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It's your first year, so you don't really have your own research yet. Just focus on the coursework and other requirements, and learn what you can about as much as you can. Break the work up into manageable chunks, and do a little every day. Do, however, set up your philosophers alerts/digest.

You'll probably have summers free for a couple of years. Use _that_ time to read up on areas of interest, and to start thinking about research of your own. Start googling around and looking at how people organize their CVs, and what people who are in the string of positions you want to occupy (e.g. late grads, recent grads, postdocs, junior faculty, tenured faculty, etc ) are doing at various stages.

3rd Year PhD Student

I can devote about 3 hours per week to research-related things if I make it a priority, but I have to schedule it in advance each week (or have a standing time) and actually follow through with it. In my opinion, prioritizing this over some coursework will be better for you in the long run, at least when it comes to required classes that won't have much bearing on what you teach in the future. It's totally okay to skim readings some weeks, and I wish I knew that my first year of grad school.

The people in my department who have been the most successful on the job market all put a lot of focus on their research (as well as being a healthy human being!) and did not make coursework a major priority to be honest (except where it was relevant for teaching and research). Some old school professors will bemoan this (blah blah well-rounded blah blah), but you need to take care of your future self and if that means giving 50% effort on that random Ancient philosophy course you have to take, I think you're much better off doing that.

Bill Vanderburgh

I'd say that if you are still in the coursework phase of your PhD, spending too much time on independent research is going to be time lost. Most people at that stage are not really ready to publish. I'd rather see someone maximize the courses they are taking, comps they are preparing for, and so on. Impress your profs, form connections, build your knowledge. Try to take courses on topics that could become dissertation chapters or are background for your dissertation (or for an AOC: it is important to develop at least one of those). If you end up with a course paper that you and your professor think is worth working on for publication, then summers and other term breaks are the best time to work on that. You could also try to do an independent study course on something you want to write up for publication that isn't the result of a course you have already taken. In all such matters seek the advice of the faculty of your department.


"philosophers alerts", above, was meant to be "PhilPapers". I didn't see that autocorrect had "fixed" it.

dissenting opinion

3rd Year
I worry a bit about this attitude about course work. I would be inclined to think that one should concentrate on their course work, and then get serious about "research" after all that is done. I am relatively senior - perhaps solidly senior. I have had a pretty good career, and certainly better than most of my peers from grad school. I took course work quite seriously, and I learned a lot in the process. It is a great opportunity to develop reading skills, as well writing skills. Further, I learned many things that later proved to be useful - I have a good understanding of Frege, comparatvely speaking, for example. As a result, I have a very well rounded understanding of philosophy. I have multiple books with CUP. I attribute my success to some large measure to learning widely.


I'm in grad school and I've published a few papers. Two ideas:

1. This only works if you're not great at time management and you lose some time procrastinating, rather than coursework legitimately taking up all your time. I've found it useful, when I had an interesting idea, to submit an abstract to a (preferably low-stakes) conference. Then I had a deadline by which I had to flesh out the idea in greater detail, and I could also get feedback on it. It probably looks good one's your CV too.

2. Try to link coursework with your own research. If you already have your own interests, you could try to write term papers that relate the course material to your preferred topics. If you're still looking for ideas, see if anything in your courses catches your attention, or if any of your term papers turn out exceptionally well (professors sometimes say "you might be able to develop this into a publication). If you have a bit of free time, you can then look into that topic more, take a related course, or fine-tune your paper, etc.

anon for now

To build off of what dissenting opinion says above, it might be helpful to frame this issue as an issue about how to balance some pretty major long-term and short-term goals. I think taking your coursework seriously and not slacking on that random Ancient philosophy course will help you become a well-rounded scholar, which is important for your publication record over the long term. That being said, having a good publication record over the long term can't happen if you don't get a job, and getting a job means publishing in the short term, and publishing in the short term means focusing on your research and slacking on that random Ancient philosophy course.

