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SexandtheHaecceity

Dear 2020 applicants...

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3 minutes ago, Prose said:

I never said it's easy to look at markers of success and predict your outcomes. Just a lot easier than a lot of people think. The 'lottery'/'crapshoot' (not 'chute', LMFAO) narrative is really simplistic, cliche, and misleading, even though it has some truth to it. 

Besides your opinion, this thread should be pinned because it indicates the contemporary issues of acceptance to a Ph.D program in philosophy, which I feel are valuable. 

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1 minute ago, DoodleBob said:

Besides your opinion, this thread should be pinned because it indicates the contemporary issues of acceptance to a Ph.D program in philosophy, which I feel are valuable. 

Never said it shouldn't be pinned.

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2 hours ago, Prose said:

I never said it's easy to look at markers of success and predict your outcomes. Just a lot easier than a lot of people think. The 'lottery'/'crapshoot' (not 'chute', LMFAO) narrative is really simplistic, cliche, and misleading, even though it has some truth to it. 

There’s something to this. Some people do consistently better than others, and you can pick out some of the factors that make for successful applicants and make decent predictions based on that and the PGR rankings. Still, there’s a lot of stuff that’s difficult to explain. I know people who got rejected from programs I got into, and accepted to programs I got rejected to. I’ve been accepted at top 20 PGR schools and waitlisted at 20-40 ranked schools. This is obviously because despite the fact that there really are factors that make for a good candidate, each school weighs these factors differently given the kind of students they want. This high level of idiosyncrasy is further magnified by the fact that there really are a lot of very good applicants out there, and adcoms can afford to (and in fact have to) be very picky. I think this is what people mean when they talk about the almost mystical process—understanding individual decisions is very difficult. Still, you’re right that it’s not a lottery. In general, There are clearly things that work for people, and things that don’t, and adcoms aren’t just flipping coins.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Stable_disposition said:

There’s something to this. Some people do consistently better than others, and you can pick out some of the factors that make for successful applicants and make decent predictions based on that and the PGR rankings. Still, there’s a lot of stuff that’s difficult to explain. I know people who got rejected from programs I got into, and accepted to programs I got rejected to. I’ve been accepted at top 20 PGR schools and waitlisted at 20-40 ranked schools. This is obviously because despite the fact that there really are factors that make for a good candidate, each school weighs these factors differently given the kind of students they want. This high level of idiosyncrasy is further magnified by the fact that there really are a lot of very good applicants out there, and adcoms can afford to (and in fact have to) be very picky. I think this is what people mean when they talk about the almost mystical process—understanding individual decisions is very difficult. Still, you’re right that it’s not a lottery. In general, There are clearly things that work for people, and things that don’t, and adcoms aren’t just flipping coins.

I don't think it's controversial to say that if all (or possibly all but one of) your elements are undeniably stellar, then you're golden. The mysteriousness comes in when you have two or more flaws and how adcomms weigh those up. It becomes highly speculative because apart from undergrad prestige, the most important elements are non-numerical. 

Edited by SexandtheHaecceity

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33 minutes ago, SexandtheHaecceity said:

I don't think it's controversial to say that if all (or possibly all but one of) your elements are undeniably stellar, then you're golden. The mysteriousness comes in when you have two or more flaws and how adcomms weigh those up. It becomes highly speculative because apart from undergrad prestige, the most important elements are non-numerical. 

Well, i’d agree somewhat, but it seems like what they’re weighing, especially at higher levels, is not just your flaws but also your strengths. Presumably people who got into Princeton but not Harvard or Rutgers but not Berkeley have few flaws. I would imagine (and of course, this is all supposition) that top adcoms, faced with a ton of extremely strong candidates, look for traits and accomplishments they particularly value and decide based on that (in the final cut). 

Whatever the case, you’re right that in the end it is quite mysterious. There are always good writing samples and weak ones, and good candidates and weak ones. You can probably generally rank candidates into tiers corresponding to the tier of program they’re competitive for. However, among the good/competitive ones, a lot of whether a given candidate gets into x program they’re competitive for probably depends on how they strike the adcom, how well they stand out and how much the people there want to work with them. One can usually say if a sample is good or bad in an objective way, but whether someone really falls for it is much more subjective

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Posted (edited)

I actually think that we should have a very low view of how much we know about the admissions process.  Moreover, we have reason to be very skeptical about the value of this kind of forum advice as to how to improve application chances. While certain baseline information, such as the information in Eric Schwitzgebel's guide, is valuable, I doubt that all that much more can reliably be said about how to do well in the process.

