Grad Programs and Non-Academic Careers


How should graduate programs address the fact that some of their graduates will not find jobs in academia? There was a brief discussion of this here back in the early days of DN, but I am prompted by a reader to revisit the question. He writes:

My department has a terminal MA program. By admitting students into this program, one of the responsibilities that we take on is doing our best to put students in position to secure a good job, or to continue on with further training that will put them in such a position. For our students, this means preparation for jobs outside of academia. I wonder if any of your readers have advice that would help us fulfill this obligation. What jobs can an MA in philosophy help you get? What courses should we offer to prepare them for these jobs? What other resources (workshops, internships, etc.) should we provide?

Though his question is about MA programs, answers that speak to what PhD programs can do in this regard are also welcome.

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Onion Man
Onion Man
6 years ago

MA programs in philosophy, like most MA programs in the humanities, are a profit center for universities. Essentially they are a way for universities to charge outrageous amounts of tuition for the privilege of increasing your chances of getting funded at the Ph.D. level. Unlike professional graduate degree programs, or graduate programs in the natural sciences, they have no utility beyond preparation for doctorate work. The vast majority should be eliminated and/or rolled into doctoral programs, but of course that would only increase financial pressure on the universities that rely on them for income.Report

grad
grad
6 years ago

I know this is unrealistic, but it’d be nice if programs admitted students at a rate proportional to their ability to place students in academic positions.Report

Sacco
Sacco
6 years ago

“How should graduate programs address the fact that some [most?] of their graduates will not find jobs in academia?”

Not unlike the relatively new and horribly graphic warnings that come packaged with cigarettes, I think departments should start by STRESSING to visiting prospectives that even if students do everything right, and and even if departments do everything right by students, graduates of philosophy departments are nevertheless still extremely unlikely to get good academic jobs, or academic jobs at all for that matter.Report

M
M
6 years ago

Aren’t most terminal MA programs in philosophy fully funded though? The reputable ones are, anyway. What, if anything, is wrong with funded terminal MA programs?Report

Matt McAadam
Matt McAadam
6 years ago

“I wonder if any of your readers have advice that would help us fulfill this obligation.”

This claim illustrates something important to keep in mind when considering this issue, namely, that most academics don’t know much if anything about the non-academic workplace. For that reason, I think the best thing academics can do to prepare their students for non-academic jobs is to steer them to people who do know about the non-academic workplace and about how to find a job there. Colleges and universities have such people on staff for their undergraduates, and these people should be available to graduate students as well. From day one of a graduate program, professors should be telling grad students about career counseling resources available on campus and insisting that they take advantage of them. My advice would be to do that.Report

Onion Man
Onion Man
6 years ago

The reputable ones are, anyway.

Most universities with Ph.D. programs in philosophy do not fund terminal MA’s, and there are only a small handful of “reputable” programs that fund MA students. Under no circumstances should anyone pay tuition for a Master’s degree in the humanities, ever, and frankly I don’t think anyone should go for an MA without receiving a stipend as well.Report

LLH
LLH
6 years ago

1) As a Canadian, going to a terminal MA program was perfectly natural for me — outside looking in, direct entry PhD programs seem a bit peculiar.

2) I took my terminal MA in the US. They made me a competitive offer that included a great deal of teaching experience, which I was eager for. It was a remarkable experience, and I wouldn’t trade those years for anything — I met some of the brightest grad students I’ve ever known at Brandeis, and produced some of my most exciting work while I was there. Not all of us went on to PhD programs, but I think even those of us who left philosophy ultimately felt like we gleaned a great deal from our time there. I don’t know a soul out of Brandeis who would have forgone those years.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
6 years ago

The lack of answers to this question speaks volumes. Why think philosophy faculty are equipped to prepare graduate students for other careers? Why think philosophy grad school is a good place to train for those careers?

Clearly part of the answer has to be developing a network of contacts in industries that hire, or could hire, your graduates. You also need to develop a network of alumni from your program who have successfully transitioned to other careers. Those are the people who can help provide these answers. But you also need to be prepared for the possibility that the answer is “encourage your students to work on their alternative career directly, rather than pursuing a degree in philosophy.” But that may be less likely for (funded) terminal MAs which involve less commitment of time and self than a PhD and so easier to fit into another career path.Report

Patrick Mayer
Patrick Mayer
6 years ago

In my experience no they are not fully funded. I was admitted to the Stanford MA program once upon a time and the acceptance materials looked for all the world like there was no funding available, and I think that program is fully reputable. I have had three students accepted into MA programs and none of them were fully funded (all three were partially funded however).Report

Fritz Allhoff
Fritz Allhoff
6 years ago

@OnionMan, not sure what you’re saying here, but most MA programs–at least that I know of–come with tuition waivers and stipends (i.e., for teaching). The ways in which universities make money off of MA programs aren’t in tuition–none is paid–but rather in terms of having cheaper labor available.

