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Anon Recent Grad

Ceteris paribus, I still would prefer to have an academic career. My all-things-considered preferences have changed a lot, however.

As a fresh grad student, I would have preferred to work in an undesirable location for modest pay doing philosophy than work in a desirable location for excellent pay doing something else. Nowadays, in broad terms the second option seems better than the first, though the details would matter in any particular concrete comparison.

I attribute this to several causes:

(1) The profession has changed enough that my field seems largely out of fashion, and most of my joy in philosophy comes from working in that field rather than on issues that are currently trendy.

(2) As I've gotten older, I've come to understand just how much location impacts one's happiness. I didn't appreciate that in my mid-20's. Likewise with pay.

(3) Many parts of working as an academic are more frustrating than I imagined they would be. Some examples: Facing lots of rejection despite having intense pressure to publish / build a reputation / etc. Unmotivated students. Dealing with faculty that have large, sensitive egos.

I didn't really know what I was getting into when I signed up for grad school. I feel that many professors could give better advice to their students when they are considering applying. It's important to convey not just how few jobs there are, but how unpleasant many parts of life as an academic can be even on the TT. The latter is as important as the former, imo.

5 years out

I think there's a lot of truth to the idea that we can't imagine anything else, or can't see a path to anything else that isn't incredibly costly. Like, sure, I could go to law school, but I'm 30 years old and shouldn't be taking out loans at this point in my life——now I've got kids so this academia thing better work out. I remember thinking things like that.

And now from the professor side: I think it's important to stress that your advisors WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED if you want to go a non-academic route. In fact, we may be relieved, since we want the lives of our students to go well, and we've seen people (friends from graduate school and/or students) struggle on the market. We know it's incredibly costly and may not be worth it for everyone. We also know that even if someone decides to go that route AND does everything right, it frequently doesn't work out. I can't speak for all professors everywhere, but I cannot imagine anyone in my fairly large department being at all disappointed if a graduate student decided that academia wasn't for them.

Current PhD Student

I want to echo Anon Recent Grad on all counts, especially location and income. Also I wrote more than initially anticipated.

I also didn't know what I was signing up for when I started grad school. I only knew that I wasn't done with school yet and that I liked my philosophy classes more than classes in other disciplines. I was not prepared for how difficult social life would be in graduate school, how isolating living in a rural area would be, or how many challenges the lack of decent income would present over the long term. (The short-term was always fine, though.) Eventually I stopped looking for fulfillment from philosophy (which made me sad for awhile), but in a roundabout way that made it easier to find fulfillment there sometimes.

To answer the guiding question: I never intended to be a professor, and I disliked a lot about teaching from the start (the jitters, the stress, the grading). I do love being in the classroom, though, and working with students on their academic work is always fun. I get why people like being professors. I also still like philosophy and reading the bigger canon books sometimes. I like writing papers, and I've made peace with the fact that I do philosophy because it offers something to muse at instead of something that treats serious issues. (<-- That's only a claim about why I do it...not about philosophy in general).

I was surprised to learn that I am almost the only one in my program to vocalize that I do not intend to be an academic and never really did intend it. I went to grad school because I wanted to, and for a long time I suspended thinking about what would happen afterward. All of this has made it easier to write the kinds of papers I want (because there's no professional stakes), operate independently from advisors (who aren't typically qualified to give recommendations for non-academic jobs), and navigate my program as I see fit. In my case the main payoff for finishing the PhD is personal fulfillment, since having an MA is good enough for almost any job that I'm interested in pursuing. That reality has been liberating.

The trajectory over time: suspending judgement about future career, rocky graduate school years ensue (primary difficulty: depression and social isolation), rediscovery of personal interests, realization that pursuing academic would continue to reproduce social isolation and instability, eventual embrace of non-academic track, move back where friends live, settle into old life from before grad school, work on dissertation at a distance.

Assistant Professor

I entered my PhD program knowing I wanted/needed PhD level training to achieve my career objectives, which were not an academic career in philosophy but did require doctoral level training and I was most interested in doing that training in philosophy.

It was not until the job market and applying/interviewing for different kinds of jobs at different kinds of institutions (including TT philosophy jobs) that I realized I did want an academic career, but not in a philosophy department. Initially I thought I might have been content with a career that was entirely non-academic but then realized that I too strongly enjoyed my scholarship and wanted to make sure I had protected time for it as well as professional recognition for doing it. But it was also not until I had some experience with successfully publishing my philosophical scholarship that I was willing to fully embrace this desire/goal as one I could legitimately prioritize. At the same time it is not my only goal, and other contents of my work, mixed with things like geographical choice in where to live and salary that Anon Recent Grad mentions contribute to my choice to work in academia but outside of a philosophy department yet with a philosophy PhD.

