Quellafore

A New Sophomore Seeks Advice!

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Hi, I'm currently studying undergraduate philosophy at one of the two best schools in my country, Turkey (the language of the school is English). I'm going to start my second year in this forthcoming semester, and I feel like I need to start preparing for my graduate applications. I have literally no idea where to start, so I will just write some facts about myself and my school. I'm hoping to find any kind of advice from you. I've been reading this forum for a while, and I think your experiences can help me for clarifying my path to graduate study.  

  • My school is obviously not in the league of the best schools in the world, but it firmly follows the analytic tradition and nearly all of our professors have a Ph.D. from the top 50 (according to Gourmet Report). We're really a small department (the max. population of our philosophy classes are 20.), so this seriously creates a positive effect on our connection with professors. I already have a close relationship with nearly all of my professors.
  • Until now, I took 4 philosophy classes and finished all of them with an A+, and my other non-philosophy classes have no lower grade than a B+.
  • My cumulative GPA is 3.9 for now. (the highest in the department).
  • I'm starting my psychology minor in the forthcoming semester. I thought it would be both fun and helpful for my career since I have a strong interest in moral psychology. (But I'm not sure if moral psychology would be the area I study in my graduate education, I seem to have an unlimited interest in nearly all areas of philosophy for now).
  • I've already started to do some TAship for a Computer Science class in my school due to my extra interest in programming (This seems totally irrelevant but I don't know).
  • I now have a chance to apply for exchange programs but I don't really know if that would be helpful.

Based on this info, my questions are these: 1) Should I begin to prepare for my graduate applications? If so, what should I continue to do or what should I start to do?; 2) Should I be seriously considering my exchange opportunities?

I would appreciate even the slightest advice from you.

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4 hours ago, Quellafore said:

1) Should I begin to prepare for my graduate applications? If so, what should I continue to do or what should I start to do?

Nah, it's too early to worry about it. Just enjoy yourself and do your best work. You don't need to really start thinking about this stuff until the summer before you're applying to graduate schools. Just focus on learning what you can as best you can. TA opportunities are good because they're extra money and give you a taste of what's to come, but they won't make any significant difference to your application. Any scholarships or awards you receive might make some difference, however, so seek out those opportunities if you can.

 

4 hours ago, Quellafore said:

2) Should I be seriously considering my exchange opportunities?

Exchanges can be fun and rewarding, but you should consider them for their own sake. They won't make much difference as far as graduate applications are concerned. The best you could hope for on that front is a good letter from a well-known philosopher, but you can't count on getting one, and it's unlikely to make much difference anyway. Most undergrads don't have hotshot letter writers, and committees know this. The admissions committee is looking for reassurances about your abilities from your letter writers, and fame doesn't really do much on that front. It certainly doesn't do anything that your writing sample won't be doing for itself. The most important thing is that your letters exist, and that they heartily recommend you.

 

So just enjoy yourself and do your best to learn what you can. You might not want to pursue graduate study in a few years, and that's OK too. You don't need to worry much until just before your last year, when you'll have to put together your list of target schools, secure your letters, write your statement of interest, polish your writing sample, take the GRE, TOEFL, and other tests, etc.

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I certainly disagree with the above poster in suggeting that sophomore year is too early to consider graduate program applications; 

A cursory look at the doctorate students populating top 15 programs or the like suggests quite a bit about what relative interests they have, and what one may need to prepare for in their competition as an application. Many, if not most doctorate students have majors or minors in tangentially related fields; Linguistics, Mathematics, Literature, Neuroscience, Cognitive Science, Classics, etc. It will be likely important, if not fundamentally important to prepare yourself as completely as possible if you have a genuine desire and actual chance to attend a respectable and established doctorate program in the field. Moreover, coming from a non-english speaking country wherein the faculty may be lesser known puts you in  the position of needing to prove yourself. A large part of the reason top schools are represented to such a high degree in the top programs has to do with the perceived in-equities of education in the field itself. Coming from a more mid-tier program myself, I can say that the perception is justified in the main. 

 

You may want to consider comparing your philosophy coursework with the syllabi of the highly ranked programs, and considering supplementing work where you can. I have done so and am about to graduate (before beginning preparation for phd applications) and am certainly a far better applicant for having done so.

 

I will also say that the attitude on these boards that there is a moderate or even large degree of luck in doctorate applications strikes me as rather naive. Philosophy doctorate programs are arguably among the most competitive of all fields and as such attract applicants with exceptional backgrounds. If you are not one yourself, or exist as a genuine commodity there is no reason to expect that the phd programs are going to want you in their cohort. 

