Grad Students: What Do You Wish You Knew?


It’s the start of the academic year,and for some people, the start of their graduate education in philosophy. Graduate students are getting oriented in their programs, and graduate programs are orientating their students. Are they doing a good job of it?

It might be hard for a brand new graduate student to know. And it might be hard for faculty to know, too, since not all of them are involved in conveying such information to the students, and because there might have been important changes to whatitisliketobeagradstudentinphilosophy since they were grad students in philosophy.

One way to get a handle on this is to ask grad students who are no longer brand new what they wish they had known when they started their programs—about being a graduate student, about studying philosophy, about departmental life, about the profession at large. (I know the tendency here is to read this as a request for complaints, but accounts of pleasant surprises are appropriate answers, too.)

So let’s do that.

Grad students, you can’t go back in time and tell yourself the answer to this question, but you can tell those just starting out now: what do you know now that you wish you knew at the start of your graduate education?

Time Traveler Essentials by Ryan North

Time Traveler Essentials by Ryan North

 

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M
M
5 years ago

Is it okay if folks who are no longer grad students respond to this?

One really important thing to know is that you are always ‘on.’ There is no professor who you can blow off, and no seminars that you can phone it in on. The reason is that the job market is such that whether you move along to the next stage of consideration can depend on who Professor X at the school where you’re applying happens to know at your grad school. If the only person Professor X knows is the prof whose seminar you coasted through without putting in much of an effort, that that prof is not going to have anything first-hand to say that’s positive about you. So, while you may think that there is only a proper subset of faculty that you need to impress — those that work in your area, those who might end up on your committee — that’s a mistake.Report

New TT Ethics Professor
New TT Ethics Professor
Reply to  M
5 years ago

This advice is right, but it needs clarification. You should work hard in all of your courses, but working with the aim of impressing people may not be the best way of impressing people.
I started graduate school planning to do M&E. I was nervous about speaking up in my M&E seminars for fear that I might say something stupid that would cause my intended advisor or another future letter-writer to think ill of me. In my ethics seminars, I just said what I thought, and I asked questions when I had them, whether or not the questions seemed smart to me. I figured, these professors aren’t going to be writing letters for me, so I might as well try to figure out the material without worrying about what anybody thinks.
The predictable result (which of course I didn’t predict): I developed better relationships with the ethics professors, I wrote an ethics dissertation, and the people I thought would definitely not write letters for me ended up being the people who wrote letters for me.Report

DocFEmeritus
DocFEmeritus
Reply to  M
5 years ago

As another long ago former grad student, I have to agree 100% on all of this! I would also add that one of the best things to try to cultivate is a faculty mentor — someone who is in your corner and will counsel you through the tough times, the long nights of study and writing a thesis or dissertation and who will listen to your, sure to come, existential angst.

Second, interact with fellow students and spend time just kicking around ideas and, as we called it, “reinvent the wheel.” E.g., discuss and work through serious questions without reference to past philosophers; such topics as “what is art?”, “how does language refer to objects?”, “what is mind?”Report

Recent Graduate
Recent Graduate
5 years ago

Recent graduate. Here are some things I wish someone had told me at the start of grad school:

1. I wish I knew just how bad the job market actually is. People tell you it is really bad, but it somehow seems that testimony alone does not allow one to fathom just how bad it really is.

2. That “publish or perish” is an inclusive not an exclusive disjunction. It is easy to look at recent hires, see people with something like a Phil Studies paper and a Synthese paper getting jobs and think “ok, that is what I need to get a job”. But you don’t realize that plenty of people get loads of publications and still don’t even land temporary jobs.

3. It is important to pick a research question that actually matters to people (i.e. had important implications), that no one else is really doing, and that you can get lots of (good) papers out of. Don’t just mess around for the first two years writing on whatever you find interesting on a given day,

4. You have to network. Go to conferences, talk to people, send papers to people, get letters from people outside of your department etc. If you are an introvert then you just have to suck it up and act until it feels natural. This cannot be an afterthought, it has to be something you think about from early on.

5. The job market outside of academia is also really hard, especially if you have very little real work experience. Whilst you are a graduate student try and do some interning or something over your summers, or maybe learn to program computers or something like that (https://github.com/open-source-society/computer-science and https://www.freecodecamp.com/ are decent places to start). Don’t just think “I have a PhD and analytical skills, I’m sure someone will want to hire me”.

6. Finally a more upbeat point: you will have many fruitful and interesting discussions with colleagues. Don’t let these conversations be a waste of time, use them as opportunities to begin collaborative projects. Collaboration is a great way to work, especially early on when you are still figuring out how to write publishable papers.Report

DocFEmeritus
DocFEmeritus
Reply to  Recent Graduate
5 years ago

Interestingly, when I entered grad school in 197… or was it 18… the AP sent a notice to me and others that the job market was very limited and it was likely I (we) would not get a teaching position and we should take this into account. I don’t know if this is something the AP still does, but it did give me a heads up as to job prospects. I went ahead anyway and did find teaching positions, adjunct and full-time/tenure track, leading to 35 years of teaching. But I always appreciated the notice. Everyone needs to make up their own mind on whether taking the chance is worth it or not. For me, teaching was all I every wanted to do, and teaching philosophy especially. I was fortunate, but every grad student needs to weigh the issues for him/her self.

The rest of the points made above are also good. Nice post!Report

survivre
survivre
5 years ago

(1) Don’t mistake being cocky and confident in seminars with being able to produce the best work. Sometimes they run together, sometimes they don’t.

(2) Grad school is your job now. That means be professional. Do the work, don’t miss deadlines with lame excuses, don’t act in an inappropriate way in classes, etc. You want the instructors to think of you as a junior colleague, not as a student, at least by the end of your PhD.

(3) Be careful of survivorship bias when it comes to the job market. For everyone who does certain things and gets a good job, there are doubtless many people who did those things and didn’t get a good job.

(4) Do your readings before seminars and (if your departmental culture allows it), consult your teachers about drafts of papers before the deadline.

(5) Attend all the visiting speaker talks. Many people get their dissertation ideas from them, and it gives you a sense of where the cutting edge work is.

(6) Though experimenting is important, try to avoid wasting time on pseudo-work fads like ‘must rewrite everything in LaTeX’. If you want to go for latex, start with the next paper. There are probably more important things to be doing now.Report

Adam
Adam
5 years ago

First, I wish I fully understood that professors are humans. A graduate student who does not receive what they take to be prompt replies to e-mails, feedback on papers, thinks that the professor does not like them, etc. might think that all of these things are a consequence of how the professor feels about the person. That’s not necessarily true; professors have lives and problems of their own. I wish I knew that my professor’s behavior in the department is seldom a consequence of anything I’ve done.

Second, I wish I knew that comparing myself to other graduate students is a recipe for a self-esteem disaster; I wish I understood that my own path through a graduate program will not and need not resemble the path of my colleagues

Third, I wish I realized just how much of a social activity philosophy is. I should have spent more time talking shop with professors, colleagues, etc. instead of working in relative isolation.

Fourth, I wish that I had a different view about the profession in general. It can be a very cut-throat. So I thought the field consisted only in jerks trying to one up one another solely to stroke their own ego (some people fit this model of course). But a professor told me to see the field, my professors, colleagues, etc. as just a bunch of super-smart nerds who are having fun thinking and arguing about cool topics. Once I adopted this outlook, I became much more relaxed when it came time to present at conferences.Report

HFG
HFG
Reply to  Adam
5 years ago

This advice is perfect.Report

J.
J.
5 years ago

1. When choosing your courses in your first couple of years, have a look at the available jobs and what they actually want you to teach. Your awesome interesting training in Phil. Language or Logic or Meta-Ethics might qualify you for three jobs when you graduate. Consider taking a seminar in bio-ethics wherever you can find one. That alone will add 20+ jobs to your potential pool.

2. For the most part, if a tenured professor (a) fails to follow through on their basic professional obligations towards you, and this is (b) not an instance of sexual or physical misconduct, there will be no institutional mechanisms to correct their failure. They are immune. There is little that other faculty can do, and little that the school can do. Be thankful if you only encounter one of these, keep your academic activity as far away from them as you can, and try to seek out those who genuinely care, either inside or outside your department.Report

Anoikis
Anoikis
5 years ago

Here’s something I wish I knew: “Graduate school is not about learning. If you learn things, it’s only because you’ve already internalized the habit of learning, only because you make the effort on your own and in concert with fellow graduate students. You learn because that’s what you do now, that’s your life. (…) Graduate school is not education. It is socialization. It is about learning to behave, about mastering a rhetorical and discursive etiquette as mind-blowingly arcane as table manners at a state dinner in 19th Century Western Europe.”

This quote is from here: http://www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/tburke1/gradschool.html , and it’s somewhat exaggerated, of course. But you can see that it’s somewhat on the mark when you look at the comments so far. Most of them are about how to behave in grad school in order to get a job afterwards. There’s nothing about the best way to learn things, to become a good philosopher, to solve philosophical problems, and this kind of stuff that philosophers should be doing in the first place…

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not necessarily criticizing the comments here. Actually, they are probably all very useful advice. Also, I’m not saying that there is nothing philosophically interesting about grad school. Quite the opposite. You probably will have amazing classes. It’s just that there is a huge part of grad school that has little to do with philosophy, and if you are deeply interest in philosophy, and think that the main focus of grad school should be solving philosophical problems, then you may get very frustrated at some points.Report

New TT Ethics Professor
New TT Ethics Professor
Reply to  Anoikis
5 years ago

I think the quotation in this comment is bunk. It is not an exaggeration; it is simply false. Yes, you need to think about the job market if you want to get a job. Yes, you need to make some strategic choices during graduate school. But the level of socialization one needs to get and to keep a job in philosophy is no higher than the level of socialization one needs to get and to keep a job in many other areas.Report

Anoikis
Anoikis
Reply to  New TT Ethics Professor
5 years ago

Why do you say it’s false? Just to be clear, I’m not saying that you should not think about the job market. I’m also not saying that you should not make strategic choices, nor that the level of socialization one needs in philosophy is different from other areas. By all means, if your primary goal is to get a good job, that is probably the right way to go.

My point is that I entered in the grad school thinking that the primary goal of grad school was to teach me how to be a good philosopher. As a side result of being a good philosopher, I expected to get a more or less decent job eventually. As it turned out, the primary goal of grad school is to get me a job. More than frequently, to teach me how to be a good philosopher is seem just as a means to that end. To me, this was particularly frustrating.

