Episode #17: Cameron Keys–Philosophy at the Pentagon

Cameron Keys is a Financial Specialist at the Army Research Laboratory, but his intellectual journey started with philosophy. After studying the intersection of science, policy, and philosophy at ASU, Cameron was awarded a Presidential Management Fellowship that eventually brought him to work at the Department of Defense. In this episode, we talk about his work researching emerging technologies like nanotech and synthetic biology, laboratory ethnography, and what it’s like working at the largest organization at the world–as well as baseball, Buddhism, and how he accidentally ended up working as a production assistant on the film, Tropic Thunder in Hawaii.

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Episode #16: Marci Baranski


Marci Baranski destroys greenhouse gases for a living. After getting her PhD in biology and society, Marci became a Presidential Management Fellow and pursued a career as public servant, working for the US Department of Agriculture as a climate change specialist. Due in part to the Trump administration’s systematic rollback of climate policies, Marci transitioned into the private sector. Today, she works as a Research Asssociate at Tradewater, a new company that tracks down CFCs around the globe, destroys them, and sells the carbon credits on carbon markets.

At a time when understanding the interaction of biology and society has never been more important, Marci and I explore the epistemic and ethical issues around science and technology policy; the controversies over GMOs; the challenges of working on climate under the Trump administration; and more.

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Episode #15: Zachary Pirtle

Conventional wisdom regards the “STEM” disciplines as diametrically opposed to the humanities in general, and philosophy in particular. But Zachary Pirtle is living proof that this view is wrong headed. After studying philosophy and engineering as an undergraduate, Zach went on to receive an MS in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Arizona State University and his PhD in Systems Engineering from George Washington University. His training and research in engineering was deeply informed by science policy and the philosophy of science.

During his graduate studies, Zach became a Presidential Management Fellow and a civil servant in the federal government. In addition to his day job, Zach has continued publishing his research, and has helped organize the Forum on Philosophy, Engineering, and Technology (fPET).

In this episode, he explains what philosophy–particularly ethics and epistemology–can contribute to engineering. We explore what engineering is; how the philosophy of science helped him stick with the study of engineering; and how to think about the obligations engineers have in and to a democratic society. At a time of waning public confidence in the federal government, on the one hand, and big tech, on the other, Zach helps us reflect on how science and technology policy might be intelligently designed to better serve the public and improve society.

We also talk about the power of science fiction to offer inspiring visions of the future…and his experience helping to organize a citizens forum on asteroids!

 (Note: Pirtle’s views are his own and do not represent his employer)

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Episode #13: Tim Richardson (Part 2)

Tim Richardson is a Washington, DC based multi-client government affairs and media
consultant. After extensive political and business publishing and two congressional aide
stints, Richardson has become the nation’s only private sector consultant that has worked
on Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon oil spill restoration. In addition, he has served
as Wildlife Forever’s Washington, DC representative since 1995.

In our conversation, Tim sings the praises of what he calls “normative careers,” and explains why studying the humanities and philosophy can not only lead to a fulfilling life, but a successful career. Tim has worn many hats throughout his career–journalist, speechwriter, fundraiser, consultant, lobbyist–and worked for a number of politicians, including Lloyd Bentsen. But what unites his efforts is his grounding in philosophy.

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Episode #12: Tim Richardson (Part 1)

Tim Richardson is a Washington, DC, based multi-client government affairs and media
consultant. After extensive political and business publishing and two congressional aide
stints, Richardson has become the nation’s only private sector consultant that has worked
on Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon oil spill restoration. In addition, he has served
as Wildlife Forever’s Washington, DC representative since 1995.

In our conversation, Tim sings the praises of what he calls “normative careers,” and explains why studying the humanities and philosophy can not only lead to a fulfilling life, but a successful career. Tim has worn many hats throughout his career–journalist, speechwriter, fundraiser, consultant, lobbyist–and worked for a number of politicians, including Lloyd Bentsen. But what unites his efforts is his grounding in philosophy.

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Episode #11: Andrew Light (Part 1)


With the possible exception of William Bennett, Andrew Light is the first philosopher to work in a presidential administration.

