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Coconuts&Chloroform

Decisions 2020

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Thought I'd get this started now that a good number of schools have gotten their acceptances out. 

I'm in a tough spot with respect to UT Austin and WashU. UT Austin seems to be a great fit for me, given that my primary interest is in consciousness. Michael Tye, Galen Strawson, and Michelle Montague are all people whose work on consciousness I admire. In fact, UT Austin is probably the best fit for me overall aside from NYU (fingers crossed). WashU is still a great fit, since I'd be doing the PNP program, but cognitive science is really my second AOI. UT is also a bit higher-ranked than WashU overall.

However, UT has offered me 15 grand over six years, and WashU has offered me 27. I'm not sure that I can convince myself that the merits of UT are worth a 44% paycut, especially since Austin is a slightly more expensive city than STL. But then again I would probably enjoy living in Austin much better than I would enjoy living in St. Louis. 

Anyone have any thoughts on how to make a decision here? 

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On 2/25/2020 at 10:49 AM, Coconuts&Chloroform said:

Thought I'd get this started now that a good number of schools have gotten their acceptances out. 

I'm in a tough spot with respect to UT Austin and WashU. UT Austin seems to be a great fit for me, given that my primary interest is in consciousness. Michael Tye, Galen Strawson, and Michelle Montague are all people whose work on consciousness I admire. In fact, UT Austin is probably the best fit for me overall aside from NYU (fingers crossed). WashU is still a great fit, since I'd be doing the PNP program, but cognitive science is really my second AOI. UT is also a bit higher-ranked than WashU overall.

However, UT has offered me 15 grand over six years, and WashU has offered me 27. I'm not sure that I can convince myself that the merits of UT are worth a 44% paycut, especially since Austin is a slightly more expensive city than STL. But then again I would probably enjoy living in Austin much better than I would enjoy living in St. Louis. 

Anyone have any thoughts on how to make a decision here? 

My instinctual advice would be to tell UT your dilemma in order to negotiate, unless they have a fixed stipend for all grad students?

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On 2/25/2020 at 10:49 AM, Coconuts&Chloroform said:

Thought I'd get this started now that a good number of schools have gotten their acceptances out. 

I'm in a tough spot with respect to UT Austin and WashU. UT Austin seems to be a great fit for me, given that my primary interest is in consciousness. Michael Tye, Galen Strawson, and Michelle Montague are all people whose work on consciousness I admire. In fact, UT Austin is probably the best fit for me overall aside from NYU (fingers crossed). WashU is still a great fit, since I'd be doing the PNP program, but cognitive science is really my second AOI. UT is also a bit higher-ranked than WashU overall.

However, UT has offered me 15 grand over six years, and WashU has offered me 27. I'm not sure that I can convince myself that the merits of UT are worth a 44% paycut, especially since Austin is a slightly more expensive city than STL. But then again I would probably enjoy living in Austin much better than I would enjoy living in St. Louis. 

Anyone have any thoughts on how to make a decision here? 

This is a drastic difference. Are you meant to pay your fees out of the 27 or out of the 15?

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6 hours ago, Mooo said:

My instinctual advice would be to tell UT your dilemma in order to negotiate, unless they have a fixed stipend for all grad students?

This, also inquire as to if/how students normally go about getting additional funds outside of normal (non-academic) side jobs. TA or solo teaching opportunities vary in availability, not sure how Austin is. Additionally, the graduate school entity (i.e. the bureaucracy that oversees all the grad programs) might provide support in the form of smaller grants/stipends, though these are often competitive. Also worth consideration is the health insurance plans provided by both, as well as any other benefits that are provided by the university that don't make it into the stipend dollar amount.

Overall, I can't possibly weigh the importance of professor fit and whatnot as well as you can, but I would lean towards the higher stipend purely for the reason that greater economic security is a very nice thing for your peace of mind. A few people in my program have expressed anxieties about this to the extent that it affects their coursework/research, which would completely undermine your original reasons for choosing the lower-stipend school. /2cents

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23 hours ago, Mooo said:

My instinctual advice would be to tell UT your dilemma in order to negotiate, unless they have a fixed stipend for all grad students?

This was my thought too, and the only thing preventing me from doing it is this: I still haven't heard back from some programs that I might accept over UT Austin, e.g. NYU, Harvard, possibly CUNY or Stanford. It have a feeling that it might be a bit rude to try to negotiate with them, only to turn them down anyway later on. This would especially be the case if they do up the offer. Any thoughts on this?

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4 hours ago, Coconuts&Chloroform said:

This was my thought too, and the only thing preventing me from doing it is this: I still haven't heard back from some programs that I might accept over UT Austin, e.g. NYU, Harvard, possibly CUNY or Stanford. It have a feeling that it might be a bit rude to try to negotiate with them, only to turn them down anyway later on. This would especially be the case if they do up the offer. Any thoughts on this?

It seems to me like the best course of action would simply be to wait to negotiate until you've heard back from those programs.

You could also mention having concerns about the livability of the stipend in a general sense if/when you visit or via phone call or something. They might then offer some more information that helps you work towards a decision (the sorts of things that HopOnMyCrates mentioned - grants, additional teaching, smaller fellowship funding, other financial benefits).

But, I mean, you have over a month before you have to decide. I would think that the only reason to decline before hearing back from other programs would be if you knew that it were absolutely impossible for you to afford living in Austin on that stipend. And that depends on things specific to you, like existing debt, anticipated or ongoing medical/other costs, what sort of living situation you are comfortable with, etc. 