All this said, my philosophy of our MA program has definitely changed as the job market has gotten worse. I used to encourage more students to pursue Ph.D.’s–hey, it’s sort of fun, why not?–to being realistic about employment prospects. But, after the MA, we’ve had a bunch go into law school or other graduate programs (e.g., library science, city planning) and the eventual employment rates have been quite high. But I do take the spirit of this post to be quite useful, namely that we should think about what these people are supposed to do, especially now that academic employment is increasingly hard to get, at least at the salaried level.Report

Gabriel
Gabriel
6 years ago

Most community colleges only require an MA. Teaching is a fine job for someone with an MA in philosophy.Report

Eric
Eric
6 years ago

As someone who has made the transition from a doctoral program in philosophy to private sector employment, I’ll share a few thoughts about what I think graduate programs should be doing to prepare their students for the possibility that they may either choose or be forced to make a similar transition.

First, there is the difficult task of changing the internal culture of philosophy departments, and of the academic humanities more broadly. I wholeheartedly agree with Matt McAdam’s suggestion that departments need to be proactive in encouraging students to take advantage of career counseling services. But for this to happen, we need to unlearn the deep and pervasive stigma surrounding non-academic jobs and the stigma placed on graduate students who are open about their decision to seek employment in other sectors.

More pragmatically, we need to encourage students from a very early period in their graduate studies to try to use their time in graduate school to develop tangible skills and experience related to non-academic jobs they might want to pursue. For instance, a lot of post-academics get hired in high ed administration, but to be a serious candidate for even entry level jobs in that field after grad school, it is all but necessary to have some experience working in a university administration. Graduate students do sometimes take up part time jobs in their university’s administration, and there are other ways to make contacts and gain experience in that field when you’re still a student. Those who want to use their time in grad school to build up a respectable “plan B” resume should try to follow suit.

There are countless other viable jobs you can gain skills and experience for while in grad school. A lot of grad students do some freelance copyediting on the side. Volunteering with/organizing nonprofits or grassroots groups can help you get a job in the nonprofit sector. People working in logic or “formal philosophy” have been known to get jobs in software development.

There are tons of other avenues you can follow, depending on your interests. The problem is, most students are encouraged by their peers and mentors not to think ahead and start building up these skills while they still have the time to, only to find themselves scrambling to find some non-ac employment at the very end of their graduate careers.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
6 years ago

Community colleges are not Non-Academic jobs, and they are not, in general, significantly less competitive than other academic jobs. Aiming to teach at a community college is a great career plan if you want to be paid part-time adjunct wages for the rest of your life. Not so much if you were hoping for full-time work.Report

Responding
Responding
6 years ago

While some community college work is poorly paid, the commentator above is wrong to say all of it is. It depends on the system. I know some CC instructors that make real money, e.g., $60,000+Report

Andy Specht
Andy Specht
6 years ago

I wanted to second some suggestions made by Derek Bowman and Eric above. Networking is incredibly helpful when it comes to finding alt/non-academic jobs, and I do think many philosophy graduate programs are in a good position to facilitate networking between their alumni and current students. This is a step that I think would be easy for programs to take. Eric is right to emphasize that developing additional skills and gaining additional job experience during graduate school is pretty much essential to finding non-academic work. I think maybe the best thing that graduate departments can do is just acknowledge and encourage these activities.Report

New Asst Prof
New Asst Prof
6 years ago

I have followed discussions about non-academic jobs on and off for a few years and it seems like the suggestions for those interested are often vague or require individual graduate students to go to quite a lot of effort on their own. If the philosophical community is really interested in the non-academic job option as a way to keep graduate programs large and/or help struggling job market candidates, then it seems like something along the following lines would be necessary:

A super-committee of 10-15 bright, prestigious, diverse junior faculty from around the US take a full year to really learn what kinds of industries would want to hire philosophy grads and what kind of training would be needed for such jobs. Then, the super-committee give very specific guidance (through something like site visits) to grad programs that want to develop this as one of their tracks or specializations. Maybe only 20% or so of departments would want to do this, but that’s still enough to make the work of such a super-committee really transformational for US graduate philosophy training.