Another Current PhD Student

I decided to pursue a PhD despite the dismal statistics because I want to be an expert in some particular fields and their intersections (involving ethics, social/political philosophy, and some more applied topics), and I determined the best way to do that was to get a PhD in philosophy. I am lucky to be in a place I enjoy and get paid not-terribly to develop this very specific skillset and expertise, especially since doing it on my own would have probably not have worked out well.

Ultimately, what I want to do more than anything is write books for the public on philosophical topics and actually be qualified to write them. I also want to be able to teach, though I am not attached to doing this in a full-time capacity. I could see myself being very happy working for a nonprofit and teaching philosophy part-time, for example.

But, all of my "ideal career schemas" are bolstered by having a PhD in Philosophy, despite only one of them involving a full-time academic career.

I will say, entering grad school without any attachment to getting a tenure-track job has put me in a much better position regarding my mental health than I think I would have been otherwise, which subsequently allows me to do better philosophical work. Those who consider their attachments to getting a TT job to be very very strong might find that both their philosophical work and mental health are benefitted from some contemplative practices (e.g., mindfulness-based practices or finding other passions) aimed at weakening these attachments. And most importantly, it is essential that one does not tie their self-worth to their academic career! Though of course, this is much easier said than done.

Another Recent Grad

I was a philosophy major and had few other skills for jobs. While I could imagine doing things that did not require specific skills, I did not like them. So, I chose to go to graduate school in philosophy. At least, I could do something I like while getting paid a little bit.

In the first couple of years in graduate school, I always worried about my academic career. I felt that I was not "nerdy" enough to be a good philosopher--I was not into philosophy as much as some of my peers, and I had too many hobbies. I had a hard time writing and publishing, not like some of my friends who tried to publish each term paper as quickly as possible. I once even worried that I slept too well at night because many professors mentioned they had sleeping issues due to their work. I just felt I was not a good philosopher.

I did not realize until then that there were teaching oriented TT jobs. I finally found the kind of career that I truly wanted. Don't get me wrong. I do not mean that teaching-oriented jobs are less philosophical or less important. I just think it is the right fit for me. I do not have to work on 3-4 papers at the same time while having additional 3-4 papers under review. And my interesting lived experiences helped me make my teaching effective and fun.

Nearly Dr

I suspect you are mostly going to get answers here from those disillusioned with philosophy (as seems the case already). And unfortunately I think they are a vocal minority in this case. I, for one, am still very much excited about a career in philosophy and willing to make really large trade off's to get it. Even after taking 6 years to do my thesis and learning a lot about the problems some mention above.

One thing I think often gets overlooked in this discussion is the overly rose picture people seem to have of life outside academia. Sure students are often unmotivated and difficult, but clients and customers are just as bad in my (admittedly limited) experience.

You think some tenured professors have fragile egos and surround themselves with sycophants? Wait till you meet CEOs or government ministers.

Useless meetings and committees somehow seem to exist even in workplaces with only enough employees to fit in a single room.

Every job has shit bits and difficult people and is boring sometimes. Academia doesn't stand out any worse as far as I can see. And I get to do philosophy.


I am not disillusioned with philosophy, although I think I have a pretty clear sight on many of its problems as a profession.

That said, I am still currently excited about a career in philosophy and would consider it my first choice.

But I am not willing to make really large trade-offs to get it, contra Nearly Dr. I have a young family and don't want to move too far from our extended family, which has been a huge support recently. I would not move for just any job, and won't consider a move for a short-term position.

With these restrictions I know my chances of getting a permanent job are pretty much 0. But I still want to try.


My preferences have definitely changed over time. I was unable to imagine what would make me leave an academic career if I made it.

These days I split my time between an industry research job and a pretty good continuous academic teaching job (3/3 with equivalent or better compensation than TT philosophy faculty in a city I love). However, my industry job is more interesting than my teaching job, is better compensated, is fully remote, and feels more rewarding. I'll soon be focusing on the industry career and maybe just adjunct teach occasionally.

Now, I can't imagine what would make me stay with the academic career.

another postdoc

I think framing things in terms of why or at what point many grad students "decide" they no longer want a career in philosophy is not the best way to frame it. For the overwhelming majority of my peers who have given up on their dreams of a career in the discipline, it's not so much that they chose anything but that the job market chose for them. In some other cases, I think younger PhD students in my program are beginning to see the writing on the wall as their peers who did everything right strike out on the job market, and are gradually losing hope in the dream over time as a result. I guess my main point is that none of this feels like a "choice" for the people I'm referring to. It's the profession and its job market that chose for them.

on the market

I'm an immigrant, and currently live in a high salary country. Wasn't successful on the market 2020-2021, but still applying. I started with the mindset that I would do anything to get any academic job. Then I had kids, and found a non-academic job where I now reside that pays a lot better than almost any TT position in many countries.

I would still apply for TT positions, but would not move for anything less than that. First is the salary. Compared to the job I now have (and it's only an ok-ish payment for people in my city, i.e., just below the median income), the salary of postdocs (not to say the instability of short-term contracts) is just not attractive enough. I understand that this will limit the prospects of getting back to academics, which makes me really sad, but there are other important things in life. Wealth and income are among those things.

