It Beats Working for a Living.

AuthorCarden, Art

Good Work If You Can Get It: How to Succeed in Academia By Jason Brennan 192 pp.; Johns Hopkins University Press, 2020

Georgetown University philosopher Jason Brennan has, in a career of just more than a decade, published more books than some people have read. These aren't half-baked vanity projects, either; his books come from major academic presses (e.g., Oxford, Princeton, Routledge, Cambridge) and are cited frequently.

In his latest book, due out this May, he distills and synthesizes the advice on working in higher education that he has collected and implemented from mentors like Duke political scientist Michael Munger and University of Arizona political philosopher David Schmidtz, as well as revelations Brennan has had himself. He tells us what he calls "unpleasant truths about the world's best job."

I firmly agree that being a college professor is the world's best job and is good work if you can get it. You don't go into academia for the money, but the salaries are sufficient to put full-time faculty members safely within the upper middle class. And the non-pecuniary benefits for which most of us go into this line of work are simply unbelievable. We get to write, speak, read, and teach about subjects we find fascinating. Except for the time we spend in regularly scheduled classes, we basically get to make our own schedules. The intellectual tasks are cognitively difficult, but a lot of what we call "work" is what the rest of the world calls "leisure."

It is, in other words, Good Work If You Can Get It. Brennan explains what one must do to get it.

Bleak realism I Some academics write as if entering the academy is like gambling and getting a tenured position is a matter of luck. But Brennan notes:

Academia is not a perfect meritocracy, but it's not a lottery, either. The winners understand the system; the losers tend to make the same basic mistakes over and over again. My goal here is to help readers understand why the winners win, and the losers lose. Presumably, those who take his advice will be more likely to find themselves among the winners. The book, again, is an exercise in bleak realism. After going through the statistics, he writes:

So, in deciding whether you want to be a professor, ask: Am I willing to spend the majority of my working life teaching mostly mediocre undergraduates, knowing that for the vast majority, my class will impart no increase in their reasoning or writing skills? You might end up with a better teaching situation than that, but that's the...

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