Philosopher: Liz Swan

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Liz Swan received her PhD from the University of South Carolina in 2008 and was Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Mercyhurst University before deciding to leave the tenure-track. She now works as a freelance writer, writing consultant, and realtor. In this interview she talks about her life-long interests in writing and teaching, the difference between philosophy, and her decision to leave leave the tenure-track.

DEREK: What attracted you to the academic study of philosophy? In what ways would you say philosophy is still a part of your life?

LIZ: Philosophy came very naturally to me. I had been enjoying my conceptual classes in my major of Psychology, but getting C’s and D’s in the required Statistics classes, which my college advisor had (misleadingly) convinced me were essential to success in Psychology. But then I took a few philosophy classes and realized, wait, all I have to do is read interesting stuff and write papers? Sold. My GPA shot up. But my decision to pursue it further wasn’t just pragmatic; I was excited to find out that the questions I’d been thinking about my whole life, about minds, bodies, the world, and our place in it, were questions that other people had thought about hundreds and even thousands of years ago. It made me feel deeply connected to the rest of humanity and even the universe. During my senior year of college, while deeply entrenched in Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise (which was taught by the exquisite philosopher Paul Bagley, who regrettably just passed away), I had a strange and almost supernatural experience in my bedroom, where the ceiling lifted up above me and floated away into space. When I reflected on this experience later, in a different state of mind, I recognized it as the visceral experience of what was happening to me psychologically then, what philosophy was doing to me: namely, philosophy was lifting the ceiling of my mind. You just can’t go back to Statistics after an experience like that.

I feel like there are two kinds of philosophers — professional philosophers who thrive on the negativity of criticizing others’ work and taking the profession way too seriously, and natural philosophers, who are curious by nature, open-minded and want to learn from others. You kind of have to be the former to succeed in academic philosophy, which I struggled with always. But the latter kind of philosopher, I’ve always been.

DEREK: You’ve written that it took you five years on the academic job-market to secure a tenure-track position, and it was only after resigning from that position that you committed to a different career path. How much thought or planning had you given to alternative careers during your graduate education or at earlier stages of the job search? Did you do any non-academic or alt-ac work while you were seeking a tenure-track job?

LIZ: Since I was a very young child I’ve self-identified as a teacher. One of my earliest memories is being outside our first house in Connecticut with two neighborhood friends of mine. I had a long stick in my hand and was using it as a pointer, using it to tap the energy meter affixed to the outside of the house, explaining to my friends how this mechanism worked. Of course, I had no idea how it worked (I was 4 years old), but they were captivated, listening to me explain how these complicated dials and levers “worked”. I liked feeling like I could teach them something. I always enjoyed explaining things to other people and came to realize, maybe not until my college years, that I had a knack for it. Also, since high school, I’ve self-identified as a writer. So seeing myself as a teacher and a writer was always more fundamental to me than being a philosopher, which I more or less stumbled upon during my undergraduate liberal arts education (at Loyola University-Maryland).

While in graduate school, I did have the singular goal of being a philosophy professor. But after finishing my PhD program, when for a time it seemed like a TT job would never happen, I considered other options such as high school teaching, which I never followed through on, and government jobs in writing and editing, which I was really excited about for a while. I applied to maybe 50 of these and got close a few times (they work by a scoring system) but never got an interview. All I did professionally during those years was teach philosophy classes at local universities and teach yoga at various studios and the rec center in my town. During my TT job hunt, I was fortunate to get a one-year fellowship at Oregon State University where I taught one class and wrote a lot and enjoyed a very relaxed pregnancy. After my son was born, there were two years where I couldn’t even get one class to teach, but I am grateful for having had that time with him. When I started my TT job he was almost two and a half years old.

DEREK: You’ve also done freelance work as a writer, editor, and dissertation coach, and you’re a licensed realtor in the state of Colorado and a certified yoga instructor. Have you continued with any of these other forms of employment since leaving your TT job? If so, is that primarily because of financial need or personal interest?

