Thursday, March 06, 2008
Ask the Administrator: Philosophy and Finance
A new correspondent writes:
I’m currently a student at a California State University. I’m working towards a double major in philosophy and finance. Philosophy is my real passion with finance as a monetary safety net. As I reach the end of my undergraduate career I find myself thinking, as most students do, about what is next for me. I’ve decided that I’d really like to become an academic and bring my passion for philosophy to a younger generation. I figure that to do this, in whatever form, I will need at least a masters in philosophy. This is where the problem arises, I have very little money… very little. I’ve heard of many great fellowships and scholarship programs at school around the country but what is the best way to approach getting financial aid? Also, any great sites for researching graduate programs would be much appreciated.
This breaks my heart. This kind of information should be easily available from the faculty in your program.
In the evergreen disciplines, of which philosophy is one, there's a tremendous surplus of qualified applicants for nearly every tenure-track job. When my cc did a recent search for a philosopher – our first since the 80's – we were deluged with responses, and even we won't consider anybody without an earned doctorate and teaching experience. A Master's wouldn't even get you past the first cut.
Given that you aren't exactly independently wealthy, I'd strongly advise against doing graduate work in philosophy. This is especially true if you don't get in at one of the top half-dozen or so programs.
(As far as financial aid goes, the rule of thumb for graduate work in the evergreen disciplines is that you should never pay tuition. If they aren't willing to give you a fellowship or teaching assistantship, you should take that as a hint. And fellowships are vastly preferable to teaching assistantships in the early years, since you'll have more time to devote to coursework and preparing for comps.)
One of the tragedies of the professionalization of the academy is that people have come to believe that they can't do the work they love without a specific credential in that field. This is nearly always wrong. The most interesting work, consistently, is done by people crossing fields. Rather than looking at philosophy as a closed club – which, in many ways, it is – I'd suggest looking at it as a habit of mind. What is it about philosophical inquiry that attracts you? Chances are, there are plenty of other avenues that would allow you to use those same habits of mind and still feed yourself.
If it's the rigorous symbolic logic that attracts you, I've noticed those folks often overlap with math, computer, and engineering types. If it's more the social and political area of philosophy, you may find parts of the business and finance world an intellectual feast. Lively minds find ways to be lively in any number of settings; a tenure-track professorship, while nice, is not the only way.
If you just can't help yourself, and simply can't imagine living life as anything other than a certified philosophy professor, then I'd advise skipping the Master's and applying directly to Doctoral programs as a Doctoral student. Typically, at least in my experience, students who identify upfront as Doctoral candidates get most or all of the funding. You can still leave with a Master's halfway through, but you'll leave with less debt. So there's that. But honestly, unless you're at one of the top half-dozen or so programs in the country, I wouldn't even advise that. This is no reflection on you; it's just the reality of an incredibly brutal employer's market.
Good luck with your decision.
Wise and worldly readers – your thoughts?
Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.
Go to law school, go to law school, go to law school, go to law school... or, any other graduate education that will help you earn a living -- like finance, etc...
Do it and don't look back.
Once you've made a good deal of money, then go back to grad school to feed your mind/soul if necessary. You can finish an MA while working full-time and adjunct in the evenings at a CC if you must --
The philosophy job market is terrible, the competition is intense and even if you are a wonderful philosopher and teacher, getting a job is more of a hope than any kind of certainty. If you get a job, you'll never be able to choose where you live -- so if your significant other can't move or needs to move for their job, you'll be in a long-distance relationship...
and... this is coming from someone who has a job. Don't get me wrong, I love my job and I love my students -- but, there are many reasons I probably should have gone to law school instead of grad school.
The other option? Teach high school. Many of the fancier sort of private/independent schools offer philosophy and related classes, as well as the fanciest of public schools. Many of them will eventually pay for your master's degree, at least in part if not in full.
I would only do as DD recommends -- cheat the Ph.D. system and walk with the master's -- if you have serious research interests. One, you might end up happy in your Ph.D. and want to continue; and two, you'll find it difficult to be admitted if you aren't serious about research.
But really. High school. Completely worth considering.
Whatever you do, don't pay for graduate school. Get the funding or don't go.
Don't go to law school unless you want to be a lawyer. Really want to be a lawyer.
It is very expensive and the jobs you can get to pay back your loans will destroy your soul if you don't actually want to be doing them.