This picture is somewhat simplified, and I’m not even sure to what extend it generalizes to other universities. But I think it’s kind of obvious that there’s some truth in it. One salient example of this is the pressure to publish stuff in order to build a nice C.V. and get a job…Report

New TT Ethics Professor
New TT Ethics Professor
Reply to  Anoikis
5 years ago

The complaint you just expressed is not the complaint expressed in the quotation I called bunk. Your complaint is that in your program, and perhaps in many other programs, learning to be a good philosopher is treated as a means to the end of getting a job. Doing good philosophy isn’t sufficiently valued for its own sake. That is a reasonable complaint.

The quotation asserts that graduate school in philosophy isn’t really about learning to be a good philosopher, either for its own sake or as a means to a job. Instead, graduate school is primarily about learning an elaborate set of social norms, norms which one must follow in order to get a job in academia. Either being good at philosophy is not necessary to get a job, or it typically happens (when it happens) without much help from one’s graduate program.

This picture of graduate school is doubly mistaken. First, good graduate programs contribute greatly to their students’ ability to do philosophy well. Second, the social norms of academia aren’t nearly as “arcane” as the quotation makes them out to be. The norms for interpersonal behavior are, if anything, fairly accommodating compared with the norms in other professions. (A lot of philosophers are a little bit socially awkward. We know this about each other, and we tend to make allowances.)

There are some norms of writing style that one must internalize in order to get published. A lot of these norms are good norms. Philosophy journals expect clear writing, and they expect the introduction of a paper to make clear what the paper’s contribution will be and why this contribution is interesting. Learning to do these things is part of being a good philosopher. (This is not superficial. This is important.) There may be some arbitrary norms for writing style in philosophy, but learning these norms is (in my experience, at least) at most a small part of graduate education.Report

Gene
Gene
5 years ago

I wish I had known that

1. The course I took on “logic” (read: metalogic) to fulfill my logic requirement would be a waste of time. (If you can, beg your department to let you take something more useful).

2. TA experience carries very little weight on the job market (Do everything you can to be a primary instructor, especially outside your home institution).

3. I would eventually start to care about how little money I was making as a graduate student.

4. I would eventually start to care about how so much of my time is spent working alone in front of a computer.

5. Grad school is so time consuming that it is difficult to maintain close relationships with those whom I had left behind at home.

6. I would so desperately want to be near family again at the end of grad school only to realize that the job market is such that doing so is extraordinarily unlikely.

7. I would become so depressed about 3-6 that I would have to start taking medication.

8. Everything I learned and all the skills I developed while in grad school would barely make up for the fact that I don’t recognize nor really like the person I’ve become.Report

Matt
Matt
Reply to  Gene
5 years ago

Re: #1, was it a waste of time because there were other logical (non-metalogic?) things you should have been studying, or because the logical component was, in the end, not useful for your AOE?Report

MC
MC
Reply to  Gene
5 years ago

The list is so true. Especially #6. The feeling you get in #6 doesn’t only apply during job search but also in dissertation-writing period.

I wish I knew that surviving the final stage mentally and psychologically well is far more demanding than surviving it intellectually. This is especially true if you are doing the degree abroad far from your family.

Two more things I really wish prospective students know:
1. Put your mental and physical health first. Always remember that you are not facing this alone (even if you are working alone). If needed, really seek for help. No need to feel shy.
2. Don’t think that academia is the only way out. Just because you have chosen this path, it doesn’t mean you have to continue if it is not suitable for you. Nothing is a waste of time if you can put that experience into finding what actually fits you better.Report

HFG
HFG
5 years ago

I’m not sure I know anything. I wish I had learned to reject bad advice sooner. I think I could have saved a lot of time if I had more confidence in my own thinking. I think that would have made it easier to understand and respond to criticism.

I guess I would tell new grad students not to be afraid to love philosophy, and if some criticism, feedback, or advice seems wrong to them, they shouldn’t be afraid to get to the bottom of that criticism, feedback, or advice until they have a firm understanding of it.Report

PAD
PAD
5 years ago

Echoing some of what M and Gene have said, I wish I had known how stressful and anxiety ridden grad school is. Some grad students and professors tell you that grad school will be stressful etc., but you don’t really understand the full extent until you are right in the middle of it. There is a perceived pressure to always be ‘on,’ as M suggests, and that pressure causes a lot of anxiety for some people, myself included. I often felt as though wrapped up into every act I took, every keystroke I made on a paper, every email I sent, was my whole life and career. Every decision about what kind of paper to write, which professor to talk to, seemed like a decision which would have downstream consequences on my life and career. That pressure, whether merely perceived or real, can cause a lot of problems for a person’s mental health and certainly made me feel much less content doing what I was doing in my grad program. Combine all of this with the presence of some students in the program who approach grad school like a cut-throat competition, and the rose colored glasses quickly fell from my eyes. I ended up realizing, like Gene, that I was becoming someone other than myself, and that the grad program I was in was not helping me to grow in the ways I wanted, and expected to. I had tried to conform to these external pressures to preform in order to achieve The Goal–rather than questioning whether The Goal could really conform to who I wanted to be. I’m lucky enough to have a satisfying and fairly solid back-up plan outside of the Ivory Tower, but my time in grad school showed me that there is a real disconnect between what is advertised, and what you really get when you go into a grad program.Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
5 years ago

I’m sure you could have told me how awful and frustrating research is, how bad the job market is, and how dehumanizing the job application process is and I still would have gone to grad school. Some things you just can’t really understand until you experience them firsthand. I think the one actually useful piece of advice would have been: find one particular, popular philosophical argument you think is wrong and construct a positive alternative to it. In retrospect, that seems like the best way to find a research direction.Report

Sara L. Uckelman
5 years ago

The choice of research topic that you put into your statement of research/research plan does not mean that you HAVE to do that topic. In fact, you might find, by the end of your studies, you are doing something radically different. No one knows what the future might hold; give yourself some flexibility and if you end up not writing on what you said you were going to write on, this is not the end of the world. Who knows, a decade later you might find yourself returning to that topic in your leisure time…Report

Docfemeritus
Docfemeritus
Reply to  Sara L. Uckelman
5 years ago

I know that flexibility is important, as is perspective. At the end of my dissertation I had the thought that I could not prove the thesis, that X famous philosopher had been misinterpreted. I panicked and went to one of my mentors in the department who said, so just change the thesis to X did NOT do this.

In short, flexibility and being able to adapt are virtues. Or, in other words, don’ t panic and DO rely on your faculty mentors.Report

Docfemeritus
Docfemeritus
5 years ago

New grad students, what you need to know is that this the start of a great period in your career. Yes, profs may demand more and you’ll have to bust your butts for classes, exams, Orval’s and writing a master’s or doctoral thesis/dissertation. Hard work, but true learning experience.
More pleasant will be your discussions with fellow grad students, discuss issues, reinvent the wheel (as we called it) by rehashing famous arguments, books, ideas — work your own way through issues of mind, ontology, various famous philosophers. Nothing greater than.all that! Enjoy the company of those with you, work your butts of, get that degree! In retrospect, for me of 35+ years, best years of my life and hardest work I needed to do.Report

bub
bub
5 years ago

Don’t pick the famous supervisor; pick the supervisor who will work with you and be collegial (if that supervisor is famous, so much the better). In light of lots of the foregoing, it will help if you can relax a little and enjoy the ride. If it doesn’t work out, so be it. Better to have fun than to become a wreck.Report

you don't know me
you don't know me
5 years ago

Things I wish someone had told me:

1. Your professors don’t really care about you or any of the other grad students, except instrumentally (or occasionally when it comes to a golden boy or something like that.

2. Your professors will still be incredibly patronizing and condescending and try to micromanage your life even though they only care about you instrumentally.

3. There is always, always way more behind-the-scenes politics going on in a philosophy department than you think in e.g. your first two years of grad school (sometimes grad students never get the full exposure or anything close to it.

4. This politicking will cause lots and lots of extremely unjust things to happen in your department.

5. You will have zero power to do anything about it; if you try to complain or point out that anything is unjust, even if it benefitted you, or at least didn’t harm you, you will be scapegoated and made an example of.

6. You will be sexually assaulted by a faculty member.

7. You will be sexually harrassed by a (different) faculty member.

8. You will have (yet a different) faculty member refuse to work with you because he finds you attractive.

9. You will be reprimanded repeatedly by various faculty members in your department for not working with guy from #6.

10. You will quickly learn not to discuss any of this with anyone ever.

11. No one will ever believe in you or think that you can succeed.

12. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is false.

13. Don’t go to grad school.Report

Ghost
Ghost
Reply to  you don't know me
5 years ago

Holy Sh*t, YDKM. I can relate to most of this, but I reject 12 & 13. That doesn’t mean I’m right and you’re wrong, however.

Anyway, thanks for reminding people of things they shouldn’t forget.Report

Another New TT Professor
Another New TT Professor
5 years ago

Not a grad student anymore, but wanted to weigh in. A *lot* can happen in the 6-10+ years it takes to get a PhD (yes, that’s the average time to degree, and you should know it). You’re not just in grad school. Life happens along the way as well, and it can get in the way. I had always been diligent and successful prior to grad school, and the same was true of basically everyone I started with. But many of us struggled beyond our wildest imagination, and some never finished. It is important to realize this when beginning grad school. You should not just assume that everything will work out okay because you’re smart and have always been academically successful. You need to try to do things right from the outset in grad school (I made many mistakes I never fully recovered from to this very day). In addition to doing things right, you need to take action if and when things go wrong. Life may throw you more than a few curveballs during grad school, and how you respond to them may make the difference between finishing or not finishing (not to mention getting a job). When you run into problems (you lose confidence, do something wrong, can’t come up with a dissertation topic), do not just hope for things to get better. Ask someone for help, either faculty members, another student, or your family members. I tried to solve my own grad school problems by myself for far too long, and it got me nowhere. Asking for help made all of the difference, even in a case where I had no reason to think the faculty member I asked would help me. Help can come from unexpected places, so don’t be embarrassed to ask. Maybe some will turn you down. Maybe some will even look down on you for asking. But you know what might be far worse than that? Never asking at all, and never getting that piece of advice that makes the difference between success and failure.Report

GS
GS
Reply to  Another New TT Professor
5 years ago

Okay, I’m really not understanding how it can take 6-10 years. Could you elaborate more on that? (More than 3 (for a PhD) sounds over the top. I know I’m probably naive, but if you could help me out here that would be great.Report

Roger Clarke
Roger Clarke
Reply to  GS
5 years ago

GS, are you in the UK? 3 years is standard for UK PhDs, but 6+ is normal in North America. Many programs are nominally 5 years (2 years coursework + 3 years dissertation-writing), but the actual average is longer because life.

