What You Wish Someone Had Told You About the Academic Philosophy Job Market


What do you wish you had known about finding a job in academic philosophy, but didn’t, when you were a graduate student preparing to do so?

Given how much the philosophy job market has changed over the past decade or so, in regard to the kinds of positions available, the professional expectations at play, and the various procedures, materials, resources, and technologies involved in job seeking and hiring, it would be especially valuable for those who currently are, or who’ve recently been, on the job market, to share what they’ve learned from their experiences.

At the same time, those who have been employed as academic philosophers for a while may have advice or insights about the job market from a quite different perspective, perhaps one less cluttered with the pressing demands of finding a job but nonetheless useful for how to think about it.

Those who are now or will soon be searching for a career in academic philosophy will no doubt appreciate you sharing your thoughts here. Thanks.

something to stare at for a bit to help you relax


Related: “Profs: What Would You Tell Your Grad Students, But Can’t?“,”How to Talk about the Philosophy Job Market with those on the Market“, “On Campus Visits: A Job Candidate’s Critique,” “Campus Visit Horror Stories

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Matthew Smith
2 years ago

A few things:

1. Cover letters often matter. Indicate in the letter that you are familiar with the advertised needs of the hiring department, that you have tried to learn a bit about the strengths and activities of at least some members of the department, and that you have given some thought to how you might meet those needs and complement those strengths and activities.

2. If you are applying for a teaching job or a teaching-heavy job, try to learn about different forms of pedagogy and indicate that you have begun to train yourself or get trained in these different forms of pedagogy. Straight lecture is not good enough any longer. Do you do group work? Do you flip the classroom? Do you structure your classes so that students generate insights outside the classroom and then bring them in to share? Etc. etc. etc.

3. Grants are starting to matter. Learn about what grants philosophers have recently been getting, what grants are available, and what it takes to get these. You do not need to have tried to secure a grant but it should not be totally unexplored territory for you.

4. Consider actually applying for a grant for a post-doc position. There are lots of really good ones in the UK and the EU. In today’s market I strongly recommend this.

5. Apply for US post-docs.

6. In my experience, the quality of the journal you publish in matters when it comes to making decisions.

7. Alas, co-authored papers often seem to get treated poorly. This is not an argument against doing co-authored papers, but it is an argument in favor of preferring a good single-authored paper over a co-authored paper, at least when still in job-search mode.

8. If you get an interview, and especially if you get an on-campus interview: BE INTERESTED. One of the quickest way to sink your candidacy is to act like you don’t really care if you get the job. Be excited and interested.

9. Also, if you get an on-campus visit and are giving a job talk, consider theb check out what my colleague Liz Bucar wrote in her twitter feed (she’s a social scientist but a lot of this applies directly to us):

https://twitter.com/BucarLiz/status/1096485248785936385

That is all I’ve got for now.Report

JCM
JCM
2 years ago

There’s going to be a lot of “just don’t” but prospective philosophers should take the insistence of this message as its own message, so let me be the first: “just don’t.”

More helpfully: If you’re thinking “Oh I’ll do the Ph.D./Master’s if I get funding and then do something else,” then that’s fine but (a) make damn sure that you do actually get the skills or certifications you’ll need for that something else well in advance of the completion of your degree, and (b) don’t think that your occasional organising of conferences or university teaching will do you any good when applying for a job that requires these sorts of skills (e.g., manager or managerial assistant).

If you do want to go to academia, then don’t underestimate the importance of being skilled up in fashionable or core areas, and don’t underestimate how much you need to know about these areas in order to count them as areas of teaching/research competence. If your main area is say medieval philosophy and you want to have an area of competence in logic for hiring purposes, then fine and indeed this is crucial if you want to be able to apply to more than one or two jobs per year: but every hiring department will also be seeing candidates whose area of *specialty* is logic, and so you’re going to have to be seriously tooled up if you’re to take them on.

Don’t apply to absolutely everything. The labour that goes into writing applications is enormous, even when you’ve got your pool of cover letters, research proposals (your 1000-word one, your 4000-word one including previous research, your 3-page one, your…), etc., on hand. If the job is a very long shot, you’re better off conserving that energy to be able to do a better job in other applications, or just to pay rent and be good to those you care about.

This advice is not the most obvious, but it’s things that I didn’t hear when I was going through the system, so hopefully it’ll fill some advice gaps. Would be curious to hear if it sounds rubbish to others, because I might not be the expert here

My story: Got the Ph.D. in 2016, spent a year on the job market, got a few interviews but nothing more, now I’m out of academia.Report

driftinCowboy
driftinCowboy
Reply to  JCM
2 years ago

Can you share what you’re doing now? It might also be helpful to hear about alternative career paths (that don’t require going to law school).Report

ehz
ehz
Reply to  driftinCowboy
2 years ago

It would be interesting and maybe instructive to hear from some who went on to other careers after completing their PhD. Maybe Justin could ask readers to share their stories in a separate post?Report

JCM
JCM
Reply to  driftinCowboy
2 years ago

I think ehz is right; I’ll say something in that post. The short answer, though, is that I’m still reeling from not having adequate backups in place.Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  driftinCowboy
2 years ago

I’m currently in the later years of my PhD program, and I’ve been doing some significant non-academic preparation in the past few years. Before grad school I dabbled in programming, but nothing serious, and took only an intro class in college. During graduate school I worked through MIT’s intro to computation through their open courseware, absolutely loved it, and then went on to taking online courses I found interesting. I’ve now learned a bit of machine learning, deep learning, NLP and am now slowing starting to get to the point where I can read, understand, and apply some of the latest research in the field. I spend maybe 2 or so hours a day on this, and more on the weekends. I work on philosophy the rest of the time. Depending on what I want to do I might have to do a 1 year masters before I start working, but we’ll see.

A lot of tech fields are quite accessible by online learning. In the past few years there has been an explosion of online learning platforms–coursera, edX, udacity, udemy and other online MOOCs. Some universities even post video lectures, assignments and exams all online. That being said, you do need to do a *lot* of work to be in a position to get a job after online learning. But it’s doable.

I don’t think I would give the blanket advice ‘don’t go to graduate school’ like Run Away below. Some of my cohort are well suited to land some kind of job in philosophy and be happy about it. And good for them! But not all of us. I don’t value a career in philosophy enough that I would move anywhere in the country for it. I also don’t think I’m particularly good enough at it to be very successful. But I have no regrets going to graduate school–I love philosophy, and I look forward to spending the rest of my life reading and thinking about philosophy, free from the stress of making it a career, and on a level of enjoyment which I could not have achieved had I not gone to graduate school. Report

RMK
RMK
Reply to  JCM
2 years ago

I am not an expert either, but I think your advice about philosophy grads planning for or pursuing non-academic jobs is spot on, and not rubbish at all! Indeed, I actually recently made the decision to leave my PhD program (in the 5th year) before finishing to pursue a non-academic career, and both of your points about getting extra skills/experience/certification/etc. and not simply relying on conference organization/teaching were absolutely things that I wish I had thought about (or been told) earlier.
I will say that the experience one gets in a philosophy grad program, including the organizing, administrative/committee, and teaching experience, can certainly be utilized on your resume/cover letter, and especially in interviews. These help with situational/behavioral questions and, along with standard skills acquired like time management, critical thinking, communication, etc., help to cover the “cross-functional” skills that most employers are looking for. But you are absolutely right that for many jobs this will not be enough, and some type of certification, internship, or what have you is at least incredibly helpful if not necessary for being competitive. Even having been to some classes or 1-/2-day seminars on some industry-relevant topic is looked at very positively by employers.
Anyhow, I just wanted to second your advice for those thinking about non-academic jobs. And given how tough the job market has become, especially for those in programs that are not (or not so highly) ranked, I suspect many have at least thought about this. It’s a completely reasonable and worthwhile option to consider. But, as you say, the right preparation is crucial. Report

Run Away
Run Away
2 years ago

Justin asks, “What do you wish you had known about finding a job in academic philosophy, but didn’t, when you were a graduate student preparing to do so?”

Answer: That it is very unlikely that you will land a stable tenure-track position, even if you are open to working in various kinds of jobs and you are a good candidate for various kinds of jobs.