So if you want to do a PhD, I would suggest a terminal master's. There are a couple of really good ones around and some of them do give you funding. After that, apply to the PhD. My husband applied twice to total rejection and now, after a terminal masters, he's got three admits and is on two waitlists. That terminal degree will make a huge difference. Philosphers want to know that you've read the right things in a structured setting.
Okay, meanwhile let me also say that working for a while to save some money would not be the worst idea. My family is going to manage here because we have savings from my husand's engineering work. It was also good for him to get some experience. It means he could go back to that work if he needed to do that.
Then again, if you're single and willing to be poor, go for broke. If my husband had been single when he first applied to grad school, that's exactly what he would have done.
Consider it this way. If you have a relatively large pool of applicants for a posiotion, all basically with same credentials and general qualifications, then the only way to begin to weed folks out is to turn to the secondary list. And as to what is included on the secondary list is anyone's guess -- but you see, therein is the rub.
The ways the Karamozov bropthers try to please the mad father is not a bad model for how academic hiring goes.
Don't do it. Go have a nice life in some other professional world.
(and if none of this is convincing, look up Tim Burke's essay on going to grad school, and then do a google search for "invisible adjunct")
As Anastasia said, you have to meet the admissions criteria of the school to which you're applying. Your double major might not cut the mustard at some places. Your GPA might not be enough. If, after checking off of all of these boxes, you can still say "I have what it takes to be considered", go ahead and apply. Talk with the professors who'll be writing you letters of reference (we're talking application for admission for the 2009-10 year, right? Because you're probably too late for almost everywhere for the 2008-9 academic year.). Explore the programs that interest you. Contact people there for further information.
And take a good long look at what other career options there might be. As Dean Dad noted, there are some intellectually amazing nooks and crannies you can find outside of academia. There are policy institutes, non-profits, advocacy groups, governmental offices and other places that need people who can think keenly, argue intelligently and provide the insight that your dual paths have provided. Perhaps there's something else there that will appeal?
In any case, please start by talking to one of your professors. And if they're not helpful at all (shame on them!) or say they're too busy, soldier on but know that without their help, the prospect of graduate school is even less likely.
--The job market for lawyers is also rotten. Finding work is difficult, and what you can find is frequently soul-destroying and incredibly exploitive. Like with academia, the wave of newly-created law school grads have to put up with way, way more crap than the previous generation did to get anywhere near their level. The workloads are insane. Ninety-nine percent of "lawyer fiction" climaxes in the lawyer quitting the business. There's a reason. (Please note, I live in Washington, DC. My understanding is that this is nationwide, but I could be wrong.) Like another commenter pointed out, make damn sure you want to be a lawyer before going to law school. The law market is too damn rough to be a simple fallback.
--Second Line brings up an interesting parallel from literature worth considering. Frustrated at the old tyrant's capriciousness and cruelty, the fourth Karamazov brother killed his father and framed his eldest brother. So I suppose a murder spree might work. (Hey, I'm just spitballin' here.)
--A rule of thumb for jobs is if a job is cool, something you've heard of, and doesn't require very difficult technical skills, it pays like crap and is cutthroat. So your choices are to either take an uncool job, find an obscure job that few know exists (which may require you making one up), decide to get some of those difficult technical skills (whee, computer programming; whee, brain surgery), or be resigned to poverty and scrambling for a long, long time. It sucks, but there it is.
--If you're considering "selling out" and taking a boring, good-paying job about which you couldn't give a rat turd, don't do it too early. Should you get bored with it and want to do something risky and creative, you'll probably find it really hard to do, since you'll have become accustomed to luxuries like "groceries" and "making the rent every month." Also, one's tolerance for poverty declines rapidly with age. Take the chances early. There's always time to bail out and become respectable later.
--Waffles are delicious.
Good God, NO. Our (combined) student debt from law school is bigger than our mortgage. If you're short on financial means and want to do not-law, DON'T GO TO LAW SCHOOL. The financial burdens will cripple you for literally decades (we know lawyers in their 50s still paying off loans, and they went to school when it was a helluva lot cheaper than now) and tie you into not just law, but high-earning areas of law that you may not be interested in.