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On 2/25/2020 at 10:49 AM, Coconuts&Chloroform said:

Thought I'd get this started now that a good number of schools have gotten their acceptances out. 

I'm in a tough spot with respect to UT Austin and WashU. UT Austin seems to be a great fit for me, given that my primary interest is in consciousness. Michael Tye, Galen Strawson, and Michelle Montague are all people whose work on consciousness I admire. In fact, UT Austin is probably the best fit for me overall aside from NYU (fingers crossed). WashU is still a great fit, since I'd be doing the PNP program, but cognitive science is really my second AOI. UT is also a bit higher-ranked than WashU overall.

However, UT has offered me 15 grand over six years, and WashU has offered me 27. I'm not sure that I can convince myself that the merits of UT are worth a 44% paycut, especially since Austin is a slightly more expensive city than STL. But then again I would probably enjoy living in Austin much better than I would enjoy living in St. Louis. 

Anyone have any thoughts on how to make a decision here? 

You must have a masters. I am getting an even worse deal. On purely academic grounds, I would likely choose UT over nearly any school besides MIT; financially, I have no idea whether or not I have any real reason to attend unless I receive no further acceptances or am somehow further lowballed.  I just got off the phone with a faculty member at UT who expressed a significant desire for my presence in the program. From what I know and his description, UT really seems like an ideal place to study the philosophy of language, and some of the dimensions of the program were hard not to go gaga at. I am not looking forward to providing such a wonderful department with a financial ultimatum, but it is seeming increasingly likely that I will be left with little choice. I should have foreseen having to choose between learning and money, but of course in my naivety I did not. If another school, say USC, offers me a better deal, I don't see what options I would have than to negotiate and take my business elsewhere if talks fall through. I just can't justify living on $13,000 a year for the rest of my 20s. 

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On 2/26/2020 at 4:48 PM, strongkleeneevalscheme said:

You must have a masters. I am getting an even worse deal. On purely academic grounds, I would likely choose UT over nearly any school besides Pitt and MIT; financially, I have no idea whether or not I have any real reason to attend unless I receive no further acceptances or am somehow further lowballed.  I just got off the phone with a faculty member at UT who expressed a significant desire for my presence in the program. From what I know and his description, UT really seems like an ideal place to study the philosophy of language, and some of the dimensions of the program were hard not to go gaga at. I am not looking forward to providing such a wonderful department with a financial ultimatum, but it is seeming increasingly likely that I will be left with little choice. I should have foreseen having to choose between learning and money, but of course in my naivety I did not. If another school, say USC, offers me a better deal, I don't see what options I would have than to negotiate and take my business elsewhere if talks fall through. I just can't justify living on $13,000 a year for the rest of my 20s. 

I do indeed have a masters (or, at any rate, will once I enter the program). I'm sorry to hear about the pittance that you've been offered. 

This is such a frustrating situation. As you say, it is an incredibly enticing program in literally all respects but the financial one.  I will probably try to negotiate with them in the near future, but I don't think that much will come of it, and not for any fault of theirs: if they had more money that they could spend on their incoming PhD students, I suspect that they would simply have funneled that money into their offers, low as they are. Maybe this isn't right, but it seems sadly likely. 

I just don't understand how the administrators who have decided to fix the stipends for Philosophy PhDs can allow this to go on. UT is one of the best programs in the country - in my view it's substantially stronger than its PGR ranking - and yet its stipend is commensurate to that of programs that aren't even ranked.

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On 2/25/2020 at 10:49 AM, Coconuts&Chloroform said:

Thought I'd get this started now that a good number of schools have gotten their acceptances out. 

I'm in a tough spot with respect to UT Austin and Wash U. UT Austin seems to be a great fit for me, given that my primary interest is in consciousness. Michael Tye, Galen Strawson, and Michelle Montague are all people whose work on consciousness I admire. In fact, UT Austin is probably the best fit for me overall aside from NYU (fingers crossed). Wash U is still a great fit, since I'd be doing the PNP program, but cognitive science is really my second AOI. UT is also a bit higher-ranked than Wash U overall.

However, UT has offered me 15 grand over six years, and Wash U has offered me 27. I'm not sure that I can convince myself that the merits of UT are worth a 44% paycut, especially since Austin is a slightly more expensive city than STL. But then again I would probably enjoy living in Austin much better than I would enjoy living in St. Louis. 

Anyone have any thoughts on how to make a decision here? 

I don’t want to give out too much information about myself, so I will merely say that I'm someone who’s either currently at some PhD program at UT in the College of Liberal Arts, or who has graduated from such a program--or left it--within the past years. What I will say here is based, first, on my experience as a PhD student who is deeply interested in philosophy and is well-informed about philosophy programs and admissions, and secondly, on conversations that I’ve had with philosophy PhD students at UT. I am someone with first-hand experience of the funding situation at COLA, and I can confirm with a very high degree of confidence that everything that I will say here applies to the philosophy department, which shows very similar patterns with respect to funding as other COLA departments (for instance, the funding situation in philosophy is quite similar to that in psychology, history, and the French and Italian department). Also, this will be a ridiculously long post. But given your strong interest in obtaining information on what’s going on with UT, I feel the length is justified.

