18 thoughts on “What kind of person would be well suited to a Ph.D. program in philosophy in U.S.?

  1. Disagree a bit about the salary thing. I was initially put off philosophy because I heard my professors complain about being ‘poor’ and ‘badly paid.’ As a child of a working class family I thought I couldn’t afford to be a professor. Then I visited the houses of faculty members and I was puzzled. These people weren’t poor. Maybe they inherited those houses, I thought. But then I checked the numbers and started asking about salary and I was flabbergasted. Academics–at least tenure track and tenured academics–are pretty well paid. Starting salary at my institution is in the high 60s and most full professors make over a $100,000. We’re in the top 5% of income earners. Like most people though we’re much more conscious of those who make more than we are off the bulk of the population who earn less. So, it’s true it’s hard to find work and it’s true that adjunct/sessional faculty aren’t paid well. But tenured and tenure track academics are well paid. My worry here is that stressing how badly paid academics are gets the facts wrong and may put off people who are afraid of being poor.

  2. Oh, and I should say, I agree with lots of this. It’s especially true that you need to be willing to move. You can’t plan on buying a house and settling down in graduate school! You need to be willing to live almost anywhere and move two or three times before settling into a tenure track job. Some of my best students have lived for a year at a time in not so exotic locations around the world. This is an aspect of our profession that some people find exciting and others find horrifying but you really can’t get around it. If you need to live in this specific region or close to that coast, choose another career.

  3. Sam, I’d venture to guess that starting salary at your institution is not reflective of what most full-time employees are paid. And I’m certain most full professors in the country don’t make over a hundred grand.

    Salaries at the three publics I’ve worked at start at 40k if TT, and since most of even the full-timers in philosophy were ‘adjunct’ and not TT, they started at 25k. But look at us, trding info on personal experience. We should go in search of better numbers than we’ve got, which I will totally get around to after this amazing-smelling dinner!

  4. Sam, kudos to your institution, which looks like it starts people at a salary above the national average for all philosophy professors! Good school, that. I found BLS data on their Occupational Employment Statistics, showing annual median wage at 53k, annual mean wage at 58k.

    Also, YES, agreed with you about the rest. I thought moving anywhere for the job sounded great at 30, but do not continue to feel that way at 40. The older one’s parents get, the more one’s family needs one, the more it may hang heavy on one’s soul that one is constrained to be a thousand miles away.

  5. And Canada versus US matters. In terms of salary maximization I think you want to begin your career in Canada–often higher starting salary–and end it in the US, much higher top end. Canada has, as might be expected, a more compressed (more egalitarian?) salary range.

  6. In thinking about the money, it’s important to remember to factor in the odds that you’ll get a TT position and that there’s a significant opportunity cost associated with doing graduate work in philosophy. A lot of us racked up debt in graduate school instead of paying down student loans, investing in a retirement account, and putting away money in savings and investments. At 27, I had a PhD and was 6 years behind my peers when it came to building up my finances. For the next five years, I ran up more debt hoping to land a TT job that pays a decent wage working as a contingent faculty member at schools that paid a pittance. At 35 I finally have a very nice job, but I don’t have a savings account, I have a checking account with about $100 in it, I’ve emptied my retirement account (twice) to pay for moves to try to work my way up the academic ladder, I don’t have a house, and I don’t own a car or a television set. Things will finally stabilize for me financially (I hope) within the year, but even then I’m making about 60K per year and the cost of living around here isn’t low. I’ll have to live rather lean if I want to put away significant amounts of money. As things stand now, I have to ask my parents to float me a loan to get a cavity fixed. I have finally paid off my credit card debts, but still owe 22K in student loans. This is the result of many, many years of making next to nothing and I’d count myself something of a success story. I’ve finally landed a job with a decent wage, but there’s a lot of catch up to play if I’m ever going to buy my own home. Anyway, the financial reality can be a bit grim when you realize that the odds of starting off with a high-paying TT job is low and that you’ll dig yourself into a rather large hole if you’re not careful.

  7. From The CHE, here are the averages for main ranks three years ago at four-year colleges and universities in the US:

    Full: $84,621
    Assoc: $63,460
    Assist: $53,018
    New Assist: $53,668
    Instruct.: $43,160

    Interesting that new hires have higher salaries than their more advanced fellow assistant profs. In a way it’s a good sign — even in 2009-10 salaries were on the rise.

  8. I’m sorry, but this, from the article:

    “a person who can give me compelling reasons why s/he is BEST suited for a career in Philosophy rather than any other career on earth (most of which offer better chances of employment and are better paid.)”

    is a staggeringly myopic claim. While full-time employment is an issue, pay certainly is not. The median income in the US is right at $50K. As Jamie points out, the mid-career salary for philosophy professors is well above that. And this with 20+ weeks off, health benefits, retirement, and what barely counts as a full-time schedule during our work weeks. (BTW, the mid-career salary for those with ONLY a B.A. in philosophy is over $80K.) Even someone adjuncting 15+ classes a year (which I have done) can make something approaching the median.