I, contra Dean Dad's school, am teaching philosophy at a CC with a JD and a masters in theology. As an adjunct, but they've typically hired folks with professional degrees (and some academic background) when they go looking for someone to fill out the "ethics" part of the full-time department since we're a fairly career-training-oriented CC. My JD makes me somewhat more qualified to teach business ethics and even medical ethics (since it's more practical and legal than theoretical) to career-program students than many of my cohorts with Ph.D.s, unless their focus is ethics. My students are often not just learning ethics, but prepping for state certification exams with ethics sections that typically ask questions based on state (and federal) law codes governing the ethical practice of their profession, not about ethical theory. (I'm also married to an attorney who does defense litigation for hospitals, so I always bring him in for medical ethics and my students crawl all over him with practical, every day, situational questions.) But I was very lucky and stumbled into this, and my geographical location (four or five colleges, none with PhD programs, within 15 miles in a small city in a rural area with a single dominant employer, so the hiring pool of PhDs (or anything Ds) is shallow, and many folks won't move here b/c of spousal job issues in our single-sector economy) plays a large role in that, I suspect.
And I like Janice's suggestion -- I know a lot of philosophy and literature people working at places like think-tanks where they get paid good money to think and write!
You can make a real impact in the real world through financial and business training.
The odds of getting a stable tenured job in philosophy is likely less than the odds of going to Hollywood and writing a series of successful screenplays and the compensation is much less too!
DO NOT GO TO GRADUATE SCHOOL IN PHILOSOPHY!
"I want to do something I love that other people do not value.*"
My pappy called that a "Hobby."
*yes, yes a rough paraphrase but accurate on the essentials; "will not pay me for = do not value" in a properly run economy
This will take longer than going for broke from the get-go but it will leave you less vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the job market and will allow you to try things out before you sacrifice your financial future and may leave you with the monetary muscle to do crazy things like buy a house and pay for daycare for the four kids you've had with the hot chick/dude you met in your Master's program or that cute barista that you just couldn’t resist. It also is more likely to make you feel less victimized by a system which is in no way set up to do you any favors. I know plenty of people who love teaching who get a lot of enjoyment out of doing it on an adjunct basis because they have other ways of making money (teaching is a hobby of sorts). Your practical experience will also inform your teaching and help you understand your students in a way the rarified conditions an RI institution provides never could.
Your undergrad plan was brilliantly pragmatic. Keep it up.
Welcome to the brave new world of academe.
Definitely get a job when you graduate, save some money, and start to figure things out.
Also, it sounds like either you haven't asked your professors for much help, or they're just not helpful. To be repetitive, if you can't get help from your current profs, it will be very very difficult for you to get into grad school.
Finally, remember that it can take time to find a job/profession that you love. There are jobs out there you've never heard of--you may love one of them.
No matter what you choose, good luck.
In all seriousness, I think you'll find that philosophy and finance actually overlap fairly well, and that you can pursue your love of knowledge from the business side as well. But you have have to do a bit of path-carving at first.
Go into finance and live frugally. When you've saved up a couple million, do whatever you feel like without regard for financial consequences. But do not try to be a philosophy teacher as anything other than a hobby you can leave behind with no regrets.
If you really love philosophy there are ways to do it outside of a traditional department. If you really love academe and are prepared to be broke for that love, come on board. If you don't and aren't then run for the hills.
The academic job market, particularly in arts and sciences, stinks.
And the world actually needs thoughtful people working in finance. Let George Soros be your model.
2. That said, it's important that you don't think of an academic route as one that is easy or necessarily a strong personal choice for anyone. Philosophy is not my discipline, but English, which is about as horrible job-market-wise, is. I came from no money at all (did my BA between fed. financial aid, working, and loans) and no one in my family had a college degree. When I chose to pursue academia, I did not realize the following: 1) A PhD in no way guarantees you a job, or even a chance at a job; 2) You will have no control over where you live; 3) Pursuing a career in higher ed can wreak havoc on personal relationships and can compromise your other life goals. Coming to terms with that before you're well into a grad program is advisable.
3. I actually disagree with DD about going the straight PhD program route, only because an MA is much less of a psychological commitment and much less of a time commitment. There's no way that you can really know until you're in it whether this is for you, and it's good to have an easy out, rather than to have to deal with the whole "I'm a failure because I'm "dropping out" of my PhD program with a terminal MA" thing.
4. You should also talk to your professors about what other non-academic career paths there are for philosophy majors and what current grads have done with their degrees. In fields like philosophy, it can seem like the only career path is "teacher" as there aren't a whole lot of jobs for "philosophers" these days. Well, sure, that's one path, but it's not the only path. Don't limit yourself, or fall into the trap of thinking that because school is all you've done to this point that it's what you should continue doing. It's scary to look ahead to graduation and the future and to imagine what to do next, but you'll thank yourself later if you think about this deeply now, rather than falling into the academic track.
