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Wednesday, November 02, 2011


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And if I may add a couple of points to Bill's excellent advise.

One should not pursue a career in philosophy unless one is driven first and foremost by philosophical questions! If philosophical questions burn in your guts, fuel you, and motivate you, then they might take you on a wonderful journey; if not, then philosophy will be the most frustrating career you could ever choose (except perhaps becoming a mediocre baseball batter).

Second, do not approach philosophical study with an attitude of finding an antecedent guarantee that you have the aptitude to make a contribution to the field. Such expectations are liable to frustrate you and make you feel unworthy. Instead simply let your love of the questions motivate you to enjoy the ongoing search and the study and let the chips fall where they may. Philosophy offers no guarantees of any other gains except the joy of the journey. If you cannot enjoy the journey, do not start the trip!

A few comments from a current graduate student. First, I think many of Mr. Vallicella's comments are spot on. That said, with regard to the job market being expected to worsen, it's worth noting that the job postings in the JFP (Jobs for Philosophers) have been slowly (but steadily!) on the rise for the past 3 years. Admittedly, the number of jobs being advertised this year is but a fraction of the number of jobs posted just 5 years ago, and the number of job-seekers is probably higher. Nevertheless, it's worth noting that technically jobs are on the rise. Still, this is small comfort for most of us.

Second, Mr. Vallicella is right that *only* your professors can tell you whether you have any philosophical aptitude. But, depending on the caliber of your undergraduate institution and the professors themselves, it might be that they're just not likely to be an accurate judge. This is especially true if you're at a small college with primarily older faculty who do not stay up to date on the cutting-edge literature and so on. I myself attended an elite liberal arts college with a reasonably young faculty who do fairly up-to-date research, yet I was grossly misled with regard to my ability. I was told that I would easily be accepted into a top 10 Ph.D. program, but I was summarily rejected from 15 Ph.D. programs. Fortunately, I applied to some terminal Master's degree programs, and from there was able to springboard to a very fine Ph.D. program. But my point is this: my professors were a terrible judge of my ability *relative* to the abilities of those who I was competing with to get into graduate school. They grossly overestimated my abilities at the time, and I suspect that this is fairly common. Evidence? Just look at gradcafe.com during admissions seasons to see all the heartbreak of those who were led to believe they'd get into good schools and who have nevertheless been denied admission at every school to which they've applied.

Finally, I think Brian Leiter gives one good piece of advice on this. Your chances of getting an academic job are slim to none. Ask yourself this question: if you complete a Ph.D. in philosophy and do not get a job in academia, will you regard your time getting a Ph.D. as a waste? If so, do not go to graduate school. If not, then go to graduate school. But only if, as Mr. Vallicella says, you get funding and tuition remission (or are independently wealthy).

Good luck.

Thanks, Peter, I agree with every word of your statement. I like your phrase "burn in your guts." Yes indeed, to the point of burning a hole through your stomach wall.


Thank you for your helpful contribution. I am out of the loop when it comes to the job market, so your comments are especially useful. It is interesting that the number of jobs advertised in JFP is up over the last three years, but of course it is the long-term trend which is a better gauge of what's happening. And that is tied to where the U.S. and world economy is headed. Right now there is little reason to be sanguine . . .

I agree with your second point. But I think it is worth pointing out that a Ph.D. from a second- or third-rate program won't prevent one from getting a job and might give you an edge at some schools. Water seeks its own level, and people hire people who are like themselves -- and not likely to threaten them. Being a mediocrity can be a plus if mediocrities are making the hiring decisions. Professional envy is a huge factor.

In fact, having a Ph.D. at all can keep you out of certain jobs. I know a case of a man who has hired at a local community college who is ABD and fill never finish his Ph.D. The hiring committee eliminated from the pool all applicants with that degree. Thus it was a necessary though not sufficient condition of his being hired that he not have a Ph.D.

And of course there are plenty of cases of people with doctorates from places like Marquette who get hired at obscure Catholic colleges.

I agree entirely with your last paragraph. That is exactly the right way to frame the question.

As I told myself as I embarked upon graduate study: whatever happens, I will have been paid for 4-5 years to do exactly what I wnat to do. So if, at age 28, I hadn't gotten a good job, I would have had to scramble and perhaps re-tool to find a way to keep soul attached to body. But at 28 one's life is hardly over. At 28 you have plenty of time.

At 40, however . . . .

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