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09/22/2021

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Current Grad Student

When I chose which programs to apply to, I took into consideration the following (in rough order of importance): specialization, relative prestige, placement rate, professors to work with, climate, geography

When I chose which offer to accept, while I looked into all of those factors and then more (like grad student culture, etc.), the only thing that ended up mattering was the stipend/package. It just didn't make sense to go to a program that offered me less (adjusted for cost-of-living) than what the highest offer I got was.

Assistant Professor

1. I prioritized funding (stipend, benefits, also relative to local cost of living); willingness and ability of the program/institution to support the kinds of things I wanted to work on; location and how that would impact my quality of life during grad school. These priorities worked for me and my needs.

2. People have different motivating needs, but I do think that paying attention to factors relevant to quality of life is really important (cost of living, quality of life, affordability, access to things you like, people you care about, or environments you want to spend your time in). Grad school is temporary but not short - and it will feel a lot longer if you hate where you live, can't afford a satisfying life there, and you probably won't be able to be as productive and get good work done under those conditions.

While I wouldn't go to a program that I didn't think could overall support my philosophical aims, I would not prioritize ONLY the program's perceived prestige or intellectual offerings above all else or only go for one key person with whom you want to work for a few reasons: people can leave or not turn out to be what you hoped they would as a mentor; prestige of the institution is insufficient to individually thrive in the program (and may not be predictive of thriving or personal success); your philosophical objectives and interests will likely (hopefully?) evolve during your program and hanging the decision on what you think you want to do going in might mean a decision to transfer to another program when different interests emerge later.

Ultimately, going to the program you think you are most likely to successfully complete, based on whatever factors you think will best predict that, is probably the best option.

More Teaching Less Problems

I'll admit that I was fresh out of a non-ranked university when I applied and didn't really have a lot of people I could turn to for advice. I just picked the best-ranked program that accepted me. I don't recommend this, but I will say that I think there is a lot less of a difference between grad programs than people think. Most train you in the same way and most have very similar Ph.D. requirements. I think it's fine to choose between two similar ranked programs for more 'aesthetic' reasons (I.e. You like one location more or you have a good friend who lives nearby).

That said, one thing that is extremely important and often not talked about is how much teaching experience a department will provide you. I don't mean TAing. I don't mean teaching workshops. I mean actual opportunities to design and run your own course. The vast majority of academic jobs are teaching jobs and they want to see if you can teach. Not just understand pedagogy but actually teach a course with real students. If you can find a program that allows you to solo teach more than one course before you leave, it's invaluable and will at the very least save you a few years of VAP and postdoc hopping to gain teaching experience.

Anon

Placement & training.

Early-career non-TT at an R1 that previously rejected me for their PhD program

I recommend choosing 'good-fit' programs with people with whom you want to work most of all; but Assistant Professor above makes a good point that professors can and do leave or turn out to be bad advisers. More Teaching above is also absolutely right that teaching training--i.e., getting to teach one's own classes as a grad student--is by far the most underrated aspect of one's grad career. My own extensive teaching experience while a PhD student has almost single handedly gotten me two decent (albeit non-TT teaching) jobs at R1s.

One more thing while we're on the subject. I find that geography of programs tends to work entirely differently than most think. I grew up and did my BA and MA in large Northeastern cities, and was nervous about doing a PhD in a small southern city when I got accepted. But I wound up really appreciating being in a small place where everyone (both within and without my department) was friendly and supportive. My friends who did PhDs in large cities tended to be broke and lonely in places with bad-to-terrible department cultures. So I recommend being open-minded geographically, and have, for what it's worth, found that the departments in smaller places tend to be healthier and more inviting.

Ian

If your only goal is to become a philosophy professor, prioritize (1) placement rate, (2) prestige of your potential committee members, and (3) teaching experience opportunities.

If you are open to other career paths, also prioritize (4) prestige of entire university and (5) opportunities to expand skills and network within the university community and alumni base. Depending on how open you are to other possibilities, you might want to prioritize these even higher than the earlier group.

V

I would recommend applying to as many highly ranked programs as you can (provided that they are reasonably strong in your areas of interest). In order to decide where to go, I'd suggest trying to have brief philosophical discussions with the faculty members you can see yourself working with. I would look for people who are encouraging, enthusiastic and easy to talk to, but also willing to disagree with you, point out mistakes, and push you to see issues from a different perspective. You probably won't be able to find out enough about someone from a single meeting during a prospectives visit, so I would also recommend asking lots of current and recent grad students about individual faculty members (in particular, whether they are responsive, give helpful feedback/advice, and help them stay motivated). Of course, choosing a location where you can lead a happy life is important too, but I would think that finding a program with several people who could be good mentors is just as important.

G

1. I prioritized specialization.

2. I think people should prioritize prestige and stipend.

Here is my quick story. When I was a graduate student, I was at a mid-ranked public university. My friends at prestigious schools just had so much more resources than me. The stipend at some private schools was 3x of mine. For example, I received around 13k per year with no summer funding, and although it was considered "full funding", I had to pay fees and a small percent of my tuition. Some friends at other schools received close to 30k per year without additional fees. They also received better travel funds.

As a result, when I worried my bills, they traveled to conferences quite often, got to know people, got external letters, and were invited to more conferences. When I was working during the summer to support myself, they were in Europe for summer workshops and socializing with other philosophers. We were like in two different worlds.

