samuel Kampa's startup would think it is weird at all to hear out of the blue from people like you. Whether or not they would actually want to meet is a different story. You'd have to convince them that it is worth their time. But that's what people like Samuel have done, and what legions of successful job-candidates have done as long as job markets have existed.


It didn't escape my notice that a philosopher just used a priori reasoning to try to show how a social phenomena (job hunting) works.

As for the generational thing, I'm 32.

YMMD: if you honestly think we're all trolling you, you could fire off an email to a professional career counsellor and ask them for their opinion. If you're a grad student or recent grad, the career center at your institution will certainly take that email. It will cost you 5 minutes of your time, and if we're right, it will save you from wasting years on fruitless job-search strategies.

TT prof

At this point I would suspect YMMD is a troll. Why? Because they're making universal claims in the face of several people, some not anonymous, who have given counterexamples. Either YMMD is deeply epistemically vicious--they made their initial empirical claim from the arm chair and they're sticking to it--or it's a troll attempt.

Samuel Kampa

Thanks for the discussion, everyone! RE *you made my day*: I have indeed had informational interviews with strangers over coffee. If they were weird, they weren't any weirder than me. While I've also been ghosted (and was even "stood up" at one point), my success rate was much better than 1 in 100. While no jobs came directly out of those interactions, I learned a lot about the industries in question. That doesn't mean informational interviews are fruitless; indeed, that's the main point of these interviews.

If you're trolling, OK. I get that we're all a little bored right now. But if you're sincere, I'd be happy to talk about my experiences offline. Feel free to email me; I promise I'll respond to a stranger!


Mike, I agree with you. I think it would be great if more philosophers started doing applied work that was relevant to alt-ac opportunities. And I do think the profession is moving in the direction of taking applied philosophy more seriously. However, I also think that the many of those in the older generations of philosophy will only be taken in that direction kicking and screaming, and because philosophers often work until their 70s and sometimes even 80s, it could be a while before there is a wide spread change of the significance leading to the circumstances you describe. So, I would say, if philosophers are tied to their own non-practical area of research, this is still not an excuse for just ignoring the alt-ac market There is much faculty can do to help their grad students increase the odds of success on the non-academic market, even without non-academic expertise.

"Made my day," as everyone else seems to know, is mistaken. Emailing strangers does not make you look like a weirdo. Suppose, for instance, a philosophy PhD was interested in starting a franchise business. They go to Linked-in, and look up franchise owners. They email a handful of them, saying something like,


I came across your email on Linked-in. I just finished graduate school, and I'm interested in getting involved in franchise ownership. Unfortunately, I have no personal contacts in the field. If you have the time, I would greatly appreciate a conversation about how to get into the business. You look like someone who has had success, and it would be immensely helpful to learn from someone in your position."

Not everyone will reply or say yes, but often people do. Many turn out to be both flattered by the request, and impressed by the initiative.

Actually, contacting strangers can be immensely helpful in academia too. Typically, it is best to do this through some type of contact, i.e. my advisor recommended I contact you. But that isn't necessary. I get emails from strangers about my work, including from grad students, and I am happy to reply. I recently got an email from a"regular guy on the street" who became interested in philosophy via meet-up group. He asked for reading recommendations, which I was happy to provide. I do think asking for a letter of recommendation cold is not the best idea. But an email that starts with a request for advice might turn into a relationship where a letter becomes plausible.

I know introverts will find this aspect of career success painful. I do. But it is just the world we live in. So it is best to find a way to make yourself do at least some networking activities. Personally, I will never be the person at the conference dinner that leaves the evening with 5 phone numbers and 2 paper collaborations. But reaching out in uncomfortable situations has been vital to my professional success, and would surely be even more vital if I was outside the ivory towers. In my own academic case, I knew I wasn't a "dinner event" person. Hence,I found other ways. One was picking up invited speakers at airports, which provided a chance for private and personal conversation.


Amanda, thanks. I think that's right about the older generations. Unfortunately, it's also still mostly those established philosophers who control the incentives in the discipline: via tenure committee slots, journal editorships, etc. While I think some younger philosophers are already getting on board with the type of research I suggest, the incentive structures in the field are still all wrong. People still are, for the most part, only professionally rewarded for publishing in the high-prestige journals, which mostly want traditional esoteric research. I have noticed in the last 5 yrs a lot of high-profile grants from institutions outside philosophy which fund applied (or more applied) research projects. Perhaps the growing availability of these grants, a lack of in-house funding at US institutions, and a need to get our graduates jobs (outside philosophy) will together pull more of the discipline to collaborations outside traditional philosophy.

