Career Advice for Philosophy Students
This document is intended to be used by philosophy majors who are in the early stages of thinking about career opportunities outside of philosophy. The primary purpose of this document is to get students to consider as many opportunities as they can, especially including some that they might not have considered otherwise. However, there are some necessary limitations to a document of this type. First, this document does not include any discussion of graduate school in philosophy. This is a topic about which there is a great deal to say, but about which a great deal has already been written. If you are considering an M.A. or a Ph.D. in philosophy, start by seeking advice from one or more of the SFU faculty. They will be able both to advise you directly and to point you to the vast resources available on the web. Second, this document is really just a starting point – to take any of the suggestions here, one would need to spend many more hours seeking advice and planning. No matter what path you want to pursue, the Philosophy Department takes advising very seriously, and faculty will be pleased to chat with you about your career aspirations.
The first section below contains some preliminary advice for those who are not going on to seek further degrees. In the following sections, we offer some advice about whether and how to pursue a non-philosophy graduate degree.
Careers for Philosophy B.A.s
Unlike other degree programs, philosophy does not offer support and instruction on how to apply for internships, apprenticeships and specific careers. This is not surprising: it would be extraordinarily difficult to do so given the very broad array of fields for which a philosophy degree potentially prepares its students. Nevertheless, employers often claim publicly that they are seeking precisely the talents that philosophy majors in particular have. Why, then, do philosophy majors sometimes seem to have trouble finding well-paid professional positions upon graduation?
The key for those seeking employment without getting further degrees is to be pro-active. Students gain an advantage by pursuing relevant experience from early in their academic careers. Philosophy students can gain this same advantage by planning their academic careers appropriately. Take courses in other fields – like international studies, computer science, economics, etc. – that supplement the analytical skills you will gain from studying philosophy with a knowledge base that is attractive to employers. And seek out experience. Taking an unpaid internship over a summer position as a barista or server (for example) can make a big difference in your employability later on, even if there is some immediate pain associated with taking an unpaid position.
The most important point is that jobs must be taken: unless you are serious and proactive, other candidates will be more attractive to employers than you are. So start early and take advantage of some of the services and programs that SFU offers you:
· COOP: http://www.sfu.ca/coop.html
· Career Services: http://www.sfu.ca/career.html
COOP organizes opportunities for for-credit internships. Career Services can work with you individually to develop strategies and directions to pursue. Both offer workshops and advice on putting together a resume, writing cover letters, preparing for interviews, and other skills that can help you find a job.
It is worth emphasizing that in a difficult economy, a good way to bolster one's competitiveness on the job market is by maintaining a strong GPA. Many students find that they must balance their academic responsibilities with working a part-time (or, in some cases, full-time) job. While it is certainly possible to maintain a strong GPA while working, some students find it difficult to achieve the right balance. Given the importance of a strong GPA for both the job market and admission to further degrees, students holding a job may consider enrolling in fewer courses each term, taking longer to graduate but maintaining a strong GPA.
Here are two helpful resources for thinking about planning financially and so to achieve the right work-study balance:
It is worth reminding students of the importance of doing well in undergraduate courses. All post-graduate programmes have competitive admissions, and some are very competitive. Law schools normally require a 3.6 GPA. Doing well academically increases the opportunities available to you after graduation.
Further education typically means taking on a financial burden and for this reason many students choose not to pursue another degree. But there are at least two factors that make that increased student loan debt a sensible investment. First, you will be working for a long time to come (retirement before 70 will be a thing of the past for your generation). So you can amortize the cost of your education over a long period. Crucially, your available opportunities and salary may also be enhanced by further education, allowing you to pay off a larger debt in a shorter period. It is in this latter sense that further education is an investment. Second, there are reasons to believe that in the coming globalized economy North Americans and Europeans who lack distinctive skills, such as creativity or high-level training, will be the big losers. They will get priced out of jobs by competition from developing economies like China and India as ever more services get outsourced. So you should consider getting more credentials under your belt even if that delays your entry into the workforce.
If an array of options for post-graduate work seem appealing to you, you might consider working in one or another of the fields you are interested in pursuing -- whether through an internship or for salary -- to see what professionals in those areas really do. Being confident that you are pursuing something you are interested in can ease the process of taking on any debt associated with an additional degree. Career Services and COOP can help in facilitating this sort of strategy.
Philosophy majors are well-suited for law school, not least because philosophical reasoning is similar to legal reasoning. That said, it is important to be aware of a couple of caveats. First, legal careers are not always as sexy as they appear in popular depictions. It is important to make yourself aware of the range of different legal careers available to graduates and to think hard about whether they are careers that you want. Second, the job market for lawyers in Canada has remained strong, but as with any thing, you will have the best chance of securing the career you want if you place well in your class.. Fortunately, philosophy prepares you well and gives you an edge that will help you excel in law school.
Other Degree Programs
Philosophy students often are not aware of what other academic opportunities are available to them. But many degree programs welcome philosophy students. What follows is a collection of advice solicited primarily from SFU faculty in other disciplines. They were asked to recommend degree programs that a) a typical philosophy major could be accepted into, and b) typically result in gainful employment. (Many thanks to Dr. Sam Black for initiating and collecting these responses.)