Now first of all, I would like to congratulate you on your offers from WUSTL and UT. This speaks very well of you as an applicant. The list of programs that you're applying to is an ambitious one, but the two offers you've had so far constitute a reason for some optimism. I would also like to clarify that almost none of what I will say below reflects on the staff or the faculty at UT, who are overall quite excellent and supportive. I'm very fond of them, and what I will say below is mostly an indictment of COLA and UT admin. (That said, there ARE some systematic issues within various departments at UT which are not the fault of any particular individuals, but for which the individual departments as a whole do seem to have some responsibility. This is quite understandable, though. No place is perfect).

Also, very importantly, this doesn't mean that UT doesn’t have a philosophy program that might be worth attending for many people. From what I’ve heard, it offers a great education in a relatively healthy environment (there are some climate issues, but they have been improving, and unfortunately, this is a problem that almost every philosophy department faces). It also offers modest, but still realistic, job prospects. Moreover, I am told that it has some tremendous strengths in various areas of ‘core’ philosophy. All this means that it won’t be entirely ruled out as a sensible choice for many applicants.

With all this in mind, I will state in the following some negative issues concerning funding that affect COLA in general, and the philosophy department insofar as it is a member of COLA. The philosophy program at UT has a great reputation, but as things stand, the funding is low enough that, unfortunately, many students will probably find that it is a significant factor weighing against UT program-choice wise.

In a nutshell: The funding situation at UT--subject to some qualifications having to do with occasional additional sources of funding--is very, very dire, and in my mind, extremely unjustified given the high ranking of many programs at UT’s COLA, including the philosophy department. I can avow that, at least in my program, the responsibility for this is entirely due to COLA. The professors, staff and students are great, and this awful funding situation is there despite the tremendous efforts of the staff and the professors to redress it. But unfortunately, there are few signs of improvement in sight in the short term. UT is a great place to do a humanities PhD in many respects, and it will be a perfectly sensible choice for many people. But you need to think things through very carefully if you are only offered the basic funding package, especially if you have better funded offers from other high-ranking departments with a good placement that would be a good fit for you.

I hate to say things that may discourage some people from accepting a UT offer, and making this post was a difficult choice. But the funding situation is something that has to be brought into the light and that needs to be addressed, in the interest of openness and in the interest of fairness to graduate students in general. I will explain now why the funding situation is so bad. In my opinion, COLA has created a punitive system that borders on being exploitative and that has deleterious effects which go beyond the fact that students receive very limited financial support. This post is made entirely in good faith, and my only hope is that it will make some difference, however small.

To begin with, you mention that you’ve been offered 15k per year. This is what students with a Master's get as part of the basic funding package at COLA. Sadly, it can be even worse. Students without a Master’s get only $13,700. This is without discounting taxes (luckily in Texas you only pay federal taxes). Now this certainly sounds low, but that alone doesn't capture the whole extent of the funding inadequacy.

First, in absolute terms: The cost of living in Austin is very high, and it's ever-hiking. For one thing, lots of very well-paid people are moving there for tech, etc. For another thing, student enrollment is also increasing, which again leads to higher demand. 15k is extremely little money. We're talking about $1,162.50 per month after taxes. To give you an idea of how a short way that goes, the rent for a very ‘modest’ one-person studio (a very small place with hardly any comfort) is at the very least $800 if you want to live within cycling distance from campus. Which means that if you want to have a more-or-less comfortable standard of living with your UT stipend, you'll have to share with at least two more people and live away from campus, at say, a 30-minute bus commute. Once you do that, the stipend does become livable. Your rent will be around $500, and you can find yourself a good gig with some nice fellow students. But the point is, unless you have other sources of income, you will not be able to live as an independent adult. You're going to have to keep playing the rooming game for the foreseeable future. Without a Master’s your income decreases by about $100 more, so the situation is even worse.

Second, in relative terms: Many other universities with top liberal art programs have much better funding than UT. Many of these places give you almost twice as much funding. And many of these places have lower costs of living. Furthermore, the reason is not because UT isn’t a wealthy Ivy that couldn’t possibly compete with those places. UNC, Pittsburgh, and Rutgers are all state schools with funds and overall reputation comparable to UT, yet UT is the only philosophy program that pays its grad students so little. Why is UT the only one that can't measure up to those standards?

So the money at UT is low, both in absolute terms (here I mean what you can do with the money in Austin, not in the sense of ‘disregarding geographical cost of living variations’) and in relative terms, compared to other universities with top humanities programs. That’s not the whole of it, though. There is a high probability that you will be severely overworked at several points during your PhD. The key thing here is: UT is a massive state university. Very often, enrollment in the courses students TA/AI for are very high, so you'll have a lot of work to do. For instance, if you're a 'reader' (basically a TA, but you only grade exams), you could find yourself with up to 80 students to grade. Imagine you have to grade 4 essay assignments for 80 students throughout the semester, plus holding office hours, plus attending lectures, plus keeping up with the lectures’ material. All in your first semester. This is, to be fair, the absolute worst that could happen, since there is a cap at 80 students per reader. But it happens regularly, and every semester one or two unlucky students across several COLA departments find themselves in this dire situation.

There are also disparities in the funding distribution, which seem arbitrary and unfair to many students. As mentioned, all students with a Master's make more. Students with an AI-ship make yet a bit more (still a very low amount). Perhaps this has some justification, since UT is a state school, and it probably is required to have some qualifications-based compensation scheme. But there are other variations in funding that seem more problematic.

A very great additional source of disparity in funding comes from 'competitive' fellowships that COLA assigns. That there are such fellowships might sound like good news, and it is, to some extent, since it means that at least some students do receive a more acceptable level of funding. But the structuring and allocation of these fellowships is deeply flawed in many respects. Let’s have a look at what the situation is.