LIZ: Yes, all of them. The past several years, friends and colleagues have asked me to give them feedback on something they’d written — novels, blogs, short stories, science manuscripts — and it finally dawned on me, hey, maybe I could do this for pay! I’ve had a handful of paying clients, and it’s work that I truly enjoy. I don’t know exactly when it happened, but somewhere along the way editing has become second nature to me and I love it. It’s a skill that I’ve honed and one that can generate some income. But unfortunately, this kind of work, at least for me, does not generate a livable wage, and neither does yoga, which I love too but see as a hobby and not a profession. Enter… real estate. While I was looking for alternatives to the academic career path, I took a full-time job as a proposal writer for a general contractor (commercial construction) in Colorado. Working M-F, 8-5 is not for me, I discovered, but learning about the planning and pricing phases of large-scale construction projects turned me on to real estate, which is currently booming in Colorado.

Getting a PhD in philosophy is a huge investment in terms of time and money (not money spent — my PhD program cost me nothing — but in terms of the money you’re not earning while you’re in graduate school) with a small payoff in terms of income (and potentially also life satisfaction) if you stay on the narrow academic path. Real estate is exactly the opposite. It took me about six weeks to take a real estate course online, pass the exam and get my license. I didn’t have to move, and in my first year I made close to what many are making teaching college full-time. Not great, but real estate income grows exponentially, and I could potentially double my income this year, and double it again next year (which never happens in academia!). Real estate is not for everyone, but if you enjoy working with people, have an interest in design and architecture, and desire a generous income, it’s awesome. I’m an ENTP (Myers-Briggs personality type), and we love an engaging, dynamic environment where we’re in charge and having fun. And what’s more significant is that working in real estate has enabled me to return to writing and teaching, part-time, as a luxury. It doesn’t matter anymore that the Chronicle of Higher Education pays me only a couple hundred dollars for an article, or that CU-Boulder only pays me a few thousand to teach a class because I’m not relying on these gigs as major sources of income. It’s very freeing.

DEREK: How have your academic training and credentials helped or hindered your ability to find work? How does that training help or hinder your ability to do the work that you do? Do many of your peers or co-workers have PhDs or other academic degrees?

LIZ: I credit my undergraduate liberal arts training with helping me to become a more curious and open-minded individual who is willing to learn and work hard for pursuits I feel passionate about. And I credit my graduate training in philosophy with making me a much better writer, stronger thinker, and more confident teacher and public speaker. Though I’ve somewhat fallen out of love with the content of philosophy, I am completely committed to its processes and methods of expression: thinking, reading, writing, debating, and teaching. With these two natures working together, open-minded and sharp skills (a heart and mind united, this Rush fan would say), I’ve felt prepared to try out new career paths and pursue them as far as they interest me and seem worthwhile. I’m not at all averse to changing directions and starting over (which also is characteristic of ENTPs) — I think it keeps life interesting. I’m the only Realtor I know with a PhD (though I have seen some with MAs) but I also teach at CU-Boulder so I’m in a world of PhDs there, of course.

DEREK: What advice would you offer to graduate students, prospective graduate students, or philosophy PhDs who are interested in working as a Writing Consultant, or engaging in any of the forms of freelancing you’ve done?

LIZ: I certainly don’t believe you need a PhD in philosophy, or any discipline, to be a writing consultant, or editor, or something related. In my case, because I more fundamentally identify as a writer rather than as a philosopher, it’s natural for me to want to help others improve their own writing. Many freelancing gigs will only require the ability to write (or edit), but it is difficult to make a living this way unless you do a ton of it. I think the most salient piece of advice I can offer here is to identify with your skills instead of a narrow career goal or even a professional title. Meaning, I wanted badly to be an “Assistant Professor of Philosophy”, and when I achieved that goal, I discovered that it wasn’t everything I’d made it out to be. A lot of my soul searching after resigning from that position has been focused on getting back in touch with the fundamentals of who I am: teacher, writer, communicator. I didn’t need that title or that position to exercise these fundamental aspects of who I am. Now, two years after resigning, I am teaching again, a different subject matter in a different venue and, most meaningfully to me, with a very different mindset. Finding a way to make a good income doing what I’m good at is the new goal.

