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Tenured SLAC

One of the best things about working at a SLAC is that my students have no idea--and no interest--in my professional stature. They want to be in a classroom with a teacher who is passionate about what they teach and who offers an alternative to the gamification of life.

That said, it is still hard to feel that one's scholarship is bound to be neglected/un-cited unless one plays the game. It is also hard to be passed over for administrative posts or to feel as if one's voice is ignored unless one plays the game. It is also hard to feel slighted at all turns for trying to do things differently.

On balance, there is still plenty of room for people in academia who want to do good work. But it isn't easy. One must develop strategies for managing the countless slights and disappointments one is bound to face while remaining open to all the ways de-gamifying is a great good that students (and academia) need.

Caligula's Goat

I think it's important to distinguish being "competitive" and being "driven" or "ambitious." Competitiveness, almost by definition, is other-focused. A competitive person wants to win over others in whatever it is they do (barring the person who is competiting only against themselves though I'd call that being driven).

Being driven, the way I'm using it, is about having a strong internal desire or need to produce or excel at something. It's 100% possible to do really well and feel really satisfied as an academic without being competitive - so long as you're driven.

A driven person writes because they want to not because they need to get a grant or be the most heavily published person in their department. A driven person strives for excellence in teaching because they really get something out of the classroom dynamic or professor-student relationship.

One thing I wasn't clear of from the OP was whether they were driven. It's clear they aren't competitive in nature but without drive for academic pursuits, it's best to look elsewhere.

I also want to suggest one more thing as a cautionary note. I've never, in my 20+ year career, seen someone outright plagiarize another scholar's work (outside of very public social media indictments). I'm not saying that it doesn't happen but it's so rare that I want to cast some doubt on OP's assertions about being plagiarized often.

People working in similar areas are bound to have similar ideas, very few of us are truly original in our thoughts and there's nothing wrong with that! The reason I bring this up is because OP seems to have a sort of victim complex about being "constantly" plagiarized. I seriously doubt that that's happening but if OP is the kind of person who interprets other people's intentions in nefarious ways then maybe academia really isn't for them. That has nothing to do with competitiveness though. That's about one's outlook toward their fellow scholars.

Similarly, OP you seem to hold a lot of resentment about academia in general and you open your post by implying that the only reason you're considering a career in academia is because other people are telling you would be good at it. In all seriousness, do you find the prospect of spending the next 40 years of your life in an academic setting where, at the very least, you'll need to teach, be a good department citizen and sit on committees of various kinds, worry about your major or minor enrollments, keep up with the changing expectations that students bring into your classroom (I'm thinking here especially about the current trend to broaden the canon), and generally keep up a good relationship with your adminstrators...is that something you really want?

If not, I'd consider looking elsewhere.

best wishes

I don't exactly know what non-competitive means, but I am non-competitive in the sense that I do not enjoy any competitive sports. I would report that I don't find philosophy all that bad: for the most part, you are reading, writing, teaching etc on your own, and it doesn't feel like you are competing with anyone at all. There are moments that I feel inadequate, but that's just from failing at certain tasks, not necessary competitions.

I think being secure is a great thing (I feel that my comfort in a field is directly proportional to my security), so assuming it's true, I'm optimistic about op's prospect in academia, which, to repeat, doesn't involve all that much competition in my experience. Maybe tackle concrete events/frustrations that lead op to this question rather than generalizing about the academia?


Do what I did:

Get a TT job at a community college where publishing is considerably less important and people don't care as mucg.

Easier said than done but its a good option.

Daniel Weltman

To give a response halfway in the vein of Caligula's Goat and halfway different: taking as a given that you're correct about being constantly plagiarized from and sabotaged, I think you should take some measures to prevent this (put dated preprints online and/or present at conferences so there's a record of your having come up with the idea, or conversely keep things very quiet until you publish on something) and aside from that, you should try to psychologically acclimate yourself to the following perspective: "what has happened to me is rather unusual and not at all representative of the typical academic career. I can have a long, fruitful, happy career in academia without this horrible stuff happening to me because so far I have been spectacularly unlucky. This sort of thing is unlikely to continue to occur and I shouldn't worry so much about it."