Fellowships fall into two categories. First, there are certain recruitment fellowships that some people are offered when they start their program. Some of these are fairly decent. Some of them come with 20k per year, some even with 30k per year. Some of them come as well with two years free of teaching. The problem is that it's extremely opaque how these recruitment fellowships are allocated. Sometimes, there is a year where, inexplicably, 3 out of 8 people are in this sort of fellowship in a given department. Then another year, no one is. Then another year, people in some department get a one-off $5000 bonus for the first year, and sometimes also for the second year, etc., as a sort of mini-recruitment incentive and instead of getting a full-blown fellowship. But again, the whole process comes across as very opaque. Sometimes people get this extra funding because they have offers from other places, sometimes it's because they negotiate, sometimes it's because they seem 'promising'. (UT has many excellent students, but I think it would be fair to say that the consensus among COLA students, including those on recruitment fellowships, is that it’s not clear at all that the fellowship recipients are systematically more promising or more achieved than non-recipients. And overall, who receives or not a recruitment fellowship is a very poor indication of who will be more successful in the program.)

I won't go into many details concerning these recruitment fellowships, again, to protect my identity. I neither claim nor disavow to have benefited from any of this additional funding. However, one thing I can tell you is that almost every student would agree with my assessment that the process of allocation is very opaque. In fact, people often have no idea that other people are getting so much less or so much more money until they find out about it by coincidence.

There are also some continuing fellowships. Each semester two or three of these are awarded in each COLA department. They carry a 10k award and a temporary respite from teaching duties. The allocation of these is a bit less obscure and more meritocratic. But they're not that generous, and you should only expect to receive them once, during one semester, in your entire PhD. (Contrast this with how students at many other top universities have a guaranteed two years of teaching-free fellowship.) Also, many cohorts have more than 6 people, so out of sheer arithmetic some people will never get these fellowships. Very occasionally, people also get a very generous one-year scholarship from COLA, but those are a far shot, and should carry minimal weight in evaluating the funding prospects at UT.

In any case, the take-away from these disparities in funding among students is this: Some of the extra funding allocations, particularly the special recruitment scholarships, are enough to leave those few students who receive them with a funding package comparable to what other top humanities programs at highly regarded universities offer. But most people won't get that extra funding, and they will have to make do with very paltry funding. Furthermore, the funding disparity is very pronounced, all but random, it is the result of an opaque process, and it introduces a seemingly arbitrary rift between, so to say, a group of haves and a group of have-nots among the students. This does give rise to some tensions in an otherwise fairly healthy graduate student community. Also, I see little justification for creating these disparities. I have never seen anyone reject an offer from a top 10 program in their area just because UT gave them a generous recruitment scholarship, so there isn't even the justification that such incentives are being used to attract particularly strong candidates who'd otherwise go elsewhere. At most, it may influence someone's choice to go to UT instead of another program which is more or less equal in terms of reputation, or instead of a less highly regarded program that would nevertheless be an excellent fit for them. Creating such a strong disparity among graduate students seems to me a high price to pay for such a marginal potential benefit.

Furthermore, there are very little funding opportunities for the summer across COLA (two or three spots every year), and they are allocated (this time more understandably) in very haphazard ways.

About tuition fees: You’re guaranteed a significant remission, but there’s still a non-negligible gap left of a few hundred dollars. Usually, the staff at some departments manage to get COLA to give them extra funding to cover the gap, but this is not at all guaranteed. Therefore, sometimes you'll have to cover the gap out of pocket at the beginning of the semester. Also, international students have a whole host of extra costs to deal with out of pocket, so you should bear that in mind if that applies to you.

The one thing that is decent is insurance, which doesn't have such terrible co-pays, etc.

So this is the funding situation. Inadequate, unequal, unprincipled, opaque. Yes, it's very bad, and quite unusually bad, even among humanities programs, given the high reputation of UT’s COLA departments. Moreover, the funding situation has a real impact in the overall program quality.

For one thing, unless you are one of the lucky few with additional funding, your quality of life will be low without other sources of income. You'll have to live fairly modestly, and you'll be stressed. The housing market in Austin is very tough, and even tougher without money. Also, many other students will have more resources than you. Most STEM PhDs make vastly better wages than COLA students. There are many rich kids at the undergrad level. This means that you're one of the poorer people in the market (apart from the poorest bracket of undergraduates who can’t even afford a private room). This will considerably increase the stress associated with finding adequate housing. And unless you're independently wealthy, you might have to work in the summer, which takes away time that you could be spending on your PhD. Inevitably, this damages the COLA programs because it undercuts student performance.

Also, as I said, the funding situation is very unequal. People are unhappy about this. I’ve met philosophy graduate students. They get along very well, and the people on fellowship would never lord it over the students not on fellowship. But all students aware of the unequal distribution of funding, and it makes things at least a little bit tense. Furthermore, as already said, the allocation is opaque and it seems to have little justification in terms of recruiting good students. Moreover, people feel undercompensated relative to other top-notch programs. It really, really hurts when students from other departments visit and people at UT learn just how much better humanities students have it elsewhere. Usually, the visiting students just can’t believe how bad it is at UT. I’ve seen it, and it is pretty messed up. And overall, people feel undervalued. Some people, I gather, even feel like UT is exploiting them by using them as cheap grad student labor.