Andrew has two interrelated careers.

One is as an academic. He is University Professor of Philosophy, Public Policy, and Atmospheric Sciences, and Director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at George Mason University. In his academic work, Andrew is the author of over 100 articles and book chapters on climate change, restoration ecology, and urban sustainability, and has authored, co-authored, and edited 19 books.

The other is as a policy expert and advocate where he works on the front lines of international climate and science policy. From 2013-2016 he served as Senior Adviser and India Counselor to the U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change, and as a Staff Climate Adviser in Secretary of State John Kerry’s Office of Policy Planning in the U.S. Department of State. In this capacity he was Co-Chair of the U.S.-India Joint Working Group on Combating Climate Change, Chair of the Climate Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals across all agencies for the U.S. government, and served on the senior strategy team for the UN climate negotiations. He is currently a Distinguished Senior Fellow in the Climate Program at the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C.

In short: Andrew helped to negotiate the Paris Agreement.

In our conversation, Andrew tells the story of how he created a parallel professional identity: by first breaking into the think tank and policy community in D.C., and second landing a job in the U.S. government. In Part 1, he gives a report on the state of climate policy in the Trump era, how he got involved in interdisciplinary work, and what he thinks philosophers can contribute in the policy arena.

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Episode #10: Greg Sadler (Part 2)

Over the last decade, Greg Sadler has emerged as the “YouTube philosopher.” Someone was inevitably going to fill that role, but the title is well deserved: Greg has produced around 1400 videos, has 84,000 subscribers and, at this writing, has received almost 8,000,000 views.

After leaving a conventional academic career as a philosophy professor, Greg struck out on his own and built a consulting business geared toward putting philosophy into practice. Through his company, ReasonIO, he offers a suite of services–consulting for organizations, counseling and coaching for individuals, curricular design for educational institutions, and more. Greg also edits the popular blog, Stoicism Today, is a prominent voice in the modern Stoic revival, a frequent public speaker, and is involved in oodles of cool philosophy projects.

In Part 2 (Part 1 here), we dive into how Greg developed a presence on YouTube, the simple power of making distinctions in business , and his advice for young philosophers considering leaving academia.

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Episode #9: Greg Sadler (Part 1)

Over the last decade, Greg Sadler has emerged as the “YouTube philosopher.” Someone was inevitably going to fill that role, but the title is well deserved: Greg has produced around 1400 videos, has 84,000 subscribers and, at this writing, has received almost 8,000,000 views.

After leaving a conventional academic career as a philosophy professor, Greg struck out on his own and built a consulting business geared toward putting philosophy into practice. Through his company, ReasonIO, he offers a suite of services–consulting for organizations, counseling and coaching for individuals, curricular design for educational institutions, and more. Greg also edits the popular blog, Stoicism Today, is a prominent voice in the modern Stoic revival, a frequent public speaker, and is involved in oodles of cool philosophy projects.

Join us as Greg walks us through his reasons for leaving academia, the struggles he faced in the wild building a new professional identity, and how he became the YouTube Philosopher.

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Episode #8: Dan Fincke (Part 2)

Dan Fincke is a “Rogue” par excellence. An expert in ethics and the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, he runs an online teaching business and offers philosophical counseling from his home in France.

In the second part of our conversation (Part 1 here), Dan walks us through his period of experimentation in starting an online teaching business, and how he learned to think like an entrepreneur and business person. We end by diving into his brilliant interpretation of the Star Wars saga, and how Nietzsche can help us make sense of The Last Jedi.

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Episode #7: Dan Fincke (Part 1)

Dan Fincke is a “Rogue” par excellence. An expert in ethics and the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, he runs an online teaching business and offers philosophical counseling from his home in France.

Of all the people I met in graduate school–including myself–Dan Fincke is the one who most deserves the title “real philosopher.” His personal story is good proof of concept for the power of philosophy to alter the course of a life: after growing up a devout Christian, his encounter with Nietzsche led him to leave the faith.

