Why Stay?

We recently had a post asking for reasons for a woman to stay in philosophy, and a lot of discussion. Eventually the original poster chimed in to say that she really did want to stay and that what she need was inspiring tales to keep her going. And some really wonderful ones came in. I decided it would be useful to have these in one place, easily consulted in low moments. (It bears emphasising though, that staying is not the only reasonable thing to do. As also emerged in that discussion, lots of women have been very, very happy that they left.)

So here, for when you want inspiration, are some Reasons to Stay. (Feel free to send more through the contact form.)


What’s best about my job as a tenured professor of philosophy

1. There really is no boss of me. Yes, academics complain about our provosts, our university presidents and so on, but it’s not the same. My landlord is around fifty, not much older than I am, actually; he was downsized from his long-held job and has taken a series of other jobs since. He regularly finds that he just can’t stand bosses, being bossed, the petty antics of bossy boss-people, especially at his/our age. I listen to his anecdotes, such as being yelled at, daily, by a ‘boss’ half his age, in the middle of Wal-Mart, and I think, “I love my freedom.”

2. I have a creative life. By that I mean that after a decade or two of crafting classes at intro and advanced levels, I’ve found that within reasonable parameters I can really make a class into anything I want. I can have them read an amazing essay, watch a classic movie, and write a terribly dense paper on their interrelation, and never use the same reading or movie twice. It is actually true that I am rarely bored (except when grading!). I push them and myself to try new things constantly. My partner can only marvel at my constant discoveries.

3. I found out that I’ve got mad skills. I’ve got skills at teaching that I didn’t know existed. I don’t have all the skills I need. (E.g., my organization is for shit.) But there is nothing like managing an intense, unpredictable conversation among college-level students about the most enduring questions of life to bring out sides of me that are surprising.

4. This academic life, it’s filled with these relationship thingies! I’m in this wide, thick web of relationships that I never expected. There are thousands of philosophers, more thousands of students! I hope that if I left the job tomorrow to be ambassador to Antarctica or something, I’d still take part in this web. I’m richer for having been a part of it.

5. Last but not least: I feel my powers growing. Seriously.


Things that I love the most about my job (I’m an associate professor in a philosophy department), in no particular order:

1. The flexibility and freedom — I can work the hours that fit me best, rather than working a strict 9-5. If I want to go to the grocery store or to a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day, I go. I don’t have to ask someone’s permission. I often work from home. Papers are a lot more fun to write curled up on my couch, in comfy lounge pants, with my dog there for moral support.

2. The people — Yes, I’ve met some jerks in philosophy. But I’ve also met some truly amazing people. People that are as peculiar as I am. People I can talk to. People I love.

3. The confidence — In graduate school, philosophy killed my confidence. I had a hard time in my program, and I ended up thinking that everyone was better at philosophy than I was, and that I was pretty stupid. Now that I’m in a supportive environment, philosophy is slowly starting to help me rebuild my confidence, and on firmer foundations this time. Philosophy is *hard*. But there’s nothing quite like the feeling of making progress on a philosophical issue, and nothing more satisfying than a growing sense of “Hey, I can do this!”

4. The travel — I get to use my job as an excuse to go to all kinds of cool places. It’s fun. I always feel like I’m going on an adventure, which is maybe silly, but I love it.

5. The students — If I’m being honest, about 80% of them drive me crazy. But that final 20%. . .they’re magic. When their eyes light up in recognition, when they follow you back to your office to keep talking about a point you were discussing in class, when they see some philosophical point and seem almost overwhelmed by it — to know that you’re involved in helping them get there is one of the best feelings ever.

6. The subject — And this is the big one. I get paid to think about philosophy. That still seems too good to be true. It means I get paid to think about what I love, because at the end of the day I really do love philosophy. I used to worry that I didn’t, or didn’t love it enough, because all the boys wanted to talk philosophy 24-7, and I didn’t — I have other interests, and I can easily feel intimidated by rapid-fire philosophy talk. But there’s more to loving philosophy than obsessive philosophy-talk, and I love philosophy very much.


