Jump to content

Questions for current grad students feeling generous


superhamdi

Recommended Posts

Hi guys,

 

I thought this may be a useful tool for those of us with questions for any grad students- MA or PhD-- willing to offer up advice This is not limited to, but will probably be dominated by, concerns about application season. 

 

My questions are somewhat general, directed at those for whom this is not the "first rodeo". 

 

First time around, were you accepted to both MA and PhD programs? Say a lower-ranked PhD program and a strong MA, in terms of placement, which did you choose? Is it a stupid idea to choose the MA route to try and get into a better program after? Or did you decide it was wiser to take the bird in the hand?

 

What about those who were only accepted to MA programs? Did you accept those offers, or decline and reapply to either 1) stronger MA or 2) PhD programs the following season, now that you had a better feel for the process? 

 

How did funding play into your decision? IF funding wasn't a factor, would you have chosen otherwise?

 

All opinions welcome! Even those undergrads for whom these circumstances are hypothetical, what would you do in these cases, since it's possible some of us will realize these possibilities, though I hope everyone gets into their top choices!!

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Given the chance I would NOT have opted for a terminal Master's program and thought, meh, I'll apply somewhere else for my PhD when I am done at this awesome place. In my opinion, if your ultimate goal is a PhD, then you want to apply to PhD programs and not bother with MA programs at all (no matter how attractive they may be). It will save you a lot of time, money, and aggravation. Plus, a lot of places are far more likely to fund doctoral students as opposed to someone pursuing a Master's. I wouldn't be too distracted by rankings either (although some would dispute this, sinply my opinion). A program should be right for you individually, rankings are great but they don't take into account the specificity of what YOU want to work on and/or what is most important to you in a program. My Master's program was at a private, expensive school, my undergrad was at a public, state school and was a much better experience, I learned a lot more, had far more individual attention, unparalleled support from faculty with whom I still keep in touch and who were very invested in me as their student. This might not work for everyone, but if I had a do-over, that's what I would do. I know people who are on the job market now who attended Ivies, and their chief complaint is that no one prepared them for anything outside of the classroom as far as gaining employment. This might not be true of all of them, but with several I know it is a concern. One colleague didn't get the tenure track position that someone who attended a non-Ivy secured. Something to consider.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I got a funding-pending PhD offer from Catholic University, along with an unfunded Master's offer from Marquette and a partially funded Master's offer from Duquesne.  Though Duquesne was a better fit, if Catholic had ever committed to some kind of funding, I would have taken the offer.  Because they left the money issue unanswered for way too long, I had to commit to Duquesne, which was going to be cheap after scholarship.

 

My advice would be to not take an unfunded PhD offer ever, but especially if a Master's program is offering you a good scholarship.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is something I struggled with before attending a funded masters program.  I was waitlisted at 3 lower ranked PhD programs and offered funded positions in 4 prominent MA programs, but ultimately didn't get into the PhD (making my choice easier).  In my opinion, to take a MA over a good PhD (say, lower ranked or unranked with good placement) would be a big mistake.  While MA programs are a great help in preparing for programs, they are not guarantees.  Also note, programs in the PGR with low rankings (40's) have virtually identical placement records to those 20 points higher (obviously the specific program will matter).  It seems to me that turning down a 44 ranked program for the hopes of a 30 ranked program would be rather futile.  Your job prospects will not be much better served, and there is no certainty of getting into those higher programs.  Also, if you are thinking that you may try for one of those top 10-15 schools, remember that competition in those programs is so stiff that even the best students can't guarantee a spot.

 

Unless you are not admitted into a PhD that would serve your interests, or you are really motivated to take the shot at the top 10 programs again, passing on a PhD for a MA isn't a good idea.  

 

Of course, this is all relative to individual desires.  Perhaps a mid-ranked school is your dream school.  Then maybe trying to bolster your application slightly would be a good idea.

 

Also, funding should be a main concern.  I would hesitate to take any offer without funding, MA included. 

Edited by MKEPhil
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Given the chance I would NOT have opted for a terminal Master's program ...

 

I second Phdoobiedoobiedoo regarding avoiding the terminal Master's, unless you have absolutely no background in Philosophy. Especially avoid those programs that are essentially money-making schemes for the university. I made the mistake of doing St Andrew's MLitt, and the town's beauty aside, I cannot say enough negative about the program. All I learned was to despise the philosophy profession.

Perhaps its better to be driven from the field before you're in too deep, but I do think many of my friends from that program who went into different disciplines or left academe entirely would have made excellent philosophers, had they not been tossed around as moneybags for a pointless year. 

