Become an Academic Philosopher
Do you want to teach philosophy at the college level? It requires a lot of work, involves a lot of risk, and the pay is mediocre. But thinking about perennial human questions and important ideas - and shaping young minds - can be rewarding.
- Go to as good of a college as you possibly can. Because academic philosophers are very cliquish and trust only the judgment of their "old boys network" friends, it is important to have good connections. Sadly, few go far in philosophy unless they got an undergraduate degree at a large, prestigious state university or a very selective private university or college.
- Get a BA in philosophy. Go to every class, do all the reading, go to all department events. Take good notes. Most of what you learn will be relevant far into your future. Take challenging classes from well-known senior faculty, so that you can get good letters of recommendation. (You might also want to get a second major in some related but more useful subject: economics, computer science, biology, chemistry, physics.)
- Apply to graduate school in philosophy. You will need three letters of recommendation, all from philosophers, a 1 page statement of purpose, and a 15-page writing sample. Write your writing sample on a philosophical topic that is timely and small enough to manage. Depending on your situation, it might be best to go to a terminal master's program first. This might take 2-3 years. After that, you will need to get a PhD. This will probably take an additional 3-5 years. PhD programs presuppose a lot of knowledge and motivation. The professors are active researchers, first and foremost, and teachers, second.
- While working on your PhD, take your term papers or qualifying papers and turn them into research papers for presentation and publication. Present them at conferences. Publish them in good academic journals (the top ones are Mind, Nous, Philosophical Review, The Journal of Philosophy, and Philosophical Studies). Try to teach some classes.
- Select an area of specialization and two or three areas of competence. There seem to be lots of jobs in ethics, applied ethics, philosophy of science, and philosophy of education. There are relatively few jobs in philosophy of language, metaphysics, and philosophy of mind.
- Write your dissertation. Try to make it so that there are at least three articles out of the dissertation that you can give as talks or use as writing samples.
- Make friends with respected scholars in your area. Connections are very important in academia. No one will know how good your work is if no one reads it. Most academic jobs are gotten through the "old boys network," even though there is an expensive and elaborate charade of a job convention (see below).
- Apply to jobs advertised in the newsletter, "Jobs for Philosophers." Typically, there are around 300 jobs per year. If a school is interested in you, they will probably set up an interview at the annual East Coast meeting of the American Philosophical Association (APA). The meeting rotates between Boston, New York, Philly, DC, and Atlanta. Go to your interview, and try to make a good impression!
- Additional jobs are advertised in the Spring of each year. Some of these require interviews at the Central Division Meeting of the APA in Chicago.
- If you interviewed well, you will get invited for a campus visit. You will probably be asked to present a paper and/or teach a class. Meet with administrators! Shake lots of hands! Convince that outside member of the search committee from Sociology that you are "politically correct."
- Do not publish things that are poorly thought out or hastily composed --- it might come back to haunt you!
- Do not advertise your religious beliefs or political convictions at any stage of your career, especially if you have centrist or conservative political views (unless, of course, you are a philosopher of religion or a political philosopher). Most philosophers are social democrats or greens, just as most philosophers are atheists. But make no assumptions! This is just common sense.
- Academic philosophers make between $38,000 and $150,000 a year, with most of them making around $45,000-$65,000. So do not take out too many loans to finance your education! (Because of the mediocre pay and the large amount of schooling, most people in philosophy come from privileged backgrounds.)
- Consult the Philosophical Gourmet Report, hosted by Blackwell's publishing.