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08/30/2021

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Mike Barkasi

Great advice! (I second it all.)

Zac Cogley

Greg's advice is excellent. I'll just add a few things on finding jobs that it may make sense to pursue:

1. To identify job possibilities: search for jobs that include things like "exemplary written and verbal communications skills"

2.Don't be deterred by not fully understanding job responsibilities on first glance -- do a web search and see what you can understand in 15 minutes and whether that's something you might find interesting.

3. Don't be immediate turned off by job titles -- if you think there's a shot you might be able to do the job, find someone on LinkedIn who does it with a philosophy background (guarantee you'll find someone)

Julian Weitzenfeld, D. Phil.

As someone who made this transition more than 40 years ago, I would just add: it's not about YOU. Anyone who posts a position is looking for someone who can accomplish something (preferably fairly specific) for them. Make the case, and leave out everything else. The advice to quote from the posting is good. Then, just fill in the evidence in language that can be understood. Hobbies, interests, family, prior job history, etc. are distractions unless they are relevant evidence. It is NOT a curriculum vitae.

Zac Cogley

I also posted on my journey recently at LinkedIn:


https://www.linkedin.com/posts/zaccogley_academic-saintlouis-philosophy-activity-6836692072485965825-5EG6

postdoc

What are some jobs that a philosophy PhD has a chance of getting, assuming no STEM background?

Greg Stoutenburg

Postdoc: my opinion, outlined in the section Your Ph.D. Is A Liability, Not An Asset, is that the Ph.D. by itself won't get you anything. But it's perfectly fine as a way of framing yourself as a candidate, and you can highlight aspects of the work involved in getting the Ph.D. that are relevant to whatever you're doing now. I highly recommend building skills on the side in whatever you're doing. But if you're just trying to figure out where to aim those efforts, check out the Parachute book mentioned above, talk to lots of people, and take a look at this: https://medium.datadriveninvestor.com/how-to-find-work-that-you-love-2794431ba3cb

Good luck, and get in touch if you'd like to talk more! gstoutenburg@ycp.edu

open sesame

Huge thanks to Greg for this detailed guide to a non-academic job!

postdoc

I guess I don't really understand most non-academic jobs to be honest. When I look at descriptions they seem very vague and abstract and to involve a lot of jargon. I have thought of getting a job outside academia but always end up confused, and I don't really see anything that interests me (not that I really understand what I'm looking at). So, I was just wondering if there was like a list for dummies somewhere of jobs that are realistic goals for us PhDs written in every-day English. This way I can see whether it's worth trying to transition or not. I don't really have any non-academic interests but the pay sucks and the job market sucks.

Derek Bowman

I appreciate your taking the time to share your advice, but I confess I'm puzzled why you chose this as your example position. How do you recommend that we reframe our teaching duties into "2-3 years experience in an inventory, operations or Supply Chain IT position"?

Greg Stoutenburg

Postdoc: Here's the most recent advertisement on PhilJobs as of right now: https://philjobs.org/job/show/17886. I'm sure everyone reading this understands the entire ad, but looked at from an outsider's perspective, it is full of jargon and arcane references to different university responsibilities. Typically, non-academic ads are no more challenging to read! You've just gotten used to the lingo. The APA has this resource: https://www.apaonline.org/members/group_content_view.asp?group=110435&id=927100. That resource includes information about people who have left philosophy for other things. Also check out the links I posted at the bottom of this comment.

I had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to do, as everyone told me that I had to choose a new career path. The advice I gave above is importantly different from the recommendation to find a new path and settle on it: my suggestion is to find a FIRST job that sounds interesting, and go for that. Trying to decide on the next twenty years in the same way that I had decided on the previous twenty years was too daunting. The best way to learn about a career path is to be on it.

Derek: Fair enough, but I did not want to suggest that anyone who has made it part of the way or fully through a philosophy PhD, and has no other skills or connections, could get that job. My point with that example was that job qualifications that academics might think put a position beyond reach may not actually do so, and that one's experiences should be reframed to match what the advertisement is looking for. In later sections, I also encouraged networking and further training to satisfy the requirements of positions one is interested in. I'll add now that if you're a pretty good fit, you can be considered for a position where you don't satisfy all the requirements. (Evidence: testimony of others, personal experience. I was a finalist for a job a lot like the one in the example, and I have no IT or supply chain experience, nor the degrees they were asking for: statistics, logistics, supply chain management, economics, mathematics.)

Thanks for the feedback so far, everyone! Take a look at Zac Cogley's writeup that he posted in the comments above. I think you'll find a lot of similarities in how we went about this. It's a common strategy!

A friend of mine in religious studies also recommended these resources: https://beyondprof.com/, https://www.imaginephd.com/. You might need to either pay or access through your institution.

