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Well, there goes my academic career

Over the past three years or so I have been trying to get an academic career going, at the tender age of (then) 49 (now 51). I have applied for a number of positions while working as a postdoc at the University of Queensland, and tried now twice to get an ARC Discovery Grant up on biodiversity measures. I have failed to get a single interview, and today I found out that my grant was rejected again.

Despite publishing relatively well, it seems I am too old. I have also missed out on another university’s postdoc positions twice now, and I suspect age had something to do with that too. In the period while I have been here, there has been a massively nasty conflict between the administration and my colleagues, involving my supervisor, who has now left the university. It has made writing – even concentrating – almost impossible. As a result, my species book is not done (although the Sourcebook on species definitions is in press), and now I am left quite shattered.

I know that according to the law, age is not supposed to be a factor here, but let’s be real. The reason nobody wants to interview me is because (i) I am a native to Australia (the Not Educated Here Syndrome in play), (ii) I am older than I should be, and (iii) I work in philosophy of science rather than, say, ethics or epistemology or metaphysics (directly), which are the fashionable fields.

This means that when my contract runs out, sometime in May next year, I’m out on the street, so to speak. I will, of course, keep applying for positions, but it doesn’t look good to me. I guess it’s back to computer-based publishing.

45 Comments

  1. I’m very sorry to hear that, John. I hope you’ll be able to keep blogging.

  2. Jason Jason

    I don’t want to be too Polyannaish, but there will still be teaching jobs going between now and May. Temporary ones at the very least.
    I’d also like to say, for the sake of the forriners reading this, that John’s right about the conflict at UQ, which has left quite a few people feeling shattered, and which was ENTIRELY the fault of some folks in the administration who went out of their way to pick fights with the academics.

  3. I am also sorry to hear about that.
    I’ve spent the past few weeks in Sydney complaining that UQ is a barren wasteland, devoid of hope and life. Clearly that does not just apply to medieval studies, but also to biohumanities. I don’t suppose UNSW or USyd have positions opening?

  4. SEK SEK

    Holy crap, John. If your output counts as “modest,” the rest of us are in trouble. It may sound strange, but maybe you’d have better luck in the States? I mean, you’re well-cited, and people recommend your work. Really, I’m just shocked that someone of your obvious quality can’t find employment. It’s not consolation, I know, but that really speaks more to the integrity of the system than your contributions to it.

  5. John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

    My colleague Stefan, who is Canadian and studied at Duke for his PhD, seems to think my output is good: 12 papers, two more coauthored, four book chapters, 12 book reviews, one book, and a popular article on philosophy of science. Apparently it’s not considered worthwhile here, but it may be in the States. The problem is, I haven’t got a teaching track record that would be considered in North America – I have only taught three subjects, and I didn’t think to keep the student evaluations (which were pretty good).
    Unfortunately the citations I get tend to me in publications not listed by the impact factor databases – book chapters, theses, that sort of thing. And acknowledgments in books don’t count either.
    So it looks like I’m done for.

  6. John, you have my sympathies. The philosophy job market is unpleasant, even under the best of circumstances.
    I would echo the suggestion to apply for jobs in North America. Of course, it’s going to depend on the department, but it’s my impression that what matters most are the papers themselves (i.e., their content) and your letters of recommendation — at least for a more research-oriented position. They will be less concerned with your light teaching track record, although it is unfortunate that you don’t have the teaching evals for the classes you have taught. (Doesn’t the department have a record of them?) And many search committees will trust their own judgement over “impact factors.”
    Anyway, some of out here are hoping you hang in there and succeed. You certainly deserve to.

  7. 386sx 386sx

    Anyway, some of out here are hoping you hang in there and succeed.
    I think you left out a word or something there because it don’t quite make sense.
    It should probably say something like, “Anyway, everybody out here is hoping you hang in there and succeed.”
    Much closer to the real truth.

