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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Working Your Way Up

There is something to be said for working your way up, starting as the coffee boy and ending up as the CEO of the company. The idea of working your way up also stands for all the things I was raised to dislike as I grew up in Copenhagen.

In a welfare country like Denmark, you get an education, then you get a job. In theory, you cannot work your way up to anything. Of course, there are raises, promotions and prizes, but starting out as the copy girl and ending up as the editor-in-chief at a major publishing house is practically unheard of.

Working your way up is also foreign to the philosophy arena in the US. There are, admittedly, some philosophers who have worked their way up in terms of where they publish, who they hang out with, or where they work. Graduating from Syracuse University and ending up at Oxford and Princeton, John Hawthorne is an excellent example of someone who has worked his way up. But it's rare. It's rare to hear of someone who starts out at Crackpot Community College in Southern Mississippi and ends up at Jackpot Ivy League University in Manhattan.

The philosophy profession inadvertently borrows some of its ideas from European royalty and aristocracy. You are either born with a silver spoon in your mouth, or you are not. If you are not, you can marry your way in. Or if you are very ambitious and very lucky, you can get hired as, say, Princess Mary's fashion consultant and make your way into the inner circle, get invited to their parties and be seen with her eating lunch at upscale vegan cafes in Copenhagen. But fashion consultants don't become royalty. Like the crown prince couple's best friends from high school and college, they just hang out with them, get media attention and a taste of life in a castle.

Unlike the real castles, the philosophy profession's castles have a few loopholes that make it possible for a few of the fashion consultants and college friends of the philosophical royalty to slip through the cracks. Tenacity, strategic planning and a good portion of luck can increase your chances. Luck is an uncontrollable factor but the rest of the recipe goes like this. Keep a finger on the pulse, find out about the royalty's research interest and concentrate on those areas, publish in the journals approved by the royalty, cite the royalty's work extensively, do not criticize the royalty, criticize those the royalty criticizes, find out where the royalty hangs out, present your work at those events, become their fans and supporters. The recipe is no surefire route to success but it helps. There are other little secrets to success, which I will save for another post.

But back to working your way up. The recipe I just gave you for making your way to the top in philosophy is not a recipe for how to work your way up. Working your way up in the genuine sense of the word means starting on the floor and then slowly through good, solid work breaking through the glass ceiling.

Having flirted a bit with writing for popular media, I already have a sense of how you can really work your way up in that business. Though every rule has its exceptions, you don't start out as a New York Times reporter or a CNN correspondent. But if you can write or you have the abilities to learn to write, you can get there in a finite number of steps. You literally start at no-name sites with nearly no requirements in terms of a platform or portfolio. Then you move to local newspapers, magazines or slightly more prestigious online sites. By then you have a couple of quality clips to include with your pitches. Next step is a national publication. The recipe then goes like this. Work on your pitches, do quality work, learn as you go and move one little step up at a time.

Despite going against my childhood teachings, I like the idea and the process. It gives you an immediate sense of gratification. Every assignment you complete successfully takes you one step closer to the goal. Pay-offs (monetary as well as mentions) along the way increase steadily and typically match your current abilities and accomplishments. The process is fair and satisfying in a way that aristocracy and royalty are not.

9 comments:

J.Vlasits said...

I really wish that I could agree with you about the journalism example, but I have a number of friends who have worked for the New Yorker, Slate, TNR, etc. The fact is that you have to be part of an in crowd with them as well (unless you have some outside fame before entering journalism). Just like in philosophy, your work matters but so does who you know and get along with, etc.

Brit Brogaard said...

Hi there, I am sure you are right about journalism in general. However, in my experience, freelance writers are paid, roughly, in accordance with how well they write and do research and how much they have written.

Alan said...

Brit--Great post. A couple of years ago I wrote a satire about philosophical stardom, "PHI Star", which of course is sung to "Rock Star". You might see some parallels to points you make!