DEREK: Based on your own experience, would you advise undergraduates with a talent and passion for philosophy to pursue a PhD? If not, what other outlets would you suggest for that passion?

LIZ: This is such a difficult question and I don’t know how to answer it. If someone had told me not to pursue a PhD in philosophy (and some did! not my parents though, thankfully) I would have said, “Whatever, I’m going to do it anyway.” It’s a decision only the individual can make for herself or himself. I might even invoke Socrates here: know thyself! Even though I’ve left the professoriate, I don’t for a second regret my PhD, for all of the reasons I’ve cited above. It was an excellent way to enjoy five years of my life, and it’s given me skills and expertise that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Prospective and current graduate students in philosophy have to be aware of the difficult job market and the dearth of promising prospects there. But if they’re willing to weather that storm because their commitment is that strong, then they’ll make their way and who’s to stop them? Certainly not me.

I think people are drawn to philosophy initially because they love to think and argue and maybe even love to write. So it’s important to keep sight of what drew you to philosophy in case you could find it in other disciplines in academia or in other industries entirely.

DEREK: What, if anything, do you think graduate programs can do to better prepare students for non-academic careers? What, if anything, did your graduate program do to prepare you for your career paths?

LIZ: I really don’t think it’s up to graduate programs to worry about preparing their students for life after graduation; that’s the students’ job. Graduate students are by definition adults and adults should be willing and able to think about how they will make a living after graduate funding runs out. What’s the plan? A postdoc? Teaching? Business? Can I be self-employed? Who in my networks (of school, community, hometown, religion, life, sports, hobbies, clubs, past jobs) does something interesting that I might pursue if I don’t get a TT job? What’s my Plan A, B, and C? Can I live on $30K? For how long? Or do I need $55K? What’s my ultimatum to myself? Graduate programs are run by professors who are busy making their own careers, teaching, publishing, applying for grants, and making a reputation for themselves. I think their job is to be available for consultation with their graduate students and to teach their graduate classes well, not to prepare their graduates for life after graduate school. Philosophy might be peculiar in this way, but I would say the professors in my graduate department at the University of South Carolina did a good job of pushing me to be a better philosopher, which in turn made me prepared for that job and others, since the skills in that profession are highly transferrable to related cerebral and investigative pursuits. Also, almost every university has a Career Center or something like it that can help grad students network and think through post-graduation options.

This is paradoxical advice for grad students in philosophy, but I do believe they’d do well to diversify themselves. I say paradoxical because, graduate training in any discipline but perhaps especially in cerebral disciplines like philosophy prepares you to know a ton about your hyper-specific area of expertise, such as Kantian ethics or Plato’s metaphysics. You can see (I hope) how these kinds of expertise, in isolation, would be disastrous on the broader Job Market of America. So grad students will do well to discover not only their unique academic skills (e.g., teaching, writing, presenting, debating, coaching, organizing conferences and events, etc.) but also their talents beyond academia. I like the Myers-Briggs personality test and found it helpful when I was trying to ‘rediscover’ myself after leaving my TT job. It can help you identify what else you might be good at besides being a philosopher. One of the career paths well-suited to my personality type (ENTP), for instance, is real estate! Bingo!

DEREK: While you were still on the tenure-track job market, you described yourself as “committed to an academic career, no matter the challenges.” Looking back, do you think that commitment was a mistake, even at the time? What is it about the prospects of an academic career that engenders such commitment?

LIZ: I don’t think that commitment was a mistake, no. At the time, I really felt that way. It’s weird but I was way more committed to getting a TT job, than keeping one. I think what engenders such commitment on the academic job market is that if you don’t commit with all of your being, stopping just short of insanity, it will never happen to you. I imagine it’s like competing with all of the other college football stars for a slot in the NFL. Except it’s not as glamorous. And the pay is terrible by comparison.