(I know there are other places than the UK and North America, but I don’t know anything about them.)Report

CW
CW
Reply to  Roger Clarke
5 years ago

At my grad program, we did two years of coursework for the MA. At the end of that time, we might or might not be accepted into the PhD program. If accepted, we did two more years of coursework, and then (minimally) two years of dissertation hours. We were discouraged from doing a Master’s thesis if we wanted a PhD, because it was unnecessary and added at least a semester to the program’s length. Anyway, very few people actually finished in six years. I took eight years. FWIW, I graduated about ten years ago.Report

Sara L. Uckelman
Reply to  Roger Clarke
5 years ago

In my US PhD program, if you did any sort of TAing, it generally took 4 years to complete coursework (during which time you probably did 0 towards your dissertation other than some reading and thinking), and then another 3+ to write the dissertation.Report

C.A.
C.A.
5 years ago

I wish I had known the following and received the following advice.

(1) Grad school is at least equivalent to if not more arduous than a full-time job. It puts a strain on just about everything.

(2) If grad school is to be a minimally harrowing experience, perhaps even a positive one, try to invest yourself in at least one major extracurricular (knitting, playing the guitar, strength training, etc.).

(3) Grad school is not solely about intellectual development. It’s about personal growth as well. The deep shit, y’know?

(4) Be open with your supervisor. You have tons of insecurities. You idolize your supervisor. You don’t want to disappoint your supervisor or find yourself in an awkward position with them. Yes. TALK TO THEM.

(5) Don’t try to take on too much. You’ll burn yourself out if you do. You’re not a superhero, and as much as grad school and the profession seem to demand of us, you have to be able to put your foot down.

(6) Writing requires self-trust, believing in oneself, and a sense of self-worth. I know it’s hard, but writing is painful. See (3).

(7) Take advantage of any and all mental health services your university offers (if any). This may prove to be invaluable.

(8) Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s not useful and is, in fact, harmful to your well-being and your relationships with your peers. It’s a common tendency, but one we have to recognize as largely unhelpful. See (3)+(7).

(9) You’re going to take classes which are, on the face of it, irrelevant to your project and that don’t seem worthwhile. That’s your arrogance talking. I know it’s hard to get invested in philosophy which does not coincide with your research interests, but it’s often worth investing time and energy into.

(10) Grad school doesn’t require self-discipline; it requires a serious investment and commitment to the philosophical endeavour. Philosophy, as hinted at before, is more than a 9-5 job. It’s a commitment to a certain lifestyle.

(11) Grad school is mentally and physically draining. You’re going to need breaks. Take breaks. Maybe it’s a day or two. Maybe half a day. Perhaps longer if feasible. Use those wisely. Get proper sleep. Eat well. Take a walk (exercise). Go out for brunch with friends. Grab a pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks. Do whatever you must to relax.

(12) Despite all the pressure grad school entails, you OUGHT to complete your degree at your own pace without shame or guilt (if feasible). It’s your life. Not the department’s. Not your supervisor’s. Not your friends’. Not your family’s. YOURS. No, you can’t stay there forever, but you can find a rhythm that works for you and might be at odds with others’. That’s cool.Report

Tenured guy
Tenured guy
5 years ago

I enjoyed grad school and wasn’t stressed at all. I had jobs and activities outside of grad school, and I made lifelong friends from outside the academy. In other words: to enjoy grad school, treat it like a job and make sure that you have a full life outside of it.

Anyway here is some important advice:

1. Again: Enjoy yourself! Grad school should be fun.

2. The job market sucks. You will almost certainly NOT get a job at the sort of school you want to teach at and in the part of the world you want to live. This needs to be repeated over and over again. You will almost certainly NOT get a job you want.

3. Most of the job market in the US is not merit based. It is all about buzz. That is, there are lots of people who are equally qualified. The reason one person gets lots of job offers but the other does not is almost all about the buzz associated with the person who got the offers. So, be sure to get to know the right people, and do all you can to get invited to the annual exclusive conferences where that buzz in generated (the Laurie Paul conferences, the David Plunkett conferences, the new Bellingham conference in Vancouver (which may not be as exclusive as the old one).

4. Really, let me repeat this in another way: Become acquaintances with the gatekeepers of the profession!

5. Don’t give in to the ridiculous drinking culture associated with grad school and academic philosophy, in general.

6. Being a professional academic pays poorly. With your skillset, you can probably get a higher paying job.

7. More money does not always mean more problems. In fact, it usually means less problems.

8. Your life probably will not feel settled and started until you get tenure, which, for most of us, doesn’t happen until mid- to late-30’s. Think about that.

9. There is no shame in dropping out of grad school and pursuing a career that pays well and that allows you to settle down sooner rather than later.

10. In fact, dropping out of grad school and pursuing a career that pays well and that allows you to settle down sooner rather than later may be the wisest option.

11. Only pursue a career in the academy if doing something else seems awful to you. Otherwise, drop out and get a good job in some other field.

12. Really: it only makes sense to be an academic if it is something that you feel compelled to do. Otherwise, the costs are too high.

13. If you really love school, consider medical school or a degree in public health.

14. Let me repeat: after you get your phd you will almost certainly NOT get anything even remotely like the job, or the life, that you would be modestly okay with. You will be forced to make massive compromises.

15. Quit earlier than later. Did I already say that?

16. Grad school should be fun, though.

17. Remember this: almost every living philosopher, especially the ones who think that they are so important and whom others think are so important, will not be read at all within 20 years of their retirement, and probably a lot sooner.

18. Most people will not read or cite your published work.

19. Most students won’t really care about your class.

20. It’s just not that rewarding a profession. So, do it only if you love it.

21. Remember: grad school should be fun.Report

JB
JB
5 years ago

That getting in to a top Law school and thus getting a good job in Law will probably be an easier and more realistic goal than getting in to a top PhD program and thus getting a good job in Philosophy.

Some time towards the middle-to-end of my MA I was informed that if you want a real shot at a job in Philosophy it was the professors’ opinion that you should aim for a top-15 US PhD programme, and that getting your PhD anywhere else made the job search measurably harder, to the point where he personally wouldn’t bother going anywhere outside that top-15 (unless you didn’t care for employment).

I would have planned everything very differently with all this in mind. It wouldn’t have hurt to know this whilst I was an undergraduate either, particularly as a 1st year.Report

monica
monica
5 years ago

What I wish someone had told me was how deep the apathy towards grad students, and their plight, really runs in the faculty.

This is something I thought I sufficiently appreciated going in. But you don’t quite understand how this is going to affect your life until you are being ground under that attitude constantly.

People talk a good game about how graduate students are their faculty’s future colleagues. For the most part, this is false, and they know it. They know that even at the top programs, less than half will get jobs. Even fewer will get the kinds of positions that the faculty at your fancy grad school really think of as positions comparable to their own.

To them, you are not even disposable labor, since they don’t fully understand that way your underpaid, stressful teaching for the university funds their lavish research positions.

To them, you are a nuisance.

Many of them will not return your work and will not be available to give comments or provide mentoring. This, despite the fact that they are paid enormous salaries to do very little. (At least compared to what people with similar salaries in law, medicine, or business generally do.) They will go on about how busy they are, even though mostly what they are doing is advancing an already illustrious career by getting drunk with their friends in bars across the world.

They will teach courses geared towards their own projects or what the undergraduates want. They do not care about providing an education for the grad students that might be useful to them in the most competitive academic market in history. They will use their seminars to solicit grad student feedback on their own work, but good luck getting them to read your work with a tenth of the energy you put into reading theirs. Like I said, they are the philosophers; you are not going to be one (though they can still exploit you if you have talent).

You know all those “feminist” professors who talk a good game about climate, sexual harassment, and improving the situation for women? Trust me, they don’t care half as much as they claim they do. They know who the bad guys are, and they’re not going to do anything about it. Probably, if it suits their career (it usually does), they will continue to get drunk with them in bars and to assign their work to their students. If you are a woman, you are lucky if they ever give you a very veiled warning. (God forbid they candidly tell you what’s going on.) Nonetheless, they still get praised for their progressive politics.

Despite all this, you, as a grad student, desperately need to get these people to pay attention to you, to like you, and to advocate for you. So you swallow your pride and do everything in your power to impress them.

It did such a number on my self-esteem that I went out and got a part-time job–not because I needed the money, so much, but because I wanted to remember what it feels like to contribute to a functional work-place, where at least the company, however exploitative, recognizes that your labor does something for them.Report

Ghost
Ghost
Reply to  monica
5 years ago

Monica,

A lot of people talk a good game and don’t have the time to put their money where their mouth is. That’s real, and it does suck.

But I think your solution- to get a part-time job- is surprisingly creative, and I imagine extremely effective in feeling (and being) functional in the world.

-GhostReport

monica
monica
Reply to  Ghost
5 years ago

Thanks for the comment, Ghost.

The part-time job has proved tremendously valuable to my mental health. I work very few hours (it is a skilled, but low paying, position), but it helps me feel like I have something worthwhile to contribute to society, that I am an adult, and that there are people out there who don’t automatically view my skills, education, or labor as worthless.

I think it’s hard for grad students to put their finger on exactly what is making them miserable. After all, on paper our jobs look cushier and more rewarding than many jobs in the “real world,” so often we feel even more worthless and defective when we realize that we really don’t like aspects of grad school. But it’s not us. There’s some really deep rot in the state of phil grad education, and just because it’s hard to articulate what it is, doesn’t mean that something isn’t seriously wrong.

For me, it’s not the hierarchy, per se (that exists in any job), or the workload, or even the bad job market. I’ve long accepted that I need to plan for a future that might not involve academia. What I think makes me the most depressed about grad school is the constant low-level feeling that the department treats us like children who are not just disposable but who are (really), when push comes to shove, mostly a nuisance. The rhetoric is all the “right” rhetoric, but actions speak louder….

I love many parts of graduate school, and don’t mind many of the others. But the faculty….urgh. And I say this as someone who is on good terms with her advisors.Report

Ghost
Ghost
Reply to  monica
5 years ago

“What I think makes me the most depressed about grad school is the constant low-level feeling that the department treats us like children who are not just disposable but who are (really), when push comes to shove, mostly a nuisance.”

Ugh, yes. That’s a super unpleasant feeling. Some people are better at hiding how annoyed they are than others.

