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Good thread. As an undergrad, I just didn't realize how competitive PhD admissions was. I was aware of the blogs and the numbers, but for all of my academic life I had been the philosophy superstar. I wouldn't say I was deluded, but I thought that if I was the very best student my university ever had, then I would stand a chance at some PhD programs. I was shut out of PhD admissions, and although I did apply to some very highly regarded schools, I was also rejected from schools further down the PGR. Fortunately, my advisors had also told me to apply to MAs. I did much better in MA admissions. The reality is that even the very best students from unranked schools don't have any chance of admission, no matter how remarkable their GRE, GPA or letters may be. Folks like Eric Schwitzgebel have done some great research on this. Encouraging students otherwise is like telling them to buy a lottery ticket. Sure there's a chance, but it's just irresponsible to encourage people to invest in such grim odds.

And PhD admissions are very expensive for the applicants. I think advisors should take it upon themselves to be aware of the costs (27 per GRE submission per school, 80+ fee per school on average, 5+ per transcript per school, etc.) If you advise a student to apply to 15 schools, know that it may well cost them 2,000 dollars (including the hundreds it costs to take and prepare for the GRE). My own recommendation is to really sit down with a student and learn about her interests, and recommend 8-10 programs based on a thoughtful discussion. If she can't give you a clear sense of her interests, DO NOT recommend that she apply to PhD programs. MA programs are great for this kind of student, who shows philosophical promise but doesn't have much awareness of the literature or a sense of what problems she finds most interesting.

And of course, there's the question of whether we ought to advise students to apply out at all. I would counsel students to consider other options if they can. Law school is a common choice for the philosophically inclined who want to have a non-academic career. Students are more likely to hear about the successful philosophers. Anyone they read and anyone advising them is successful. They got a job in philosophy. I think applicants would benefit from hanging around on more sobering blogs like Philosophy Smoker to see the realities of our profession before deciding this lifestyle is what they want.

So, counsel students to consider non-academic jobs, but if they want to go to graduate school in philosophy, have a serious talk with them (or via email) about their interests and create a thoughtful list for them (or at least have them research a list and give input). If they can't give you solid interests, recommend MAs, and really, recommend MAs anyway. No applicant is guaranteed a PhD spot, so it's always smart to apply to 2 or 3 strong terminal MA programs as well (funded ones, like Georgia State, Northern Illinois, etc. Do not recommend any student to go to an unfunded MA). Anyway, make yourself aware of the costs of applying out, and guide students to be aware of the grim realities of our profession.


On thing no one ever told me which I wish they did is that philosophical ability is only part of it. There are of course exceptions but for the most part if you want to be successful in philosophy you need to be a good networker. So, if you're shy, introverted, and don't enjoy conferences, then don't bother.

Marcus Arvan

Hi postdoc: Shyness and introversion are not destiny. I score incredibly high on shyness and introversion measures, but I have worked very hard to overcome these tendencies. Socializing may not come naturally to a shy or introverted person (it doesn't come naturally to me!), but one can always choose to put oneself out there and interact with others. At the very least, I would contest the idea that shy, introverted people "shouldn't bother" attempting to enter academic philosophy for the reasons you mention.

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