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07/20/2020

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Marcus Arvan

Many thanks to Liz for writing this and allowing us to share it on the Cocoon!

I think just about all of these things are excellent advice. I would especially emphasize 11. If you lose your love of philosophy (as I did for a time during grad school), all of the other things listed here are difficult to follow through upon. You need to be motivated to succeed in graduate school, and in order to be motivated my experience is that you have to genuinely enjoy what you do. Alas, because of how competitive the profession is--ranging from publish or perish to journal rankings to the job-market--my sense is that it is really easy to lose your love of philosophy.

My advice here, following and supplementing Liz's: try not to let yourself get taken in by the competitiveness of it all. You don't need to be the 'golden child' in your department in order to succeed in the profession--and no, you don't need to be the best published either. What you need (pandemic aside) is a little luck and something that makes you stick out on the market (including innovative teaching, etc.). Don't think you need to compete "on the same terms" with every other grad student in your department. If someone else publishes in Nous, that doesn't meant that you need to in order to get a job. Just be the best *you* that you can be. And whatever it is that you enjoy (teaching, research, whatever), try to enjoy that thing for its own sake. My experience is that if you do, your enthusiasm for that will eventually shine through to others, motivate you to do the best kind of work that you are capable of, and serve you well in the long run. Finally, on that note, try to keep the "tortoise vs. hare" story in mind. You don't need to be the first person in your grad cohort to publish, graduate, get a job, etc. We all move at a different pace, run into different obstacles, etc. The important thing (in my experience, at least) is to keep getting back up from disappointments are try to keep moving forward. There are no guarantees in academia, not by a long shot. But my sense is that if you 'keep after it', slowly but surely improving your CV (in ways that reflect your values), the chances improve that you will turn out to be the kind of job-candidate that *someone* wants to interview and potentially hire.

The only real thing I think I disagree with in Liz's list is #7. I understand the desire (and now-common practice) of writing dissertations as a series of standalone papers that are ready to publish. The basic thought here is that you need to publish quickly and in good places in order to get a job. However, here is something that I have seen happen disturbingly often, including with people who got plum jobs at R1 schools: the person publishes enough to get a good job, but then once they get the job they don't publish nearly enough to get tenure.

It is of course an open question what the causes of these kinds of cases are (and the causes may be different in different cases). However, for my part I cannot help but wonder whether the "3 paper option" for dissertations may be a real contributory factor. Indeed, I've had at least one person who went this route ask me explicitly, "I published everything from my dissertation. *Now* what am I supposed to do? I don't know what to write on!"

Liz has obviously published very successfully and consistently. However, her case aside, as I see it a real advantage of a traditional dissertation (i.e. a book) is that a book is *more* than a series of connected papers. A book is, at least typically, a really BIG idea that (or so my own grad advisor told me) is something that you intend to build upon throughout the rest of your career. Writing a book-like dissertation also (in my experience) cultivates something important: the ability to think systematically, rather than in small chunks (one paper here, another paper there).

I wrote a traditional book-length dissertation, and although it did take me a while (longer than would have been ideal) to publish stuff from it, my sense is that the experience has been instrumental to my being able to publish consistently over the long term. Fwiw!

Liz Jackson

Marcus, those are great thoughts. I did want to add a thought to your interesting points regarding my 7. I wonder if the ideal dissertation would capture some of what we both suggest—"have its cake and eat it too." So the chapters are stand-alone papers, but on a common theme that lends itself to a single big idea. Maybe another way of putting it: we both agree it's not great to have a dissertation of 3-5 response papers. However, you can write a dissertation defending a big idea, even if it is made up of stand-alone papers.

Another thing to note here too is that I think many graduate students struggle with seeing their dissertation as *too* big—they have to present a completely novel theory no one else has thought of or defended before, answer every objection to it, interact extensively with all remotely relevant literature, etc. So while I agree that there is a lot of value in having a dissertation present a big idea, I also think emphasizing this too much causes grad students to become overwhelmed and paralyzed, when they really need to just sit down and start writing.

Disillusioned ABD

I agree with Marcus that this is fantastic advice, especially #8. I have followed almost all of it, and I too am on track to graduate in 5 years.

