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Help Choosing a School


CatholicHobbit

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Hi guys, I need some help/advice on deciding between two schools (and it's terrifyingly close to the 15th!)  I'm coming straight from undergrad and I've been admitted to two great PhD programs! There are two main factors that I'm deliberating between: academic fit and social fit.  Backstory on the social consideration: I'm very shy and have social anxiety, but it's extremely important for me to feel connected with people...it's just very hard to achieve for me.  I know I won't be as successful in a program if it isn't also a good social fit; that's why it's as important to me as the academic fit.

School A has a couple profs with research interests in the same ballpark as mine, but not exactly the same focus and emphasis.  However, I LOVED the people there and made some close friends that I'm still in contact with.  I felt like I easily made progress in overcoming the social anxiety and became connected and attached to the people.

School B has a prof there whose interests match up exactly with mine!  She's really big in my AOI and it'd be so exciting to study with her.  However, while the people were very nice, I didn't feel quite as connected there.  While I think I'd end up okay socially, it just wasn't as good (or instant) of a fit as School A.

So, what are yall's opinions/experiences on the importance of academic and/or social fit?  I welcome any and all suggestions because I'm torn.  Thanks so much for reading!!!

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Thanks for posting. Feeling comfortable in a department is nothing to scoff at.

Here is my question: did you feel comfortable with the professors at school B, particularly the one whose interests you have a great match with? This, I think, is what is most important. Ultimately, though you may get along well with them and build great friendships, your fellow graduate students will not be the ones vouching for your work and ability come time to look for a professorship. The importance of developing strong relationships with professors who can help you move onto the next phase of your career cannot be overstated.

In addition, at the risk of sounding callous, getting over (or being more comfortable with) that anxiety will serve you well as you look to finish you PhD and look to pursue a professorship. You, most likely, will not be able to build a career around your anxiety, so pushing yourself a bit now may prove invaluable.

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I, for one, disagree with @armchair_revolutionary's argument. You are going to be with the people in your research lab 24/7 and being friends with the people in your lab is a HUGE plus. I've been in labs with people I liked and people I didn't like and I truly believe the environment of a lab is a primary concern. 

I would see if the Professor from School A would be open to having you perform research in your area of interest. One of the PhD students at my current lab (for my UG) made and is working on a project that is in a different field (health) than the rest of the projects (information security) in the lab. 

Good work comes out of vibrant and social environments. 

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51 minutes ago, Zanelol said:

I, for one, disagree with @armchair_revolutionary's argument. You are going to be with the people in your research lab 24/7 and being friends with the people in your lab is a HUGE plus. I've been in labs with people I liked and people I didn't like and I truly believe the environment of a lab is a primary concern. 

I would see if the Professor from School A would be open to having you perform research in your area of interest. One of the PhD students at my current lab (for my UG) made and is working on a project that is in a different field (health) than the rest of the projects (information security) in the lab. 

Good work comes out of vibrant and social environments. 

Research lab? I think you may be in the wrong forum. Philosophers typically spend their time alone in library nooks with stacks of old dusty books.

Edited by armchair_revolutionary
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4 minutes ago, Zanelol said:

I, for one, disagree with @armchair_revolutionary's argument. You are going to be with the people in your research lab 24/7 and being friends with the people in your lab is a HUGE plus. I've been in labs with people I liked and people I didn't like and I truly believe the environment of a lab is a primary concern. 

I would see if the Professor from School A would be open to having you perform research in your area of interest. One of the PhD students at my current lab (for my UG) made and is working on a project that is in a different field (health) than the rest of the projects (information security) in the lab. 

Good work comes out of vibrant and social environments. 

Sorry to be the kid that says this, but Philosophy departments don't have research labs. We do definitely end up spending time with our cohort and other grad students, and a good grad student body will contribute a lot to a sense of belonging/climate, but it's easier to lone wolf than it is in a more sciencey environment. (Not that it's recommended). 

 

 

1 hour ago, armchair_revolutionary said:

In addition, at the risk of sounding callous, getting over (or being more comfortable with) that anxiety will serve you well as you look to finish you PhD and look to pursue a professorship. You, most likely, will not be able to build a career around your anxiety, so pushing yourself a bit now may prove invaluable.

This is important, but be patient with yourself! Some professors are still anxious as hell. I think it's just finding a way to work with it. Some academics, especially in philosophy, are the most awkward people I have ever seen,  so chances are, the person you're interacting with is also anxious! 

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Wow, I just made a very similar choice yesterday. But today, I am feeling good about it. Here are some questions that may help you as they helped me:

How confident are you of your interests remaining the same in a few years? Are there even profs at A of whom you predict: if I study with this person, my interests will be influenced?

How confident are you of the difference in social fit? Could it just have been a fluke, or no? More tired at one of the visits, eg?

Will there be chances to study the particular thing at A? Maybe your friends would do a reading group with you? Maybe ask them if the profs are known to be open to supervising projects that don't fit their respective things perfectly? 

Did you connect at all with the prof at B? If so, a nice email saying nice to meet you, wish I could come, but can't, and would you mind reading paper X when finished could be the start of a relationship that may end up in her being an external member of your committee, or your being a visiting student later, or something like that. 

If the prof at B left (happens! worth asking around quietly if you can) would there be others you could work with?

Happy to talk more by pm if you like! I remember this agony acutely.

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Having known a number of graduate students in philosophy, I do think social fit is underrated. After all, you are choosing to spend the next 5-7 years of your life working in this one department, so I wouldn't downplay it's importance for you even if it isn't directly relevant to your future job prospects. I personally know a couple of graduate students who say they regret not factoring social fit more into their decision (though whether or not they would have ultimately made a different decision is a different question). Even from a purely career-focused perspective, feeling like you don't fit in can make it harder to stay positive and motivated through the difficult process of a PhD (which, remember, usually 40%+ drop out rates IIRC). But also keep in mind that you are basing your perception of social fit on first impressions.