 

If you really are interested in attending a solid graduate program in Philosophy you should do everything and anything you can do to move yourself in that direction. 

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7 hours ago, wsj1994 said:

A cursory look at the doctorate students populating top 15 programs or the like suggests quite a bit about what relative interests they have, and what one may need to prepare for in their competition as an application. Many, if not most doctorate students have majors or minors in tangentially related fields; Linguistics, Mathematics, Literature, Neuroscience, Cognitive Science, Classics, etc. It will be likely important, if not fundamentally important to prepare yourself as completely as possible if you have a genuine desire and actual chance to attend a respectable and established doctorate program in the field.

Just about every field is related to philosophy. There's no strategic set of minors or double-majors one can pick that will help one's chances of admission. One should pursue the things that interest one, rather than trying to game the system (especially since that's not the way to game it). As a sophomore it's too early to know what one's AOS interests are going to be (frankly, it's too early for even a senior to know), but odds are good that whatever minors one picks will be complementary or otherwise related.

 

8 hours ago, wsj1994 said:

Moreover, coming from a non-english speaking country wherein the faculty may be lesser known puts you in  the position of needing to prove yourself. A large part of the reason top schools are represented to such a high degree in the top programs has to do with the perceived in-equities of education in the field itself. Coming from a more mid-tier program myself, I can say that the perception is justified in the main. 

That proving ground is the writing sample, and the statement of interest. Yes, pedigree and prestige play a big role in the profession, and even in graduate school admissions. But that's not something over which the poster has any control. Having solid recommendation letters is important; having letters from all-stars matters a whole lot less at this level. This is PhD admissions, not the job market (and even there, they matter less than you might think).

 

8 hours ago, wsj1994 said:

I will also say that the attitude on these boards that there is a moderate or even large degree of luck in doctorate applications strikes me as rather naive. Philosophy doctorate programs are arguably among the most competitive of all fields and as such attract applicants with exceptional backgrounds. If you are not one yourself, or exist as a genuine commodity there is no reason to expect that the phd programs are going to want you in their cohort. 

Yes, they're very competitive. And the number of slots at each one is a tiny fraction of the number of applicants. And quite a lot of those applicants are very, very talented. That's where the luck comes in; there, and at a few other steps, too (e.g. your prospective supervisor isn't currently overburdened and the balance of interests among current students and other prospectives is in your favour, you've managed to be perceived by the admissions committee as being a worthwhile investment in the program--note also that committee judgements are highly fallible in this regard, as they are in sports, etc.). The grad school admissions process is like a kinder version of the job market (since there's more than one slot, and fewer than 650-1200 applicants for it). The job market involves a lot of luck; grad school admissions involves a lot less, but it's still not inconsiderable.

I have to say, it's kind of funny that you think the people here are naïve to think that luck plays a role. Most of us have been through one or more rounds of admissions, have witnessed people going through the process, etc. Hell, some of us are even all done with grad school, and have been through the market's meat grinder. That's not to say that we're right, of course. It's just to say that maybe we bring a little more experience and perspective to the table. It's pretty easy to lose sight of the things that matter when you're worrying about admissions, and it's even easier to spend way too much time worrying about factors beyond your control.

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A few words in support of @maxhgns, if a bit less focused:  I'm not a philosopher and was a lot less organized than OP after my freshman year.  But... it seems that we're talking about two models of achievement.  One is being better than everyone at a standard list of things (what in economics might be called a low-cost strategy-- crushing competitors in a commodity market), and the other is doing well at something a little different from what everyone else does (a product differentiation strategy).  Put another way, we can think of comparing a single-score IQ vs a package of multiple intelligences.

Now, a lot of the people who squirt through the filter will tell you that they really are better than everyone at everything that matters, and that "merit" is the source of their success.  We're good, they're less good.  Up to a point that is true, and I don't mean to diminish their ability.  But unless you're ready to go right into the gladiator pit to fight those people at their game, you should first figure out what you can do better than everyone else.   A riddle from an investment practitioner -- Q: How do you beat Bobby Fischer?   A: Play him in tennis.

That doesn't mean relaxing your standards, but at the moment it may mean discovering what you really love to do.  At the end of the day, that may take you away from particular schools, or even away from philosophy as a discipline.  But better to do that than find yourself struggling to get 96% when every other hotshot at Harvard (or wherever) gets 97% as a matter of course.  If you have trained yourself to be good enough at the essentials, and also bring something unique to the party, you may find yourself filling an interesting niche.