My skepticism is about #11. Or, rather, I'd like to hear a bit more about how to do this. I think it is very easy for one's love of philosophy to diminish precisely because one has followed this (again, excellent) advice for success. That has certainly happened to me. I barely read philosophy at all now unless I have to for my research - and no more. I don't enjoy chatting about philosophical ideas with friends anymore.

Although this is admittedly a very small sample set, when I was visiting my current program as an accepted student, I asked all the advanced grad students I spoke with whether they still enjoyed reading and thinking about philosophy for its own sake, or if they have lost that passion through grad school. Pretty much everyone I spoke with, most notably the ones who went on to have success in securing permanent academic employment, said that they only read philosophy for their research and don't really enjoy it anymore.

So I'd love to hear some thoughts: How does one maintain a love for philosophy?

no more advice please

Thanks for this post.

I think there’s some useful advice here, though it's nothing that hasn’t been said countless times before. There are also just as many discussions on this blog about how academic philosophy has a serious problem with many forms of professional hostility and bias (including prestige bias) that render the framing of these pieces as “I got opportunities x and y, and here is how I did it!” frustrating in obvious ways. Advice that does not take into account factors such as one’s social position, the ranking/placement record of one’s PhD granting department, or the effect that the climate/adequacy of funding at said department has on things like one’s ability to secure a job, or on one’s productivity during the PhD is patronizing, out of touch, and delusional to say the least.

There may be ways to improve your chances, but those ways are not available to everyone. There is no formula. It’s far more important to internalize this as a PhD student than to try and take on advice that will shift the blame for not getting a job onto you, as your personal failure to (for example) not procrastinate (while you are being bullied out of the profession), or for writing a passable dissertation (which ultimately does not pass as you watch your committee subtly move the goal posts each time you submit work).

The reality is that most of us who do follow this advice end up with nothing at the end of the job market cycle. It has nothing to do with anything we did or didn’t do during the degree. Anyone who has been on an academic job committee or on the job market knows that much of the advice being offered to PhD students is mute. To be clear, this comment is NOT directed at Dr. Jackson, but I wish academics with secure employment would be honest about their role in the neoliberal academy and start mobilizing to make the job market less of a frozen hellscape instead of shunting this off by saying their hands are tied and offering advice that most of them don’t live by when they have the chance. I wish academics with secure employment were more willing to acknowledge the role the above factors (plus some mystical alignment of luck and other things) had in their success. It does not diminish your accomplishments. It gives a more realistic picture.

This blog has been a useful resource in terms of navigating the profession as a junior scholar. It has also been useful for getting started on the non-academic job search. But please, no more of this. We should all know by now that this is simply not how any of this works.

Peter

Liz & Marcus on #7: the trouble, I take it, is what "stand-alone papers on a common theme that lends itself to a single big idea" amounts to.

Here's one elaboration on Marcus's worry. The dissertation should be extendable, in the sense that working on it naturally leads to future questions (and therefore future publications). Stand-alone papers on a common theme might not be extendable if the specifics of the papers all lead to publishing dead-ends.

In addition, even if the dissertation turns out to not be extendable, if it is written as a book-like project then it is more likely to cultivate the skills that are required to sustain a research career. I'm a bit less confident about this second, claim, though. It seems to me that "piecemeal" publishers are just as professionally successful as "systematic" publishers. Maybe I'm wrong about that, though!

Disillusioned ABD: this is something I also struggled with. My AOS made me, qua expert, best capable of publishing in my AOS. But, motivationally, I was burned out and it was a struggle to bring myself to work in the AOS. For me, the solution was to let my curiosity guide me. I eventually found topics in other AOSs where I thought I had something to say. Overall, it's probably more work to do this (since you have to familiarize yourself with a new literature, with literatures adjacent to that literature, and so on). But because I was genuinely interested in the material I was more motivated to work on it.

Marcus Arvan

Liz: All of that sounds exactly right to me!

Disillusioned ABD: I can't speak for others. However, given that this is something that I worked through over a number of years, here are a few thoughts.

