Non-Academic Careers For Philosophers 1
It should be stressed immediately that the non-academic value of a field of study must not be viewed mainly in terms of its contribution to obtaining one's first job after graduation. Students are understandably preoccupied with getting their first job. But, even from a narrow vocational point of view, it would be short-sighted to concentrate on that at the expense of developing potential for success and advancement once hired. What gets graduates initially hired may not yield promotions or carry them beyond their first position, particularly given how fast the needs of many employers alter with changes in social and economic patterns.
It is, therefore, crucial to see beyond what a job description specifically calls for. Philosophy need not be mentioned among a job's requirements in order for the benefits derivable from philosophical study to be appreciated by the employer, and those benefits need not even be explicitly appreciated in order to be effective in helping one advance.
It should also be emphasized that - as recent studies show - employers want, and reward, many of the capacities and skills developed by the study of philosophy. For example, the ability to solve problems, to communicate effectively, to organize ideas and issues, to assess pros and cons, and to analyze complex data are transferable skills. They are transferable not only from philosophy to non-philosophy areas, but also from one non-philosophical field to another. For that reason, people trained in philosophy are not only able to perform many kinds of tasks, but they can also cope with change, or even move into new careers, more readily than people trained in other disciplines.
Until quite recently, at least in the United States, undergraduate and graduate training in philosophy was conceived almost entirely as preparation for teaching philosophy. Philosophers employed outside colleges and universities are rarely visible to students of philosophy, and most philosophy students tend to think of teaching as the only career for which philosophical education prepares one. This conception, however, is incorrect. it arises from a natural, but mistaken, tendency to identify what a degree program prepares one to do with the sort of job that is likely to be offered to people holding that kind of degree. The latter often matches the former, but it sometimes does not.
This is not to deny that a teaching career is one of the perfectly natural choices to make once completing a philosophy degree. But teaching is not the only career for which a philosophical education prepares one. Teaching philosophy is certainly not the only thing which people educated in philosophy can do, nor is it by any means always what they can do best.
In the past 30-35 years, more and more people trained in philosophy have become interested in non-teaching positions. Many philosophers now hold non-academic jobs, and an increasing proportion of philosophers will probably take such positions. What follows is a discussion of the role that philosophical training plays in preparing one for other professions and for non-academic careers.
PHILOSOPHERS IN NON-ACADEMIC CAREERS
The kind of basic education provided by philosophical training is eminently useful in some major aspects of virtually any occupation. In fact, philosophers are now employed in a great variety of non-academic fields, as well as in academic positions outside teaching.
A number of large companies have noted that students of the humanities, particularly philosophy, tend to learn fast and advance quickly. This perception is apparently becoming more widespread, and there is good reason to think that success in non-academic careers is very substantially a result of capacities that philosophical training helps to develop.
The following list, drawn from American Philosophical Association files, is representative of the diversity of positions currently held by philosophically trained people:
Business: Advertising executive, hotel assistant manager, national firm assistant to president, development manager, winery manager, service coordinator.
Computers: Computer systems analyst, consultant, computer firm owner, programmer, technical writer.
Consulting: In business, education, publishing, etc.
Education (teaching-related fields): Philosophy for Children (developing philosophy texts targeted for children, developing manuals for teachers, and training teachers to use philosophy and philosophical texts targeted for children).
Education (non-teaching fields): Admissions officer, alumni relations officer, archivist, educational tester, humanities bibliographer, librarian, residence hall director.
Finance: Bank officer, investment broker, tax accountant.
Government (federal): Armed forces officer, CIA staff member, congressional staff member, diplomat, immigration service staff member, intelligence officer, policy analyst, policy and planning consultant, United Nations official, U.S. Postal Service staff member.
Government (state and local): human services agency director, county commissioner, county supervisor.
Journalism: Freelance writer, magazine executive director.
Law: Attorney, criminal justice program coordinator, state bar association director of communications, legal researcher, legal aid society officer, paralegal assistant, security officer.
Medicine: Physician, nurse, nursing administrator, hospital administrator.
Publishing: University press director, university press editor, commercial press editor.
Research: Scientific, business, educational, governmental.
Sales: Many branches.
From what has been shown above, it is clear that teaching is by no means the only interesting career for philosophers and that a good philosophical education develops skills and capacities that are immensely important in a great many non-academic positions and pursuits. Many people employed in these non-academic positions have reported that their philosophical education has helped them enormously in their work, and many have expressed pleasure in what they are doing, and many have described their jobs as interesting and challenging.
Teaching has been assumed to be the only appropriate career for philosophers, but that is simply not the case. A good philosophical education, particularly when it is combined with some basic training in a non-academic field, prepares on for a great variety of positions and pursuits outside of the academic domain. This fact is becoming more widely recognized by philosophers and students of philosophy. But it deserves much wider recognition, and we hope that the non-academic value of philosophical training will become far better known, both within and outside the academic world. Philosophy provides as basic, and as general, an education as there is. Success, in most careers, is impossible without a good deal of basic, general education and distinction, in any major career, substantially depends on it.
1 This text is adapted, with a few changes, from Philosophy: A Brief Guide for Undergraduates, a publication of The American Philosophical Association, from Careers for Philosophers, prepared by the American Philosophical Association Committee on Career Opportunities, and from The Philosophy Major, a statement prepared under the auspices of the Board of Officers of the American Philosophical Association. These texts are available from the APA online at the following address: www.apaonline.org