I’m currently on the philosophy job market. And, boy, does it suck. And I am shocked, shocked! For what do you go into philosophy, after all, besides the fame, the money, the table dances, the sheer respect accorded to you by everyone who thinks you spend all day proving chairs don’t exist?
Okay, I know I shouldn’t have expected better. In my limited defense: I started philosophy grad school back in ’04. Anyone would have told you then that it was not a good job market and not a prudential choice. But it wasn’t utterly insane. If you were willing to do primarily teaching at a no-name college, your chances of getting a job were not all that bad. It did take, perhaps, a soupçon of vainglory, but not full-on megalomania. After Lehman, the philosophy job market tanked. It went from merely bad to thoroughly wretched.
Also, in 2004 I was unmarried and childless. I am now hitched to, God help me, another philosopher. Plus I went and had three kids, one with serious special needs. It seemed so easy back then to toss off concerns about money and job security. Basically, it was a years-long version of Woody Allen in one of my favorite moments from Love and Death: [Dismissively, waving hand] “Ba-ha-ha-ha! Money!” [Reconsidering] “Well, money….”
So. Here I am, trying to get a job. Someone heroically tried to figure out recently what one’s chances are of getting a job in philosophy. Her results when you are applying from a ranked program (which I am): One’s overall chance of getting any job (post-doc or tenure-track) coming from an NRC ranked institution may be as high as 51%, 39% for any tenure-track job, and 11% for a ranked tenure-track job. That sounds not that bad. I don’t need a ranked tenure-track job, although I’d certainly prefer tenure-track over post-doc. However, no one knows how many people are on the market. She assumed conservatively that since 700-some-odd people applied to a job at Barnard, there must be 800 job candidates on the market. I think it’s next to impossible that about 90% of people applied to any one job. There will be people who don’t want to live in New York City, there will be people who do not bother applying to jobs that are out of reach, there will be people who want to teach grad students, there will be people who forgot to send that one application, whatever. I think the percentages of job-getters must be significantly lower.
My CV has its ups and downs. My PhD granting institution is somewhere in the middle of the rankings of ranked schools in the US (ranked schools are the top 50 of the 144 U.S. PhD-granting institutions). This is enough to pretty much ensure that I won’t get a job at a top-flight research university. And other than that, depending on what you are looking for, there are pluses and minuses. I think I am as reasonably attractive a candidate as can be expected from my ranking of school, with the occasional exception. No superstar, but I do have some other things in my favor.
Traditionally, the fall is when most tenure-track jobs are advertised. The spring is more for one-year visiting positions. Usually, the search committee chooses the top 15 candidates for first-round interviews, then invites the top candidates from the first round to an on-campus interview. More tenure-track jobs are beginning to be advertised throughout spring, however. So we’re not as certain as we once were by January that all hope is lost.
I’ve applied to about 40 post-docs and tenure-track jobs. Heard nothing for the longest while, and was thoroughly depressed. There is a community wiki where philosophers post when they receive interviews from the various job posts. I saw job after job to which I applied show up there.
Just a few days ago, I managed to get one first-round interview at a small liberal arts college in a very geographically desirable area. I was also informed by a university with a grad program that they received over 400 applications, and they have made a first cut to some still-large number. I am in the first cut. They will not choose the top 15 until after the holidays. And that’s that. Most schools to which I have applied have made their selection and I’m not on the list. Still waiting to hear from about 15 programs, 5 of which are ludicrously out of reach.
I would be very excited to get either of these jobs. The other job I’m waiting for with bated breath for is actually a post-doc (that is, just a two-year position). However, it is extremely prestigious bioethics position. I am really more interested in bioethics my actual area of specialization right now, so it would be nice to be able to shift direction. This post-doc would enable me to get a better job in philosophy, but also open up other employment opportunities. And I wouldn’t have to move, because the place is nearby! I don’t know when they’ll let candidates know. I will be seriously bummed if I can’t get that one, even though I know what a reach it is.
I am grateful to have gotten an interview, especially at a place I’d be happy to work. Happy too, to have made a first cut at another place I’d be happy work. So many people have gotten just a goose egg for interviews for multiple years in a row. But I can’t look at my chances now for any job with any optimism. My PhD granting institution will employ me for another year or maybe two if I get nothing, but then I’m on my own.
I love teaching philosophy and think I’m good at it. I think I’m pretty good at research, too, but I don’t think the world will be missing out on the next Hume if I left the field.
I am weirdly optimistic that I will be able to get a non-academic job. I have no idea why. I have not seriously researched this.
In the meantime, I got to spend 8 years (and counting) doing philosophy, which has made me such a clearer thinker. I got to watch students get their minds blown by the ideas introduced in philosophy class. I got to have a flexible schedule when my kids were young and spend serious time with them. That I did that for a while is pretty awesome in itself, no?