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The mean non-academic salary seems pretty high, perhaps a result of some selection bias and small sample size (maybe people with very high salaries were more likely to respond to the survey). However, I only have anecdotal knowledge.

I agree with Marcus's take that departments should support students seeking non-academic work, but including students who leave before completing the PhD. If we want philosophy to thrive in academia, we need it to thrive in the world beyond academia. The data seems to indicate that between a quarter and a third of admitted PhD students leave before completing the PhD, and the vast majority of them will look for non-academic work. These students are more likely to be dissatisfied with their grad studies/programs, they may have left because of dissatisfaction, and more likely they won't paint a great picture of academic philosophy out in the non-academic world. It may be hard to track them, but we shouldn't forget this significant group.

Carolyn Dicey Jennings

Great post, Marcus!

Alex Bryant

Thanks for this Marcus.

You write, "Over the past ten years (2011-21), the ADPA surveyed 6030 PhD graduates. Of those surveyed, 2606 (or 37.6%) are now in permanent academic jobs, and 846 (or 14%) are in non-academic jobs. The remaining philosophy PhDs are either in part-time academic positions or did not report.

One question that I think bears in a significant way on how to read the conclusions you draw above is the no-report rate. Could you tell us the breakdown for the remaining two categories (part-time academic and DNR)?

Ben Serber

David, your points certainly echo my experience. I would not be doing the work I am now were it not for my time in grad school. But that's because my dissatisfaction with grad school as it's presently structured led me to spend far more time working with my union than on my dissertation, and when I was offered a chance to do that full-time it was an easy decision. And indeed, one of the things that I find very wrong with grad school as presently structured is how few people want to reckon honestly with attrition rates. I would be very interested to know what the other washouts like me are up to!



For what it is worth, that mean salary (~$180k) was about what I made after leaving professional philosophy, a few years back. I did not respond to that survey.

If anything, non-academic salaries may be getting even better owing to a very tight labor market.


I don't doubt non-academic salaries for former philosophers can be quite high, since there's all kinds of stuff former philosophers can go into, especially tech in the bay area, but it's probably not the norm.

When the mean differs from the median drastically (80% higher in this case), it's a sign that you could have some significant outliers. Someone over at Daily Nous pointed out that the survey data includes a CEO and a lawyer.

Those contemplating leaving probably shouldn't do so because they expect to make $180k. Something closer to the median seems pretty reasonable though.

A different David

A request for clarification: are university administrative positions included here? (I’m employed in one of the wide variety of careers often called “alt-ac”.)

You do mention university administrative positions a few times, so it seems like the answer is yes. But then there’s a lot of discussion of what’s possible, valued, etc., “outside of academia.” It’s a bit frustrating to see my own category fall through the cracks.

Maybe more important than my frustration: alt-ac careers differ in important ways from wholly nonacademic careers. Being a Ph.D., understanding how to navigate academic culture, etc., can be highly valuable to employers and colleagues, help you be successful, and make the job satisfying (if there’s anything you like about academic culture) in a way that probably doesn’t apply to most non-academic jobs.


Ben Serber, I'm a washout like you, though I wasn't dissatisfied with my grad program. I stumbled back into academia with a permanent FT teaching position in a CS department, and I split my time in a research position out in industry.

In some ways, I think the washouts fare a bit better than those who finish but spend some years touring the adjunct circuit before leaving. Some of the other washouts I know retrained in another field and are doing pretty well. But I'm curious about the overall trends too.

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