This is part 3 of a 3-part series of interviews with philosophers who left academia right after grad school or in some cases later. See part 1 to see what jobs they held, and part 2 on how they evaluate their jobs. This part will focus on the transferrable skills of academics.
The burning question of academics who want to leave academia is: What transferrable skills can they bring to the private sector? The responses of the seven people I interviewed clearly indicate that the skills that are transferrable are broad and fairly high-level.
This is part 2 of a 3-part series of interviews I conducted with seven philosophers who went on to a non-academic career after obtaining their PhDs. For more background on these philosophers, the work they currently do, and the reasons they left academia, see part 1: How and Why do they end up there? This part will focus on the realities of having a non-academic job.
One of the main attractions of an academic job, especially one of a tenured academic professor, is the autonomy (intellectual and in terms of time management) it provides. However, there are downsides as well: the increasing pressure to churn out publications (which some of the respondents already alluded to in part 1, lack of support, and isolation lead to mental health problems in some academics. So how do philosophers with experience in academia and outside evaluate the work atmosphere?
This is the first of a three-part series featuring in-depth interviews with philosophers who have left academia. This part (part 1) focuses on their philosophical background, the jobs they have now, and why they left academia. Part 2 examines the realities of having a non-academic job and how it compares to a life in academia. In part 3, finally, the interviewees reflect on the transferable skills of a PhD in philosophy, and offer concrete advice on those who want to consider a job outside of academia.
Does having a PhD in philosophy mean your work opportunities have narrowed down to the academic job market? This assumption seems widespread, for example, a recent Guardian article declares that programs should accept fewer graduate students as there aren’t enough academic jobs for all those PhDs. Yet academic skills are transferrable: philosophy PhDs are independent thinkers who can synthesize and handle large bodies of complex information, write persuasively as they apply for grants, and they can speak for diverse kinds of audiences.
How do those skills translate concretely into the non-academic job market? To get a clearer picture of this, I conducted interviews with 7 philosophers who work outside of academia. They are working as consultant, software engineers, ontologist (not the philosophical sense of ontology), television writer, self-employed counselor, and government statistician. Some were already actively considering non-academic employment as graduate students, for others the decision came later—for one informant, after he received tenure.
These are all success stories. They are not intended to be a balanced representation of the jobs former academics hold. Success stories can provide a counterweight to the steady drizzle of testimonies of academic disappointment, where the inability to land a tenure track position is invariably couched in terms of personal failure, uncertainty, unhappiness and financial precarity. In this first part, I focus on what kinds of jobs the respondents hold, and how they ended up in non-academic jobs in the public and private sector. Why did they leave academia? What steps did they concretely take to get their current position?
I hope this series of posts will empower philosophy PhDs who find their current situation less than ideal, especially—but no only—those in non-tenure track position, to help them take steps to find a nonacademic career that suits them. And even if one’s academic job is as close to a dreamjob as one can conceivable get, it’s still fascinating to see what a PhD in philosophy can do in the wider world.
Every year's end at UC Riverside, the philosophy faculty meet for three hours "to discuss the graduate students". Back in the 1990s when I was a grad student, I seem to recall the Berkeley faculty doing the same thing. The practice appears to be fairly widespread. After years of feeling somewhat uncomfortable with it, I've tentatively decided I'm opposed. I'd be interested to hear from others with positive or negative views about it.
Now, there are some good things about these year-end meetings. Let's start with those.
At UCR, the formal purpose of the meeting is to give general faculty input to the graduate advisor, who can use that input to help her advising. The idea is that if the faculty as a whole think that a student is doing well and on track, the graduate advisor can communicate that encouraging news to the student; and also, when there are opportunities for awards and fellowships, the graduate advisor can consider those highly regarded students as candidates. And if the faculty as a whole think that a student is struggling, the faculty can diagnose the student's weaknesses and help the graduate advisor give the student advice that might help the student improve. Hypothetical examples (not direct quotes): "Some faculty were concerned about your inconsistent attendance at seminar meetings." "The sense of the faculty is that while you have considerable promise, your writing would be improved if you were more charitable toward the views of philosophers you disagree with."
10. You can get an accepted but-not-yet-published paper read right away, without waiting for those sometimes lengthy publication times.
9. You can increase the visibility of your work because a) PhilSci Archive articles score highly in Google searches and b) sites like PhilPapers scan PhilSci Archive and will include links to your papers automatically.