How could such a super-committee be convened? It would take an influx of cash to fund it, but it’s not inconceivable that some funder out there would be willing to sponsor such an effort. At any rate, I think a really big push along the lines just described would be needed to turn philosophy into a discipline like some of the social sciences where non-academic careers are taken seriously by both students and faculty, in at least certain quarters.Report

Gradjunct
Gradjunct
6 years ago

I am somewhat surprised by the consensus that seems to be forming here, namely, that departments ought to be guiding students to “develop additional skills” and “gain (non-academic) job experience.” When I was applying to PhD programs, not many years ago, I got the same advice from every professor I spoke with: if you cannot get full-funding, then go do something else. The reason being that graduate school in philosophy is difficult enough when it is your ONLY occupation, it’s nearly impossible to do when you are trying to work a job to support yourself on the side. So I limited myself to working on philosophy only during graduate school, and immersing my self in the life of the department, and was glad I did. I learned more just being around the office, talking with my peers and professors every day than I did in any seminar. Had I been rushing off to take skills training courses, or work an outside job, I don’t know that I would progressed as well as a philosophy or, for that matter, that I would ever have even completed the PhD.Report

Onion Man
Onion Man
6 years ago

1) Community college jobs, as some have noted, are often *more* competitive than regular tenure-track faculty jobs, and do not necessarily pay all that much less. That someone could seriously suggest community college as a career path for terminal MA’s indicates utter ignorance of the realities of the academic job market.

2) @Fritz Allhoff, I’m not sure what you’re talking about. Columbia offers partial support for only a few MA students, but only during their second semester–everyone has to pay full freight, without any stipend, during the first semester. Stanford does not have any support at all (not even tuition waivers) for terminal MA’s. UC Boulder does not have any support at all (not even tuition waivers) for terminal MA’s. And those are some of the better programs. Terminal MA’s are generally unfunded.Report

Robert Yost
6 years ago

I don’t have a MA in Philosophy, but I do have a MA in Social Sciences. I did take a lot of philosophy classes and I have a BA in Philosophy, so I feel like I may have some insight. I currently work for a bank, doing nothing related directly to philosophy, but philosophy has helped me think critically in my job, quickly understand complicated material (much like philosophy texts) and in general keep a wider perspective in my job and my company than I might otherwise have had. So, long story short, i think a MA in philosophy can be valuable anywhere, as long as you are not committed to trying to get an academic philosophy job. You have to be open to other forms of work.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
6 years ago

: I would love to hear more about your experience transitioning to anonacademic career. You can find my e-mail address on my website.

@Responding: Yes, I also know people making over 60k teaching at Community Colleges. But most people – especially those with only MAs – are not going to get those jobs. Instead, they are likely to end up in the dead-end, part time adjunct jobs that fill the majority of teaching slots even at Community Colleges that pay their full time instructors well.Report

Christopher Stephens
Christopher Stephens
6 years ago

Just to echo LLH and partially in response to Onion man – virtually all philosophy PhD programs that I know of in Canada have terminal MAs, and they’re all funded (usually TA plus some stipend). This is because for a long time it was standard that you pretty much had to get your MA before your PhD. I more recent times, PhD philosophy programs have also started accepting folks directly from the BA. But: there remain robust, funded MA programs at virtually all Canadian Universities with PhD programs (and some robust MAs at places without much of a PhD program, of course).

Incidentally: two of my Masters students here at UBC have gone on to medical school. In one case the student had a biology undergraduate degree as well as the MA in philosophy. In the other case, the student had only studied philosophy as an undergraduate and so after his masters had to go back to take intro to science courses for a couple of years before applying. But he also got into a good medical school. In both cases I think having some background in philosophy of science/bioethics helped the candidates stand out against the otherwise more typical medical school applicant.Report

Author of original question
Author of original question
6 years ago

Thanks for all the helpful suggestions!

One thing I want to comment on: Gradjunct and others are suggesting that, if a program doesn’t expect its students to go on to do Ph.D.’s (and eventually become professors) then it shouldn’t admit them.