I think a lot of female faculty are spread pretty thin because they’re trying to help women in philosophy inside and outside of their departments. That doesn’t explain all cases of the apparent disconnect between actions and words that you’re describing- but it explains many of them I’m sure.Report

Bianca
Bianca
5 years ago

Current grad student here. So, this is not really a comment about what I’d like to tell starting grad students, but a remark on the answers one gets when asking this question. Most of the comments here are rather negative (to put it mildly): grad school is tough; it’s so draining that it will get you depressed; the job market is horrible; don’t do grad school, or if you are already in, quit while you still can; etc. And I get this advice from peers to – both from people who are still doing their PhD and from people who are in a post doc position. And the truth is: that really scares me.
When I started my PhD, I did so because I loved doing research and I thought that that is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. But after nearly two years of getting such negative advice, I myself am starting to think that way too. At first the comments didn’t really get to me – I realized that the job market was tough, but I figured I’d just see if I could get in, and if not, I’d try elsewhere. But now I’m considering not even trying and settling for a job outside of academia, and I know others who think or do the same. And worse than that: I’m actually starting to feel a little bad about doing a PhD. I dont’ think that’s ok. The point is: I think the negative atmosphere around doing a PhD and the academic job market may be making me (and others) feel way more negatively than we should. Of course it’s good to be realistic about your prospects, but the advice is so bad that I start to be seriously pessimistic about doing a PhD. I noticed the same thing in my master’s programme: everyone was so busy complaining about how hard the programme was that it seemed to actually cause students who were just beginning the programme to feel bad about it right away.
So here’s a suggestions: be careful with the advice you give, because it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Advice-givers should not (only) focus on all this negative stuff. I hereby don’t mean to say that all the negative advice isn’t right, but I’d like to hear positive things too. Tell students how incredibly fulfilling the job can be, remind them how much fun doing research can be, how much fun it is to socialize with fellow faculty and with other philosophers working in your field, tell them about the good parts of teaching too, and maybe I’m lucky, but my fellow faculty actually do seem to care about me.
And finally, I think the most important thing is to be much more open about mental health issues in academia. Tell starting students that it’s ok to ask for help when they get lost, but even more so when they start feeling burnt out or depressed. This happens to a lot of people working in the field and it should be something we talk about openly. Things will go much better if you actually talk to someone about it and take a break. There is no shame in doing so. Senior faculty should also be more open about this themselves, instead of hushing it up.
(I guess I ended up giving quite some advice after all…)Report

tenured guy again
tenured guy again
Reply to  Bianca
5 years ago

Well, I think that almost everyone entering grad school makes the following error:

*They get stressed out about little things (like classwork, or how hard it is to make sense of some book, or whether a professor thinks highly of them, etc) but they do not think seriously about the real opportunity costs and risks of seeking a career in the academy.*

So, with that in mind: I think grad students are RATIONAL when they are depressed or miserable about their post-grad school life prospects. I think that grad students are IRRATIONAL when they are upset about the small ups-and-downs associated with actually being in grad school. What grad students need to realize is that being in grad school is ridiculously low stakes. There is almost no cost to making a mistake in seminar or in a paper or even in your dissertation proposal (b/c usually you get a second chance!). Only bureaucratic eff-ups associated with teaching are serious.

So, if you really, really love philosophy so much that you really cannot imagine a decent life NOT doing philosophy, then you should absolutely love grad school. If the antecdent of this condition is false when the indexical points at you, then drop out posthaste and start looking for a job in some other field or go to law school or med school or whatever.

For those of you who love philosophy and just cannot live without it (and you have fully come to terms with how crappy the non-philosophy parts of your life likely will be once you finish grad school) then here is some actual constructive advice:

1. Read as much of every new issue of Phil Review as you can stomach and read the latest issues in the leading journal(s) for your field.
2. Form reading groups with fellow grad students and go through the latest “hot” books that are in your field.
3. Go to every department talk and practice ask a short, focused question. Practice makes better!
4. Probably a good idea to try to teach a great books style class so that you are reasonably familiar with the early modern “classics.”
5. Consider attending interesting-looking talks in departments related to your field of research (e.g., if you do phil mind, then go to psychology talks, etc.).
6. Develop good research hygiene. So, learn a good system for writing summaries of articles and books you are readings, and noting useful passages from those articles and books.
7. The best professors to learn from are almost always not the most famous ones.
8. Do NOT hang on to books or hardcopies of journals you do not regularly use.
9. When grading students’ papers, never write “you messed up”, always just write “the paper messes up”.
10. Philosophers are people. Remember that.
11. Make friends outside the academy and outside the department.

But only do these things if being an academic is the only way you can imagine having a good life. Otherwise, abandon ship NOW and pursue another career that will be more lucrative, more flexible, and will almost certainly lead to a much happier life.Report

E
E
5 years ago

These comments are deeply upsetting – although I can’t but feel there’s a selection effect here. I really don’t think my late stage grad students think things are this awful. So, here’s some advice from someone 7 years out of grad school, who has admittedly, been very lucky, but has loved most aspects of this career so far:
– Think of grad school as a job, and stay away from the aspects of its culture that drain your energies. I worked a normal working week in grad school, and lived with non-academics a long way away from my university. I commuted in 3-4 days a week and was involved in everything, but I didn’t eat, sleep and breathe the neurotic atmosphere.
– I’m a woman, and I’ve been lucky enough to completely avoid harassment. It really is possible. Do whatever you can to escape environments that seem conducive to it. (No victim blaming here – we all need to do more! But if you just believed what you saw online you might think there was no escaping a toxic climate.)
– Think of this as a profession – work an ordinary working week, but accept that, like any job, there may be bits that require you to e.g. Dress smarter, or make small talk, or do mundane work etc.
– Find advisors that care about you and that you can be friends with. The friendship goes both ways. Most of my grad students are great about accommodating my needs (e.g. I have a baby, and they’ve been willing to travel to me where necessary), and are understanding when I’m more of a disorganised mess than I’d like to be. But I’ll go hugely above and beyond for them as well. And my own thesis supervisors are among my closest friends now.
– The job market is hard, but may not be quite as bad as everyone thinks it is. Hiring looks very different from the other side of the table. Some great looking people have underlying reasons why they’ve failed to secure permanent jobs (often relating to a lack of professionalism). If you do genuinely good work, and can afford to hang in there for long enough (a big if, of course), you’ll get there.Report

you don't know me
you don't know me
Reply to  E
5 years ago

I also have an (R1) job, so this is not sour grapes. But I’ve also watched so many of my (really deserving) peers not get jobs, especially in the last few years.

I think your last point is just wrong, and is the kind of thing that contributes to people having false expectations. The job market is not just hard: there are a huge number of people–huge–who don’t have these “underlying reasons” why they’ve failed to secure permanent jobs. The underlying reason that they’ve failed to secure permanent jobs is just that there are not enough of those jobs for all the deserving candidates to get one–indeed, I believe that there aren’t even enough for *the majority* of deserving candidates to get jobs.

I do think it’s depressing that these comments have been so depressing so far, but I think that it is *extremely* important that we emphasize to people entering grad school/current grad students that it’s just simply not the case that if you’re good at what you do, you work hard, and you are professional enough, and you network enough, and so on, that you will eventually get a tt job. (Also we need to be careful about the “eventually”–I don’t think people have a good idea, going into things, what the financial/emotional/psychological costs of that “eventually” might be.) It seems to me more like this: doing those things is a (usually) necessary but not at all sufficient condition for getting a job. The next step is as though someone is rolling a die and you’ll get a job (once you’ve satisfied all the other conditions) just in case they roll a 2.

Sorry to harp on this but I know that as a grad student I had a really really hard time shaking the idea that the job market was a meritocracy and an assessment of how good I was, and I think in part it was because I had a view something along the lines that you are stating here–if you work hard enough, and you do everything right, eventually it will happen. And I think the reality is that working hard and doing everything right is just enough to get you a ticket into the lottery.

(Also: it does seem like there is, at least at more “prestigious” places, a bias towards fresh PhDs. If this is right–and of course it’s an empirical question, I’m just speculating–then the “eventually” is even more worrying.)Report

E
E
Reply to  you don't know me
5 years ago

Fair enough – I think probably some of the difference is my field, and some of it’s that I’m in the UK, where PhDs don’t go stale – far from it, since it’s almost unheard of to get a permanent job straight out of the gates. I’m at a great research-focused University in a very attractive city, but we don’t get anything like the numbers of applicants that parallel US institutions would get. It always seems extraordinary to me that so many US applicants will apply almost anywhere in the US, but not to a much better job in a foreign city that might even be a shorter plane ride from home!

It’s still true that, within my little subfield world-wide, and of my friends from grad school (at a fancy place), I don’t know anyone 7 years down the line who both managed to publish in good places in their postdocs etc, and has a track record of being a great colleague and teacher, and who hasn’t managed to get a reasonably attractive job. But it’s really hard to keep your motivation going through endless rejections, keep publishing, and keep being a good colleague, so even that comment (which is mostly about my subfield and probably isn’t representative), shouldn’t make the journey sound easy. I’m still not sure how helpful all the doom-mongering is though, even if honesty requires it. I’ve seen some great people fall by the wayside after e.g. securing that first post-doc precisely because the dread of the future sapped all their energy.Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
Reply to  E
5 years ago

‘It’s still true that, within my little subfield world-wide, and of my friends from grad school (at a fancy place), I don’t know anyone 7 years down the line who both managed to publish in good places in their postdocs etc, and has a track record of being a great colleague and teacher, and who hasn’t managed to get a reasonably attractive job.’

The advice of those from fancy places shouldn’t be seen a generalizable to everyone. There is a proven and well-known prestige bias in academia.Report

Derek Bowman
Reply to  E
5 years ago

Also remember that “7 years out” is seven years *plus* the time you spent in grad school. That’s a long time to be moving from one job to another, often in geographically distant locales – if you’re lucky enough to avoid severe underemployment or unemployment over that period. That’s a long time to be putting your life – and potentially the lives of your spouse, partner, children, or other close family members on hold. And it can be awfully hard to be able to “afford to hang in there for long enough” if you don’t have an employed spouse or generous family members to rely upon in the meantime.Report

E
E
Reply to  Derek Bowman
5 years ago

I completely agree with both of the posts above – the brackets in previous posts were meant to flag both of these, but there should have been more hedges around the comment about hanging in there long enough. My personal advice to students is only ever to do a well funded doctorate at a top place (what constitutes ‘top’ depends on your field – not quite as simple as the Leiter top 15). But suppose some of the readers on this thread do have the advantage of starting grad school in a reasonably in demand field at a top place. Reading this kind of thread can seriously erode the kind of strength you need to stomache the coming rejections and keep working. And it may also misrepresent how dire the odds for that kind of student really are, thus eroding their confidence for no good reason.Report

D
D
5 years ago

While the realities of the job market cannot be stressed enough, many of the “downsides” of grad school mentioned above are potential downsides of *any* job you will have in life.