8. You can get feedback on a work-in-progress from a wider audience than just the couple of people you can think to email.
7. Your work can be read, for free, by anyone, even those without institutional library access.
6. Work that was presented, but never published, can be made accessible.
5. Papers in those harder-to-obtain volumes will be more widely accessible.
4. If you are in an underrepresented area of philosophy of science or are an author in an underrepresented group in philosophy of science, you can help to increase the visibility of your area or your group. [Right now, the papers are disproportionately in philosophy of physics – you can help change that].
3. PhilSci Archive is a non-profit organization – like PhilPapers, but unlike, say, Academia.edu or Research Gate. You can feel good about contributing to its flourishing.
2. After posting your articles, you can linger a bit and check out some of the good work that is there already, including conference papers and (in a new venture) open source journals. Or you can sign up for an email subscription, the Twitter feed, or the Facebook page.
1. It's cool, and all the cool kids are doing it. You can be cool, too.
Over at Feminist Philosophers, they've posted the CFP for a conference on Diversity in Philosophy that, I'm proud to say, is being hosted and co-sposored by my alma mater, Villanova University, along with Hypatia and the APA's Committee for the Status of Women.
The conference will be held at Villanova on May 28-30, 2015 and the deadline for submissions of 250-500 word proposals is January 1, 2015.
More info and the full CFP follows after the break.
Awhile back, there was an campaign to show all the different ways that philosophers can look, called "This is what a philosopher looks like." I thought this was a good project, with the goal of making a small dent in implicit bias, but it looks like it hasn't gotten any love in awhile; the last entry was in August, 2013. So, if you haven't sent in your photo and brief description yet, you might want to head on over there and submit your stuff!
Marcus Arvan at the Philosophers' Cocoon posted sample data from the new appointments site at PhilJobs, which is discussed in a great post by Helen de Cruz here at New APPS. In comments at de Cruz's post and in a new post Arvan discusses the impact of Gourmet ranking on women and men seeking tenure-track jobs. I wanted to follow up on Arvan's post by looking at the full set of data currently available at PhilJobs. I did this in part because I knew that the sample Arvan collected was skewed on gender, due to an earlier analysis on gender I performed for a comment on a post at the Philosophy Smoker. With that convoluted introduction aside, here is a summary of the findings, in keeping with the findings by Arvan: the gourmet rank of one's PhD granting institution appears to have a greater impact on men seeking tenure-track jobs than on women seeking tenure-track jobs. Although I cannot yet speak to the source of this discrepancy, I (like Arvan) find the difference troubling. I welcome comments on the source of the difference below, although any comments will be subject to moderation. Let's look more closely at the data (Note: the linked spreadsheet was updated on May 14th):
On the basis of this year’s partial hiring data, Marcus Arvan notes that the majority of tenure track hires (a whopping 88%) are from people of Leiter-ranked programs. Only 12% of hires are from people of unranked programs. Also, 37% of all tenure track hires come from just 5 schools, the Leiter top 5 list - this is amazing if one ponders it, and one may wonder at the direction philosophy is going to, if most of its future tenured workforce comes from just a few select programs.
This has caused a lot of debate: why would people go to grad school in unranked programs at all? Why attend an unranked program if you can’t get into a highly ranked one? But what is often overlooked are the many factors, such as class and ethnic background, may contribute to someone not getting (or, as I will examine in more detail below), even applying to get into top programs. In fact, going for pedigree may be a particularly effective way to screen out people who come from poorer backgrounds and of different ethnicities.
Relatedly, a truly sexist and essentialist view of women's abilities in philosophy has reared its head on the blogosphere, and Showalter seems unable to respond to it effectively. Hope someone here can nip this in the bud. It's in the comments section.
Tara is referring to comments by commenter "Highly Adequate"--comments which include this one:
By Shelley Tremain, draft of a comment that is forthcoming in the April issue of The Philosopher's Magazine.
Data compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy indicates that the disparity between the labor-participation rates of employable disabled people and employable nondisabled people across all sectors of American society is abysmal: 21% for disabled people compared to 69% for nondisabled people. More specific figures for the disparity between disabled and nondisabled people employed as full-time faculty in academia are even worse, with philosophy boasting the greatest disparity in this regard of all disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, comparable only to the STEM fields. For although disabled people comprise an estimated 20-25% of the North American population, surveys conducted in 2012 and 2013 by the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association (APA) suggest that they comprise less than 4% of full-time faculty in philosophy departments in the U.S. and, according to a 2013 survey conducted by the Equity Committee of the Canadian Philosophical Association (CPA), they comprise less than 1% of full-time faculty in philosophy departments in Canada. In other words, nondisabled people comprise an estimated 96-99% of full-time faculty in North American philosophy departments. These figures are shocking, constituting almost complete exclusion of disabled people from professional philosophy.
