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05/27/2020

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Marcus,
I am dismayed that someone turns to twitter to voice such concerns. I do not think that is the most constructive outlet.
Of course there are things about one's job and situation one would like to change. But I still wake up most days thinking it is quite amazing that I am having the life I am having. The idea that I can spend large parts of my working hours doing philosophical and other research is nearly unbelievable. Teaching can be very rewarding (in fact, I am still in touch with students who I taught years ago - indeed decades). Indeed, after decades it is still rewarding. And, at least now, I live in a very delightful place. I really do say to my partner, I cannot believe I live here!
So I think a lot has to do with attitude - which you suggest yourself.

Marcus Arvan

Up: I'm not the biggest fan of Twitter myself (despite being on it), and like you I recognize how very privileged I am to get to do this for a living.

That being said, if there are things about academia (and academic philosophy specifically) that people find disillusioning, then I'm inclined to think it is good that they be shared and discussed rather than swept under the rug. My general thought is: the more things are kept private, the less likely things are to change for the better. For it's only by bringing problematic things out into the open that we can motivate others to do anything to improve things.

On that note, I'm also inclined to think that it may be especially important for individuals in positions of power and influence (such as this person) to share their concerns. For better or worse, it's all too easy for a profession to ignore the voices of 'little people.' Conversely, voices of prominent people (again, for better or worse) tend to be taken more seriously.

Further, while there can indeed be good things about being an academic, as I am sure you know not everyone in the academy has it as good as you and me (e.g. a tenure-stream job). The academy is rife with serious forms of unfairness that can (in my experience) rightly disillusion people, particularly the most vulnerable among us. As far as I am concerned, the more we can do to make the academy less unfair and disillusioning, the better!

Up

Marcus
I appreciate your perspective. I do in fact see many things in the academic world that bring despair. I have worked with supreme @holes.
And, like you, I think we all should aim to change things for the better. I have tried, and I continue to try.
But I also believe that people need to stop every now and then, and reflect on what they have in life (I know this sounds quite corny). But many academics are doing very well by many measures.

sahpa

Up,

Your response makes me feel strange. You spend most of your post just reporting that you feel differently about academia than the tweeter (whom Marcus anonymized, I'm not sure why--anybody on philosophy twitter probably knows who it is), and then say "a lot" (of what?) has to with "attitude". If that's supposed to explain something, it doesn't. Like, we can all see plain as day that you and the tweeter don't have the same attitudes toward academia.

And if that's supposed to amount to helpful advice, it isn't. "Have a different attitude" is not helpful advice. Furthermore, it might even be bad advice in further respects. Advising someone to adopt more positive attitudes, when the negative attitudes they have are merited for them and their situation, would be bad advice over and above being unhelpful. Finally, whether or not their negative attitudes are merited can't be decided simply from the observation that you happen to have positive attitudes toward your similar situation.

Marcus' aim here is laudable. He's soliciting testimony about how people got out of a slump in the past if indeed they did. This is pretty much the only support we're in any position to give for distant people like the tweeter who are suffering and in need of support, guidance, and helping hands. So it's weird if you just came in here to announce to everyone that everything's fine for you--which, you know, congratulations? but.

Got disillusioned good and early

I too grew to passionately hate professional philosophy while I was a grad student. While I have met some great people and even some genuine friends during my time in the profession, I have come to believe that most of it is a charade and an echo chamber where people trade ideas about things that don’t matter. If you’re a grad student out there who is starting to suspect that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes, let me skip you to the ending: he isn’t.

Three things have helped me to come to terms with this:

1. I gave up the idea/hope/possibility of becoming a big name in the profession. In order to be a big name, you have to play the game for many, many years, pretending all the while that it’s meaningful. I can’t and won’t do that. (You have to play the game to a certain extent to get a job or a nice position, but in many ways it’s a different game.)

2. I came to love teaching. I always loved it, but now I LOVE it. I enjoy every minute that I get to stand up in front of those students and talk about philosophy in all its connections to our lives. It’s rewarding, exciting, and I actually get to make a difference in the lives of students—the three things that, for me at least, are missing from philosophy as a profession.