Having entered grad school after working a 9-5 desk job, some of the complaints are almost laughable. Grad school is a lot of work? Grad school leaves you with less time to socialize? You might have competitive peers? You might not get along perfectly with everyone? People might not appreciate your work? You (sometimes!) have to do things that aren’t really fun–like go to meetings?

Compared with most jobs, grad school is pretty fun! Enjoy it! And if you don’t enjoy it, that’s OK, too–try something else!Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
5 years ago

I’ve been out of my PhD program for a few years. Not a well ranked program, but I published more than half a dozen articles, many is top 15 journals. Never found a job. I got a few interviews but nothing ever came through. I was always told I did well interviewing, but didn’t get the job for some silly reason or another. Anyway, I’m now unemployed, and don’t know what to do. I developed major depression a few years ago and have been on medication ever since. I’m afraid to come off the pills, even though they often make me feel tired and icky. They do keep the black dog at bay though. I no longer cross the road without looking.

I wish someone would have told me 8 years ago not to go to grad school, not to bother. I wish someone had told me that it won’t matter how many articles you publish or where you publish or anything. What will really matter is whether you went to an Ivy League school or equivalent highly rated program. What will really matter is whether you’re a women. What will really matter is whether you’ve got some good connections with some sketchy people.

But I wasn’t told any of these things. I was told that yes the job market is tough but you can publish your way into a job. I was told that at the end of the day it didn’t matter which program I went to, but what mattered was the quality and quantify of my work. I was told that the system works. I was told that although the job market is tough, those who work hard and publish in good journals get good jobs. I was told by one professor that they didn’t know anyone who hadn’t succeeded into securing a TT job who worked at it hard.

What a LOAD OF BS!!!! I was lied to repeatedly and it has destroyed years of my life. I’m still recovering.

My advice for all graduate students is this. Unless you’re in a top 15 program (maybe top 20) quit! Or if you really want to be called a Dr. then start preparing early for a career you are likely to actually achieve. If you’re a male and if you’re not in a top 15 program, you really really really really SHOULD drop out!!!

I guess there are exceptions and everyone has to make their own decisions, but you have no idea how few jobs there are and how many PhDs are being pumped out every year. You have no idea how corrupt the job market is. If you haven’t started to try to publish, you have no idea how painful this process is. It’s soul crushing!

Remember that recent data shows that 39% of PhDs are unemployed. Very few have a good job. Most of the good jobs go to Ivy league PhDs. It won’t matter what you do. Your fate is decided very early on.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Postdoc
5 years ago

What happened to you sucks, and you’ve certainly been treated horribly by the meat grinder that is the profession. I hope you can move on and make a happier, healthier life for yourself eventually. But I also hope that you can find it in yourself to refrain from redirecting your (very much warranted) bitterness towards junior women in the profession, people who have just as little power as you in the overall scheme of things and no hand in what happened to you–people who face or will face many of the same challenges as you did, some of whom suffer or will likely suffer a fate similar to yours. More than anything else, I hope this for your sake, because this kind of resentment can be toxic and will certainly not help you move on from this. Be well, and I wish you all the best.Report

Ben
Ben
Reply to  JT
5 years ago

I’m not sure I detect bitterness. I have to agree with postdoc that I wish people would have been more open when it comes to the advantage given to women. Going into grad school, I thought women were given a slight advantage on the job market, but in my experience the advantage is absolutely enormous. I’m not bitter about this, but I wish departments were more honest about it.Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
Reply to  JT
5 years ago

How bitter I may or may not be is irrelevant to the truth and the truth is all that matters here. The data supports my claim that women have it much easier on the job market than men.

“The odds of women obtaining a permanent academic placement within two years is 65% greater than men when all else is held constant,” according to an analysis discussed by Carolyn Dicey Jennings, Patrice Cobb, and David Vinson (UC Merced) at the Blog of the APA.”
http://dailynous.com/2016/05/03/gender-the-philosophy-job-market/

The job market is not a meritocracy. You cannot publish your way into a good job. You may be a very good philosopher, just as good as the best that the Ivy League programs have to offer, but what matters to hiring committees isn’t (to a sufficient degree) your academic output, your contributions to the field of philosophy. What matters to hiring committees it what University name is on your PhD and what sex organs you have. There are probably exceptions if you happen to be a super genius and revolutionize the field of philosophy. But come on, let’s be freaking realistic! For 99% of low-ranked PhDs, you will fail to publish your way into a job.

Let’s say you’re a creative person with lots of good ideas. Let’s say you’re a better writer than the average PhD student, even a lot better. Top 15 journals have rejection rates ranging from 90% to 99%. Review times range from 3 months to a year or more (avoid those journals!). Most papers are rejected a few times before receiving an R&R. That means that about the best you can do (and that’s only if you’re lucky) is to get a paper published about 1 year after initial submission, and at best this is only going to happen to every (let’s say) fourth paper you submit. That means that to have 4 papers going onto the job market would require you to have submitted 16 papers for review 1 year before finishing your PhD. ARE YOU THAT GOOD!?!?

It doesn’t much matter if I’m off with my calculations here. Let’s say you need to submit just 8 papers 1 year before finishing your PhD to have 4 published when graduating. How many of us have 8 papers that are any good to submit 1 year before finishing their PhDs? Whatever the answer, keep in mind that most likely you’ll need to do quite a bit better than this, because it’s just insane to think that if you write 8 papers, 4 will be accepted in one year! It’s not going to happen at top 15 general philosophy journals, unless you’re a god! haha

What’s a realistic number you can expect? Well, I managed to pull off 2 top 15 papers before graduating then a few more less well ranked ones, and I’m unemployed. haha! This is of course anecdotal evidence, and I’m sure some luck out. My point in all of this is that you need quite a few highly ranked papers to make up for the fact that you’re not from a top program and have a penis. Do you think you can publish that much? Do you? Well, you can’t! I mean someone will, but it’s still more truthful to say you can’t, because it would be insanely hard. Also, keep in mind that publishing has a chance component to it. Two people can write the same number of papers, these papers can be equally good, and their success rates can be very different.

What happens if you graduate from a low-ranked program with zero publications? What happens is you are definitely going to be unemployed or adjuncting. Have fun! Now, good luck competing with all those fancy PhDs with postdocs where they have almost no teaching to do. So, the odds are just stacked against you from the beginning, and it won’t much matter what you do. That’s my point in all of this. You can’t make up through hard work for the caste you’ve been placed in due to the low rank of your PhD program and your penis. You just can’t. Welcome to reality! Hence my advice, drop out of your programs unless you’re in the right caste!Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Postdoc
5 years ago

It seems bitter to me to say, “If you’re a male and if you’re not in a top 15 program, you really really really really SHOULD drop out!!!” And also, “What matters to hiring committees it what University name is on your PhD and what sex organs you have.” Even if women do have an *unjustified* advantage on the market (which the CDJ data leaves open), neither claim is really true, or helpful advice. My point, however, wasn’t to relitigate the issue. I really do hope things get better for you, and for that I think you have to find a way to emotionally move on from it all and it is certainly won’t help to dwell on such thoughts. This is a lesson I’ve had to learn myself; that however righteous one’s resentment of discrimination (racial, in my case) may seem, it is also ultimately paralyzing.Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
Reply to  JT
5 years ago

I don’t get what my being bitter has to do with whether my advice is any good. I cited empirical support for my claim about anti male discrimination. There is plenty of evidence for the prestige bias I mention as well. Do some googling!Report

Jared
Reply to  Postdoc
5 years ago

I received my PhD from NYU less than a year ago and already have 11 publications (in: Phil Review, PPR, JPhil, JPL, Phil Studies, Phil Imp, PQ(x2), Synthese(x2), and Metaphilosophy). Yet I’ve been on the job market twice without ever getting a TT job interview and am currently without academic employment.

This is just one data point, but there are other similar cases (though mine is the most extreme that I’ve heard about). So even when coming from a prestigious PhD program, I don’t know that you can publish your way into a job in the current philosophical job market. Though maybe passing a certain publication threshold will ensure job market consideration? If so, I suspect that the threshold is high enough that, once reached, it doesn’t really matter where your PhD comes from.

Of course, this is not to deny that prestige bias plays some role in the job market process.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Postdoc
5 years ago

Not disagreeing with you about prestige bias. But on the very DN link you provide, CDJ also (rightly) notes that it is unclear from the data what explains women’s advantage on the market. There are lots of hypotheses to investigate, only some of which support the claim that this advantage is unjustified or unfair. In any case, this is not the place for us to further pursue the issue.

The reason I thought the advice unhelpful was that your claims about the odds of students like me (< top-15 school; male) and the priorities of hiring committees are false. The most successful placements at my institution (and many others) in recent years were won by (white) men, and it is just not true that hiring decisions are made primarily on the basis of gender or any other demographic considerations (further, by all accounts there are few universally prioritised hiring considerations, given the often idiosyncratic needs of hiring departments).Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
Reply to  Postdoc
5 years ago

I have no idea what you’re on about. Anyway, PhD students, do some research. Recognize that you’re up against prestige bias unless you’re in a top program, and recognize that you’re up against anti male descrimination if you’re male (females 65% better off). Those are empirical facts. It’s also an empirical fact that publishing your way out of these biases is almost impossible. Where exactly to draw the line for quitting is hard, but probably a lot of you should quit and go back to school for STEM.Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
Reply to  Postdoc
5 years ago

Oh I see. Maybe men are worse off for other reasons besides active descrimination. I don’t buy it at all. But notice it doesn’t much matter the reason. If you’re a man you’re worse off. That’s what the data shows. Keep that in mind!Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
Reply to  Postdoc
5 years ago

Jared, I don’t believe you! But if you’re telling the truth that proves we all should quit! LolReport

deesse877
deesse877
5 years ago

With regard to the overall tenor of these remarks, and the specific assertion, frequently repeated, that tenured faculty neglect and abuse graduate students…my own sense is that poor treatment of grad students is not its own end for most faculty (though true sadists certainly exist). Rather, tenured and tenure-track faculty will do literally anything other than examine their own privileges, and the pedagogical relationship happens to be really rich in opportunities to lie to themselves and others. Sometimes that means cluelessness–for example, people who already have positions, and tell grad students or recent PhD’s to “just keep trying,” really mean something like “your work has value, and I am willing to validate it”, and they simply refuse to consider labor, prestige, networking, the attack on the humanities, any of that. Other times, senior and even junior faculty publicly expound essentialist notions of talent or intelligence, play favorites, circulate scurrilous rumors, deny funding for capricious reasons, etc., all sorts of truly embarassing shenanigans that genuinely and directly damage specific students and the educational endeavor overall. In both cases, though–well-meant bad advice and ill-meant humiliations–what happens is that the grad students end up doing a lot of emotional labor, the faculty permit themselves to avoid self-knowledge, and **nothing changes.***

In other words, the real issue here is not the specifics of any given relationship between students and faculty (though I hasten to add that there is abundant evidence that women and people of color are disproportionately impacted by at least some varieties of hostile shenanigans). The real issue is the massive time-wasting and depoliticization that these poor relationships institutionalize. We hate eachother, and therefore we cannot change the terms under which we work.Report

Ghost
Ghost
Reply to  deesse877
5 years ago

I agree with everything but “we hate each other”. But I might be naive.Report

Another Grad
Another Grad
5 years ago

I wish someone had told me how bad my program’s placement really was. The regard with which we are held in the profession is simply not reflected in our placement data. And our placement data is not publically available anywhere. I can’t help but feel that the faculty here think it is more important to draw competitive students to the program than to give those who are considering coming here an honest appraisal of their odds of landing a job. I know I would have made different decisions along the way if I’d been aware of what was going on with our placement.Report

Ghost
Ghost
5 years ago

Basically, grad school can be horrible, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be horrible for talented and hard-working people. There is a lot of bullshit involved.

