Quitting A Safe Job To Pursue A Career In Philosophy (Ought Experiment)

Quitting A Safe Job To Pursue A Career In Philosophy (Ought Experiment)

Welcome back to Ought Experiment, the column by Dear Ida that offers personal advice for your academic life. Today’s letter is from someone considering pursuing a career in academic philosophy.

Dear Dear Ida, 

 I ‘m 30 years old and this May I’m about to complete my undergraduate studies in Philosophy, which I started 3 years ago mostly out of curiosity. However, throughout these years my interest in Philosophy grew dramatically and I decided that I want to continue my studies at postgraduate level aiming for a Ph.D. and hopefully a new career in academia.

As a result, I ‘ve  been accepted in four top level UK universities for a Masters in Philosophy of Science next September, and thus I plan to quit my current safe and well-paying job in order to follow further studies. However, almost all of the people in academia I’ve talked to, appear to be quite pessimistic about my job opportunities in the future regardless of my academic capacities, and are skeptical about my decision of quitting a safe job to follow the obscure path of academic philosophy. It ‘s an ”uphill struggle” they say.

I would really appreciate any thoughts on whether my choice to start my postgraduate late will indeed affect my future, and I would also be grateful if any readers with similar academic paths (i.e. pursuing doctoral studies in Philosophy late) could provide some feedback from their own experience.

Kind regards,
A determined and confused philosophy aficionado


First, let me say congratulations on being accepted into those programs!

To be honest, I’m inclined to give you the same kind of advice I would give anyone considering graduate school.

The job market for academic jobs teaching philosophy is not very good right now.  And unfortunately it is not likely to get better, since how many jobs there are is partially a function of how well the economy is doing, and I think we have little reason to be hopeful about it improving.  I glumly predict that the academic job market will still be poor in five years, and five years is probably the earliest you would be finished with a Ph.D. program and entering the market.

Suppose you do amazingly well in a top Ph.D. program.  Even then, you will likely struggle on the job market. Right now people doing amazingly well are struggling with the market.  That’s how it is, and that’s how it is likely to be.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue your dream, but it’s worth going forward with your eyes open. Philosophy is wonderful and graduate school can be a very enjoyable experience. It’s not unreasonable to pursue graduate school for its own sake regardless of the academic job prospects that might or might not follow.

And you might have some advantages over your peers coming into graduate school straight from college. First, you might have some money saved up to cushion your otherwise low graduate student salary. Second, it might be that you take less of a risk since, if academia doesn’t pan out, you already have work experience outside of academia. And this might help both with acquiring a non-academic job, as well as helping you psychologically as you do so— because you know what the outside world is like, so to speak, whereas for a lot of graduate students, academia is all they know.  (And so, for them, searching for a non-academic job sounds like a daunting or scary endeavor.)

As for whether starting late will make a difference, I am inclined to think not substantially. Depending on how much older you are than your graduate cohort, perhaps social encounters will be less fluid, but perhaps not. I doubt your entering age will make a difference in your job prospects.  I would also be interested in hearing other people’s thoughts on this as well.

I hope this helps.  Good luck on your future endeavors.

Dear Ida

Have questions for Dear Ida? Write to [email protected]. Further discussion and comments welcome.

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