For the past three years, I’ve held a permanent position as a philosophy lecturer at Cardiff University. I’ve now moved back to Boston, am resigning at the end of 2021, and am not currently planning to apply for other academic jobs.
In case it’s helpful to other people who are pursuing (or thinking about pursuing) a career in philosophy academia, I thought I would share my reasons for leaving it. There are two main reasons: location constraints, and teaching workload.
Reason #1: Location constraints
Philosophy jobs are very scarce, so even for someone like me with a fairly good publication record, there isn’t a lot of choice about where you’ll end up working. I thought Cardiff was a nice place, but there were a couple of reasons I decided that I would prefer to move back to Boston.
The main one was the social situation. I made some friends in my department, but they often left when classes weren’t in session. I was also single, and found it hard to date there. This meant I was by myself there a lot more than I would have liked. In Boston, I have more friends and family nearby, and I think the dating demographics are better for me here.
I also just generally think I enjoy living in Boston more. Cardiff is one of the rainiest cities in the UK, which had an effect on my mood. The weather in Boston can get bad, but it’s also a lot more variable. There are also smaller things I missed about Boston, e.g. movie theaters, restaurants, libraries, coffeeshops, more nice areas to explore. I’m also probably just attached to it because of how much time I’ve spent here. (See also this Jeff Kaufman post.)
Reason #2: Teaching workload
On paper, when I took my job, the teaching workload seemed pretty reasonable. Each year, I’d lead two undergraduate courses, one in the fall, one in the spring; lead one graduate seminar; and deliver ten weeks’ worth of lectures for two first-year courses. The advice I got was that this was a light workload in comparison to most philosophy jobs.
In practice, though, I did not find this workload to be super fun. Each week, I’d have to prepare classes on two to three different subjects, which felt like when I had to research and write two papers every week for the classes I took during my study abroad at Oxford. I’d also have to not only lead those classes, but also, for the upper-year undergraduate course, at least three back-to-back discussion groups. Also, twice each semester, I’d have to grade about fifty papers. And I’d be assigned to supervise an undergraduate thesis. And I’d be assigned to participate in the “moderation” system used in UK academia: peer-reviewing samples of a colleague’s grading. And I’d have other departmental duties, such as coordinating one of the first-year courses, attending department meetings and research talks, serving as a personal tutor, etc.
And all of this was in addition to time spent working on my own research. This was in theory supposed to take up about a third of my time; my understanding was that it would be the main factor in determining whether I would get promoted or other job offers; and it was the thing I personally found the most fulfilling.
I think there were a few reasons why I didn’t find this super fun. One was just the stress of how much work I had to do, which made each academic year feel like a marathon. Second, and relatedly, there was the mental difficulty of frequently having to switch between different cognitively demanding tasks and of working while feeling drained from having just taught. Third, a lot of my work felt intrinsically tedious, in particular the discussion groups where I’d have to talk about the same subjects three or four times in a row, and the grading. And finally, I was never sure that most my teaching was actually doing much good, or if I was just serving as a cog in a bureaucracy that was forcing young people to spend years studying subjects they mostly didn’t care about as an inefficient way of signaling their intelligence and diligence to potential employers (see Bryan Caplan, The Case Against Education).
I thought about various ways in which my situation might improve. I could have tried moving to a bigger city and commuting to Cardiff. Preparing lectures would probably have gotten a little easier over time as I settled on materials I was satisfied with. And I might have eventually gotten another job in a city I preferred and with a lighter teaching load. But ultimately, I decided that my prospects of finding a better situation weren’t good enough to justify giving up any more of my life.
(I have a few friends who seem to have lighter teaching loads than I did, so I’m not actually sure how my workload compares to that of other philosophy jobs. But mostly, these jobs are still not in areas where they’d prefer to live. Also, much of the lighter teaching load is because their departments recruit more graduate students who then take on the grading and discussion sessions, and I have doubts about the ethics of this, given the state of the job market.)