Anyway, I think a lot of these problems would go away if we just got more creative about pursuing alternative careers after our PhDs.

Anyway, for all the excited first years out there, please PLEASE have fun, and don’t let anyone rain on your philosophy parade.Report

Dr Phil
Dr Phil
5 years ago

Like many commenters, it was shocking for me to discover (especially in light of all the outcries and initiatives fighting against gender discrimination) the full extent of privilege women philosophers enjoy in their professional development. I want to make the claim more palpable by filling in details from my experience.

1. In no professional setting I have been in: from classes to conferences to social events to job interviews has a young male philosopher been accorded the same amount of good will as a young female philosopher. The most infuriating bit is that some traits tend to get treated in diametrically opposite ways. Vulnerability in men gets scrutinized and mocked while women who (unintentionally or not) appear tentative, or even clearly present half-baked arguments receive very positive response and often get to be someone’s protege as a result.

2. I have witnessed senior female philosophers and also some male philosophers brutally mock or harass male graduate students for traits bordering on disability (extreme awkwardness, difficulty expressing themselves). Those traits are likelier to be found in male students. I have never witnessed a fellow philosopher accuse a female philosopher of being overly emotional or irrational. This is no doubt anecdotal, but the tables seem to have turned on this one.

3. Literally every advanced female graduate student I know in my area has secured a post-doc following brief networking: most were at the time without significant presentations, without publications and in the middle of their thesis. Often times, there was no real overlap between the sponsors’ research and theirs. I can only speak to my own experience on this one, but despite being on excellent terms with a number of senior people for a long while, getting them to even respond to my query about a fellowship was a nightmare. Some of those went a long way out for my female colleagues they had barely met.

4. Overall, networking is a whole different animal for men and women philosophers. There is a considerable amount of flirtation between young female philosophers and senior philosophers. The extent that this helps their career prospects should not be underestimated. On the other hand, it will in the least be considered rude to conduct yourself similarly if you are a man. In fact, in my experience neither male nor female senior philosophers tend to favor male students. And the only way to keep your chances is to act as professional, independent and humble as you can. I wish someone had told me about this when I was starting my degree. There are completely different rules for socializing for young male and female academics, and the apparent emphasis on promoting gender equality is bound to mislead many.

I’m curious to find out what others think. Have you had similar experiences? Can you think of other sorts of discriminatory treatment? Or is it all in my head? And if we are dealing with a real trend, is it justifiable?Report

P
P
Reply to  Dr Phil
5 years ago

Um, there definitely weren’t “many” people who agreed in the comment sections about the alleged privileged women face — just you and one other guy in the earlier extended comment thread. I’m not a woman, but frankly, it terrifies me that people like you exist.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  P
5 years ago

Right? Like, women have an advantage networking because they flirt and men aren’t allowed to? Ugh. It seems like a small but toxic and loud bunch of losers are intent on turning every thread here into a platform for their bitching and moaning. It’s a shame, since the discussions here were quite good once upon a time.Report

Phil
Phil
Reply to  P
5 years ago

I was about to count the commenters acknowledging this, but thought better.

But I need to say this, P: women philosophers have nothing to be terrified of. The women in the example I gave are dear friends of mine and are all talented philosophers. I’ve read their papers and dissertations, been at their presentations, collaborated with some, and wish them all the best. But it is very discouraging to know that on paper, and often times by their own explicit acknowledgement, you are the more accomplished philosopher, and yet see them receiving considerably more attention and support. In my experience, this happens very rarely with a male colleague.

My observations may be biased or too anecdotal to take seriously, or maybe there are ways to dispel the impression of unfairness. For instance, part of the explanation for why women get favored for post-docs (if they did) might be due to the considerable organizational work and networking involved in most postdocs and early career positions coupled with the prejudice that a woman would be better for that kind of work. This is clearly not a flattering reason to be favored, but for career prospects it is still better to be favored in this way. So it wouldn’t do the job. If you think you can offer anything better, or any reasons why I might be super biased, I’d like to hear it. But please, do not troll.Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
Reply to  Dr Phil
5 years ago

P is terrified by the facts. Haha!

Anyway, I’ve seen a few cases of women being given special consideration.

I’ve seen women with much worse CVs be given jobs over men with very nice CVs. I don’t like it, but nothing I can do really.

Women are 65% more likely to attain a permanent job.Report

you don't know me
you don't know me
Reply to  Postdoc
5 years ago

1. It’s funny that you say that every advanced female grad student you know has secured a postdoc by networking–iirc, Carolyn’s data (which, by the way, was extremely incomplete/misleading, though I take no stand on what the numbers would be like with complete data) suggested that there was a slight bias towards men when it came to postdocs.

2. Why do you think that you are competent to judge someone, qua philosopher, colleague, or teacher, from merely looking at their cv? I wonder why faculty spend so much time doing work on search committees, when they have so little time on their hands. And I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that it is because we can’t read the quality of someone’s work, or what kind of colleague they will be, or what kind of teacher they will be, off of a c.v. If we could, the hiring process would be so much simpler. In fact, probably a computer should do it.

3. You’d have to be more specific about what you mean by women getting “special consideration”. But a few things. First, if you are referring to steps taken to combat explicit and implicit bias on the part of a committee/department, then who wouldn’t be for it? Second, you’re simply wrong that women have it easier during grad school; I know not a single woman among the many current and recent grad students who didn’t have it harder in various ways than their male peers. The women I know who actually make it through grad school have worked extremely hard to overcome obstacles that are not there for men; and importantly, a large part of that involves specifically working harder *on philosophy*, because we have to be much better than men do to have what we say in a seminar, or present at a talk, and so on be taken seriously.

4. No one has established that the bias towards women on the market (for tt jobs, not postdocs) is an unjustified bias, or that it is explained by women being favored qua women over men. Every attempt that I have seen to do so has been about quantifying publications or talking about c.v.s. No department I know of makes hiring decisions based solely (and some not even partly) on quantity of publications. And none of them did it in the days when men were much more likely to get jobs than women either. That is, and of course we would need empirical data to confirm this, but it seems pretty clear (since no one was running computerized job searches before), what do you make of the cases where male candidates are getting, or have gotten, jobs with fewer publications than many of their competitors? Because that is certainly happening. (That is, men with fewer publications and “worse” c.v.s are getting hired over men with more publications (and presumably also over women with more publications). What explains this? What evidence do we have that whatever explains it doesn’t also explain why women are getting jobs with fewer publications under their belts than men are, on average?Report

Ph
Ph
Reply to  you don't know me
5 years ago

Thanks for your comment (I take it is addressed partly to PostDoc and partly to me). As you can gather from the recent addition I posted, my evidence is anecdotal. It could be that there is no trend, or that there is a trend, but is strictly confined to my field and/or region. I wasn’t trying to divine the data, but was making a number of observations of what could constitute an unfair treatment over one’s professional development.
I would never dare judge a colleague purely on the basis of their CV. I judge them on the basis of considerable familiarity and interaction with them, and considerable familiarity and interaction with male peers. You might take this to be an inadequate means to compare talent and qualifications. In my view it is the best one.
On the point of who has an easier/harder time, it is hard to take either side at their word. In my experience those who struggled most in seminars were awkward and verbose men. Some of my female colleagues have had terrible advisor experience, but so have I.
I respectfully disagree with you on the who-works-hardest bit. This is really the perceived cause of my frustration. In my experience it is not the hardest workers, not even the hardest working women that have been the most successful on the job market, but the hustlers. And I believe hard work should be rewarded most, even more than talent and flare.
I don’t have much to say on what is in the basis of the statistical differences in hiring and whether they are justified. But one might want hiring patterns to track CV strength if they thought that CV strength should carry the most weight in hiring decisions. While there are all sorts of additional factors that are clearly relevant, if they do not generally cancel out, they might be playing too big of a role in determining decisions-hence the alleged unfairness.Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
Reply to  Ph
5 years ago

Although you shouldn’t judge people qua human beings on the basis of their CVs, qua researches, past publication success is the best predictor of future publication success. Teaching quality is much harder to judge I think, as student evaluations are not good predictors nor references. I suppose right now the best we really have to go on is number of courses taught.

Hiring based on simple algorithmic methods would work better than the time consuming, stressful, and expensive way we currently do it. Psychological research strongly suggests that algorithmic methods are best. Humans are distracted by all sorts of irrelevant factors when hiring (e.g. how affable someone is, how good looking, etc), irrelevant to how good of a teacher and researcher someone is, which, let’s be honest, is what the university wants.Report

Ghost
Ghost
Reply to  Postdoc
5 years ago

“Hiring based on simple algorithmic methods would work better than the time consuming, stressful, and expensive way we currently do it. Psychological research strongly suggests that algorithmic methods are best. ”

This sounds like a potentially very good suggestion, and for the reasons you give- humans get distracted by irrelevant things. I’d like to hear more about this in the future.Report

you don't know me
you don't know me
Reply to  Postdoc
5 years ago

I’m not certain I’m opposed to hiring by algorithm, but what would the algorithm be? Presumably it would count publications, and favor publications in top journals.