At Fordham, Dan had a reputation for being a captivating teacher, and knowing him well, it was easy to see why: his default setting is what David Foster Wallace described as “that special kind of intensity that happens after about the fourth beer.” I remember having an intuition early on that like his favorite philosopher, Nietzsche, Dan’s raw energy would not be contained by the academy, and that he would eventually leave. And he did. After completing his PhD, Dan adjuncted aggressively in the New York City area–at one time teaching a mind-bending 9 courses in a semester at 5 schools across 3 states–all while becoming a luminary in the atheist blogger community.

Join us as Dan shares how upon leaving academia he not only built a sustainable online teaching business, but unexpectedly met the love of his life.

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Episode #6: Matthew Stewart

One night, after completing a doctorate in philosophy at Oxford University and wondering what he was going to do with his life, Matthew Stewart was shooting pool with a group of graduating seniors. They were going on about the jobs they were about to begin in something called “management consulting.” For lack of a better idea of what to do, he applied to ten jobs and, yada yada yada, found himself plunged into a strange new world that, to his surprise, bore a striking resemblance to the academic one he had just left.

After a short but successful career as a management consultant, Matthew returned to his true passion: writing. He spun his memories in the business world into a rich and riveting book that is not only a history of the very idea of “management” in the 20th century, but a penetrating philosophical analysis and critique of the ideas and values that dominate in the business world.

More recently, Matthew has turned to writing about economic inequality, including what became the most widely read essay in The Atlantic magazine in 2018.

Join us for Matthew’s story, his advice for students interested in entering the business world…and some laughs as we lampoon all those self-help business books you see at the airport!

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Episode #5: David Brendel

David Brendel wears many hats–philosophical counselor, executive coach, and psychiatrist. After catching the philosophy bug reading the Great Books at Yale, David pursued a medical career at Harvard Medical School. Refusing to choose between medicine and philosophy, he enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Chicago, where he did pioneering work in the philosophy of mental health. Armed with his medical and philosophical knowledge, today David is a counselor to individuals and a consultant to businesses.

Join us as we chart David’s unusual intellectual trajectory, probe the fine line between a medical and an existential approach to mental health and wellness, and explore the challenges and opportunities of equipping executives with philosophical tools to help their businesses thrive.

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Episode #4: Ryan Stelzer (Part 2)

A “philosophy company” might sound like an oxymoron, but Ryan Stelzer had the audacity to found one.

After studying philosophy at the University of Chicago, Ryan landed a Presidential Management Fellowship, and went to Washington to work in the White House as a management consultant. Torn between returning to the academy to complete his PhD and staying in the business world, he created a third option: starting a philosophy company, Strategy of Mind, an executive coaching firm that helps companies solve problems using the tools of philosophy. When he and his business partner co-wrote an article for LinkedIn, within 48 hours, the article had 300,000 views and they received 70 job applications.

Ryan walks us through his journey from academia to government to the private sector, and talks through the challenges of importing and translating philosophy into the world of business.

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Episode #3: Ryan Stelzer (Part 1)

A “philosophy company” might sound like an oxymoron, but Ryan Stelzer had the audacity to found one.

After studying philosophy at the University of Chicago, Ryan landed a Presidential Management Fellowship, and went to Washington to work in the White House as a management consultant. Torn between returning to the academy to complete his PhD and staying in the business world, he created a third option: starting a philosophy company called Strategy of Mind, an executive coaching firm that helps companies solve problems using the tools of philosophy. When he and his business partner co-wrote an article for LinkedIn outlining the idea, within 48 hours, the article had 300,000 views and they received 70 job applications.

Ryan walks us through his journey from academia to government to the private sector, and talks through the challenges of importing and translating philosophy into the world of business.

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Episode #2: Sal Giambanco (Part 2)

After studying philosophy and training to become a Jesuit at Fordham in the early ’90s, Sal moved to San Francisco. Here, he served as a hospital chaplain for the dying, at the veritable ground zero of the AIDS plague. Years later, he left the Jesuits and academia, and went on to a successful career in human resources, working for companies such as PayPal, eBay, and the Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm. Sal is an expert in human capital and an executive coach.