While I don’t disagree with this, it doesn’t address all the issues. A graduate *program* is made up of a plurality of individuals who have different views about the program’s goals. Some members of the program might doubt the ethics of admitting students into a two year philosophy program that won’t prepare them to do Ph.D.’s (or become professors); members of the program may be less disturbed by this. Those who have their doubts might be more junior, less powerful, or whatever. These more powerful or less junior people might want some ideas for doing as much as they can for students who are in a difficult situation.Report

E
E
6 years ago

I left adjunct work behind and I teach high school AP English. In my courses, I do TONS of philosophy, built into the AP Lit and Lang curriculum. Much better pay, time off in the summers, no gaps in income, no stressing about classes making enrollment, and real benefits.

I’m also planning on offering a one-semester philosophy elective next year, and I run my school’s philosophy club.Report

Onion Man
Onion Man
6 years ago

@Christopher Stephens: I should note that I’m talking about American programs, I really don’t know anything about the situation in Canada but if it’s as you describe then perhaps someone interested in a terminal MA should consider Canadian programs.

@Justin: Many of those funding packages are “limited” and/or “competitive.” The vast majority are partial at best, and hardly any would allow for a student to finish the MA program without either spending her own capital or going into debt. It would also be helpful if Dr. Pynn provided a list of all the programs he looked at that didn’t offer funding, just to see what the breakdown was.

Some people are making the argument that “you can do anything with a Philosophy MA!” This is of course just a variation on “You can do anything with a JD!”Report

anon prof
anon prof
6 years ago

I’ve always heard that philosophers make good grant writers. It seems pretty enjoyable too.Report

Author of original question
Author of original question
6 years ago

“These more powerful or less junior people might want some ideas for doing as much as they can for students who are in a difficult situation.”

Whoops, that’s a typo–I meant to say that the less powerful or more junior people (who are unable to eliminate the program or sufficiently reduce enrollment) might want some ideas for doing as much as they can for students who are in a difficult situation.Report

anonfrome
anonfrome
6 years ago

Onion man @19- columbia, at least occasionaly, offers partial support to students for the duration of their Ma. I know this from my own case, furthermore this is a great opportunity to develope one’s teaching. As good as this is though, the school fees remain very high in comparison.

In relation to the position having an Ma in philosophy puts one in outside the academy, being able to write, think and talk about issues critically is really a valuable asset. Furthermore being able to formulate problems at high degrees of abstraction is a skill with very broad aplicability. I don’t think the main challenge is one of radically altering programs to be sure that formal training in philosophy leaves one with the skills the market will pay for, they already do. It is rather of explaning to philosophy students how to frame what they have learnt such that they appear relevant to employers who are probably not interested in the substantive content of what they have studied, especially when this substantive content is probably what looms most large in the philosopher’s view of their own studies.

This is not really something the philosophy departement is likely to be good at, but this should not worry us as other people sections of the universiyt exist just for this purpose! Faculty should encourage students to go to job services/career counseling, assuming that the students do this, they will be in pretty good shape on the job market. Key is not being paralysed by the belief that the things philosophers do are too high falutin or profound to be of use ‘in the world’, and not assuming that people outside philosophy are philistines who cannot appreciate the virtues of sophisticated thinking. I think these are both part of the way we tend to characterise ourselves, but they are very detrimental to students who might want/need to leave academia and also a little self-surving and ridiculous.Report

YoungGradStud
YoungGradStud
6 years ago

I am a student early in a PhD program who is interested in non-academic work. Two cents from me.

First cent: Several in this thread have pointed out that professors within a philosophy department are unlikely to be the best direct source of help for a student with non-academic interests. While this may be true, a paradigm shift would nonetheless do much good for students with interests beyond teaching/research. Although many in my dept. are not opposed to my non-academic interests, and are even at times friendly about them, I often find that I wind up being left a bit adrift mentorship-wise as no one is opposed but no one is particularly excited or keen to lend even a supportive word, either. Everyone just sort of takes a SEP stance–“Somebody Else’s Problem.”

Second cent: A commenter above mentioned university administration. This may be wishful thinking on my part, but I do suspect that being involved with one’s graduate student government and other graduate student affairs is a great idea for the philosophy student of the right temperament. By being active in that realm, you gain insight into the workings of your dept. and into the uni. You network with other highly-motivated individuals and you develop relationships with administrators. As such, it seems to me as though involvement in graduate student government/affairs serves to (i) help a student develop skills and contacts and references valuable for transferring into an administrative-type position and (ii) makes a student a more attractive professorial hire, as she has demonstrated experience with juggling service expectations with teaching and research expectations and she has also demonstrated a willingness to bear the administrative load in a dept. and she has also demonstrated knowledge of the whole administrative side of things that I’m sure many young scholars and new hires are largely unaware of.Report