The second is, as an immigrant, I just don't find philosophy to be the most welcoming discipline. I know there are worse non-academic jobs in this respect, but I'm just lucky enough to be in a job where my country of origin, skin colour, and accent don't become a burden.

Third, I just hate teaching. I'm really good at it though, with flying evaluations and other overwhelmingly strong evidence to show this. I could probably tolerate a bit of teaching, but only if it is the necessary cost of having a job that pays me for doing research. I can pretend that I love my students and that I'm so interested in whatever they say and write, but only to a certain extent. Some academic jobs will simply destroy my mental health.

So yes I would love to have an academic job, but the experience through grad school and the frustration on the job market, especially during the pandemic, has helped me to realise that I only want academic jobs that are most likely beyond me, and having sufficient wealth and income and free time and distance away from students is a rather nice thing.

Anon Recent Grad

Nearly Dr., as someone who worked in industry before academia, I am well aware that industry is not so rosy. I just don't regard philosophy as being so much more rosy than industry that it is worth taking a huge paycut and living in some small rural town. Tbh, when I worked in industry I just wasn't all that unhappy (despite not liking my clients or my boss). If anything, the only thing I had illusions about was academia.

Personally, I think people who never worked in industry seriously overestimate how important doing philosophy is to their happiness. After about 6 months, you just tend not to think about it. Such was my experience after undergrad, despite being obsessed with philosophy before -- I worked for a few years to pay down my student loans, hence the delay in starting grad school.


I desire an academic job very strongly. This is what explains my continued job search despite 5 previous years of failure. I hope year 6 will be different, but I am almost certain it won’t be. (7 publications in prestigious journals wasn’t enough, I doubt 10 will be either). My postdoc runs out after this year, and my partner has asked that I stop pursuing an academic career if it doesn’t work out this time. So, I’m trying to figure out what else to do with my life. My current PD has helped me develop some non-philosophy technical skills, which is helpful. But I’m very unhappy about the whole thing.


In light of the abysmal macroeconomics of the philosophy job market, I appreciate the increased attention paid to supporting philosophy graduate students and recent PhDs in making the transition to non-academic employment. But this post strikes me as bizarre.

Of course a lot of people in philosophy PhD programs strongly want an academic career! PhD programs are vocational programs. They train people to be professional philosophers. It's true that in the course of such a program some people realize it's not what they want. But it has been my experience that most people who finish the PhD want permanent employment in academic philosophy very much. So much so that they struggle through the philosophy job market year after year.

That would be an incredible amount of hardship to endure merely to avoid disappointing their advisor and though that may happen, the suggestion that it may be pervasive is to take an inappropriately dim view of early career philosophers.

It is similarly dismissive to characterize these people as 'single-minded'. Are coding bootcamp graduates who search for a job programming computers single-minded?

Lastly, on the point about not being able to imagine doing anything else. I seriously doubt the imaginative powers of philosophers are so impoverished that they cannot imagine a situation in which they are doing something other than philosophy. Maybe they... just want to be a professional philosopher?

It's great to provide resources and support for pivoting to another way of making a living and life. But this post seems to me to be a weird cross examination of people doing everything they can to do what they want.

@postdoc10, that sounds miserable. Hope you get a good job.


I've never known anyone who started a PhD program in philosophy for an end other than being in an academic position. Of course, I know plenty of people who started with that end in view and then said: "Yeah, I'm all set" after dealing with a lot of the nonsense in the profession (especially the sensitive egos). And like another postdoc said, I too know plenty of people who wanted to stay in and were forced out by the market.

Yet Another Current PhD Student

I have basically no desire to try to make myself a competitive job market candidate or to go through the application process year after year, so I'm very likely to leave after I get the degree. I had some hopes coming in, but I dislike many things about academic philosophy and have had mixed experiences in my program. Before COVID I was enjoying in-person teaching and considered trying for some sort of permanent instructorship type post, but not having taught in person since February 2020 has been a real blow. My Plan A is to teach high school; I've never really understood why so many academic philosophers are contemptuous of this alternative.

I wanted to address one thing "5 years out" said above: "And now from the professor side: I think it's important to stress that your advisors WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED if you want to go a non-academic route."

Well, maybe my situation is more rare than I'd realized, but when I tell my advisor I don't want to apply for academic jobs, they say things like "You should at least apply for a year or two," or "It would be a shame to do all this work just to leave without even trying for a job," or "Even if you currently favor non-academic options you should do everything you'd otherwise do to prepare for the job market in case you change your mind." It's pretty obvious to me that their highest desideratum is that I get a TT job, and it seems like they'd rather I struggle for a couple of years and then bow out rather than not go on the market at all. All this isn't very heartening, and I hope it's more rare than I'd presumed, but I feel like I've heard a decent number of similar stories from grad students in my position.

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