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PhD Visiting Student


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I would like to know how hard it is to be admitted as a (philosophy) PhD visiting student at a prestigious school like MIT or Harvard, especially if you are not currently in top ranked department. In addition, how important it is? I mean what are its implications, both academic and non-academic, if you spend one or two terms at, say, MIT under the supervision of some well-known philosopher? Of course it improves your research, but what else it has? 




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Hey philapp. I feel bad that no one else has responded, so I'd like to give you my two-cents, for what it's worth. I'm also applying for next fall, so keep that in mind. First, it's incredibly difficult to be admitted to a top-ranked department (I assume you're talking about the PGR). Everybody wants in and it's difficult to distinguish yourself from the herd, so to speak. From what I can tell, you have to have a stellar academic profile in order to get in.

How important is it? I think that depends on your goals. Are you looking to teach/do research at a top ranked program? If yes, then it's pretty important that you get into a top ranked program. They (obviously) have better placement than lower ranked/unranked programs. However, if you just want to do research and you don't care where you're doing it, then good news, it doesn't really matter if you get in to a top ranked program. Any program worth its salt can place you. It doesn't have to be Harvard or MIT.

I think the more important thing to consider is whether or not you're going to want to work with the faculty at Harvard or MIT. Ivy league programs are notorious for faculty disinterest in terms of what the graduate students are doing. Do you want to work closely with your advisor? If so, you're probably better off not going to an Ivy. More often than not, they're more interested in their own research than yours. Now, that isn't to say that they won't, as a matter of fact, care about your research, it's just less likely than some of the smaller, less known programs. 

Beyond that, do your interests align with the faculty at Harvard or MIT? If not, then you won't last long anyways. It'll be an uphill battle for you to remain interested in what everyone else is doing, never mind the fact that you won't have common interests with anyone (other grad students probably included). You want to find an environment where you'll be able to thrive.

Final thought: What are you looking for in your career? What would make your career a "good" one? Would a good career be studying under a big name and getting a tenure track position at Oxford or Yale? If so, then I suppose your best bet is to go to an Ivy, but good luck to you. I can't stress enough how difficult achieving that dream will be. Or is a good career one where you have the freedom to do your own research and be able to survive doing it? Obviously this a false dichotomy; you have to figure out for yourself what a good career is for you. All I'm saying is, figure out what kind of career you want. After you do that, then you can figure out for yourself whether or not Harvard or MIT are important.

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The difficulties include convincing the department to take you on as a visiting student, which usually includes contacting a faculty member and proposing that they sponsor you and your work (note: departments will differ in their policies for taking on visiting students and may require a cv and letters of recommendation).  Other difficulties include finding the funding to be a visiting student/visiting scholar.  The former "visiting student" requires payment of tuition plus living expenses, whereas the latter "visiting scholar" only requires payment of living expenses (which I think is preferable, since not much is likely to transfer anyway in terms of course work).


The benefits can be enormous: being able to sit in on seminars with great living philosophers, getting detailed help through independent studies with philosophers that specialize in your area, and ultimately getting a strong, positive letter of recommendation from a highly respected philosopher (or even more than one letter).


This probably goes without saying, but I recommend that the motivation for doing this should be primarily for the excitement of working under the philosophers you adore and have already read significantly, and this should only be done secondarily for the benefits it would have to your application (as I think one would only be likely to succeed in attaining the latter if one has the former motivation and intentions; otherwise, it wouldn't seem like a good investment of time and money).  


tl;dr: the benefits can be huge, but certainly not guaranteed, and the investment can be costly, requiring both a relevant background and strong motivation

Edited by Narziss
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