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Deciding between philosophy PhD offer and STEM PhD offer


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I've had the good fortune of being accepted to two incredible programs: a PhD in Logic & Philosophy of Science, and a PhD in Cognitive Science. Both programs are at UC Irvine. I'm having an incredibly hard time choosing between them.

The LPS program is really amazing, and I see it as the best intellectual/cultural fit for me. The CogSci program is great too, and I have several fantastic PIs in the department interested in taking me on as a student. I think the two programs would be very different experiences since the CogSci program is structured more like a STEM program while LPS is, well, a philosophy program. Finally I am also concerned about job prospects (esp. with the oncoming worldwide recession/depression). I do want to stay in academia and become a professor (that's the dream), but I'm not naive enough to think that is a guarantee. The CogSci program would allow for much more job flexibility, while from what I can garner, the LPS program is really designed to train future professors and not much else.

I know that this decision will ultimately come down to what want to do in my career, but I'm hoping that getting some advice from you lot will help me collect my thoughts. 

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check out the recent alumni for LPS, I count several software engineers and lawyers and actuaries - so it seems LPS folk might have an easier time on the non-academic market than those coming from a more traditional philosophy program.

https://www.lps.uci.edu/grad/alumni.php

It might be worth trying to chat with a few of them, my recent experience is that people are usually willing to talk with prospective students about their time in grad school.

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15 minutes ago, deep_field said:

check out the recent alumni for LPS, I count several software engineers and lawyers and actuaries - so it seems LPS folk might have an easier time on the non-academic market than those coming from a more traditional philosophy program.

https://www.lps.uci.edu/grad/alumni.php

It might be worth trying to chat with a few of them, my recent experience is that people are usually willing to talk with prospective students about their time in grad school.

Thanks for directing me to that! I am skeptical though, do you think that list is really exhaustive? I have a hard time believing that in some years they are truly only graduating 1 or 2 students. Basically I'm worried about selection bias and over-reporting of favorable outcomes.

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57 minutes ago, shazad said:

Thanks for directing me to that! I am skeptical though, do you think that list is really exhaustive? I have a hard time believing that in some years they are truly only graduating 1 or 2 students. Basically I'm worried about selection bias and over-reporting of favorable outcomes.

Fair enough concern, and I'm not really sure about the standards/requirements for reporting placement outcomes. I do know from a reliable source that the LPS department has grown quite a bit in recent years, so perhaps those earlier cohorts were just smaller to begin with. I would maybe read that alumni list as providing an existence proof - it is possible to get a 'decent' non-academic job coming out of the LPS program, so that might assuage part of your original concern about whether LPS was geared only towards training future professors (of course dependent on whether or not those sorts of non-academic jobs are of any interest to you).

I also share your concerns about the seemingly inevitable economic recession/depression, but assuming both programs are ~6 years it's hard to know what the job market will look like when you graduate. So for example, if you entered grad school in 2008 things would have looked like shit, but maybe they looked slightly less shitty if you then graduated in 2014 (certainly the non-academic job market improved in that time frame).

FWIW I was on that LPS visit with you last month and the faculty seemed open to people exploring/cultivating interdisciplinary interests outside the department, so I suppose it partly depends on how much time you want to spend in a lab vs. elsewhere over the next 6 years. i.e if you were in CogSci you would have to do lab work, and if you were in LPS you probably could do some lab work if you wanted (maybe as part of a masters degree or something). I'm not trying to persuade you one way or the other (especially since I will probably decline my LPS offer), just some thoughts.

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2 hours ago, deep_field said:

FWIW I was on that LPS visit with you last month and the faculty seemed open to people exploring/cultivating interdisciplinary interests outside the department, so I suppose it partly depends on how much time you want to spend in a lab vs. elsewhere over the next 6 years. i.e if you were in CogSci you would have to do lab work, and if you were in LPS you probably could do some lab work if you wanted (maybe as part of a masters degree or something). I'm not trying to persuade you one way or the other (especially since I will probably decline my LPS offer), just some thoughts.

I suspected as much haha. Yes, the LPS faculty seemed very open to interdisciplinary projects if I wanted to pursue that avenue (which I do), so I'm probably making a bigger deal out of this decision than I need to. Still, once graduated, I think people will look very differently upon a Cognitive Science PhD vs a Philosophy of Science PhD. But, as you said, it seems like I could do some experimental work with CogSci collaborators even if I was an LPS student. That's good to keep in mind.

And you're totally right. It's evident that LPS graduates who don't go into academia are still able to find good jobs. Plus, the most recent APDA report says LPS has the best placement record (from 2012-2016) of any philosophy program out there. That statistic may be out of date now due to the recent growth of the department you mentioned, but it's still a great sign.

Just out of curiosity, where are you going to go if you decline the LPS offer?

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1 hour ago, shazad said:

I suspected as much haha. Yes, the LPS faculty seemed very open to interdisciplinary projects if I wanted to pursue that avenue (which I do), so I'm probably making a bigger deal out of this decision than I need to. Still, once graduated, I think people will look very differently upon a Cognitive Science PhD vs a Philosophy of Science PhD. But, as you said, it seems like I could do some experimental work with CogSci collaborators even if I was an LPS student. That's good to keep in mind.

And you're totally right. It's evident that LPS graduates who don't go into academia are still able to find good jobs. Plus, the most recent APDA report says LPS has the best placement record (from 2012-2016) of any philosophy program out there. That statistic may be out of date now due to the recent growth of the department you mentioned, but it's still a great sign.

Just out of curiosity, where are you going to go if you decline the LPS offer?

😁

Here's a few more unsolicited thoughts. Assuming the best case outcome post-PhD is an academic job, I think (as you said) hiring committees will look differently on a CogSci vs. Phil degree. It's likely that if you go the CogSci route you will be hirable in a CogSci/Psych/CS department, but probably not a philosophy department. But if you had a Phil degree you might be able to teach in a CogSci department and Phil department. When I visited UC Davis a number of Phil faculty there were cross-listed in CogSci (and were instrumental in starting the undergrad program itself).

My guess is the placement data is a bit out of date, but that while their placement % may have gone down that might not affect you given your interests. What I mean is that AOI is not reflected in placement %, and that LPS is now graduating so many people who specialize in PhilPhysics that they may end up competing with each other for the limited jobs in that area.

As for your last question, I will most likely be at Pitt HPS which seems like a better fit for me personally - even if they are hundreds of miles from the beach! 😭

Best of luck to you, those are both great programs and you really can't go wrong!!

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On 3/27/2020 at 3:53 PM, deep_field said:

My guess is the placement data is a bit out of date, but that while their placement % may have gone down that might not affect you given your interests. What I mean is that AOI is not reflected in placement %, and that LPS is now graduating so many people who specialize in PhilPhysics that they may end up competing with each other for the limited jobs in that area.

As for your last question, I will most likely be at Pitt HPS which seems like a better fit for me personally - even if they are hundreds of miles from the beach! 😭

Best of luck to you, those are both great programs and you really can't go wrong!!

I had been thinking that I'd be at a disadvantage as a non Phil Physics student (since that is clearly the main strength of the LPS program), but you raise an interesting alternative perspective! Thanks for your input.

Best of luck at Pitt! I'm sure we will run into each other soon enough :)

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