    Most obnoxious is the “any other career on earth” bit. If it’s tongue in cheek, fine. But then the article isn’t something to be taken seriously. It’s just a rant, which is what the first four points seem to be anyway.

    We are the one percent (in the world). Hell, in life-style, we’re the .1 percent.

  9. “what barely counts as a full-time schedule during our work weeks.”

    How do I get one of those? I work at least one day out of most weekends, most “holidays,” and many evenings. Most of the other academics I know do the same.

  10. i’m about to go on the job market, and this (ajkreider’s point, above) is something i’m still not clear on: does anyone actually get to take this ‘holiday’ time off? ever? it doesn’t seem like it: all the academics i see spend their ‘holidays’ doing research. and not (i don’t think) because they’re massochists, but because that’s the only way to keep afloat. …am i simply surrounded by massochists and don’t realise it? or is this ’20+ weeks holiday’ really 20+ weeks research time?

  11. I take time off. I take holidays off, and I usually don’t work on the weekends, or in the evenings. Sometimes, of course, it doesn’t work: sometimes I’m in the middle of a paper and working well and don’t want to break – other times, I’m marking and can’t afford to. But usually, I manage to take my weekends off, and to take a holiday. And I think that makes me work better when I’m working.

    I mention this because I think it’s important for people like anonymous above to realise that this can be done. I hear all the time people talking about how they work 10, 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year round. It used to make me feel like a slacker! But I don’t think you have to do that to make it in the profession, and I also don’t believe I’d be a better philosopher if I did that. And in any case, there’s more to life than being a good philosopher, and I certainly don’t believe I’d be a better or happier person! Now I won’t deny that I’ve had a pretty lucky time of it, and haven’t had to work temporary jobs with high teaching loads, but still: one can do one’s job and research without working 24/7.

    Incidentally, I’m not judging anyone who does work like that. If that makes you happy, so be it! And maybe some people just have to in order to keep afloat, I’m not sure. But I also very strongly suspect that sometimes – oftentimes? – people start getting into one-upmanship about this, boasting about how long they work. And I think people starting out need to hear that not everyone works like that.

  12. That said, I certainly don’t take 20+ weeks holiday. I take what’s in my contract: 25 days, plus public holidays. The summer non-teaching time is not a holiday, and I do spend a lot of that doing research. But I take my holidays, as laid out by my contract.

  13. The first four points don’t seem like “mentoring”, despite what the webpage says. They seem like complaints. And they are too emotionally charged–and too one-sided–to be useful mentoring. I’m horrified by that page.

  14. Perhaps a couple of posters are misreading my “20+ weeks off”. (For the record, I don’t have this, as my contract requires summer teaching as part of my teaching load). “Time off” in this sense is time without particular job responsibilities, without direct supervisor oversight, and without having to be in a particular work related place. Of course philosopher’s spend this time doing all kinds of things, including research. But if, in the middle of your research day, you decide to go to the park with your kids for a couple of hours, or have drinks over lunch, or take a week to visit friends in Australia, you can do this. And to justanotherfemalephilosopher, I’d say the same applies to our work weeks when school is in session – except that the visiting of friends in AU is called “conference presenting” then. (Okay, maybe that’s a bit of hyperbole!)

    There are very, very few people who get to live like this – all while getting above average income.

  15. Ross cameron, thanks for your reply. I’ve made it a point to work 9-5, m-f thru my phd, and that’s gone very well, even tho my peers seem to work day and night. I’ve just had the niggling fear, as I approach the end of it, that maybe I’m fooling myself to think I can keep doing this. (actually, my plan has been to work as such even in employment, and just self-select out of academia if it turns out one can’t survive that way. but of course, I’d rather like an academic job…)

  16. ajkreider, I agree that an academic’s time is quite flexible, and that this is a wonderful advantage of the job. And that conferences are enjoyable. I just object to characterizing this as “what barely counts as a full-time schedule during our work weeks.” This makes it sound as though we hardly work at all, which is the sort of thing that non-academics say, appalled at what we are “getting away with,” not realizing all of the work that goes on outside of what is strictly scheduled.

  17. There’s a comment elsewhere on the author’s website that says she seldom (or something like that) recommends that people go on in philosophy.

    People can come close to quitting once they get tenure as far as research goes. I’m not recommending this, but it does happen.

  18. I disagree that the page is merely a rant. That’s an uncharitable reception of a page that could be read very differently.

    Although I don’t disagree that “we” are the 1%, note that this is being written to students who are asking about going to grad school at all, not asking whether or not full-time tenure-track philosophers, who now constitute a minority of higher-ed instructors in the U.S., have a sweet gig.

    Our grad-school-considering students are not the 1%. Most of them will not become the 1% as a result of going to graduate school.

    Reading Sophia Isako Wong’s page with a more charitable eye, I find it quite good.

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