To begin with, our ability to infer from application results is very limited. For example, if I understand the posts above, @Marcus_Aurelius and @crunderdunder took roughly contrasting approaches to the preparation of their writing samples. Marcus spent a long time writing and rewriting a paper on a single topic that they chose based on how they wanted to fit into the current literature (to be accessible, current, etc.). This was also my approach. Crunder spent the majority of their time exploring a topic area, with much less time dedicated to drafting. Both completely crushed the process, making mockeries of us mere mortals, for whom rejections blotted out the sun and withered plants in their shade. Do I have any reason to think that I would have performed more like Crunder if I had adopted their method? I can't see that I do. It's just as possible that I would have been making things worse by working in a way less natural to me.

More generally, the few things we can say with confidence—that, ceteris paribus, it is better to have higher grades, higher GREs, a better writing sample, a more prestigious undergrad, etc.—do not produce helpful advice. When I struck out the first time I applied, it wasn't because I wasn't trying to get the best grades, the most prominent letter writers etc. Even considering the question of how these different factors relate to each other, we don't know much. It seems pretty likely that the writing sample is the most important feature, as @brookspn argued. But was their strategy of spending very little time on the personal statements the way to go? I strongly suspect personal statements were important to my application (though I don't really know!). And are there always tradeoffs? I worked on my writing sample until it was basically as good as I thought I could make it and then set to work on my personal statements. If people do find themselves facing hard tradeoffs, I certainly can't see any basis for advising them when the marginal unit of work on one factor stops being as valuable as the marginal unit of work on another.

If you're looking for practically salient advice, you want information that affects one of your choices. But beyond various platitudes, I don't think there's very much that qualifies. For instance, the first time I applied, I think my writing sample held me back. But the way I selected my writing sample was by picking the paper that I had spent the most time on, had the most feedback on, and that was the most skillful work I had done so far. I can't say with any confidence that those are bad ways to choose a paper, even if I know now that paper was bad. I'm not sure I've actually learned anything about the application process itself since, even if I've gotten better at assessing philosophy papers. This time, I wrote a better paper, and I did try to pick a topic that I thought was more likely to appeal to more people. But basically my strategy for picking papers didn't change that much; I was just better at writing them because of the intervening years of work.

Lastly, I think the results themselves speak to a great degree of idiosyncrasy. Before hearing back, I had all kinds of reasonable theories about how my application would be received.

  1. I thought that maybe I would do better with programs which had people I had cited in the sample and who were working on the exact topic I wrote on --- Not the case. 
  2. I thought that maybe I would do better with programs to which I had the most obvious appeal --- Even though I really really really like Pitt, I had no way of knowing that Pitt would like me.
  3. I thought that maybe I would do better with programs which were lower on the PGR and worse with programs higher on the PGR --- Not close.

I can't see anything unique about that the three places I wasn't rejected from share. My best guess is basically randomness.

In terms of getting in, all I can recommend for 2020 applicants is to work really hard on doing good philosophy that shows your philosophical skills and to get lots of advice from professors who can help guide your judgment on that. Beyond that, even if the process isn't a "lottery," it might as well be, because we simply don't have that much concrete practical information about how to really get ahead. What I think you can do to help yourself with the application process is prepare yourself emotionally. Hopefully that's something this thread can explore a bit, even if folks disagree with me about the rest.

Edited by mithrandir8

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Well said @mithrandir8 (great name, btw). You know, maybe it's wrong to call this whole thing a lottery. Indeed, one doesn't buy just one ticket and cross one's fingers. Perhaps a better metaphor is a raffle: one does as much as one can to increase one's chances, e.g., writing sample, letters, GRE, GPA, etc., but, at the end of the day, a fair amount is left up to chance and/or factors beyond one's control. There's nothing mystical about this, but it is esoteric in the sense that only a very few people (i.e., admissions committees) really know the extent to which such factors will weigh on one's chances of admission. Of course, this shouldn't come as a shock to anyone, right? 

