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How can I land my dream job with a philosophy degree?

Oct 24, 2023, 15:47 PM
Title : How can I land my dream job with a philosophy degree?
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Duration : 19 minutes
Originally published : Oct 23, 2023, 16:45 PM


What can you do with a philosophy degree? Almost anything you want - seriously. 

Get answers to some of the most asked questions surrounding how to turn a philosophy degree into your dream job. 

In this episode of The Search Bar, host Adam Sparkes interviews Matt Katz, a faculty member in the Department of Philosophy, Anthropology and Religion at Central Michigan University, about the career prospects for philosophy graduates. Katz explains that philosophy majors develop valuable skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and effective communication, which can be applied to a wide range of jobs. He gives examples of philosophy graduates who have found success in fields such as law, journalism, tech, and business. Katz also discusses the importance of helping philosophy students plan for their future careers and emphasizes the value of education for education's sake. He concludes by highlighting the diverse career paths available to philosophy graduates and the need for philosophers in various industries.




Adam: What can you do with a philosophy degree? Almost anything you want - seriously. Welcome to The Search Bar. You've got questions. Let's find some answers. Bypass Google and sidle up to the search bar instead. As Central Michigan University's amazing team of experts answers some of the Internet's most asked questions. I'm your host, Adam Sparkes, and on today's episode, we're searching for answers on how to turn a philosophy degree into your dream job. Matt Katz, faculty member in the Department of Philosophy, Anthropology, and Religion at Central Michigan University is here to help us do just that. All right. Well, Matt, thanks so much for being here. Want talk a little bit about philosophy? You are a professor of philosophy, I understand, which means you went to school for at least three or four years for philosophy, correct?

Matt: Well, I took five years as an undergraduate, as a philosophy major, and then I took, I did a master's degree for three years, and then I spent six years in a PhD program.

What skills does a philosophy degree give you?

Adam: Even though philosophy, I think is the victim sometimes, or poetry might be the other one, of the joke of like, you know ‘what are you gonna do with that, be an underwater basket weaver?” Philosophy majors seem to do pretty well, actually.

Matt: I think so, yeah. I mean, there's a lot of different routes you can take. It's a subject that I love. I have a lot of fun with it. I'm glad that I get to do it for a living. I sometimes giggle that I get to, you know, hang out in a classroom with people and talk about things that I'm interested in, and hopefully, they're interested in them too. And we have great conversations and sometimes I'm like, I'm doing this for a living. Come on, right? But I think there's a lot of there's a lot of things you learn with a philosophy degree and as well as other degrees in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences that you pick up that apply to a whole range of jobs, right? Reading texts very carefully, right? Being able to synthesize information and analyze information and solve problems and question assumptions and find solutions that people hadn't thought of before, right?

And communicate both written and orally really effectively. Right? These are skills that apply to sort of all manner of jobs. In philosophy particular, we spend a lot of time being really careful about reasoning and what sort of conclusions follow from what premises and how to read something very carefully. So I'll give you an example. A colleague of mine just recently spoke to a graduate of ours who's been out for a few years. And he's a project manager for a company that does power-related infrastructure, so working with electrical equipment or electrical infrastructure and gas infrastructure. And so when they're completing a project, they have to follow very complicated regulations, and they have to follow them very like to a T, right? And part of his job is understanding what the regulations say, right? And he says, look, philosophy of education helped me out a lot in this, right?

We have other graduates in journalism who say like, look my education in philosophy taught me to question presuppositions and assumptions that, you know, all the way down the road no matter what I'm looking at. And that's a useful skill, and they're really well-known journalists who got degrees in philosophy, right? And so it's, it's, you know, people all, a lot of time people will say, “Well, what are you gonna do with that?” Right? And there's not, like, one thing that I can say, it's not like, you know, I use this as an example. I don't pick on anybody, but it's not like you get a degree in accounting. It's pretty clear what the career track is, right? You get a degree in athletic training, it's pretty clear what the career track is. It's not so clear in philosophy, right? But that's because it's wide open.

What can I do with a philosophy degree?

Adam: When you talk about the similarities principle, so that's somebody who has a common personality or common values to you. Is that what we're talking about?

Adam: It's the value that we put on what that skillset is and what it looks like, right? When you graduate, some people, I think just tend to hone in on, and maybe rightfully so, more STEM-based careers, where it's like, if I have a nursing degree, someone will hire me to be a nurse as soon as I graduate. And that feels, yeah, like a lot of job security because it's a little bit more linear. To be very clear, you can get a nursing degree and not be a nurse and become gainfully employed with that education, but it's less likely. Whereas, I feel like if you're a philosopher or a literature major, there's not like a pipe as much of a pipeline. Right?

