Faculty Profiles - Philosophy
Dr. Mark Sainsbury - Philosophy of Language
DR. MARK SAINSBURY
Thinking of Going to Graduate School in Philosophy?
You need to have a genuine passion for the subject to make this worthwhile. You might want to work for a Master’s, or even a PhD, just for the pleasure of it, without thinking of Philosophy as a career. But be warned: most people who start out that way end up applying for posts in Philosophy. Peer pressure and addiction to the subject combine to bring this about. In good departments, most graduate students expect to end up teaching the subject at University level.
Competition for University level philosophy jobs is tough. Even if you get one, you then have to satisfy the requirements of tenure. These are difficult years: you are new to carrying a full teaching load, and yet have to write research papers to satisfy the tenure committee. When you get tenure, you’ll be at least in your mid-thirties. What do you have? A relatively modestly paid job, but with substantial satisfaction in your work (teaching and research), and a considerable amount of freedom in setting schedules, not to mention those glorious entirely free months in the summer. I love it and would not exchange it for anything; but it’s not for everyone.
How to Choose a School
The first step is simple: go to The Philosophical Gourmet Report. There’s lots of advice on everything, from how to select a school to how to prepare your application. The rankings are not infallible, as the site stresses, but it’s the best guide there is. After that, talk to your professors locally and see what they think.
Graduate Philosophy at UT
We have a thriving and very well regarded graduate program. The atmosphere is friendly and lively – there are always graduate students around the department to talk to and they will be happy to talk to you. We’ve been fairly successful with placement, and the students I know personally seem entirely satisfied. But don’t take my word for it: they are listed on our website so email one or two working in areas that might interest you and ask how they are finding it.
My Own Story
I’m not sure if I should tell you this because someone with the attitude I had when young would never get a job today. I was indolent and arrogant and drifted into philosophy because it seemed easy. You can tell right there that something was seriously wrong – philosophy is very far from easy, and I’ve been struggling with its problems ever since. I was an undergraduate at Oxford (UK) and went on to do a doctorate (called a DPhil there, equivalent to a PhD elsewhere). I subsisted on temporary teaching jobs in Oxford before getting a tenured post at the University of Essex, and then at the University of London, and I came to UT in 2002. In Oxford’s College system, one perk given to people teaching was free meals in College. My great good fortune was to meet two excellent philosophers at Brasenose College (Michael Woods and John Foster), who took me in hand, and quizzed me mercilessly on philosophical topics every lunchtime and over many dinners. This education was a turning point. I realized I needed to devote myself fully to the subject if I was going to have a worthwhile life, so I gave up many other things – gardening, chess, carpentry, home brewing, playing the violin, reading fiction – in order to focus on philosophy. You will likely have to do likewise! I’m immensely glad I did. I love the subject and love teaching it. Especially here at UT, my contacts with graduate students have been pure joy. They are so bright, and work so hard, and teach me things I didn’t know. Aristotle said that your life is happy if, when asked what you want, the answer is “More of the same”. That’s all I want!
Learn more about Dr. Sainsbury's research and interests at his homepage.