John Doe

What do you recommend for someone who has no friends outside the academy? Did people you cold-called help you get jobs? Or was it only friends,etc.?

I also second post-doc's question. I realize I need extra skills, but I also know that I can't just get some skills on the side and become an architect. I'm not sure what careers have low enough barriers to entry that getting some skills on the side (i.e
not an extra degree) is enough.

postdoc

To further John Doe's thoughts here's kind of where I get. Doctor, nurse, psychologist, lawyer, architect, structural engineer, software engineer, financial analyst, economist, and so on all require years of more education.

I then try to think about what's left. Waiter/bartender, salesman, marketing, manager, real estate agent, secretary or admin...

(Leaving off jobs that are not realistic like actor, movie director, astronaut, artist, musician...)

As you can see I really don't have a feel for what jobs are left. I'm not particularly interested in the ones I can come up with. I'm not even sure it's realistic to get a management job or a marketing job without relevant training.

So, I'm kind of left with waiter/bartender, salesman, real estate, and secretary.

I'd really like someone to expand this list for me. LOL

Like I'm at the dummy stage of not even knowing the basic jobs people do really, so I can't even do the Ikigai method in that link cause I don't know what to write down.

(Parents are academics, most friends are academics, etc, so I don't know crap.)

Greg Stoutenburg

John Doe, Postdoc: There are tons of jobs out there! Growing up, we didn't have family friends with anyone who had a career in anything, and so the options I was drawn toward were those of the people in some position of authority, which came down to teachers and ministers.

A good start would be with some of the resources I mentioned above. Start talking to people you know about their work. Ask follow-up questions to get some of the day-to-day specifics.

As far as the Ikigai thing: Instead of writing job titles in those circles, you should be writing skills or activities. "Research" is a skill, "Professor of Philosophy" is a job title. "Establishing relationships, providing attentive customer service" is a skill, "Bartender" is a job description, etc. Let the skills and activities be the guide. Talk to people and use the resources provided to learn more about specific positions that utilize those skills.

John Doe: You don't know *anyone* outside the academy? That is hard to believe. Are you Facebook friends with anyone from high school? Ever converse with faculty spouses at departmental/college events? Those people are a part of your network.

It may be that some deliberate practice at getting to know new people is in order. I read the book "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie when I was in graduate school and I found it very helpful. (You also get to enjoy some very dated anecdotes as you glimpse into the past.)

As an encouraging note, I would have been out of academia years ago if I'd had the resolve and optimism to keep trying, keep applying, keep networking, and keep building skills. You have to believe that it's going to work out, and it will, if you keep going.

Michel

postdoc: Perhaps one way of finding out what's out there is just to spend time scrolling through job ads in various places. It's the same kind of research as when we scroll through the CVs of people whose jobs we'd like/career paths we'd like to emulate, or when we scroll through the jobs on philjobs looking for what they want, obsessively read about hiring in the profession across different blogs, try to figure out which journals are a good fit for what and what's been published in them recently, etc.

(For my part, I've known a fair few people who've gone into content marketing as a first step, and many who've become government analysts).

Mike Barkasi

Re: all the comments like "I don't know what's out there": I think something often lost when philosophers read stories/advice like Greg's is just the extent to which you have to get your hands dirty and immerse yourself in a new space. You have to talk to a lot of people (informational coffee chats), intern, network, go to mixers, etc etc. This is a long process that takes months, not something you sit down and get after a single workshop or reading a few online guides. I think people like Greg mean to convey this, but if you're someone who's only ever known the very weird world of academic philosophy, I don't know if Greg's works really will convey to you the idea (since we do so little, if any, of this sort of stuff as philosophers).

Also, any transition is going to require re-education, whether that's a full-blown second degree, months spent taking online skill courses or doing stuff like coding bootcamps, or just *a lot* of on-the-job training. I know it's a defeating to think "I just spent 10 years in school, and now I have to go back and do it again?", but, yeah, that's how it is. The sooner you embrace it, the sooner you can free yourself from the limits of a career in philosophy (which more and more, for most of us, is just a string of poorly paying adjuncting gigs). I mean, yeah, like Greg said, a lot of what you learn and do as a philosopher transfers (e.g., Greg's great "teach intro" vs "persuade clients" example), but even so, there's always going to be tons to learn.

John Doe

I can pretty much guarantee that none of the people I know who aren't academics would be interested in helping me get a job anywhere. In some sense I know them, but they aren't friends. More like distant acquaintances.

That's why I wonder about the utility of cold-calling. If people I cold-call won't ultimately help get me an interview, I don't see that it will help much. I'd still need friends in industry.

Frankly, the networking stuff is pretty discouraging because I also live in the middle of nowhere. It's hard to meet people at industry conferences when you live 4 hours from a respectable city and make just enough to get by.

At some point, I have to wonder if the only way it will work out is if I go for an extra formal credential, given my limited network. Maybe a programming bootcamp or something could work.

