Wednesday, May 21, 2008

How old is too old?

A request for discussion arrives over email:
What are the odds of a 39-40 year old from a top 5 philosophy program securing a TT position at a PhD-granting research university like? I read your blog every day, and I don't recall any discussion of "older candidates" and potential age discrimination with regards to fresh hires on the philosophy market. Your help would be much appreciated!
There's got to be some joke involving the "half plus seven" rule to be made here, but I'm too mired in grading to put the effort in right now. Give the nice man your thoughts, kids.



Anonymous said...

Doesn't matter. Lots of folks are in there early 30s when they first go out, so why on earth would a few more years ever make a difference? You gotta a bad heart or something?

Anonymous said...

If your application is otherwise competitive it shouldn't and probably won't matter. It's possible that people will look for a little more in the way of proof/reassurance of your potential for productivity, and maybe a more fully formed research agenda, than they'd want to see for someone 10 years younger.

(I am 40 and just about to start my first tenure-track job at a research university this fall, but I'm in a discipline in which ages of professors starting out are probably more variable than they are in philosophy.)

Anonymous said...

It clearly shouldn't matter, but I have to say I have gotten the impression that it does, (though I couldn't say from where). I, however, am only a lowly grad student. Any thoughts from folks who have been on SCs?

Anonymous said...

So long as you meet all the usual criteria, it shouldn't be any problem whatsoever.

In fact, some dept.'s prefer more mature colleagues.

Anonymous said...

My experience as a member of several search committees is that it does not matter one bit. Especially as most people we interviewed were in their early 30' late 30s is but a few years, and no big deal.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to the person who raised this question, and thanks for posting it. I'm in the same boat --late 30's, and getting ready to enter the tt market- and have the same concerns. Very encouraging!

Anonymous said...

I'm at a PhD-granting research university. Our most recent tenure-track hire was over 40. I suspect that at many Leiter-ranked schools ranked in the 20-50 range it is actually an advantage to be a bit older. You appear more mature and less "green" to search committees during the APA interview.

Anonymous said...

I think it's probably technically illegal for this to make a difference, but in practice it will make a difference in interviews. However, depending on the committee, I could imagine it making a difference either way. Some people will be more impressed by a candidate that seems "young and vibrant" or something like that, while others will be more impressed by a candidate that seems "seasoned and mature".

Coming from a top 5 program should probably make this easier.

Anonymous said...

Looks like the Leiter thread has died down...anyone interested in doing some statistics?

Anonymous said...

I got two tenure-track offers from Ph.D.-granting research universities (as well as several other offers; I accepted the one at a top liberal arts college) my first time on the market at 41. My age didn't seem to play any role in the process.

Anonymous said...

A school that did phone interviews on Friday readvertised the position yesterday. I wonder what that means for my candidacy.

Todd said...

Anon 5:22

I assume you're talking about Eastern Washington - If so, I'm in the same boat as you, and have no clue what's going on. I can't see how readvertising at this point is going to help them - it's not like they are going to be able to find people now interested in the position who weren't interested when they advertised two months ago...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Might have been scheduled to repost long ago. Notice two other schools were reposted and almost immediately struck out with lines through the ad. I suspect administrative error here. Also, I think at least some of those reposted ads appeared on the web only ads prior to the most recent JFP issue and then were left off that issue. Maybe that was an error and they're trying to make up for it. Eastern Washington is one of those. Whatever the case, it's annoying.

Anonymous said...

I'm Anon 5:22. Yes, I had in mind Eastern Washington. Your comments make me feel better. I'd assumed web-only ads were posted more or less same-day, but your explanations make at least as much sense as mine, and yours are more cheritable, so following basic hermeneutical procedures, I'll buy them. Thanks.

Prof. J. said...

Has everyone read the current 'First Person' in the Chronicle of Higher Ed? Here:

Allan Hoffman, pseudonymous chairman of a history dept. at a northeastern univ., is appalled at the quality of applicants he got. Some of his reasons for dismissing applicants out of hand:

• a limp handshake;

•dissertation topic doesn't appeal to wide audience;

•has a problem with the fact that students in big survey course don't want to be there;

•hasn't googled department members enough;

•googled department members too much.

The funny thing is, I can believe that these things really do cause department chairs to write you off. I just can't believe that a department chair lists them as his reasons.

