Our books

Become a Fan

« New sidebar link: the Cocoon's RSS feed | Main | Staying engaged in philosophy without (the need for) a job? »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

voice from a low-ranked dept

As much as pedigree matters, it mostly matters in ways which can be compensated even if you are at a lower-ranked program. There is a correlation between high rank and resources one needs to succeed in the job market: functional advising which helps you turn your ideas/papers to publications, webs of network which will introduce you to other people who will most likely be deciding on your job prospects so on and so forth.

The thing is that someone at a highly-ranked program may fail at these things, despite all the resources, and people at lower-ranked programs may succeed at them. My recommendation is: try to get into a program with as much resources as possible (financial, good faculty etc.), but if you cannot, do not despair about your prospects down the line. You can still have a very decent shot at the types of jobs you think may be reserved for people from top 5 departments.

recent grad

I am/was in a similar situation; my PhD supervisor is widely known as a "big gun" in the specific area I work in, but they're employed at amid-ranked department (per the PGR). In the past, my supervisor's students have tended to done well on the job market (postdoc/TT jobs in top 20 programs), though of course there's a range. But here's the thing: my supervisor is also an excellent philosopher and mentor, in my opinion. Sure, a letter from a prominent philosopher helps, to a certain degree, other things being equal; but the better question to ask still is: how will working with him/her strengthen me as a philosopher? And that is a question hard to answer in the abstract. (Also relevant is the question of what the alternatives are.)

guy from a similar situation

I was in a similar situation. I wonder whether country makes a difference, in the UK (where I am) I have not found it to be a problem. My supervisors were amazing and I have got a job at a top-ranked university since finishing. But we have smaller committees and I think it is less important to diversify. My supervisors had histories of successful grad students on the market (more so than the rest of the department), so I would check that out too. Depending on the relationship, it might be something worth talking through with the supervisor themself to get their advice.

Douglas W. Portmore

I think that what's most important is picking the program where you'll thrive and do your best work. It's better to produce excellent work under a no-name supervisor in a low-ranked program than to produce mediocre work under a renowned supervisor in a top-ranked program. I think that what program you go to and who supervises you is important, but not because they're inherently all that important. Whether you get a good job depends, these days, a lot more on the quality of your work than on any potential glow that shines on you as a result of the prestige of the program or supervisor that you're associated with. The program that you attend is important, because different programs have very different resources and opportunities for their grad students. For instance, some programs give their graduate students greater opportunities to network with and learn from faculty outside of their program. I'm thinking, here, of ANU and the number of internationally renowned scholars that they have visiting every year. And some programs have more and brighter grad students than others do. And this is important because you'll end up spending more time with your fellow grad students than you do with the faculty. And, of course, the quality of the faculty is immensely important. Also, it's great to have a well-known supervisor, but it will hardly matter much if they are not very helpful in terms of getting the best work out of you. Some well-known faculty have little time for their supervisees. So, I think that potential grad students should focus on where they'll do their best work rather than hoping that they'll get a leg up due to some prestige bias stemming from their program or supervisor. And there is a lot to consider here beyond just academics. You need to also consider your happiness, for you're not going to do your best work when you're miserable. In any case, when I look at job applicants, I don't care where they got their degree or who their supervisor was. I care only about the quality of their work. And I won't just take a letter writer's word for it that their student is likely to be productive and produce great work. I want to see the work and a record of production and judge them for themselves.

Current PhD Student

I agree with recent grad. How prominent a philosopher is has nothing to do with how good a supervisor they are. In most cases you'll do much better work under a good supervisor who knows little about your topic than under a bad supervisor who's a leading name on your topic. I've had both, and it's amazing how much more work you get done, and how much better it is, under a good supervisor. You also want to have a good department (which doesn't mean a highly ranked department - unless it's on the APDA ranking of departments by grad students - it means one that supports its students well). Doing a PhD at a particular department just because of one faculty member is extremely risky, as they might well leave, you might find you don't get on, you might find they really don't like your work when other philosophers do, etc.

Tenured now

I had a number of friends doing PhDs at a mid-to-low-ranked department with a big name philosopher. He was, I think, a very good and helpful advisor, but very, very few of his students have gotten jobs. And then, when a number of his students were within a year or two of finishing, he left for a much "better" department, and took only one early-year student with him. (I think it's great he took anyone, and I'm glad that he spent some social capital negotiating that - but it remains the case that quite a few grad students who had gone there to work with him were left behind.)

To be perfectly frank

I have a suspicion that philosophy is pretty darn like the NBA or NFL; PhD programs are like colleges with football programs.

Once every couple years or so someone gets drafted out of a non-power conference and sticks, but that doesn’t mean those at non-power conferences have a decent shot at the pros.

To address the reader’s question, I think the answer is simple: choosing an 80th-ranked football program with the 5th best defensive coordinator in the country is never a great idea.

A PhD program is like a football or basketball program; the quality and rank of the whole thing matters immensely, no matter your position, and no matter one’s utopian ideals about talent-recognition.

(Just the opinion of someone in a “power conference.”)

Bill Vanderburgh

Lots of good ideas already mentioned, but here are a few I didn't see in a quick scan.

One of the major challenges in getting an academic job post-PhD is finishing the PhD in the first place. Four of the things that help with that are a supportive community of fellow grad students, good departmental and university mentoring, funding, and being in a place you enjoy living (for four or, more typically, six years). I would never recommend going to grad school in any place where you won't get full funding, for at least four years, through some combo of scholarships, TAships, etc. These are all things you can ask the grad director about before applying; get contact info for current grad students, who can comment on these topics, too, in some cases more meaningfully.

It is a major advantage to have had the opportunity to teach your own courses before you apply for jobs. In some grad programs, that's not even a possibility. Programs that don't offer solo teaching might try to tell you that TAing is almost as good; it isn't.

Similarly, having one or two publications before you have defended your dissertation makes the job market considerably easier. Check out how often grad students in the programs you are considering have those pubs. This sometimes comes down to mentoring, from the supervisor and from the department in general.

If, by the time you are on the job market, you have teaching experience and some publications, where you earned your PhD (and with whom) matters less--in fact, less and less the better the teaching and research are.


One important thing to consider. As some have said, rankings are problematic. Something one may do is to look at the placement record of departments. If there is no placement record or it's very difficult to find it, then just go away - this is, in my opinion, evidence that the department doesn't care that much about the graduate program, and it is likely that advisors will not advice well. If there is a placement record, then look at the work the students have done, and the type of jobs they landed.

focus on the question

Surely the only important piece of advice for this reader is the initial advice. There are plenty of extremely good philosophy departments that for some reason are ranked in that category in QS--among many others, Penn, Wisconsin-Madison, etc. Don't use the QS rankings to determine what counts as a good philosophy department (or a highly-respected-by-others one). There are also plenty of places the QS ranks very highly that you should definitely not get a PhD at if you care about job market prospects.

Questioning the QS

As others have noted, the QS rankings are not highly regarded, and do not really reflect what philosophers think. I just took a quick look of what schools are in the 100-150 rank. It includes Duke, Essex (UK), U of Arizona, U C San Diego, U of Colorado, U of Pennsylvania, U of Wisconsin, and Washington U. Some of these programs are really strong (and recognized as such on Leiter's rankings). Further, in philosophy of science, my area, some of these are among the best places to study, depending on your research interests. So if you are talking about any of these schools, go for it!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Subscribe to the Cocoon

Job-market reporting thread

Current Job-Market Discussion Thread

Philosophers in Industry Directory


Subscribe to the Cocoon