Re: Mike -- the big difference between going back to get another degree vs. online skill courses and the like is money, plus the attendant issues like applying for admission, taking entry exams, and so on. So that's why it's very important to figure out which jobs require a new degree and which jobs do not.

Greg Stoutenburg

John Doe: It's not as hard as you're making it out to be, but I've felt that way in the past. Please send me an email and we'll talk, and I'll show you some of the people I've contacted through LinkedIn who I didn't know and who wasn't connected to anyone I did know. I'm serious! Email me and we'll talk on Zoom.

gregstoutenburg@outlook.com

Mike Barkasi

"I can pretty much guarantee that none of the people I know who aren't academics would be interested in helping me get a job anywhere. In some sense I know them, but they aren't friends. More like distant acquaintances."

@John Doe: I'd reach out to Greg. He's one nonacademic you know willing to help. My experience was that lots of nonacademics I knew (or didn't know) were willing to help me. Both times I've left philosophy, obscure friends of friends, or spouses of friends, came out of the woodwork to sit down with me and have coffee chats --- once I made it known I was leaving, that is. Sure, plenty of people ignored me. Most of the people that did offer to help me didn't end up being any help (beyond their good nature and the general experience). But business networking is just like making friends and finding dates: just keep spinning the wheel. 9/10 people will ignore you, for good or bad reasons, but some will help. Most of the ones who will try to help won't get you anywhere, but eventually some will.

I know it's emotionally devastating to leave philosophy. I've been in some dark places, for sure. Some of the best advice I've worked out for myself over the years is to focus on the possibilities in the future, not the failures in the past --- focus on the next ten doors in front of you, people to contact, or whatever. Don't focus on all the stuff that didn't work in the past.

Part of what's so, so pernicious in philosophy is the scarcity mindset it engenders. We all learn to treat opportunities as a scare resource: e.g., there's only 150 jobs (or whatever) for the 1000-1500 people on the market, there's only so many journal slots, only so many invited speaker gigs, etc etc. That scarcity conditioned me to think in horribly negative ways, and it's taken a lot of work to view the outside (nonacademic) world for what it is: a space of many, many opportunities. When one doesn't work out, just move on to the next (because unlike in the academic world, there is a next).

Now, I admit that life is a bit different when you're in a rural area with a small economy. I've been there, too. I don't have any good advice, and, at the risk of being insensitive, I'd just suggest any philosophers stuck in that position seriously think about moving for the sake of better economic opportunities in a new city.

Samuel Kampa

Excellent post, Greg! I strongly agree with (2)-(6). My only quibble would be with (1).

Because I haven't had the chance to do philosophy in a while, I'm going to take all the fun out of Greg's artful overstatement and offer a qualified version of the thesis "Your PhD is a liability, not an asset". I'll even give it an unnecessary abbreviation, because why not.

PHD-AL: All else being equal, your Philosophy PhD is more likely to be a liability than an asset only if each of these conditions holds:
a. You're applying for an entry-level position. (i.e., this is your first post-ac job).
b. You're playing up your Philosophy PhD in the wrong ways. (e.g., "I know a lot about this thing you don't care about" vs. "I have a proven track-record of completing longterm projects with minimal supervision.")
c. You have little concrete evidence of having developed hard skills that bear on the position in question. (e.g., "I'm interested in coding" vs. "I recently started a data vis project in my free time; check out my github repo").


I think (a) is important and underappreciated, because so much energy and anxiety is wrapped up in that first position. But the game really does change once you have some industry experience under your belt. When you're first applying for jobs, the primary skills you have to your name---the ones you need to play up---are general aptitude and curiosity; ability to independently complete longterm projects; and ability to teach, construed broadly (e.g., ability to explain complex issues to "students/clients"). That's not nothing, but it doesn't tell your employer you know how to write industry-ready code, for example.

Once you have that entry-level job, though, you have a profile that's unique for all the right reasons (depending on your target industry, your trajectory, blah blah blah). You have all the good-making qualities of a PhD recipient plus concrete evidence of success in industry, of developing and utilizing hard skills under time constraints and resource scarcity, etc. Suddenly, your resume is more intriguing than confusing.

The reason I'm emphasizing (a) is that it's tempting, in the early goings, to despair. When I was starting out, I had promising informational interviews that went nowhere, and I was outright ghosted at a coffee shop once. There's a lot of inertia at the outset, and having a PhD can be part of the problem if you haven't perfected your elevator speech (which, if you're new to industry, is probably the case). But if you stick it out, what seems like a liability can become a longterm asset.

John Doe

Re: Mike -- doesn't one generally need a job offer in location X to move to X? Otherwise, how does one pay the rent while networking, etc.? I've heard people give that kind of advice before, but unless I take out significant debt, I just don't see it working out. (If the job hunt goes long enough, even taking out debt wouldn't work out!)