 

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I think there's also too much stock being put into the 'adcom process' as if each department has a secret recipe/ algorithm for sorting through candidates and producing exactly the cohort that represents their way of doing philosophy or something. More typically, after the initial sorting through of the gpa, gre, prestige of LORs, and other factors, you are left with around 20/30 extremely strong candidates and then it is a case of which writing samples/ philosophical projects appealed to individual members of the committee or, indeed, rubbed them the wrong way. Needless to say, it starts getting very subjective at that point. So it is both a straightforward process in the first step and a bit of a lottery in the second step.

On my second round as well (and have done pretty well, accepted to Toronto and Oxford, waitlisted at UCLA, CUNY and NYU).

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Re: adcoms: it's not just about how brilliant you seem to them. If they have a choice between two excellent candidates in an area, they might go with the one who seems more collegial to them, or the one who seems like a better fit with the other members of the new cohort. These adcoms are selecting people they'll be with for the better part of 6 years, and they're trying to create what they think is a well-balanced cohort. You might be a genius, but if you're a genius with an ego and it shows, that will get you rejected at some places. In other cases, adcoms will have decided to introduce different areas of interest into their program, and that might mean they select students with those interests even if they do not already seem like a polished genius. Also, lots of programs look for potential rather than genius or highly developed professional skills (and if you publish early, you're stuck with that publication for the rest of your life, and you might regret it one day).

Basically, the quality of your application and all the accompanying details matter, but whether you get in or not cannot be reduced to how outstanding this or that application is.

Other factors matter to them, too, and you can't guess what those are.

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A question about recommendation

How important is the professor's fame?

A letter from a assitant professor and a letter form a professor (both are strong recommendation), will come much difference?

 

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2 hours ago, Eternity said:

A question about recommendation

How important is the professor's fame?

A letter from a assitant professor and a letter form a professor (both are strong recommendation), will come much difference?

 

Pretty important depending on the prestige of the program to which you're applying, all else equal (i.e. the famous person doesn't write a bad letter).

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I skimmed this thread and didn't see this posted: ask yourself if what most intrigues you in philosophy is done in other departments. I think this mostly applies to continental applicants. As you can see, I applied pretty widely across the humanities and social sciences and looked for programs not based solely on the label of the department, but, rather, based upon what sort of substantive work is going on in those departments. Applicants who work mainly in continental thought yet only apply to philosophy programs may be missing out on a range of options in comparative literature, political theory, and cultural studies to name just a few avenues worth investigating. 

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If this helps anyone who's applying next year, I saved a document with specific fee waiver info about the schools to which I applied (a range of PGR-ranked programs): https://docs.google.com/document/d/1pmJIC0afrhvPp1_Uf-VJxQQ3ZM_RGEYeneorKCZQWO0/edit?usp=sharing 

I'm also told it's possible to avoid many of the GRE score report fees by asking individual programs whether unofficial reports are sufficient. 

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2 hours ago, akraticfanatic said:

If this helps anyone who's applying next year, I saved a document with specific fee waiver info about the schools to which I applied (a range of PGR-ranked programs): https://docs.google.com/document/d/1pmJIC0afrhvPp1_Uf-VJxQQ3ZM_RGEYeneorKCZQWO0/edit?usp=sharing 

I'm also told it's possible to avoid many of the GRE score report fees by asking individual programs whether unofficial reports are sufficient. 

This is useful info, but just an FYI, Boston U does offer fee waivers. See this website: http://www.bu.edu/cas/admissions/phd-mfa/apply/fee-waiver/

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Posted (edited)
On 4/18/2019 at 4:39 PM, hector549 said:

This is useful info, but just an FYI, Boston U does offer fee waivers. See this website: http://www.bu.edu/cas/admissions/phd-mfa/apply/fee-waiver/

Thanks for the update! I emailed all of my schools (phil dept admins) in September/October 2018, so I'm just going by what they told me. For BU I emailed David Roochnik and his entire response was "I’m sorry to say that BU does not allow admissions fee waivers."