Anonymous said...

[re: the Chronicle article]

Yeah, some of the criticisms are valid, and some are silly. The most interesting one, I think, is this: "We asked candidates to talk, succinctly, about the intellectual stakes involved in their dissertations -- how their work mattered in larger contexts. Not more than a third could handle the question."

Historians always say this kind of thing. Let's say you're studying a collection of newly released Cold War documents from an archive in Russia. You've got to reach conclusions that are of interest to people who work on Italy in the 12th century (or, more likely, the other way around). What's up with that? Isn't history about learning new shit about the past? If everyone has to relate their specific researches to larger topics, then a lot of important spade work will just fucking never get done.

I think philosophy's a little different. If you find a new and interesting question that no one else has ever mentioned, or a new solution to an old problem, does it really matter if it doesn't relate much to Big Topics, but simply is a nice solution in its own right? I think philosophers have more respect for specialist work than historians -- or do folks out there disagree?

Anonymous said...

[Re: the Chronicle article]

Rejecting a candidate for a limp handshake is apparently a common phenomenon, according to new research from the University of Iowa:

It's amazing how many job candidates, in and out of academia, don't know this. Rejecting applicants for this reason, then, may be a form of social Darwinism (weed out the social retards)?

Anonymous said...

This is kind of funny (still off-topic):
We asked her how she might approach indifferent students. "Oh, they wouldn't be indifferent to Marxist-feminist-postmodernism," she said confidently, and was off: "We'd start the African-American history course by establishing that gender makes race."

"Excuse me," my colleague interrupted, "I don't understand what you just said."

Of course, what the colleague forgot to add is "and I want to make sure it stays that way". But that's just a guess on my part.

Anonymous said...

To anon@ 11:18's point:

Philosophers who specialize in the field in which a candidate also specializes might not care that the candidate's work is specialized (i.e., not be negatively biased against that). This should be apparent.

But if the interviewing philosophers are not familiar with the particular field or are generalists, then you can bet your ass they have less respect for work that is overly specialized or lacks clear relevance to the "bigger picture."

There's nothing inherently special about philosophy that gives us a free pass to pursue useless (though perhaps intellecutally beautiful) there? Maybe there is; perhaps philosophy is more like art than other disciplines such as history, in that philosophy can be valuable in and of itself (is this even true?).

Then again, every discipline thinks it is special and unique such that it stands above all other disciplines. So we (I) could just be falling into the same trap now. So it's not unreasonable to assume there's nothing special about philosophy that makes it exempt from being practical or at least relevant to something else (even philosophers appreciate a comprehensive list of references/biblio., since that demonstrates relevance to previous work).

At best, an overly-specialized and irrelevant piece of work may be intellectually brilliant; but there's more danger that it's self-indulgent brain masturbation. (But to the extent sexual masturbators can find work in porn, strip clubs, etc., perhaps there is a job market for mental masturbation.)

Anonymous said...

If everyone has to relate their specific researches to larger topics, then a lot of important spade work will just fucking never get done.

But if the work can't (or the author won't) be related to other people's work, then how is the spade work important? Serious, non-snarky question. Importance isn't some Platonic form, but measured by its relevance to the larger academic community.

Philosophy gets a bit of a pass because our subject matter starts off a little weirder.

Still, I've been to talks where the speaker seems passionately interested in an issue that the audience thinks could have been wrapped up in a paragraph, and it generally doesn't go well, or would have gone better if the person had explained what interesting issue turned on their work.

You work on an obscure passage in Aristotle? Tell us what larger issue hangs on it. You work on Clarke? Be prepared to talk about Leibniz. You're writing on indicative conditionals? Have some compelling examples at hand.

Anonymous said...

Preach, 6:28.

Anonymous said...

6:28, 8:53 -- you're idiots, right?

What is this 'mental masturbation' crap? And come up with your own compelling examples for indicative conditions -- Christ, this isn't high school any more. Some of us are more interested in doing good work than spoonfeeding the rest of you.

Anonymous said...

I'm 11:18. The responses so far are interesting. Several replies.

I had a professor who told his grad students, when asked what was a proper goal in a term paper, that it's hard enough to be right in philosophy: at a minimum we should aim to be relevant. So I do think philosophy differs somewhat from other fields.

