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Doing a philosophy PhD as an English major?


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I am in an English M.A. program right now, and my undergrad degree was in English literature. I am thinking about different directions for a PhD in a couple of years, and philosophy is one of them.

I do not have any formal philosophical coursework or experience, however. I've explored some ideas and books, and videos too, and it seems to be quite a fulfilling field.

Long story short, how realistic or unrealistic would it be for me to apply to philosophy PhD programs in a few years given my background as an English major? Has this been done before? If so, what would it take for me to be competitive? Do philosophy grad students usually have one or two topics of interest (like ethics or epistemology for instance) and apply to programs of that fit? Any suggestions? Perhaps I would just stick to English PhD programs.

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It's not inherently unrealistic - there's no particular reason your English background would stop you from doing good philosophy - but to get into a PhD program, you'll need some training in order to 1) familiarize yourself with the conventions of the field 2) prove that you do well studying philosophy formally. As someone who has done both philosophy and English at different points (feel free to message me if you want more info/specifics), the kind of academic work you do in an English program is nothing like the work you do in a philosophy program. Normally in a situation like this people will recommend an MA in philosophy. If you'd rather not do a second MA (or at the very least take/audit a decent number of philosophy classes), then I won't say getting into a PhD program would be impossible, but it would be very difficult. 

Also, note: exploring some ideas and books and finding them interesting is very different from studying philosophy, or doing philosophy professionally! This is certainly not to say you don't know what you're talking about/you wouldn't actually like it or anything like that - just something to keep in mind as you keep exploring this.

Edited by thursday
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From what I know, you have virtually no chance of being accepted into a PhD program in philosophy with your current qualifications unless you have a writing sample on a topic in philosophy that really knocks the socks of the adcom. In other words, your writing sample would need to be at or near professional quality.

That being said, you stand a strong chance if you do well in a decent 2-year MA program in philosophy. Think NIU, UW-Milwaukee, Georgia State, or a similar program, of the funded programs. If funding is not an issue, then Tufts would be a great option, though its extremely competitive even for high-achieving philosophy majors. Keep in mind that a number of Canadian universities also have great funded MA programs (Simon Fraser, University of Toronto, etc.).

In philosophy admissions, the two most important factors are the writing sample and letters of recommendation. Transcripts are important, GPA plays a minimal role, GRE rarely plays any role these days. An MA program will give you the opportunity to work closely with potential letter-writers, develop a substantial piece of philosophical writing, and get a grip on philosophical methodology. Meaning no offense, if you haven't seriously engaged with philosophy before, it's unlikely that you can, at this point, do philosophy all that well. (But you can certainly learn, practice, and get better!). I must echo Thursday's comment above: "exploring some ideas and books and finding them interesting is very different from studying philosophy, or doing philosophy professionally!"

You should also know, right off the bat, that the admission rate at top programs ranges from 2-4%. At the high-to-mid level programs, that number's closer to 6-12%. At programs lower-ranked than that, you might have a tough time finding a job after your graduate studies (though there are local options in some cases. That's a complex topic that I can't discuss fully here.) Philosophy might be the most competitive field for graduate studies.

Some invaluable resources:

https://www.philosophicalgourmet.com/ and https://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/





Good luck!

Edited by PolPhil
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