Lessons Learned: Notes to the Philosophy Profession

By medical necessity, I left graduate school 10 years ago. I suffered a major psychotic episode that left me hospitalized, on medication and unable to work. I was an A student who contributed to the field by way of service. I was a TA, then an RA and, also, a mom. (Not to mention a first generation college student from a poor background and former teen mom–perhaps the only teen mom in philosophy at the time.)

It has been a decade, but things change slowly in academia. Therefore, I wanted to write this note for current students, as well as professors and gatekeepers of the profession.

  1. If you are a student, get enough sleep. I cannot stress this enough. I know you have papers due, papers to grade and professional papers to read. I know this all too well. During grad school, I got about 3 hours of sleep a night. New research suggests the brain sort of eats itself when one is sleep deprived. This damage may be repaired sometimes, but it takes a long time and it’s not certain.
  2. If you are a professor, be aware of your words and actions. I was a blogger for my department’s blog. In that role, I came across other philosophy blogs. In that capacity, I saw that not all philosophers are very nice. There are disputes, sure. But then there’s just bad form. I saw a lot of bad form. It made me walk on eggshells and have extreme anxiety. I was a budding student who didn’t know everything. Yet, people more knowledgeable than me were being treated like scum. I understand now that everyone is human. Even philosophers. But I also understand one can strive to be a good human. So: Try.
  3. Know the basics of sexism and racism and know what to do about them. What should have been my first red flag that made me run as fast as I could was when I was told by a fellow student that the profession is bad for women. This student didn’t seem to have any solutions to remedy this. Just a report that the profession was bad for women. (Later, the same student sexually harassed me.) I also witnessed our only racial minority student, whom I was friends with, work harder that any of the other students and subsequently drop out for health reasons similar to mine. The lesson from this? Know not only that philosophy is bad toward minorities, know also how to remedy this.
  4. Understand that diversity is good. I was a minority of my own kind in philosophy. It’s known that all kinds of diversity leads to great things in academia, science, organizations, and more. Don’t select the standard young, single, childless, able-bodied, middle class, white male. Be flexible in your choosing and change your schema to be adaptive to other kinds of people. Philosophy will die if it doesn’t respond to the needs of diverse students and faculty. And rightly so.
  5. Don’t be so snobby. I came from a poor background, but I was introduced to snobbery by philosophy. I began to look down on less educated people. I started to remove myself from my roots. All of this to fit into your schema.
  6. Don’t be elitist. I know, I know. You now think I’m a Republican because I associated elitism with academia. Untrue! I am fully progressive, which is why I have come to detest the elitism in academia. Everything is ranked: departments, journals, universities. Everything. I believed in equality, but was taught early on that philosophy is a brutal hierarchy. Disown that shit! Brutal hierarchies are so 80’s. We now know that egalitarian institutions thrive better than stratified hierarchies.

With these things in mind, I wish everyone in philosophy well.

Leave a Reply