A Philosopher's Blog

Philosophy Professor/Profession

Posted in Philosophy, Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on June 5, 2007

I was recently asked about the work environment, salary and job prospects in the philosophy profession and thought I’d post my answers:

In general, the work environment in philosophy tends to be good. Schools can vary greatly, but working in academics is generally a very positive experience (professor is the # 2 rated job in America).

Typically, a professor has an office that might be shared or private and teaches in various classrooms. Schools vary greatly in assigned responsibilities. A community college might require 4-6 classes a semester, but have no other expectations. A major research university might require 1-2 classes a semester, but expect committee work, professional service, research and such. For the most part, the work load is not unreasonable relative to the salary. Starting salary in a tenure line ranges from $30,000-60,000 depending on many factors. Interestingly, prestigious schools do not always pay more than community colleges. For example, a friend of mine is a professor at Cal State and makes $63,000 a year with a PhD. One person who has an MA makes about $65,000 at a nearby community college and has the same number of years, etc. Unions tend to be a major factor as well. Public schools in strong union states tend to pay well.

The job outlook is quite variable. When I was looking for a job in 1993 the market was horrible. The standard job listing in philosophy is published by the American Philosophical Association and is called Jobs for Philosophers. When I was looking, my classmates and I called it the Job for Philosophers because it was so thin due to the small number of jobs available. Now that many of the old white guys are retiring or dying and the economy is generally good, there are many more openings. So, the JFP is has been fairly fat in the past few years. But, things could change quickly. University budgets could drop, there could be a bumper crop of PhD s to saturate the job market and so on.

Overall, being a philosophy professor is a good job that pays reasonably well. The opportunities have been quite good in recent years-relative to when I graduated.

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40 Responses

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  1. John said, on July 27, 2008 at 7:00 am

    You’ve got to be kidding me: “The opportunities have been quite good in recent years”! On what planet? I recently received my PhD from the University of CA. Although, as suggested, JFP lists many opportunities, the rejection letters that I receive all tell me that they are having between 250 and 500 applicants for each position! It is a buyer’s market for colleges right now. I don’t think many tenured positions are opening up from retirements, and clearly university budgets are going elsewhere. Unless you are well-published, a woman, or a minority, you can forget landing a position right now!

  2. Michael LaBossiere said, on July 27, 2008 at 11:00 am

    Perhaps I should have done a better job of expressing that the improvement was a relative one. When I was looking for a job, the listings were very sparse and people spoke of 600 applicants for some jobs. When I wrote this, the JFP was quite “fat” and many people I know were landing jobs right out grad school (almost all of them white males). The job market could be much worse now. Since I wrote this post, the economy has taken a massive downswing and that would impact hiring. For example, my university is discussing closing some lines and freezing hiring.

    Since I went through the same things you are going through (I could have built a paper house with all my rejection letters), you have my complete sympathy. I got my job by pure luck-I just happened to be in Tallahassee when they needed someone to be an adjunct and then was able to eventually get into a tenure track. I hope you get a lucky break as well.

  3. PhilosopherP said, on May 24, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    FYI — the norm for community college folks is generally a 5/5 plus expectations of community involvement, committees and professional development. Publishing isn’t expected, but some combination of discipline and professional involvement is expected.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 25, 2009 at 2:22 pm

      That is a hefty teaching load. Research schools usually go 2/2 or even less-plus professors usually get TA and RA support. Life is easier with people doing much of the work for you.

  4. Asur said, on June 21, 2010 at 12:17 am

    This is depressing.

    I love philosophy and would like nothing more than to spend the rest of my life engaged in learning and teaching it.

    It’s a frightening prospect, though, to finish a PhD with significant loan debt and then be unable to find work.

    Maybe I should declare a double major while I still can — you know, so I can fall back on teaching high school science after endless rejection letters introduce my dreams to reality.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 26, 2010 at 11:07 am

      You can get paid to go to grad school (teaching or research assistant positions), which helps with debt (I had none when I graduated, aside from my undergrad loans). Also, with a PhD you can do many things (for example, I went to grad school with Larry Sanger and he started Wikipedia).