I echo JCM’s comment above. The academic job market has been a major causal factor in ruining my mental health. I would advise any current graduate student to spend a significant amount of time during graduate school developing skills that are useful outside of academia. I know that in my graduate school, I could take any classes I wanted throughout the university for free. Now, I wish I had taken more. So do that, if it’s an option. Then, I would advise pursuing non-academic work just as hard as you pursue academic work when you first go on the academic job market. I think that I would have been happier if I had taken a non-academic position right after finishing the Ph.D., if it entailed that I didn’t have to do the academic job market year after year. I would also advise any potential graduate student to *not* go to graduate school in philosophy, unless you are independently wealthy.

(Background: Ph.D. between 2014-2016; have worked two temporary positions; landed a “tenure-track” position last job market cycle and was almost immediately laid off; at least 30 first round interviews total, 10 flyouts total, at colleges of various types.)Report

Peter Alward
Peter Alward
2 years ago

1. Maybe this is obvious (although it wasn’t obvious to me at the time), but be prepared to discuss a project you plan to be working on for the next few years, even if your real plan is to mine your dissertation for papers. Moreover, the plan should be distinct from your dissertation topic, so you’re not reinventing your own wheel, but related, so you’re not starting from scratch.

2. Many philosophers are, er, em, quirky, so be psychologically prepared for “unexpected” responses to what you take to be uncontroversial claims (such as outrage at the suggestion that in a critical thinking course you might emphasize the application of techniques to cases rather than focusing just on the techniques themselves). Report

Jon Light
Jon Light
2 years ago

1. It’s a lot less meritocratic than you think. “Diversity” hires play a significant part in this (e.g., the hiring of candidates with demonstrably inferior publications).

2. Departments are almost all weird and idiosyncratic. There’s backstories, politics, Deans, etc. Those features drive hiring and culture a lot.

3. If you’re doing anything other than applied ethics, the chances of you getting a job are really low.

4. Ditto on comments re: grants above. Places care less than ten years ago what the acceptance rates of you journals are and more about extramural funding.

5. What are your interdisciplinary synergies? What other departments/units do you want to collaborate with? You can’t just (only) sit in your office, write papers about metaphysics, and think that’s gonna work.

6. Do your research. We find so many candidates disqualifying for not even bothering to figure out literally anything about the department. Look at course offerings, interests of colleagues, etc., and have a story to tell why this is the right job for you. Your (viable) competition will.

7. Think about cost of living, especially housing prices. Jobs in the south/midwest pay “double” the coasts if you actually do the math. You might think California is your dream job, but it probably isn’t.Report

driftinCowboy
driftinCowboy
Reply to  Jon Light
2 years ago

I really don’t understand your number 6. What kind of story do you have in mind? I once got the “how would you fit in in our department?” question and was completely baffled. How am I supposed to know that even if I know what courses are offered there?Report

Jon Light
Jon Light
Reply to  driftinCowboy
2 years ago

Like what are the holes you fill? What are the strengths you fortify? What would be your ideas for future directions of the department (e.g., we hire you, what areas should we hire next)? If the website says there’s an undergraduate philosophy club and you ask if there’s an undergraduate philosophy club, that’s not great. What is it about the city that’s attractive to you? If there are other things of interest (medical school, law school, whatever), be prepped to say something about it. Otherwise it looked like you just spammed applications and just took this call because it’s a job, not because it’s a job you really want. (Even if former, try to pitch latter.)Report

Matt
Reply to  Jon Light
2 years ago

If there are other things of interest (medical school, law school, whatever), be prepped to say something about it.

In my experience, this can sometimes be tricky, especially (but not only) if you have dual credentials, as there are still a good number of philosophers who will think you “don’t really want to do philosophy” if you say you’re interested in making connections with the med school, computer science, the business school, etc. (Some philosophers also have completely false ideas about how easy it is to move to, say, a med school or law school from a philosophy dept., and so think you would leave, even if it’s hard to do so.) So, I don’t at all reject this advice – I think it’s mostly good – but if you can, try to see if it’s likely to be seen as a plus in a particular department or not, ideally by asking someone or having others ask for you, or if you can’t do that, by looking to see if there are existing interdisciplinary connections or the like, which might suggest that new or further ones would be welcome. Report

N
N
2 years ago

Here’s a fun one I’d bring into the time machine: the fancy philosophers you’re getting letters from might be giving you next-to-worthless letters, even if those letters say nice things. Here’s why: the fancy people are often external committee members for up to a dozen PhDs at other institutions, people working in your sub-field. And since those other PhDs will also be applying to the same jobs, the fact that your letter is the 5th best out of 14 letters means it’s worth a lot less than you thought. In my case, it was much better to have letters from lesser known people who knew me well and who weren’t necessarily being asked to write a ton of letters.Report

A Recent PhD
A Recent PhD
2 years ago

You probably won’t get a tenure-track job. Let me say that again. YOU probably won’t get a tenure-track job. Yes, YOU. And you need to actually believe this. I said I believed it when I started my PhD. But deep down I had too much optimism that I would beat the odds and get a good job. I was naive and thought, “Well, I’m going to get a job because I’m going to work my ass off to be a competitive candidate.” Unfortunately, that’s a necessary, but not sufficient condition for getting a job. You need to be a top candidate and you need some luck. You might be a very impressive philosopher and teacher. That’s great. But there are more impressive philosophers and teachers on the market than there are jobs. I have seen incredibly talented, hard-working friends go on the market for several years and not get a secure job. You almost certainly need luck to get a tenure-track job.

Also, learn about pedagogy and develop your teaching skills. This means more than just “get teaching experience.” If you’re at a decent PhD program, then there’s a good chance that most everyone there is concerned about research. And they’re training you to be a researcher. Unfortunately, if you get a job, it probably won’t be one where you’re a researcher first and a teacher second. Instead, most schools have significant teaching loads and they want to know that you actually care about teaching and have thought about pedagogy. I was able to get a lot of teaching *experience* while doing my PhD, but I had virtually no teaching training or education. So I found myself underprepared to answer in-depth questions about pedagogy during interviews.

(Sorry to be such a downer. But I think we need to do a better job training our PhDs to be teachers and really hammering home the point about the state of the job market.)Report

Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan
Reply to  A Recent PhD
2 years ago

I don’t know about philosophy in particular, but I’ve been researching this issue lately, and here the general statistics for PhD students. Of 100 randomly selected but representative people starting any PhD program in any field, around 50 will get a PhD. Of that 50, around 12-13 will eventually get a tenure-track job. About half of these will be at nominally research-oriented universities. Another 6-7 will get a long-term non-TT job, such as lecturer, instructor, or teaching professor. Report

Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan
Reply to  Jason Brennan
2 years ago

Addendum: What does that mean for an individual? Well, not much. A person with 3 top-level publications coming out of MIT economics has something like a 95% chance of getting a TT job at a top econ program. A person coming out of the 128th ranked English department has something like a 0% chance of getting a long-term job. Report

JK
JK
Reply to  Jason Brennan
2 years ago

Odds of a person coming out of a low Leiter ranked school with like 10 good (not great) placed publications?Report

Caligula's Goat
Caligula's Goat
2 years ago

I think that although Jon Light’s #1 holds a certain truth, it’s definitely not the one he thinks. That truth is this: Unless you are applying to an R1 with a strong PhD program, research is neither the only thing that matters nor is it often the most important qualification you are assessed for.

Light seems to say that research is what defines your worth as a candidate, and maybe it does at his institution, or at least in his eyes, but it definitely isn’t the case at my university (a fairly highly ranked SLAC) even though my department has somewhat high research requirements. My department has made a tt hire every year for the last five years and so I think I speak with at least some experience, from the hiring side, of what the current market, and current candidates, are like. NONE of our top choice candidates were the candidate with the “most” or even the “best placed” publications. All of top choice candidates *had* at least one publication but it isn’t surprising if a candidate with a single publication is rated above another with six (even if those six are in Nous, Synthese, etc etc).

