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I know famous advisers who place almost all of their students, and others that place almost no one. So yeah, that question by itself doesn't mean much. Look into all the details. If you are only after an R1 job - then I would never turn down a top 5-10 school. But if you are after something more than an R1, then I would consider everything Marcus said.


"I am a recent MA who is interested in some PhD programs in philosophy that boast "star" scholars but not high overall rank."

Just to emphasize what Amanda already said, and in light of this part of the original post in particular: if you're really thinking of going somewhere just because of one particular star scholar you'll want to investigate that person. In depth. How do their students do on the market? What is attrition/time to completion like with their students? How timely are they with getting feedback to students? Are they nice or are they cruel?

One benefit of choosing a program rather than a person is that it's hard to figure out all that stuff in advance. These details are often sensitive, too: people who have been harmed by the bad advisors aren't necessarily rushing to tell their story to everyone they've just met. But when you're at a good program with multiple possible advisors, you can figure this stuff out over your coursework years and then choose a good advisor.

Marcus Arvan

I could hardly agree more with Amanda and anon.

(1) If you want to choose a department because of a particular person, it behooves you to do a great amount of due diligence on finding out about what they are actually like as an advisor, their student attrition rates, and placement rates (though I disagree with Amanda that it "never" makes sense to turn down a top 5-10 school. Again, I think that should depend on attitition and placement rates - as some top-ranked schools seem to fare poorly here irrespective of their ranking/reputation).

(2) Given the risks associated with banking on one person, it seems to me sensible to choose primarily on the quality of an overall program and subsume concerns about working with a single individual to that.

(3) If you are *confident* your future self would only want a job at an R1, then do what Amanda suggests: shoot for a high-ranking school with a good placement rate. Otherwise, if you just think your future self would be happy with any TT job, I'd advise following the advice in the OP. (Side note: it's not clear how anyone can be reasonably confident about what their future self would prefer here 5-10 years later, given the situation they will find themselves in. Can you really be *confident* that your future self would rather have no academic job at all than a teaching job? On what basis?).


Thank you to all who have taken the time to respond! I am prioritizing placement rate into permanent jobs (of almost any kind), but I posted my query in part because I also have concerns about this. For instance, it is totally opaque to me why certain programs have higher placement rates than others. It occurred to me that it may be because they have just one or a few dedicated faculty whose deep support of students raises the placement rate. But what if that/those faculty leave? That is, how stable is the placement rate? (I may be able to get some insight into this from the APDA report.) If supportive faculty did leave, would I have to/could I (in part) fall back on the reputation of the program and/or my advisor? Rhetorical question--what I've gathered from the responses is that I'd have to do this research myself by reaching out to current students, etc., in various departments.

Marcus Arvan

AnonMA: You're very welcome!

Here's my general sense from talking to people: programs with better placement rates tend to have them because of their departmental culture.

Programs with good placement rates appear to me to tend to (1) have a culture that prepares their students well for the market (with a lot of resources explicitly devoted to mentoring), and (2) have an approach to placement that "fits" their candidates.

For example, my friend who comes out of an unranked program with a 70% placement rate reports that his program explicitly prepares its graduates for "teaching jobs": a strategy based on the (almost certainly correct) assumption that its graduates will not be competitive for research jobs. By a similar token, a friend of mine who recently graduated from a mid-ranked program reports that her program dramatically raised its placement rate by adopting a similar strategy.

Conversely, my sense is that programs with poor placement rates tend to (1) have a culture that prepares their students poorly for the market (with few resources dedicated to mentoring), and/or (2) an approach to the job-market that is poorly fitted to their candidates.

For example, I know people who come out of a program that provides its students with NO official job-market mentoring. When I met a student from this program at a conference a few years ago, he was going on the market for the first time without *any* idea of what it entailed. His program had not familiarized its students at all with (let alone mentored them) with how to write cover letters, research statements, etc. Suffice it to say, his program has a terrible placement record. Then, on the other hand, my sense is that there are a lot of lower or midranked schools who primarily prepare their students as researchers--something which I have hypothesized is a terrible job-market strategy (as students from lower or mid-ranked schools will generally lose out on research jobs to candidates from top-ranked schools and not be competitive for teaching jobs due to their PhD program's research heavy priorities). See http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2018/01/grad-program-rank-publications-and-job-market-a-hypothesis.html

Long story short, it is indeed an opaque and empirically unsettled question what accounts for dramatically different attrition and placement rates at different PhD programs. However, my own sense from talking with people is that the most likely explanations are systemic and thus fairly likely to be pretty stable. Case in point: my friend from the unranked program with a 70% placement rate tells me they've had an excellent placement rate for many years going. A converse whose students apparently rarely finish or get jobs--and in that case too it appears to be a matter of longstanding departmental culture. More generally, I've heard the amount of job-market mentoring that programs provide varies immensely, with (again) some programs basically giving none and other programs giving tons of mentoring from the time grad students first step into the building. It is hard to believe that these differences in mentoring wouldn't make a substantial difference, and in a relatively stable way at that.

To answer your rhetorical question, yes, I would think you would have to do that kind of research yourself by asking around. On another note, I believe the APA has a grad program report that lists attrition rates for programs willing to report their numbers.


Trevor Hedberg

One often neglected aspect of deciding on a PhD program is the financial support you'll get. I don't just mean whether you have a position as a teaching assistant. I mean the combination of your current aid, the cost of living in the area, and the opportunities for additional aid (e.g., fellowships, summer teaching) in the future. If you incur a lot of debt during graduate school, it makes the job search that much more stressful because it puts more pressure on you to find a stable, tenure-track job more quickly. Additionally, if you have to adjunct at other places to increase your income, that will likely increase your time to degree or decrease the amount of time that you can devote to your own research (which could hurt your marketability in the long run).


while obviously one can spend too much time adjuncting, I would say overall it is a huge help on the job market.


As for a few top places not having good placement records...I'm not so sure about that. I remember reading something that explained it like this. It is common for a number of the top 10 places to put their students in very fancy research post docs that last 2-5 years. So for these people it showed as not placing in 3 years, even though they had a very competitive job and would get a R1 job once the postdoc is complete. I am not positive about this, but I think all the top 10 schools have very good placement records once you look 4-6 years out.

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