      • erik said, on January 2, 2011 at 1:03 pm

        So what did you do with your PhD? ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

        Sorry. I’m just a bit giddy this morn. Just described a great proctologist cartoon at your The War on Food article. Ah. From discussing food regulations, to regulations in general, to “assholes” who break regulations, to proctologists. It’s a wonderful life.

  5. Kernunos said, on June 22, 2010 at 3:06 am

    Here is to hoping the economy to get better. Like it or not all of our futures are tied to those demonized corporations.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 26, 2010 at 11:12 am

      True-but they need not be. We can have good companies that make money and provide jobs. In fact, being ethical is actually a better way to ensure long term profits (and to ensure that there is a long term). I have no problem with corporations as such-just ones that act irresponsibly and thus endanger us.

  6. A. said, on January 2, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Sorry, I know that this topic was from a while back, but I have a quick question or two for you.

    I’m currently 15, but I’m seriously considering becoming a philosophy professor. I’ve started reading philosophy papers and blogs, like your own, and have been studying Ayn Rand’s work avidly. Should I not attempt to become a philosopher? I don’t want to graduate with tons of loans. Are my odds of getting a job right away better if I go to an ivy league or fairly prestigous school? Also, I /really/ want to live overseas, not for my entire life but for maybe about five years here and there. What are teaching opportunities like in Europe?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on January 2, 2011 at 12:27 pm

      Whether to become a philosopher or not is a choice that you have to make. Since I know only what you have put in the comment, I cannot offer any specific advice for you beyond giving it a try when you go to college. If you do get a B.A./B.S. on philosophy and decide being a prof is not for you, you can still get just about any job that other non-technical (engineering, for example) B.A. folks can get. Or you can go on to grad school in many other fields (such as law).

      Prestigious schools do boost the job chances.

      No idea about the job situation in Europe beyond the fact that most economies are weak now. 12 years from now it might be very different.

    • WTP said, on January 2, 2011 at 1:17 pm

      Granted, this question wasn’t asked of me but since Mike brought up the subject of non-technical employment, i thought I might add something from the technical side, especially given your study of Ayn Rand…

      While I am quite critical of philosophy as a dedicated profession, I would highly recommend combining philosophy with some sort of engineering degree. Especially software development, be it via an engineering school or a business school. While some would argue that a philosophy degree may not enhance your job prospects, I would argue that the combination of the two disciplines (for lack of a better word) will put you in an ideal position to be a job creator rather than just a job taker. Just don’t go Galt on us. Someone’s got to fund this Social Security ponzie scheme ;).

  7. A. said, on January 2, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    The problem is, the only career track I’m really interested is that of a college professor. It truly seems to fit the lifestyle I’m interested in having. My strengths, and the areas that interest me most (and I DO want to be interested in the subject I’ll be teaching until I am dead/senile) are the liberal arts and social sciences. Would double-majoring in another language or perhaps religion or psychology put me in a better position regarding the ease with which I find a job?

    Forgive me for asking so many questions. I’m a planner. I like to be prepared. ๐Ÿ˜„

    Also, Ayn Rand once said an interview that the time to withdraw from society is only when censorship occurs. Until then, it’s not too late to enlighten those around you. Not to sound like a mindless follower, but this statement holds true for me as well. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Asur said, on January 3, 2011 at 2:51 am

      I understand what you mean; I’m knowingly going into a ridiculously impacted profession simply because I want it like a drowning man wants air.

      If your goal is to be a professor, your undergraduate experience has no direct relevance to the ease with which you land a job. When you go on the job market with your new PhD, too many years will have passed; it’s the CV you come out of graduate school with that will matter to search committees.

      What your undergrad years do is a) build the knowledge base you need for grad school and b) determine the quality of the grad school you can get into.

      I’m assuming that you’re going into philosophy — if not, then ignore the rest of this comment.