Φ Star
(Sung to "Rock Star" by Nickelback)
Enough applying for jobs
to schools I wouldn't attend--
it's like a doctoral exam
that I can't comprehend--
my track hasn't tenured in a
major university.
(Tell me your career goals.)
Give me an endowed chair
amanuensis for ad libs
and an office that I can hear echoes in
with a desk big enough
for my egocentricity.
(So cite me your CV)
Get a JP lead for my MA thesis
voted Delphic Genius by Phronesis
get a Carus lecture
and a Festschrift at thirty-three.
(NYU or Princeton?)
I'll have an email box just for Oxford dons
my name badly sung on “Philosophy Songs”
and slipped between Hume and
Lewis, appropriately.
(So what's the stratagem?)
I'll publish so much that they'll perish
thought I'm anything but cherished-
Cause we're all just gonna be big Φ stars
and have our views raked over on a blog like TAR's
our quips are pithy and our footnotes neat
we'll all be mentioned from a usage feat
and coo over who our mentors are
as some magnitude of a Leiter star
we'll give good wishes with reflexive stares
get tenure granted with a year to spare
hey hey I'm gonna be a Φ star
hey hey I'm gonna be a Φ star
I want to be late like Ludwig sans the hassles
have lots of assistants that I call vassals
get a lot of invitations
where I live opulently
(Another margarita. . .)
I will gloss my work
with newest language
get a cross-listing with friends I reference
a codependent
referentiality
(So what's the stratagem?)
I'll publish so much that they'll perish
thought I'm anything but cherished-
Cause we're all just gonna be big Φ stars
and have our views raked over on a blog like TAR's
our quips are pithy and our footnotes neat
we'll all be mentioned from a usage feat
and coo over who our mentors are
as some magnitude of a Leiter star
we'll give good wishes with reflexive stares
get tenure granted with a year to spare
we'll cry critics as wildest fools
excluded from our pluriverse by Sider house-rules
they'll toll your corpus with a death-bed knell
but supply you a clickable URL
hey hey I'm gonna be a Φ star
I'll publish notes
that flout tradition
and teach Russell with erudition
Have eighth-year TAs edit stuff so long
they accept all the blame when I'm proven wrong!
Cause we're all just gonna be big Φ stars
and have our views raked over on a blog like TAR's
our quips are pithy and our footnotes neat
we'll all be mentioned from a usage feat
and coo over who our mentors are
as some magnitude of a Leiter star
we'll give good wishes with reflexive stares
get tenure granted with a year to spare
we'll cry critics as wildest fools
excluded from our pluriverse by Sider house-rules
they'll toll your corpus with a death-bed knell
but provide you a clickable URL
hey hey I'm gonna be a Φ star
ego eimi I'm gonna be a Φ star!

Of course I have an mp3 on my site for it as well; would that I'd been in better voice that day. . .

Brit Brogaard said...

Wow, Alan! That's very cool. Is there a YouTube video, too? Then I will post it ;)

Eric Schliesser said...

My first year out of graduate school, I had not published anything and I (stupidly) rejected a tenure track job position at a lovely midwestern private Jesuit college devoted to teaching undergraduates. Luck (in the form of the old boys network) came my way and I got hired as a visiting prof at a prestigious, east-coast liberal arts college. There I realized I needed to start publishing, and in a 18 months period had seven papers accepted for publication. At that time one of my (outside) dissertation advisors pointed out to me that at the rate I was publishing "Harvard would never take me," especially because I was showing no interest in promoting *his* views!
This turned out to be prophetic because the following year Harvard indeed passed me over for another early modernist.
But after three years of adjuncting I was very grateful to get a tenure track position at Syracuse. Anyway, enough about me, more about you...

Brit Brogaard said...

Thanks for sharing your story, Eric! I suppose that's one of the things that's different in the journalism biz. You can't write too much as long as it's well-written, doesn't contain factual errors, etc. In fact, you're probably going to move up faster if you're productive than if you're lazy.

Anyway, it's not really my area, and I don't have journalistic ambitions but it's interesting to watch how differently people behave in the two professions.

Zac Ernst said...

Wait a second... I thought academic philosophy was a meritocracy! What is particularly ironic with respect to academic philosophy, as opposed to say, the music business, is that philosophy purports to have a core set of ethical values about truth, rationality, and avoiding systematic bias.

What gets under my skin is when philosophers pretend that the more bizarre aspects of our social hierarchy are actually rational. Don't get me started about the PGR! Arghh!

-Zac

Brit Brogaard said...

Hi Zac. It's not the PGR. Do doubt there would be a lot more snobbery without it. At least some places which you might otherwise think would be "no-name places" make it to the top of the PGR. One problem, however, is that some people fail to apply the PGR correctly. They actually think the PGR was created for hiring purposes rather than as a guide for students going into graduate school.

Louis Frederick said...

I have worked for two months, two months ago I was hesitating whether I should continue my study or go to work. Until I met a guy on the train and we had a long long conversation. I told him about my situation and he tried to save me from my tanglement.
what he said is quite nagging LOL but I understand one thing he tried so hard to express: it doesn't matter what you do in the future, what indeed matters is if you have an open mind of learning. Keeping studying and being optimistic in whatever you met, that's the key to life.
I'm doing right as what he advised. It feels great.