The responses indicate that philosophy majors are very well-qualified to pursue a range of degrees: many of the respondents have first-hand acquaintance with philosophy students and have let those experiences shape their responses. Moreover, many of the respondents – and their colleagues – are willing to meet with you to discuss your options. The overall lesson to be taken from these responses is that motivated students with good academic records have a lot of opportunities.
1. Computing Science
"I'm going to suggest Computing Science..... A lot of computing science is closely related to logic, which in turn is closely related to philosophy, and I know that many Arts majors have successfully gone on to graduate work in Computing Science. The ability to express complex ideas clearly and succinctly is of value in many areas of computing."
2. HR Management
"...philosophy students are usually very good critical thinkers, so it is probable that they would be good in places where they have to consider options. There is a program at BCIT on HR management. The students could earn a certificate and move into organizations in the human resource management capacity. Several people who don't have HR training but are doing HR in their organization, take this program to upgrade their skills. "
3. Journalism; Publishing; Communications field
"Seems that an MA in Journalism from any number of schools (Columbia School of Journalism, Ryerson University, UBC, etc.) might get them a J.O.B. after graduation. Many European journalists have backgrounds in philosophy -- pursuit of truth, critical thinking, and all that.... another alternative -- Publishing MA at SFU is another possibility. Involves many skills philosophy students may have acquired such as editing, critical thought and so on. The Communication field might also be an option, although the range of professional application may be somewhat limited as the emphasis tends to be on critical approaches and theoretical discussion."
4. Interactive Arts and Technology
"SIAT is very interdisciplinary and could accept philosophy majors, providing they had an interest in technology.... we're a relatively new program and don't have too much data on alumni, but in general career prospects in technology-related fields are quite good (both in industry and also academia), there's the obvious connection to philosophy via logic and computer programming, artificial intelligence etc. in what a lot of SIAT research involves."
5. Public Service; Urban Planning
"I just read a piece about how many humanities students (philosophy would seem perfect) go to schools of public service (which must be called political science) and then into governmental work. Also, I think a cool career path would be to go from philosophy into urban planning; there are programs that have a minimal quantitative component. Ethics would be a really interesting preparation."
6. Chartered Accountant
"My brother did two degrees in philosophy (Masters concentrating on ethics) and then told some accounting firm in Toronto that he wanted to be a chartered accountant. He's rather bright, and they hired him - to the shock of everyone in our family as the last math course he took was in grade 9! He had to ... take some courses, but he certainly didn't do another degree, and he did this with his job in hand.
7. Business: MBA or PHD, with focus on Organization Behavior or Strategy
"We don't even admit students with business degrees into our full time MBA (one year plus internship) or our online business diploma program the GDBA (six courses) -- we LOVE philosophy students in these programs. We'll teach 'em the quants [quantitative techniques]. We've had opera singers, dance majors, political science, history.... we are looking for the diversity."
"Business ethics PhDs would likely do their degrees in Organization Behavior though here [at SFU] it would also possibly be through Strategy. ... An MBA could specialize in Organization Behavior and get some ethics..."
8. Library Science.
"Philosophy majors might consider a career in librarianship. One of the best systems librarians I have known was a philosophy major who excelled because of a logical mind, an ethical approach, and the ability to communicate clearly. Though SFU does not offer this graduate degree, library and information science studies can be pursued at UBC's SLAIS: http://www.slais.ubc.ca/"
"...[Another option might be a] MSc in library and information science, which involved some fairly hard-core quantitative techniques such as extracting eigenvalues, then gone on to get gainful employment. I think many students are scared off math by incompetent math teachers in high school, and could actually handle higher-level mathematical reasoning quite easily if they later approached it from a different direction."
"My apologies if you have already been deluged by replies from librarians, but I'd like to suggest the Master of Library and Information Studies program as a possibility for Philosophy majors."
"It's not scholarly graduate school, but if someone else hasn't already mentioned it to you, phil majors who are so inclined should think about going to library school to get a Master of Library Science. Nearby programs are at UBC and U Alberta. Graduates will get jobs, and have interesting careers."
"For your students with a bit of technical inclination and an interest in teaching and learning, there is a Masters program in Educational Technology and Learning Design, which is offered at SFU Surrey (www.sfuedtech.ca). The program hosts a mix of career teachers, practicing instructional developers from higher education, instructional developers from the business world, and students (including international students) straight out of undergrad who are looking to build a career in one of these areas. ... The ideal candidates for our program have a little technical know-how (some experience building simple web sites, not necessarily programming) and an eagerness to acquire more. They will also have completed at least one course in Psychology with a high grade. "
10. Public Health
"I do think our [SFU's] MPH program might be of interest to some of your students. We do have global health and social inequities streams that can and do make use of ethical and political theory concepts, especially around equity, global justice, and power asymmetries. ... To be successful in the program, students would need some background in public health. So, it would be helpful if they would have taken some FHS courses, though they needn't be majors. ... Our students are required to perform a practicum aimed at developing practice skills and improving employability."
11. Resource Management
"Our [SFUs] 'signature' Masters of Resource Management (MRM) is, I think, a para-professional degree. Our grads are effectively 100% employed, but the ethics component of the curriculum is embedded (mostly) in 2 required courses rather than in a stand alone elective: the REM 801 research design course (Andy Cooper) and the REM 601 'Theories of Cooperation' (yours truly). We’d welcome applications from philosophy majors, especially SFU products."
 For examples of this, see the following: