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Killing Aspiration on Future Prospects

December 19, 2009

There’s an interesting discussion going on over at Leiter’s place on the question of whether philosophy PhD programs should cut back on admissions given the increasingly dim job market. Personally, I think it’s up to grad programs simply to level with grad students about their grim employment prospects, but to allow that some people may want to continue their studies because philosophy is redeeming in itself.

When I went off to get my PhD in philosophy, I certainly didn’t know if I’d eventually get a job. This was deeply aware of the possibility that I wouldn’t get a job. Nevertheless, I went…but for different reasons. Sure, I wanted a job in philosophy, but more than anything, I wanted to read philosophy with other people who understood and gave a shit about philosophy too. I felt that I hadn’t explored enough philosophy with my simple BA (even though, by that point, I’d taken 13 classes in philosophy). I thus went into my graduate studies knowing that I may well be spending ten years of my life exploring the ideas of dead people and that I possibly could be unemployable. I did this during the nineties, during the salad days of the Clinton years and the dot.com boom, when every other friend of mine was living the high-life.

Though it was hard to watch my peers advancing their careers and jet-setting around the world, I was sure then, and I’m even more sure now, that I made the right decision. I think there’s a lot to be said for simply pursuing a field because it’s redeeming.  What’s important in making your decision, then, is knowing that you’re stepping into a reasonably depressed job market.

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One comment

  1. One of the things that these discussions always miss is that PhD production is very highly connected with the ranking of the program. Across just about all fields the top quarter of the programs graduate about half the PhD’s, the top half about 80% and the bottom quarter less than 10%.

    Thus the common prescription of closing the weakest programs does not work. However, there is one very effective method for eliminating the glut of PhD’s, close the University of California. This appears to be underway.



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