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Alt-ac bound

I think rather than looking for support in the department it is better to look at what university resources there are. At my university our support in the department is abysmal. But, there is an office in the university that is entirely dedicated to Ph.D students getting alt-ac jobs. They do a great job of running events, networking, career planning etc. I think it would be nice if departments had some support, but realistically since most people in the department haven't had an alt-ac job they don't have a clue as to what goes into getting one. So they aren't much help anyway.


I agree with Alt-ac bound. I personally do not believe that professional philosophers are in a good position to supervise people for alt-ac jobs. I doubt their suggestions would be useful. It is also a bit unfair to ask professors to learn about different kinds of alter-ac jobs and how to prepare students for them. It is just too much.

That being said, I believe that departments can help people for alt-ac jobs by maintaining good relationships with other career-oriented units on campus and directing people to those resources. And departments can support students by allowing, and even encouraging, students to use the tuition waiver money for courses in practical areas such as business management, computer programing, statistics, etc. I know some departments were against this idea in the past. Of course sometimes the pressure is from the administration.

Marcus Arvan

I disagree with both of the above comments, as I think they misunderstand a bit what good alt-ac support in a department should probably look like.

Whenever we have these kinds of discussions, people focus on 'training' and 'education' for alt-ac jobs, as though these are the most important things for getting alt-ac jobs--saying things like, "Philosophy faculty aren't any good at this." However, I'm not sure how many times this needs to be repeated, but studies consistently show that 80% of jobs are found through networking. People hire people that they know and like, as well as people they otherwise have connections to. For example, when I meet someone who went to Tufts University or the University of Arizona, we already have something in common, and often bond over it--and empirically, we know that people are often willing to help people they have things like these in common with (this is why there are alumni programs, after all).

This suggests that the best way for programs to help their grad students and recent PhDs find alt-ac jobs is not to provide education, training, or advice. That's a red herring. What philosophy grad programs should do is to help their grad students and recent PhDs *network* outside of academia. And grad faculty can absolutely help in this regard. How?

In many other fields (including my spouse's), here's how it works. When the program's grad students or recent PhDs leave academia for non-academic industries, the grad faculty actually maintain strong positive personal relationships with those ex-students--so as to help their current students network with them, intern with them, and so on. So, for example, suppose a student from NYU's PhD program goes to work at Google, or health care, or whatever (as a fair number of philosophy PhDs have: https://www.marcusarvan.net/non-academic-philosopher-directory ). The thing for grad programs to do is to stay in touch with those people, inviting them (for example) back to the department to provide alt-ac advice--and putting grad students and recent PhDs interested in alt-ac jobs in touch with them.

This is all easy to do, and judging from what I've seen in other fields, it works like a charm. People in industry like to help people in their former grad program. But how many philosophy programs do anything like this? In my experience, very few, if any. When philosophy grad students or PhDs leave for non-academic industries, grad programs generally seem to forget about them, pretending that they don't exist. For example, in my experience many programs don't even list non-academic job placements on their departmental websites. These are enormous missed opportunities. Yes, philosophy grad faculty may not be able to give good alt-ac advice--but if they actually bother to keep in touch with people who left their program for alt-ac jobs, *those* people can provide their students with good advice (as well as "ins" at the places they work!).

Finally, and I think this is important, I don't think it's a good idea to offload these kinds of networking responsibilities to other career-oriented units on campus. Rather, departments should do them. Why? Simple: career-oriented offices on campus are highly impersonal. They don't have any personal connection to, say, the philosopher who works at Google. That philosopher is going to be far more likely to help people in their former program if their *program* (and faculty in it) stay in personal touch with them, conveying to them that the program (and faculty in it) actually care about them and continue to value them as a former member of the program. Who would you rather help: people in a program who ignore you and pretend you don't exist once you leav academia, or people that stay in touch regularly, invite you back to give job-advice to grad students (perhaps over Zoom), etc? I think it's pretty obvious what the answer is.


Thanks, Marcus! I agree. I guess I was an example of what I talked about in my post: a philosopher who did not know how alt-ac jobs worked... :) It is good to learn.

David Lu

I agree with Marcus. The biggest thing departments can do is to keep alive a network of alt-ac former students. If you are a student or graduate looking for alt-ac opportunities, networking is the best way to position yourself to catch a lucky break.

PhD Student

One concrete thing departments can do: allow and encourage students to work outside of their doctoral programs while they're on assistantship. The transition from academia to alt-ac work is tough, but it's easier if the transition starts early. That way, upon graduation, students already have alt-ac work experience on their resumes to get them better interviews.

Assistant Professor

Agree with much of what Marcus said as a philosopher whose primary work is outside of a philosophy department. Connecting with the right people was key - I had to do a lot of this on my own but one key faculty member in my department facilitated contact with a few other people who took similar paths I hoped to take who had come through my same program and they were (and continue to be) excellent resources to me. This networking function is huge both inside your department, and in other key departments that might have an affinity with the kinds of work you want to do and whose faculty you could get to know through coursework or other campus activities.

The list Marcus maintains (and linked to above) is also a great resource - anyone on it has volunteered to be on it and therefore is willing to be a resource. I find that in general if you email someone saying "I am sincerely interested in your career path, would you have time for a brief phone call or Zoom meeting so I can learn from you?" people are more than willing to do it. Especially because many of us know that these pathways are far from obvious and we relied on people to help us navigate them ourselves.

The one other thing departments can do - that is easier said than done - is not be hostile to alt-ac careers. It is one thing for tenured faculty to not be the best positioned to advise people in alt-ac careers since they pursued the TT path and won't be experts in other options. BUT it is another thing to be hostile to/discredit/or express failure to understand wanting (or needing) to take a route other than TT faculty in a philosophy department (though this is the experience some students have when telling their department they want to pursue other options). I never got much positive feedback from my department about my own career choices but subsequently got an email from a faculty member saying that I was one of their most successful recent placements - it was a surprise to hear this feedback as they didn't seem enthusiastic or proud of me and my placement when I was in the department and on the market choosing between job offers.

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