Regarding the Aristotle example: there are plenty of papers in ancient philosophy that spend 20 pages usefully interpreting a passage, or a word, or a fragment. Those are small points, but when you're trying to read one of the big treatises like the Nic. Ethics or the Metaphysics, knowing the results of the all the specialized research does make a difference. That's an example of spade work: results that by themselves are small but useful, but which add up.

I agree that a lot of papers and presentations could be condensed to a paragraph, but that doesn't mean that spade work isn't important. It means some people do bad work, which is really besides the point I intended to make.

I'll also agree that a dissertation shouldn't be about one passage in a text (it could be about a word, witness Kahn's work on Greek _einai_, but then "to be" is a special word in any language). But I could see someone at Bowling Green writing a diss about the ethics of sports, which didn't tell us much new about ethics, but told us a lot about sports (not a traditional philosophical topic) by applying familiar ethical methods in interesting ways. That would be something that didn't advance our knowledge of larger issues in philosophy but could be worth doing. Yet what would that person say in a job interview? He'd give an example of an argument he made, and the reply would be "that argument's already been made" (though not in that context).

Anonymous said...

Some of us are more interested in doing good work than spoonfeeding the rest of you.

My, my. Why the assumption that doing good work and being able to communicate it to non-specialists are mutually exclusive endeavors?

It's not about spoonfeeding. It's about participating in a philosophical conversation, and just like any other conversation, one has to tailor the conversation to the audience.

The Chronicle article, as I'm sure you noticed, didn't advise 'don't do good work' but 'your work may be good, but when you're trying to convince people to give you money to do your work, they need to be able to understand what you're doing, and that means you need to talk in non-jargony language if you're speaking to a non-specific audience.'

11:18, thanks for the response. Now that I see what you mean I would not count that spade work as not useful. Far from it. I think it's just a matter of packaging. And all the Aristotle scholar would have to say in an interview is that Spadework X related to Interesting Aristotle Issue Y, which related to General Philosophical Interesting Point Z or Interesting Debate Q.

I really think (now that you've clarified) that it's just a matter of bringing your interlocutors up to speed on why you thought the project was worth pursuing. That's harder to do with some projects than others, but I think everyone needs the practice of explaining their work in lay-philosophers' terms.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 9:34 clearly falls into the group that over-specializes and now has an inferiority complex about their work. Poor guy/gal.

Mr Intrinsic said...

Huh, I guess I have to agree with 9:18 (in substance if not in presentation). If we had someone give a job talk on Aristotle's metaphysics, and during questions someone asked "But why should any of us be interested in what Aristotle thought about substance?", I would be very embarrassed. I'm sure the candidate would try to explain, and maybe she'd succeed, but it's just a stupid question. If you see no point to interpreting Aristotle's metaphysics, then don't come to the talk or come but don't participate. But it isn't incumbent on the speaker to explain.

Mr Intrinsic said...

Sorry, when I wrote "9:18" I meant 9:34".

Anonymous said...

If you see no point to interpreting Aristotle's metaphysics, then don't come to the talk or come but don't participate. But it isn't incumbent on the speaker to explain.

That's one of the most retared posts I've seen on this blog, and there are many to choose from. Just one implication of this position is:

If you see no point to interpreting Aristotle's metaphysics (for instance), and you are on a search committee, then don't put a candidate engaged in such work on your interview list.

Is that what you really want? Or is it better to give the candidate an opportunity to defend/explain the work's relevance and importance? You cannot reasonably assume that all/most/many philosophers keep up with all/most/many fields of philosophy, though perhaps some try to at the expense of some other investment of time (research, teaching, family, etc.). So it's not a failing to not be constantly aware of the latest findings or implications of every little research niche. The candidate would do well to help educate the search committee. And if the candidate is unable to do something as straightforward as this (to educate intelligent peers, already predisposed to like him/her, about his/her work), then is it really prudent to trust that the candidate can carry out basic duties, such as teaching apathetic undergraduates?

Anonymous said...

But with respect, Mr. Intrinsic, that's not the question that would be asked. The scenario described in the URL was not people saying 'Pah, who cares about Aristotle's metaphysics' but the equivalent of people saying 'I saw the candidate being really interested in this one small interpretive point, and it looks like they did good work, but I'm not sure what in Aristotle's metaphysics turned on it.'

