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A grad student

It has *always* been important for me that the programs I've been interested in have been interested in working with me as someone with no real academic aspirations.


EVERYTHING ELSE than professorship is an alt-ac job, for which professors have little to none experience to share and provide due support. However, I do think that it is imperative for faculty to let graduate students know from the very beginning that the market is dire and that few people end up landing a professorship. As for whether to persist in philosophy and what other alternatives to seek, the students should hold themselves responsible.

William Vanderburgh

Notable in the original post: 50% of Philosophy PhD students get the degree, and 32-35% of those eventually get a permanent academic post (note wording: I guess not all of those are tenure-track).

32% of 50 is *16%* of Philosophy PhD students who get a permanent post within five years (!) of graduating. That's *less than one in six*. Anyone who is offered admission should be told these numbers. Anyone who is considering grad school in Philosophy needs to know this info.

PhD programs clearly are MOSTLY NOT preparing their students for academic careers. That reality should lead departments to intentionally help their students prepare for non-academic careers. If departments don't do that, they are duping and abusing their students.

That said, most of the professoriate has no idea how to help prepare students for non-academic careers. So departments need to offer training in that area.

Chris Stephens

At our University (UBC), my department has partnered with a kind of graduate co-op work program for PhD students in the humanities, but alas, none of our current students (so far) have been willing to participate in it. I'm not sure why. Perhaps they've drunk too much of the kool-aid, and feel it would take too much time away from doing things like teaching and publishing papers since they all (apparently) still hold out hope for an academic career. Perhaps our own department's relatively good success rate at academic placement (better than average) has helped foster this illusion. But I was quite shocked that none of our PhD students were interested (I worked to get the program started when I was graduate advisor). Some of the MA students are interested (we have a two year MA program), but unfortunately, at the moment, it is only available to PhD students in philosophy.

So one challenge about training philosophy graduate students for alt ac careers is that even when they know the statistics, many still think they'll be the ones to get a job - or, by the time they realize they might not get or want an academic job, it is too late to take advantage of the extensive alt-ac training and experience we offer. I dunno.

But for other universities that might be thinking of starting such alt-ac training, here is a link:


(I should note that is not designed only as "alt-ac" option - it is also pitched as a way to get more hands on work experience that might be related to one's dissertation research.)


Citibank is hiring 3000 positions--most are entry-level. I predict that finance is growing more as a field. So try taking some finance/business classes.

Derek Bowman

Why be surprised that students actively studying for PhD in philosophy do not want to take time away from the things they think they need to do to compete for highly competitive academic jobs?

Yes, there are lots of things that PhDs can do, and building networks of grad alumni who are doing those jobs is a good idea. But is there any job, other than philosophy professor, for which a PhD in philosophy is the best or most effective preparation?

If students have realized they want to pursue another career, why would they pursue it through a philosophy PhD program, instead of pursuing that career more directly?



1. Much of Marcus’ and other people’s rationale is prudential and not necessarily academic. I don’t think most of us are surprised. I think most of us expect grad students to focus *solely* on a professorship. But I do think a lot of professors feel worried about their future well-being given the numbers. They just care about their students.

2. This question assumes that most or all jobs require past experience in the first place, which is false. How do I know that? My friend works in industry doing data analyst and they trained him. If one takes a couple of finance classes or other industry classes, it could help one. I don’t think it would hurt as much.

3. This third question also assumes that students won’t change their minds last minute. Now most probably won’t, but some might and we should at least have something for them to fall back on.

Overall, we should not force grad students to do things they don’t want for obviously ethical reasons. Instead, tell them about the job prospects and if they need advice on industry jobs they should reach out. Professors should have some guidance in alternatives for those who change their minds during grad school or on the job market. If professors can’t, then have some career office help grad students navigate alternatives. It’s more of an insurance policy. If there is dual degree options, that could be beneficial as well. I also recommend being proactive and advise undergraduate philosophy majors to dual major or minor in something useful for industry.