For me, two related things were crucial for recovering my love of philosophy: (1) learning not to focus on the 'academic game' or define my self-worth in terms of what other people think, and (2) pursuing my research (and teaching and career, for that matter) in ways that reflect what I value (as opposed to my grad faculty, the profession at large, etc.).

A few thoughts on (1): Unless you are among the select few whose work is openly celebrated in the discipline, if you define your value as a philosopher in terms of what others think, chances are you will be continually and sorely disappointed. I've heard people say things to this effect a lot--that they're frustrated that their work is ignored, etc. And of course philosophers are relentlessly critical people. The vast majority of the time (90%+) you submit your work to journals, you'll get a rejection--often enough with mean comments!

Here is what helped me break out of this trap. I love reading about history--not just the history of philosophy, but the history of music, art, and so on. One of the reasons I love it is that it puts a lot into perspective. If you read history (of philosophy, art, music, science, etc.), here is what you come across time and time again: most works that were celebrated in the short-term disappear from view in the long run, and most works that have been celebrated in the long run were either ignored or viciously criticized when they first appeared. Whether it was Hume's Treatise that, 'fell still-born from the press', or Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, which was savaged in early reviews, or Led Zeppelin's early albums, which received brutal reviews but are now considered classics, or great paintings or works of literature, the vast majority of great works were initially met with neglect or disdain.

The point of this story is not that you or me should think we are the next Kant (or whomever). Rather, the point is counterfactual: chances are that even IF you did some of the greatest work in history (like Kant, Hume, etc.), people would either ignore or hate it in the short term. *So why care?* Is that really why you fell in love with philosophy in the first case anyway--for professional kudos? It certainly isn't why I did. I got into philosophy because I love ideas. So, instead of caring about journal rankings, professional kudos, etc., just do work that *you* love--as a researcher, teacher, whatever--the way you think it should be done and let the cards fall where they may (point 2).

Should you do "enough" to get a job and tenure (if you're lucky enough to be in position for either one)? Yeah, probably--at least if you want to get and keep an academic job. But, in my experience (and it is, admittedly, only my experience) this kind of change of outlook--doing the kind of work that you find exciting and authentic to you, and defining your own terms of success (including learning from your philosophical mistakes)--can really go a long way in retaining your love of philosophy. Early in my career, I worked on the kinds of projects I thought my grad advisors would want me to work on, or what journals would like. And I just hated it! It wasn't the kind of philosophy I enjoyed doing at all, and it made writing and publishing an awful chore. It was only when I started doing the kind of philosophical work that I actually enjoy that I rediscovered my love for what I do. That, and focusing more on 'process' (becoming a better philosopher and teacher) and less on 'results'. I see that Peter said something similar: to let your curiosity guide you!

Anyway, these are just my thoughts, and I know we're all different--but since you asked, I figured I'd share! :)

Grad

I'm also a bit concerned, particularly about whether this is really the best moment to give grad students advice on how they 'should' be behaving.

The University of Akron just laid off 20% of its faculty (including tenured): https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/07/16/budget-bloodbath-university-akron

The UNC system is getting ready to cut its budget by up to 50%: https://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2020/07/17/pw-exclusive-unc-system-exploring-worst-case-scenario-budget-cuts-of-up-to-50/

And yesterday it was reported in the NYT that Berkeley is announcing new cuts (on top of the ones already undertaken in the spring): https://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2020/07/17/pw-exclusive-unc-system-exploring-worst-case-scenario-budget-cuts-of-up-to-50/

These have all just been announced in the past few days, but I don't see anyone on the philosophy blogs talking about them. Everyone has just gone back to treating everything as business as usual. But I haven't seen any jobs whatsoever in the US so far on PhilJobs, it's unclear whether there will be any, and more of the tenured may soon be laid off at other universities. Is this kind of success replicable, and will it be anytime soon?

I'm not saying giving advice for what individuals can do is bad, but it might be more helpful to couple it with what is actually doable/should be done right now, given the radically changed circumstances from just a few months ago.