      Absolutely double-major if you can, but don’t waste it on a foreign language; if you haven’t already, you need to start on learning additional languages now and plan to pick them up in addition to your double. Ideally, you want to plan on fluency in an appropriate second language, and at least reading competency in a third.

      What constitutes an appropriate language depends on what you want to specialize in as a philosopher (the sooner you have a general idea about this, the better). Generally, only five languages are relevant to Western philosophy: English, French, German, Greek, and Latin. Which to pick has everything to do with your intended specialty; given your areas of interest, the choices should be common-sense.

      What to pick as your double major is also determined by your intended areas of specialization. For example, if you want Philosophy of Religion as an AOS, religion for your double makes sense. Philosophy of Mind would find psychology or neuroscience useful, depending on how you approached it. Basically, if you want an AOS in Philosophy of “X” and X is something you can get a B.A. or B.S. in, then take X as your double or at least complete a minor in it.

      The bottom line is that all philosophers specialize, and you need to know what your areas of primary interest are.

      I want to really caution you against going into orbit around any particular philosopher this early in your career. I don’t mean this as a slight to Rand or anyone else, and it has nothing to do with how intelligent or objective you are. The simple fact is that good philosophers are coherent and seductive; they make sense, and the world seems more intelligible through their eyes. However, if you learn philosophy through someone’s personal views before you are able to critique them as an intellectual equal, you WILL inherit their shortcomings along with their wisdom. Do not make that mistake; start your career with a primary emphasis on informal logic and critical thinking, then learn from the people who’ve gone before you.

    • T. J. Babson said, on January 3, 2011 at 9:55 am

      Philosophy is endlessly fascinating, but it is not so easy to convince others to pay you to do it. There is a very real chance you will end up unemployed with no real job skills and end up being a car salesman or something.

      You should check out Philip Greenspun’s “Career guide for engineers and computer scientists,” and remember that everything he says apples double to philosophers.

      http://philip.greenspun.com/careers/

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on January 3, 2011 at 9:33 pm

        One of my professors started as a used car salesman.

        True-the academic market can be very limited. Fortunately, a PhD in philosophy does provide more than just the chance of being a car salesman. For example, I went to grad school with one of the fellows who started Wikipedia. Other philosophers work in the corporate world.

        But, the academic path can be a risky one. But so too can all others. As always, it is good to have backup plans. Having a broad skill set and making contacts can be very useful.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on January 3, 2011 at 9:29 pm

      Having a second major can be useful-I doubled in philosophy & political science. This will give you more options for grad school, etc. You can also opt to major in something very distinct from philosophy as a second major.

      The professor level jobs depend on the graduate degree, though. An undergraduate degree does not really play much of a role, aside from the fact that you need one for grad school. Of course, the knowledge you gain in a 2nd major might be useful. For example, if you became fluent in French, that might help with some jobs.

  8. A. said, on January 4, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    I’m learning German right now, and plan to take it through to graduation. Should I take on another language as well?

    I should probably start with Plato and Aristotle and then move chronologically forward through various philosophers. But what can I say? Ayn Rand’s books are just so good…

    Am I safe in assuming going to a prestigous undergraduate school would help me to get into an even more prestigous grad school?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on January 5, 2011 at 5:02 pm

      Learning more languages is generally a good idea. Many graduate schools do have a language requirement-take a look at schools you are considering and see what they require.

      Reading philosophers chronologically is one approach and can show you how philosophy developed. However, it can be easy to burn out trying to grind through the centuries. You might also find it interesting to go by topic.

      Yes, a prestigious undergrad school does help (though it is not a guarantee). Graduate schools have a nearly universal tendency to not want their own undergraduates in their programs, though-so you’ll want to pick a different undergrad institution than the grad school you want. Also, most grad programs do not hire their own graduates (at least not right out of grad school). There are some exceptions to this (I met someone who claimed to have been hired at the university where he did his grad and undergrad degrees).