I can see a number of serious problems with this: first, certain kinds of philosophical work is very very hard to publish in top journals; I think it’s important that we figure out how to be pluralistic about what counts as philosophy (and expect there to be good philosophy in areas that top journals still don’t really publish); and to do that we need to get a critical mass of people in the profession (and in “top” jobs in the profession) working either on topics, or from angles, that top journals aren’t friendly to; to do that, departments need to be able to make decisions to hire people whose work hasn’t been published in top journals.

Second, while I see arguments for it, I’m not yet convinced that hiring “for potential” is bad. One reason I’m not convinced is that I think people have different styles of doing philosophy and I think I have a personal preference for a very big-picture, systematic style. Some people who work in that style might take longer to publish, if their work is interconnected, hard to pull apart, and big picture (journals do not like big picture!). But those people, I think, are doing some of the most interesting, deep work in philosophy. It would be a shame if those people did not get hired because of an algorithm.

Third, publishing is such a crapshoot, especially when you haven’t had a lot of time (e.g. coming straight out of grad school or soon after graduating). I find it really hard to believe that, in that length of time, the journal/peer-review system works well enough to push the right people to the top. Aren’t we just replacing one somewhat flawed system with another if we use publications as a metric?

Fourth, you might think that, if publishing is a crapshoot, especially when people haven’t had a lot of time to place papers, then there might be something to be said for the faculty in a department thinking that it might be a better idea to look at the person’s work themselves and judge for themselves whether they think it is good or not.

Fifth, how do you screen out assholes? How do you screen out people who would be harmful to students? To the environment in the department? This seems really important to me. It also seems like a totally justified thing to do. Like sorry but I can’t see a single reason why a department should have to deal with a crappy person when there are so many really qualified great philosophers out there. I don’t see what makes it the case that they would have some obligation to shoulder that.

There are more reasons but I’ll shut up now.Report

Ghost
Ghost
Reply to  Postdoc
5 years ago

Yeah- it might be a nice tool to check our judgments against.Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
Reply to  Postdoc
5 years ago

‘Presumably it would count publications, and favor publications in top journals.’

Different departments can favor the journals they prefer.

‘Second, while I see arguments for it, I’m not yet convinced that hiring “for potential” is bad.’

That’s what the algorithmic method does. It best lets you hire based on the applicant’s potential.

‘I find it really hard to believe that, in that length of time, the journal/peer-review system works well enough to push the right people to the top. Aren’t we just replacing one somewhat flawed system with another if we use publications as a metric?’

There are a lot of people 1-2 years out of their PhDs bouncing from postdoc to postdoc (if they’re lucky) with good publication records. You might not think that publication success should be what we care about, but then why are people publishing…

As far as developing a bigger picture position, this can be done over time with multiple journal articles. No reason to wait for ever to start publishing. Develop your big picture through various papers.

‘Fifth, how do you screen out assholes?’

I always figured that the system preferred ass holes. haha! Anyway, no way to screen them out. The biggest ass hole can act like the nicest person ever for a few hour campus visit.Report

big picture
big picture
Reply to  Postdoc
5 years ago

“As far as developing a bigger picture position, this can be done over time with multiple journal articles. No reason to wait for ever to start publishing. Develop your big picture through various papers.”

Not every big project can be approached this way. I tried and failed to publish any part of my big project as a journal article. The pieces relied too much on other pieces for their interest or defensibility, and the referees said as much. And yet eventually I produced a (well-placed and well-received) book. I know others who have gone through the same process, including some whose hires I have heard/seen derided on grounds that they had not yet published.Report

JT
JT
5 years ago

A lot of the advice I got when I was applying and deciding between schools from faculty and others focused on academic fit (i.e., Is the department strong in my intended area? Who are my potential supervisors? Etc.), but I got close to zero guidance on whether a department would be a good fit for me on a non-academic level. This seems to me now to be a huge oversight. Grad students are human, faculty are human, and like all human relationships how well things go in academic partnerships often depend on how well the people involved get along as people. Your working relationship with faculty and other students won’t necessarily be great just because your philosophical interests align. More generally, if you don’t feel comfortable in the department you will feel isolated and not very happy, especially if you had to move away from friends and family and other sources of support, and you won’t produce very good work if you’re not in a good place psychologically. Relatedly, don’t overlook the value of places where you do have friends, family, or existing networks of support. I got very lucky in this regard, but from some of the things I’ve heard, it could’ve very easily gone very badly.

So, even if you have only just the one offer, it is important to visit the department, spend time with the students and faculty there, get to know potential supervisors, get a feel for the city, and think hard about whether this is a place where you will feel welcomed, accepted, and supported. If you accept an offer, you are committing to not just studying at a place for the next 4-8 years, but also making a life there during what will likely be one of the most important personally formative periods of your life. Keep in mind that nonacademic fit isn’t just about whether you can be friends with these people. This is a red-herring partly because everyone you meet on your visit will seem friendly, and you won’t meet the curmudgeons. But, more importantly, good friends are just a nice bonus in this regard, since what you’re really looking for are good colleagues. You need to find out what kind of problems students have had in the past and what kind of support was offered in response and by whom. Don’t assume that there won’t be problems, or that you can always soldier on in the face of whatever should arise. Like others have noted, grad school is hard and stressful, and sometimes the problems will be entirely out of your control.

If you are a woman or a minority, don’t discount the value of departments where women or people of colour are well represented among the students or the faculty. Again, I got lucky in this regard, but I’m only realising now just how much of a difference it makes just having other East Asians and people of colour around. I’m sure that much the same goes for being a woman. Having previously been at two wonderful but all white institutions, it shocked me how much more comfortable I felt just being in a place where I don’t stick out like a sore thumb, where there are people who have had similar experiences and upbringings, even if such things rarely come up. I still can’t really put my finger on it, but it might have something to do with the fact that the question of whether this aspect of me will be accepted doesn’t even arise, that it just went without saying like whiteness so often is. Maybe someone more familiar with this stuff can chime in, but I suspect that it has to do with the mitigating effect of diversity on stereotype threat? In other words, I guess, it really does help to be in a place where one can see a familiar face now and again!Report

Grad student
Grad student
Reply to  JT
5 years ago

I second this advice.
Of course you shouldn’t go for a department which is not excellent or at least good research wise, especially in your area, and where there is a supervisor with a real interest in your favourite topics. But ‘human fit’ is just as important. My department – a smallish department in a relatively isolated town in the UK – struck me as a good fit for me overall also because of the friendly and supportive atmosphere. Some people just can’t thrive in environments where they don’t feel welcome, and most people would do better than they already do in places that are more suitable for them on a personal level.Report

Becko
Becko
5 years ago

There is much good (if dispiriting) advice here. Here’s two bits I’d like to emphasize:

While in grad school, be kind to each other. Grad school was not always easy for me , but in some ways it was one of the best times of my life and it made me the philosopher I am today in large part because my fellow graduate students, both those who came before me and those with whom I entered, were very supportive of one another. Much of what I learned, I learned from them. Today, many of them are colleagues and life-long valued friends. If you can create a positive culture among you, you can support one another, make one another better philosophers, and embody what collegiality can be.

If you are hired for a philosophy job, it is highly likely that you will spend the vast majority of your time on teaching — on course prep, department planning, office hours, advising, appointments, pedagogical workshops, answering emails, putting out fires, committees on general education, etc. It may be that TA experience “counts for nothing on the job market” (I doubt that) but unless you get hired into a very rare and strange job, your job will mostly be teaching. For me, that meant finding a way to be happy teaching (and finding a way to make sure I could still be the scholar I wanted to be). Like many philosophers, I’m an introvert. Teaching takes a lot out of me. But if you are going to do it for the rest of your life, you need to find a way to do it without being miserable. For me, that meant working hard to be a better teacher. Teaching is not magical. It can be learned.

Try not to internalize the notion that the good jobs are the R1 jobs, or that teaching doesn’t matter in R1 jobs. Yes, I know that with the market many people say any job is a good job. But I still see a lot of implicit signaling that what the job market means is aiming for an R1 job, and I see a lot of signaling that R1 jobs are at places that explicitly reject the value of teaching. It doesn’t come from nowhere. Some say that sort of thing explicitly, and say it to graduate students, which is a real disservice. I know too many folks at R1 places who spend a great deal of time on teaching, and care a great deal about teaching both graduate students and undergraduates, and who do it in ways that are inspirational. And, needless to say, there are many people with tremendously successful careers who are not at R1 places.Report

K
K
5 years ago

1) Take the classes you’re really interested in at the start of grad school. There’s a temptation to fulfill a bunch of requirements, and that might mean taking several classes you may not care as much about. That’s fine, but if you move to a new town for a field you love and immediately spend most of your time thinking about areas you were never that attracted to, it might be difficult to stay passionate about the field.

2) Understand that the role of the class, or what classes are for, is at least unclear. Coming from undergrad, I kept wanting to take classes that systematically taught me things or exposed me to literatures. Some classes did this, and I was grateful for it, but I spent a lot of graduate school whining about how few graduate seminars seemed built for this purpose. Instead, the classes often seemed too niche, or to be a jumble of topics, or, unfortunately, whatever the professor wanted to read or was relevant to his/her book. In hindsight, I wish I had changed my expectations for graduate classes (because I doubt the reality will change). If you’re smart enough to get into a topnotch program, YOU ALREADY HAVE THE SKILLS TO TEACH YOURSELF. So you don’t need the classes for this. Read about what you want and write papers about it (with faculty supervision). You don’t get a job for classwork, and your research is more fun anyway! In summary: Don’t expect professors to teach you; expect them to engage you with their research.

3) I wish I had really understood philosophy’s reputation in the world and it’s current climate. In terms of its reputation, it is REALLY obnoxious to be confronted with public misconceptions and accusations about your field on a regular basis. Similarly, although teaching philosophy is a blast, it is kind of terrible that so much of the time is spent resetting student expectations for what philosophy even is. The challenge of communicating that philosophy is still full of live problems while trying to avoid the reaction that there are no answers is something I claim to care about in my teaching statement (and I do care about it), but it is deeply annoying that we face this. So many fields do not have to spend time justifying themselves to their students, and it is a sincere marketing problem that we have to.

4) About philosophy’s climate…Oh goodness. I can’t speak to so many of the concerns often justly discussed (if not under-discussed). What I can say is that graduate school is anxiety-ridden. Some of this comes from always being on the clock or not having many hard deadlines or having an uncertain future or who knows what. Largely though, I think it comes from our need to vindicate our own self-conceptions. You were probably pretty good at philosophy before graduate school and praised for it. You’ve defended your choice to pursue philosophy to friends and family for so long that they probably have this professorial image of your as a Philosopher. If this is how you conceive of yourself, then just be careful. There is a warm feeling associated with thinking of yourself as ‘a Philosopher,’ and sometimes that warm feeling can lead to quite a lot of stress. You’ve staked yourself out as a philosopher for life, and now you’ve just gone to a program with people that are just as smart at you, and the job prospects are bad for all of you.