This doesn’t mean that we were choosing inferior candidates in the name of diversity. That’s bullshit and bad advice (Light, your department might genuinely have this problem – or you might – but it’s definitely not a safe generalization across the board). In our case, we’re choosing the best candidates (and are happy to get them!) but ‘best’ in our case means having or being:

1. A track record of publishing that shows that you can get tenure at our university
2. A track record of excellent teaching that shows that you can attract students to the major and minor
3. A research project that we judge to be useful for the department and its current needs
4. Collegiality
5. The ability to communicate to non-experts why your research is practically useful (this doesn’t necessarily mean applied ethics – fwiw – but it is something our department believes strongly in)

So, applicants out there, I’d like you to take a few things to heart in my comment here. First, every department is unique. Not all departments view publications as the only, or even the best, qualification for the job (even at universities like mine where research demands are fairly high). Second, and this is something that genuinely depresses me about academic job markets, is that excellent candidates will not get tenure track jobs. Excellent candidates might not land any jobs. The market is simply too saturated with excellent candidates. Form backup plans early and reinforce them often. Third, soft skills (i.e., teaching and communication skills, reading a room, being kind and generous with time and demonstrating care and concern toward colleagues and students) are far more important than we are trained to believe. Report

Jon Light
Jon Light
Reply to  Caligula's Goat
2 years ago

I don’t disagree with a lot of this–and yes, I am at a research heavy place–but it’s hard to see how a new PhD could have done (1) and (2) yet, and (4) is a pretty squishy catch-all to basically pick whatever candidates you like (i.e., it cuts against meritocracy). Like “Oh, we picked *her* because she was more collegial, even though *he* had better publications.” At that stage, it’s just completely black-boxed whatever that could actually mean, if anything. Committees then get to re-cast diversity hires in pseudo-objective language.

On the other, CDJ showed female hires have, on average, one fewer publication than males. There are interesting questions about what that means, some of which trade on median/mean, so I don’t want to make bald claims. But I’ll just note that finding didn’t distinguish between teaching and research positions, so I still think my claim (plausibly) generalizes and isn’t limited to research positions. Women have also been shown, on average, to get more interviews. It’s hard to think of a completely meritocratic criterion that’d underwrite that fact. (N.B., I’m not against diversifying the profession. At all. But I think we should be more honest/transparent about it.) .

I do take your point, though–and never denied–that hiring evaluations are holistic. And appropriately so. Thanks for amplifying that.Report

A.
A.
Reply to  Jon Light
2 years ago

I don’t get how it’s hard for a recent PhD to have done (1) and (2). I had done (1) and (2) by the time I was ABD and I know lots of other people that had. I think many people who got hired even more than 10 years ago don’t know how common it is for grad students to adjunct. And, of course, publish at the same time. And, we would need stats on this, but if women have 1 less publication but have taught 1 more course on average..that would be enough to explain things. Most jobs aren’t research jobs. Report

Lauren
Lauren
Reply to  Jon Light
2 years ago

On the diversity issue, I’ll just say this: my department has hired two positions recently, and we brought out equal numbers of men and women overall between the two searches. Given demographics in philosophy, that does mean women were overrepresented in the campus visits (I don’t remember if they also were in initial interviews or not). But here’s the thing: the women we brought to campus were, on the whole, so much more impressive than the men—not necessarily in quantity of articles or classes taught, but in how they talked about their research and teaching and in the teaching demos and research talks (my department officially weights research and teaching equally). And, honestly, I care less about how many articles you’ve published and more about how thoughtfully you can engage in philosophical discourse, so claims about total number of articles published don’t do much to move the needle for me unless someone has published nothing at all. My department is not one where there is a shared agreement that we should care about increasing diversity, but we were all in agreement that the female candidates in our searches were, overall, just more impressive. Again, it’s not that we won’t hire men or that they have a higher bar (the two hires right before me were both white men), but rather that I think that, to succeed in a discipline that is male-dominated, women (on average) have to be more impressive. If that’s the case, then it’s not surprising that we had the results we did. And, at least in our case, the only institutional “push” for diversity we received was a question about why we ranked one of our male minority candidates so low; we explained and it went away.Report

Englander
Englander
2 years ago

Often, people on search committees will idly look at the applications that have been submitted and develop preferences long before the deadline. So if you can, get your application in long before the deadline.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Englander
2 years ago

Some people have too much time on their hands.Report

Englander
Englander
Reply to  David Wallace
2 years ago

No doubt! But it’s a tempting form of procrastination.Report

R1philo
R1philo
2 years ago

Academia’s not a meritocracy–so don’t approach your time in graduate school as if it were. Although you can’t control your demographics, you can control your pedigree and your personal contacts. Get into and attend the very best graduate program you can (as ranked by Leiter), and network, network, network. Having another paper in a top journal is not going to help you get a TT job. Having a friend on the search committee just might. Be smart about how you devote your time.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
2 years ago

One quick observation: The length of time people will spend reading your application, at least initially, is way less than you expect. As a model, suppose that a Search Committee member has two full work days, i.e. 16 hours, to spend on assessment. (This is implausibly high.) And suppose that they are assessing 160 applications. (This is implausibly low.) That’s 6 minutes per application. Your application is probably 60 pages long. By the time the SC member has read your cover letter, skip-read your references to get an overall sense, dug through your CV to find your publication record, glanced at your WS abstract, and maybe read your conclusion and looked at a random page or two, that 6 minutes is up. Put your application together with this in mind: make sure that the key things are going to get noticed, even by someone in a hurry.

(As and when you get to the shortlist, people will read your application carefully, so this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take care with all of it.)
Report

Second-year job candidate
Second-year job candidate
2 years ago

Early on in grad school, I was told that being on the job market was extremely draining and demoralizing. Initially, I wrote some of these comments off as alarmist. I wish I hadn’t. Unless your research or your racial/sexual identity is underrepresented in the field, you should seriously consider forgoing the academic job market entirely, especially if you have an underlying mental health condition. This past year, I’ve been on the academic and nonacademic job markets, and I’ve received in-person interviews in both domains. Even with that relative success, the academic job market has strained my relationships with others and, in many ways, made me a worse person (only temporarily, I hope). That’s not to say you absolutely shouldn’t pursue academic employment—everyone’s story is different—but it is to say that you should take the so-called alarmists seriously. Know what lies ahead, and steel yourself.Report

Scaffolder
Scaffolder
2 years ago

I wish someone had told me that the job market would STILL be emotionally horrific EVEN IF I were to end up successful. I can say that the job market is emotionally horrific even when you end up successful because this happened to me. It is a time of deep anxiety, competitiveness, depression, and loneliness.

The job market can be emotionally horrific even when you end up successful because:

(1) it is a lot of work to apply to jobs, so it requires you to pull away from other things you love doing for a while in order to just do your best on the market;
(2) some people will be awful to you on and off the internet, even if you are (or sometimes especially when you are) successful;
(3) you are constantly evaluating yourself, and it’s easy to forget you have many more dimensions of worth unrelated to your work in this field; and
(4) your friends and family outside academia may not understand what you are going through—even when they mean the best and want to be supportive, they can end up saying or doing things that are ultimately more stressful (e.g. insisting that you really will get a job and they just can’t believe you won’t).

I’m sure there are more reasons, but it’s tiring just listing these.

My best advice: put many mental health structures in place before you launch in. Identify the friends/family who will really let you talk things out in a way that helps for you. Get a counselor and a psychiatrist. Get a workout buddy. Plan a couple of non-negotiable fun things (a weekend trip away, for example). Identify your worst stresses from other areas of your life and minimize them, if possible. If there are things you know work as a mental ‘reset’ button for you (a hike, a board game night, a massage, whatever) then plan those ahead of time and commit to ‘resetting’ ahead of time.
Report

Run Away
Run Away
Reply to  Scaffolder
2 years ago

This is a really good post. Luckily, when I was (relatively) successful, I didn’t have to deal with (2), but (1), (3), and (4) resonate with me. And I would emphasize to soon-to-be job marketeers: you will probably have to deal with (1), (2), and (4) for more than one year. I also agree that you should get a therapist *before you think you need one*. That would have really helped me out.Report

Sophie
Sophie
2 years ago

A couple thoughts:
– It really matters that you have a distinctive research agenda. Having publications is great, and having publications in top journals is of course even better. But committees want to know what your distinctive contribution to philosophy is going to be. You really need to be able to tell a cohesive and original story about the overall aims of your research.
– Breadth often helps with originality. People who combine research from different areas of philosophy or perhaps even other disciplines have an easier time explaining what’s original and distinctive about their research.
– The job search is an incredibly *long* process. You should start working on your materials the spring before you go on the market, and if you are lucky you have a job by February or March the year after. That’s almost a whole year in which your thought and emotions are dominated by the job search. Make sure you start that process reasonably happy and healthy (mentally and physically), and take adequate self-care measures throughout.
– I second the views of others re: the importance of teaching qualifications, generally friendly and caring manners, and connections. Committees often don’t just want to hire a great philosophers, they also want to hire a colleague who will make their lives more pleasant.