Edited by aglaea
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 2/22/2013 at 1:05 PM, Phdoobiedoobiedoo said:

  I wouldn't be too distracted by rankings either (although some would dispute this, sinply my opinion). A program should be right for you individually, rankings are great but they don't take into account the specificity of what YOU want to work on and/or what is most important to you in a program. 

I totally agree, I am trying to take rankings into context. The PhD program I was admitted to is a great fit for me, but so are a few of the top 20 programs that were my "dream schools".

 

 

On 2/22/2013 at 1:59 PM, hasbeen said:

I got a funding-pending PhD offer from Catholic University, along with an unfunded Master's offer from Marquette and a partially funded Master's offer from Duquesne.  Though Duquesne was a better fit, if Catholic had ever committed to some kind of funding, I would have taken the offer.  Because they left the money issue unanswered for way too long, I had to commit to Duquesne, which was going to be cheap after scholarship.

 

My advice would be to not take an unfunded PhD offer ever, but especially if a Master's program is offering you a good scholarship.

Duquesne is a great program!

 

On 2/22/2013 at 2:30 PM, MKEPhil said:

This is something I struggled with before attending a funded masters program.  I was waitlisted at 3 lower ranked PhD programs and offered funded positions in 4 prominent MA programs, but ultimately didn't get into the PhD (making my choice easier).  In my opinion, to take a MA over a good PhD (say, lower ranked or unranked with good placement) would be a big mistake.  While MA programs are a great help in preparing for programs, they are not guarantees.  Also note, programs in the PGR with low rankings (40's) have virtually identical placement records to those 20 points higher (obviously the specific program will matter).  It seems to me that turning down a 44 ranked program for the hopes of a 30 ranked program would be rather futile.  Your job prospects will not be much better served, and there is no certainty of getting into those higher programs.  Also, if you are thinking that you may try for one of those top 10-15 schools, remember that competition in those programs is so stiff that even the best students can't guarantee a spot.

 

Unless you are not admitted into a PhD that would serve your interests, or you are really motivated to take the shot at the top 10 programs again, passing on a PhD for a MA isn't a good idea.  

 

Of course, this is all relative to individual desires.  Perhaps a mid-ranked school is your dream school.  Then maybe trying to bolster your application slightly would be a good idea.

 

Also, funding should be a main concern.  I would hesitate to take any offer without funding, MA included. 

 

Duly noted. I didn't think to check the job placement data of the higher-ranked schools.

 

Thanks for all the great advice! I am debating this situation currently. But I think giving specifics may be relevant:

 

A small, low-ranked PhD program with good fit for my interest with mixed job placement

vs.

A small, selective MA program with a very strong PhD placement record: In 2011, 6 students graduated and placed at: Notre Dame, Johns Hopkins, Chapel Hill, CUNY, Rice and Washington University in St. Louis.

 

Both offers are fully funded.

Does that change anything?

 

Originally, it was between the PhD program and a different MA program that was unfunded and had decent, but not as strong, placement. In that case, I can definitely see why the PhD program is a better choice. But this one is really throwing me for a loop because it leads me to believe I may ultimately have a shot at a top program afterwards.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

I second Phdoobiedoobiedoo regarding avoiding the terminal Master's, unless you have absolutely no background in Philosophy. Especially avoid those programs that are essentially money-making schemes for the university. I made the mistake of doing St Andrew's MLitt, and the town's beauty aside, I cannot say enough negative about the program. All I learned was to despise the philosophy profession.

 

 

You went to St. Andrews, a really good school with what I assume is great placement. Do you think that this ultimately helped you get into better PhD programs than if you hadn't?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As someone who did a terminal MA at a strong program, my advice would be if you can get into any PhD program on PGR, choose that over any terminal MA. Perhaps you didn't get into the PhD program you wanted, and perhaps you're concerned about the job prospects if you go to a PhD program ranked in the 40s, and those are legitimate concerns. However, while doing the terminal MA might put you into position to get into a slightly better PhD program, it's almost certainly not going to turn you into top 10 material (there appears to be a real bias against people with MAs in philosophy). Meanwhile, it will probably cost you a pretty good deal of money and set you back an extra two years from your ultimate goal.

 

Long story short: doing a terminal MA at a good school can be a great experience, but that doesn't make it worth it.

 

 

PS. When I was trying to decide between the terminal MA and a lower ranked less appealing PhD program, the advisor at the school that offered the MA even suggested to me that it's always better to go for the PhD. I didn't believe it at the time, but I've obviously come around. Still, I would strongly encourage anyone to think long and hard about this and make the decision that feels right to them, don't want to live a life of regret.

