Jump to content
  • advertisement_alt
  • advertisement_alt
  • advertisement_alt

Choosing between MA and PhD


elger
 Share

Recommended Posts

First, let me apologize if there is already a thread for this. I looked through existing threads and did not see one for this application season at least. 

Does anyone have thoughts on choosing whether to do an MA first or go straight for a PhD? I didn't do enough research in choosing schools and ended up applying and being accepted to 2 PGR unranked/low ranked PhD programs (with funding) that have less than stellar job placement rates (around 20% on Aero Data Lab). 

I've also been accepted to MA programs at NIU and GSU (GSU is funded, waiting to hear about NIU funding). 

My gut tells me to do an MA first to solidify my AOI and shoot for PhD programs with better job placement. As I look, however, I notice that a few people from these MA programs actually attend the PhD programs that have offered me admission. This makes me uneasy about whether doing the MA would truly make my application more competitive or whether I would be better off just attending a less prestigious PhD program and worrying about job placement when the time comes. I believe I would be a good fit at the PhD programs, it is just the future job prospects that worry me. 

What has your experience been with this, or is anyone else in the same position? 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

38 minutes ago, Prose said:

MA, seriously - it's a no brainer (I personally took this route)

 

obvious caveat: MA is an opportunity not a guarantee

Understood. Any thoughts on choosing between MA programs?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

@elger, I made a thread on this question a year ago, after I completed the first year of my MA, and had a few thoughts. See the link:

As I mention in the linked thread, there are "hidden" costs involved in choosing an MA offer over a PhD offer. There are costs involved in terms of money that you'll spend (even if you're at a fully-funded MA), and in terms of the stress you'll feel/second-guessing you'll go through if you turn down a PhD offer for an MA offer (i.e., you may find yourself wondering whether you should have taken the PhD offer you had in hand and whether you'll do better).

I meant to update my original thread, and will do so with a follow-up, but here's the gist: I do think doing the MA was worth it for me, and might be for you, depending on circumstances. I ended up at a better-ranked program, and one that is a better fit for me interests as they've crystallized these last several years.  I do think whether choosing an MA over a PhD is worth it, in short, depends on how well-prepared you were the first time around (how good was your sample, how strong your letters, etc.), how much you think you can improve those components, and how hard you're willing to work at a second try. Just know there's a risk involved (you may not do any better), and it's not without cost.

Edited by hector549
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just now, elger said:

Understood. Any thoughts on choosing between MA programs?

If you don’t get NIU funding, GSU.

If you do get NIU funding and ... 

- want to work on 19th Century German Philosophy, GSU

- want to work on analytic epistemology/metaphysics, NIU

- want to work in any other subfield (assuming no attachment to any particular profs or locale), it’s probably a toss up. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, hector549 said:

 

@elger, I made a thread on this question a year ago, after I completed the first year of my MA, and had a few thoughts. See the link:

As I mention in the linked thread, there are "hidden" costs involved in choosing an MA offer over a PhD offer. There are costs involved in terms of money that you'll spend (even if you're at a fully-funded MA), and in terms of the stress you'll feel/second-guessing you'll go through if you turn down a PhD offer for an MA offer (i.e., you may find yourself wondering whether you should have taken the PhD offer you had in hand and whether you'll do better).

I meant to update my original thread, and will do so with a follow-up, but here's the gist: I do think doing the MA was worth it for me, and might be for you, depending on circumstances. I ended up at a better-ranked program, and one that is a better fit for me interests as they've crystallized these last several years.  I do think whether choosing an MA over a PhD is worth it, in short, depends on how well-prepared you were the first time around (how good was your sample, how strong your letters, etc.), how much you think you can improve those components, and how hard you're willing to work at a second try. Just know there's a risk involved (you may not do any better), and it's not without cost.