I am writing this as someone who just finishing my first round on the job market.
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Terminator
Terminator
2 years ago

I didn’t get this advice from anyone in particular, so I’ll state it here: whether you’re an undergrad to ABD, make sure you have *something* to fall back on in terms of a marketable skill-set. Learn to code, analyze data, whatever. Audit stats classes, take a design course, it doesn’t matter as long as you can build a respectable resume from it. And don’t expect your department to help you with the transition from the academy to industry. I’ve found most academics are often completely ignorant (which is understandable!) about transferable skills. Learn how to write a resume for industry. Read Karen L. Kelsky’s ‘The Professor Is In’ for help and advice on how to make the transition.

I’m 1.5 years into my PhD (well ranked institution by phil gourmet), and I’ve decided to terminate with a M.A. The job prospects are woeful and I know I can’t complete with people who are 1) at more competitive schools, 2) have a geographic advantage of being nearby other elite institutions, or 3) are just lucky to be independently wealthy to attend workshops and conferences to network.

Nowadays, unless you are *very* lucky, chances are that life outside the academy is going to be a lot better than life within it.Report

M
M
2 years ago

I wish someone would’ve told me that *many* people from the very top programs, with stellar publications and wide ranging teaching experience, can still struggle at first to (and may never) get a TT job. And this could be you. There are just far too many excellent people out there, and far too few jobs, plus weird reasons why people get hired over others.
And also this: when you’re applying for TT jobs right out of grad school, you end up competing for a lot of jobs with tons of people who already got their first jobs (sometimes postdocs) just 1-4 or so years before you, as well as those who are applying as lateral moves, etc. I guess I had this (false) impression that when applying for junior positions, you were mainly competing with other people who are coming out of grad school. But it’s not just them, you’re competing with every postdoc, VAP who might apply, plus TT faculty up for tenure soon, plus lots of recently hired TT faculty looking to move laterally or just negotiate a better deal. (And they’re mostly viewed as stronger applicants than you are, sometimes purely in virtue of having already landed a first job.)Report

Sophie
Sophie
2 years ago

Another thing I wish I had known beforehand is the toll an academic career is going to take on your personal relationships. You will most likely not have a choice between jobs, but can count yourself very lucky if you get just one job. You can either stay single through grad school, or you need to find a partner who is (a) extremely flexible and (b) very committed to you. It is hard for anybody to find a partner who checks both boxes, but it seems especially hard for women. It is not just your career that’s precarious, your personal relationships also remain sort of provisional and precarious until you find a job. Since people often don’t land jobs, if they land jobs, until they are well into their 30s, that means that any serious partner search and family planning is put off until then as well. Report

Lauren
Lauren
Reply to  Sophie
2 years ago

And even if you get super-lucky (as I feel, particularly as a woman) to have a super-committed partner who is willing to move wherever for you, there is still the guilt of asking someone to commit to following you around and maybe spend time in places where they might find having a fulfilling professional life difficult. Report

Um
Um
2 years ago

Consider ahead of time how much time you will spend looking at job wikis and philosophy blogs related to the market while in the process of active applying / waiting to hear back. I think this varies from person to person, but I recommend limiting your contact with these sites to the occasional or infrequent look (obviously, you want to check job announcement sites with some regularity). Consider not looking at job wikis at all (unless you get a response, as reporting this to others may help them).

I have seen first-hand how the constant review of wikis and job sites generates anxiety that wrecks individuals.Report

Andrew Moon
Reply to  Um
2 years ago

I like this advice. When I was on the market (for 8 years), I stayed off the job wikis almost entirely. I think that was good for me. Also, if you worry about missing important information, you can ask a friend or colleague to let you know if anything important for you comes up.

I’d normally only check philjobs once a week.Report

a candidate
a candidate
2 years ago

Flipping the script somewhat, I offer the following advice to hiring departments: asking candidates to prepare unique materials is morally pernicious–be they special formatting of familiar research, teaching, etc. materials, or be they an insistence that every cover letter contain a well-researched, appealing, and fleshed out story about how This Is The Right School For Me (seeing that advice repeatedly given to job-seekers above is the occasion for this comment–I agree that it is prudent to write up such stories, but do not want it to go unremarked that this is a symptom of a morally gross state of affairs).

Candidates must prepare from dozens to hundreds of such applications. It takes time. It takes them MUCH MORE time than it takes you to do the reviewing. They also have a vanishing chance at most positions to which they apply, and most times those specially formatted documents will not even make a whit of difference (given that most searches seem to start with a substantial cut before any serious reading is even done). But they must write them over and over anyway.

Furthermore, and I’ve not seen this much remarked on, the act of coming up with a “pitch” for yourself–how you fit into the department so well, how your strengths match their students, etc. and whatever–involves coming up with some story that convinces ~oneself~ that life at such-and-such school would be idyllic. This then aggravates the emotional weight of each rejection. They didn’t even call me back? Even though (as I convinced myself) it would have been so great there?

Whatever real concerns about particular fit there are, they could be addressed at a later–perhaps “long list”–stage in the application process. Or just in interviews. Requiring it up front pushes a bunch of emotionally damaging and utterly pointless work onto people who already have more than enough of that.

And finally: could you please stop e-mailing me (failed job seeker that I am) notifications that my candidacy isn’t moving forward months after that’s already been made clear by the passage of time? It was shitty that you ghosted me in the first place. But then, after I had some time to process and move past it, you reminded me all over again by sending me a form letter out of the blue expressing your ~regretful, but sincere best wishes.~ I think the best of these was one I received literally a year and a half after applying. Thanks for the update! These regretful best wishes sure do feel sincere. Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  a candidate
2 years ago

At least at R1 institutions, the idea of individualizing your cover letter is overblown. I don’t really care why you think USC in particular is a uniquely good fit for you, because realistically you’re applying to lots of places and will have to write something for all of them. (I guess if you *actually* have some amazing USC-specific reason, e.g. your partner lives in Los Angeles, that’s different, but even that is unlikely to make much difference except at a very late stage.)

However (and this ties to my earlier point) your cover letter is a major opportunity to foreground information that will otherwise risk being lost in your application. It’s the two-paragraph elevator pitch about why your research is interesting and where you see it going in the next few years, the one-paragraph elevator pitch about your teaching, and the chance to pull out any other key interesting features. Furthermore, relatively few jobs are completely open AOS/AOC, so the cover letter is the place that you put your explanation that you do indeed fit the institution-specific requirements. (e.g., “yes, I can teach X, because although I haven’t done it I have a long-term interest explored in my research and my teaching of Y”).

So I think you can probably do fine *at least for R1 applications* if you write a generic cover letter, and then just tailor it to specific places insofar as you make sure you address their particular requirements. I can’t speak for other institutions.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  David Wallace
2 years ago

Actually, just as a qualifier to this: I do agree that there’s no real reason why institutions can’t standardize on an agreed length of research statement and teaching statement; it’s a waste of time to have to prepare lots of different-length ones. That said, SCs really don’t care (or probably even remember) about what the requirements are, so I doubt you need to worry about matching them too exactly.Report

Steve
Steve
2 years ago

I appreciate the comment above that it may seem unreasonable to expect candidates to craft a cover letter but the demand needs to be read in light of David Wallace’s point – I’ve been on lots of search committees; there’s not much time for an initial sift of the files and the cover letter is incredibly useful in helping me form a judgment of the candidate. I would also note that there seems to be an odd cultural difference, worth knowing about, beteeen the UK and US. For some reason, there seems to be a convention in the US that references ‘locate’ students’ work within the literature, and, as a result, candidates don’t do that in their cover letter. (So, the cover letter says ‘my dissertation showed why we should hold the KK principle’ and the reference says something like ‘x’s work concerns this really fundamental topic, taking sides against Williamson. The big issue here is…’). Increasingly UK institutions don’t take up references until the shortlisting stage, however. What that means is that anyone reading the letter who isn’t au fait with your neck of the woods finds it hard to figure out why your research is interesting. I’ve seen this pattern a lot, and I’d be really careful of it – for one thing, it sets off alarm bells about your teaching if even (some members of) the panel have to head to google to understand why your research is important Report

Michel
Michel
2 years ago

I wish I’d known earlier just how hard it is to get *non*-tenure-track work, from VAPs to sessional/adjunct positions. Everyone slways makes it sound like an easy–if crappy and potentially dangerous–fallback, but it turns out that those jobs are hard to come by, too.

