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Personally, I would wait and take the extra time reading as much as I can, get some writing done, and start on part of the dissertation. Writing, reading, thinking, and understanding philosophy require time and patience as we all know.

Hence, utilizing that free time to write and read would be wise. Perhaps waiting a year is best to plan and *prepare* your materials for when you do get into the program. By the time you enter, you’ll have some or many papers and ideas ready for proposals and submissions into journals.

For example, write a lot of outlines of ideas and topics for future papers. You do not need to write whole articles, but having many detailed outlines of different topics would be helpful for your future self. That’s what I have right now: a file full of outlines of topics for my future self to write about and also to not let me forget certain points I want to make. Alas, our thought likes to circle back on itself. It’s ”elliptical” in nature and so new ideas might arise to add to the particular outline and hence paper later. In other words, I’m making a *guide* for my future self to refer to. Having good and lots of frames of references are crucial to write well and successfully.

Use your free time to write as much as you can because, as many people here have said, it’s instrumental to be successful in graduate school and that would also alleviate some of the burdens and stress during that time.

I would also take the time to reach out and email current graduate students and friendly ask them about their experience in that department to get an idea of what to expect. Preparedness is a virtue for a reason and so whether you take a year off or not, go in being adequately prepared for what’s to come (expected and unexpected).

go for it

I think that if you can get into a good grad program with funding do it. The alternative might be unemployment. That stinks. So it is better to work toward a degree - whatever results from it - than risk sitting around having to support yourself without a job. BUT do not take on debt.

original poster

Thanks again for posting this! Just to clarify, in case it affects people's advice: I said that I plan to go for a PhD basically no matter what because I have some highly in-demand and easily-transferable skills that would allow me to jump into industry, while still feeling strongly that a good academic job (if I win the lottery) would be somewhat more enjoyable. So I judge that the process of getting the PhD would be intrinsically valuable to me, would be able to get out pretty quick if my expectations were disappointed, and have no illusions about ending up with any academic job, let alone a desirable one. My thinking is eerily similar, I just noticed, to "Stubborn College Senior"'s, here: https://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2020/04/what-are-grad-programs-planning.html?cid=6a014e89cbe0fd970d0240a520a8aa200b#comment-6a014e89cbe0fd970d0240a520a8aa200b. Anyway, again, thanks to everyone who has offered or will offer advice!


I'm late to the party, but I agree with what Marcus says. Here are some other thoughts:

If you (the OP) *really* have enough of a financial safety net that you can put a reasonably secure and high-paying career on-hold for 7-10 yrs to pursue philosophy without risking your ability to support yourself later in life, then the uncertainty of whether academics will bounce back or crash harder after this year is kinda moot, no? I suppose in a year it might become clear that the odds of getting a job are *zero* (if the crash is huge), and maybe (despite their passion for philosophy) the OP wouldn't want to pursue a philosophy PhD if there were *no* chance in an academic job. But even in that case, you could just quit before starting your first year (if you applied this season and got accepted for next year).

... Actually, I'm now a bit unclear on the timeline. It's August. Don't people typically apply for PhD programs in Nov/Dec, and aren't acceptances sorted out in like March or even April? (It's been about a decade since I was applying for PhD programs.) Anyway, the point is that much of the uncertainty may be resolved before you have to accept any admissions offers. So Marcus' advice of "Apply this year -- and next, if this year doesn't pan out and you're still interested" sounds especially apt.

Second point: You say, "while still feeling strongly that a good academic job (if I win the lottery) would be somewhat more enjoyable", but I'd be a bit skeptical that you can know this, just from doing an MA. There are countless reports, on this blog and others, of people who get their first FT job (whether a VAP, TT, whatever), only to find it's not really at all what they thought it would be. The difference between the grad school experience and being a professor (especially at, say, a teaching institution not all like the one housing your fancy grad program) is *dramatic*. It's hard to know if you really want the job before you get it. (You may ask: So how can someone rationally make the choice to go to grad school? I don't think there are good answers to this question. My impression is that most people don't make the decision rationally; they follow their passion and work out the details later.)

Finally, not to knock on Evan, but I don't think waiting for the purpose of getting writing done makes sense. You've only done an MA. It's unlikely you're developed enough as a philosopher or writer to productively write on your own, at a level that actually advances the aims of a defendable dissertation or publishable papers. (I wasn't even really at that level when I finished my PhD; I still needed more guidance to really be productive.) If you want to think and write productively, with the aim of producing professional philosophy, best to do it under the guidance of other professional philosophers.