I actually don’t think, in retrospect, that a commitment of this caliber makes sense for what you get in academia, even if you get a TT job. It’s obviously not worth it, at least financially but likely in other ways too, if you remain an adjunct your whole career (unless you have an alternate source of income). But even if you get a TT job, you might be living somewhere you hate, or teaching too many classes, or getting paid a terrible salary, or having no time to write — let alone play and enjoy life (see my “So You Think You Want a Tenure-Track Job?”). Furthermore, and something I’d like to write about, is the misery you sometimes encounter in academia. Not everyone loves the path; in fact some people seem to hate it. Just like all jobs, sometimes it’s all you (believe you) can do, and you get stuck. I think the job hunt was all I knew ten years ago but I could never do it now — with a husband and young son now in my life, having experienced different career options that are more financially promising and more satisfying overall.


DEREK: One of the major advantages you list to giving up on the tenure-track is that you can now write about what matters to you. During your career you’ve published in a number of different venues, including academic journals. What kinds of philosophical writing have you been engaged in since leaving the tenure-track, and how connected is it to your prior academic work?

LIZ: Mostly what I’ve published since leaving a formal academic track concerns my transition of leaving academia — almost in the vein of post-war memoirs, stories of climbing out of the trenches and recognizing, in retrospect, so much of what’s wrong with college teaching and academia in general. In that sense, my recent short articles, and my Psychology Today blog, “College Confidential,” are connected to my academic life, but are not academic, per se. I haven’t been interested in publishing in academic journals since leaving my TT job. It is exciting when someone contacts me on Research Gate and asks me for a paper I’ve written or engages me about my work in philosophy of mind or philosophy of science, but I do feel somewhat disconnected from it now. I was always writing those articles with the intention of getting a TT job, or getting a better TT job, etc., and now that I don’t have those goals, the work that’s involved in publishing an academic article in a journal that’s respected in my field, etc., feels so futile. I am, however, enjoying writing for a broader audience, and have the goal of publishing more in popular magazines and newspapers. I also think about writing a book someday, on an interesting topic and for a general audience, of course! TBD.

Thanks to Liz for taking the time to share her experience and advice. Her forthcoming blog, “The Philosopher Is In: Prescriptions for sanity in an insane world,” will offer a philosophical take on relationship advice, hosted by Psychology Today. You can read her existing column “College Confidential” online and find her scholarly work on her Research Gate profile.

Philosopher: Matt Drabek



Matt Drabek received his PhD in philosophy from the University of Iowa in 2012. After an initial foray into the academic job market, he began a career as a Content Specialist for the educational testing company ACT, Inc. In this interview he discusses the educational assessment industry, the role of a philosophy degree in getting and doing his job, and his continuing engagement with academic philosophy.

DEREK: In your entry to the Philosopher’s Cocoon’s “Long Journeys” series, you talk briefly about your initial struggles with the academic job market before landing a position at ACT, Inc. Was applying for this job the first time you gave serious thought to pursuing a non-academic career, or did you have any “Plan B”s in mind during your time in grad school? Did you consider or pursue any other non-academic career plans?

MATT: Thanks. This is an area where I could have improved, and I hope people who read the Cocoon entry and this interview do more to prepare than I did! I hadn’t thought in any great depth about non-academic careers before applying for my present position. The possibility had always been at the back of my mind, but I didn’t do the kind of networking and career-related research that a person really ought to do. I don’t think that has been any great detriment to my non-academic career, but it could have been (and could still be in the future, I guess). I did look into things like technical writing, and I have enough of an interest in food to at least consider the possibility of starting a food truck or working in the restaurant industry, but I haven’t seriously pursued those things.

Part of what made me aware of my present company and job is that the company where I work advertised in the JFP. As many of you know, other than maybe Cycorp, it’s very rare for non-academic companies to advertise there. I wouldn’t advise anyone to only read the JFP for non-academic job ads!