Maybe it’s easier if you’re American/in the US. But damn, it isn’t easy, even if you apply all over the world.Report

Iprefernotto
Iprefernotto
2 years ago

My advice: go to grad school in psychology, education or math/computer science depending on your undergrad background and strengths. (As a rough guide: Traditional analytic —psychology; Continental— education; hard core formal logic— math/CS).

A psychology dept I know of got leas than 20 (yes, 20!) applications for a TT position last year. It has two grad programs offering ma, PhD and certifications. I don’t have any anecdotes for math or education, but I expect they are more like that than the insane numbers in our field — and they are way more transferable to jobs outside academy

If you are already in a philosophy program, visit those other departments, see about taking classes with one of them (esp if you will need pre-reqs) building towards applying and moving over there (you might keep that under your hat for a while).
Report

Marcus Arvan
Reply to  Iprefernotto
2 years ago

Just a quick note about psychology, so that people aren’t misled. The job market in some areas of psychology (clinical, cognitive) is very bad: I’ve heard it’s pretty similar to philosophy. There are only a few areas of psychology where the job market is like what you describe (I-O Psychology). Anyone considering a psychology PhD as an alternative should be aware of these differences.Report

Pete Murray
Pete Murray
Reply to  Marcus Arvan
2 years ago

Hello Marcus. I’d like to share my partner’s experience. She has her PhD in clinical psych. As opposed to PsyD’s and other degrees, clinical psych PhD’s offer greater flexibility. She says that there are three basic work areas one can pursue with a clinical psych PhD: research, teaching, and clinical work (i.e. therapy). Most people assemble careers where they do (mainly) 2 of the 3. She has found much greater flexibility finding employment than has been typical for me (I have a PhD in philosophy) because of the variety of options available to her. I assume you are correct with regard to the academic job market, but thought the above might provide helpful context.Report

A.
A.
Reply to  Marcus Arvan
2 years ago

It might be bad in academia – but if you do clinical and want to be a therapist the non-academic market is great. There is a huge undersupply of therapists, especially therapists with PhDs.Report

Danny Weltman
2 years ago

One piece of advice that I did get (more than once!) but which I think bears repeating is that there are very few universal truths, especially when it comes to what your cover letter/CV/whatever should be. Everyone has different ideas about this, including even people on the same hiring committee, such that one person will think your letter should have X, another thinks it should have ~X, and a third doesn’t read cover letters and thus does not care. This does not mean that anything goes, but to some extent it is maybe not worth freaking out about writing the perfect application for each job, because this is impossible. There are multiple incompatible criteria and you can never know which are the most relevant for any given job.Report

Andrew Moon
Reply to  Danny Weltman
2 years ago

I like this. At some point, I had to distinguish those bits of advice that nearly everybody seemed to agree on, from those bits of advice about which I got conflicting advice. I made sure to stick to advice everybody agreed on, and then just go with my own best judgment (or gut) on the conflicting advice.Report

Adam Omelianchuk
2 years ago

I wish someone would have told me about how much time I would consume doing data entry for an institution’s HR department — filling out ridiculous online applications. It’s so redundant given that I have already painstakingly put most of what they are looking for on my CV. Yes, I realize they need to ask me about my disability status and whatnot, but I have spent many a mornings filling out the same job/education history crap over and over. This is even true in the age of LinkedIn! Not super helpful to the discussion, I realize. More on the topic of “What I wish job searchers knew.” Report

JTD
JTD
2 years ago

In the lead up to going on the market a few years ago I had a good sense of how difficult things were going to be given the large number of high quality candidates and small number of jobs. However, I did underestimate what this might mean in terms of my experience as a job candidate interacting with various academics considering employing me. I assumed that a spirit of mutual respect would prevail; that I would be viewed as a fellow scholar and treated with some basic level of decency and respect. What I found is that this held true for about 80% of the academics I interacted with (in fact about 20% went out of their way to be especially kind and welcoming). However, about 20% of the academics I interacted with treated me in a very different way. They appeared to see the great power imbalance between us as an opportunity for them to act with impunity, to be unkind, disrespectful, belittling, and exploitative. Their attitude seemed to be: “You desperately need this job opportunity so what are you going to do about it if I am nasty towards you or make unreasonable demands”. (I am not going to share my horror stories but they are pretty bad).

There will always be a minority of mean people around whatever profession or circumstances one finds oneself in. However, in an unbalanced job market various checks and balances that limit the damage they can do or allow you to protect yourself are diminished. For example, in a more balanced job market you might walk away from a job opportunity, or even a job interview if the person you are interacting with crosses a certain line because you know that another job opportunity (even if it is far less attractive in other respects) will probably come up and preserving your dignity is more important than landing your first-choice job. However, when you know that this might be the only job opportunity you ever get then you tend to accept these lines being crossed and suck it up. Likewise, in a more balanced job-market you might consider making a formal complaint about the bad behavior of a professor who clearly violated their institution’s code of conduct during your campus visit. However, in an imbalanced market you worry that this might hurt your very limited prospects. Finally, in a more balanced job market someone who behaves in these bad ways will probably at some point get chided by their colleagues, especially if it turns out that their behavior leads a good candidate to turn down an offer and results in a clearly less quality hire. However, when there are dozens of outstanding candidates all desperate for the job, the chance of bad behavior having this result is very low.

So, the upshot is that I wished I had realized that this dynamic was at play and then better prepared myself for it. Dealing with all the other stressful and emotionally taxing aspects of the bad job-market is already very difficult. But adding to this experiences where you have to trade off your dignity against your employment prospects makes it doubly so. Report

2ndr
2ndr
Reply to  JTD
2 years ago

I strongly second this. Report

Pete Murray
Pete Murray
2 years ago

I wish that I had been advised to consider community colleges. After several adjunct positions and then landing a full-time (continuing,, not tenure track) position at a four-year liberal arts college, I found that I enjoyed the craft of teaching philosophy. As with many of us, pedagogy was not emphasized in my PhD program, though I am very grateful to my program for helping me to become a much, much better philosopher. As I learned to be a more effective teacher, I found that I loved teaching.

I’m now employed at a community college and, assuming all goes well, I will earn tenure at the beginning of the fall semester. I love this job. I encounter students from widely varying backgrounds. Some are headed for top undergraduate institutions to finish their BAs, some are returning veterans, some are trying to recover from lives gone astray, and others are there just for interest’s sake. It’s an incredible opportunity to have all of these perspectives at the same time in the same classroom.

To help, and to challenge, students from such widely varying backgrounds all at the same time has required me to focus a lot of energy on my teaching practice. I don’t have the bandwidth to invest much time and energy in research, although working with advanced students does help me to keep abreast of developments in the field. Still, that’s a genuine cost, and one I think it is worth taking into account.

Some, I believe, think of community college work as a lower-tier form of employment. Those folks are of course welcome to their view but I emphatically disagree. It’s not precisely the same kind of work but it is satisfying and as valuable to our students as we are willing to make it.Report

Animal Symbolicum
Animal Symbolicum
Reply to  Pete Murray
2 years ago

Hear, hear.

I get “that look” all too often when I tell colleagues at academic conferences that I teach at a community college. I’m viewed as some sort of failure. I’m viewed this way, of course, because of our profession’s idolization of the journal article — as if the only point of doing philosophy is to luxuriate in technicalities, score dialectical points, and pretend to have discovered a “result.” Instilling philosophical curiosity in a future police officer or bringing a military veteran to reflect in a disciplined way on her circumstances are deemed less valuable than “making a contribution to the literature.”

