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I had an advisor who used every sort of major event in my graduate career (qualifying exams, major conference presentations, important papers to be graded, dissertation defense) to tell me I wasn't ready/didn't understand the material/wasn't good enough/likely wouldn't pass/couldn't compete on the job market days to hours before whatever major deadline was approaching.

I put up with it because they weren't this cruel on the day to day. I hid most of the inordinate criticism due to the gaslighting environment I was in. That was a mistake.

Grad students, if that's you, please don't go on suffering in silence!

You deserve an advisor who pushes you to be your best AND helps you to recognize how great you actually are because they see how great you are. My experiences in graduate school crippled me in the early years of my TT job.

If I had reached out to other faculty in my department, I would have been believed and they would have done something. Shame that my advisor might be right about me kept me silent.

Don't let that be you! The damage won't magically go away once you graduate and your love for the field will be decimated.


I did one year of grafuate school for my master's in adolescent and special education. In the beginning od my masters program which was in the fall, I struggled with my program but I passed all my classes with As. In the following spring semester I did well with two classes and struggled with one that indidnt ultimately failed. I was depressed and was academicallly dismissed from my program. My advisor was nit very helpful with helping me mentally. I couldn't find anyone to help with my mental health. I messed up in deciding to take more than one course and overrreache in my abilities. I also lost confidence in myself as an individual. My program was harsh and unforgiving to those whom are struggling with mental health issues. I vould have dropped the class but I didnt listen to my conscience.

Ousted from Philosophy

I went to an MA program and excelled: graduated with a 4.0 and my thesis passed with distinction. I found the environment very supportive for the most part and was excited about the future. I joined a Ph. D program but did not have remotely the same experience. None of the other graduate students were even remotely interested in what I was researching, and similarly, the only faculty member that was a good fit research-wise was not at all a good fit personality-wise. I believe he was well-intentioned: he was trying to prepare me for the reality of the marketplace by telling me pretty bluntly that he, too, found my research uninteresting.

Why was I even accepted? I’ll never know. I was lucky enough to link up with other professors in my field, who were actually quite excited about my research and encouraged me to pursue it. I felt I simply couldn’t continue in my program where I was not being intellectually stimulated or emotionally supportive. I left.

I applied again this last cycle. I was waitlisted at several “top” programs for me and told my chances were great at several places, but the Coronavirus happened. One school rescinded offers and the social contract regulating admissions was totally broken, and now that schools can wantonly break agreements with prospective students the prospective students figured they could wantonly break agreements as well: everyone accepted their waitlist spots immediately, so they could not get rescinded, and figured if they received a last minute acceptance they would reneg on their previous agreement.

I say all of this because my experience was that my Ph. D advisor was more than willing to be cruel to me out of the belief that it would somehow help me down the line. Now I have no prospects and don’t even know if it’s worth it to continue. I think a lot of people here are like my Ph. D advisor, where they were treated cruelly by the job market and now feel an appropriate level of Schadenfreude when they disappoint or discourage graduate students. It makes them feel powerful where previously they felt small.

Before anyone comments “Good for you” and the like: these comments deeply hurt my soul. I earnestly believe that philosophy is linked to the good life. I don’t see it as a benefit that I never even had the opportunity to succeed in philosophy.

Anonymous Abonymous, Rogue Scholar at Large

Though I am equally interested in the research, teaching, and service sides of academic labor, there is little or no reasonable prospect for anyone to make a living in the university system right now. Part of it is related to austerity and Covid, of course. But it is difficult to reconcile an interest in doing good work related to research, teaching, and service, while distinguishing it from what a neoliberal administration decides is good work along those dimensions.

So I choose to see the current moment as an opportunity to pursue scholarly work outside of academia. I still publish in philosophy while I pursue my training in a second career. Many articles are available over JStor that would otherwise be blocked, which is helpful. And I still attend conferences through Zoom. It's just that I'm walking the lonely road of an independent scholar.