 

Edited by akraticfanatic

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On 3/13/2019 at 4:03 AM, mithrandir8 said:

In terms of getting in, all I can recommend for 2020 applicants is to work really hard on doing good philosophy that shows your philosophical skills and to get lots of advice from professors who can help guide your judgment on that. Beyond that, even if the process isn't a "lottery," it might as well be, because we simply don't have that much concrete practical information about how to really get ahead. What I think you can do to help yourself with the application process is prepare yourself emotionally. Hopefully that's something this thread can explore a bit, even if folks disagree with me about the rest.

I whole-heartedly agree with this advice.

I am U.K based and came into philosophy through an untraditional route but completed a conversion MA at a PGR school here, achieving a distinction in the process which is equivalent to GPA of 4.0. I applied to four schools (UCL/KCL/Oxford/LSE) but I was only accepted onto LSE's MSc and rejected from the other MPhil/BPhil programmes. Emotionally I was distraught after the flurry of rejections as I had hoped to get into one of the former research degrees. I personally knew many others who had gotten onto the programme at UCL, some of whom didn't even meet the minimum entry criteria and others who had seemingly very poor applications (one international student's personal statement demonstrated an incredibly low literacy level) and this made the whole experience even more frustrating and objectionable. Overall, the process was pretty negative for me but it did inspire some new work on procedural fairness, work which I will now be presenting at conferences across Europe this summer. In this sense I managed to eventually galvanise myself but I think it's right that people talk about how to handle the process and rejections emotionally, as I was in a pretty dark place for a while and because I think that it is something that we can actually shine a light on effectively. My advice here would be to try to expect to receive a rejection from each programme you apply to, and somehow balance this negative expectation with the positivity that is required for completing good applications. Even though it's a top school for Political Philosophy, the LSE programme was my safety option because it wasn't a research degree and as such, I put my application together in about 10 minutes by just regurgitating what I had used for my other applications - weirdly this was the one that worked whereas the hours that I spent agonising over my Ox application turned out to be worthless. 

For sure, there is a lot of luck involved in the process, not just because you have no idea concerning how you are to be assessed by each institution but also because you may not have very helpful tutors, or because other applicants have some "insider knowledge" regarding your chosen programme. In my case, my tutors were incredibly unhelpful - lazy in producing statements (leaving them close to the deadline and unwilling to correspond much with me on them), unwilling to take a look at personal statements or writing samples etc. - unfortunately there is nothing much I could have done about that. Ultimately, most of us have no idea why we were rejected, references are submitted anonymously and feedback or a reason for rejection is rarely ever provided. Before applying I felt like I had done so much research online and prepared as well as I could have done given the circumstances but for whatever reason, it just wasn't enough. Despite this, if there is anything I could advise, it would be to echo what others have said - make sure your writing sample is as good as it can be. I used a slightly refined excerpt from my dissertation and I totally regret it. At the time I thought it was wise as it was a piece of work that scored a high mark on my MA and I had received some particularly positive feedback on it. I was worried about rewriting it or coming up with a new piece of work because I thought, at least with this sample, I knew where it stood academically. In hindsight I should have developed a totally new piece bespoke to the programme I was applying to, one that fitted the desired word length perfectly and perhaps also aligned with interests of the tutors at the school (in a more obvious way). 

I decided to take up my place at LSE in the end as I figured it can only help my chances moving forwards and because there are a lot of great tutors there that I am actually pretty excited to work with given my areas of interest. I will be applying to PhD programmes at the end of this year with the hope of moving on directly from my second Masters. I just hope that this time I manage to navigate the process more successfully! I also hope that the conferences I am doing this summer will bolster my academic C.V and help me to further refine the paper I am working on which will probably end up being my dissertation at LSE. I think I will apply for PhD/DPhil's at Cambridge/Oxford/LSE later this year, I know most of the people here are based in the U.S but if anyone else is looking at these programmes/has applied to them previously then give me a shout.

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On 6/3/2019 at 12:05 PM, autonomyminded said:

I personally knew many others who had gotten onto the programme at UCL, some of whom didn't even meet the minimum entry criteria and others who had seemingly very poor applications (one international student's personal statement demonstrated an incredibly low literacy level) and this made the whole experience even more frustrating and objectionable. Overall, the process was pretty negative for me but it did inspire some new work on procedural fairness

I'm sorry the application process was a negative experience for you. However, may I advice you to avoid talking about identifiable people like this on an open online forum--I'm certain I can tell who these people are. I also know that in contrast to what you're implying they didn't lack the merit to be fairly accepted onto the programme. It's definitely not a good look to imply that you're somehow entitled to their places... and since this is an advice thread I guess I should offer some fitting advice: don't come off as arrogant, either in person or in your application.