Daniel Weltman

The second question (what should you prioritize) has a thousand different answers depending on context. I agree with everything everyone has said so far (even the contradictory stuff) and could add two dozen other things, but there's just too much to say!

So, just focusing on the first question: basically the overriding considerations were 1) what field, 2) prestige, and 3) scope of the program. (This is from back in 2011.)

For the first consideration, my top 2 choices were a philosophy grad program and a political theory grad program. I ended up choosing philosophy because I preferred philosophy coursework to political science coursework, and because a philosophy PhD can be hired to teach political theory but vice versa rarely happens.

For the second consideration, among the philosophy grad programs I got into, most of them were basically equally prestigious, but the grad program I eventually chose (and the #2 one I almost chose, which was the political theory one) was generally a bit more highly regarded than the other options.

For the third consideration, my top choice was strong in a few areas I was interested in, which means all my eggs were not in one basket. (I ended up not changing my interests at all during grad school, but I was open to the possibility that this would happen.) My #2 choice was only political theory, of course, and my other choices were also relatively narrow along these lines.

But, these three considerations were the main ones only because two other considerations which might've been overriding weren't operative. First, climate would've trumped basically everything for me, but I'm a white dude and all the places that accepted me seemed like pretty good places to be a white dude (go figure) so that didn't really enter into my thinking. Second, stipend amount would also have mattered if I thought I would have trouble making ends meet, but all the places I got in seemed doable. My #1 choice looked a little iffy but then I was offered a housing fellowship - if that hadn't happened there's a chance I would've chosen the political theory program. So, these two considerations should probably count in terms of "things I considered" even though they didn't really make a difference because all the places I got in were equally acceptable.

Postdoc

I just want to say something that lots of people told me, but I wish I took seriously: prioritize *depth* of the program's areas of specialization, and don't just choose based on your current assumptions about the area you'll work in.

Many graduate students go into grad school very sure that they want to work on one topic, and end up working on something entirely different. If you choose a school entirely based on its strength in one area, you can be in for a rough ride unless you've been fortunate enough to pick a school that's good in the areas you're now interested in.

Current PhD student

Location, fit, stipend/assistantship responsibilities, reputation.

I didn’t apply to schools if I wouldn’t want to live there. I also had a tough MA assistantship, so I went with the school that had the least taxing responsibilities.

Assistant Professor

Postdoc makes a great point above. It is also worth remembering that even if you decide to go to a program to work with the one person who does exactly what you want to do and will be an amazing mentor, you need to put together a whole committee. That can sometimes be harder than you imagine for a whole host of reasons (topic, specializations, interpersonal relationships, etc.). So it might be more important to end up in a program with a few people who can support your work than only one key person and no other potential contenders for a committee.

Many of the comments give good reasons to prioritize things like prestige and areas of specialization when applying, but then if in the position to decide between offers to drill down on the specifics that will make your life and studies on the whole easier, more satisfying, and more successful.

Anonymous Student

I prioritized fit and academic reputation. I'd now prioritize departmental culture - there are departments with good academic reputations that have high dropout rates because of how they treat their grad students, and many who don't dropout in such places have an extremely and unnecessarily difficult time, including developing serious mental health problems. It's *so* much easier to do good work in a supportive department(speaking from experience; I moved from a department with a terrible culture to a very good one), quite apart from the fact that mental health and being treated decently are important. A department with a bad culture is likely to badly effect your job prospects, I think, because your work will be much better at a place that supports its students.

It can be very hard to find out what a bad department is like before joining it, because students at such places are extremely hesitant to say anything negative about them - if word gets back to faculty, the repercussions can be serious. I recommend using the student-based APDA rankings found at the link below.

https://dailynous.com/2017/10/02/philosophy-phd-program-rankings-apdas-2017-final-report/

RJM

I prioritised geography and a good supervisor. It worked out for me but I don’t think that means this was a particularly wise choice! It is worth considering more than the department’s overall “prestige” though. Having a supervisor who is wel connected and one of the leading lights in your area can open a lot of doors even if they happen to be located in a not that prestigious department.

Current PhD Student

I will add that where you are currently applying from (unfortunately) can play a large role in the probability of your getting accepted into a top-10 PGR program. If you look at their recent acceptances, there are big patterns regarding the prestige of one's undergraduate or MA institution. Elitism is still very much a thing, and you should remember that!

So, if you are coming from a large state school or an unknown university, and you are specifically looking to apply to PhD programs, then as you build up a list you will want to make sure you have plenty of options outside of the the top-10. And if you have the option of also applying to some top MA programs, do that too!

For example, I applied to several PhD programs, and was immediately rejected from all but one of the top-10 schools (I was waitlisted and then rejected from the other) (1/7), but for schools outside of the top-10, I got waitlisted or accepted at 75% (10/13). I came from a large state school with some famous philosophers and a low-ranked PhD program, so quite middle-of-the-road in terms of institutional prestige.

I do not think my experience is uncommon, where people notice a significant improvement in their results for schools below the top-10ish, because of elitism and just a much larger applicant pool (compare Stanford which got something like 300-400 applications last year and UVA which got closer to 150). It is of course worth applying to these top schools if you can apply for free or have unlimited funds, but if you can only afford to apply to 10-15 schools, I would bet much heavier on schools in the 10-25 range (many of which still have decent-to-good placement) than on schools in the top-10 range. I hope this helps!

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