Advice to a former student, an aspiring philosopher

So you want to become a philosopher? Should you apply for graduate studies in philosophy? Maybe. But you should be aware that you will achieve your goal only if you overcome the following obstacles, one after the other:

(A) You have to be admitted to a good graduate program in philosophy. (A number of extremely smart and motivated young people are applying, and many of them are rejected.)

(B) You have to get a Ph. D. (Not all who are admitted do.)

(C) You have to do very well during your graduate studies in order to enter the job market with strong letters of recommendation and preferably some good publications. (Otherwise, your chances of landing an attractive job are practically zero.)

(D) You have to get a tenure-track job in severe competition with many very able candidates.

(E) You have to publish the work that is sufficiently good to impress your tenure committee.

(F) Even later you have to have enough time for research. (Surely your dream is not to be burdened mainly with teaching and administrative obligations.)

(G) You have to succeed in being productive and do a lot of work that will be appreciated by others. (Again, your dream is not to churn out publications which might perhaps get you promoted but which almost no one will read.)

(H) In your mid-career and later you have to conclude that, all things considered, being a philosophy professor has been more satisfying to you than any of your alternative possible careers would have been.

Success at any of these steps does not mean that you will advance to the next stage. But in order to become an accomplished philosopher you have to go all the way and successfully finish the whole sequence.

Now how likely is that? In other words, what is the joint probability that A, then B, then C, then D, then E, then F, then G, and then H? Think hard about this and then decide whether the whole plan is worth the effort.

I hope this does not sound too pessimistic. Anyway, in my opinion this is a useful way to look at the situation before making the choice to go to graduate school. (Needless to say, this is not how I myself made the decision to go into philosophy decades ago!)


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