Edited by Philosophizer
Link to comment
Share on other sites

One thing I'd like to point out is that despite what has been mentioned in this thread and in other places, MAs in philosophy are not as stigmatized as one might think, so long as your undergraduate record is up to par. This means your undergraduate GPA was say, 3.5 and higher at a top 20 university or 3.7 and higher from a lesser-known or state university. If you did fine as a undergrad, admission committees might question why you went the masters route at all, but so long as your masters gpa is high and you produce a solid piece of work to use as your writing sample, it's really not going to hurt your application, so I would say. Also, something that cannot be stressed enough is your letter writers. If these people are reputed to be doing good philosophy, publishing in good places, then their peers tend to assume they are more than capable of judging the future potential of one of their current students. Plus one should never underestimate the benefit of having a professor who knows some one at the schools you are applying to.

 

Just this week I poised a question on this matter to Eric Schwitzgebel at his blog The Splintered Mind (great piece up there on grad school in philosophy for those who do not know about it). I asked, why it is that universities prefer students with stellar undergraduate records over some one with a so-so undergraduate record and a stellar showing in an MA program. He answered that perhaps universities prefer to see consistent academic 'excellence,' from the start until the time when they apply. Rather than to see some one who struggled out of the gate as an undergrad and only picked up the pace third and forth and masters years. I should note that I am currently enrolled in a masters program and feel as though I am being trained and prepared as well as any student in their first year of PhD. work. The draw back, of course, is that MAs are expensive. Make no mistakes, they eat at your wallet. And I'd say that if you choose to go  the masters route, like I did, you have to be confident that you are spending your money wisely and also that it is going to be worth it in the end, i.e. if you enroll in an MA program, you should do so with the confidence that you are going to be accepted into a better PhD. program than you would have been w/o the MA. Always keep the end goal in mind. If you are worried you made the wrong decision throughout your MA time, you are, simply put, going to do bad work. And that certainly won't help you any.

 

Lastly, I'd be happy to discuss overseas MA options with any one on here. I applied and was accepted to some of the top ranked MA programs in the States last year. However, pound-for-pound, those places did not stand up against the quality of the philosophy being done at some places in Europe. I am at University College Dublin. The MA program is one year. The faculty are known for research excellence and most have at least a book published by a top publisher, and the visiting speaker program has put me in touch with some great scholars this year: Geuss, Chomsky, McDowell, to name a few. These opportunities would simply not have happened had a stayed in the states. 

 

Call me an MA apologist if you'd like---but I believe if you handle your MA studies correctly, you can in fact be at an advantage when applying for PhD. programs. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Two years ago, I was accepted at one PhD program in the top 25 and a few Leiterific MA programs. I declined the PhD offer because of a hostile climate for underrepresented groups in philosophy, not because of the placement record. I *highly* recommend visiting any programs and talking to students at those program before making any decision. A good placement record will not help you if you drop out of a program or if you don't receive the same support from faculty as the straight/white/male students.

 

I chose the MA program that offered full funding over one that offered partial tuition remission (and required teaching). My decision would have been harder (between the two MAs) had neither program offered full funding, but I still wouldn't have attended the PhD program. 

I've just applied out this season and I'm getting into a lot of my dream programs (including a top 5 program). I can't say completing an MA at a Leiterific department will guarantee better admissions offers the second time around, but it worked for me. 

Also, I'm not sure that having an MA will disadvantage anyone (on the whole) for PhD admissions and job placements. (I have to admit that there do seem to be some grad departments that just don't like students with MAs). However, at my undergrad (which has an unranked grad program) my professors stressed that those job applicants who pursued terminal MAs seemed to have a greater breadth of philosophical knowledge than other applicants. Completing a terminal MA is not just a way to erase a bad undergrad GPA or to get letters from recognizable scholars; it is more importantly a way to spend more time studying philosophy.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think it would be unhelpful to name names here. However, I can say a little about how I try to determine whether or not a program has a hostile climate. Again, if you are accepted (or even waitlisted) at a school, I highly recommend visiting. It would also be helpful to email grad students in the department ahead of time. You may find that there is never a moment when you are alone with one or two grad students. No one is going to tell you the negative aspects of a department with the department head standing in the room. Try to talk to students on their way out of the program as these students (1) have the most experience with the departmental climate and (2) have the least to lose by being honest with you. You should ask to email students who are also members of underrepresented groups. I usually ask about their experiences in the department as a member of an underrepresented group, their perception of attrition rates (but it's better if these are online and broken down by gender, etc.), and if there is a known harasser in their department. You might also look at the number of female (vs. male) tenure-track profs. (I expect that information about other underrepresented groups is either indiscernible from the department's website or the percentage is likely to be dismal at all programs). Clearly these methods of determining the friendliness of a department are fallible, but I've found that most grad students are willing to be very honest about potential climate issues. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Both offers are fully funded. I don't want to attach too much value to rankings, but the reason behind it correlates to job placement, which is ultimately the issue. The PhD program I have been accepted to has mixed job placement. On the other hand, 50-75% of the graduates from the MA program place at top 20 ish schools, the rest place on the lower half (which is where the PhD program is anyway). Other than setting me back 2 years, it doesn't seem like I'll end up any worse off. Top 10 is a stretch, but I'd like to be in the top half. 