Matt: What I used to tell people when they asked me, what am I gonna do with philosophy was, well, the sky's the limit. There's, well, the very short answer is what are you gonna do with a philosophy degree? I say anything you want, but what I used to say was, when you graduate, there's not, as you say, there's not a pipeline, right? So, you're gonna have to kind of figure out what your interests are and what kind of area you wanna work in. You're gonna have to hunt around, and it might take a little while. I don't think that's good enough anymore for our students, because the world is such that, I heard somebody on the radio yesterday talking about student loans and student loan forgiveness, and what she said was "education for education's sake is gone." And I can't disagree more, right? Like, I think, no.

Adam: Yeah. I feel that.

Matt: The primary purpose of education is the education, right? However, in the 21st century education in the United States is insanely expensive, and it is, and a lot of people are taking out a lot of debt to get degrees, and it's not just reasonable, like it's eminently wise to think about, okay, what is this gonna be? What is this investment towards? Like, how is this gonna help me? Or what am I gonna do? Do I have a plan? Right? So, I don't think it's good enough for us to say to our students anymore. “Okay. You'll figure it out.” So, like, what we're doing is sort of trying to help them figure it out earlier, right? Trying to sort of, we're building a class, right? Helping students in the humanities learn how to figure out what they value and what kind of work they might do, how to put together a resume, how to do job interviews, right?

So, we're sort of helping them do that. We're sort of we're working on getting in the curriculum internship programs, right? A way to get students to get credit for doing an internship or a couple of internships over the summer while in their sophomore and junior years, right? So that by the time they come to graduation, they already have a sense of what they might like to do, what they might not like to do, right? They already have some experience, they already have some connections, right? So basically we're trying to help them speed up that process, not necessarily speed it up to an uncomfortable degree, but get started earlier so that we don't have to tell them like, oh, it might take a couple of years to figure it out when you graduate. Right. When you graduate, you'll have a plan. Yeah. And there's a million things you might wanna do, and they're all interesting and valuable. Right?

Adam: There, there is a value proposition to a philosophy degree then.

Matt: For sure. Unquestionably. Yeah. Yeah.

What jobs are in philosophy? 

Adam: What are the more common places you see students land in the last few years?

Matt: We always have a lot of students go to law school. Yeah. it's always been a sort of traditional avenue for philosophers. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that in terms of the LSAT, the law school entrance exam, philosophers on average scored near the top of the heap amongst all majors, and they have for decades. Right.

Adam: You heard that Mom and Dad. Yeah.

Matt: Right. So, I didn't know when I was a kid, this is an aside, but I didn't know when I was a kid that if you were a lawyer, you could be the general manager of the Boston Red Sox, which is, right? I didn't know that. That's one thing that lawyers did. So, this is kinda the problem, right? Is we get it. I have the sense that we get it in a picture of what people do based on watching TV. Yeah. Right? So, you know, you don't see lawyers on TV who are just like you know, your family lawyer dealing with all kinds of different stuff, or, you know, the general manager of the Boston Red Sox, you see lawyers in court. So I thought, okay, lawyers go to court all the time, and they do, of course. And maybe, I mean, I have a good friend who's a litigator, right? But that's one thing among many, many, many things that they do. They work in human resources or faculty personnel services, right? And they help people manage their work life, right?

Adam: Every building has a lawyer in it.

Matt: You're not wrong. I hadn't thought of it that way, but I think you're not wrong.

Adam: I feel like everywhere I've worked, there's somebody with a law degree in the building and you're like, oh, law degree. Yeah. Because it's a useful degree. And I think philosophy's kind of right in that line, right?

Matt: Yeah. I mean, it's right in that line because law deals with, you know, the written word, language and, and logical reasoning. And that's basically what we do all the time, all day, every day, right? Some philosophers who focus specifically on logic and probability theory might go into tech, right? They might be, we have a lot of double majors, right? People in say not a ton, but I mean, it would make sense to be a double major in say, computer science and philosophy, right? And then you go work in tech. I should note also, there are a million jobs in tech that aren't techy jobs, right? They also need lawyers. They also need PR people, they also need HR people. They also need creative types. And so, I just had a student graduate who is a double major in neuroscience and philosophy and he's going to graduate school at Brown to study neuroscience. But, he wrote a senior capstone paper about the philosophy of psychology, and, you know, what the latest neuroscience has to say about traditional philosophical problems in psychology. I was at a career fair, and I met somebody who worked for, I forget the name of the outfit, but it was a nonprofit, an environmental protection nonprofit here in Michigan. Right. And he spends his days, he was a philosophy major, not here at Central, but he was a philosophy major, and he works, he spends most of his days in Lansing lobbying lawmakers on behalf of the environment in Michigan.

