Introducing “Ought Experiment”

Introducing “Ought Experiment”


Have you ever had a problem and thought, “I bet a professional philosopher could help”? If so, you are almost certainly a professional philosopher yourself, and if so, you almost certainly do need help. Here it is. Announcing Ought Experiment, a new Daily Nous guest column offering personalized advice for your academic life.

My name is Louie Generis (no it isn’t), and I’m going to tell you what to do.

There are two guiding ideas behind Ought Experiment. The first is to provide light-hearted, entertaining content in the spirit of “Dear xxxx” advice columns. Despite the humorous tone, the second idea is entirely serious: to offer a safe space for discussing the uncertain, frustrating, and even alienating aspects of academia. This life of ours can be hard, but talking about it can be costly. So people struggle, stigmas persist, and everyone else remains unaware of just how common—and just how troubling—these problems can be. So let’s make this a place to talk freely.

All questions will be posted under anonymizing handles like “Andy Hominem” or “Troubled on the Tenure Track”, absolutely no abuse will be permitted in the comment threads, and aside from Justin and I, no one will ever see the email address you use to send in your questions (but if you want, you can submit them via a throwaway gmail account for additional privacy). If the issue is sensitive enough, I will forego the usual jokey format and simply turn the question over to the wider Daily Nous community for their thoughtful input.

I can’t promise that I’ll feature your question, or that my answers will actually solve your problems if I do. (Mathematically speaking, this column will only prove sustainable if I leave most people in a state of deep distress.) But I hope you’ll write in anyway. You can send your questions to [email protected].

You can write a few sentences, a couple paragraphs, or just rant away (although I might misleadingly excerpt you if you do the rant thing). For reasons of climate, I’m less likely to feature salacious or significantly offensive questions, except in those cases where I think that open, frank discussion would be useful. Those considerations aside, I welcome all sorts of questions and issues. Some examples include:

  • How do I motivate myself to write every day? Starting next week, I mean. Season 3 of Orange Is the New Black just came out. I mean, come on.
  • My department chair yells at us during faculty meetings.
  • I am required to attend faculty meetings.
  • I’m single but I took a job in a small town. I love my department, but the loneliness is getting to me. What should I do?
  • I feel like my dissertation committee is disappointed in me.
  • I know for a fact that my dissertation committee is disappointed in me.
  • Yes, I’m disappointed in you.
  • I just got an incredibly unfair referee report. Is there anything I can actually do?
  • How can I say ‘no’ to referee requests or committee assignments without giving the impression that I’m not a team player?
  • I’m a female TA, and my students don’t respect my authority.
  • One of my powerful colleagues is making me uncomfortable.
  • My department doesn’t know about my mental illness, but I worry that requesting accommodation will hurt me in the long run.
  • The dissertation topic I’m most interested in doesn’t fit with a lot of PhilJobs ads. Should I switch topics?
  • The job market is literally killing me. No, literally.
  • I run a popular philosophy blog, and my handsome new columnist is already behind schedule. How can I learn to be a less demanding jerk, and pay better?

Of course, Daily Nous already allows readers to email in questions of general interest to academic philosophers. What makes Ought Experiment different is the chance to ask detailed questions about highly individualized situations. Also, there are jokes.

If all goes as planned, Ought Experiment will run every two weeks, with one or two questions discussed per column. But of course, that depends on how many people write in, and on just how helpful the Daily Nous community proves to be. So write in, and help out. [email protected].

— Louie Generis

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