 

For those of you who did an MA first, do you feel it helped you in your PhD applications?

Edited by superhamdi
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Some PhD programs look on MA graduates favorably, while others have demands for those graduates that are a lot higher and sometimes hard to achieve in a two-year period (For example, I mentioned DePaul's high standards for language earlier in this thread).  Undergraduate applicants are frequently less proven, but that also means they have more "potential" theoretically, whereas graduate applicanst may have been proven themselves more, but they also may have begun to show their limits.

 

It also depends on the MA program's placement record into PhD programs.  Some are really good at getting Master's graduates into solid to really good PhD programs, and I know Duquesne specifically prides themselves on that.  In Duquesne's case, it probably helps them that they only take MA students who are good enough to be in the PhD program but there just weren't enough spots.  Still, they are a good program in their own right, and they do prepare students well for the application process.  I'm sure there are other MA programs that fit te same mold and the key is to find out whether a specific program does fit this mold of success or if it falls short.

 

Superhamdi, it sounds like the MA in question is one of those good programs, and it definitely helps that it's fully funded.  Duquesne wasn't fully funded, but like I said, it was cheap (I wouldn't have gone to Marquette's Master's program, because it would have been full price).  The applicaiton process can be such a crapshoot though that passing up a PhD offer in this round is risky, so you should at least be aware of the risk you are taking if you choose the MA over the PhD.  It sounds like a reasonably calculated risk, but if you choose to take it, you should be focused on doing everything you can to strengthen your resume in those two years.  That way, you didn't just go to do an MA for a couple years.  You excelled professionally in those two years.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

First time around, were you accepted to both MA and PhD programs? Say a lower-ranked PhD program and a strong MA, in terms of placement, which did you choose? Is it a stupid idea to choose the MA route to try and get into a better program after? Or did you decide it was wiser to take the bird in the hand?

 

What about those who were only accepted to MA programs? Did you accept those offers, or decline and reapply to either 1) stronger MA or 2) PhD programs the following season, now that you had a better feel for the process? 

 

How did funding play into your decision? IF funding wasn't a factor, would you have chosen otherwise?

 

 

 

No. My first-time around, I was really only looking to apply to MAs (it's the norm in my country to have an MA before entering a PhD program). I applied to two PhDs as an afterthought, but ended up going to a fully-funded MA (I had a choice between several, actually). It was a good thing that I did it that way, because it became apparent that I knew virtually nothing about the process, customs, etc. It would have been an exceptionally poor run at PhD programs. Even so, armed with a modicum of knowledge, my application for PhDs a couple years later was still not as well-informed as it could or should have been. It worked out fine in the end, but I would tackle the process very differently now.

 

IMO, funding is everything. There's no sense going into debt, because the job and earning prospects are miserable. If my MA wasn't fully funded (or almost fully--a couple grand is not a big deal debt-wise), I wouldn't go. Given a choice between a PhD program and an MA, I'm not sure what I'd choose. The safe option is, in a sense, the PhD. On the other hand, the transition to graduate school is hard (both in terms of work and expectations, but also mentally/emotionally). I probably learned the most I ever have during my MA year, and that's because I started doing work with which I was entirely unfamiliar (my UG was history/continental-centric, whereas my MA was all contemporary analytic). It was a fantastic experience, and gave me a much better and broader understanding of the field. I had a chance to TA, and to start developing pedagogical skills. The experience didn't just make me a better applicant, it gave me a real glimpse into what professional philosophy is like--and that's not something I really understood before. If I'd gone straight into a PhD, I'd have struggled a lot more with the material, the expectations, and I probably wouldn't have fit the department very well. The MA's preparation was invaluable, and has made my PhD progression to date pretty smooth sailing.