I also think there's just a purely sociological or cultural issue to much of this. Why do so many people not see these applied projects as "real philosophy", or find them less interesting than the esoteric stuff published in Nous? I imagine it's largely because of our training: many of us only read that sort of stuff as students, and our natural inclination towards philosophy was moulded to it. I think as more of these applied projects pop up, as more people teach more innovative courses that go beyond "the cannon" to applied areas, and more people are exposed to these alternatives, the alternative applied work will take on an intrinsic interest for more people. That's what's happened to me over the last five years, although of course I still have my pet projects in pure philosophy.

Paul Carron

I am a little surprised that no philosophers have cold called other philosophers (I guess that's because we mostly do our own work in our own little caves lol). About 6 years ago I applied for a pretty big grant (about 200k) and I needed a psychologist on my team. I didn't know any at my institution that worked on what I needed at the time, so I heeded the advice of a colleague in another discipline, and I started researching universities nearby to see if I could find someone with the relevant research interests. I did, and I emailed them. They responded quickly that they were interested. I called them. We had a long conversation. They were even more interested. We applied for the grant, which too an incredible amount of work. We didn't get it because I was super green, but I think the point is obvious. Even in academia (but outside of philosophy in disciplines where people are used to collaborating), cold calling isn't all that unusual. And like Marcus said, what's the worst thing that happens? You get told thanks but no thanks, and you move on. It cost you a few minutes...

Matias Slavov

Thanks for the valuable work you do on providing information on alt-ac careers, Samuel.

You seem confident that finding an academic job is extremely difficult for new PhDs (you refer to it as "a pipe dream"). Do you have data on how likely it is to land a TT job in the States? I know that this is a complicated question that depends on multiple variables. But what would be a rough figure, say, how many applicants are there per position?

I work in Finland (I did a two-year postdoc in the States) and here we do not have an academic job market for junior scholars like you do. We apply funding from private foundations and the Academy of Finland. Roughly 5-20% of the applicants get the grant. Typically it is less than 10% per application.

What is the probability of getting a job for fresh PhDs in US?

Tom Cochrane

Hi Samuel
I just wanted to say congrats on your Obsessive–compulsive akrasia article. I was one the referees for Mind & Language.

I'm sorry to hear that a career in academia didn't work out for you. You'd certainly have deserved it as much as anyone else.

Samuel Kampa

Thank you for the kind words, Tom. The comments I received were *extremely* helpful, so if that paper was any sort of success, it was due in large part to your contributions.

Marcus Arvan

Matias: There was an ADPA report in 2017 that, if I remember correctly, reported 37% of PhDs receiving permanent academic jobs within 5 years. I don't think it focused exclusively on the States, but the vast majority of universities in the report were if I recall.

another option

As someone who has left academic philosophy and spent quite a bit of time investigating alternative careers, my main obstacle hasn't been getting a job but finding a job I want to get. And to the extent that I want to get a job I never seem to want it enough to put in the massive effort it takes to get it. So, I've become the stay at home partner who keeps the house in order. I also help my partner out with her academic career by writing papers with my partner and so on--I'm a good writer. I'm kind of in a unique situation where money isn't much of a concern. I'm very privileged in this respect. However, one also doesn't, in fact, need lots of money to be happy. So, I guess people shouldn't forget that there is a third option, at least for some people--opt not to have a career.

This will be easier for married women than for married men due to the fact that few look down on a stay at home wife, but men might have a tougher time. However, man or women, there are advantages to not having a career, if you can afford it.

1. More time with the children. Man or women, there can be a lot of joy to actually being around for your children, and assuming you're not a horrible person, it'll probably be good for your children too. You'll also save money not having to dump your kid(s) in daycare. I'm sure you all know that once upon a time it was normal for the women to stay at home and raise the children. Well, for most today that isn't an option, because the salaries are too low. But man or women, if you can afford it, staying at home is still an option today. There is no law that says your meaning and purpose has to come from having a career and making money. Other things might matter more...

2. More time with your partner. Instead of both couples coming home exhausted and tired at the end of the day, you can be there to make life easier for your partner and so have more time to spend with each other. You'd be amazed at how much time you free up to spend with your partner if you take care of the household chores. You might find you have a better relationship, that your partner is less stressed, and so on. You can even find time to be romantic! Imagine that!

3. Healthier and tastier food. If you make a healthy and tasty meal every day and do the shopping, keep the house clean, and do all these classical household activities, you'll find that it uses up most of your day, depending on your standards. There can be a lot of meaning in providing a nice meal to your family every day. Other benefits will be that you'll probably save money over eating out all the time and have a more healthy diet. Again, I know that finding meaning in these types of activities is no longer something we're brought up to do, and probably most men and women today will find these tasks beneath them. However, you can chose to delete this societal programming if you want.