Over at Times Higher Education, Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman has written an important piece calling the discipline on the carpet for its overall failure to critically engage its own whiteness.*
There is a lot of remarkable stuff in the piece, which is organized around the paired questions of "who 'gets to do' philosophy?" and "who 'gets done' in philosophy?." It should be read in its entirety. As a teaser, however, let me just reproduce the following paragraph, which I'll discuss a bit below:
In a 2012 blog posting titled “What could leave philosophy?”, Brian Weatherson, professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan, argues that “[f]or a few areas [of philosophy], it is easy to imagine them being in other departments, because they already overlap so substantially with work done in other departments”. Thus, instead of seeing overlap as an opportunity to collaborate across disciplinary boundaries, Weatherson sees overlap as an opportunity to police, enforce and constrict the boundary around philosophy. This narrow-mindedness is an example of what Kristie Dotson, assistant professor of philosophy at Michigan State University, has called philosophy’s “culture of justification” – not the legitimate demand that one justify the conclusion of one’s arguments, no, but the illegitimate demand that one justify that what one is doing counts as “philosophy”.
We got the following request at comment 102 on the other thread. It seems worthwhile, so we're opening this for narrowly focused discussion of the substantive -- as opposed to illustrative -- points of the "Please do NOT revise your tone" post:
As someone who might have something to say about Leigh and Edward's post, it might be useful to have a kind of reboot thread more narrowly focused on their ideas and suggestions. I signed the petition for a code of ethics so I'm thinking as carefully as I can about what [they] took such time and care to craft. If I think I can contribute usefully to that, I guess I'd prefer it to be a different thread than this discussion, as lively and productive as it may be.
We trust it won’t come as a surprise to NewAPPS readers that the reputation of professional Philosophy has been taking a well-deserved beating in the public sphere. The really bad press started two years ago with the Vincent Hendricks scandal, gained momentum a year later with the Colin McGinn scandal, and has unleashed its full fury this year with the triplet of scandals at the University of Colorado-Boulder, Northwestern University and Oxford University. Given the severity—and, in some cases, alleged criminality—of the behaviors reported in these scandals, what IS surprising to us is the turn that recent intra-disciplinary conversations about them has taken. As two non-tenured professional philosophers, we’re particularly concerned with the new enthusiasm for policing “collegiality” that seems to be emerging in and from these conversations, which in almost every case promotes a norm that we fear only serves to make the vulnerable among us even more vulnerable.
An exemplary instance of how “collegiality” standards can backfire is found in Brian Leiter’s quasi-authoritative “please revise your tone” comment (and more general attitudinal disposition) in this discussion on the Feminist Philosophers blog, followed by his longer a fortiori post (which he removed from his blog within hours, but which has been preserved here) on the “increasingly ugly cyber-dynamics” of conversations about sexual harassment in the profession. (For the record, we want to note that the sexual harassment problems in our profession are far uglier than the conversational cyber-dynamics in our profession, though it’s really a lose-lose in that determination.) It is important to take note of the dynamics on display in these threads, which demonstrate more than a little bit of our "climate" problem. Leiter invoked “tone” in reprimanding critics of his position on the issues under discussion and he directed his opprobrium at, among others, a graduate student speaking to the vulnerability she and many of her colleagues feel in a profession with an increasingly well-documented hostile climate for women. Many of the other commenters in the thread, including the post’s author, argued explicitly against attempts to police matters of tone (see comments 10 and 16).
To be precise, we're troubled that insistences on a certain set of normative standards for “collegiality” are regularly being forwarded on behalfof people like us—i.e., colleagues from underrepresented groups in the profession, those with provisional employment, and/or those whose status as stakeholders in the profession is undervalued—presumably in the interest of making the space of professional (philosophical) disagreement friendlier and “safer” for us. What seems to go largely unacknowledged, if not intentionally ignored, is the manner in which the right to police norms of professional collegiality is a privilege that attends only those for whom running afoul of those standards has no real consequences. And so, to those attempting to police these standards of collgiality, we want to say: Thanks, but no thanks.
