Non-Academic Career Paths for Philosophy PhDs: What Is Your Department Doing?

According to one recent survey, 14% of philosophy PhDs end up in non-academic employment. On top of that, there are some graduate students who leave their programs prior to obtaining their degree to pursue non-academic jobs.

[photo by J. Weinberg]

While the academic job market for philosophy PhDs is hard to predict, I don’t know of anyone arguing that we’re on the precipice of a significant hiring boom. Some people expect that the percentage of philosophy PhD students ending up in non-academic work will increase.

While there has been discussion of philosophy programs being supportive of students aiming for non-academic careers, information provided about people with philosophical training with such careers (see here, here, and here, for example), and guidance from the American Philosophical Association (APA), it would be useful to know what practical steps philosophy departments have actually taken to better prepare their graduate students for successfully pursuing work outside of academia.

I’m aware of a couple of such measures:

  • Non-philosophy curricular requirements
    • Texas A&M requires philosophy PhD students to also earn an MA (or higher degree) in a non-philosophy field (or in an interdisciplinary Early Modern Studies program).
    • Carnegie Mellon requires PhD students to take two interdisciplinary courses
  • Internships
    • Michigan State’s Engaged Philosophy Internship Program (details here) provides funding for PhD students to support their work with non-academic organizations.

If your department has implemented any practices, policies, or programs to assist students with preparing for or finding non-academic employment, it would be useful to hear about it. Thanks.

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Brian Weatherson
2 years ago

University of Michigan does both of the things mentioned in the post. The department can’t claim much credit here – they both come from the university’s graduate school.

Students at UM are required to take coursework outside the department. They are also required to have someone from another department on their thesis committee. I don’t know if this has helped students get jobs outside academia, but it is striking how many UM grads have had academic jobs in departments other than philosophy departments. We have, or had, grads in programs in political science, classics, business, psychology and cognitive science departments/programs.

And UM has a doctoral internship program that places students with organisations adjacent to academia who have interest in hiring students after a PhD. We’ve had one student do such an internship recently, and several others express interest in it. I think these are pretty helpful to a lot of philosophy degrees – you learn more about publishing by interning with a publisher than you’d get from being in the department. But they are also a very good pathway to doing non-academic work that makes at least some use of one’s academic background.

David Lu
2 years ago

It doesn’t seem like departments are doing much since there’s no pressure for them to anything. I think that policies like taking a handful of classes outside the department will not have much effect on a nonacademic job search. If you take a look around at philosophers in nonacademic employment, we’re successfully all over the place. In other words, philosophers are already pretty good at translating their academic skills and expanding their skillsets to all kinds of other fields.

The biggest hurdle for academics seeking nonacademic employment is getting a foot in the door. Anyone who’s been in industry knows that professional network recommendations and employee referrals are the most reliable and easiest way to break in and find work, and a mature professional network is exactly what most grad students don’t have. So, it seems to me that the most effective thing a department can do to help their students move into nonacademic work is to establish and foster department alumni networks. It’s a normal thing in business, engineering, law, and medical schools and departments. Are any departments doing this?