Reader Query: Inspiring women who started philosophy later?

A reader asks:

I’m an assistant prof who is considerably older than the traditional cohort. Philosophy has a number of people who’ve worked in other careers before coming to philosophy. The late Peter Goldie is often cited to me as an example of a person who got his start in philosophy when he was my age – I’m in my mid 40s, fast approaching 50. I suspect (I hope?) there are also women in philosophy who have had this career trajectory. The problem is, when I ask around, no one can give me any names!

Looking for inspiring role models…

9 thoughts on “Reader Query: Inspiring women who started philosophy later?

  1. I started my Ph.D. at age 40 and went on to a 21 year career teaching in a department. I’m now Emeritus. I never regretted going for it.

  2. This is not exactly the sort of trajectory you’re looking for, but I find Ruth Millikan’s unconventional career path inspiring. Google her and look at her CV.

  3. Nel Noddings started Philosophy 15 years after getting her PH.D in education and being a succesful school administrator. I imagine she started graduate work in philosophy sometime in her forties, then

  4. Look at Hilde Lindemann’s cv online for inspiration:

    B.A. University of Georgia, 1969, German language and literature
    M.A. University of Georgia, 1972, theatre history and dramatic literature
    M.A. in philosophy, Fordham University, 1997
    Ph.D. in philosophy, Fordham University, 2000

    And she was editor-in-chief of Hypatia for years! Those are some potatos!

  5. I will be 39 when I start a PhD in philosophy this fall. I am currently finishing an MA. I have an MBA and worked in both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations before making the switch. I’ve never regretted my decision to change careers, but it hasn’t been without some rather unexpected costs. For instance, I’ve never married and I see a.) my decision to pursue philosophy, b.) my age, and c.) my gender, as mutually supporting and contributing factors to this current state of affairs.

  6. (Not that I think of myself as inspiring in any way. I realize my comment diverges from the original post. I would, however, like to know how many of us there are for purely selfish reasons…)

  7. I’m definitely in this cohort, having had a prior career. I’m still junior and am beginning to regularly get asked what I did before — a clear sign that my age (as well as gender) is front and center when people see me. I would prefer it not to be that way but philosophers are no more able to see past these surface features than anyone else. That means I will have to work extra hard to get to where I want to be, and that the risk of being dismissed as too old before I’ve gotten there, however unacknowledged overtly, feels very real. So I accept as a vivid possibility that I may fail for reasons beyond my control, but I also have no good reason other than fear to think I will fail. I just do the best work I can and hope things work out despite the age issue (which is at least if not more problematic than the gender issue). I hope the profession has enough open-minded people in it to overcome the ageism as well as the sexism. And like architects, good philosophers take time to develop. I’ve never regretted the change because from my point of view the question is why it took me so long to discover philosophy, not why I made the change. Yes, as Jenni says, the career-change costs can be significant, but to a great extent the costs issue really depends on how you conceive of your life having gone otherwise, and whether you think life is over at 40 or 50 (or 60 or 70 for that matter). All that said, welcome! The more oddballs like us there are, the less we are oddballs. And yes, Ruth Millikan was a role model for me when I was in grad school.

  8. I believe Jessica Wilson (Toronto) had a career in the computer industry before doing her Ph.D. in philosophy.

  9. On a similar note, I’ve always loved this interview with Francis Kamm,

    “You must realise that I wasn’t the person voted most likely to succeed in philosophy at MIT by a long shot. I was hopeless for a while. It took me a long time… I went back to New York, hung around Columbia… My supervisor, Barbara Herman, was very patient; she saved my life.”

    There’s a lot to be said for taking the long way.
    Interview here:

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