Chris Stephens

Dear Derek,

It sounds like your experience is different from mine. In my experience, many PhD students discover along the way that they don't want to pursue an academic career. That's why the surprise.

Chris Stephens

Sorry, I should've added: the co-op jobs also pay money. Graduate students often do things like wait tables etc. to make ends meet that don't particularly help set up alt ac careers, even when they're still working on their PhDs. Why not try some extra work that might be relevant experience for an alt ac career, just in case the academic career doesn't pan out?
also, as I mentioned in the earlier post, some attempt is made to find jobs that are at least somewhat related to one's research. So this seems to be a good way to "hedge your bets" for those inclined. But of course you're right (as I also said), some students will put all their eggs in the the academic job market (that's what my 'have drunk t he kool-aid' comment was in reference to.



Some students are driven by bad faith, some students are overconfident/naive, some students are rich and can afford to stay on the job market for a long time, some students want to learn things the hard way, some students care about the end goal than the years of being unemployed and some students think struggling will make their life more meaningful.

In the future, shouldn’t be surprised. But if they do decide to ask for help last minute, professors should be sympathetic and try to be helpful. Such is life with humans 🤷🏽‍♂️.

Derek Bowman

Thanks to Chris and Evan for the replies.

I wasn't assuming that people knew from the start they wanted to pursue another career or that other careers necessarily require specialized training (though of course many of them do).

My thought, rather, was that whatever that next step is, it's unclear that it is best pursued from within a philosophy PhD program. I know people in this position who stayed in their programs because they were going into a field (second education) where having a PhD was associated with potential advancement and pay premiums. And I've known others who dropped out to begin working on whatever other path they were heading to.

I agree that the "hedging one's bet" strategy might make some sense. If these other fields are also directly relevant to one's field of study, it might also make one more attractive to academic employers who are interested in such connections beyond the academy. Such alt-ac programs might also be helpful to people who have figured out the academic path isn't going to work out but don't quite know what else to do.

So I probably shouldn't have been so dismissive of these efforts. But I worry when they are tied, as in the OP, with the idea of ensuring the survival of philosophy departments and grad programs. These strike me as ameliorative efforts to serve grad students who will, predictably, not get the kinds of jobs they're training for. But I don't think 'don't worry, there are many careers require no previous training or experience, so a PhD totally still makes sense' is a very compelling explanation about why such graduate programs should continue to survive.


Philosophical training might still be useful (even preferred and/or necessary) for some jobs out there like: 'ontologist' jobs. This is a relatively new thing. While ontology started in ancient times as a branch of metaphysics, applied versions today likely involve a good amount of logic, etc. Some very interesting stuff going on in this field. I think SUNY Buffalo philosophy dept has a good program for this, and they seem to place their graduates, many in the computer and informatics fields.
Philosophical Counseling: Can one make a living at this? Might be worth looking into it if interested in such things. Stoics, Epicureans, etc. were 'philosophical counselors', right? See APPA website for details.
One could also switch into a program with a dual JD/PhD focus and teach philosophy of law in law schools.
Finally, Bioethics in hospitals (PhD required) seems to be making a comeback of sorts lately as well. I've seen a lot of job ads for it lately.
Just a few ideas......


I’m inclined to think epistemology could be beneficial as well at least for journalism. There was a thread on Twitter by a journalist who said he prioritized fairness more so than truthfulness in his reporting. He left certain truths out and subsequently contributed to the polarization of politics in America. It can be a hot topic for epistemology of journalism/news because both fairness and truthfulness are virtues that are valuable in reporting.

Some epistemically and ethically fruitful questions arise: Should journalists provide truthfulness more so than fairness? Why or why not? What (unintended) consequences could arise? What does the public actually value more in their news? What should a free and democratic society value more? If journalism values truth above all, were these journalists who prioritized fairness over truthfulness violated their duty as journalists? If so, should we hold them accountable? In what way? How can and should we reconcile fairness and truthfulness in reporting?

I have more questions but I don’t want to bore you with them. They just pop ex-nihilo into my mind very quickly. It's like there’s a wellspring of questions in my mind.

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