In the second part of our conversation (Part 1 here), Sal and I dig into what he learned from the dying during his time serving as a hospital chaplain in the trenches of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco; why he had to leave the Jesuits to truly love (and truly experience poverty!); how he transitioned into the business world; why the liberal arts have everything to do with today’s global economy; and much more.

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Episode #1: Sal Giambanco (Part 1)

If I had to pick the most interesting person I’ve ever met, it would probably be my friend and mentor Sal Giambanco. When we first met over ten years ago at our common alma mater, Fordham University, he described what he did for a living as “philosophical counseling for CEOs.” Needless to say, he had me at “transferrable skills.” It was Sal that first planted the idea for this podcast in my head–that philosophers can succeed beyond the ivory tower–so he is the ideal guest for its inaugural episode.

After studying philosophy and training to become a Jesuit at Fordham in the early ’90s, Sal moved to San Francisco. Here, he served as a hospital chaplain for the dying, at the veritable ground zero of the AIDS plague. Years later, he left the Jesuits and academia, and went on to a successful career in human resources, working for companies such as PayPal, eBay, and the Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm. Sal is an expert in human capital and an executive coach.

Join us as we explore his fascinating life, his extraordinary career, and his personal encounters with Elon Musk, Pope Francis, and the Dalai Lama…

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If Businessmen Became Bodhisattvas: “Selling In”

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Young people who go into lucrative professions scorned as bereft of moral scruples rather than choosing a noble profession helping others are often regarded as “selling out.”  But Jason Trigg, a recent MIT graduate, “sells in“:

Jason Trigg went into finance because he is after money — as much as he can earn….  he goes to work each morning for a high-frequency trading firm. It’s a hedge fund on steroids. He writes software that turns a lot of money into even more money. For his labors, he reaps an uptown salary…

Why this compulsion? It’s not for fast cars or fancy houses. Trigg makes money just to give it away. His logic is simple: The more he makes, the more good he can do.

He’s figured out just how to take measure of his contribution. His outlet of choice is the Against Malaria Foundation, considered one of the world’s most effective charities. It estimates that a $2,500 donation can save one life. A quantitative analyst at Trigg’s hedge fund can earn well more than $100,000 a year. By giving away half of a high finance salary, Trigg says, he can save many more lives than he could on an academic’s salary.

His inspiration?  The moral philosophy of Peter Singer:

While some of his peers have shunned Wall Street as the land of the morally bankrupt, Trigg’s moral code steered him there. And he’s not alone. To an emerging class of young professionals in America and Britain, making gobs of money is the surest way to save the world. When you ask Trigg where he got the idea, his answer is a common refrain among this crowd: “I feel like I’d read stuff by Peter Singer.”

Singer’s influence notwithstanding, we can also see Trigg as trodding the path of the Bodhisattva…

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Reality Bites, Philosophy Bites Back

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In a recent interview over at The Philosopher’s Magazine, Nigel Warburton, co-presenter of Philosophy Bites, the wildly successful philosophy podcast, riffs on his experiments in public philosophy, the problems plaguing philosophical research, and his recent decision to leave academia.  The success of his podcast is proof positive that there is a hunger for philosophy in the publicyber space.  Excerpts below.

The surprising success of the podcast:

The initial thought was that mainly philosophy students and lecturers might take an interest, but he’s heard from American listeners with time to kill on long drives, people waiting out wildfires in Australia, and soldiers in Afghanistan concerned about ethics. When I ask for details over email, Warburton sends me a list of 40 countries, all with more than 10,000 downloads each, some with vastly many more, millions more in some cases. Just after the usual English-speaking suspects, China checks in at number five. The United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Taiwan, Iran and Indonesia make the list. Several spin off series, two books (and a third in the pipeline), more than 250 interviews and an alarming 16.7 million downloads later, and Philosophy Bites is an international philosophy phenomenon.