Thankfully — but without the help of my department, of course — I realized early on that the value of writing and publishing philosophy is properly parasitic on the value of bringing someone to understand something. This made me see that too much journal philosophy is pathological, insofar as understanding is not the aim. (Witness, for example, the unquestioned shibboleths and vocabularies, the fetishization of tactical maneuvers, the responses to responses to responses to responses to . . . .) Not only did this focus my energies and revivify my teaching, it enlivened my writing and research, in at least two ways.

First, a classroom full of students who are sacrificing a lot in order to educate themselves forces me to hit a sweet spot where vivid memorability, reasonable accessibility, and philosophical sophistication converge. I’m forced to question every technicality and bit of jargon and determine whether it actually engenders understanding. This has helped my philosophical writing tremendously. (Or so say those whose opinions on writing I find worth listening to.)

Second, relieved of the pressure to produce a strenuously novel but ultimately trivial “contribution,” I may now, if I wish, write simply to articulate an inchoate idea and to make things synoptically clear in the way outlined in my previous point (and in a way rarely found in a journal article) — and can count this, with good reason and without reservation, as having achieved an actual good rather than the illusory good of producing a “result.”

So, what do I wish someone would have told me about the academic job market? How intellectually rich the life of a community college philosophy professor can be. This provides a much-needed perspective on the race to land a so-called research position or even a teaching-heavy research position. Report

Michael
Michael
Reply to  Animal Symbolicum
2 years ago

“as if the only point of doing philosophy is to luxuriate in technicalities, score dialectical points, and pretend to have discovered a “result.””

Please do not do to others the very same thing you say they do to you if you think it disrespectful.Report

Nathan
Nathan
Reply to  Pete Murray
2 years ago

For what it’s worth, the APA has a panel on philosophy in two year colleges that runs meetings at each APA meeting, and runs a newsletter. I’ve been to two of their APA meetings and they’ve been extremely helpful in helping prepare for a run at the CC job market, so if anyone is considering that route I would suggest contacting them for advice, resources, etc.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Pete Murray
2 years ago

It’s important that in correcting this misapprehension you don’t create another one.

How many adjuncts are currently working at your community college, and how many of them are likely to advance into the kind of tenure-track position you have now? How long did you have to adjunct before becoming a viable candidate for your position?

Yes, (permanent and full-time) community college jobs and other jobs with heavy teaching loads can be good jobs, and it’s silly that so many people think otherwise. Jjust being good at philosophy and committed to teaching isn’t enough to get you one of them. Report

Catastrophizing
Catastrophizing
2 years ago

It is very distressing to me that most of these posts are so negative. I don’t see how it is helpful to know at the start of one’s PhD that at end of it you will *necessarily* have a mental health crisis, and that your life will be in shambles with no way of putting it back together. This is text book catastrophizing. I say this as someone who has been on the job market for going on 4 years, with still no Tenure-Track job in sight. Has it been hard? yes. Has it been emotionally draining? yes. Has it made me question whether the PhD was worth it? yes. If I knew all this at the start of my PhD would I have found the PhD process as rewarding? no. Would it have led me to make different choices? probably not. Would I have done less good work? absolutely. If we keep screaming at the younger generation that philosophy has no value outside of academia (which is patently false btw), and that anyone getting a philosophy PhD is making the worst mistake of their life, then philosophy will be a profession for people who already come from wealthy backgrounds. I am not saying you shouldn’t tell people your experiences, but it is a far cry to also say that it is a necessary fate that you will have made the worst mistake of your life. Discouragement does not improve our profession it only makes the culture worse. SO what did I wish I knew before going on the job market? That everyone will tell you that everything you are doing is wrong and hopeless, and that YOU SHOULD CUT THEM OFF. Seek people who are encouraging. The best analogy I can think of is that hearing about the job market is like being pregnant and hearing a bunch of unsolicited advice from friends, family and people on the internet about all the things that can go wrong with the pregnancy, giving endless amount of conflicting advice that if you don’t do right will *necessarily* ruin the pregnancy. Every pregnant person goes through that and it isn’t helpful for anyone. So too with the academic job market. So JUST STOP CATASTROPHIZING. Report

Run Away
Run Away
Reply to  Catastrophizing
2 years ago

The problem is that when I was making my way into and through graduate school, there was no indication that I would not get a tenure-track job if I checked all the boxes. Sure, my advisers said, if I didn’t do original research, publish in good journals, get teaching experience, go to conferences, and get letters writers from outside the school, and if I wasn’t willing to move anywhere in the English-speaking world, and if I wasn’t willing to work at a few VAP’s before landing a permanent job, then failure was a possibility. But if I checked all the boxes, a tenure-track job would eventually come. Well, I checked all the boxes. I even *got* a tenure-track job, and was then laid off due to downsizing. If I had known that not having a tenure-track job was not only a real possibility, but a likely possibility, I would have made much different choices in graduate school. My research might have been slightly worse, but I can honestly say that I derive no personal satisfaction or value from the quality of my previous research; it means almost nothing to me at this point. So this isn’t catastrophizing. Rather, it is honestly answering the question that Justin posed: what do you wish you had known about the job market, when you were a grad student?

So, yes, if you are fully committed to getting a tenure-track job or bust, then seek out only blue-sky, 100 percent encouraging people. But what people are pointing out is that you shouldn’t be fully committed to getting a tenure-track job or bust; that is irrational, and it can lead to long-term negative consequences for people who are not independently financially stable.Report

catastrophizing
catastrophizing
Reply to  Run Away
2 years ago

Run away, I was not suggesting you weren’t honestly answering Justin’s question or that any of the other negative comments weren’t being sincere. Nor do I question the feelings of any one who posted a negative comment. However there are a few issues here that I feel are worth addressing, that I hope doesn’t come across as callous or insensitive.

First, it is not unique to philosophy that someone might spend a decade or more gaining expertise in an area to be laid off and find a hard time getting a new job. Unfortunately, this is the reality for lots of people (Americans especially). Of course people need to be aware that, since 2008, it is becoming norm that an individual switches career paths several times in one’s life. There is no job that is truly “safe” anymore. Again, this is not special to the philosophy job market. Second, making the mild point that people need to gain a variety of skills to deal with the reality of global job trends is quite different from the catastrophizing that is going rampant in this thread. The thing about catastrophizing isn’t that it is insincere, it is that it is itself irrational thinking. The pregnancy analogy still feels fitting. Of course there are measures that can greatly decrease complications (exercise, taking folic acid..etc). And of course if you do everything right, you still might have complications. The problem comes in when this advice is given in a way that is framed in pathological patterns of thought: ALL, ALWAYS, NEVER.. etc. That is the type of catastrophizing that is going on in this thread. Perpetuating it doesn’t help anyone.

My experience in graduate school was very negative in the last couple years precisely because of the negative atmosphere around the job market. It doesn’t get people motivated or creative about how to build new skills. Again, I say this as someone who has been on the job market for 4 years, still bouncing from post-doc to post-doc. Still the most negative experience I had of the job market is from all the people at my PhD granting institution complaining and catastrphizing all day long about the job market. Getting a PhD in philosophy is valuable and it doesn’t *necessarily* lead to life ruin. It can be hard not to reach your goals, just as it is hard for people who have a dream of running a business fail and go bankrupt. The world can be harsh. I ask that we don’t make the journey along the way worse. Let’s share our experiences without framing it as generalizable, unique to philosophy, and life ruining. Report

Andro
Andro
2 years ago

I have a question to which I haven’t been able to get an answer of any sort.

