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Western Ontario?


Philpony
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Hey, I've heard a lot of mixed reviews of Western Ontario as a PhD program and couldn't find anything helpful and recent on here. Does anyone have any insights (positive or negative) on Western Ontario? It seems like their placement record isn't great, even for SLACs. Am I missing something? Would I be setting myself up for not getting an academic job if I go there? What is their reputation like, and how hard would it be to move back to the US after completion? If you go there, what do you think of the climate? How livable is the stipend? Do grad students there seem happy? Thanks in advance!

 

For reference, my AOIs are applied ethics (esp. bioethics) and feminist philosophy.

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2 hours ago, Philpony said:

Hey, I've heard a lot of mixed reviews of Western Ontario as a PhD program and couldn't find anything helpful and recent on here. Does anyone have any insights (positive or negative) on Western Ontario? It seems like their placement record isn't great, even for SLACs. Am I missing something? Would I be setting myself up for not getting an academic job if I go there? What is their reputation like, and how hard would it be to move back to the US after completion? If you go there, what do you think of the climate? How livable is the stipend? Do grad students there seem happy? Thanks in advance!

 

For reference, my AOIs are applied ethics (esp. bioethics) and feminist philosophy.

In terms of faculty, it's a good program (#3 in Canada). However, placement is indeed poor. I suspect this is the case because it's hard to get teaching experience in Canada (because the program doesn't give you much, because it's hard to get into the sessional instructor system, and there are fewer universities in Canada than the US and they are also often far apart). Maybe if you're a US citizen going there, you'd have more luck being able to teach in the US after finishing the degree, but that is purely conjecture on my part. Also, funding for the program is only guaranteed for four years, which isn't ideal. I've heard that funding past that point can be hard to come by.

Edited by hector549
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Western actually has one of the best placement records of any Canadian program when it comes to placing graduates into MA- and PhD-granting departments (it's second after Toronto, and in the T20 overall). This is partly because it's long had a very large student body, but also because the department decided long ago that it would focus its energies on a couple of subfields, and hire and train exceptional philosophers in those areas.

Solo teaching experience is hard to come by in Canada. It's good, because the PhD programs don't tend to be too exploitative (several US programs require students to teach 2-2 after their second year!), but it's bad insofar as it means that you're not going to be able to compete with other graduates on that front.

Funding is also tricky; Canadian departments have a spotty record when it comes to funding their students past their fourth year (and believe me, nobody actually finishes in four; very, very few even finish in five). If you don't have a guarantee in writing, you can't count on it.

Given your interests, I wonder why you're attracted to Western; it's pretty weak in applied ethics and femtheory. In Canada, Queen's is much, much stronger on those counts (McGill bioethics, too--it's a separate department). Toronto too, although I'd rate Queen's above it in those areas.

I should also mention that Western has been going through something of a climate crisis these last couple years, with all kinds of unpleasantness (including assault). Talk to the female grad students before accepting an offer there, and ask some pointed questions. Or PM me when the time comes, and I can be more specific/direct you to someone in the know.

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On 2/26/2019 at 4:31 PM, maxhgns said:

Western actually has one of the best placement records of any Canadian program when it comes to placing graduates into MA- and PhD-granting departments (it's second after Toronto, and in the T20 overall). This is partly because it's long had a very large student body, but also because the department decided long ago that it would focus its energies on a couple of subfields, and hire and train exceptional philosophers in those areas.

 

Your post sounds like good advice to the OP, but I'm not so sure about the placement record. According to an analysis I saw of the APDA data, Western's overall placement rate is 14%, which is very poor relative to many other programs. I don't know about the placement record into MA and PhD-granting departments, but it's hard to imagine that that could be very high if their overall placement rate is so low.

Edited by hector549
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17 hours ago, hector549 said:

Your post sounds like good advice to the OP, but I'm not so sure about the placement record. According to an analysis I saw of the APDA data, Western's overall placement rate is 14%, which is very poor relative to many other programs. I don't know about the placement record into MA and PhD-granting departments, but it's hard to imagine that that could be very high if their overall placement rate is so low.

 

17 hours ago, hector549 said:

I looked around a bit more; the placement figure I quoted is for Western's placement 2012-2016. The overall permanent placement rate is 14%, the placement rate for PhD-granting institutions is 5%. Here's the source table.

Like I said, I was talking in terms of absolute numbers. Western does well because it graduates so many students, and has done so for a long time, and that kind of frequency helps to trigger the mere exposure effect and enhance departmental halo. (The data I'm basing my own claims on is here; there's no question that the APDA data is better and more current, and measures a more helpful metric; but it's a different metric.) As of 2015, Toronto (which came fourth overall) had 89 placements into ranked MA- and PhD-granting programs, and Western (17th overall) had 33. The next Canadian department on the list was the Université de Montréal (25th overall) with 14, followed by Ottawa (37th) with 8. For placements at PhD- and MA-granting institutions within Canada alone, Western is tied for second place with Oxford (after Toronto, which has, like, 2.5x the placements), and nobody else comes even close to putting up their numbers.

Where the APDA placement data is concerned, it's worth noting that Western's overall placement rate is comparable to that of the other major Canadian institutions measured by the APDA, apart from Toronto, Calgary, and UBC. But it's also worth sounding a note of caution about the APDA's Canadian data: it's not entirely accurate (e.g. it frequently lists some permanent placements as 'temporary', due to institutional, provincial, and national differences in job titles/kinds; some of the data is also incomplete, although I'm sure that's an issue with a lot more than just Canadian departments). I can see those problems reflected in the data for my own PhD program, and others. If you compare the APDA data for Western with Western's published placement record, you'll even find a few omissions. None of that is to say they've a stellar placement record, or to knock the APDA data, which is far and away the best and most comprehensive we have; It's just to say that you shouldn't dismiss Western too quickly, and that you have to look past the APDA summaries and at the actual data points.

The OP should also remember that Western is a Canadian institution, and that the majority of its students are Canadian, but that the majority of the TT jobs are in the US (only a handful are advertised in Canada each year). And, of course, it's much harder for non-Americans to get work in the US, where most of the jobs are. This is especially true of jobs at smaller schools and community colleges, which aren't equipped to deal with the VISA issues (which aren't actually a big deal for Canadians, but most HR departments and hiring committees don't actually know that). So a lower overall placement rate is to be expected to begin with, and it may well be that the OP's chances are better, if they're American or have a Green Card.

So, yes, the overall placement rate isn't great, although I think it's fair to say that it's about what you expect from a non-Toronto Canadian institution (which is to say, an institution at the bottom of the Leiter rankings). The department has had particular success with certain kinds of placement, however, and that's worth considering, because it's a difference that gets erased in the overall record (e.g. compare McGill, which has just 7 placements in the same kinds of programs, only one of which is at a ranked department).

 

Edited by maxhgns
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