Warburton explains that he is leaving his secure position at Open University largely because of the dominance in academia of what he calls “crossword puzzle philosophy” (essentially, what Daniel Dennett has deemed “chmess“):

“Philosophers today have mostly got their heads down. They’re concerned with writing for a journal which will publish work that takes them two or three years, and only five people will read it. These are people who could be contributing to something that’s incredibly important. Gay marriage is just one example of many. I don’t think philosophers responded particularly well to 9/11. Issues about free expression, all over the world, are not just academic. They’re matters of life and death. There are exceptions, but philosophers are by and large more interested in getting a paper in Mind or Analysis than they are in commenting on the major political events of our time.”

On philosophical “research”:

I’m not even sure what research means in philosophy. Philosophers are struggling to find ways of describing what they do as having impact as defined by people who don’t seem to appreciate what sort of things they do. This is absurd. Why are you wasting your time? Why aren’t you standing up and saying philosophy’s not like that?…  It’s not the kind of thing that Socrates did or that Hume did or that John Locke did…  Why are you doing this? I’m getting out. For those of you left in, how can you call yourselves philosophers? This isn’t what philosophy’s about.”

One is hard-pressed to disagree with a straight face.  As someone who has been on the job market for a couple of years, I always inwardly cringe when I am asked to explain my “research” to a search committee or a dean.  In a formal sense, research is something that a scientist does in a lab or in the field:  designing and conducting experiments, collecting and interpreting data, and the like.  In an informal sense, it means doing your homework–gathering relevant information–before a meeting, an interview, etc.  Philosophical writing, for the most part, is not research:  it is reading articles and books, thinking about them and the subjects concerned, and then writing what one thinks about them.  Exceptions could arguably be made for “experimental philosophy” and branches of philosophy in dialogue with the sciences, such as philosophy of mind or biology, but for the most part, I think it’s a category mistake to think of the reading and writing of philosophy as “research.”  We might view today’s philosophical “research,” largely a consequence of the rise of analytic philosophy and “science envy,” as a new form of scholasticism, a defensive, conservative crouch destined to be consumed by the coming Avalanche (more on this, Higher Education’s equivalent of the Singularity, later…) (I hasten to add, however, that analytic thought, at its best, provides a needed check against the scholastic excesses, verbosity, and sheer fictioneering of much Continental thought.).

Despite the coming storm, Warburton is ultimately optimistic about the fate of philosophy:

“Because of changes in online teaching, in the next ten years, the university system will be turned on its head. If Philosophy Bites can make such an impact with two guys with a hard disk recorder and a couple of laptops, think what people who fully understand the new technology, who can write code, who can employ the best philosophical communicators around, think what they could produce. It’s only just starting. We’re going to see dramatic changes to how we learn, teach, do research and share ideas. I think philosophy’s future’s very bright.”

I asked two days ago what, in light of Leon Wieseltier’s view that philosophy these days only “tweaks and tinkers,” an alternative might look like.  Philosophy Bites seems to be a solid step in the right direction.

(image courtesy of Philosophy Bites)

Profit, Prophecy, and the Case of the Hybrid University (Ctd.)

One more point about the Bloomberg article raises pertains to the plight of adjuncts.  Though SNHU’s online program was initially supported by adjuncts getting paid the usual pittance, it has generated enough revenue to hire full-timers to do more (and, hopefully, eventually, most) of the teaching.  This may be a way to break the fatal logic of the adjunct dilemma as it exists at (solely) brick-and-mortar universities.  Not only would schools have the resources to ensure that many, most, or all of their on-site teachers are full time, but now adjuncts could still teach part-time, but do so more comfortably, without having to shuttle from campus to campus, which is a major drain on time, money, and mental health.

Of course, the true adjunct dilemma is faced by the teachers themselves, not the administrators.  My fellow blogger Dan Mullin recently shared his ambivalence about going back to adjuncting after a hiatus.

What Courage Looks Like

My friend and colleague Dan Fincke just posted a reflection on his own journey through the twisted funhouse of the academic employment market.  Dan’s energy and passion–as a teacher and a blogger–has for years simply dumbfounded those of us who know him; his efforts are über-human, and in this way he is true to the ideal of his favorite philosopher, Nietzsche.