3. I still like doing research, and what has helped me continue to be motivated is to set very long-term research goals. Like, books I want to write in the future, that (for many reason) I’m just not able to write right now. These long-term goals are projects that are very meaningful to me. This has put my current research in perspective as I have come to see it as a preparation to achieve those long-term goals—steps along the way.

I also agree with Marcus—the more this is all out in the open, the better off people are going to be, even if it’s on Twitter or FB.

Michel

It happens. Lots of things get me out of my slumps. Here are some of the profession-related ones:


*A single interview request (though to be fair, I've had very, very, very few interviews) would be enough to get me out of a slump for a while.

*Getting a job. That's made an *enormous* difference; there's just no comparing my slumps this year to my slumps at the end of fruitless job cycles (especially last April, when I thought I had one foot out the door).

*Teaching rewards. Not the official kind, just the low-key reward you feel when a class goes well, when students become really engaged, etc.

*Having a new article accepted.

*Diving into a new research project (which, of course, can lead to the high of an acceptance). When I'm writing regularly and actively diving into new literature, I feel *great*, and that feeling lasts for the duration of the project.

*Some kind of positive contact from a friend, acquaintance, or stranger. These include invitations to do professional stuff, but also just notes saying they enjoyed a paper, etc.

TT

I too have been disillusioned at times. Things that have helped me overcome it include:

1) getting away from it for stretches (e.g., going a month or more in the summer when I do no philosophy)

2) reading for pleasure

3) coming up with my own teaching narratives

4) recognizing that a lot of philosophy *is* b******t, but also that some of it is quite good and important

5) reading things written before the intense professionalization that seemed to kick in in the 2000s. I particularly love the 1950-1980 range

6) writing on things that interest me, and being OK with not sending something I wrote off for publication

7) surrounding myself with non-careerists who care about philosophy itself and who believe in its power

Untenured Faculty

I am a serious religious person who learns conservative (though a never-Trumper). I'm also a minority and child of poor immigrants who feel doesn't fit in at all in the academic world. People seem so much left of me, so much more politically active (I'm very skeptical about it all) and I often feel out of place. (What's wrong with me?) I still love philosophy, have children as well. Lots of serious obligations.

On the other hand, the job rocks in many ways. I love teaching (I'm good at it and connect with students) and I do love researching philosophy. I still feel very lucky, most of the time.

No point, really. Just sharing my honest views.

Chris

I never had the usual graduate school disillusionment. I loved my time as a graduate student. However, once I got a job as a faculty member (and got tenure), I struggled with disillusionment for many years - I'm not sure I have come back from it. Like the tweeter above, I would've quit and done something else if I had a serious career option that didn't require years more schooling (supporting my family made this option unrealistic).
I suspect I have far fewer options than the tweeter, since he has significant math, programming and stats skills, as well as a degree in a non-philosophy field.

I have tried various things - focusing more on admin, focusing more on teaching, trying different research topics, etc. Each of these helped a little, I suppose. Though to some extent an introvert by nature, finding others to talk regularly about philosophy usually helps the most.

I fully recognize that I might be as (or more) miserable doing something else, and that I'm lucky to have a job in this environment.

S

The thing that's lead to my greatest moments of disillusionment with academic philosophy all go back to the complete lack of solidarity in the field. I won't air too much dirty laundry here but the worst such moment was when several of my TT "colleagues" at my last job actively collaborated with a plan by admin that would have ultimately gotten half or more of us lecturers fired had it went through. As far as I could tell they did this to preserve their perks and prestige as research faculty. Their jobs certainly weren't in any danger had they said no and in fact faculty in many other departments did and actively pushed back against the whole thing. Now honestly I'd long thought the guys going along with this were complete rats so what they did wasn't that surprising though it was dispiriting. What made me despair even more deeply though was the complete silence of the faculty who were opposed to this. A lot of them didn't like it but I remember only two spoke out in any real way. I often think of what an attorney friend of mine who was dating a philosopher once said which was something to the effect of, "I'm just astounded how little you guys look out for each other. Lawyers are competitive. Our whole business is adversarial but we'll look out for each other. Even when someone beats us in court we try not to take it personally. When someone's doing badly we try to throw them a bone in whatever way we can. Philosophers seem like they'd push each other in front of a train for half a year's sabbatical." I managed to find a better job and leave that one. I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't. I was actively making plans to leave academia if I hadn't so I doubt I'd still be in academic philosophy. I later found out the initiative in question fizzled out, but I couldn't have stayed there even so. I just couldn't work with people who were so willing to kick me and other lecturers to the curb like trash if it suited their interests. This kind of thing is something we have control over. I'd like philosophy and academia in general a lot better and feel better about being a part of it if we just bothered to look out for one another a bit more. Thankfully I'm lucky enough to have colleagues now, who though they aren't above a bit of bickering, will look out for each other in a pinch.

she’ll retire soon

One asshole colleague can really make a person miserable in an otherwise awesome job. I’m not sure what to do about this. But I’ve realized lately that I really do love my job, Professor Asshole notwithstanding.

Happy CC teacher

I've never been disillusioned with philosophy, teaching, or the profession in general, but absolutely with the game of academic publishing and research. I got 2 publications in top journals in my field near the end of my graduate student days and the thought of doing that for a career was horrible. So I turned to teaching at a community college and I love it. It's very rewarding and I can do as much or as little research and writing as I like which makes it very enjoyable when I do it.

Amanda

One nice thing about the age of social media (and there are so many not nice things) is that it is easier for people to see they are not alone. I think a lot of reasons for disillusionment in the profession are reasons many other philosophers share. And I think if enough people keep speaking out, real changes in the profession are possible But even if these changes don't pan out, I get some comfort in getting the word out, i.e in not letting the most powerful people in philosophy control the opinion, nor the perception of the masses.

I would also encourage anyone with job security, and to a lesser degree those without it, to take real risks insofar as you should do things out of the norm that you find meaningful, both in teaching and research. Write a philosophy paper that breaks all the rules, but is one you think is worthwhile. If you have tenure you don't have a lot to lose, and you might be surprised at who else approves of the rule breaking. Likewise, teach a course in a completely different manner than you've ever taught before. Many of those "that's just how things work" norms of teaching and research are completely ungrounded in reason, and a philosophers central job should be pushing against mindless, unreasonable, norms/ways of life, etc.

Happy CC Teacher 2: Join us

I would like to second what Happy CC teacher says, and expand on it a bit.

Teaching, collaborating, and researching at a community college allows a wide-ranging and multi-faceted engagement with philosophy that many other positions simply don't offer. If you love philosophy, and if you think that excellence in philosophy has at least something to do with your ability to teach it in a way that is accessible, accurate, sensitive, and engaging, CCs are a fine place to hone your intellectual virtues. If you are inclined to do research, being at a CC is absolutely liberating. You can turn your attention to whatever interests you, and can publish (or not) wherever you'd like, in all manner of fora. Since I joined a CC, I have been much more concerned with whether what I am writing is good, meaningful, and worth saying, and far less concerned with whether it is publishable in a prestigious venue. Like Happy CC teacher, I have a few publications in well respected (although not "top") journals, but I do not feel the pressure (as I once did) to gauge my intellectual value according to how many publications I can churn out. Too put it too ponderously, my concerns have shifted from being an honorable philosopher to being a virtuous philosopher.

I love teaching my students (some of whom are just as smart as your average Ivy League undergrad, and far more interesting to boot), and I love feeling like what I do actually enriches their lives. While this last bit is certainly not unique to CCs, the fact that many of my students and colleagues are members of precisely those socioeconomic, racial, and linguistic populations that socially conscious philosophers and administrators at more homogenous institutions long to "reach" keeps my teaching, service, and research from floating free from important matters of social concern. It's hard to do philosophy in a bubble at an institution like mine.

I think if there weren't such generalized contempt for CCs in the broader culture (not to mention at the elite end of the profession), there would not be such strong professional and ego-based incentives for many excellent philosophers to avoid CCs. This is a shame, not only because excellence shouldn't just be for the rich, but because for many of these philosophers, I'd imagine that this is precisely what would rescue them from the crisis of meaning that more prestigious forms of academic life can often foster.

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