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Anthony Carreras

Hi Marcus - I disagree with you in several respects here. I guess my main complaint is that you are setting up a false dilemma: Either a program offers a ton of direction and molds a student to the detriment of the student's autonomy, or a program offers little to no direction and allows the student to "find" him or herself and develop autonomously. I don't see why direction and efficient TT placement are necessarily to the detriment of the student's autonomy as a philosopher. And in my experience anyway, the more laissez faire a program is, the more attrition you see in that program, and in general, the more you see that the students in that program just don't have any idea what they are doing or what they are supposed to be doing.

Also - is there any way to really know in advance whether a program let's students "find themselves" as philosophers? That's not the kind of thing you can figure out from a campus visit or even from talking extensively with the graduate students there. And I certainly don't think you can rule it out just from the fact that the program efficiently places its students into TT jobs.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Anthony: Thanks for your comment. I actually don't think we disagree (at least not much, from what you've written here).

The main point I was trying to get across in the post was: it's complicated. Finding the "right" grad program is not as simple as finding a place with good placement rates. It's actually a very complex thing. Programs are different, and people are different. Yes, laissez faire programs may have higher attrition rates...which will scare the heck out of some people...yet *some* people flourish in a laissez faire environment and may be willing to take the risks therein. For instance, I floundered a lot at the dissertation stage. But, while I didn't always enjoy it, I'm truly glad I did! I came to believe that a lot of floundering can be a good thing, and that there's *far* too much "rushing" people to do philosophy these days. It takes time, and lots of blind alleys, to find and then properly develop a great project--and I fear that some programs move students through so quickly that the students may not have time to develop, or develop as broadly, as they might if they had more time to "find themselves."

Anyway, on your main question: is there any way to know in advance whether a program lets its students "find themselves"? I think there is. Some programs make it quite clear that they are very structured, and aim to get their students through quickly. While this may appeal to lots of people, it needn't appeal to all (believe it or not, it wouldn't appeal to me!). In my own case, I would want a program with a good reputation and good placement rate, but which has a record of financially supporting students over a longer term (past 5-6 years). To me, this is a good risk/benefit balance. I would prefer a program with a good placement rate that gives its students time to percolate/develop over a program that churns out students quickly. I realize I'm probably in the minority here. While I do care about career-prospects, I care a *lot* about the kind of philosopher I am, and whether I'm doing philosophy in an authentic way. And balancing these things is not always simple.

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