Dan’s situation is a symbol for what is wrong with professional philosophy.  In much the same way that Andrew Sullivan–one of Dan’s role models as a blogger–has led the charge in upsetting the conventions and exposing the limitations of traditional print journalism, Dan is leveraging the new medium of the blog to do philosophy in way that is accessible, interesting, relevant, and important for a broader audience.  I don’t say “popular” audience because that carries the whiff of “pop culture,” which spells “dumb.”  But today’s popular audience, in some parts of the country and the world, at least, no longer spells dumb.  When academics turn their nose up at “popular” writing and venues, I think they have this 19th century vision of a semi-literate hoi polloi a world removed from the elite bastions of oak-adorned studies and sophisticated salons.  But Dan, like an increasing number of younger academics, smells the rot and decadence that infects this way of thinking and this way of doing philosophy.  Again, like his intellectual hero, Nietzsche, Dan is finding a way to do philosophy outside the confines of academic scholarship.  And it should concern us that the 20th century was the first in which almost all the major philosophers were academics.  I heard a talk recently where a scholar argued that philosophy has always done better as a parasite (gadfly?)–when it uses something else as fodder for reflection, be it new developments in science, culture, technology, or politics.  Whenever it tries, or pretends, to become it’s own thing, it retreats into a sorry sort of solipsistic solitude, a cloud of self-important knowingness; a retreat fueled by fear and insecurity.  Voltaire’s Candide is precisely a mockery of this tendency–Dr. Pangloss (literally, “all words”) is the caricature of this mindset.

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What is Critical Thinking? The Single Most In-Demand Skill in 2013.

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Academic philosophers, pressed to explain their unique contribution to the university, how they “add value,” why they are relevant, and so on, often fumble about, and the first thing the seize upon is the good old, tried and true “critical thinking.”  Ironic as it sounds, today’s academy isn’t all that interested in their critical thinking prowess.  But as it turns out, they may be fumbling in the wrong place, all while sitting on a pile of gold.  In its forecast of hiring practices for 2013, Forbes puts critical thinking at the top of the list.  In fact, philosophical habits of mind dominate the list:  complex problem-solving, judgment and decision-making, and active listening round out the top four.

Forward-thinking business leaders have been singing this song for years:  technical know-how is more downloadable than the supple habits of mind needed to deal with ambiguity and complexity, integrate concepts, perspectives, and data across domains, and see the bigger picture.  As Dov Seidman has argued, in today’s new economy, it doesn’t just matter what you can do, but how you do it, and philosophy is uniquely-suited to help us navigate the new normal of hyper-complexity, hyper-connectedness, and hyper-transparency:

Philosophy can help us address the (literally) existential challenges the world currently confronts, but only if we take it off the back burner and apply it as a burning platform in business. Philosophy explores the deepest, broadest questions of life—why we exist, how society should organize itself, how institutions should relate to society, and the purpose of human endeavor, to name just a few. 

Credit, climate, and consumption crises cannot be solved through specialized expertise alone. These problems, like most issues businesses confront in the global marketplace, feature complex interdependencies that require an understanding of how political, financial, environmental, ethical, and social interests influence each other. A philosophical approach connects the dots among competing interests in an effort to create synergy. Linking competing interests requires philosophers to examine areas that modern-day domain experts too often ignore: core beliefs, ethics, and character. 

Perhaps we might amend Plato’s dream of the philosopher-king:  that the world will limp on until philosophers become CEOs, or CEOs become philosophers.  Bodhisattvas must become businessmen.

Out of the Shadows

What leadership looks like:

On Thursday afternoon, on Day 2 of the Council of Graduate School’s annual meeting here, Michael F. Bérubé was scheduled to give a plenary address titled “The Future of Graduate Education in the Humanities.”

“There is no way to talk about the future of graduate education in the humanities without talking about everything else involved in the study of the humanities,” he told a rapt audience of about 700 graduate deans, most of whom were not from humanities fields.