On a different, more general note: one thing that I'd recommend is to ask junior faculty to read over your materials rather than more senior people. They often have more time and are often more available. I used this strategy and it worked really well for me.

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Posted (edited)
On 6/25/2019 at 11:47 AM, practically_mi said:

I'm sorry the application process was a negative experience for you. However, may I advice you to avoid talking about identifiable people like this on an open online forum--I'm certain I can tell who these people are. I also know that in contrast to what you're implying they didn't lack the merit to be fairly accepted onto the programme. It's definitely not a good look to imply that you're somehow entitled to their places... and since this is an advice thread I guess I should offer some fitting advice: don't come off as arrogant, either in person or in your application.

On a different, more general note: one thing that I'd recommend is to ask junior faculty to read over your materials rather than more senior people. They often have more time and are often more available. I used this strategy and it worked really well for me.

I apologise - it is obviously a bit frustrating and like I said above, I found the whole process to be rather unfruitful because of the negative results and a lack of feedback. Not receiving a reason for rejection is a major cause of my frustration and I don't think it's arrogant to want a reason or justification, it helps you accept the result and make improvements for the future. It's bad enough that people are rejected or dropped without reason in the labour market, I think that academic institutions can and should do better than this.

I don't think you will know all of the people I'm referring to because not all of them are on the programme (yet), although it is my faux pas and I wasn't thinking clearly, so I apologise for that. I would like to clarify a couple things though - I never said anywhere that these people "lacked the merit" to get onto the programme and that I was "entitled to their places", this is your incorrect abduction and not something which I claimed. I am sure that anyone who ended up on any of the aforementioned programmes is pretty talented, can do philosophy and is someone who I would love to have a beer with! I admitted in my post that "for whatever reason" my application just wasn't deemed strong enough and I accept that. I pointed towards things that I think I could improve in the future (my writing sample) and unlike a lot of the other elements that go into an application, I think that this is something that every applicant can actually focus on and tangibly improve. 

As you will see in the text that you've quoted I use the phrase "seemingly very poor applications", as in, from my perspective with the limited knowledge that I had at the time, I didn't take my application to be so lacking in comparison and if anything, some of the applications I viewed didn't seem to hit the university's own criteria. I should've masked my statement more but the general thrust of what I was trying to communicate stands - we ultimately don't know how we are likely to be assessed by admissions committees, the reason that I raised these examples was to demonstrate this but I apologise for doing so in a clumsy way, as I did not intend to offend anyone. My post may have come across as slightly arrogant but that's perhaps because a triumphant tone doesn't really come across well on a text-based forum! Ultimately my application experience was negative, confusing and incredibly depressing, but I didn't keep beating myself up about it despite my frustrations and I managed to move on from it and start doing philosophy again with more vigour. Going into the process, I thought I stood a better chance given the information that I had, but like I've said multiple times, that information was limited in many important respects. In this sense, I wanted to say that no matter how unfair or bad things seem to be, there is a way out of that hole emotionally speaking and this is what I was referring to - the emotional issues which can often spill out of the process. 

Thank you for your suggestion of seeking out more senior tutors for advice and feedback, I never did this as I did not want to bother senior members of the department with my petty application issues and worries but I can imagine that they perhaps aren't as bogged down with administrative duties etc. I thought that my personal tutor/supervisor ought to help with this but I'll think about going down a different route in the future. 

Edited by autonomyminded
emphasis

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This isn't application- or admissions-specific, but an important piece of advice for aspiring philosophers is to keep an electronic doc or note (or I guess a paper notebook if you're old-school) where you write down any philosophical ideas, hypotheses, arguments, questions, objections, connections, etc. as you think of them. Link to relevant texts. This way you don't forget your ideas, and when you have to write a paper (without a prompt), you have a database of ideas to draw from and you're not starting from scratch. 

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