Mutatis mutandis for the other subdisciplines (nothing particular hangs on the specific example), and I think that's something that the speaker should take care to address when not speaking to an audience of specialists.

Mr Intrinsic said...

That's one of the most retared posts I've seen on this blog, and there are many to choose from.

Uh. You think it's retared? Do you mean 'retarded'? What are you, eight years old? I swear to god, I have never in my life heard an employed philosopher insult something by calling it 'retarded'. So this is a first for me, and somehow it's made all the more savory by the fact that you misspelled 'retarded'. Yummmm.

Just one implication of this position is:
If you see no point to interpreting Aristotle's metaphysics (for instance), and you are on a search committee, then don't put a candidate engaged in such work on your interview list.

No it isn't. That's not an implication in any way. You fail the logic requirement.

The next Anonymous is worth answering, though, so I'll continue below.

Mr Intrinsic said...

The scenario described in the URL was not people saying 'Pah, who cares about Aristotle's metaphysics' but the equivalent of people saying 'I saw the candidate being really interested in this one small interpretive point, and it looks like they did good work, but I'm not sure what in Aristotle's metaphysics turned on it.'

That's a fair point, but I don't agree with you about what the complaint in the Chronicle article was. It's a different discipline, so maybe hard to interpret or transfer onto ours, but the guy says the candidate couldn't explain 'the intellectual stakes' involved in the dissertation, or 'how their work mattered in larger contexts.' In philosophy, you really couldn't write a dissertation on, say, the interpretation of the word 'telos' in Metaphysics Zeta (sorry if that's a bad example) without engaging all kinds of other issues in Aristotle's metaphysics. I presume something similar is true in history. But you would still be vulnerable, in some sense, to a question about why any of Aristotle's metaphysics matters in some grander way. And I think it's foolish to ask a job candidate that question.

Anonymous said...

I was once asked by an interviewer why my dissertation topic about theories of [insert perennial philosophical concern] and their relevance to epistemological questions about [insert other perennial philosophical concern] mattered, what practical relevance it had. This was a philosopher asking this. They weren't simply trying to see if I could enliven undergraduates. This person genuinely seemed to think such metaphysical/epistemological questions needed to be linked up with some sort of practical import. I shouldn't have to do this with another philosopher. It's one thing to say that you aren't excited about certain philsophical questions. It's another to say that they aren't legitimate areas of pursuit unless put in the service of some further end. Bah.

Anonymous said...

In philosophy, you really couldn't write a dissertation on, say, the interpretation of the word 'telos' in Metaphysics Zeta (sorry if that's a bad example) without engaging all kinds of other issues in Aristotle's metaphysics.

Yes, and *that's* what the search committee wants you to be able to talk about.

Mr Intrinsic said...

I guess there's rough agreement, then, that what happened to 7:18 is unreasonable, and what 7:26 says "the search committee wants you to be able to talk about" is reasonable.

I thought the Chronicle author was complaining that the candidates couldn't answer the question that we all think is unreasonable. But I guess that's a fairly dull hermeneutic question.

Anonymous said...

I think, Mr. Intrinsic, just judging from the experience of my friends who are historians, that it is a more likely to be posed question in history, if not a more reasonable one. My sense is that history is a lot more compartmentalized as a discipline than is philosophy, due to the nature of the research methods (numerous) and the sheer amount of data they potentially have to process. Thus, there isn't as much of a sense of a core discipline or canon. Which means that there's not as obvious of a 'hook' to engage your interview committee. Which means actively saying 'This is why my study of 16th century peasants in the English fens was a worthwhile use of research time.'

That said, though, I still think it's a useful skill for philosophers to be able to say what, if anything, turns on their research and to practice doing so non-technically.

Anonymous said...

Mr. (not Doctor?) Intrisic wrote: Uh. You think it's retared? Do you mean 'retarded'? What are you, eight years old?

Ah, it's good to see that ad hominem arguments are still alive and well, even within the philosophical community that is supposed to educate students about these fallacies.

You fail the logic requirement. So I suppose one cannot hope that you would give a substantive reply to the post in question, which I find to be a fair point.

By the way, it's probably that "retared" was a simple typo, but if you're unwilling or unable to engage in an intelligent debate, then I suppose it's also too much to hope for that you would be charitable in your analysis (as is common courtesy in professional philosophy, but perhaps you're not employed in the field).