How you strike the balance should depend on lots of contextual factors, not the least of which is your own risk tolerance. For me, I like to aim for a short-term publication record that is slightly higher than what I need to find/keep a job and then devote the rest of my time and energy to more long-term goals.


Adding some thoughts to the 3rd year/dissenting discussion:
- I went into my PhD program our of a 3 professor department at a SLAC. So, my philosophical breadth of knowledge was severely limited. For that reason, in some ways, I took very seriously focusing on my coursework. It significantly increased my ability to have conversations with philosophers who work in all areas, which is crucial down the line. When you have an on-campus interview, you'll be talking with a whole department of folks who don't work in your area. You need to be able to talk to them.
- On the other hand, I never took an incomplete in grad school because I also, in another way, didn't treat every class as equally important. That came not in phoning in weekly readings, but in the final papers. The classes closest to your own interests or with the professors you are most likely to work with or need letters from, polish those papers as best you can. The classes that are just increasing your breadth, write a solid paper, but don't overthink it, don't put the same polish on. Get it in, and move on. Or, so was my attitude.
I got through coursework swiftly and successfully that way, presenting at conferences during coursework, and publishing after. I got a TT-job. That said, this worked for me. You'll need to figure out what works for you. But, I wouldn't just phone in your required classes entirely.

Grad Student

I'm a first-year PhD student in a similar situation -- i.e., I have plenty of my own research to do, and not enough time to do it, given the (sometimes absurd) amount of reading my professors assign.

Here is what I do: I *start* each day by focusing on my own research for an hour or two. Then, I work through as much as I can of whatever my professors have assigned. If that turns out to be less than all of it, I choose not to worry.

I can't speak for philosophy faculty generally, but my hunch is that, if you have promising ideas for your own research, your professors would prefer that you spend some time developing it than that you spend all your time reading every paragraph of Aristotle on the syllabus.

(This is all assuming, of course, that you *do* have promising ideas for your own research. If you don't know whether your ideas are promising, run them by someone with expertise before devoting too much time to them. The paragraphs of Aristotle on the syllabus are, of course, important enough to be worth reading.)

Midstage faculty

I don't know how unique my situation was, but just in case *someone* would find this helpful or resonating:

During my coursework years, I did not have any time, or energy, or motivation to do any work beyond coursework (and TA duty). Still, with all my effort I did not manage to write any paper that was considered simply good. And if I had had more time, I would not consider doing my own research but rather taking one more course so that I could get it done earlier. Not sure if this simple mindset was good or bad for me. But if you are struggling to rise above the coursework, you are certainly not alone.

The thing is, when I finished my coursework and started my dissertation, I started to do good work and got my dissertation done efficiently, without any lost time. Looking back, it felt as if the coursework me and the dissertation me were two different persons. This is not common, but I was not the only one: I have seen it happen to someone else who happened to be not passionate or good at the courses they took.

So in the end, it all worked out. I probably couldn't have done it otherwise. Or maybe I would have been much more successful than I am if I had done it otherwise. So I do not intend it to be a success story for the op to imitate. But: doing what I did, it is still possible to reach the goal in the end.

3rd Year PhD Student

I just wanted to chime in again and say I really appreciate Christa's comment. In my undergrad, I aimed for a ton of breadth (to help me get into a PhD program!), so I had taken survey courses in basically every field of philosophy with decent enough professors that I felt like I had a better handle on several disciplines than many of my colleagues who went to smaller schools or came from departments that seemed to offer mostly very specific courses over broader survey ones. So, for those who haven't really ever taken an Ancient Philosophy course before might be wise to invest the time into doing all the readings (and, following Christa's advice, writing a serviceable paper without extreme exertion).

I will say that my department also has a comprehensive exam in our area of specialization which requires extensive reading and study, and if a department didn't have this it might be wise to use coursework to get these sorts of skills.

However, I stand by the idea that in general, being a "well-rounded scholar" while an admirable goal, goes unrewarded unless also accompanied by knowing how to play the philosophy job market game, and there are times when these two goals are inimical to each other (not always, though!).

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