My advice: Either don’t define yourself by philosophy or don’t measure your success in philosophy by your job prospects or publication record.

My plea: Please don’t think that those that do not define themselves by philosophy or those that get jobs outside of philosophy are not philosophers. It takes so much dedication to philosophy to even get into graduate school, and it’s all so promising and exciting at the start, that it is easy to discount people that don’t seem as dedicated.

5) The reality of daily life as a philosopher is different from what you might expect. Pay attention to why you’re getting into philosophy and measure that against what the day-to-day life is like for faculty members. If you can’t get enough of the scintillating late-night discussions or the grad lounge where everyone hangs out, recognize that this may not be what having a job is like. If you really like teaching and will do anything to do it, then write that damn bio-ethics paper and get some primary teaching experience! And if you realize that having a job teaching does not match with your goals, then don’t act in bad faith. Don’t do whatever it takes to get a job you may not enjoy just to satisfy your self-conception as a philosopher.

6) To end on a positive note, I will say that I was pleasantly surprised by how much better of a philosopher and a thinker in general I became through graduate school. I came into graduate school thinking I was pretty good. In hindsight, I think I was wrong, but it’s amazing how much the experience of grad school can improve your skills. You can come away from it as a contributing expert in a field that is thousands of years old, and you can have the confidence to be able to learn anything else your heart desires. And that’s pretty cool.Report

Jaded
Jaded
5 years ago

I wish I had known that the job market is hopeless except for those from elite institutions or with amazing connections.Report

Phil
Phil
5 years ago

Here is an observation of (hopefully) a wider interest:
Philosophy is a highly contested and amorphous discipline. There are all sorts of positions one can take on aims and methodology, from which various networks emerge. Those networks vie for power and resources and in the course of those struggles philosophical hierarchies are formed. Some families lose, others end up acceptable but fringe (think about the Pittsburgh-Chicago style approach to mind and meaning), but regrettably there never has and will never be real pluralism.
My advice to incoming graduate students is to make an effort to remain pure in your heart, but also to make yourselves very aware of the trends in your field and the current fortunes of the approach and views with which you are sympathetic.
I recall an open day on which a prospective graduate visiting our program was trying to make friends by bashing our continental philosophers. Don’t do this, or one day you may well be on the receiving end!
On the other hand, expect most philosophers to not be open-minded about your aims and methods. It is outrageous that we are now having polls on analytic metaphysics, as if it were an open question whether it has been an immensely creative and influential field. The fact that nearly half of the respondents refuse to acknowledge the clear value in pursuing a type of approach and will actively advocate curbing it should tell you that your work will get the same reception if it does not give them what they want. Be strategic: make your work connect, hit the right notes, etc.Report

just a data point
just a data point
5 years ago

I had a wonderful time in graduate school, and since then have held positions only in R1 departments. I am male and I went to a so-so (according to the internet) graduate program which was, in hindsight and some experience, a pretty good department.

I think academic careers resemble those of professional athletes, where careers in philosophy are like those in sports that one thinks about only every four years if one thinks about them at all– like curling or springboard diving. An athlete’s career can come to an end at any moment, and nearly all end before middle age. Sure, some go into coaching, but most don’t.Report

Ghost
Ghost
Reply to  just a data point
5 years ago

“I think academic careers resemble those of professional athletes, where careers in philosophy are like those in sports that one thinks about only every four years if one thinks about them at all– like curling or springboard diving. An athlete’s career can come to an end at any moment, and nearly all end before middle age. Sure, some go into coaching, but most don’t.”

I think you’re right. and I think everyone knows this.Report

Ghost
Ghost
Reply to  Ghost
5 years ago

Also, as a former springboard diver who never made it anywhere close to the Olympics and current philosopher who is nowhere close to an R1 job (but still paid enough to live somewhat normally), I can tell you that spending all day springboard diving or philosophizing still beats spending your days doing most other things. So, you know, I’m sure I like you IRL, but whatever.Report

Chris Stephens
Chris Stephens
Reply to  Ghost
5 years ago

Hi Ghost:
I just wanted to mention that I was a springboard diver as well! I didn’t know there were any other philosophers who dove! Say “hello” if I ever run into you at a conference…Report

Ghost
Ghost
Reply to  Chris Stephens
5 years ago

Ugh! But then you’ll know who I am! What a mess! 🙂Report

JK
JK
5 years ago

I’m a 5th-year PhD student. My attitude is:

1. Find interesting questions, dig in, eventually settle on something that you *really* love, and then give yourself the space you need to dedicate yourself to this work. (For me, I need to get out in the world, talk to people, exercise and take an occasional fun trip in order to stay sane and do good work.

2. One can only do about 3 hours of high quality philosophical work/writing in a day. Expect only 1 hour. If you get any more, be grateful. Use the rest of the day on reading/classes/chores/fun. I really only stopped berating myself for not doing more after hearing something similar again and again from philosophers I really respect.

3. Don’t be dumb about the necessary professionalization tasks: go to conferences that matter, publish work that you’re proud of, make sure that the wider community actually cares about your project. But this stuff should take very little *extra* effort. The single most important thing to focus on for the job market is your work, and (hopefully) you’re working on something that you love to work on!

4. It’s okay to get severely depressed/anxious. I didn’t know this early on, but most of us suffer through bad mental health episodes. It helps knowing that you’re not alone.

5. Ignore the doom and gloom talk. I’ve had many “Being a grad student in philosophy is terrible” conversations, and none of them ever made me feel better or helped me in any concrete way. Just keep in mind: selection bias, selection bias, selection bias. Beat this into your brain. So long as you want to give this a go, focus on work that makes you feel alive, and see where that leaves you. No one told you (I hope) that grad school would be easy, but you came here anyway because something inside you made you do it. Nurture whatever it is that got you here in the first place. You should familiarize yourself with “the odds”, but this has very little relevance to what you should be doing day in and day out: committing yourself to working on something you means a lot to you.Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
Reply to  JK
5 years ago

If you can only work 3 hours writing a day, then you need to quit. This isn’t for you!Report

Quitter
Quitter
5 years ago

Quite a lot: I wish I had known that I, a poor southern kid, got myself into this just to prove to everyone that I could do it — not because I love it. I wish I had known what it would feel like to go months without seeing family or feeling my partner’s touch. I wish I had known that that there were other options. I wish I had known I would start smoking again to deal with the stress. I wish I had known what it would be like to lose non-philosophy friends because I simply can’t keep up with them all. I wish I had known what it would be like to have to socialize with academics. I wish I had known that my program’s placement record sucks compared to its ‘rank.’ I wish I had known that I could learn about and do philosophy without getting myself into this. I wish I had known that 5+ years on I would be planning to quit. I wish I had known that I would always feel disconnected from the culture of my department and the profession (alternatively, I wish I had known that academia is still a rich man’s culture, whether academics dress casually or not). I wish I had known that I would face discrimination because I have an accent (even to the point of being mocked in a presentation by a prestigious faculty member). I wish I had known that there is no leaving work at work as a grad student, and that I would have friends making three times as much money as I am who *are* able to work 40hr weeks and leave work at work. I wish I had known that I would want to be married with a family by this point. I wish I had known I couldn’t afford it, timewise or moneywise. I wish I had known the toll this would take on my partner. I wish I had known how little anyone on planet earth besides me cares about what I am doing, will ever feel positive effects of my work, will ever even know my name. I wish I had known that I would come to feel like a burden to everyone I love most and a nuisance to those whose opinions of me “matter.” I wish I had known better the distain that the profession as a whole would have for my family, friends, and culture.

Here’s to burning bridges, cutting ties, and leaving my program at the end of this term. Wish me, and others like me, luck. It’s better to leave early than to leave late, but better to leave late than not at all.Report

Quitter
Quitter
Reply to  Quitter
5 years ago

And more: I wish I had known that students in their third, fourth, and fifth years when I arrived at my program would still be slogging it out right now. I wish I had known that other older students who were, by my lights, amazing philosophers — and whom I emulated — would not, in the end, be able to find any academic employment, in one case even three years out from finishing (and this is, mind you, a Laiterific program). Not even a single, solitary, adjunct position at a community college.Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
Reply to  Quitter
5 years ago

I’m not sure what kinds of good data we have on the philosophy job market. But looking at myself and a few others I know, it seems to me it’s a dead profession.

You’re totally right to leave. If you stayed in, you’d get the PhD and then just fall flat on your face, most likely after wasting years more of your life. I wish I had never done the PhD.

Good move! It takes courage to quite something, but it was the right thing to do.

I think anyone not in a top program should quit. If you’re a women, you can push it a little lower. But the profession is just dead dead dead dead!!!Report

MrPork
MrPork
5 years ago

I wish I had known 5 years ago when I started grad school:

1. How terrible the job market is. I was told it would be better. But it is getting worse.

2. That being said, I wish I had known how important it is to get to a top program. I would spend one or two or even three more years on my writing sample, if that would help me get into a top 10 program. It is totally worth the time. (If you choose a mid-ranked program, you may spend more years struggling in the job market.)

3. I wish I had known that a phd program is not a place for you to learn stuff. It is not where you can take courses, find your interests, and write your dissertation. I took courses because I knew nothing in that area and wanted to learn and see whether I wold be interested. This was stupid.

4. I wish I had known that some my philosophical interests can be developed in other disciplines, like political science, religious studies, East/South Asia studies, film studies, law, public policy, environmental studies, psychology, cognitive science, communication studies, etc. For example, now I think it is a better idea if I chose to apply for a psychology/cognitive science phd. My interest in phil of mind could be guided toward a different direction, but that does not mean that I would not find it interesting. Plus, I would get paid way better in grad school and it would be easier to find a job.Report

recentPhD
recentPhD
5 years ago

I want to weigh in emphasizing, from the perspective of a TT professor whose department has done (comparatively speaking) a lot of hiring in recent years, how much of an advantage it means being a woman or minority these days. My evidence is anecdotal, so do take it only for what it is worth. But in my experience, there is: (1) huge administrative pressure on departments to hire women or minorities; (2) huge peer pressure on departments to hire women or minorities.

I think that white males contemplating grad school should be aware that they will, in addition to all other problems with the profession and the job market, face a substantial additional hurdle when trying to gain permanent employment.Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
Reply to  recentPhD
5 years ago

Oh yea, definitely!Report