  8. I’m sorry to hear this too. I know this may seem an anathema to you, but have you talked to people in biology departments? I know there is interest in looking at biodiversity from a philosophical perspective. And whilst this may not come across from the literature, biologist are actually human too.
    If you haven’t already, you might want to try talking to Mick McCarthy.
    Bob

  9. I’m sorry to hear this too. I know this may seem an anathema to you, but have you talked to people in biology departments? I know there is interest in looking at biodiversity from a philosophical perspective. And whilst this may not come across from the literature, biologist are actually human too.
    If you haven’t already, you might want to try talking to Mick McCarthy.
    Bob

  10. I’m sorry to hear this too. I know this may seem an anathema to you, but have you talked to people in biology departments? I know there is interest in looking at biodiversity from a philosophical perspective. And whilst this may not come across from the literature, biologist are actually human too.
    If you haven’t already, you might want to try talking to Mick McCarthy.
    Bob

  11. I’m sorry to hear this too. I know this may seem an anathema to you, but have you talked to people in biology departments? I know there is interest in looking at biodiversity from a philosophical perspective. And whilst this may not come across from the literature, biologist are actually human too.
    If you haven’t already, you might want to try talking to Mick McCarthy.
    Bob

  12. I’m sorry to hear this too. I know this may seem an anathema to you, but have you talked to people in biology departments? I know there is interest in looking at biodiversity from a philosophical perspective. And whilst this may not come across from the literature, biologist are actually human too.
    If you haven’t already, you might want to try talking to Mick McCarthy.
    Bob

  13. 386sx: Yes, it should have read, “Some of us out here are hoping you hang in there and succeed.” Don’t take the “some” too literally; it’s purely stylistic.

  14. John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

    Oh, I’m guessing some of the ID crowd aren’t, Roberta. Maybe not Paul Nelson, but a few others might enjoy the Schadenfreude.

  15. John, keep up the good work and widen your net, so to speak. Philosophers can get work in industry as well as academia. Being almost 51 myself, I can sympathize, however I know a triple degree physicist who repairs lawnmowers. Keep applying and cover your bases, (dang, I used a baseball metaphor!!!)

  16. I’m really sorry to hear that. I do hope you’ll be able to find something that you are happy doing and that pays the bills. Good luck, please keep trying. I hope some of the suggestions the others here have made work out.
    And I hope you’ll continue blogging, I enjoy reading your work.

  17. Ian H Spedding FCD Ian H Spedding FCD

    “Never give in!” (Who said that? It wasn’t Chamberlain, was it?)
    I’m really sorry to hear about the setbacks but the good thing about the Universe and evolution is that things change.
    Get the truck driver’s licence. Take to the roads with a camera. With the success of Ice Road Truckers here there must be a market for Road Train Drivers there. Maybe a book like Agnosticism and the Art of Road Train Driving or a paper Species Concepts as derived from the Evolution of Heavy Goods Vehicles

  18. Paul A. Nelson Paul A. Nelson

    I don’t know any other IDers who read your blog, John, but this one is hoping that you’ll find a post worthy of your talents.

  19. John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

    That was carefully ambiguous, Paul.

  20. John, at the risk of saying something ignorant, I hope that you will consider self-publishing if all else fails and use subscriptions and such to pay for same. I’ll buy a copy of your book when it’s finished and happily plug it on my blog. I think the work you’ve done over the last 10-12 years is incredibly valuable.

  21. I’m sorry to hear this, John. I’ve been in a similar situation of hitting a career brick wall – though I was younger at the time – so I know what it feels like. Rotten, basically. The National University of Singapore seems like a place where you might think of applying for jobs if you’re prepared to move outside of Australia – it’s a top university, and they seem to be keen to build up their programs in philosophy and science studies.

