Reader query: returning after a career break

I’ve had a query from a reader seeking advice about returning to philosophy after a career break. In her case, it was several years off with small children after getting her PhD and before getting a job. She knows it will be tough, but she really does want to return to philosophy.

Have any of you had similar experiences? Any advice to offer?

8 thoughts on “Reader query: returning after a career break

  1. So much to say here… I, too, returned after a hiatus. When I resumed work on the PhD, I had a 10-year-old and an 8-week-old baby.

    One of the first challenges I faced was overcoming that idea that I wasn’t completely committed to or serious about philosophy — assumptions that I wouldn’t be able to attend colloquia, wouldn’t be able to join colleagues for dinner or drinks after a talk, wouldn’t be able to finish the program in the time allocated, etc. Meeting these sorts of challenges is relatively straightforward: just work twice as hard as your colleagues. Be visible, be engaged, be efficient, be wise.

    But then there’s the second, much harder challenge: overcoming the perception that you’re *too* serious, too intense, too committed. After all, many grad students go through the roller coaster ride of wondering whether this is really what they want to do. And most of the other grad students will have time and energy to stay up until 4 am, talking and socializing and building memories. You’re not likely to have time to do that, and you’re also not likely to experience the same doubts and hesitations, because you’ve got much more invested when you return to grad school with the support of a partner and perhaps other family. The only advice I can offer here is: social media. Use it to create and maintain a network (in conjunction with carefully chosen “real” social opportunities, of course). Again: be visible and engaged, but also efficient and wise.

    Good luck!

  2. Thanks, Heidi. It’s worth noting, though, that the query is from someone who already finished her PhD, who is hoping to (eventually) go out on the philosophy job market.

  3. Oh! My bad. Thanks for the correction, Jender.

    Well, then I think she will face the same two challenges, but my advice is inverted:

    To demonstrate that you’re committed to philosophy, use social media, blogs, web sites, and other technology. (Web sites, in particular, are a must-have for philosophers on the market these days — this enables you to post and update works-in-progress, your CV, samples of teaching materials, etc.)

    And to demonstrate that you’re not too committed (even hiring committees looking for the stellar candidate are often hesitant about someone who is perceived as too one-dimensional or intense), make sure that you are open and confident about your ability to juggle family and work — i.e., make sure that they realize that you are used to carrying twice the load.

    (I realize that this last piece of advice may be repugnant for those feminists who believe that women shouldn’t have to work doubly hard for the same jobs, recognition, or rewards. If only that were the case! But it’s not. At least not right now.)

  4. Depends on how well the person kept in contact with people in the field.
    Look for mentors. Perhaps dis. advisor or old teachers.
    Get up to date with research in dissertation area.
    If you can get a paper under review or published, I bet that would go a long way.
    Network like there is no tomorrow. If you can travel, present a paper, (re)introduce yourself ( or better get your mentor to introduce you) to the muckimuck’s

  5. If the person is a European Union citizen, she might consider applying for a Marie Curie fellowship. They claim the following on their website: “Efforts will also be made to increase participation by women researchers, by encouraging equal opportunities in all ‘Marie Curie Actions’, by designing the actions to ensure that researchers can achieve an appropriate work/life balance and by facilitating resuming a research career after a break.”

  6. I’d suggest thinking about these, somewhat overlapping with Alpha’s:

    You have two major tasks: getting name recognition and producing the best work you can.

    1. Get back up to date on your thesis topic and central areas of argument.
    2. Try to get some academic affiliation with an academic address for you and access to library electronic search engines. I wouldn’t suggest selling your soul to do this, but if there’s a spare part of it, you might auction it off. At least go to any department collolllllquia you can, see if you can join any discussion groups, sit in on grad seminars
    3. Re-establish connections with friends and profs from grad school days. Asl fpr advaoce/
    4. Connect with your regional SWIP, and any feminist organizations in your field, or sub-organizations. You will find a group of largely helpful and generous people who really, really want to see more women in philosophy.
    5. develop some conference papers and seen them off to everything. Getting accepted is hit or miss, but getting your name on conference programs is easier – at least in my experience – and the limits are mostly due to whatyou can afford. You can use conferences to get feedback, help with updating, making contacts, etc.
    6. If you have a fairly distinctive thesis topic, considering developing an anthology, especially if you can count on a few good names to start with.
    7. Very importantly: Connect together writing conference papers with writing journal articles. You might be able to find 3 or four locations for any one good and interesting idea. That might sound like cheating, but your conference papers can look at different aspects and your journal article can take account of criticism.
    8. Consider writing journals that publish lots of book reviews and indicating your interests in reviewing. You want to be careful here; the contribution to updating and name recognition can be good, or not..

    Some thoughts …

  7. BTW, I’m thinking of “name recognition” as short hand for the sort of thing you need to be noticed and taken seriously as a candidates, applicant, person in a group of friends chatting, etc. That is, have some serious presence in the profession. No doubt I’m conflating things here, but I’m trying to point to that nebuous thing of having some status.

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