On the flip side, not having professors who share your research interests can be difficult, as well. It can be isolating in its own way, and makes your research harder. However, given that you are coming right out of undergrad instead of a masters program, you should also keep in mind that your research interests may well evolve over time, so I'm not sure a school having a single professor in your area who is a good fit should on its own be decisive. Academic fit is much broader than that. For instance, if A had more professors working in you general area than B, then you should weigh that as well, even if they have no one professor who is as good of a fit as the one at B.

Have you also considered other factors, like placement rate, ranking, location, the diversity of areas of specialization in each department, and so on? I know you said these aren't your primary considerations, but perhaps they could serve to tip the scales if you're genuinely undecided.

Edited by ThePeon
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Hey @CatholicHobbit! For what it's worth, I would not rely too heavily on first impressions. I say this because it's easier to misjudge social fit in the short term, and it's easier to adapt academic fit in the long term.

Here's what I mean. Of course there are exceptions to my point about academic fit; if there are no professors doing anything like what you're interested in, it's an easy nope, but I assume you've screened off those schools already. Another safe assumption: as grad students, our research interests will change over time. That change might be (1) stable, deeper specialization in the well-defined AOI we entered grad school with, but it could also be (2) realization that AOI lines are a bit artificial anyway, and it could even be (3) embrace/incorporation of a totally different AOI. For instance, one of my colleagues who entered with interests in social/political/Marxism, is now doing a project on Aristotle's Politics. (For another more controversial instance, does John Searle do philosophy of mind or phenomenology?...) I imagine this would be a point in favor of School A; if you really connected with the people there, maybe you're more likely to find an academic niche that's near enough to where you are now. Even if you end up in situation (1) above, professors who write in a particular niche are likely to have a broader knowledge base in the field, and would probably be able to support you in a modestly divergent research project. (Of course, asking a specialist in feminist epistemology to help you write on the Gettier problem is not the same as asking her to help you write on medieval logic.)

When it comes to my point about social fit, I'm assuming that you're judging based on a visit day or weekend. Of course, it's possible you got more representative exposure than I did when I was a prospective, and it's also possible (or rather, pretty likely) that you're less socially naive than I am. I do wonder what you mean by connected; Granted, I know that's a throwaway philosophical buck-passing question, and I know that the unique feeling of "fit" is hard to verbalize. Have your intuitions about social fit have tended to hold up in the past? I know that for myself, the answer is no; but again, I'm socially naive.

It might also be helpful to know what your interests are, as well as the institutions you're interested in, but it does make sense if you don't want to talk about that publicly.

Sorry for being so aporetic/destructive... Also, please take my $0.02 with several grains of salt, since I'm an extrovert who loves social adventures. But I do have a large, hand-drawn map of Middle-Earth in my living room, so that has to give me some credibility!

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On 4/12/2019 at 2:45 AM, armchair_revolutionary said:

Research lab? I think you may be in the wrong forum. Philosophers typically spend their time alone in library nooks with stacks of old dusty books.

I dunno, I spend a lot of time with coworkers in the department, and that irrespective of whether I find them kindred spirits or comfortable to be with.

Edited by Duns Eith
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On 4/12/2019 at 12:40 AM, CatholicHobbit said:

School A has a couple profs with research interests in the same ballpark as mine, but not exactly the same focus and emphasis.  However, I LOVED the people there and made some close friends that I'm still in contact with.  I felt like I easily made progress in overcoming the social anxiety and became connected and attached to the people.

School B has a prof there whose interests match up exactly with mine!  She's really big in my AOI and it'd be so exciting to study with her.  However, while the people were very nice, I didn't feel quite as connected there.  While I think I'd end up okay socially, it just wasn't as good (or instant) of a fit as School A.

The sense I've gotten thus far, and the advice I've received from all of my professors, is that in philosophy, unlike many/most other humanities fields, it's actually more about the program than the particular person you want to work with. If you're a historian and you want to work on China, it's not really going to help you that there are lots of Europeanists and Africanists also in the department. But if you're a philosopher doing, say, language, then it will be very important to also be quite competent in related core areas like mind and metaphysics, and so it will be important that the department has people working in all those areas. Sub-areas of philosophy are pretty interconnected. So if the person at school B is the only person you'd be really interested in working with, then it might be better to opt for school A, where even though it's not a perfect match, there are at least multiple people qualified to supervise your work.

Take this with a grain of salt since I'm not done with this whole process myself, but I'm just relaying what I have found helpful myself.

22 hours ago, Rose-Colored Beetle said:

For another more controversial instance, does John Searle do philosophy of mind or phenomenology?...

Also, I'm sorry to go off-topic here, but I had to ask about this. How is John Searle a phenomenologist??

Edited by philosopuppy
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It's worth noting that whatever you think of a department's current composition of fellow students, it's going to change a lot over 5+ years. You'll have new people coming in every year as they're admitted, and people leaving every year as they finish. So don't get to caught up on how you feel in a department right now

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On 4/13/2019 at 2:00 PM, philosopuppy said:

Also, I'm sorry to go off-topic here, but I had to ask about this. How is John Searle a phenomenologist??

Steven Crowell argues that phenomenology should be understood as essentially neither analytic nor continental. If we take phenomenology to be "a systematic study of consciousness that can trace its geneology to Husserl," we can point to an American analytic strand of people, begun by Harvard students in the 60s (Hubert Dreyfus, Dagfinn Føllesdal) who saw Husserl as having more in common, as Crowell says, with Quine and the early Wittgenstein than Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty.

The shorter answer is that Searle uses the word "intentionality." :)

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