DEREK: Your job title is “Content Specialist,” and I know you work on assessment design for the GMAT, which is used as an entrance exam by business schools and some graduate programs. You also develop assessment products designed to be used in workforce development. What does that translate into in terms of your day-to-day work? Are you mainly writing questions for these standardized tests? Is there a lot of the solitary writing and research that would be familiar to most academic philosophers?

MATT: My job basically divides into two parts: the design part and the content part. The design part is mostly a series of research projects around what the company can and ought to assess, and how to define and develop test constructs. I’ve produced research reports into educational markets, particularly postsecondary markets, and also workforce markets. I’ve also conducted research into what “critical thinking” means and how we might test it at various stages of a person’s student career and workforce career. The content part is the part where I’m writing questions for assessments. I’ve written questions for the GMAT test and for a workplace test called Graphic Literacy. As you’ve said, the GMAT is most often used by business schools as a part of their admissions process to graduate school. Graphic Literacy is one third of ACT’s WorkKeys Workplace Readiness Certificate. It’s designed to evaluate whether an entry-level employee has gained the skills needed to success in a wide range of careers. It’s used primarily by high schools and by government workforce development offices.

The design part of my job is much more collaborative and social than I think the typical philosophy grad student or professor experiences. Norms surrounding research, how it’s conducted, how authorship of papers and reports is determined, and so on are very different from what one would normally see in philosophy. It’s much more akin to what social science researchers do. X-Phi folks, I think, would find it far more familiar than the average philosopher would find it. The content part of my job, on the other hand, does involve a great deal of solitary writing of roughly the sort found in philosophy. That would be the smoother transition. My work schedule for the content part of my job, aside from quarterly item goals, is mostly self-determined.

DEREK: Your job was initially advertised in the APA’s Jobs for Philosophers, so they were clearly interested in hiring a philosophy PhD. Was the PhD an essential qualification for the job, and was it essential that it be a philosophy PhD? Could someone without a (philosophy) PhD do the job that you do?

MATT: The short answer here might be “it depends.” For the content side of things, the PhD really isn’t a requirement, either on paper or in fact. Most of the people writing questions for tests at ACT do not have PhDs, and many do not have any degree beyond a BA or BS. Most of my teammates who write questions for Graphic Literacy do not have a graduate degree, because a variety of workplace experience is considered more valuable for writing questions for a workplace assessment than the accumulation of degrees beyond the BA or BS. GMAT, as a graduate-level exam, is a somewhat different story. Several of the members of that team have PhDs in Philosophy. One section of the GMAT, the Verbal section, contains a number of critical reasoning questions where a Philosopher would have a distinct advantage at writing or answering the questions. And most of the people who write questions for that section of the GMAT do have a Philosophy PhD. If you were to move over to one of our more famous tests, perhaps the ACT College Readiness Assessment (known simply as “the ACT”) or ACT Aspire (a test for students in grades 3-8), you’d find that many of the people writing questions are former teachers who often hold Master’s degrees in Teaching or Education. Off the top of my head, I can think of only one person who works on those tests (out of perhaps 80 or 90 total) who has a Philosophy PhD.

The design side of things is a different story. I use my Philosophy PhD quite a bit when I’m researching the critical thinking test construct, and I’d say a Philosophy PhD is probably essential for that portion of my job. “Critical thinking” is something of an educational buzzword that’s used loosely and even inappropriately in various parts of the educational sector. Even serious academic research on critical thinking is of widely varying quality. Philosophers have done far more than any other academic field in nailing down and operationalizing the concept. And so the PhD is very important there. But most of my colleagues in design, who are doing research for areas like ELA, Math, and Science, do not have PhDs.

DEREK: Did you have any prior contacts or experience in the assessment industry, or any additional credentials beyond the PhD, which made it easier to transition into  your new career?