Plus, this all has a clear effect on recruiting. The philosophy department lists on its website its acceptance rate as '1 in 16'. (Apologies to whoever made that decision. I understand that other departments report their numbers similarly, so UT must do so as well in order to avoid being left at a disadvantage.) However, the offer rate is 1 in 8. The reason is they have to give out twice as many offers as they have spots, in order to fill them up. This is extremely puzzling for an excellent program that has recently been making senior hires like crazy and that Brian Leiter, a prominent philosophy blogger, has singled out as on-the-rise. The reason, sadly, is the low funding. People who have offers from other top departments usually just choose not to attend UT simply because the funding is better elsewhere. The recruitment scholarships try to make up for this. But the reality is, again, that UT’s humanities programs are very good, but they are, for the most part, not the absolute best, and it would be extremely difficult for someone admitted at a program at the absolute pinnacle of its area to be swayed by a COLA fellowship. Also, it is very hard to make sure that the fellowships do go to the best candidates who are considering other programs at a similar level of desirability as UT’s COLA programs. Inevitably, the fellowship allocations end up scaring away sometimes very good candidates by giving instead the scholarships to candidates that turn out to be less good in the end.

Now many of the students at UT are very good. Everyone I’ve spoken to agrees that UT certainly has a student body worthy of a high-flying university all across COLA. But the truth is, many of the better candidates choose not to accept UT’s offer. Which, unfortunately, does mean that UT doesn’t end up with as many strong students as other places whose overall reputation is comparable to UT’s. Moreover, many students are overworked and under financial strain, as I said. People aren't able to focus enough on publications and CV building. The funding for conferences, etc., is also limited. Hence, UT students in general underperform in publications and job placement relative to what you’d expect from students at a department with so much potential.

(Here, a small aside: You wonder why UT does this rather than recruit fewer, better-funded students. But the issue is that UT needs an army of TAs to do the work. UT has a lot, a lot of undergraduate students in very large classes. So there have to be at the very least 55 graduate students or so at any given time. The problem is especially pronounced in philosophy. Just to give you an idea, even with many people having to TA for courses with over 50 students--sometimes even 80--on their own, this is not enough. Sometimes the philosophy department has to get students from other programs to TA for the philosophy courses, including literature students, etc. So, plain and simple, UT is recruiting large swathes of underpaid and exploited graduate students in order to be able to cater to their humongous undergraduate student body. For more details on how bad the situation is, just look up the student protests that have been taking place recently at UT and the totally disappointing response by UT admin.)

So the situation is very bad. Atrociously bad funding with very real effects on the program quality. Now, you occasionally hear that it’s not too bad, since there are many positive things to UT’s philosophy department. This is quite true, but I think it is important to be realistic about UT’s limitations. (The following is based on my conversations with philosophy people and on my own research.)

Something that is often mentioned is UT’s placement record. But truth be told, it is, at best, a very shaky record for a top 20 department in philosophy. UT’s had some excellent people who've placed in departments like Notre Dame, Northwestern, UC Davis, St Andrews, Claremont, Yale NUS, CUNY. But something like that happens about twice every three years. So only about 1 in 15 people get a top deal like that. The rest of the people get mostly very modest TT appointments at places without a graduate program, if they do manage to get a TT appointment. Many people end up only with postdocs, and many just leave the profession altogether. Only 50% end up with a permanent appointment. It saddens me to say it, but most other top-20 departments in philosophy have a noticeably better placement.

A qualification: UT’s placement is better than that of most non-top 20 programs, so you are still indeed better off at UT in this regard than outside of the top 20, and especially outside of the top 25. But you need to be aware of the harsh fact that you will only get a good job coming out of UT if you’re the absolute best in your year. Also, note that I have overall been assuming that you’re aiming for the kind of job that students in top 20 departments usually want to get. If you really want to teach, etc., your views on how good UT’s placement is might be different. And as always, you should bear in mind that rankings are only a rough guide to how good a program might be for you and for your job prospects. There is a tendency for the better departments to study at to be near the top, but this is only one data point, and you should always make a holistic assessment of departments.

People also bring up the fact that UT has recruited three senior people in the past year in philosophy. This is true, and these people are excellent. This is exactly the kind of thing that UT should be doing! There are rumors (endorsed by Leiter) that this will catapult UT into the top 15. This, indeed, could, and should, happen, given how good the faculty and the new hires are. But you need to take into account that a lot of the senior faculty members at UT are retiring soon. I have it on good authority that Michael Tye and Galen Strawson, whom you mention, seem safe in this regard. But at least five very senior faculty members have all either confirmed their retirement or are close to it, from what I’ve heard from various philosophy people. True, many other people in other places are close to retirement. I don't imagine McDowell, Kripke, Field, etc. will occupy full-time positions much longer. But it remains to be seen how the rankings will react to all these shifts, and whether UT's new hires will be enough to leave it in the top 15, or whether UT will only manage to maintain its top 20 status due to the inevitable retirements coming down the road. (Again, I’m assuming you care about rankings.)

Also, people sometimes highlight how the funding package lasts 6 years, as opposed to 5. But the thing is, 6 years under a crushing excess of workload plus maybe, just maybe, one semester of fellowship simply doesn’t stack up favorably against the 5 years of generous funding with a light workload and two years free of teaching duties that you’d get at some other places. Many students fail to finish their PhD within 6 years, and when the funding runs out, they are in a very dire situation. This is because many people won't have Texas residence, so the fees hike, etc. (since being a TA doesn't count towards establishing residence). So I’d say that, all things considered, 6th year funding doesn’t make up for the deficiencies in the basic funding packages.