Mr Intrinsic said...

You obviously don't know what an ad hominem argument is. You should be both ashamed and embarrassed.

You had no substantive point. You called what I wrote 'retarded', which I found mind-boggling. You misspelled it, which I found pleasing. And then you incorrectly ascribed an implication to what I wrote.

When others have had substantive criticisms, I've replied to them. But I've already wasted too much time responding to someone whose idea of criticism is to call something 'retarded'.

ide said...

If it would be possible to return to the original topic... I'd like to get some feedback on my situation.

I came close to finishing a PhD in anthropology the first time around, but couldn't get funding to finish before having to go to work outside academia. I'm thinking I could afford to go back to school in a couple of years--this time in philosophy, although my major interests (very broadly, various issues surrounding how psychological experience comes to be what it is) haven't changed significantly. I think going back in philosophy would make more sense for me now because (1) my anthropological interests were always driven more by a love of theory than by a love of fieldwork, so it's not really that much of a shift from how I was approaching anthro; (2) I have health issues that make lengthy fieldwork problematic, plus it's not as though funding fieldwork has gotten easier in the meantime; and (3) falling off the anthro fast track burned my bridges a little bit, so as long as I am going to have to start over from scratch anyway, switching disciplines doesn't add much (if any) time to how long it would take for me to finally finish.

I'm 44 in July, would almost surely need to do a master's first (I have about a minor's worth of UG philosophy, working on getting more), and probably can't start that before I turn 46, at the earliest. I work in IT now and am on my way to becoming a DBA, so if I wasn't ever able to get a faculty position, I could certainly survive... but neither the desire to participate in academia, nor my interest in my intellectual agenda, have lessened since I left high school, so it's really more about my passion than any prospect of employment. On the one hand, I feel like it's really quixotic even to consider getting back into academia at my age, but on the other hand, I can't get over this feeling of really being a fish out of water anywhere else.

I know faculty positions are hard to get no matter what, so I'm not even thinking about those, considering I would probably be in my mid-50s when I finish. If I could just get the PhD and interdigitate between, say, contract IT work, part-time teaching somewhere, and chipping away at my research topics of choice, I think I could live with that. But what I'm worried about is whether I'm going to be too old even to try to get into philosophy grad school in the first place. Am I completely pipe-dreaming here? Am I going to run into age discrimination buzzsaws if I try to compete for berths in solid programs, or is there any decent likelihood (as decent as there would be for a younger person, anyway) of being able to make this work?

I'd be happy to hear your honest appraisals of the situation. Thanks in advance.

Anonymous said...

ide, one person in my program started in their early 40s. that person got funding and all, and is doing well (we're a top-50 program, albeit in the lower half).
but i was thinking that
1. perhaps not philosophy, but sociology or psychology are the right disciplines for your topic.
2. if all you want to do is write a bit, read a bit, teach a bit but not go for a TT position, why not go somewhere really good for a masters? that would still allow you to teach as an adjunct in many colleges.

Anonymous said...

Hey Miss Intrinsic, your retared.and yor mom is an ad homonem argiment;

Prof. J. said...


It's a good question.

My guess (based on about 20 years in the biz) is that you would meet with some age discrimination, but that there would be programs that would take you in without batting an eyelash, too. (My PhD program has had in the last twenty years two students who started in their mid thirties and one who started older than you.)

Anonymous said...


In my program we had a couple of students just like you. They already had careers but wanted to pursue a graduate degree. And neither had an MA in philosophy prior to joining the program, although both were well read in philosophy. So, I think there's a good chance you'd get into a program. You may even try applying to PhD and MA programs, just to see how your file does with a PhD admissions committee. If you don't get into the PhD programs then go for the MA.

Also, if you are just interested in part-time teaching, you can do this without the PhD. Most places only require the MA. So that's something to consider.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 7:45,

Following your dream is always the right thing to do.

I've had a similar experience and a now, as an asst. prof, I'm making half of what I could be in the buiness world. But doing what you love is priceless. And if academia doesn't work out (i.e., if I don't get tenure and don't want to move), I can always return to my former profession and pursue philosophy independently or affiliate with some like minded association. Ethier way, I'm still doing something I'm passionate about.