I theorized and defended my use of snark here, but I hereby renounce its use. Although I do not think it "apt" to describe New APPS as instantiating a "self-righteous lynch-mob mentality"* (if indeed that phrase was meant to encompass us among its targets), I will nonetheless refrain from further use of snark or sarcasm or related modes. I will instead simply point out the rhetorical moves I think some folks are making; if I think someone is proposing ad hoc and inflated standards of proof, I'll just say so. Etc.
I second this. I also await Brian Leiter's promised reply, which I hope, in addition to an apology to McKinnon, will explain that he did not mean to imply that criticism of his use of "vigilante justice" to describe the non-violent protest of Northwestern students constitutes "a lynch mob."
Today, March 8, is International Women's Day. To celebrate this day, the APA’s Committee on the Status of Women offers a challenge: you can help to raise $10,000 to support the work of the committee. More information here:
The graduate students of the Department of Philosophy at Northwestern University, have by a majority vote, adopted the following statement:
We find the alleged behavior of gross professional misconduct recently leveled against a faculty member in our department to be deplorable. Further, we judge that the university has failed our community in the way that they have handled these allegations of gross professional misconduct. In addition, we stand in solidarity with the victim of the aforementioned misconduct, with victims of sexual harassment and violence globally, as well as with their advocates (whom we do not consider to be vigilantes). As students, and educators, we take seriously the wellness of every member of our community. The members of our philosophy department have been genuinely dedicated to promoting inclusiveness at Northwestern, as well as within the broader philosophical community. It is among our highest priorities that we create and sustain a safe environment for all members of our community. In the spirit of these affirmations, we are deeply saddened that a member of our department has been found to be in violation of these moral and professional obligations.
We feel, however, that it bears saying that the behavior outlined in the recent lawsuit leveled against Northwestern is not representative of our sense of the prevailing culture in our department. The overwhelming majority of our community — both professors and graduate students, male and female — are engaged jointly in a project of inclusiveness and mutual support.
Since 2011 our department has maintained a committee to promote and sustain inclusiveness among the graduate student community. Among their duties, the Climate Committee hosts the Annual Inclusiveness Lecture on implicit bias and other issues affecting underrepresented and marginalized groups in the discipline. That same year we also founded an initiative geared towards fostering female undergraduate majors: WiPhi is a female-only group of members of the philosophical community at Northwestern at all levels (undergraduate, graduate, and professors) who regularly meet. WiPhi also hosts the Annual Gertrude Bussey Lecture, in honor of the first woman to receive a PhD in philosophy from Northwestern.
Additionally, our course listings represent our shared commitment to exploring issues of diversity and underrepresentation in the field, and in the broader community at large: Our department makes it a priority to regularly teach courses with substantial feminist philosophy content, as well as substantial focus on issues of race. We, the graduate students, feel that our community is home to several upstanding, vocally feminist, junior and senior faculty members. Our community is committed to fighting the sexism that has long been rampant in the broader philosophical community. And while we jointly feel compelled to express our deep sadness in response to the alleged behavior of a faculty member in our department, we also feel compelled to express our commitment to our community.
As teachers, mentors and colleagues, we, professional philosophers, take our tasks of teaching, research, and service to the profession very seriously. We want to create a supportive environment where fellow faculty members and students feel safe and where their concerns are heard and addressed.
In light of recent events at more than one university, we the undersigned hereby petition the Board of Officers of the American Philosophical Association to produce, by one means or another, a code of conduct and a statement of professional ethics for the academic discipline of philosophy. We particularly urge past presidents of each division of the APA to sign this petition.
Discussion on FB of this post at Leiter Reports about rejection led me to remark:
I hesitate to say this, since I made it through the wars by dint of being married to the right person, but here goes. My wife likes to say "you can't take rejection personally; there are too many factors involved that have nothing to do with your qualifications. [Wait two beats.] In fact, you can't even take acceptance personally, for exactly the same reason."
Further reflections below the fold, taken from a talk on inclusivity in conference organizing (points which hold, mutatis mutandis, for hiring decisions) at the APA Eastern, 2013. (See also this post, on why we should change our frame away from "job market".)
A Northwestern University student who sued the University earlier this month, accusing them of failing to adequately follow up on her allegations of sexual harassment against a professor, is now suing that professor in state court....