  22. windy windy

    “Never give in!” (Who said that? It wasn’t Chamberlain, was it?)
    Peter Quincy Taggart put it even better: “Never give up, never surrender!”
    Good luck John – I’d offer to translate your books to Finnish, but unfortunately that wouldn’t create much of a blip on the sales radar 🙁

  23. Benny Benny

    Hey John, I have a possibility you may not have considered: the Center for Philosophy of Science here at Pitt offers fellowships every year, and, while they may not offer much in the way of money, Pittsburgh is a cheap place to live and it could serve as a launching pad whilst looking for more permanent positions. Plus Pittsburgh is just such an interesting place, and next year the PSA conference is here.
    Anyway, here is the website for the center, with all the info you need: http://www.pitt.edu/~pittcntr/
    I find your work really interesting, and there are lots of folks here who would agree.
    Best of luck!
    Cheers
    Benny

  24. Paul A. Nelson Paul A. Nelson

    “Carefully ambiguous,” eh? Only accidentally. May John Wilkins gain an academic post where he will be happy and productive, turning out the sort of witty and humane scholarship that distinguishes his blog.
    I strongly second Benny’s recommendation about the Pitt fellows program. You should write to Jim Lennox and tell him about your situation. You’d love Pittsburgh: an inexpensive, very livable city, full of interesting people, and Carnegie Museum to boot (great natural history collections and a superb research library — I had borrowing privileges there as an undergraduate in the Pitt HPS program).
    Wilkins at the University of Pittsburgh, Center for the Philosophy of Science. Now that’s a good fit. An Aussie in western Pennsylvania, to the benefit of both.

  25. Aaron Clausen Aaron Clausen

    Sorry to hear that, John. They sure the hell don’t know what they’re missing, silly buggers.
    At any rate, I echo others. Look abroad. Apply in North America and Europe. Maybe the odds aren’t much better, but you never know. Heck, if you find yourself in the Pacific Northwest, I’ll cross the Strait of Georgia and buy you a beer.

  26. Chris' Wills Chris' Wills

    Good luck.
    Though not as erudite or well educated as you (a simple engineer once upon a time, now just simple) it is hard getting a permanent place once you pass a certain age outside academia as well.
    Though perhaps academia is a little bit more bitchy politics seems to be a universal.
    Best of luck with whatever the future brings.

  27. Chris' Wills Chris' Wills

    Good luck.
    Though not as erudite or well educated as you (a simple engineer once upon a time, now just simple) it is hard getting a permanent place once you pass a certain age outside academia as well.
    Though perhaps academia is a little bit more bitchy politics seems to be a universal.
    Best of luck with whatever the future brings.

  28. Chris' Wills Chris' Wills

    Good luck.
    Though not as erudite or well educated as you (a simple engineer once upon a time, now just simple) it is hard getting a permanent place once you pass a certain age outside academia as well.
    Though perhaps academia is a little bit more bitchy politics seems to be a universal.
    Best of luck with whatever the future brings.

  29. Chris' Wills Chris' Wills

    Good luck.
    Though not as erudite or well educated as you (a simple engineer once upon a time, now just simple) it is hard getting a permanent place once you pass a certain age outside academia as well.
    Though perhaps academia is a little bit more bitchy politics seems to be a universal.
    Best of luck with whatever the future brings.

  30. Chris' Wills Chris' Wills

    Good luck.
    Though not as erudite or well educated as you (a simple engineer once upon a time, now just simple) it is hard getting a permanent place once you pass a certain age outside academia as well.
    Though perhaps academia is a little bit more bitchy politics seems to be a universal.
    Best of luck with whatever the future brings.

  31. The only way to start an academic career at your age is to get a job at a 4 year college with fulltime teaching duties. Do unfunded research on the side until you get tenure then try to get a job at a research school.

  32. There’s not much to say but “that sucks.”
    I hope you finish the species book ’cause I want one (on top of the Sourcebook when that comes out). And I hope you’ll keep trying for that full-time career, even if it seems bleak now.
    But no matter what, if having a lot of people admire your decency, learning and depth of thought is worth anything, you haven’t wasted your time.

