Becoming a Philosopher: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of choosing a career as a philosopher? Get real career descriptions, job prospects and salary information to see if becoming a philosopher is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Becoming a Philosopher

Formally educated philosophers try to answer some of the fundamental human questions about art, free will, morality, time and space, truth and the relationship between the brain and the physical world. The following are pros and cons to ponder before pursuing the career a philosopher.

Pros of Being a Philosopher
Employment of college-level teachers expected to grow*
Opportunities to provide consulting services to ethics boards and government agencies**
Universities have a demand for philosophy professors to teach courses for both majors and non-majors**
A philosophy education can prepare you for diverse careers outside academia*

Cons of Being a Philosopher
Career field for postsecondary teachers is highly competitive*
Few sources of outside grants for philosophy research**
Limited number of philosophy research institutes outside of universities**
Metrics used to judge faculty performance, such as grant dollars and citations in scholarly journals, are not as relevant in philosophy**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Philosophical Association.

Career Information

A teaching position at a college or a university is a typical career path for philosophy students. Philosophy is more amenable to discussion and seminar formats than lecture-only courses, so philosophy professors spend more time interacting with students one-on-one and in small groups. In addition to the time they spend in a classroom or a lecture hall, philosophy professors conduct research, write articles and books, confer with colleagues and speak at academic conferences. They also consult with other professionals, such as computer programmers, government officials, healthcare providers, politicians, policymakers and scientists. Other career fields where critical thinkers can find a home include business, government, journalism, law and social services.

Career Prospects

Graduates of a philosophy program who opt for a postsecondary teaching career will find the field competitive. A marketable philosophy professor is one who can fill a classroom and attract new majors to the department. Academic institutions will be less inclined to hire those instructors whose areas of philosophical specialization are less in demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 19%, or faster than average, increase in employment opportunities for postsecondary teachers from 2012-2022. In a growing institutional trend, colleges and universities are hiring more adjunct and part-time, rather than tenure-track, professors, and opportunities should be available at these levels, though the American Philosophical Association has stated that tenured and tenure-track faculty should be the norm.

Salary Information

According to the BLS, in May 2014, the median annual salary for postsecondary religion and philosophy professors was $63,660. Although professors in some fields, most notably sciences, supplement their personal and departmental incomes with research grants, few sources of such grants are available for philosophy research.

Education Requirements

At the undergraduate level, students can earn a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and engage in the rigorous coursework necessary for tackling life's big questions. In addition to philosophy, classes can include the study of ethics, epistemology (the nature of knowledge), logic, metaphysics and semantics. Students who want to teach at the college level will need a Master of Arts or, preferably, a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). Depending on a graduate student's financial and work situation, area of specialization and individual study pace, a Ph.D. in Philosophy can take 4-10 years to complete. Philosophy majors who enter the teaching field should:

  • Be well grounded in traditional philosophy
  • Be knowledgeable about different philosophical systems and religions
  • Understand the principles and methods necessary for designing and implementing curriculum
  • Understand the content and structure of a non-English language
  • Understand the causes of historical events and their impact on civilizations and cultures

Real Philosophy Teaching Jobs from Real Employers

Graduate teaching positions and research assistantships provide students with the opportunity to acquire some real-life classroom experience. The following academic positions from April 2012 give you an idea of what college and university philosophy departments are looking for in the field.

  • A university in Minnesota offered an opportunity for a non-tenure-track philosophy instructor to teach an introductory philosophy course, an ethics course and other classes as needed for their Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences program. The posting stated that prospective candidates should have a Master of Arts or a doctoral degree in philosophy and prior experience teaching at the college level.
  • A state community college in Tennessee advertised for a position for a tenure-track instructor with a master's degree in philosophy or a master's degree and 18 hours of philosophy courses. Candidates, the posting stated, should have prior experience teaching at the community college level and the ability to plan and teach introductory philosophy courses.
  • A church-affiliated university in Massachusetts looked for a tenure-track assistant professor of philosophy to teach undergraduate, elective and graduate courses in philosophy, provide Ph.D. supervision and be available for departmental services. In addition to traditional application materials, candidates were also being asked to submit at least one published research paper.

How to Stand Out in This Field

Get Published

One of the above job postings asked candidates to submit a minimum of one published research paper. Just as a portfolio or a website helps a graphic designer market his or her abilities, a published paper is one way to gain the recognition of your peers. Advancement and achieving tenure typically requires a record of published works such as papers, books and monographs. Unlike some fields, doctoral dissertations in philosophy are not commonly published as books, but may be extracted for journal articles

Expand Your Employment Search

Another way to stand out as a philosopher and market your skills is to investigate non-academic, non-traditional employers, including foundations, libraries and public interest organizations. Management and supervisory positions in these areas might be a good fit for those philosophers with the ability to evaluate an abstract research proposal, analyze a situation or project and absorb new information quickly.

Get Specialized

Some philosophy subjects are more in demand than others and one way to stand out in the field is to identify and specialize in them. Noteworthy areas currently include African American, African Caribbean, non-Western and feminist philosophies. Philosophy departments who labor under the oversight of budget-conscious administrators will be most interested in those candidates who can work collaboratively on issues of mutual concern with professors from other academic departments. For example, topics of shared research activity could include ethics and law or language and artificial intelligence.

Alternate Career Paths

A philosophy major provides you with a broad education that can prepare you for a variety of professions. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills taught in philosophy can apply to careers as a journalist or lawyer.

Journalist

If you're interested in the broad liberal arts base of the philosophy education, but also want to focus on current events and interact with the public at large, consider being a journalist. Journalists keep the public up to date about local, national and international events. They can write and report for magazines, newspapers, radio programs, television stations and websites. Many work on location and often live and work in dangerous countries and situations. Most news outlets prefer experienced candidates who hold a bachelor's degree in journalism or communications.

The BLS anticipates a moderate decrease in employment of reporters and correspondents from 2010-2020 and an average increase in the number of jobs for broadcast news analysts for the same time period. In May 2011, the median annual salary for reporters and correspondents was $35,000, also according to the BLS.

Lawyer

If you're looking for a career with a higher median salary than that of philosophy professor or journalist, consider a career in law. Lawyers provide advice or help settle disputes for individual clients, businesses or government agencies. They can be employed in corporate, private or government legal offices. An undergraduate degree, three years in a law school accredited by the American Bar Association and a passing grade on a state bar exam are the requirements necessary for entering the field. Individual schools offer students the opportunity to acquire dual master's and doctoral degrees in both philosophy and law.

The BLS projects a ten percent, or about average, increase in job growth for lawyers from 2010-2020. As the number of law school graduates will be more than the number of available positions, competition in this field is expected to remain strong. As of May 2011, the median annual salary of a lawyer was $113,000.

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