MATT: A bit. I spent some time teaching test prep for The Princeton Review while I lived in Minneapolis, but had no other real contacts with the educational assessment/management industry prior to landing in my current job. The test prep experience taught me a bit about how tests are put together, but I learned far, far more on the job than I learned teaching test prep. Connections are extremely important to finding a job, but one must take a wider view of what counts as a connection. Someone who was in your PhD program 20 years ago, whom you’ve never met, is employed at the company? That’s a potential connection, and that person is likely to look favorable on an application or a request for an informational interview. The company is located in the same city as you? Even that is potentially fertile ground for connections.

DEREK:I think many aspiring academic philosophers might be disappointed at the idea of working in the standardized testing industry. Philosophers often think that the things we’re teaching can’t be easily captured in a standardized, multiple-choice format. And there are also concerns that standardized tests reinforce existing inequalities by favoring those who are already good at formalized test taking and those who can afford test-prep tutoring tailored to specific entrance exams. Did you have any of these concerns when you started, and has your experience in the industry changed your perspective?

MATT: I did have those concerns when I started. I think the really quick answer here about the assessment industry is that the worries one should have about that industry are pretty much the same worries one should have in any major industry of the contemporary economy. Any large industry, very much including the higher education industry that Philosophers are most familiar with, carries a strong risk of exacerbating existing inequalities and creating new ones. My sense is that, if anything, the higher education industry does more than the standardized testing industry to exacerbate inequality, because it’s much larger in terms of revenue, it has more influence over a person’s life trajectory, and it’s relatively less accessible, especially higher quality educational institutions.

My experience in the assessment industry has changed my perspective somewhat, at least in the sense of being able to carve out distinctions I wasn’t previously aware of. Many of the companies people are most familiar with – Educational Testing Services, which produces the GRE; The College Board, which produces the SAT; and ACT, where I work – are mission-driven, non-profit organizations. This doesn’t mean they don’t do bad things or contribute to inequality, but I’ve generally found that those organizations are serious about self-examination and about trying to stamp out problems and biases. Generally these organizations take their missions seriously (ours is “helping people achieve education and workplace success”). So, for example, regarding things like test prep, ACT gives away quite a bit of test prep material to underserved learners. Some of the larger, for-profit companies in the same industry, such as Pearson and HMH, are much more directly accountable to shareholders or short-term profit. I think they have a more difficult time addressing social concerns from that sort of framework.

DEREK: Would you recommend the assessment industry to other philosophers who are considering non-academic employment? What advice would you offer to graduate students, prospective graduate students, or philosophy PhDs who are thinking about pursuing this line of work?

MATT: Most of all, I’d advise Philosophers looking for a Plan B to look around. There are many things you can do with your degree, even in my industry. I jumped into the “test development” part of the assessment industry, but that’s well under half our staff. We have product development areas of the company, marketing, strategy, various IT departments, human resources, etc. Some of these areas would, of course, require additional training or skills. But a Philosophy PhD does impart skills that would be useful for many of these areas. I’d recommend figuring out what part of the Philosophy PhD most excites you (teaching? research?) and figure out how to abstract from that a set of skills that transfers well.

If you’re looking to get into my specific part of the assessment industry (i.e., test design and content development), there are a few things that would probably be helpful. Teaching experience is great. In addition to postsecondary teaching, there are other areas like K-12 teaching, summer/youth teaching and volunteering, test prep teaching, and the like. I’d recommend following the news in education and assessment. For design work, a basic working knowledge of social science research methods would be tremendously helpful.

Often when I see non-ac/alt-act discussions online, people speak as if there’s some kind of big “Plan B” career path out there – the career path – that philosophers can all jump into together. I’m sorry to say that this is nonsense. There’s no single career path or single position that all philosophers can or should train for.

DEREK: Would you advise undergraduates with a talent and passion for philosophy to pursue a PhD in philosophy? If not, what other outlets would you suggest for that passion?

MATT: This is a difficult question to answer. With the current state of graduate education, to be entirely honest, for most students probably not. The academic job market seems to be a total crapshoot right now. If your dream is a 2-2 teaching load at an R1 where you have graduate students, there are really only a few graduate programs that put people into those jobs with any kind of regularity. If that’s your dream and you can get into one of those programs, then there’s still some reason to do a Philosophy PhD. If that’s your dream and you can’t get into one of those programs, your odds are incredibly long and you’d probably be best served rethinking your career goals or plans for graduate education.

