I’m in New York at the moment mixing business with pleasure meeting old friends from gradschool and attending a philosophy conference at the Marriott Marquis in the middle of Times Square (I’m not actually staying on site. I’m staying at a friend’s friend’s apartment on the Upper West Side).
It is a rather bittersweet occasion. For along with the delights of the city and the joys of seeing friends again is the realisation that it marks the ending of my career in philosophy. Academic jobs in philosophy have almost completely dried up. In the UK and Ireland, it is because governments have had to cut public sector spending on luxuries like education, and in the US, it is because US universities lost so much of their endowments when the stock markets and henge-funds collapsed in 2008. As an indication of how many PhDs are chasing how few available jobs, it is interesting to note that Boise State University received 588 applications for its recently advertised position (I know because I was one of the many unsuccessful applicants). BSU is not a prestigious institution and a successful applicant could not expect to have access to an extensive library collection or to teach gifted and motivated students. (point of comparison: UCD and TCD recently both had more than 150 applications for their latest posts advertised in 2008. Therefore, the market worsened precipitously just as my fixed term funded post-doc came to an end).
I’m trying to be philosophical about it. I do find it easier to take when I reflect on the aspects of my life that I’ve done right, principally Dot and the boys. In my disappointment I detect two strains; one proper and one shameful. It is proper to be disappointed that I can’t get a permanent post in philosophy given that I’ve invested a lot of my self in it almost continuously since 1993. It will be difficult to change direction and I worry that I won’t be able to convert all that momentum into anything remunerative or equally enjoyable. I’ve stayed in philosophy and academia this long because I find it intensely stimulating and now I will have to do without that source of intellectual excitement. The shameful reason for disappointment is that my cohort at school haven’t failed in the same way. At least five of my very close circle of friends from that time have PhDs and successful careers as academics (as far as I know the other philosopher in my circle dropped out of her PhD programme, but honorably, and years ago. She didn’t hang on in grimly ’til the last desperate end as I seem to have done).
I don’t know what I’m going to do in the future. But I can say with conviction that I’m not going to take myself or my career too seriously anytime soon. I’m going to chill out and enjoy time with my family and work only to pay the bills (which at the moment Dot is paying). I’ve got to bring myself really to accept that I cannot have it all. I cannot have the ideally perfect life so I must be content with what I do have. This may seem obvious, but it will be difficult for me. I’ve been caught up in myself for so long.