@hector549 thank you for sharing your perspective and linking the thread. It is good to think about. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I know someone who chose an MA program over a PhD program, then got rejected from every PhD program this year.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Don't overestimate your ability to navigate grad school admissions.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

An MA won't make you any less competitive. What it will do is give you a chance to get a feel for what graduate work in philosophy is like, and whether it's worth pursuing. And it'll give you a chance to apply more carefully next time, with better-developed interests. Also, it's very hard to switch PhD programs, and if you decide to leave partway through, there's no guarantee they'll give you an MA on the way out.

To my mind, it's better to maximize your chances at happiness and minimize your opportunities to second-guess your decisions, and given what you describe, it sounds to me like an MA is the way to achieve that. But if you're dead-certain about your intended AOS, and your prospective supervisors at the PhD programs are top-flight in that AOS, then that might change the calculus. So, e.g., if I were working in philosophy of biology and had an offer to work with Millikan at UConn, I'd take that (yes, I know she's emerita). But if your PhD programs and prospective advisors aren't fantasmic in your proposed area, or you're not wholly sold on that area, then it's a different story.

Frankly, I think everyone should do a Master's degree before starting a PhD. But that's just me, and I know it's not the norm in the US. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

23 minutes ago, maxhgns said:

An MA won't make you any less competitive. What it will do is give you a chance to get a feel for what graduate work in philosophy is like, and whether it's worth pursuing. And it'll give you a chance to apply more carefully next time, with better-developed interests. Also, it's very hard to switch PhD programs, and if you decide to leave partway through, there's no guarantee they'll give you an MA on the way out.

To my mind, it's better to maximize your chances at happiness and minimize your opportunities to second-guess your decisions, and given what you describe, it sounds to me like an MA is the way to achieve that. But if you're dead-certain about your intended AOS, and your prospective supervisors at the PhD programs are top-flight in that AOS, then that might change the calculus. So, e.g., if I were working in philosophy of biology and had an offer to work with Millikan at UConn, I'd take that (yes, I know she's emerita). But if your PhD programs and prospective advisors aren't fantasmic in your proposed area, or you're not wholly sold on that area, then it's a different story.

Frankly, I think everyone should do a Master's degree before starting a PhD. But that's just me, and I know it's not the norm in the US. 

@maxhgnsThis is good advice. Thanks. 

How do you know whether professors are top flight in a given AOS? I came from an undergrad with no graduate program and did not intend on applying to grad school during undergrad so I am rather oblivious to such matters. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

59 minutes ago, elger said:

@maxhgnsThis is good advice. Thanks. 

How do you know whether professors are top flight in a given AOS? I came from an undergrad with no graduate program and did not intend on applying to grad school during undergrad so I am rather oblivious to such matters. 

It's a bit of a paradox. You'll be best placed to determine that once you're well into the PhD process, because that's the point at which you'll have already done a lot of research and have a better idea of the lay of your subfield, as well as that of other subfields.

In the meantime, the Leiter subfield rankings are a good place to start. is your target department ranked in the first or second group for that subfield? If so, that's a really good indication (but neither a necessary nor a sufficient one!) that the people working in that area in that department are considered top-notch by their peers. You can also ask others (your profs, or people here, etc.) who they think of as the top established people in a given subfield, who are the up-and-comers, etc.

When you're figuring it out for yourself, just remember that you're looking for the people who are shaping the discourse in a given subfield. So: who gets cited a lot in the literature? Who's getting all the colloquium and keynote invitations, or presenting at all the conferences? Who's publishing up a storm, and has a CV with dozens or even hundreds of pubs? Who's publishing regularly in the top subfield journals (which, of course, requires you to know which those are)? Who's presenting big new ideas, rather than just adding another epicycle to the same tired old literature? The more you read in the subfield, the better your sense of these things will be. But you should also be looking around at the CVs of people in your subfield, and seeing how they compare. Because you're looking for movers and shakers, you're mostly looking for people who are full profs (for the up-and-comers, you're looking mostly at associates). And you can look at conference programs for the main conferences in your subfield, to see who's being invited to give the keynotes.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.