I know it can be a scary decision, especially if you have a family, but it's a leap of faith that you don't get a chance to make jump into it headfirst! (If you have a backup plan, that makes the leap easier.)

Anonymous said...

mr intrinsic = stoopid. please pull your head out of your ass, poseur. you're embarrassing us all.

Mr Intrinsic said...

11:03 Nice.
Stoopid, poseur, retarded.
I guess that's what I get for playing in the sandbox.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Mr. Intrinsic has his finger on the irony pulse.

Anonymous said...


I'm not trying to be a party pooper, and I want to go on record saying that if you really want to get a Ph.D. in philosophy you should totally go for it, but there are some things you should think really hard about before you enroll.

1. If you start a Ph.D. program at 46, the earliest you're likely to finish is when you're 52, 51 on the outside. In my program, for example, it's technically possible to finish in 5 years, but typical people finish in 6, 7, or 8.

2. When you finish, it will probably be really hard for you to find a job. Not just because you'll be "old," but because it's really hard to find a job in philosophy. I know really smart people who took six years to find a TT job. I know really smart people who never found a permanent position. You'll be in your 50s while you're doing this.

3. You'll be lucky to make $20,000 a year until you graduate. At a time when the economy is tanking, the price of food is climbing, the price of fuel is skyrocketing, and the value of any real estate you might own is plummeting.

4. Half of all people who start grad school don't finish.

5. Even if everything goes really well--you finish at 51, you find a job right away, you don't starve to death--you'll be pushing 60 by the time you earn tenure. More realistically, if it takes a couple of extra years to finish and then you have to take a couple of VAP positions after that, your friends will be retiring when you're getting tenure.

I'm not trying to be discouraging. If that stuff doesn't bother you, or bothers you less than your alternatives, and you're confident that you'll continue to not be bothered, I say, go for it. But realistically, this doesn't seem like a very practical idea, even controlling for the fact that you're considering grad school in philosophy.

Anonymous said...

Well, stop eating sand or acting like a jackass, and we'll let you stay in the sandbox.

Anonymous said...

mr. intrinsic = mr. no-sense-of-humor. lighten up, framcis.

ide said...

Thanks to everyone who commented on my earlier post. I appreciate all the advice; it's neither easy to countenance doing what I described, nor is it easy just to let it go, so I've got a place for everything everyone said.

A few comments in response:

@multiple: Good point about the MA and part-time teaching, for obvious financial and logistical reasons. I would probably want to go all the way, though, for three main reasons: (1) I'm based in Seattle, so it's likely to continue being competitive for positions in the area; (2) I'd be the first person in my family ever to finish a PhD, and I'd like that; (3) to develop and participate as much as possible. But the point is well-taken, since I may feel differently about any or all of these 5 years down the road.

@Anon 5/28 926p: Many of my interests are kind of suspended between philosophy and the social sciences. Without going into big detail, one thing that bugged me in anthro was feeling like a lot of our theoretical toolkit needed much better philosophical grounding; after a while, doing something about that felt just as, or more, interesting to me than doing anthro per se.

@Anon 5/29 737a: Yeah, I might have a shot at some PhD programs, especially if I can pack in certain classes/solidify certain experiences over the next couple of years. My sister, who came to a similar path from a totally different angle--she'll be starting philosophy grad school at about 39, after working for years as an actor and writer, and is currently getting an UG philosophy degree from a school fairly far off the radar--is planning to apply to both MA and PhD programs as well. We figure we probably have roughly equal numbers of grad school admissions hit points, although distributed rather differently.

@Anon 5/29 234p: All good points, especially #2. One of the things I'm forcing myself to think hard about is the degree to which I'm trying to keep some old dream alive past its natural lifespan--yeah, I wanted to be an academic rock star, and for a while, that could have worked out, so letting that go is tough--as opposed to being willing to find a way to instantiate some other kind of dream, one that's really similar in some ways, different in others. Sort of like, can you segue from an undistinguished college athletic career to become a really successful division I coach, or are you going to just wallow in watching your high school highlights reel some more? I feel like if I can be well-grounded on all fronts while trying this, maybe I can cherry-pick the best of academia while retaining some of the best of, not-academia. But that's a risky and delicate thing to attempt, so candor like yours helps, too--because if this was just some atypical midlife crisis bullshit, it would be a waste of everyone's time. Thus, the unexamined life, et cetera et cetera. :)

@all: Thanks for your words of encouragement, and candor. Best to all of you.