How does one’s having a disability, like autism, affect one’s chances? This isn’t really a “safe” diversity hire, in that it’s a pervasive disability which affects abilities required by professors.Report

Autinymous
Autinymous
Reply to  Andro
2 years ago

I know your question was broader, but I’m an autistic PhD student, so I’d love to hear from anyone who has thoughts about the impact being openly autistic might have on the job market. I would very much like to be open about being autistic, but terrified about ever doing so. I suspect It’s already detrimental enough that I cannot avail myself of the normal networking opportunities in the profession without compromising either my ability to function in other ways or my mental health or the hell that executive dysfunction can make of paper writing. so would want to avoid doing anything that would compound the ways being autistic already hurts my chances. Report

Andro
Andro
Reply to  Autinymous
2 years ago

We might be ablr to help deal other out. Email me if you wish: [email protected]Report

Andro
Andro
Reply to  Andro
2 years ago

Hey! looks like I’m stupid enough to post my email address onlineReport

HowDidIGetHere
HowDidIGetHere
2 years ago

Having been on both sides of the academic job market, I am not particularly comfortable inferring from the odd and seemingly unpredictable nature of hiring choices that academic philosophy is not a meritocracy. I don’t believe it is a meritocracy, but that’s not because someone with 2 publications might get a job over someone who has 7. Universities aren’t just really big philosophy departments. Universities are their whole own, highly idiosyncratic microcosms. When hiring, hiring departments are operating within these microcosms. Members of search committees will be thinking about what *their* department needs, what *their* student body is like, who might be about to retire, what the Provost has planned for the future, what they can sell to the Dean, what the board of trustees might think of it all, what the university’s ‘strategic vision’ is, and so on. In addition to this, the search committee will be composed of people with their own big ideas on what philosophy is, what is important, etc. Choices that look from the outside to be weird or unfair are likely the result of complex checks and balances, and probably a whole lot of compromise.

What I think is important to understand – and this is what I wish I knew at the time – is that your being hired or not is not a reflection of your being deserving or not. I have seen some absolutely bananas decision making processes on search committees where I have wanted to cry and write letters to applicants assuring them that *they* were not the problem. I wish I had understood when I was on the market that the choices people were making around me were not about *me*. We all know that it is terrible to not have a job – people need money to live! – but the real damage done by the academic job market is psychological. But please, please, please understand that your not getting interviews, campus visits, and positions is, in all likelihood, absolutely nothing to do with your accomplishments, character, choice of font, or general worth as a human being (this last one is surely not!). Report

Dabbler
Dabbler
2 years ago

One piece of advice I DID get but wisely DID NOT follow: Don’t be “all over the place,” a “dabbler”, which means don’t showcase work, or even a lot of intellectual investment, in stuff way outside your AOS. Instead, I was told, you should have a cohesive theme uniting everything you do.

I got my R-1 Leiter-top TT job in part because I did NOT heed this advice, and mentioned — even on my CV — some dabbling in areas way outside my wheelhouse, or that of most analytic philosophers. I talked about it during the visit, too, including to some who DID work in those areas. This majorly paid off.

The worry, of course, is that you’ll sound like an amateur. But the worry is misguided. Remember: you’re SUPPOSED to be an amateur in everything but your AOS, especially as a firs-time job seeker, and faculty REALLY want someone who will be INTERESTED in THEIR work, not masters of it. In other words, they want to be surrounded by dabblers.

So If you have a side-interest in something you don’t officially “do”, and aren’t afraid to talk about it with specialists, let it out! Even if it’s shoddy, it’ll present you as open-minded, intellectually curious and deep. “All over the place” is underrated.Report

Marcus Arvan
Reply to  Dabbler
2 years ago

I think this is exactly right. I’m a bit surprised that the “dabbling” strategy got you an R1 job, as I would have thought R1’s value specialization. But my sense is that what you say is exactly right for jobs at teaching-focused universities.

First, dabbling in many areas may make a candidate look more attractive as a teacher. Teaching institutions often need (or desire) many different courses to be taught, or even added to their curriculum. If you only do one thing, you may look like there aren’t many courses you can teach–whereas if you dabble in a lot of things, it looks like you might be willing and able to teach a lot of different things.

Second, many philosophy departments at teaching schools are really small. The people in those departments may desire someone who can talk in an informed manner about their own work, and indeed, provide feedback on working papers. If you only work on many things, you may look like a better person to talk shop and exchange feedback with. Conversely, if you only work on one thing–and that thing does not align with what anyone else in the small department works on–then you may appear less desirable in these regards.

I realize I’m just one case, but for what it’s worth I did poorly on the market until I branched out and started dabbling in a multitude of areas.Report

Fool
Fool
Reply to  Marcus Arvan
2 years ago

I’m the chair of a 7-person department and the de facto chair of all our hiring committees, which basically contain anyone in the department willing to contribute. I can say that nothing puts me off more than someone whose entire research program consists of separate micro-variations on one debate within a thread of a niche of a subfield. There are professional reasons for this (we need people who can teach broadly, supervise theses across a range of student interests, and contribute coherently to research working groups in a department where none of our research directly overlaps). I’d say, from the way people’s cover letters are written, that this applies to about 75% of our applicants. Breadth backed up by serious achievements across the breadth is one of the major things that distinguishes an applicant for us.Report

Dabbler
Dabbler
2 years ago

Another: be impressed, or at least intrigued or excited, by ANY question or comment about your work from a potential colleague.

Q. Why not just fake it?
A. Because you can’t. Many of these folks, while otherwise smart and interesting, are pathetically addicted to the admiration of others, and addicts always know when they’re getting the pure product. In particular, don’t mouth platitudes like “Thank you for that question,” which will be heard as “You suck.” Your eyes have to glow with the “wow” you’re feeling. Really.

Q. But how can I be impressed by a stupid or lame point/question?
A. There’s other lines of work besides professional philosopher. I wish you the best of luck. Report

on the market
on the market
2 years ago

One pernicious misconception that I’d come across and unfortunately bought into is that if you’re willing to work in the business world (and put up with a terrible work-life balance), then there is a ready alternative to academia – the world of management consulting. I foolishly thought that merely having such a willingness constituted a back-up plan to the academic job market.

Although there are consulting firms that will *consider* hiring people with PhDs but no business background, they number only three (McKinsey, Bain, and Boston), and they happen to be roughly the three most competitive places to seek employment in the entire business world. Far from being an alternative industry full of promising job prospects, management consulting is more or less a different lottery ticket that you can buy with your philosophy PhD, and one with similarly long odds as the academic job market.

A real back-up requires hard credentials, so I second some of the earlier comments about pursuing different (additional?) degrees or demonstrable skills in things like data analytics or coding. And if you’d be happy working in management consulting, maybe get an MBA instead of PhD.Report

5678
5678
Reply to  on the market
2 years ago

Second this. My partner does have a MBA from a top program and a stellar class ranking and still didn’t get a job at any of the top 3.Report

Neil
Neil
2 years ago

I was blissfully ignorant when starting the PhD and more or less assumed that one did a PhD and then became of professor. Looking back I think I’d keep it this way, otherwise I’m not sure I would have kept plugging away.Report

Nick
Nick
2 years ago

If you suffer from anxiety/depression don’t expect it to get better if/when you land a TT job. It might get worse *for that very reason*. Hello Imposter syndrome. It really is such a lottery, except perhaps for the top jobs that are reserved for the top few candidates every year, that success is largely attributable to luck in a way that does not assuage whatever underlies your anxiety/depression. I ended up very lucky after struggling a bit. Doesn’t mean I’m happier. Report

Patrick
Patrick
2 years ago

1. There are schools that do not care that much about publications, and while they aren’t great (usually have heavy teaching loads for not a lot of pay) relative to the profession as a whole, you can get a decent life working at one of them. I have one of the worst non-adjunct jobs (in terms of teaching, pay, research support) I have heard of, and certainly worse than the jobs held by all my friends from grad school who got jobs, but my kids have gotten to grow up without want, and I have been able to help my wife pursue her educational goals. There are worse things.
2. If you don’t want to work at such a place, and you really might not, then you need to get to work publishing while you are in grad school. I was told by several (older) faculty in grad school that I should very much not try to publish while I was a grad student. This was bad advice for the kind of jobs I wanted (though not the one’s I have gotten)
3. You should start going to conferences as a grad student. This wasn’t actively discouraged in my grad program the way that publishing was, but it also wasn’t encouraged. I probably should have been able to figure out on my own that the networking would be valuable.
4. Your cover letter should be a significant focus. Most schools you apply to want some kind of assurance that they are not wasting their money bringing you out, and not potentially losing a line when you leave the university quickly for greener pastures. So you need to make the case that you could see yourself working long term at the place you are applying to. I was told that cover letters should give your contact information, where you saw the ad, what your AOS/AOCs were, and that was about it. This was terrible advice for the kind of schools I was a good fit for (not research universities). All my grad faculty had worked or gone to school at only Leiter-rific places and I don’t think they realized the kind of premium there is at many smaller, poorer schools on getting the hire right the first time, because your department faces a decent chance of loosing the line every time they go to the well.
5. Develop the ability to teach widely across the philosophical curriculum, especially logic, ethics, applied ethics and history survey courses. Every school has them and at smaller departments you have to be able to do some of them. I lucked into developing a pretty wide range of teaching experience in grad school, and I have gotten more than one job because I could justify the claim that I could teach courses that had nothing at all to do with my research interests. I would suggest not leaving that a matter of luck, but actively pursue chances to teach courses that are outside of your research area and that are popular courses. I would do that even if it means adjuncting somewhere else while a grad student.