About the only good thing that comes out of all this is that you’ll get a lot of teaching experience. That helps. For example, many students at MIT and NYU get very little teaching experience, and this occasionally lowers their job prospects. But this is a relatively small advantage that UT offers. The reason is that UT is stuck in a very awkward middle. Due to prestige bias, the students are not seen as good enough to consistently have a decent shot at research jobs (7% vs the 40% success rate of MIT/NYU), but they are seen as ‘too good’ for teaching jobs such as those found at community colleges, etc., where they’d be considered a flight risk.

So what’s the take-away from all this? I’d say: UT’s subpar funding means that its philosophy PhD program is not what a top PhD program should be in every respect. You’d think its being in the top 20 and making all these excellent new hires would mean that it is, but it is not. Despite the awesomeness of the faculty and staff, the bad funding and general COLA/UT admin crappiness undermine, to a non-negligible extent, the many positive aspects of the department. And it’s not just a little bad funding-wise. Given UT’s top-20 status in philosophy and in other COLA departments, the funding situation is, quite frankly, nothing short of a disgrace. Of course, I’m sure the philosophy department is still a good enough program overall to count as worth pursuing under certain circumstances, especially since it seems that the faculty are great, and they will give you a great education. (At least that was my experience in my own program.) If you manage to secure a special recruitment fellowship, then it certainly can be a very attractive offer which is worth accepting. And you will have at least some chance of getting a good job. But you need to think things through very, very carefully if you don’t have additional funding.

So if you feel like you MUST do a PhD (which is why almost all of us end up irrationally doing a PhD, ignoring all the odds against us), AND if you have no other offers from a comparable program with better funding, then I’d say, yes, you should do it. You will struggle, you’ll be stressed and you’ll feel undervalued relative to other students from top-notch departments. Still, you’re better off at UT than in a place that is too lowly ranked and/or not a good fit, assuming you’ll do a PhD anyway. BUT if you have an offer from another top 25 program with strengths in your area, or from a place that would be a particularly good fit (even if unranked), I would think about the UT offer really, really carefully unless you’re independently wealthy, etc., and/or you really feel like you have to work with someone there and/or you get one of the special fellowships.

About WUSTL: I would say that 27k offer will go a very, very long way. Unless you can negotiate a better offer and you really want to work with UT’s mind people, I would say: think about it very, very carefully. It totally is the case that you might be better off at WUSTL. If you get any top 20 offers from places with strengths in your area, you should take them, unless there’s a very strong reason against them. The prestige bias is so overwhelming that you’d most certainly be better off there, even if UT offers you a fellowship.

Finally, once more, I want to emphasize that every department in COLA has great people, including the staff, the faculty and the student. Pretty much all the problems that I described have to do with COLA and with UT admin, and they exist despite the great people that you find within every individual department. Unfortunately, UT Austin admin just doesn’t care about its humanities graduate students, and it’s letting down many excellent people that deserve to be in an environment where they can thrive free of financial stress.

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I want to thank you very much for writing all of that out for us. I have been going through any number of mental cycles over the past few days trying to wrap my mind around the essentially unlivable financial offer that I received from UT, and take much solace in knowing that the chump change they offered me was emblematic of some larger structural defects/antagonisms of the college of liberal arts (rather than an indication of my value as a student). Unfortunately, I absolutely adore the resources that I would have access to as a student there, but hearing that I am not alone in this predicament gives me much sobriety in informing my contacts on faculty that I cannot in good conscience entertain their offer as is. 

Edited by strongkleeneevalscheme

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On 2/27/2020 at 10:14 PM, Flossifer said:

Dear lord, after reading that I don't think anyone on this forum is ever going to UT again.

I just want to emphasize: UT is totally worth attending if you get the special extra funding, and it's still better than any non-top 25 department. But yes, it is very hard, without being offered special funding, to justify accepting an offer from them especially if you have an offer from another top 25.

On 2/27/2020 at 10:29 PM, strongkleeneevalscheme said:

I want to thank you very much for writing all of that out for us. I have been going through any number of mental cycles over the past few days trying to wrap my mind around the essentially unlivable financial offer that I received from UT, and take much solace in knowing that the chump change they offered me was emblematic of some larger structural defects/antagonisms of the college of liberal arts (rather than an indication of my value as a student). Unfortunately, I absolutely adore the resources that I would have access to as a student there, but hearing that I am not alone in this predicament gives me much sobriety in informing my contacts on faculty that I cannot in good conscience entertain their offer as is. 

Yes, you should try to negotiate. Everyone at UT will concur on this advice. And absolutely: the crappy funding offer doesn't mean that the department doesn't want you. They are very serious about recruiting good students, and you'd certainly be valued if you took up the offer. But their hands are tied by the system.

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3 hours ago, On UT's funding said:

I don’t want to give out too much information about myself, so I will merely say that I'm someone who’s either currently at the UT program, or who has graduated from it--or left it--within the past years. (For this reason, sometimes I will speak as if am still at UT, and sometimes I will speak as if I’m not there anymore.) Whichever of these it is, suffice to say that I have very good grounds for the claims that I'll be making here. Also, this will be a ridiculously long post. But given your strong interest in obtaining information on what’s going on with UT, I feel the lenght is justified.

...

My goodness.

Thanks for the extremely informative and honest post. Clearly this took you quite a while to write up, and your efforts are appreciated.