Grad

Sorry, here's the link to the NYT: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/16/us/coronavirus-college-faculty-layoffs.html

Marcus Arvan

Grad (and others): For what it is worth, I am doing my very best to offer posts and discussions on what is doable right now, and how to best support grad students and other vulnerable members of the profession (early-career job-marketeers). See e.g.:

https://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2020/06/covid-updates-on-grad-programs.html

https://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2020/07/stay-in-grad-school-or-go-on-the-market.html

I have also explicitly addressed the issue of program, department, and faculty cuts:

https://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2020/06/saving-philosophy-from-elimination-what-can-be-done.html

I appreciate concerns that advice like this can be frustrating given the pandemic and neo-liberal order. However, I have also heard from a number of readers (through personal email communication) that they have found this blog's advice helpful--and that advice like this has helped them through grad school and the job-market. It's a tough balancing act running a blog like this, but I am doing my best--and if there *are* particular issues that readers such as yourselves would like the blog to address, please let me know, especially in our "how can we help you?" threads:
https://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2020/07/how-can-we-help-you-july-2020.html

It's impossible to please everyone, but we are here to help and make a good faith effort to respond to our readers' queries and interests!

Anon TT

I think this is mostly good advice for those who hoped for a prestigious research job pre-2020, but I agree with concerns about timing and the emphasis on what grad students should be doing. (Note, too, that some advice is not applicable right now because people are in actual quarantine and we should perhaps acknowledge this fact.)

A few disorganized thoughts:

Even in non-COVID-19 times, when I was a grad student, I felt worse about myself when I read these kinds of posts knowing that I was unlikely to end up in a good job (or any job) due to things like prestige bias, my mental health, and the odds against me. So if you are feeling that way, you are not alone. Seeing these success stories can hurt at least as much as they can help, in my experience.

In the end, I did land a very good job in philosophy (similar to Jackson's), but let me emphasize that I got really lucky, and some factors counting in my favor were unfair to other job candidates (e.g., my ability to network at conferences, which I could only attend because I was well funded and did not have a disability that prevented me from attending inaccessible conferences; my research topics that I just happened to fall into at a time when they became hot topics). The job market is unfair. It's more unfair to candidates who are not at schools like Notre Dame, etc. etc. The structural barriers are real, as we all know.

In my case, I think I even did *too* much of the things above to try and work against the structural barriers that I did face, compromising my mental and physical wellbeing, my relationships, and my ability to have a well-balanced life. I sometimes ask myself the question: was that additional publication really worth all the tears, the lost sleep, panic attacks, and being as hard on myself as I was? The answer is always no. Perhaps some philosophers are able to do all of the things on the above list and maintain a heathy, balanced lifestyle. But I couldn't. If you can't, and you find yourself without those papers under review because getting them under review would compromise your wellbeing or is too difficult because of other life stressors and demands, I hope you know that's okay.

I'm sorry if these thoughts are unhelpful. I recognize that I was not a grad student or job candidate during a global pandemic, and so my experience cannot help those readers much if at all. I wouldn't know how to begin offering advice about how to succeed in philosophy right now, and I am listening and committed to doing what I can to help students and job candidates who seek my mentorship during these extremely stressful times.

Anon TT

My apologies - I regret saying "succeed in philosophy." More accurate would have been something like "land a TT job."

Current PhD student

I have been in grad school for, uh, awhile, and only recently found this blog. It is a treasure trove. People in the comments usually pick apart the main posts a little more than I need, but the posts have been a boon for my development. I think it just so happens that I've only been in programs with very little support from faculty and grad students alike (the support exists, but always misses the mark somehow, the consistency of the trend mildly amuses me), and this is the first place I've seen people giving matter of fact recommendations on exactly everything I have questions about. It's also a great resources for learning what to ask in the first place, because I am still ignorant of pretty much everything besides how to be in a classroom.

As for the disillusioned folks: academia takes everything and gives nothing back. My way of dealing with this is that I've stopped expecting anything from it. (I mean it: I expect NOTHING from academia or the people in it, they're so mean all the time! And we have a tendency to confuse idiosyncratic standards with standards of excellence, ha.) I don't orient my professional life or my personal life around it. I also don't work for less than $30/hr anymore, so academia can't really afford me unless it gives me a real job. This has been a liberating attitude: if academia wants me, it can pay me. Otherwise, I can do philosophy how and when I want while working for somebody else (which more and more is how I already do it now). This attitude works for me, but I find academia not to be all that alluring, so it's easy to let go.