4. More time to think about philosophy! If you have a strong passion for philosophy, the life of a stay at home partner can be a life of the mind. You can think about philosophy while you clean, shop, and cook, because these tasks are not that intellectually demanding.--I've learned you need to make a list for the groceries though or you'll forget items.--You'll find that once you become more efficient with the historically feminine tasks, man or women, that you have a few hours of free time every day. I still write and publish philosophy papers in respected journals. You can too, but only if writing and publishing philosophy was something you genuinely found meaningful and fun. If you didn't, you'll probably find that you think about the subject little and you will have learned something important--that philosophy never really was what your heart desired in the first place.

(Note: when you're publishing philosophy as a hobby and not as a life or death necessity, you'll find that your philosophy is actually better. You no longer are writing to get another line on your CV ASAP, but you're writing to express what you really think. It's also much easier and more fun to deal with referees when you don't really care whether the paper is published this year or next or ever. Before I would never refuse to do something a referee asked, now I do it much more often. Life is just better when you're more free and have less pressures to conform.)

Anyway, obviously much more could be said, but I'll leave it there. Good luck everyone!


@another option: Thanks for articulating that option well. I want to throw out a variation. Even if you can't afford to just stay at home, you might be able to afford only working part time in a low-skill job, or in the gig economy. In that case, you could view housespouse as your primary job, and still proceed more-or-less as you suggest.

There's so much negativity in academia around the idea of any one spouse being the "homemaker", or the idea that someone could be content in such a role, but I think you articulate well why and how it can still be a fulfilling and meaningful life.

And for what it's worth, I've definitely assumed this role at various points in my life. To the extent that I was uncomfortable in it, I was mostly uncomfortable because I worried about public shame and how people would view me.


Mike, yes, I agree with all of that re the profession. I hope things will move in the applied direction sooner rather than later, but there are a. lot of unknowns.

Another option: I would add that, if you are in a position for a spouse to support you, then picking up a few adjunct classes is probably a good gig. You get a bit of extra income, and you can still have some part in a traditional academic community. Of course, a lot of this depends on the environment of the department and the university. But when I was an adjunct during grad school, there was a great group of philosophers, some tenure track, some lecturers, and many adjuncts, who had a social community where we would go out eat, attend philosophy talks together, and have things like working paper groups. There was very little judgment about one's particular role in the department.

If you check craigslist, there are also a decent amount of freelance writing opportunities. If that is something you enjoy, and you have enough money to get by, it might be a fun hobby. I don't think it is typical to build a career on it, however.

For Phds looking for non-academic jobs, I would encourage you to look into editing gigs like upwork. I sometimes hire editors from upwork, and many have managed to make a decent career out of it. It also comes with tons of freedom and you can work anywhere!


Related story: I once had a colleague who was an adjunct for 12 YEARS before he got a TT-job. He also finished his PhD late, so was over 50 when he started the TT position. For those 12 years, his wife was the primary breadwinner. When he accepted the TT position, she became a stay at home parent.

Samuel Kampa

I agree that adjuncting is not a bad gig if it's not one's primary source of income and if time is not an object. I do understand that some people love philosophy enough that they're okay with full-time indefinite adjuncting. While I think there's nothing wrong with that, I don't think I could do it (and I'm sure many others are in the same boat).

@another option: Being a stay-at-home dad is the dream! While I think it's becoming increasing difficult for families of my generation to get by on one income---especially if both spouses are recovering academics---full-time parenting is nice work if you can get it.

another option

Everyone is different but for me adjuncting is not something I will ever do again. I did some adjuncting when I was living a life of not so quiet desperation while attempting to get a decent academic job. We were treated pretty horribly, and the pay was really just not worth it unless you were looking for a line on your CV. However, if you really love teaching, then it's a different story. I agree that in that case adjuncting could be seen as a hobby you're paid something for. I don't mind teaching, but for me what I love is writing philosophy and thinking about it, not dealing with students who mainly just don't care and tortuous university admin systems.

Something everyone should consider though before adjuncting is whether the practice as used today is moral. So, it's not as simple, I don't think, as if you love teaching, then adjuncting is a good part-time job to pull in some extra money doing something you enjoy. I think the fact is that universities have pumped out way too many PhDs and then used this over supply of labor to force salaries and benefits down. The overuse of adjuncts by some universities/colleges is due to this, frankly, crooked behavior.


another option: yes, it varies by personality type, circumstance, but also very much the department and how you are treated. At my former place, we were treated kindly and as part of the community by the faculty. While the pay and benefits is not "great" it was much better than other places. And yes, there was benefits even for a single course.