Rhomponomous said...

Why is Mr. Intrinsic taking so much heat around here?

He made a fair point, to which most have agreed. He admitted that he was interpreting the article in a differnt way than others and that on their interpretation he agreed with the point.

So, he took offense to having his post called retarded...who wouldn't? And his position clearly doean't entail the claim about search lay off...

Anonymous said...

This is my first post on this thread, but I believe that Mr. Intrinsic's earlier post *does* entail a claim about search committees. At 10:41, he said:

If we had someone give a job talk on Aristotle's metaphysics [and you want to ask the speaker to connect his/her research to the larger context]...then don't come to the talk or come but don't participate. But it isn't incumbent on the speaker to explain.

So an implication seems to be this: If I were on a SC and didn't have an AOS/AOC in Ancient Greek philosophy or Aristotle, then I shouldn't ask such questions or shouldn't even come to the job talk? If I shouldn't come to the job talk, then why would I vote for him/her to be on our short-list of candidates in the first place? The only plausible explanation would be that the candidate's overall CV was impressive enough that I wanted to learn more, in this case more about the research. But if I shouldn't inquire in such sensitive or obviously-dumb matters, then I lose an important data-point that would likely weigh in the candidate's favor. And I would have to make my hiring decision based on incomplete information, which would likely be to the candidate's disadvantage.

It's ironic that a philosopher would ever advocate *not* asking an honest question...

Anonymous said...


The only good reason to pursue a PhD is because you have no choice: you're driven to do it, and can't think of anything else you'd do instead. The reasons you give sound like you want the degree, but only do it if you want to be a PhD student along the way to getting the degree. I was a late-stage transfer from one PhD program to another, and got my PhD in my late 30s, so I'm somewhat sympathetic to your predicament. Also, I work at the boundary of philosophy and the social sciences.

Maybe consider a PhD in education? You admit you're never going to be on the TT, and you're right. That, plus your IT background, would put you on the track for a good position in academic administration. Plus education gets a lot of new PhD candidates in their 30s and 40s and 50s, so you wouldn't stand out. There's a big advantage, if you want to continue pursuing your research, of having access to a good library. And that means have online access to journals and indices, plus ILL, almost more than the physical presence of a university library nearby. In administration you'd be working in the university, so you'd have this access, whereas at a CC, teaching with a master's, you wouldn't just like if you were away from academia entirely.

mr. zero said...

If you, as an SC member, didn't know enough about the topic of a job talk to know why/whether it was important or connected to larger issues, why wouldn't you do a little research prior to the talk, and put yourself in a position to know without having to ask a silly question? It seems to me that if you don't know enough to evaluate its significance, you don't know enough to evaluate it at all.

That said, I typically spend a paragraph or two in each of my papers explaining why I think its topic is important.

In any case, it seems to me that Mr. Intrinsic is getting a bum rap--the hostility that's been directed toward him seems undeserved.

Anonymous said...

ide, I hate to say it, but I have to second anonymous 2:34. If I were you, I wouldn't do it. But if I were thinking about it, in addition to anonymous' list, I'd want to think at some other things.

1) You may be in high demand now in IT, and I have no reason to doubt your report of that. But being in demand in your mid-forties and being in demand after a seven- or eight- year break in your mid-fifties might not be the same thing, and I think you'd need to consider what would happen if you didn't land a philosophy job.

Being unemployed at age 29 and having to jump back (or for the first time) into a business career is one thing. At 55? Eek.

2) Are you planning to move around a lot in your mid-to-late fifties to establish yourself in a new career? It's not going to be as easy as getting your degree in the city you're currently in and then working there in a tenure-track job. You speak of yourself as being based in Seattle, but that is likely *not* going to be a relevant consideration, either when picking a school or when hoping for a job.

3)I wouldn't worry about overt discrimination, exactly, because I don't think anyone will ignore you for being too old. But if a university is looking to tenure someone who will be with the community for a while, they have a mandatory retirement age at 65 and you're coming up for tenure under the most likely scenario at 61 or 62, I'd
be a little worried.