  33. But I’m studying philosophy because it seemed like such an easy road to financial security! I wanted to follow my dream and get the MBA, but my father talked me into doing the practical thing.
    I’m really sorry to hear you’re feeling down about future prospects; and as someone who will be in your position in a few years I’m not filled with hope (I’m younger but I suspect not as bright, so we’ll see how much of a benefit that really turns out to be). Ask yourself what it is that you really want to be doing. If it’s just doing philosophy somewhere, then as someone else suggested look for a full-time teaching position and do the work on the side (at least you don’t need a particle accelerator to test your theory of species concepts). I have a friend who’s doing exactly that at a community college. Not a lot of respect generated perhaps, but he’s happy getting paid to think about political science all day, which is what he really wants. A lot of people, not necessarily you, get too hung up on a specific way of achieving what they want, and are gutted when that falls through. Take stock, see what it is that you’re really shooting for, and try to find another way to get there.

  34. Marc Lacroix Marc Lacroix

    John, I’m sorry to hear about your predicament. But if money is going to be a problem for you, have you thought about becoming a translator? If you know a foreign language, that is. I don’t know how much a translator makes in Australia, but over here in Canada, they make a pretty good living – some even make over 100,000 CA$ a year! And since most translators are self-taught, you wouldn’t have to go back to university to get another degree.
    Marc L.

  35. John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

    Thank you all for your kind comments (including Paul).
    I have investigated most of the suggestions – Pitts needs me to have an income for the fellowship (but it’s a cool idea, and I know folk there, so once this gets sorted, maybe). I barely speak English but I do a good philosophese to English translation. Not a lot of money in it, and my German is nearly as bad as my French. I can swear in Greek, though (there was this girl… no, a gentleman never tells).
    I look now to have some funding until September next year now, so a lot can happen in that time. It’s just that there’s this boy who likes to eat and he expects me to pay for it…
    I’m recovered somewhat since yesterday. I still think my chances are slim to none, but I aim to continue until they physically carry me out of the office (with all the books!), or someone decides to fling money at me.
    Bugger the Australian Research Council! Oops. I better not say that in public just yet, had I?

  36. Susan Silberstein Susan Silberstein

    John, Matt lived in Pittsburgh for a while. You might want to get in touch with him.

  37. As another IDer (sort of; not the Bible-thumping sort) I’d like to add that I’m glad to hear about the “funding until September” (not least because you’re obviously better at this game than I am, and I’m going to be late 40s by the time I’m post-doc, in an even less sexy bit of phil sci).

  38. Welcome to the world of the carefree amateurs:
    John, I have until now refrained from responding to your post because I was desperately trying to think of something to say that isn’t a platitude, as I thought that if all I had to offer was platitudes then I might as well not bother. At some point I finally realised that the only reaction to news like yours is platitudes and as your blog actually means quite a lot to me saying nothing is not really an alternative I want to choose. What follows is a loose collection of thoughts provoked by your original post and the comments of others.
    I was born an academic; I inherited it like some form of curse along with my physical appearance from my father. Having totally screwed up my attempts to become a professional academic three times in my life I have a vague idea of how you are feeling at the moment. In fact, I think I finally gave up any efforts at becoming a professional in order to avoid the situation you are in now i.e. finally having made the grade and being too old to get an appointment.
    I thought the PC expression “age-ism” was a joke until I became unemployed at the age of fifty! A typical attempt to find employment, any employment: Me: “I’m ringing about the job offer in the newspaper” Person at other end: “Ah yes, what’s your name?”… “Thank you, and how old are you?”… “Thank you for calling” Click! Some didn’t even bother to say thank you before they hung up.
    That’s when I became self-employed amongst other things as a translator. Yes it can be very well paid if you have a language that is rare and in demand or if you manage to get into some form of speciality. If however you have a bog standard language combination, in my case German/English, then the competition is fierce, the pay rates lousy and the pressure immense.
    Somebody suggested you should try Europe! I don’t know what its like in other European countries but here in Germany philosophers of science are at the top of the red list of endangered species. They are not quite as far down the road as historian of science but they are catching up fast. Here, by which I mean Germany, the last chair for the history of science is vacant and its very much touch and go as to whether it will be re-occupied or thrown onto the scrap heap of history. As already mention philosophy of science is also rapidly disappearing. I had to laugh bitterly as you joked about not having a trendy speciality like ethics as your comment is brutally illustrated by what is happening at my local university where I studied and worked for ten years and whose facilities I still use on a daily basis whilst haunting its corridors as a dreadful warning to all young students to get on and get their fucking degrees finished. Our ‘Institute for the History of Medicine’, the oldest chair for the history of science in Germany (I think!) has been turned into an ‘Institute for Applied Ethics and the History of Medicine’ with the chair for applied ethics receiving about eighty percent of the budget. Our small but renowned ‘Inter-Disciplinary Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science’ has been turned into a Central Institute for Ethics and some other bullshit. We have three chairs for philosophy, each of which is for general philosophy but each of which has a speciality, the chair of my Prof. (who retired two years ago) specialised in logic and the philosophy of science, it has now been advertised as a chair specialising in? You guessed it, fucking ethics!
    I have the feeling that your work in the philosophy of biology means too much to you that you will stop all together no matter what you have to do in order to pay the bills. In fact it might be the case that your work goes better when you no longer have to fulfil the obligations of the university, who knows?
    On the question of writing, you claim to be barely literate in English. I can’t judge your more technical postings as my knowledge of biology is not good enough but I personally find that your more general pieces are well written and a pleasure to read so please keep them coming, what ever happens. In fact if you stop blogging I shall swim to the Land of Aus and force you to drink an entire road-train full of Fosters! You have been warned!
    What ever comes I hope that you land on your feet and keep entertaining and educating us with you highly stimulating Evolving Thoughts.