 

I don't think the delay is serious either. I mean, my MA was one year, and my PhD will take 4-5 (probably 5; I'm in year 3 and can't imagine finishing next year, since I haven't even really started yet!). and I took a year in between the two to prep my applications. The average for people without an MA seems to be 6-7 years, which is wholly comparable. The difference is that I have more courses and experience under my belt than most students who go straight from their UG to their PhD, and I probably had a slightly easier time of it overall, since I was already accustomed to the stresses and expectations.

 

Now, to answer your question (sort of): would I opt for a strong MA over a low-ranked PhD offer? Maybe, and maybe not. The ranking of the PhD would not factor into it. Rather, it's a question of what I'd want out of the MA vs. what I'd get out of the PhD. If the PhD is not a very good fit (in terms of my desired AOS and cognate areas), then I'd ditch it for the MA. If it was a good fit, then I'd probably take it because there's no substitute for certainty. But since my priority after UG was to familiarize myself with different fields of philosophy and to develop my interests, it made more sense for me to take an offer of a funded MA (well, even if I'd had the choice!). What makes most sense for you may well differ.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you guys so much for the input! I like hearing everyone's personal experiences. It gives me a lot to think about.

 

On job placement: Here is the roster of faculty degrees at CSULA, which is a well known MA only program (not the one in question btw). On the whole, it is representative of most comparable departments. UCLA, Wisconsin, CUNY, Harvard, McGill, Chapel Hill, Boston, Stony Brook, Berkeley. I would go to school at an unranked, underground school as long as the job placement was good. Unfortunately, PGR numbers do largely correspond with this.

 

Normally, I wouldn't consider the MA, even if it is funded (this one is) But the placement record of this one is really as close to a guarantee as you can get, imo.

 

2011: 6/6 who applied placed at:   CUNY, Notre Dame, Chapel Hill, Rice, Johns Hopkins and WashU.

2010: 2/2:   Wisconsin-Madison and Toronto

2009: 4/4:   Notre Dame x2, USC, Kentucky

 

Coupled with the mixed job placement (and steep teaching responsibilities) at this PhD program, I am seriously considering it. I don't want to seem like I'm desperately lobbying for this MA program, I just want to put all the information out there, because this isn't the typical MA program. I will add the doctoral program is a really good fit for me.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not sure if this has been said already, but don't put too much stock in the PGR (don't dismiss them either). What's going to be really important is the department's strength in your AOI(s), not the overall ranking. If the lower ranked school is a good fit, with good philosophers in your AOI(s), then you should take it. The mixed placement is certainly a concern, and I'd bring that up on your visit day (absolutely visit if you can). But I don't think that it's a overriding reason not to go, given how bad the job market has been in recent years.

In any case, FWIW, I'm finishing my MA right now, and while I did learn a lot, a sure thing is much more valuable given the competitiveness (and randomness) of the PhD application process.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

First,  I didn't mean to make this thread all about my questions, so if anybody else has some, please chime in!

 

Whoops, meant to add that BOTH programs have a number of faculty in my AOIs, I wouldn't consider going anywhere that didn't. That coupled with the fact that both are funded is really getting me twisted.

 

The placement data of the MA is really convincing. The data I gave is just for the past 3 years, but previous years have been consistent. Virtually every graduate who applies, places. But the grad students I know personally have said just about the same thing as most people on here, 75% say to take the bird in hand. No substitute for certainty, as someone mentioned (although this seems really close!). Lot to think about, but thanks for your opinions!

 

Could any current grad students elaborate on the teaching responsibilities of their program? I want to get a sense of what is to be expected.

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The OP might find the discussion here helpful, even though it's about a slightly different dilemma: http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2013/02/choosing-between-graduate-programs-overall-vs-specialty-standing.html.

Some relevant takeaways: (1) Don't mind the overall rankings, if the school is strong in your AOI(s); (2) A top-tier school that's a bad fit may end up hurting you in the long run; (3) Don't just check the overall placement of the school, also check how the students of your potential advisers have done, if the info is available; (4) A good fit will also mean that there will be a community of other grad students interested in your area, which could general beneficial and stimulating discussions; (5) Fit, fit, fit!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Lesage, thank you for emphasizing fit because I think a lot of applicants (myself included) have overlooked fit in some of our applications in the interest of just getting accepted but ultimately will end up worse off for it. Myself, the MA program, which is a "tier 1" has a lot of faculty in my AOI, but the PhD program is also a great fit for me, which is why I suspect I was admitted in their first round.

 

Also, has anybody had any experience transferring from either an MA to another or a PhD to another? I'm not considering that but I read an interesting post about it on Splintered Mind and was wondering if anyone had firsthand experience.

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
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

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