From my very first introductory philosophy course in university, I was hooked. I loved the wild discussions, the crazy questions, the mind-expanding thought experiments. I especially loved the seeming possibility that anyone — regardless of age, sex, race, or class — could, through sheer thought, solve a thorny problem people have been wrestling with for thousands of years.
I was particularly drawn to questions about consciousness and its relationship to matter. Can the mind be reduced to the brain? What is qualia? How do we study it? What is a mental representation? Ideas like eliminative materialism boggled my mind: How could mental states not really exist when I was sitting in class experiencing the world around me? Is consciousness real? Is conscious experience really a hallucination? What, then, is reality? As I worked late into the night trying to solve the mind-body problem, I fell in love with philosophy. It was like a drug.
As a young person, the possibility of becoming a philosopher intrigued me. I loved the readings, the questions, the distinctive style of discussion. I poured my heart and soul into my thesis papers. I admired my professors, who seemed to be living the dream life: getting paid to think, write, and talk about philosophy all day long. I set my sights on graduate school.
After completing a master’s in philosophy, I was accepted into one of the top 30 PhD programs in the U.S. My program, which focused on empirical methods, is known for its excellent connections to the neuroscience department. For the first few years, I was in heaven, reading and writing to my heart’s content. I spent every day thinking and talking about philosophy.
Then, I started talking to some of the older graduate students. I heard their horror stories about the job market. They told me stories about sending hundreds of applications and getting one phone interview (if they were lucky). I read anonymous comments on the Philosophy Smoker blog about the Eastern conference, where young job applicants would be taken into small hotel rooms and awkwardly interviewed. I read women’s horror stories about sexual harassment, along with countless tales and rumors about predatory male professors. I sought out anonymous message boards where jaded grad students talked shit about everyone and everything, revealing what they truly thought about women and trans people.