That being said, I loved this post and the comments, and wanted to say so. I'm kind of excited to take a swing at a dissertation project soon. (Maybe some extra reading list and dissertation proposal advice could come down the pipeline soon???)

Mateo

I think that "No more advice please" makes a good point but also gets something wrong.

The good point is that anyone who wants to give advice on how to have job market success really ought to acknowledge the harsh facts about how the philosophy job market works. They need to acknowledge that some grad students might do everything right and work their fingers to the bone and yet fail to get a job because of prestige bias and other unfair hiring practices in philosophy. On the flip side, a small number of privileged grad students will not do as well as their less privileged counterparts and yet will still get jobs. They should then acknowledge that it is OK to feel demoralized by this and ask "why should I even bother trying". I don't want to pick on Liz here. I think this lack of perspective is common in "how to succeed in grad school" pieces. I also think that it is hard for people from elite schools to appreciate how rigged the system is and that even someone who realizes that it is rigged is disincentivized to publicly comment on it because several senior people in the profession will react harshly to anyone speaking these truths. Nonetheless, it's really not good enough anymore to give advice for success that doesn't address this issue.

What I disagree with is the claim that we don't need any more advice like this because everyone already knows these points and, in any case, given recent events this advice is no longer very helpful. Not everyone knows these points. Even if only some readers will learn something new, that's a good enough reason for putting it out there. Furthermore, its not just a matter of whether the points are original its also a matter of how they are put together in a package and how compelling the author makes each point seem. I'm sure I've heard a version of each point before somewhere. But Liz has put them together in a nice package and made several of them seem more convincing then they have seemed in other presentations. Therefore, its worth having this piece out there. Those who find this kind of advice repetitive and unhelpful can look at the headline and ignore the post. Those who think they might get something useful out of it can read on.

Regarding recent events, I do think that anyone giving advice like this in 2020 needs to include a disclaimer about how their advice may be less helpful given the current problems and the somewhat unpredictable changing circumstances. But I think that it is too strong to say that no advice of this sort is helpful in such conditions. Some people are still working away at improving their CV in the hope that they will be able to compete for a job one day. That is their choice and putting advice like this out their in order to try to help them do that more effectively is, on balance, a good thing to do.

Marcus Arvan

Current PhD Student: I'm glad you've found the blog so helpful - I will try to get up a post on dissertation proposal advice soon!

Wes

Thank you, “no more advice please.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Prof L

10 tips for fumbling your way through graduate school in 10 years or so; things you probably shouldn't do but what the hell, maybe do them anyway:
(1) Get to know the bar scene in your town way too well.
(2) Date your fellow graduate students
(3) House parties!
(4) Fail in some major way, learn how to take criticism without falling apart, contemplate leaving
(5) Switch to a completely new major interest
(6) Learn a new language
(7) Take a whole summer off
(8) Make at least one professor really dislike you, be okay with that
(9) Have a few kids
(10) Take as long as possible, don't leave until they kick you out

Liz's advice is great for succeeding in graduate school! But there are many different ways to approach graduate school, not all of them entirely geared for success, and that's okay.

Liz Jackson

I also wanted to pop in here to say that I really appreciate the feedback—both the praise and the constructive criticism. And in retrospect, I should have mentioned something about how the pandemic has affected all of this. I was extremely lucky to get a job right before the pandemic, and I realize that my advice probably won't apply in the same way to those still on the job hunt. For example, #5 will look very different (zoom conferences??)—and may not apply at all—at least for a year or two. I do think this is why #12 is really important, though—many of our lives have been seriously affected, sometimes in really serious and difficult ways, and we have to be gentle with ourselves.

historygrrrl

I mostly agree with this - but I'll add just a few thoughts. All meant to be friendly amendments =)

#7, dissertation as papers: This is a great idea, but is sooooo dependent upon your AOS and advisor. It never would have worked with my advisor/committee - they really wanted to see a single, coherent, progressive project.