  9. A. said, on January 7, 2011 at 8:47 am

    Alright, I think I’ve got an idea of what I need to do now. Thank you all very much for being patient with me and answering my questions. =)

    • T. J. Babson said, on January 7, 2011 at 9:57 am

      A.

      Be careful. Don’t go into debt. Also remember that there is a huge “opportunity cost” in going to graduate school. Also consider that kids are expensive and if you want to support a family you will have to earn some serious $$$. You can always write philosophy books no matter what your profession. Spinoza was a lensmaker.

      http://chronicle.com/blogs/innovations/too-many-ph-d-%E2%80%99s-and-professionals/28236

      Consider the following. Looking at BLS data for 2008, over 10,500 persons with Ph.D. or professional degrees were employed as โ€œcashiersโ€ (excluding gaming); over 27,400 were retail salespersons; and well over 4,700 were hairdressers, hairstylists, or cosmetologists. My sidekick Chris Matgouranis found 10 occupations like these: the ones listed above plus waiters and waitresses, landscaping workers, amusement and recreation attendants, receptionists and information clerks, secretaries (except legal, medical, and executive), truck drivers (heavy and tractor-trailer) and electricians. Collectively, these occupations had well over 74,000 with doctorates or such professional degrees as a J.D. Other evidence confirms this. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that 29 percent of new lawyers were not doing legal work, consistent with the notion that there is a glut of those with doctorates and some professional degrees. The Economist recently published an article presenting evidence of very dim job prospects for many new Ph.D.โ€™s.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on January 7, 2011 at 11:17 am

        You should be able to avoid grad school debt. Most graduate programs also exist to provided TAs and RAs (that is, indentured servants). The pay is fairly modest for the work that they do, but there is usually a tuition waiver as well. If you are careful, you can get through grad school debt free. I did, but I did without a car, phone, and cable tv. Plus I made money on the side writing for gaming companies.

      • Asur said, on January 7, 2011 at 4:59 pm

        I just had to point out that Spinoza died at the peak of his philosophic abilities from what appears to be silicosis brought on by that very same lens grinding you mention.

        The world was immediately impoverished, though I’m sure it made Liebniz happy.

        Food for thought!

    • T. J. Babson said, on January 7, 2011 at 10:08 am

      A.

      Another piece of advice. No matter how much they talk about equality, academics are elitists at heart. Look at the websites of various philosophy departments around the country and see where their professors went to grad school. Then you will know what schools are “acceptable” to future employers.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on January 7, 2011 at 11:11 am

        True. We cruelly divide people into Alphas, Betas, and so on with our gradification process.

        To be honest, academics suffers from the same problems as any other field (ranging from unions to political systems to Hollywood to corporations). There are old boy/gal networks, there is elitism, there are power groups and excluded people.

        But, just as with all these other fields, there are decent people who operate on the basis of fairness and have a reasonable degree of integrity.

  10. T. J. Babson said, on January 7, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    “But, just as with all these other fields, there are decent people who operate on the basis of fairness and have a reasonable degree of integrity.”

    True, but there is probably one of these on the search committee ๐Ÿ™‚ The rest will barely glance at your CV if you do not have the right pedigree.

  11. Vince said, on December 13, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    So I came to this blog post in my sophomore year of college. For the first few years I spenty time looking at any career/field that wasn’t Philosophy professor. All that I considered just seemed to be nothing compared to the dream of being a college prof. in my favorite subject. So this spring semester, I will be declaring philosophy as my major in hopes that the job I yearn for is attainable. I decided to not go confidently in the direction of my dreams would be foolish. But I do worry (incessantly) about not being able to make ends meet while those around me thrive. Starting off at a community college should offset some undergrad debt. I wonder, what other B.A. s I should consider besides those listed as a double major? As much as I love philosophy, am equally as drawn to eastern religions, specifically Buddhism. The Pali language, the original language of the religion, fascinates me as well and I’d hope to one day specialize in translation/interpretation of Buddhist scripture. I only wish our society placed as much value on wisdom as it does material goods.