I disagree about the ethics thing. There are just so many jobs that are unethical, and it is unfair, I think, to ask people to not do what is in their interest for the sake of some greater cause, when the sacrifice will almost certainly have no consequence on the greater cause. Second, I think if the adjuncts consisted mostly of people in the situation I describe, it would not be an ethical problem. Third, why should we ask people not to adjunct, rather than ask them not to take TT positions? It seems taking a TT position is supporting the system just as much as taking an adjunct one. Both are taking place in an oppressive system. And any individual action alone is unlikely to have any effect on the systematic oppression.

josef k

Thanks, Samuel, for the perspective on an alt-ac career. I had a bunch of jobs between undergrad and going to grad school, including working in tech. The thing that I always had a hard time with was the fact that I was generally involved in the making of a product from which I was alienated and in which I had little to no personal investment. I went into tech originally because I hoped I would be able to find it intellectually fulfilling in the way I'd found academic work, while still enabling me to have a good career. I didn't find that, so I went back to academia.

In academia, I work mostly on things I care about, and I actually have ownership over the thing I'm producing. Furthermore, I also have a lot of autonomy in terms of when/where/what I work on--something that is sorely missing in a lot of non-academic jobs.

This isn't to say that your advice isn't useful, Samuel, and that there aren't exceptions to the problem I'm outlining here. Maybe working in the public sector would be better. Maybe not as many people care about autonomy and ownership as much as I do. I don't know. I just see a fair bit of advice about *how* to get an alt-ac job, but less discussion about how to find one that offers similar benefits of ownership/autonomy/intellectually interesting work. I get that there are probably some tech companies that might offer these things to a degree, or certain specific public-sector jobs, but it's not always clear where one might find such jobs. It would be interesting to hear more discussion about this kind of question with respect to alt-ac careers.

Samuel Kampa

@josef k: Thanks for the added perspective. I can't personally speak to being alienated from the product I'm helping produce, in part because I'm still working broadly in the education space. (Yellowdig produces an online discussion platform for universities.) Due to the size of our company (~10 employees), I also have a more direct hand than your average entry-level employee in the development of the product.

This goes back to my recommendation that newly minted PhDs seriously consider joining a start-up despite the risks involved. Start-ups are often (though not always) heavily mission-driven, and they're small enough that you're not just a cog in a machine. Unlike in larger tech companies, employees can see projects from start to finish. But everyone's experience is a bit different; your mileage may vary.

Samuel Kampa

@josef: As far as where one might find such jobs, angel.co is perhaps the best place to find small mission-driven tech start-ups. And then there's the non-profit sector, which I didn't even get into. I hear that GiveWell and their supported charities are hiring! Working as an analyst for a charity like Against Malaria Foundation, GiveDirectly, etc., would be pretty amazing.


Samuel, I checked out angel.co, and to sign up you need to classify yourself and prior experience. The categories they give exclude those in philosophy who don't have prior work experience outside academia. For example, they're things like "marketing", "software engineer", "data scientist", etc. Do you have any recommendations for how a philosopher could set up their profile, especially the category to put themselves in?

Samuel Kampa

@Mike: I had the same issue when I joined. While angel requires you to pick a category, I don't think they do much other than sort your feed, perhaps. So in lieu of selecting a category that reflects prior work experience, consider selecting a category that captures your target market or role(s). I don't think it's dishonest given that you're required to pick something, and I get the sense that employers on angel.co focus less on the profile and more on the information that they can glean from other sources (e.g., resume, informal cover letter). This is a bit different from the way recruitment works on LinkedIn.

If there's a "research analyst" category, that'd be a pretty close match. I believe "education" is also an option under "Markets".


Thanks Samuel! That's a helpful way to look at it.

Anon Graduate

Any recommendations for someone who lives in the middle of nowhere? There just aren't networking events anywhere near where I live, and I can't afford to move without a job.

Samuel Kampa

At this stage of the game, none of us can attend networking events in person, so I'd be on the lookout for virtual networking events. They're bound to be awkward, but it's better to get your cringe on than live in career isolation.

Still, new PhDs might find one-on-one Zoom calls with strangers more productive (as unintuitive as that sounds). A few tips when reaching out to strangers:

- Don't tell them that you want a job or imply that you want to work where they work.
- Tell them that you're interested in learning more about what they do, and be sincere. This isn't a real job interview.
- Keep the message brief.
- Thank them for their time.
- Come prepared with questions. You're the driver.


I'm coming to this party late, but I thought YMMD's response was actually *really* significant--it just shows...... how so many ways academics think the world works are actually ways the academic world works, specifically.

I have a friend who left academia (not by choice) and who is now extremely happy with her non-academic career. It's been a few years, and yet, still, once in a while, she'll express how surprised she is by how *helpful* people are outside of academia and how generous with their knowledge and resources. It's funny because I don't think of us as *unhelpful.* But maybe we just are, by comparison.

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