#10, time off: Also a great idea, but again, not always possible for people who are parenting, caring for relatives, working a side job or summer job to pay bills, and so on. Exercise is good though! Even if you can just bike/walk/run to the store or campus, it can help.

#3, apps: Even better, unplug! Put the phone in a drawer. Get everything you need of the internet and turn it off. This was BITD, but I got a ton of work done by frequenting a coffee shop that had no wi-fi.

#5, conferences: +1 on that, for sure! I'm really hoping that the current situation will lead to more virtual conferences. 'Cuz I racked up a lot of credit card debt paying for conferences...and thanks to my pay as a non-fancy professor, I'm still carrying it around.

dissenter

I'd also like to thank 'No more advice please.' The issue with advice like this is that it suggests that the market is somehow a meritocracy whereby if you work hard and play by the rules, you'll get a job. I never procrastinated, finished my PhD no problem and on time, graduated with multiple publications, published even more after (many top 15), went to conferences, etc. I never got a job. I did though end up clinically depressed and suicidal due to continually being passed over for less qualified candidates (according to this list). Yes, doing the things on the list may help, but you can do all those things and get nowhere. Meanwhile, someone else can do few or none of those things and do much better than you. The job market in philosophy is systematically unjust. Let's not pretend like it isn't by hiding behind these lists of 'how I did it.' Frankly, it's insulting.

anonymous placement director

I just want to chime in as a placement advisor to say that I have similar concerns with this post to dissenter, no more advice please, etc.

In my experience the vast majority of PhD students work extremely hard and do a lot of the things on the list (some of them are program/culture-specific). They try really hard to do all the right things.

But (a) the job market most certainly is not a meritocracy--we rehearse this mantra as a group in placement seminar and I am frankly tired of my students being indoctrinated with the idea that it is; it's a lot of work to help them begin to deprogram the idea that if you just work really hard and "do the right things", you will be rewarded, and, by the same token, to try to begin to separate the idea of doing good philosophical work, being a good teacher, being a good member of a department and university, from external validation for those things. I just want to further attest that there is very little correlation between doing the things Liz outlines and getting a job.

(b) The publishing and dissertation writing strategies she describes are (very far from) one size fits all, both for job market success and, perhaps more importantly, for a rewarding and intellectually challenging experience in graduate school. My program is largely historically focused, our students do generally well (comparatively speaking, given our "ranking") on the job market, and they typically have 0 or 1 publications when they first apply for academic jobs. They almost exclusively write book-style dissertations.

(c) The advice applies far less, I think, to being competitive for teaching-focused jobs.

(d) Related to the deprogramming point: it's hard to emphasize how much I have noticed that it is detrimental to my graduate students' mental health, attitude, productivity, and importantly, *ability to do the kinds of things on this list* when they absorb too much of this kind of thing.

(e) As has been said on this blog many times, I think we should be extremely careful about distinguishing between "success in grad school" and "getting a research-focused tenure-track job". The fact is that a huge number of PhD students will never get any tenure-track job, some by choice and some not. Given this, I worry that these constant "this is how you have to do grad school" things that are focused on self-presentation, polish, networking, publications, etc. contribute to undermining the idea that... grad school might be valuable because it is 5-8 years to learn, think, and write in a way that is valuable and important to *you*. (This is related to the "still enjoy philosophy" advice. There are ways to do grad school, still enjoy philosophy, and learn and grow a ton without being obsessive about publications, networking, etc.--and I think that students who choose these paths often get a lot more out of grad school, and their work is often (significantly) better and more interesting than those who choose a different path. This might be because they are managing to still (really, consistently) enjoy philosophy. I don't know. But I think it's important to make clear that this is a good path too.)

(f) One can also "be successful" in grad school by focusing quite a bit on teaching and less so on one's own original contributions to philosophy, publishing, being part of any sort of prestige network, etc. And if indeed a job in philosophy is the goal, there are many jobs that care almost exclusively about teaching. My students who care the most about teaching often get them.

(g) Just to echo others: I don't think this is helpful to PhD students when there are going to likely be close to zero tenure track positions advertised this year, and no one knows if things will ever recover.