    • magus71 said, on December 13, 2011 at 7:54 pm

      Vince,

      You state:

      “But I do worry (incessantly) about not being able to make ends meet while those around me thrive.”

      Then you say:

      “I only wish our society placed as much value on wisdom as it does material goods.”

      Do you see the problem there?

      Wisdom will help you thrive. We can talk about specious theories all day long, and yet one of the things we know beyond most doubt is that we are material beings with material needs. Having material goods does not preclude wisdom, but a good many people who have no material goods can be said to have little wisdom.

      • Vince said, on December 14, 2011 at 1:03 am

        Yes, I see your point. Though, I don’t necessarily believe that pursuit of wisdom results in a comfortable life materialistically. For example, I wouldn’t say that someone who majors in business for the sake of having money and good job security is bursting with wisdom. Perhaps practicality, but if that was what I were seeking from life I wouldn’t want to be a philosophy major. In the long run, being a published author with moderate success and the like would be nice and would certainly be an example of wisdom resulting in financial gain. My worry isn’t my inability or lack of skill but rather lack of knowing the right people or having the right resources. Teaching philosophy is something I know I would love to do, and yes there are other ways to apply the knowledge and experience gained along the way to my degree towards a monetary ends but, I worry about how hard it would be just to get my foot in the door of a teaching job. I’m of the opinion that a majority of people who want to have a lot of money make that their goal and chose a career for that goal. Money isn’t my goal, but it’s an unfortunate fact of life, as you correctly pointed out. My worry is that in following my dream, I will fall short in terms of finances facilitated mostly by the debt I will already be starting off with. Wisdom has many benefits, and money can be one of them but it’s not exactly the direct result of this field. I could always go to law school if I find that employment is scarce to none or that I spend more time unhappy about my finances than happy about any job I get. But mainly my question was this: if I were to double major as a security measure, what degrees would you (anyone who’s a philosophy prof.) recommend? Much appreciated.

        -Vince

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 14, 2011 at 1:37 pm

      You can go with a philosophy/religion double major as one option. Some schools, such as my own (Florida A&M) have a joint philosophy and religion option as a major. If you want more in the way of a fallback option, you could pick any other major as your double.

  12. Vince said, on December 13, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Also, I typed that on my phone in the car so excuse the typos and auto-corrects. Thanks.

  13. JJ said, on December 30, 2011 at 5:12 am

    I appreciated reading other peoples experience with philosophy and working. Felt like sharing mine for some reason:

    Graduated with a BA in Philosophy 1 year ago. Have been applying primarily in the field of education but due to lack of any feedback other than rejection I’ve also applied to a wide spectrum of other jobs and fields. I seem to get 2 interviews/100 resumes but no offers yet. But that goes with other majors too. My friend graduated from USD with a Doctorate of Law degree. It took him 3 years to get a job – and it was a family friend who got him in.

    I remain a self employed house painter and feel kind of lost as to what I’ll be good at doing. I’m actually going into the military reserves for some legitimate job experience. I often think of returning for an MA/PhD if circumstances permit but I do wonder if one must be part of the elite to land a professor gig, not just an average Joe who busted his rump to get the degree.

    Regardless of my current job situation, studying Philosophy shaped me into a better thinker and gave me a whole set of tools for conscious life.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 30, 2011 at 10:54 am

      JJ,

      Coincidentally, I did summer work as a house painter when I was in school (now I just paint my own house-just did the inside and out this summer). Going for the PhD can be a good idea-be sure to apply to be a TA or RA-that way your tuition will be covered and you’ll get a (very) modest paycheck.

      As in every field, the “elites” always have an advantage. However, I got to be a professor and I most certainly didn’t come from an elite background (my dad was the first one in his family to finish high school-he then went on to get a masters degree).

      You will want to make contacts in grad school (if you go) and try to make a name for yourself as soon as possible. Connections matter a lot, but so does merit.

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