Of course, there are downsides. I have zero academic freedom, am somehow even more precarious than a contract worker, and miss teaching to some extent. But then again, there's a lot of psychological ephemera in the version of neoliberal academic life that is humiliating and toxic, and which I am happy to leave behind. And I haven't ever gotten a whiff of contempt from any research academic when I lay things out. It's mainly the people who are invested in administrative positions who seem to respond with hostility.

non-US graduate

I graduated without any publications. Although my supervisor and a few other professors did mention publications when I discussed my plans to defend, I didn't feel like they were genuinely willing to help me with reading drafts, go through referee reports etc (at least they didn't say something like 'if you would like me to have a look at the draft, just send it over'). It didn't help that I wasn't satisfied with their comments on my dissertation earlier so I didn't even try to ask for further help. I hadn't gotten over my first rejection earlier in grad school (nor had any idea at the time how common rejection is - it wasn't even so bad, one of the reviewers had suggested R&R, but without any open discussion of this during the graduate program, I only came to know that later).

During the PhD program I had moments when I felt I wasn't in a good place mentally, though in my case that would be difficult to classify as a mental health issue, as it did not stop me from doing work. I can't quite explain how I proceeded about the work hopelessly, without believing in its worth, or in my worth as a philosopher. Perhaps it was a coping mechanism. I wasn't expecting any future in academia, but I thought I owed myself a try. In retrospect, I think what kept me afloat during this time was having a group of friends with whom I could talk about things other than the PhD and give me a break from the loathing of my academic self.

What changed things was getting a teaching fellowship (by sheer luck, I don't think I was a very good applicant). I discovered I liked teaching and after getting the hang of it during the first semester I started learning the basics of publishing by trial and error and with advice from a work colleague in a completely different field that proved more helpful than advice received in grad school (again, I had some luck with one helpful reviewer and editor for what became my first publication).

Derek Bowman


I'm sorry you had such a terrible time with your PhD advisor and that COVID-19 dashed your chances to move to a more favorable program. I myself made multiple moves during grad school due to changes in life circumstances, faculty moves, and a natural disaster.

But I think you mistake the motives of people in these forums who "disappoint or discourage graduate students." I can't speak for others, but it doesn't make me feel powerful, nor do I feel any pleasure or vindication in your suffering.

To keep things (somewhat) in the spirit of this thread, let me try to briefly characterize my grad school mistakes and the nature of my recovery.

As I approached my final year as a graduate student and, subsequently, my first year on the market, I imagined my story would look something like Marcus's (de re, not de dicto - I didn't know his story at the time). I lost my confidence, found endless excuses to procrastinate writing first my prospectus and then my dissertation chapters, spent lots of time playing video games instead, etc.

Eventually I buckled down, recommitted to my work, forced myself to write the crappy first drafts I couldn't stand to look at, so that I could eventually write the revisions, submitted drafts to journals, let people read and help me revise the job market materials I hated writing, etc.

The result was that I manged to write, revise, and successfully defend my dissertation, developed as a teacher doing underpaid adjunct work, submited but failed to publish a couple of peer reviewed articles, and completely struck out on the job market. I also managed to work myself into a deep depression.

My first job post PhD was another poorly paid adjunct position. I finally got into therapy and got on anti-depressants, and I took on work-share positions on local farms to get some extra food and to do something whose value was clearer and more concrete.

Things really turned up when my adjunct position turned into a full-time, decently salaried Visiting Assistant Professorship... mainly because another long-term VAP was taking the semester off for (unpaid) paternity leave. Things have been going great since then, but the position has a built in term limit that is fast approaching. Under present conditions it seems highly unlikely that I'll land another (full-time) academic job - as contingent faculty I'm lucky that I'm not already unemployed right now.

So I don't think we do struggling grad students a service by trying to give them reasons for optimism about academic careers.

If we want to give warranted optimism, we should emphasize stories like those of the "Rogue Scholar at Large" above. We can't equate the things that we identify ourselves so strongly with under the heading 'philosophy' with 'academic jobs in philosophy.' Whatever things were like in the past, the academy isn't a reliably friendly place for a philosophical life. The challenge is creating and nurturing other spaces that are.

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