What do Ricky Gervais, Ethan Coen and the former Pope of the Catholic Church (Benedict XVI) all have in common? Yep, you guessed it, they all studied philosophy at university.
And while there are few careers in philosophy directly linked to philosophy degrees, those who study philosophy can learn incredibly valuable life skills to put to use in both their professional and personal lives. These life skills encompass effective communication, critical and logical thinking, and an ability to grasp all angles of an argument and deconstruct it to get to the crux of an issue.
Graduates of philosophy degrees are adept problem solvers – even if they do occasionally ask more questions than they answer – and their skills in laying out information in an organized, considered way to reach reasoned solutions makes them invaluable across multiple professional sectors.
So, while you guys try and answer the big, existential questions, I’ll try and answer this: exactly what can you do with a philosophy degree?
What can you do with a philosophy degree?
You might assume critical thinking can only get you so far in business, but in fact analytical ability is greatly valued across numerous sectors, as it shows an aptitude for asking useful questions and finding logical solutions to problems – a skill all businesses need among their workers. If you study philosophy, you’ll gain a firm grounding for a diverse range of careers, though for some popular pathways (in the field of law for example), you will likely need to earn a further vocational qualification.
Read on for a look at possible philosophy careers and related jobs, with advice and information on what to expect and the skills you’ll need.
Careers in teaching
While the big texts and tomes of philosophy don’t often make direct appearances in primary and secondary education, a philosophy degree can nonetheless provide a good foundation for careers in teaching at these levels. You’ll certainly make good use of those well-developed communication and critical thinking skills when helping young learners develop these in turn. In most countries you’ll need a professional teaching qualification to pursue careers in teaching, although there are some cases (such as private schools and tertiary level institutions) when a degree is sufficient; preference may be given to those with a master’s or PhD and some teaching experience. If you’re hoping to teach at tertiary (university) level, you’ll face fierce competition for junior-level academic positions. However, philosophy graduates are often prime candidates for research careers in relevant fields. You’ll need to show a very high aptitude for and expertise in your chosen area of specialization, and present a clear vision of how your target research project will enrich the existing academic landscape.
Careers in the public sector
Careers in the public sector are as diverse as they come, encompassing all state-funded roles within a country – for example, careers in local/national government and national health services. The broad remit of the public sector reflects the broad skillset often required to work within it, although graduates with specialized skills and knowledge are also sought-after, depending on the role. Those who study philosophy may be well-placed for careers in the public sector if their degree has helped them develop an understanding of complex societal issues and world affairs, as well as general analytical abilities. Possible careers in the public sector include roles in the civil services, government, health services, police forces and the armed forces. Many administrative and other office-based roles are found across all of these areas.
Careers in publishing and journalism
Careers in publishing revolve around the production of magazines, books, newspapers and academic journals and other forms of publishable media. And while the digital revolution may have caused traditional print publishing to struggle, the huge growth of digital publishing both online and for electronic devices (e-books) means that careers in publishing are still plentiful. Common careers in publishing include roles in editorial, production, marketing and sales.
Journalism careers, meanwhile, can include roles with a focus on research, writing, editing, presenting and various forms of broadcasting and multimedia. A postgraduate degree specializing in an area of journalism can be helpful, but is not usually essential. In order to boost your chances of entering careers in journalism, you should develop a portfolio of journalistic work alongside your philosophy degree, and gain some work experience in the field.
Less typical philosophy careers
Careers in law
You may think legal careers are predominantly the domain of graduates with a law degree, but in fact a philosophy degree can provide a good foundation for this career path. Your skills in research and analysis will be invaluable within this industry, and although specialized roles, such as a solicitor or barrister, are reserved for those with legal training and qualifications (e.g. LLB, JD, LLM), graduates from many subjects – such as philosophy or English literature – can enter the industry in research, secretarial and paralegal positions, with the potential to develop their legal training on the job.
Careers in psychotherapy and counselling
Given the analytical and methodical skills acquired on a philosophy degree, philosophy graduates may also be well-matched candidates for careers in psychotherapy and counselling. These roles, although often requiring a specific vocational qualification, do not commonly require a postgraduate degree. While wannabe psychologists will have undertaken a more formal route (likely via a psychology degree), therapists and counsellors often come from various educational backgrounds, experience and further training being key to development. The most vital qualities within this field are excellent communication skills, knowledge of psychological processes and an ability to empathize. The majority of work will be client-facing, allowing you to work closely with individuals, couples, families or groups, to help others overcome emotional and psychological barriers using various methods of therapy and discussion.
And finally, what can you do with a philosophy degree if none of the above appeals to you? Just remember that the only limit is your imagination (unless you want to be an astronaut, in which case you’ll need an engineering degree), and industries across the worlds of media, business, healthcare, advertising, public relations, human resources and marketing are all areas where your skills can be utilized.
‘What Can You Do With a Philosophy Degree?’ is part of our ‘What Can You Do With…’ series.
We have also covered art, biology, business, communications, computer science, English, engineering, fashion, history, geography, law, marketing, mathematics, performing arts, politics, psychology, sociology, chemistry, economics and physics.
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