If, on the other hand, you love teaching philosophy, your dream is to teach philosophy, and you don’t mind having a high course load (i.e., 4-5 classes per semester), then there’s still some hope out there, from what I’ve seen. I’ve known plenty of people in that boat. Most have found work, though it may take you several very lean years after earning the PhD to find it. My advice to people who really love teaching philosophy would be to explore as wide a range of possibilities as you can. Start a summer program for high schoolers or undergraduates. Consider becoming credentialed to teach philosophy or social science at the high school level. Look into online teaching options. Look into community college teaching.

DEREK: What, if anything, do you think graduate programs can do to better prepare students for non-academic career paths like yours?

MATT: I think most graduate programs in the humanities should be working together and with their graduate college to do more here. Programs can put current students into contact with their own past students who have non-academic careers. Graduate colleges can hold job fairs or other conferences (note: The University of Iowa, where I attended graduate school, is already doing this. I’ve been a speaker at the conference twice now.). When philosophy graduate programs put placement data online, they could put detailed information out there about what the non-academic folks are doing, instead of writing a vague statement to the effect of “left the profession.”

DEREK: You’ve continued engaging with academic philosophy even after taking on work at the ACT, and you recently published a book, Classify and Label: The Unintended Marginalization of Social Groups. How has your career change affected your reasons for doing scholarship and/or your choice of research topics?

MATT:  I mean, it is and it isn’t difficult to make time for research. Having a university library at my disposal is very important for staying up to date on the latest work. It’s almost impossible to run a serious research program without journal access, and no one has the money to access that without a university or corporate sponsor. It’s possible to access many university libraries as a member of the general public, but universities often aren’t concerned about public service or opening their doors to non-faculty and non-students. At times when I haven’t been affiliated with a university, I’ve often found it very cumbersome to access research materials. For that reason (and, of course, for extra money), I’ve occasionally taught an evening course at The University of Iowa that allowed me full library access as a faculty member. The University of Iowa also offers much higher adjunct/visiting professor pay than surrounding community colleges.

Thanks to Matt for taking the time to share his thoughts and experiences. You can find his academic research at his PhilPapers site. For more information about careers at ACT, see here.

Philosopher: Amy Leask

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Amy Leask received an MA in Philosophy from McMaster University and has taught philosophy at both the high school and college level. She is co-founder of the educational design company Enable Education and author of a series of children’s philosophy books which she publishes through her company Red T Media. In this interview she talks about the value of the MA, her reasons for not pursuing a PhD, writing philosophy for children, and the transition from teacher and to entrepreneur.

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Philosopher / Business Analytics Professional: Benjamin Jarvis

Benjamin Jarvis received his PhD from Brown University and was a Lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast before leaving academic employment. He recently earned his MBA from the NYU’s Stern School of Business and now works in the field of business analytics with a focus on the media and entertainment industry. In this interview he discusses the decision to pursue an MBA, the comparative advantages of business and liberal arts education, and the challenges of writing and publishing as an independent scholar.

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Public Defender: Max Pines


Max Pines received a PhD in Philosophy from Brown University before earning his JD from the University of California at Berkeley. In this interview he talks about his initial plans to become a lawyer, his exciting detour through philosophy grad school, the challenges of finishing a dissertation while applying for law school, and the rewards of practicing law as a public defender.

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Philosopher: Bharath Vallabha


Bharath Vallabha received his PhD in philosophy from Harvard University, and he held a tenure-track position in philosophy at Bryn Mawr College before leaving academic employment. In this wide-ranging interview, we talk about the experience and challenge of integrating his familial introduction to Indian philosophy with his academic training in Western philosophy, the philosophical necessity of pluralism, his reasons for leaving a tenure-track position, and his take on the challenge and promise of being a philosopher outside of the academy.

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