  39. Gary Bohn Gary Bohn

    John, I too struggled to come up with something other than platitudes in an effort to give you some emotional support. I’m afraid I can’t suggest anything others have not, nor can I offer you a way of making a living, all I can do is mention that you have a lot of friends willing to help in any way they can.

  40. I only know you through your writing and love reading your thoughts. It is easy to conclude that you must be a wonderful teacher.
    (Also trying to avoid platitudes but man, that’s awful. So sorry to hear about it.)
    Hope you keep blogging. And your “world according to the Bible” series really sounds like book material.

  41. Hey, I can relate to the idea of having a boy who needs feeding, occasionally. I really do hope that you find something suitable, if not as lucrative as you wish, but satisfying.
    Glad to hear you are feeling better.
    I met one of your countrymen Friday night, following the event at the Bell Museum (Speaking Science 2.0 w/ Interruptions from Two Atheists.) He seems pretty happy teaching astronomy and physics at the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire. Name of Paul Thompson; so perhaps it wouldn’t necessarily a bad move to come to the States if you can hook a position. I would be certainly welcome to the idea of having you close enough for the occasional pint. I promise we do have lots of good ale/porter available.

  42. Bunjo Bunjo

    John,
    you have my full sympathies. I took early retirement at 55 and have found no worthwhile work since. I didn’t expect to and I wasn’t disappointed.
    I have found that I now have the time and inclination to read up on evolutionary psychology, morality, and happiness. I relish the opportunities I now have and don’t miss the bullsh*t I had to put up with in my earlier mundane employment.
    It seems to me that you still have meaning in your life, you just need to find a way of keeping body and soul together while while you persue your dreams.
    I offer an ancient poem for your entertainment and reflection…
    You ask me why I live
    In jade mountains.
    I smile, unanswering.
    My heart is calm.
    Peach petals floating on the water,
    Never come back.
    There is a heaven and earth
    Beyond the crowded town below.
    – Li Bai (701-762)
    Don’t let them grind you down.

  43. Good luck, please keep trying. I hope some of the suggestions the others here have made work out.

  44. seks shop seks shop

    thought on the Grimms v. Disney style? The Grimms tales were hand-me-down distillations, so probably closer to what most people want and need. The Disney versions were one person?s work with one aim in mind, so don?t have so much human ?applicability?, as JRRT would have termed it.

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