What shall I do after my Philosophy Degree?

What shall I do after my Philosophy Degree?

Many Philosophy students have no idea what to do after graduating.  They feel that their degree does not equip them for any career in particular.  Consequently they may drift into undemanding jobs that do not really make use of the skills they have acquired at University.

If you want to spend a while doing bar or call-centre work when you graduate, while you think of what to do next, of course that’s fine.  But eventually you will find it more rewarding (in both senses) if you can find an occupation which makes more demands on you. Be ambitious! You will have an Honours Degree in a difficult subject from a prestigious University.  There is no need whatever to feel defensive about what you have to offer.

  •  The good news is that, although you may not realise it, your degree has equipped you with lots of skills which are of great interest to employers. There is probably no subject better than Philosophy in terms of transferable skills, that is, skills which you learn during your degree but can then apply in other situations.
  • The bad news is that not everyone in the outside world realises this.  Someone interviewing you, or reading an application form, may have very little idea what the study of Philosophy involves.  You therefore have to be prepared to do some convincing, to explain why your degree equips you well for the job. (It is worth noting, though, that a 2012 survey by the Telegraph found that philosophy was one of the top ten subjects for getting a job.

What skills do I possess, anyway?

In Philosophy you are trained to reason analytically about very difficult, and sometime messy, problems, and to express your conclusions in clear prose.  You are expected to engage in rational debate, putting forward arguments, and listening and evaluating opposing viewpoints.  These skills are largely independent of the actual subject matter of Philosophy, and very useful for a wide variety of occupations.

For more detail, you should look at this guide: Employability: Where next? Unlocking the potential of your philosophy degree.  This has detailed information on what skills a Philosophy degree engenders, and how to match these to the requirements in job advertisements, so that you can ‘sell yourself’ to an employer. Our Employability page contains further information that may be of use. You might also benefit from consulting the APA’s Career Resources page, which contains a heap of links related to careers for philosophers, both in academic and non-academic tracks.

What jobs are particularly suitable for philosophers? 

Philosophy graduates go on to a bewildering variety of jobs.  A very large number of graduate jobs – probably around half – are open to graduates from any discipline (including Philosophy).  Examples of careers which have obvious affinities with Philosophy are:

  • IT – particularly, but not only, if you enjoy the logic side of philosophy
  • Law – like Philosophy, involves applying general principles to particular situations in the real world, and constructing arguments
  • Civil service – advising on policy, involves analysing pros and cons of different courses of action
  • Management consultancy – analysing performances of businesses and how to improve them

There are many, many other examples of careers with a good match to philosophical skills. Of course, you can also get a job with no obvious connections to Philosophy.  Here is a poster with some famous people you may not know studied Philosophy.‌

Additionally, you might check out these stories at Phil Skills of philosophers who have forged non-academic careers, which include:

David Storey’s podcast ‘Wisdom at Work’ also includes some podcast interviews with philosophers who have successfully utilized their philosophical skills beyond the academy. See here.

Finally, a great resource for guidance for philosophers for careers beyond the academy has been collated by the American Philosophical Association – see a wealth of links here, including the Philosophers Beyond Academia Network, which you can sign up for here.

Is it possible to have a career teaching Philosophy at school level?

Philosophy is not yet a mainstream school subject in the UK, but it is gaining in popularity.  At present, you will probably need to be able to teach some other subject as well.  It is also not possible at the moment to do teacher training in Philosophy.

However, if you are doing Joint Honours, you can do teacher training in your other subject and then market yourself as someone who can teach both that and Philosophy.  If you are doing Single Honours it is more difficult, but you can for example do teacher training in Religious Studies (even if you’re an atheist!), with a view to doing as much Philosophy teaching as possible afterwards.  (There is, of course, no problem in training as a primary school teacher, if that is the level you would prefer to teach at.)

There’s information on how to become a teacher in Scotland at the Teach in Scotland website, or the or the Department for Education site for information about training in 

I have no idea whatsoever what to do.  How do I get some ideas?