(h) I think it is important for people in positions like mine and Liz's--positions of extreme privilege in the academic world--to consistently acknowledge the way that our own privilege, as well as luck, random things that shouldn't have anything to do with employability (like outgoing personalities, etc.)--are largely responsible for where we are now. We are *lucky* to have secure employment. But casting one's own story as a story of how hard one worked to achieve X, when everyone else is working just as hard, is painful for those who haven't been lucky to hear. It is crucial in particular that those of us with tenured and tenure track jobs openly tell graduate students that we are here because of luck, privilege, prestige, randomness, and not because we have achieved so much. I feel angry at this post on behalf of my graduate students who work extremely hard, do all the "right" things, and do not get jobs.

We (people like me and Liz) really need to exhibit more solidarity with our under-employed and precariously-employed students and colleagues, and in order to do so it is crucial that the focus of our public attention not be on individual accomplishments and achievements, and how they do or do not lead to (justified or unjustified) rewards, but how to use our positions of extreme privilege to help others. Even a little self-reflectiveness about the extent to which the hard work is really what paid off here could have helped, a little, with that here.

one of the few lucky ones

A question for anonymous placement director: pre-pandemic, how many grad students did your program accept annually? Seriously, this nonsense about “solidarity” with students is all just posturing until programs ADMIT FEWER STUDENTS so that there isn’t such a glut of qualified job-hunters every year. This is even more true now since, as you say, fewer TT jobs are likely to be available for a while, and maybe forever.

Anon TT

Although I also posted above, I want to just fully agree with "anonymous placement director" here. That post was really nicely said.

I honestly don't know what to say about admitting fewer students at this moment. In my experience mentoring prospective grad students who ask me for advice, many have very good reasons for going to grad school even when I tell them that the are very unlikely to get a job no matter how hard they work, how much they publish, how well they teach and network, etc. And now, some prospective grad students are facing the decision of being unemployed (and living with their families) vs. going to grad school, living on their own or with roommates, and having at least some income. Some students might need to escape their family situations, as I've encountered with some LGBTQ+ students. I'm relieved that such students have the option to go to graduate school when there are no other options.

So knowing that some students have good reasons to go to grad school in philosophy despite the awful job prospects, I think there are other things we can do. I very much encourage students to take time to develop non-academic skills and gain non-academic experience while in grad school (even at the expense of doing the things on Jackson's list), and will help them do so. I advise them to drop out if they find something else they think they would rather do and tell them that I admire them for finding another path (unlike the approach taken by faculty when I took a leave of absence from my PhD program to gain non-academic job experience), and I encourage applications for non-academic jobs, etc.

My husband is in a position where he sees applications and hires for non-academic jobs, and they consider PhD students and PhD graduates from fields like philosophy. Such students have gained other valuable skills during their studies and so they are qualified for some non-academic positions. They also have excellent cover letters and resumes, and the communicate clearly and effectively.

I think we need to do a ton of things, but I'm not sure about admitting fewer students at this moment even if it's an important long-term goal.

Greg Stoutenburg

Liz's advice here is good, and current and future philosophy graduate students are lucky that she has shared it.

Amanda

I guess I'd take a middle road. I think giving this advice is okay, but I do think it should be prefaced with something about all the luck involved, and how while doing these things might increase your chance of *professional* philosophy success, it is also possible to do them and still not land a TT job. It is also true that some people who do all of things do not get a TT job. That said, following the advice will likely mean you write a better dissertation and get more out of grad school, and that is success in itself that I wish would be appreciated more.

Liz has an impressive track record, no doubt. Her publications and study habits of course helped her land a job at a competitive university in a competitive AOS. But other people who have similar CVs have been on the market for years and have not received TT offers. This is important to admit. Her success is likely in part because of the things she mentions, but surely also because she came from an elite school, had well known advisers and letter writers, and perhaps a few other things that are completely out of everyone's control I don't know Liz, but maybe she has an outgoing personality, or just a personable one, maybe she had random traits that made her a great fit for the position, etc. Regardless of whether this is true of Liz, the point is that these are relevant factors in getting hired that are mostly out of everyone's control.

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