Mr. Bérubé opened his remarks by saying that every aspect of graduate education in the humanities is in crisis, from the details of the curriculum to the broadest questions about its purpose. “It is like a seamless garment of crisis, in which, if you pull on any one thread, the entire thing unravels. It is therefore exceptionally difficult to address any one aspect of graduate education in isolation,” he said.

Among the problems he cited were high attrition rates among graduate students, the many years it takes students to get their degrees, the need to revise the content of graduate courses so that students are prepared for jobs outside of academe, whether alternative forms should replace the traditional dissertation, and if some programs should be reduced in size or eliminated altogether.

Mr. Bérubé also noted the glut of Ph.D.’s in the academic-job market and the 1.5 million people now employed as adjuncts, with no hope or expectation of ever getting a tenure-track position.

“For what are we training Ph.D.’s in the humanities to do, other than to take academic positions in their fields?” Mr. Bérubé asked the audience. “What does one do with a Ph.D. in philosophy or history, other than aspire to teach and conduct research in philosophy or history?”

The great task of the current generation of graduate students and early-career academics is to answer that question–together.  The university system cannot save them.

A Modest Proposal

Lenny Cassuto makes one:

What if we reconceived the guiding assumption that Ph.D.’s are supposed to become professors? As the Versatile Ph.D., a Web site dedicated to alternative careers for Ph.D.’s, pointed out in a comment to me, “Recognizing nonacademic placements as legit communicates a much more positive message about the skills and abilities that are nurtured by graduate education. It affirms the value of the entire enterprise.”

But it also throws a bone to administration.  If graduate programs were tricked out with nonacademic job training programs and workshops; if they forged partnerships with university career services offices, AltAc alumni, and administrators; talked openly about applying PhD training and skills, rather than relegating these conversations to the shadows; and/or incorporated internships and/or service learning into their programs–if any or all of these things are done, then graduate schools gain a competitive advantage.  They can say to prospective students:  “We don’t just place our graduates in tenure-track jobs.  We prepare them for a whole host of careers in different sectors.”  A healthy culture is one capable of criticism, reform, and adaptation–that is how institutional metabolism works.  But as Cassuto points out, cultural change can only happen if it starts at the academic equivalent of birth:

That affirmation has to begin at the earliest stage of graduate school. Professors need to shape students’ expectations before they enter graduate school—which means more transparency about their career options. And we need to shape students’ expectations while they’re in school about what’s waiting for them afterward. Most important, we need to alter their training accordingly, to prepare them for the full range of jobs they will be able to get.

The system only gets fixed from the inside, granted.  But I worry that Cassuto’s solution is only a rearguard action that eases the passage of the current generation of graduate students but concedes that the war is lost:  admissions will be cut and programs will close, and “becoming a professor” will no longer be a legitimate career path.

In any case, if present trends continue, I think we’re likely to see three species of PhDs:  the few Elites idling in Ivy Heaven , the many Plebs toiling away in Adjunct Hell, and the plucky, creative NACs who parlay the PhD into something new.

The Corporate Philosopher

Roger Steare, an organizational ethics professor in the UK, guides organizations in the private and public sectors:  “Ethics is no longer optional, it is absolutely crucial to the sustainability and success of our businesses, our public-sector services and every other institution and enterprise.”

More at his organization, Ethicability.

The “Rock Star” Professor

The NY Times’ fascinating report on the rise of the MOOC raises questions about what we might call the “Professors of the Future”:

Udacity courses are designed and produced in-house or with companies like Google and Microsoft. In a poke at its university-based competition, Dr. Stavens says they pick instructors not because of their academic research, as universities do, but because of how they teach. “We reject about 98 percent of faculty who want to teach with us,” he says. “Just because a person is the world’s most famous economist doesn’t mean they are the best person to teach the subject.” Dr. Stavens sees a day when MOOCs will disrupt how faculty are attracted, trained and paid, with the most popular “compensated like a TV actor or a movie actor.” He adds that “students will want to learn from whoever is the best teacher.”

The implications are enormous, and difficult to sift through.

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