Re: Greg -- thank you for your kind offer, but at present I'm still pursuing academia until the funding is closer to running out on my temp position. I just wanted to raise issues that might be relevant for readers / me down the road.

Mike Barkasi

@John Doe: As you point out, stability (staying where you are) is best. Hell, with the cost of moving (direct and indirect), I've had cross-country moves to *take* a (not-bad-paying) job set me back financially. So, yes, no matter how you look at it, there's tremendous cost to moving to a new location (e.g., taking on debt until you find a job). But (speaking from my perspective) if the situation really is such that there are no opportunities besides unstable adjuncting gigs in your current location, it may be worth the short-term costs to move.

Of course, I wouldn't move to a totally random city --- I'd try to move somewhere I've lived before, or had friends/family/a connection. You can also scout jobs ahead of time, whether that means landing a job before the move (I've had companies fly me to their city to interview) or simply being aware of the job market in that city. Perhaps there's long-term planning involved? --- e.g., you know there's lots of jobs doing X in city Y (they have a shortage of workers), so you spend a year training in X in your current location than go to Y and have your pick of jobs.

I'm not just talking to John Doe here, but to any struggling early career philosopher. I really do think the small world of philosophy conditions us to make decisions with a scarcity mentality that just doesn't reflect reality in the non-academic world. If your brain is conditioned to think of opportunities as a scarce resource, because philosophy opportunities (TT jobs, journal slots, etc.) are scarce, you're going to make the wrong risk calculation about leaving academics. This is one of those system 1/ system 2 things. Your reflexive reaction about the odds/pros/cons are probably wrong, because your gut has been trained in one context (academics) with statistics that don't match the new context (the wider world).

postdoc

I'd love to hear more about your new job Greg and how it compares with the academic job you had.

People are saying there are so many opportunities, but I still don't really have a clue what those opportunities are.

David Lu

@postdoc: you seem really conditioned to think one-dimensionally in terms of career opportunities. There aren't many specific opportunities that funnel former philosophers. The point is just that there's a wide array of opportunities that you can transform your career to -- rather than start over. Most likely, you'll need to gain some additional skillsets and knowledge to make the transition.

Examples help. I'm a researcher in the cybersecurity industry (and NTT CS instructor). I know former philosophers who work in accounts management, project/product management, sales, customer success, customer education, digital production, AI/machine learning, data analysis, marketing, and software development. It leans heavily toward tech not because former philosophers are particularly good at tech, but mostly because knowledge work pays well in the sector. Just look over at the sidebar for 'Philosophers in Industry' to see more examples.

You're trying to think of opportunities for philosophers in industry. It's not that. You need to think of opportunities in industry which you can leverage your academic background into. There are many of these.

Postdoc

I think what’s going on here is a linguistic confusion. When I think of opportunities for philosophy PhDs I think of whatever jobs are available straight out of the gate without much if any further training. People graduate with philosophy BAs and presumably get jobs doing something or another. I just want to jump straight into a non academic job. What opportunities are there?

anon

@postdoc: I know of a couple of philosophers that got work writing policy for the government. They did this without extensive social networking - just through asking for advice at the university career office and getting a referral to a government worker that was hiring. And they didn't have to complete any additional formal program before counting as qualified for this work.

This is just one anecdote, but I thought I would mention it, since you seem interested in ideas that don't involve lots of training or networking.

Derek Bowman

David Lu,

I think you may be underestimating the problem that someone like Postdoc has. The core problem is not that people are thinking one-dimensionally, or even simply that (in Postdoc's specific case), a desire for opportunities that require no further training or networking.

You say, "You need to think of opportunities in industry which you can leverage your academic background into." This isn't good advice, not because it's not good, but because it's not really advice. It's has the form of advice, but for someone like Postdoc - or like me - who doesn't yet have a clear idea of which of those opportunities are worth focusing on - it's too general to give us anywhere to get started.

I'm lucky, in that I've been able to secure a temporary (and term-limited) but well-paying academic job. This has given me the economic security to do some networking and volunteering to connect me with people doing interesting work in other areas. And even so, I haven't yet figured out how to turn any of those into a concrete alternative career path worth pursuing.

Yes, there are lots of things philosophy PhDs can do, but it's precisely that variety that can make it hard to even get started.

Recent PhD Grad

Whilst this post is encouraging and (refreshingly) honest I'm not sure how much of it will be realistic for recent phd grads. People with full time academic positions may find it easier because they have some savings to rely on for the transitions. As recent PhD grad who has been on plenty of interviews but is staring at the dearth of academic job postings, I don't have much time to do networking and coursera stuff in between two casualised jobs to pay the rent. It seems to me, at this moment in history, the best way to leave philosophy is not have gotten in in the first place.

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