And last night, the University’s Student Government organization added its voice, endorsing a series of reforms including the immediate suspension of any staff or faculty member found to be in violation of the school’s sexual harassment policy.
Read more on the Northwestern campus community reaction here.
The student’s attorney, Kevin O’Connor, told The Daily on Friday afternoon the University had provided him additional information regarding the committee, which the original lawsuit says was established to determine disciplinary actions against Ludlow. O’Connor said he recently learned the committee was created to evaluate sanctions the University had already proposed. O’Connor said he plans to amend the lawsuit to indicate the committee’s formal decision did not recommend Ludlow be fired. The change is a technical one, O’Connor said, and he believes the substance of the complaint will remain intact. “At the end of the day, it’s not going to affect the integrity of the lawsuit,” he said.
Recently I read the following story on What’s it like to be a woman in philosophy.
The poster says her partner thought the mother/daughter relationship is not a topic of meaningful or worthy philosophical investigation. She writes “It feels like I have to defend why the female experience is worthy of philosophical analysis. It feels like I am not taken seriously the moment I talk about what I want to talk about. It feels like I need to transform my thoughts into useless philosophical jargon. It feels like my relationship has tension now, because his words hurt my self-perception. It makes me second-guess my recent applications to graduate programs. It feels like I am not a philosopher–like my thoughts, feminine, worthless–will be forever excluded from the realm of the “lofty, the existential, the philosophical”.”
I am sure that this perspective is not unique, that somehow topics about mother-daughter relationships, motherhood, and other female topics are not deemed worthy of philosophical investigation. Yet what recent philosophical essay has received so much mainstream attention than Laurie Paul’s paper on deciding to have a child? And there are many other examples. One of my personal favorate examples is Rebecca Kukla's paper on ethics and advocacy in breastfeeding campaigns. Given the solid scientific evidence for the benefits of breastfeeding, and the tremendous pressure women experience to breastfeed (even while still pregnant), this is surely an important topic, philosophically speaking and otherwise.
(Many thanks to Bryce Huebner for drawing my attention to this work) - There has been a lot of speculation about whether or not sexual harassment is worse in philosophy than in other disciplines. While there are few hard data on this issue, a new paper by Dana Kabat-Farr and Lilia Cortina throws new light on this problem, looking at the correlations between gender disparity and harassment in a large sample of employees in the military, academia and the court system. Across all these fields, the authors found that a low gender representation for women results in higher levels of gender harassment. Gender harassment is defined as "a broad range of verbal and nonverbal behaviors not aimed at sexual cooperation but that convey insulting, hostile, and degrading attitudes” about people of one’s gender". Concretely, "when comparing a woman who works in a gender-balanced work-group to a woman who works with almost all men, we find that the latter woman is 1.68 times as likely to encounter [gender harassment]." Remarkably, they found no correlation between sexual advance harassment (which we have been hearing a lot about recently) and underrepresentation.
I think these data are highly relevant for the recent news about harassment in our profession, and that there are things to learn from it for concrete policies.
[Changed headline and URL from this morning.] See here, here and here for news articles. 3:20 pm, CST, 11 Feb. We are opening comments. We will moderate closely. See our comments policy. From the news stories, we know the following facts:
1. The student is suing Northwestern, not suing Ludlow.
2. The lawsuit alleges that the original complaint was upheld by the NU Office of Sexual Harassment Prevention. Their wording is alleged to have been that Ludlow “engaged in unwelcome and inappropriate sexual advances.” [Per the news articles, it is a fact that the lawsuit contains this allegation. It is not a publicly available fact that this was the wording of the OSHP.]
3. The lawsuit alleges that a disciplinary committee recommended firing Ludlow. [Similarly, it is a fact, per the news articles, that the lawsuit makes this allegation. It is not a public fact that the disciplinary committee made this recommendation.]
4. The university did not fire Ludlow. [Update, 3:50 pm: it's better to say that Ludlow is teaching courses this term at Northwestern.] [Update, 9 am, 12 Feb: see here for more information on Ludlow's teaching schedule.]
5. Through his lawyer, Ludlow denies the allegations in the original complaint.
6. The university changed its policies in January, claiming that these changes would put it in a position to be in better compliance with Title IX.
[Update 9am, 12 Feb: 7. The Chicago Tribue reports: "This was not brought to our attention by either the candidate or his employer," said Rutgers spokesman Greg Trevor. "We are looking into this matter thoroughly, including requesting all relevant information to fully evaluate his candidacy."]