Hi Mike, you wrote:

[“It’s unlikely you're developed enough as a philosopher or writer to productively write on your own, at a level that actually advances the aims of a defendable dissertation or publishable papers. (I wasn't even really at that level when I finished my PhD; I still needed more guidance to really be productive.) If you want to think and write productively, with the aim of producing professional philosophy, best to do it under the guidance of other professional philosophers.”]

I agree, which is why I used the qualifier “part of” for a reason: it presupposed the variant-of something e.g. the dissertation. Obviously, you don’t have to start writing whole chapters and/or articles, which is why I suggested OP do some brainstorming via outlines during their free time. In other words, having multiple outlines of different topics and defenses as reference guides can be useful in determining what topic OP can successfully defend if their *primary* option is not viable in the future.

Second, OP is currently an MA student, which means they can also ask for feedback on these outlines from their *current* professors to assess whether there is a good and fruitful route (or multiple routes) they can pursue in regards to writing the dissertation. If OP is currently an MA student, there should be some professors who can provide guidance and advice to at least *prepare*.

Last, it’s dangerous to start early due to the pandemic, which is why taking a year to brainstorm and have multiple viable topics and guides to refer to and prepare for can be beneficial. A year off won’t hurt I’m assuming considering the uncertainty of this pandemic. I’d rather OP take a year off and prepare to not risk their health and end up juggling extreme caution, stress, and unpreparedness.


Evan, those are fair points. I agree that spending the time in the way you propose would be productive, I'm just (still) doubtful that being able to spend the time in that way is a reason to delay. The reason to delay would be all the other stuff: Wanting to see how the market shakes out, avoiding health risks, etc. Maybe that's all you meant all along!


Subsequent thought (since it likes to show up last minute and unexpectedly):

It would be beneficial for philosophy undergraduate majors who plan on going to pursue an M.A. and/or Ph.D. to have multiple outlines of paper topics for what they want to specialize in and defend later on.

Professors can guide them when making some detailed outlines for when they may want to commit and pursue that particular route/topic once they enter graduate school. This gives them enough time to organize and plan for their future dissertation.

If one has studied even a rudimentary level of philosophy of education, then one should know that our thought likes to circle back on itself and so giving undergraduates enough time to plan for their future dissertation would be wise since thought can either end up affirming or negating their current or past ideas in the future.

New knowledge or ideas gained externally, later on, can also function to affirm or negate their current or previously held ideas. When that happens, students should either go back to correct or expand on their outlines. Alas, this is one of the bitter-sweet characteristics of doing philosophy.


Hi Mike,

It may not be a *good* or even wise reason, but it is still a reason because first, some people like to take breaks in between education to read, research, and write on their own without being pressured to do so. They do that to mentally and intellectually prepare themselves since their previous education may have been shoddy, to begin with. Sometimes, it may be wise to do so if one came from a poor educational system.

Thus, it’s okay to be autonomous and prepare oneself (for oneself) when others in one’s past have failed to prepare one. It may even require one to take one year off. Like many people have written here, there are *no guarantees* in graduate school. Whether or not your professors or advisors are very helpful depends on a case by case basis based on my observation on this website. One should not go in naively assuming that these professors or advisors can and will adequately guide one. Seriously, all the people who have written about in terms of their negative and toxic experiences in graduate school, leave me skeptical that going into graduate school will *automatically* entail adequate guidance.

Your argument that it is not *a* reason for delaying presupposes that these students are and should be intellectually prepared to take on graduate school quickly in the first place when in fact, some or many of them probably aren’t. One commenter even wrote in a previous post that their advisor said they don’t have what it takes to be a professional philosopher. Instead of guiding them, the advisor discouraged them.

Again, like what I’ve written about in other posts, if one is intellectually sharp, creative, self-sufficient, healthy, etc. and assuming we’re not in a pandemic or bad job-market era, then by all means go ahead and apply right away! But many others aren’t like that. They sometimes gotta play “catch up” on their own before embarking on such an intellectually demanding path.

In regards to education, it seems to me that many undergraduate schools also leave their students to their own devices, which is probably one reason why many graduate students suffer so much. I’m inclined that think that education should also aim and function to not *just* prepare students for work and leisure alone, but also for intellectual development as well (e.g., *going* to undergraduate, graduate school, medical school, law school, etc.).

Each level of education should *consciously* aim and function to prepare students for the *next* level of education. Education should be future-oriented not just in terms of work and leisure, but in intellect as well. This is commonsense to me. I’m not sure why this idea doesn’t occur to many educators.

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