Our books

Become a Fan

« Online teaching & alt-ac certifications? | Main | Where do philosophers read? »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


If by 'areas' you mean AOSes, that's going to be a big lift. You can do what you want, so it's totally acceptable, and like Marcus said, you should try to keep things fun for you. But moving into another AOS takes time and effort, so bear that in mind. What you don't want is for the move to cause a big gap in your research record (especially if you're on the market or the TT), so work on getting the dissertation material out there while you're performing the switch. The dissertation buys you some time to make the switch.

If you just mean a different topic in the same AOS, then just go for it. Although again, I'd advise you to try to get the dissertation out there at the same time, since that will buy you time to prepare a suite of papers on the new topic.

As for mentioning it in the research statement: yes, I think you should. You want to showcase your research trajectory and interests, and this is going to be a big part of them going forward, so you should point to it. But until you've got stuff to show for this new area, you probably shouldn't go on and on about it at the expense of the stuff you've already accomplished.


I think changing directions right after one's dissertation is a mistake. It certainly is not the sort of "profile" that will get one a job at a research oriented university. I had quite a different experience with my dissertation - when I went to defense, I had three chapters accepted for publication in descent journals (one quite a strong journal). I published one more chapter some time after - 4 years. By then I was working on new stuff that my dissertation had set me up to address.
Another warning. I went to a university that had a strong reputation in ONE field. So the only way to get a research job from there was to work in that field. To move away form that area was to abandon any advantage one has on the market.


I was advised to stay in the same general vicinity as my dissertation, but to differ enough so people don't think of me as a 'one trick pony'.

Farewell to Arms Races

How broad is "research area"?

If this is e.g. moving from applied ethics to metaphysics, then I think that the considerations that n raises are important.

If this is e.g. working on a very different topic in applied ethics or shifting from applied ethics to metaethcis, then I think it can be helpful for many people.

I have only published 1 paper out of 5 chapters, combining the best ideas of two of those chapters. However, I have published a lot of other stuff. I moved onto new topics and I've since done research on some quite different areas. This was really helpful, because I strongly wanted a change at the end of my PhD years and I wouldn't have really worked that hard on publishing each remaining chapter. The ideas in my thesis were sufficiently idiosyncratic that nobody has come close to them since, although I shall need to update some of them based on some cool work that other people have done. They are still there for when I am snowed under with teaching.

I have seen other people who have published a lot do the same. Freshness makes a big difference. Most hyper-successful senior academics I know also try to do something new at least every 5 years or so.

I think that the general challenge after the PhD thesis, for most of us, is that being competitive for jobs requires publishing a lot, and in good areas. Therefore, it can be good to freshen things up at that stage, because it's easier to compete in the publications arms race if you're writing about things you enjoy. However, there is probably something not too far from your area of greatest expertise, and that's a better strategy than radically shifting research areas.


"Switch" has the connotation that you abandon or stop what you're switching from. As such, I read your question as having two parts: whether you should leave behind the dissertation completely, and whether you should add another research area post-dissertation.

I think the answer to the first is "no." As others have noted, your dissertation presumably contains publishable material. Publish it. Even if you know that you don't want to write in that area anymore, you can still teach in it. A dissertation positions you to teach at least introductory and advanced undergraduate courses in the relevant areas, and that expertise will be valuable for many institutions.

I think the answer to the second is "absolutely." I completely endorse Marcus's reasons. To share my own experience, I've always let my interest guide what I work on. For example, my pre-dissertation publications were in metaphysics, my dissertation-based publications were in philosophy of language, and I've recently published in epistemology. For all I know, maybe some places have held this variety against me. But I've only worked at research-oriented R1s, and all of them explicitly identified my breadth as part of their interest in me as a candidate.

Most departments aren't big departments. As a result, someone who can work in two different areas are high-value. They offer the ability to competently teach in, advise in, and be a part of dissertation committees in an area that maybe the department can't get another hire approved for. Advice that amounts to "Stay in your lane" doesn't make sense if the adjacent lanes are all empty.

One caveat. I don't think something meaningfully counts as a research area until you've published in it. I think this perspective is widely had at R1s. So if you haven't published anything in your dissertation's area yet and you haven't yet published anything in the new area, then claiming both as research areas strains credibility.

Bill Vanderburgh

I've heard in various discussions of tenure and promotion that many places want to see you establish an *independent* research trajectory, in the sense of "not the same old stuff that your dissertation advisor helped you with." If all you have published by the time you go up for tenure is material from your dissertation, you would probably have a hard time getting tenure. So, in a sense, everyone needs to move beyond the dissertation in their research. But beware the "tooling up" period as you learn a new area--ideally, you need to keep publishing at a steady rate, not have a large gap. I think post-tenure is a great time to explore entirely new areas. Before then, strategic considerations lean towards publishing what you know already/can get published quickly.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Subscribe to the Cocoon

Job-market reporting thread

Current Job-Market Discussion Thread

Philosophers in Industry Directory


Subscribe to the Cocoon