Adam: It seems like that public policy trajectory would probably line up pretty well too.

Matt: Solving problems, working with language communication skills, right? Reasoning skills and all of that stuff are gonna be valuable in all those areas.

Adam: So, you probably got students MBA probably seems like the next step for a lot of philosophy students too, right?

Matt: You know, it could be, and I haven't talked to a lot of students who see that as a path, but I think it really could be. And I know that there are some examples of people who've made, who've studied philosophy and gone on to make fortunes in business in various ways. 

Who contemporary philosophers should I read?

Adam: Who are your favorite famous philosophers?

Matt: Favorite famous philosophers?

Adam: Who are your favorites?

Matt: I can tell you who I read the most. So, I read this. So, I work in the philosophy of psychology, right? And a lot of the problems were sort of set or described by this guy called Jerry Fodor. He's a 20th-century philosopher, who worked at Rutgers for I think almost his whole career. He just died a couple of years ago. So I read a lot of Fodor I sent a text to a colleague of mine last semester, and I said “How much is too much Fodor to put on one syllabus?” just like laughing at me, like, stop it. Yeah. But all the, all the guys in that kind of area that work in philosophy of psychology Paul Churchland's, another one, I don't read a ton of Paul Churchland, but...

Which famous people studied philosophy? 

Adam: Who are celebrity philosophers? You know, some of those?

Matt: Celebrity philosophers? Well, there are a couple of former US Supreme Court justices, David Souter and Stephen Breyer were both philosophy majors. Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, studied philosophy. I know journalists like Katy Tur was a philosophy major. Steve Martin. Steve Martin was a philosopher.

Adam: Yeah. Yeah. And a banjo player.

Matt: And a banjo player. That's hard. That's true. That's hard. So I'm told don't, I'm not a musician either. I don't, I don't know. My brother's a guitarist. I could ask him. Yeah. I mean, they sort of, you, you sort of hear about them and learn about them. I think there's another, there's a Canadian Supreme Court Justice, I don't know his name, that was a philosophy major. So they're, they're out there in all sorts of different fields. What are the things that go on the back of your iPhone that like pop...

Adam: PopSockets?

Matt: Yeah, that guy was a philosopher.

Adam: Oh, really? Yeah. Yeah.

Matt: He had it as a pet project, and then he left philosophy to pursue that full-time. 

Does studying philosophy help develop communication skills?

Matt: Does it become a strike when the umpire says it's a strike? Or is it a strike? And then the umpire either gets it right or gets it wrong. And if you talk to different umpires, they'll say different things. Some of them will say, I calls 'em as I see ‘em, and some of them will say it's a strike 'cause I say it's a strike. No, that's a philosophical question.

Adam: It kind of speaks to kind of the flexibility of having that skillset in different career paths, right? Like, this is not an actual anecdote, but it wouldn't be surprising to be like, oh, one of the guys at the rules office there at, at MLB who sits down with all those umpires at the end of every year and decides how that works, is somebody of the philosophy degree. You know, those amalgamations of rules and values of even a game. Like, somebody's gotta be good and care about kind of tying all that stuff up, right?

Matt: Yeah. So unquestionably, I can't imagine, I haven't looked at the rule book for the NFL or the NHL, right? The rules have to be insanely complicated written documents, right? And to understand them and to understand the effects of making a tiny change requires, you know, the ability to read documents really carefully and understand what they're saying. Here's another example. So, I've done some contract grievance work bargaining work with my faculty union, right? And those documents, collective bargaining agreements are legal documents. They're very, very complicated and they're very particular and precise. What does the language of the contract say? What event happened? How does the language speak to the event? Was there a violation of policy? Wasn't there not a violation of policy?