All I can say in response is that I'll do my damnedest to see if I can get the department to increase their offer. I'd hate to be a have among have-nots, but I really am attracted to the faculty. Thankfully, I am (modestly) independently wealthy, and I've already thought about using my trust and inheritance money to help fund myself if I end up accepting at UT. Still, grading 80 undergraduates per semester sounds absolutely ridiculous, if that is what my offer is contingent upon. No financial considerations can outweigh that, in my view. I do not see how it is even possible for one to spend an adequate amount of time on coursework and research while doing that much grading. That is equivalent to TAing about four courses at once here at Tufts.

One further question: can you offer any advice on how best to broach this issue with the department? I really have no experience in negotiation, and I especially do not want to create any sort of antagonism between myself and the people at the department. But these issues must be addressed, and I owe it to myself to try to obtain the best offer that I can. So if you have anything to say that might help me in this regard, I'd really appreciate it.

Edited by Coconuts&Chloroform

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Alright, so, good to hear about UT Austin because I didn't apply there. I did know about the residency issues, but not all the rest of this. Because I kept seeing references to ranking repeated over and over in the post, I felt like making an account and replying to the thread.

Let me say this: After a year and a half of researching programs prior to applying, I believe that relying entirely on the PGR in evaluating what programs to apply to and/or attend is incredibly foolish. Of course, it would be equally foolish not to look at the PGR at all.

There are programs with excellent placement ratings in terms of actual job security in a place you can actually afford to live in with excellent faculty, excellent pedagogical training, etc. that are ranked lower on the PGR - or even not ranked at all. Most people are not going to ever find themselves in tenured position at a prestigious R1 university, and a lot of applicants should ask themselves if that's actually what they even want to do in the first place! I attended a SLAC with unusually good PhD placement for the size of its philosophy department. I have also audited undergraduate classes taught by faculty/grad students at a school within the PGR's top 30. I can say that the TAs are not developing their pedagogical skills much at all, which is going to crush them on the job market because they will likely find themselves applying to jobs that are primarily teaching positions. I know people at other departments farther down the list that will not face this problem, because the department prioritizes the development of teaching skills. Point blank: it's complicated.

There’s no list of PhD programs that perfectly suits you and your interests. However, since you’re committing to six-years of substantial intellectual labor, it makes sense to spend several hours over a period of months scouring department websites and CVs, etc. Otherwise, you could make an extremely expensive and time-consuming mistake. The PGR doesn’t tell you anything about faculty-student ratios, teacher training, preparation for the job market, or placement – those are all presumably optimal. It also has a clear bias against particular research areas, or approaches within them. At the end of the day, rankings help to assuage the anxiety that goes along with any risk. A list might successfully convince you that the surefire way to avoid making a mistake is obsessive-compulsive checking, list-making, and hierarchical ordering, but it should be noted that not even the PGR intends to fulfill that longing for some mode of existence where everything is reducible to well-calculated pseudo-risks.

I have a document on my computer at work with some helpful links to consider along with the PGR, so I'll paste those here. I neglected to post specific SPEP lists since I would assume any of us with such interests have already seen those.

o   https://www.philosophynews.com/post/2013/11/29/Graduate-School-Placements-in-Philosophy-Continental-Programs-Job-Type-Placements.aspx

o   https://www.philosophynews.com/post/2013/10/23/Graduate-School-Philosophy-Placement-Records-In-the-USCA-Prestige-Placement-Rankings.aspx

·         Academic Placement Data and Analysis – far more in depth than the Leiter report. Dense, but well worth your time.

Edited by you'll_never_get_to_heaven

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10 hours ago, Coconuts&Chloroform said:

My goodness.

Thanks for the extremely informative and honest post. Clearly this took you quite a while to write up, and your efforts are appreciated.

All I can say in response is that I'll do my damnedest to see if I can get the department to increase their offer. I'd hate to be a have among have-nots, but I really am attracted to the faculty. Thankfully, I am (modestly) independently wealthy, and I've already thought about using my trust and inheritance money to help fund myself if I end up accepting at UT. Still, grading 80 undergraduates per semester sounds absolutely ridiculous, if that is what my offer is contingent upon. No financial considerations can outweigh that, in my view. I do not see how it is even possible for one to spend an adequate amount of time on coursework and research while doing that much grading. That is equivalent to TAing about four courses at once here at Tufts.

One further question: can you offer any advice on how best to broach this issue with the department? I really have no experience in negotiation, and I especially do not want to create any sort of antagonism between myself and the people at the department. But these issues must be addressed, and I owe it to myself to try to obtain the best offer that I can. So if you have anything to say that might help me in this regard, I'd really appreciate it.

The graduate students at UT are in general very overworked, but I should clarify that having 80 students to grade is the maximum permitted allocation. It does happen on a regular basis, but it only happens to the most unlucky students in any given semester. Usually the workload is more around 40-50 students, but that’s still very high.

About negotiation: I should mention that UT is absolutely expecting for people to negotiate. It happens every year. Overall the best thing to do is to make your interest in the program clear, to explain why the funding offer isn’t adequate, and to emphasize that you have other offers. Frame it in terms of a conflict: you want to go to UT, but the funding situation is making the choice really hard for you.

1 hour ago, you'll_never_get_to_heaven said:

Alright, so, good to hear about UT Austin because I didn't apply there. I did know about the residency issues, but not all the rest of this. Because I kept seeing references to ranking repeated over and over in the post, I felt like making an account and replying to the thread.

Let me say this: After a year and a half of researching programs prior to applying, I believe that relying entirely on the PGR in evaluating what programs to apply to and/or attend is incredibly foolish. Of course, it would be equally foolish not to look at the PGR at all.