There is an online questionnaire called Prospects Planner.  You tell it your likes and dislikes and it makes suggestions.  Don’t take it too seriously, but if it comes up with even one idea that you hadn’t thought of before, it’s worth it.  (Note when using it you don’t have to answer all the questions; if you feel neutral about a particular job feature you can ignore it.)

What about postgraduate study?

If you are at all interested in postgraduate courses in Philosophy, in Glasgow or elsewhere, talk to a member of staff, especially the postgraduate convener (see the staff list for details).  You should be aware that (i) you do not have to be of genius level to be accepted on a course and be successful on it; but (ii) getting funding is very difficult and (iii) the market for academic jobs is very competitive.

Many students who don’t get funding manage to do postgraduate courses anyway, eg by living at home and/or doing the course part-time.

To make things more concrete, consider first that for MSc programmes in Philosophy in the UK, a typical entrance requirement will be a 2.1 undergraduate degree in Philosophy. (This is, for example, the requirement at Glasgow to join the MSc programme). UK-based MSc programmes typically last 1 year (or 2 years, part-time) and include both taught components as well as a dissertation.

To apply for a PhD in Philosophy, you will typically have already completed an MSc; if you receive a distinction for your MSc (and enjoyed and thrived in the dissertation component) this is a good indicator that a PhD in Philosophy might be a good decision for you. To give you a brief sense of what things will be like for you if you pursue this route: you can expect that (in the UK, at least) a PhD will last 3-4 years, and the objective will be to produce a substantial (roughly 60k-100k) piece of original research, under the guidance of a supervisory team consisting (usually) of a primary and secondary supervisor.

When considering where to do a PhD, it is a good idea to start by thinking about the specific project you want to pursue, and to consider what places (and people!) are strong in that area. If you plan to do a PhD in the UK and are curious about funding, there is good and bad news. The good news is that there is a well-established funding scheme for PhD research supported by the AHRC; in Scotland, this is in collaboration with SGSAH. You can read about these awards ">here. If you succeed in securing AHRC funding for your PhD, you can expect a tuition waiver and a living stipend. While this all sounds good – the bad news is that these scholarships are very competitive, and if you plan on applying, you should already be thinking about preparing the application in (around) November, the year before you would plan to start. See here for full details: https://www.sgsah.ac.uk/prospective/dtp/

f you are considering North American PhDs, you can expect that these will last a bit longer; for example, it is not unusual for many top U.S. programmes to be around 6 or 7 years. Additionally, some but not all North American programmes require a GRE score as part of the application. If you wish to apply to a North American programme that does require a GRE score, you should take the GRE seriously and if possible inquire about the expected GRE score for entry into the particular programme you are interested in. /p>

For a searchable online guide to graduate programmes in Philosophy, see the Grad Guide (link here) as well aswww.prospects.ac.uk. 

The Glasgow careers service has further information and some software called Funderfinder which tells you about which funding sources you are eligible for.

What about a gap year?

An increasingly popular option is to take some kind of gap year after graduating.  It may do you a great deal of good to do something completely different after the stress of finals, and doing something interesting may enhance your employability.  Examples are teaching English abroad – the Japanese JET programme is popular – or conservation work.  Much of what’s available is on a volunteer basis, and therefore requires some finance, so you may need to save up some money first.  You can find further information at http://www.gapadvice.org/

Where can I get more information?

The most obvious port of call is the Glasgow University Careers Service.  Don’t feel you need to have a clear idea of where you’re heading before you consult them – they will be pleased to help, however unsure you are of what to do after graduation. 

They have a large ‘drop-in’ facility (in the Fraser Building) where you can browse material on different careers and further study.  You can also arrange for an interview with a careers adviser, get advice on how to present your CV, and register with their online jobs system.  You can make use of the Careers Service for up to two years after you graduate.

The www.prospects.ac.uk site is the main UK graduate careers site, and has a great deal of information about careers and further study.

The best place to look for Philosophy-specific advice is the APA Career Resources guidance.

If you have any comments/suggestions for additions, or would like further advice, please email Adam Carter.