And again, like you say, there's a lawyer in every building, and when HR is involved, there's a lawyer involved, but there isn't necessarily, you know, like I did this work for faculty unions, and I don't have a law degree, but I can read language really carefully and I can understand what's going on and how to apply it, right? Same kind of thing in a negotiation collective bargaining negotiation, right? Like, what have the parties come to agree to, and then how do we put that in writing? And then later on there's a question about, okay, what exactly did this writing mean? Did it mean this kind of event? Or did it mean this other kind of event? Or did it mean both or did it mean neither? Right? And, so there's a lot of interpretive work that goes on, you know, with, again, legal writing, but not necessarily by lawyers, could be a philosopher, right?

Adam: Yeah. It makes it feel, when you describe it like that, it makes it feel really tangential to things like law or like technical writing.

Matt: I mean, that's another good example. I actually had a friend who tried to hire me as a technical writer a long time ago. He was working in tech. So, I mean, you know, every time you pick up, I don't know, say you buy a new microwave comes with a manual, right? Or a new TV or a, well, iPhones, I think the materials, they're online now, right? But there's a technical manual for anything you buy, for any piece of equipment or whatever. And that was written by somebody who has to, you know, put language on paper in a very, very precise way. And you can tell sometimes they're better and sometimes they're worse. And again, you know, philosophy's my home and it's my love, but I don't wanna, I don't wanna speak outta turn that the, the, and I don't wanna, I don't know the details of the program, but the English department has a certificate in technical writing. You know, like I say, philosophy is my love, but, I like to talk up all the programs in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.

Adam: The Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences here, Richard Rothhaus and I had this conversation outside once. We have a little poetry reading that goes on out in the spring. It's Leaves of Grass. There's a Walt Whitman reading that they do out here in the botanical gardens. It's beautiful. You should go to school here, it's great. And I ran into him at it a couple years back and he said, you know, it's a good reminder that the world still needs poets.

Matt: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you said to start that it's thought of as fluffy or something. Yeah. I don't know the adjective you use. I mean, look, there's different styles of philosophy I work in, in what's it used to be talked about, the analytic continental divide, right? Continental was the reason I got those names was because it was this sort of philosophy that developed in the, in the 20th century on the European continent, right? And analytic philosophy is sort of what developed mostly in England, Great Britain and the United States. So, I do very analytic philosophy. I do a lot of logic. I focus on argument, structure and so on and so forth. There's other kinds of philosophy, so the philosophy department here at CMU isn't a department, it's an area, right?

And I'm in a department with philosophy, anthropology, and religious studies and religion we call it, if you wanna understand what led to you say the way the world looks like today. So yeah, the world needs poets and the world needs religious scholars and could we understand any of that without a firm understanding of culture? So the world needs anthropologists, right? Like I said, I've been going to career fairs and talking to employers, right. And lots of them say, and when you look at career services and they're holding a fair, they have a list of who's coming and what majors they're looking for, right? Yeah. And a lot of the employers don't have lists of majors. And when you go talk to them, they say, we don't hire majors, we hire people. Right? And the reason is they want somebody who they can train whoever it is to do the job that they need them to do.

And what they want is for people who can communicate with other people, right? Or who can write, or who can read carefully? And so, for example, we had just this past spring, we invited an employer to Anspach for the day to talk to some students and have lunch with some students and so on. And she was from RXO, which is a logistics company, a shipping company, right? And she was like, yeah, we hire everybody, 'cause we need people. Like, people start by working the phones and helping people who are shipping, you know, driving a truck with a shipment, helping them figure out what went wrong, what's missing, or where they got lost or solving whatever problem needs to be solved on the shipping end or the receiving end or whatever. Right? And that's a communication game.

Adam: Thank you. Thanks for coming and talking to me about philosophy. I really appreciate the time that you put in here.

Matt: Thanks very much for having, having me happy to talk about this stuff.

Adam: Hopefully we'll have you again sometime in the future. Hopefully, we're still doing this sometime in the future if I'm not replaced by an A.I.

Matt: By an AI, yeah. I don't think so. Not anytime soon, I hope.

Adam: All right. Awesome. Thanks again.

Matt: Thank you.

Adam: Thanks for stopping by The Search Bar. Don't forget to like, subscribe or follow so that you don't have to search for the next episode.

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Adam Sparkes is a nearly 20-year veteran of commercial, editorial, news and travel photography. A lover of news, pop culture, board games and gluten-free pizza, Adam is eternally curious to learn about anything and everything.

In addition to his role as host for “The Search Bar,” Adam serves as CMU’s associate director of multimedia and photography where he can be found crawling on the ground or sprinting down the sidelines to get the perfect shot.

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