A reader (who is "now in management consulting specializing in regulatory affairs...I get to read and interpret complex texts, talk about ethics with with my clients, and make decent money all at the same time") writes with "some thoughts on the PGR, grad school, and getting a job":
- I came to philosophy late in undergrad and decided that I wanted to go to grad school. I used the PGR as a tool to help me find the departments to which I wanted to apply. I was rejected from almost all of the PhD programs, even with good grades and "famous" letter writers. But I was accepted into a fantastic "PGR mentioned" terminal MA program. I spent two years diving deeper into my areas of interest and gaining competency in other areas as well. The program was great and the people (both faculty and students) were dynamite; however, ultimately I decided not to continue on to the PhD. The PGR helped me make this decision. I was a solid philosopher, but I was never a disciplined student, and I bet my writing sample and letters of recommendation would have reflected that in my second round of PhD applications. I realized my chances of getting into a top PhD program, and with that my chances of getting a tenure-track job, were slim, so I finished my MA and exited the discipline.
And this was the best decision I ever made! I was able to pivot and quickly move into a new field. I now have a rewarding career which I love and regularly use the critical thinking and writing skills I developed as a philosopher in my work.
I mentioned above that the PGR helped me make this decision. What I mean by that is: The PGR is a valuable tool. It certainly wasn't the only tool I used, but it was the best. No other tool had the information laid out as neatly and comprehensively, with reliable and explicit rankings, and realistic advice. If used properly as a tool, and not as holy scripture (as some critics oddly think it was intended to be), then the PGR really is helpful.
- I can't emphasize enough the value of assessing one's chances of being successful as a professional philosopher. And by successful, I don't mean being a good philosopher. There are tons of good philosophers. I mean being employed in a position that allows for one to pursue her or his philosophical interests with sufficient material support. If one engages in that evaluation honestly, with the help of useful tools (with reliable and explicit rankings, like the PGR!), and finds her or his chances of being successful to be slim, then why go on with the PhD? Do something else (and read all of the philosophy you want on the side!).
- I've seen the following comment (or some variation of it) on several blogs: "If I can't get a tenure-track job after getting my PhD, then I'll just do something else. An article in The New York Times showed that employers want critical thinkers, and surely as a philosopher I have that skill." It is true that philosophers are good at thinking critically. No dispute there. But employers aren't looking for only that skill. They're mostly looking for people who have industry-relevant skills, e.g., accounting skills, management skills, engineering skills, sales skills. If, after one finishes the PhD in philosophy, and one has no industry-relevant skills, then it is completely unrealistic to think that one will be successful at getting a job in an industry that requires said skills. Unless, of course, one re-trains to acquire those skills.
But think about it? Undergrad is 4-5 years. The PhD is another 5-8 years. Now, the newly minted PhD, unsuccessful at obtaining a tenure-track philosophy job, is in her or his late 20s or early 30s (or older), with no indsutry-relevant skills (and maybe debt, or a family?), and is competing in the market with eager 22 or 23 year olds with industry-relevant skills. S/he could re-train to acquire those industry-relevant skills in order to be market-ready, but that takes time and (probably) money.
This points back to the self-assessment I mentioned above. If one is committed to an honest evaluation of one's chances of being successful, using the PGR as a tool to do so (again, with reliable and explicit rankings, because rankings really do matter!), one can avoid lots of wasted time, lost income, stress, heartbreak, and headaches.
- None of the above is meant to brush aside the serious climate problems the discipline has related to barriers (like sexual harassment or underrepresentation of populations) to be being a successful philosopher--and that you've done a good job of highlighting. It's tragic when one leaves the discipline because the discipline essentially opted her or him out.