Report

Andrew Moon
2 years ago

I gave this advice at the Philosophers’ Cocoon about emotional investment in the jobs you apply for, and it would’ve been nice if somebody had told me it ahead of time. I think I agree with what I said there.

https://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2017/11/thoughts-about-emotional-investment-in-the-philosophy-job-market.htmlReport

Paul
Paul
2 years ago

There is a lot of good advice here. One thing no one has mentioned: I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t start building retirement funds until I was 33. Since I was fortunate enough to land a very good academic job at a research institution, I plan to teach until I am at least 70 to help offset those losses. Additionally, my spouse starting her career at 24. But if I had not secured an academic position, and my spouses situation were different, I would feel much different about retirement (which is still a long ways off lol). A 22 year-old might not care, but I wish someone would have at least explained it to me…Report

Tom Hurka
Tom Hurka
Reply to  Paul
2 years ago

Absolutely true, and a reason why those PhD programs that seem to encourage students to take forever to finish — because that’s what *deep* thinkers do — are hurting them financially as well as in other ways.Report

Marie
Marie
2 years ago

1. You won’t get much done in your market year. It’s nice to have a solid stack of writing stockpiled – schools may ask for second writing samples, or may want to know about directions of future research. If the papers already exist in polished draft form, you will warmly thank your past self.
2. One unexpected philosophical perk of being on the market is arriving at greater clarity about what it is you in fact do, and what is at stake in your projects. The process of writing and reciting dissertation abstracts and elevator pitches, and of talking to non-specialist strangers about your work can be very illuminating.Report

SLACasstprof
SLACasstprof
2 years ago

(1) The best advice I ever got was: make sure your research, particularly your WS, is interesting to a wider audience than just your subfield.
This year we did a TT search and so many people were doing niche research that didn’t appeal to any of us who were not in that niche (so: almost everyone) that they didn’t make it past the first round even though they looked like good, hard-working people. You can totally research things that are just interesting to a few, but DON’T put all your eggs in that basket. Being aware of the sociopolitical features of philosophy is helpful: know what is popular, new, exciting, or emerging, have something to say about how your research connects to people or to the world. This is possible for pretty much every subfield. Know how to market yourself.
You’d be amazed at how quickly a ‘cool’-sounding project moves up the ranks. Philosophers are nerds but we also like being excited!
So also keep a look out if every other grad student you know is working on the same thing: chances are the market will be flooded with applications from your area and only the best few will get hired. Don’t be afraid to strike out new territory while you’re still in research phase.

(2) That said, don’t take on a project you are totally new to just for the sake of the market. Philosophers can smell superficiality a mile away. If you claim something as an AOS, you will be tested for breadth and depth. This especially goes for all y’all adding underrepresented philosophy claims to your CV after writing one quick cursory piece. You’ll be compared to people who have been researching that as their main thing or going to the conferences; it may not help. Make sure you’ve been reading that material for at least two years, or that you have the requisite language and/or literature background.

(3) Finally, use your resources! You are probably at a PhD program with amazing researchers. Know their work, learn from them, and not just the people on your committee, it will help you later. Do NOT, however, become a clone of your advisor. Use your training as the launchpad for a new project that moves philosophy forward – remember, your advisor’s most impactful research may well have been hip as few as 5 or as many as 30 years ago, so don’t write as if 30 years ago is today. Use their network to learn what is interesting now. Pay attention to what people talk about in between APA sessions. Meet up with other grad students and make professional connections with them – they are the future source of much of your network.

(4) While you are a grad student don’t turn down an opportunity to present your work or go to another school for conferences or activities. Networking is marketing in our profession. If people know you and like you they’ll talk about you in casual settings. Researchers with pools of money will ask their friends who they know who is good at a new research area for them (they may have a postdoc grant). Don’t be a hermit! Report

Martin Lenz
2 years ago

I think it would have helped to realise that competition in philosophy is *not* about the quality of one’s philosophical work, but about departmental “needs”. Here’s a bit more on this: https://handlingideas.blog/2019/03/02/the-competition-fallacy/
Report

Adam Rigoni
Adam Rigoni
2 years ago

Don’t listen to a goddamn thing from anyone too chickenshit to put their real name on their advice.Report

Ian Blaustein
Ian Blaustein
Reply to  Adam Rigoni
2 years ago

I don’t really believe this, but I’m still glad you said it.Report

ehz
ehz
Reply to  Adam Rigoni
2 years ago

Why do you think this? Serious question. Do you think anonymous commenters are more likely to give misleading advice?Report

Adam Rigoni
Adam Rigoni
Reply to  ehz
2 years ago

Serious answer, yes. Report

ehz
ehz
Reply to  Adam Rigoni
2 years ago

Thanks, that really clears things up.Report

Lisa Shapiro
Lisa Shapiro
2 years ago

1. Have a back up plan — it helps alleviate the stress of the job market, if only because you are in a position to do something else. It also helps keep things in perspective.
2. The best advice someone gave me (the second year I looked for a job) was to be an interview ninja. As an interviewee (if you are lucky to get one) you need to (a) not feel guilty or undeserving — luck is not the same as not meritorious and (b) take the leap of faith of projecting your best self, on top of what you have to offer philosophically, solicitous of questions, generous in answering questions. I think the same goes in putting together a dossier. That is, you need to take the risk of putting yourself out there. It may be that rejection will be harder to take because it is you that is really applying, but you stand no chance if you don’t take that leap.
3. From searches I have been involved in over the years:
(a) if you have been out a number of years, make sure your letter writers know what you have been doing recently, and ask them to update their letters. Letters that are about your dissertation when you’ve stopped working on that topic can actually hurt rather than help you.
(b) do some research about the members of the department and their specializations. And if you don’t have time to do that, show some humility when there might be an expert on something you can only hand wave about in the room.
(c) ask questions about the university, the students, and the faculty members themselves: (what are you currently working on? extra bonus points for listening well enough to be able to ask a follow up question.Report

Monica Solomon
Monica Solomon
2 years ago

I just saw this thread and I would like to add some additional considerations about the job market prospects, especially as they concern international students. I studied in the US for seven years for my PhD as an international graduate student from a country(Romania) whose economy has been struggling for a long time and where, more recently, high quality research and good public education are being politically and publicly attacked and dismantled in ways beyond imagination even for my American friends. As such, the job market for me (and, I imagine, for many others in my situation) means all the dire things and predictions above plus additional sources of despair. I can only apply for positions that would offer to sponsor (or at least file) an H1B petition for me (or a green card). This means that almost all temporary, visiting or adjunct, positions are out of the question. Most say this explicitly once you fill in their application. Community colleges are also a big question mark. It also means that jobs outside academia (in the private sector) are out of reach unless they offer me a green card (fancy that!) If I do not have healthcare benefits through my job, I would not qualify for the US healthcare marketplace. Forget about grievances related to living far away from your family. Forget about living in your parents’ basement in case things don’t work out. But, most importantly, the reason for sharing this is that I realized soon enough in my phd training that most of my colleagues and professors do not realize the situation in which some international PhDs find themselves. In case you wonder: for me personally, pursuing this PhD has been the best decision I ever made, if only because I met some extraordinary people from whom I learnt things I couldn’t have learnt in my home country. I had access to libraries, courses, and information that I could not have accessed before. The reality of the job market, however, is no less darker for me than it is for other people. The reason for posting this long comment is that I would like to bring awareness to some of the additional, unseen struggles that some of your own friends, students, or colleagues might face. They find themselves between a rock and hard place. Report