Stay — I am a relatively young professor and just tenured this year. There were days I have wanted to leave and go do something else. I have experienced overt sexism and that mild form that is more institutional and when pointed out shocks the person who perpetrated it.

But, when the day is done, I love my job. I can mentor young women who are students–both undergraduates and graduate students. I can, in mentoring male students, let them know what women go through. And in talking with my colleagues, remind most of them that women go through something different than they do in the daily grind of their jobs. And I do, in fact, do all these things.

And most of the time the daily grind of my job doesn’t confront sexism in the overt sense and is a wonderful and rewarding profession. I will admit, the context I work in, might be typical in the sense it is primarily a teaching not a research institution, and atypical in the sense I am at a religiously affiliated school with a strong sense of justice from the faculty to administration, the students at all levels, and in all the support staff from secretarial to custodial.

But even when the sexism is at its worst, I can’t think of any job I would rather have–it is personally and professionally rewarding, it allows a freedom most jobs do not, and interestingly enough, provides and intellectual forum and area of research to combat the problems we find in our own pursuit of this work.

As one of my dear colleagues used to sign his (and I mean “his”) emails to me before he left for another position out of state and outside the academy (he is now a parish priest), “Courage!”

8 thoughts on “Why Stay?

  1. Thanks for posting. This really helps. I was so excited to read reason number 6 of Magical Ersatz. Such a familiar feeling!!

  2. I have just discovered your blog and I must say I spent the last few hours here. As a undergraduate philosophy student at the end of my second year, I keep asking myself almost daily if I should stay in philosophy or not. I love philosophy, I love reading it and writing and the last two years all I did during my degree was with passion. However, when from 5 – 6 teachers per year just one of them is a female, there is something that makes me feel a bit discourage. I didn’t actually experiment any particular problems, I was not discriminated and nobody made any sexist comments to me. I have felt that, in philosophy, people are more open minded (it’s probably all the skepticism), but there is always the feeling – the feeling that there is a world where you have to work twice as hard to succed.
    But, the thought that I can be in philosophy and keep staying here and one day, during my PhD I will be able to inspire young female undergraduates like me now to stay in philosophy seems like a good enough reason to keep fighting.
    The more women stick to philosophy and do not leave it at the end of their degree, the more philosophy departaments will increase the number of female philosopy teachers. And I really hope that one day there will not be just three females in a philosophy departament in contrast to 20 males.

  3. I love philosophy – i love that i can think, and that i can question, and that i can explore … i love that i can see more than the superficial … when i married some 15 years ago, i also left my University degree course in Law … when i divorced a few years later i picked up Philosophy through distance learning while bringing up my two kids and working full time, and it was definitely the best decision. It was hard – very hard at times – but so ultimately worth it. I am a better person for learning to think, and i believe my kids are too – even if they can now out-argue me … “because i’m your mother!” has never been a good enough excuse! :)

    to all female thinkers – fight on! a female perspective is enlightening, rewarded, needed.

  4. As a current PhD student who has very frequent crises of confidence and about their ability and doubts about whether they ‘fit in’ to academia, I just wanted to air my appreciation for how great the above posts are. It often gets me down that: (i) there are very few other female postgrads in the department, (ii) hardly any of the other postgrads ever admit to lacking confidence in their ability, (iii) other postgrads want to talk about philosophy ALL THE TIME, especially in the pub, and I feel bad for not wanting to do so, (iv) when attending conferences, there are very few other female and minority people, (v) the culture often seems overwhelmingly competitive (and in an aggressive way) rather than supportive etc etc.. However, it is really great to read that people who have experienced similar have got through it and are now enjoying their jobs for the reasons why I took up my PhD in the first place. Magicalersatz, your post was particularly encouraging to read. Thank you all very much, this has cheered me up no end!

  5. “In graduate school, philosophy killed my confidence. I had a hard time in my program, and I ended up thinking that everyone was better at philosophy than I was, and that I was pretty stupid.”

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m in my first semester of grad school and I’m feeling this just so strongly. I’m lucky to have many other women in my department, but I find that I frequently feel inferior when comparing myself to the men in my department. I’m working on getting over this, but I wonder if anyone out there has any tips?

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