There are programs with excellent placement ratings in terms of actual job security in a place you can actually afford to live in with excellent faculty, excellent pedagogical training, etc. that are ranked lower on the PGR - or even not ranked at all. Most people are not going to ever find themselves in tenured position at a prestigious R1 university, and a lot of applicants should ask themselves if that's actually what they even want to do in the first place! I attended a SLAC with unusually good PhD placement for the size of its philosophy department. I have also audited undergraduate classes taught by faculty/grad students at a school within the PGR's top 30. I can say that the TAs are not developing their pedagogical skills much at all, which is going to crush them on the job market because they will likely find themselves applying to jobs that are primarily teaching positions. I know people at other departments farther down the list that will not face this problem, because the department prioritizes the development of teaching skills. Point blank: it's complicated.

There’s no list of PhD programs that perfectly suits you and your interests. However, since you’re committing to six-years of substantial intellectual labor, it makes sense to spend several hours over a period of months scouring department websites and CVs, etc. Otherwise, you could make an extremely expensive and time-consuming mistake. The PGR doesn’t tell you anything about faculty-student ratios, teacher training, preparation for the job market, or placement – those are all presumably optimal. It also has a clear bias against particular research areas, or approaches within them. At the end of the day, rankings help to assuage the anxiety that goes along with any risk. A list might successfully convince you that the surefire way to avoid making a mistake is obsessive-compulsive checking, list-making, and hierarchical ordering, but it should be noted that not even the PGR intends to fulfill that longing for some mode of existence where everything is reducible to well-calculated pseudo-risks.

I have a document on my computer at work with some helpful links to consider along with the PGR, so I'll paste those here. I neglected to post specific SPEP lists since I would assume any of us with such interests have already seen those.

o   https://www.philosophynews.com/post/2013/11/29/Graduate-School-Placements-in-Philosophy-Continental-Programs-Job-Type-Placements.aspx

o   https://www.philosophynews.com/post/2013/10/23/Graduate-School-Philosophy-Placement-Records-In-the-USCA-Prestige-Placement-Rankings.aspx

·         Academic Placement Data and Analysis – far more in depth than the Leiter report. Dense, but well worth your time.

Definitely, all this is very important. I was mainly writing under the assumption that my reader cares chiefly about what tends to come with a high PGR ranking. What tends to come with it is mainly prestige, access to elite networks of philosophers and colleagues, and a realistic chance at getting an elite job, either at a research university or at a top liberal arts college (note how most top SLACS do have a majority of instructors from top-ranked programs, especially Ivies-Stanford-MIT. This is EXACTLY what you’d expect from universities whose whole rationale is to be the absolute elite of teaching. The prestige factor is just ineliminable.) If that is what you’re into, I’d say UT is definitely better than any non-top 25 with the exception of Pennsylvania (I might be missing a few stellar programs. Please feel free to correct me. I don’t know about all of them.) (And of course, there is the fact that you may want to do Continental philosophy or to work in a very specialized area such as Chinese philosophy, etc., which completely changes the application landscape.)

On the other hand, if your aim is rather to get any teaching job, or any job at all, then you could very well be better off at a lower ranked, or unranked, program, for the reasons you mention. As I said, most teaching centered places are looking for vast teaching experience, and they see people from highly ranked places as ‘flight risks’.

Edited by On UT's funding

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Hi all.

I graduated in August 2019 with a BA in philosophy (GPA 3.85, major GPA 3.87) from a top public college in NYC, as Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, and Phi Sigma Tau --in all of these instances of receiving honors, my university's philosophy department nominated me. I have applied to 16 PhD programs. I have a stellar/very original/extremely polished writing sample comparing Spinoza and Heidegger, using the latter to interpret the former, and asserting that the former interprets the latter. My GRE scores were 149 Q 152 V and 5.5 AW (the particularly less desireable GRE, can be implicitly explained in my statement of purpose, whereby I explain the fact that I had little to no real education until I was 17 and entered into university, where, I only took 1 math course). My letter writers all know me very well, like me a lot and one of them even teaches at a school I have applied to and is the chair of the department of my undergrad university. My top Choices are Columbia, NYU and the CUNY Grad Center because they are close to home.

Now, I have been rejected so far by 4 programs. What is the likelihood that I will actually get in somewhere given what I am bringing to the table?

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1 hour ago, cheesy_cheese said:

Hi all.

I graduated in August 2019 with a BA in philosophy (GPA 3.85, major GPA 3.87) from a top public college in NYC, as Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, and Phi Sigma Tau --in all of these instances of receiving honors, my university's philosophy department nominated me. I have applied to 16 PhD programs. I have a stellar/very original/extremely polished writing sample comparing Spinoza and Heidegger, using the latter to interpret the former, and asserting that the former interprets the latter. My GRE scores were 149 Q 152 V and 5.5 AW (the particularly less desireable GRE, can be implicitly explained in my statement of purpose, whereby I explain the fact that I had little to no real education until I was 17 and entered into university, where, I only took 1 math course). My letter writers all know me very well, like me a lot and one of them even teaches at a school I have applied to and is the chair of the department of my undergrad university. My top Choices are Columbia, NYU and the CUNY Grad Center because they are close to home.

Now, I have been rejected so far by 4 programs. What is the likelihood that I will actually get in somewhere given what I am bringing to the table?

I understand that you're nervous about admissions, but posting this in all the threads is not the way to go. It distracts from the ongoing conversations.

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