4) You don't yet have an undergrad philosophy degree. That's not in and of itself a big deal, but it does make me wonder why philosophy, and what you think you'd want to study. Just a life-of-the-mind bug? Do you have an area you'd like to research? Nothing wrong with a 'no', particularly, but it seems some soul-searching is in order.

Is it just that you miss an intellectual challenge that you think philosophy can bring?

I ask because one can have a fulfilling life of the mind without necessarily going through the academy, and if what you're looking for is intellectual stimulation and a love of knowledge, there's lots of ways to get that without committing to a Ph.D. program.

I'd give this advice to undergraduates, too. A lot of people go into philosophy because they love learning and the literature, and that may be a necessary, but not a sufficient reason to do grad school.

5) Why not finish the anthropology degree? You're closer to done with that, and then you could make your post-PhD career about thinking harder about the philosophical implications of your primary research.

I don't mean to sound discouraging, but it's not an easy or bankable career path at any age, which makes it hard to recommend to someone who primarily wants the career. If this is just the equivalent of watching your old high school games, it might not be a good idea.

So just think on it a lot. (Good practice, anyway.) good luck!

Anonymous said...

If you, as an SC member, didn't know enough about the topic of a job talk to know why/whether it was important or connected to larger issues, why wouldn't you do a little research prior to the talk, and put yourself in a position to know without having to ask a silly question? It seems to me that if you don't know enough to evaluate its significance, you don't know enough to evaluate it at all.

Fair comment, but this highlights the (implied) point in this discussion: faculty, especially search committee members, are already over-worked and likely don't have 30 minutes to invest in researching a topic, whether it's at the application stage or job-talk stage.

So why wouldn't a candidate try to make a SC's job as easy as possible, in order to maximize her/his chances of being selected for the next stage? It seems just plain lazy to not make that effort and pawn off that responsibility to the audience/faculty/SC. For one thing, it's far more efficient for the candidate to draft an abstract that explains the research/paper's relevance to the larger picture, being already close to the work.

By the way, Mr. Intrisic = Mr. Sensitivity/Hostility, so that's why s/he is catching flak. In contrast, where folks have disagreed with you, Mr. Zero, at least you offer a civil, more substantive reply, even where such a reply is undeserved. Further, Mr. Instrisic's position doesn't even seem reasonable in the slightest, that it's entirely up to the audience to be aware of some presenter's topic; that's the entire point of going to a learn something.

Anonymous said...

Pardon my lateness with respect to the Mr. Intrinsic vs. Anon(s) debate:

What appears hypocritical--and perhaps explains the reason for hostility towards him--is that Mr. Intrinsic calls "stupid" what some or many others see as a legitimate question; but when he's called "retarded" (or "retared"), he feels insulted and expresses indignation. And then he believes that he's above replying to such a criticism.

This is called "having your cake and eating it too". So perhaps the hostility is deserved.

Anonymous said...

As someone who's served on search committees in each of the last five years, I'd agree with the last two analyses (2:52 and 8:06).

If you work in some obscure niche, then, naturally, the broader implications of your research will not be apparent to most. To think that everyone else should be familiar with your niche, and therefore to think that you shouldn't have to provide explanation on how it is relevant to the larger context, is arrogance and perhaps reasonable grounds for disqualification. Even if not reasonable grounds, given how competitive many applications are, it is not good to have anything that even feels like a 'strike' against your candidacy.

Anonymous said...

Don't know if Ide is following this thread anymore, but putting in my two cents seems appropriate. I started grad school at 44 and got my PhD at 50, spent a year as a visiting asst prof, then got a TT job. Not a big research university mind you, but my dream job at a small liberal arts college. I've never been happier.

Some of the advice given on this topic has been to weigh the difficulties and 'realistic' possibilities of things not working out. Well, it's been my experience that, while this is true, the bad should be weighed with the possibility of things actually working out too. I was prepared for failure, but found success. If you will not be able to live with yourself not knowing what might have happened if you had have gone for it, then do it.

And of course, as everyone has indicated, if you want a sure thing, seeking a PhD and job in philosophy is not the way to go.

One approach I did take that I think helped was this: Every year of grad school I asked myself, "Am I happier this year than I was last year; am I even more glad I tried this thing now than I was a year ago?", and if I could say 'yes' to both, then I knew I had done the right thing.

Life's kind of a gamble anyway, right? Better to have loved and lost I think.