All of that said? If your professors encourage you, and if you do all of this thinking and research, and you come to terms with the risk that such a choice would involve and you still want to do it? Who are we to tell you to go to law school? Keep your eyes open and do your homework. That might make you realize that this isn't such a good idea after all. But if it doesn't, well, clearly people do make it out of graduate school and come out on the other side with jobs. You might be one of those people (although you should know that the odds aren't good, however smart you are, or however well you do).
Finally check out the following links:
Good luck! You've got a lot to think about.
My advice to OP would be, if you do decide to get a MA, do NOT, NOT NOT go anywhere that won't at least give you a small (and livable) teaching stipend. MA programs are cash cows for universities and they don't necessarily care how much good it will do you.
Three more things:
1) I'm not sure that an academic job in philosophy is the way to "bring passion for philosophy to a younger generation". Think of your intro college classes. Now imagine teaching them.
2) A friend recently tried to go this route- he had a BA, high GPA, work experience, a lot of coursework in Greek and Latin and philosophy. Couldn't get into a single PhD program though he did aim for top-whatever programs b/c otherwise chances of an academic job approach zero. He's now in a MA program which pays peanuts, hoping to get into a PhD program which will take 7-8 years and pay peanuts. Don't think it'll be easy. DD is right: no top-ten program, no job.
3) Grad school is frequently a way to take a subject you loved dearly and make you never want to open a book on it again. You might seriously consider alternate jobs.
Academia takes over your life in a way that I never expected, and that is not altogether positive. I think the advice of many here...to sit down with an academic and have a long chat about what professors do is sage advice, and you'd be wise to follow it.
I'll put it this way: You have honed your skills in a numerically technical field (finance) and in a field that emphasizes precise (if not succinct) written expression and argumentation. This is likely to be exceedingly rare. Rare enough that you won't see an ad for that combination, but important enough that there should be employers who will treasure and reward those skills in a pleasant work environment.
This is not mere speculation. My niece went from pre-engineering into history. Not many history grads have a year of calculus and the related mathematical critical thinking skills. She found a fantastic job that uses both skills to a high degree. (Sorry, I won't say where or even what field.) Like her, you will need to sell yourself with a good resume, but you should be good at that with your background in critical writing and analysis.
Afterward you get settled, you can write philosophy on a blog in your spare time, and it might get more readers than it would in an academic journal or bookstore.
If you're young and unencumbered, and it sounds like you are, follow your heart. If you don't do it now, you never will. It's easy to say that you'll go back to school after you've made some money, but it's hard to do. You might get married, buy a house, have a kid--one day you realize it's all but impossible to give up the dreary but well-paying job because other people count on you.
It's one of those deathbed things, for me. When you get there, are you more likely to say, "I wish I'd just gotten a job as an accountant right out of college instead of chasing my passion," or "I wish I had followed my passion when I was 22 instead of spending my life as an accountant?" Really, only you can answer that question.
Whatever you decide, best of luck.
but the fact his, he has 8 different bosses coming by his cubicle asking him about his tps reports. Yes, it pays well. But, as my lovely husband puts it, the price is your soul. He writes code to make things that big corporations buy so they can make even more money and he labors on it 60+ hours a week with his boss breathing down his neck so the shareholders stock can go up 1/4 point and then they can lower overhead even more by outsourcing his job to India.
six figures, yes, but it may not be worth it to everyone. To my husband, it isn't.
Okay, now that I'm done with that, what I really wanted to say is that with skills in finance, the kind of skills that come with proficiency in mathematics and the kind of clarity of written expression you need....those are skills you can use in philosophy. Even if you work for a while to save money or get yourself set up so you can do some kind of consulting or part time work to support yourself while you study, those skills will help you and having them will be very much in your favor.
The trick is to see work as what it is, a piece of your life. And it's what you do with that life as a whole that will determine your happiness in life.
A cool job that leaves you no room (in terms of time or in terms of money) to do other things will do more to destroy your soul than a lame job that gives you the money and time to follow your bliss. It's all about balance.
Here are a couple of links that could be helpful:
(for info on what you can do with a major in philosophy)
(Peterson's guide to grad schools)
(Princeton Review for grad schools)