That at least is my guess at the best option. (As you can tell, like Caligula's Goat, I think plagiarism and sabotage is relatively rare.) It's possible Caligula's Goat and I are wrong about this and that you do in fact have reason to expect more plagiarism and sabotage in the future. If that's true, even in this case I'm not sure it needs to be cause for concern (apart from being very annoying and unjust of course!). Take measures to prevent it but rest assured that plenty of people make it in philosophy without doing that sort of thing and thus without having the sort of hyper-competitive attitude you are mistakenly attributing to most or all of the successful people.

Go to the website for any college you'd be happy to work at and look at the philosophy department "people" page. Very few (if any) of those people are plagiarizers. And as others in this thread have pointed out, depending on what college you picked, chances are very few (if any) of those people are even competitive in the first place. I'm not sure I'd characterize anyone at my university as competitive, for instance.


Hi OP, I really empathize, and feel like I know where you're coming from with a lot of what you say.

Some people find it easier to acclimate to academic philosophy than others, particularly people with various kinds of privilege. That said, even very privileged people coming out of top programs--including very competitive people--are bedeviled by the thought that there may be no room for them in our rarefied field. There's hardly any room for anybody. Some people who excel, excel because they're competitive, but others excel for other reasons. Sometimes it's not clear why a person excels (though it's usually clear that they are at least competent.) Furthermore, many people who excel in our field have benefited from no small amount of dumb luck, including people who are excellent thinkers, writers and teachers. I'm not one to give advice in this domain, but here I'll say that you should seriously consider sticking with academic philosophy if (and probably only if...) [a] you really enjoy reading and writing philosophy, and [b] you aren't destroying your finances and personal life doing so. Like most of us, checking those boxes doesn't mean that you'll ultimately succeed. But, you may find a place for yourself. Absolutely best of luck.


OP, I don't have any advice. Only writing, as I often to do here, to share empathy.

I am a 'less than junior scholar', first VAP position with a monograph and nothing else. I have never had any interest in 'competition'. I did my doctoral work in Europe, far away from mainstream academia (even there) and will continue to suffer the consequences of that on the job market. I network with people I like socially/personally or whose work I admire. I view my work as in dialogue with the text, not ideas in some marketplace. Philosophy cannot be gamified. I am religious on this point and try to remain as true as possible to what I think the real task at hand is. Like you, people tell me I belong in academia despite the seemingly poor prospects of real employment. My students seem to enjoy me and I enjoy teaching them.

The problem with the "you belong in academia" is that it stems from an ideal or romantic view abstracted from the real socio-material situation of academia (I don't think its particularly important, but I tick none of the 'cosmetic diversity boxes' you refer to). I feel like I live on the cusp of leaving at basically every turn, having no idea what else fulfilling I could do in life, while friends and colleagues tell me otherwise.

Embody the contraction and be well!


If you work on obscure topics in the history of philosophy, no one will want to compete with you.

on competing

I wish I had weighed in earlier. There is a lot of unpleasant competitive behavior in the profession. I am not competitive, and while talking to some big name philosophers at conferences or workshops I have been pushed out by more aggressive peers. It is unpleasant. But there is even a worse type of competitive behavior. When I was grad student, someone I knew since undergrad, who was now a junior faculty member did the following. Upon hearing my paper was accepted for an APA conference, they claimed that their colleague who was on the program committee just had the graduate students evaluate and select the papers. I gather this was meant to make me feel my accomplishment was of little value. This devious person is still a force in the field, and even admired by many. So competitive (even devious) behavior is reinforced in the discipline.
We should separate these sorts of competitive behaviors from the desire to publish good work in good journals or with good publishers. I find that quite rewarding.

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