 

Edited by Concordia

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A few things:

1. You may be really good at philosophy, but sorry to be the bearer of bad news (I hope that this gets upvotes, not downvotes) -- the field is flooded with excellent philosophers, and you really should seriously consider a different career plan. Think about it long, and meditate on how difficult it is to get a job -- any job, not just tenure, but even adjunct. You might be early enough in the field that this is the first time someone warns you. I am not saying this to scare you, but there are literally not enough jobs for most people who enter a PhD. Hundreds of applications per position, for every position. That means, the great likelihood is that a significant portion of those who complete the PhD will not even get the job. They will have done that work only to go into something else, not because they want to but economically they are forced to. This isn't an issue just for "low ranked" programs, but even the top tier. People who get a PhD at University of Michigan (one of the best in the world) had recently applied to 50-60 jobs a year, never yet to get a tenure-track job. The problem has been compounding, because as the number of jobs is not increasing much, the number of PhD conferrals increases quickly.

2. It is not too early to consider which programs you could get into. Ask your academic advisors (philosophy professors), especially someone who recently attained tenure, what kinds of programs you should consider and what your chances are. I would recommend you check Philosophical Gourmet Report's specialized rankings for programs in your area (focus more on which schools are listed, more than just their ranking). Remember to keep track of the philosophers whom you've been studying too -- whose work resonates with you? Where are they teaching? (Some teach at programs that are not on PGR) Even if you don't start filling out the applications, you will want a good list of schools you are considering. You will want to apply to no less than 6 schools, but I recommend applying to at least 12. Many people here will encourage shooting for as much as you can afford (some as high as 20-25 schools); application fees in the US range from $50-125 (40-105 euro), not including GRE transcripts ($25 per school), and official transcripts from your university. Some places have application fee waivers. A good estimate is $100 per school, so $1500 for 15 schools (80 euro each, or 1250 euro for 15 schools).

3. If you get encouragement from your professors and have investigated where you want to study, I encourage you to devote the summer prior to your senior (final) year in college to the application process. You'll want to start thinking about writing samples (your program may have a senior seminar which is oriented around this), taking the GRE or other standardized testing required by the schools (not all require GRE), and asking your professors about writing letters of recommendation. This will be extensive process. Treat it like a summer job, where you are putting in 15-25 hr a week for a few months. So, feel free to postpone some of the actual work until the summer, but feel free to gather info now!

Edited by Duns Eith

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16 hours ago, Neither Here Nor There said:

About the bleak job prospects here in North America, the above poster may or may not be looking for a job in North America, and in his country of origin the job market may or may not be as bleak. 

I don't purport to be an expert about the philosophy job market, but a quick search on PhilJobs shows 4 available positions in Europe, 2 in Oceania, 2 in Asia, 1 in Latin America, and none in Africa. A search in North America returns 96 positions. I doubt that PhilJobs is wholly comprehensive, but if this is even close to representative, the job situation outside of North America is at least as bad, or probably worse.

This isn't to say that the OP shouldn't pursue the advanced degree if she or he wants. But it's good to go in with eyes wide open about the job market.

Edited by hector549

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17 hours ago, Neither Here Nor There said:

About the bleak job prospects here in North America, the above poster may or may not be looking for a job in North America, and in his country of origin the job market may or may not be as bleak. 

lol the humanities academic job market is bleak literally everywhere

even nazarbayev university doesn't want to hire philosophers

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2 hours ago, hector549 said:

I don't purport to be an expert about the philosophy job market, but a quick search on PhilJobs shows 4 available positions in Europe, 2 in Oceania, 2 in Asia, 1 in Latin America, and none in Africa. A search in North America returns 96 positions. I doubt that PhilJobs is wholly comprehensive, but if this is even close to representative, the job situation outside of North America is at least as bad, or probably worse.

This isn't to say that the OP shouldn't pursue the advanced degree if she or he wants. But it's good to go in with eyes wide open about the job market.

Yeah, most European (including UK) jobs don't make it to PhilJobs, and the same is true for most other regions of the world. Even a lot of Canadian jobs don't hit PhilJobs. But most of those markets are pretty terribly over-saturated. I applied for jobs in more than a dozen countries on my last job run, and I'm not at all exceptional in doing so. A lot of Americans confine themselves to American jobs (and a lot of Britons and Euros to Euro jobs), but the number of people who don't isn't insignificant. It's like the difference between 600 applicants and 50-100; that's a big numerical difference, true, but in the end it doesn't do much to actually improve your chances.

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Yea at the end of the day, I do philosophy because it brings me joy. I can always go back to to doing what I was doing before grad school if academia doesn't provide me with a job. But certainly, we can't be under the illusion that we *will* get an academic job. Its pretty discouraging. 

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