Monday, November 13, 2006


DeRose on the Leiter Report

I hope people don't miss Keith DeRose's very sensible comments on the latest PGR over at Certain Doubts. I myself consulted the report when I was applying to grad school, and while I took many other factors into account in reaching my decision, I found it very useful. I'd certainly recommend to anyone going through that confusing and difficult process that they pay attention to the rankings (even though other factors are very important, which as DeRose notes, isn't in dispute by anyone).

Update: over at Lemmings, Brit Brogaard points out that it's hardly a great idea to remain in complete ignorance about which programs the people who will often involved in hiring procedures are likely to favour when it comes to crunch time. So even if we accept the suggestion that any student who's ready to begin graduate work in philosophy will know who they should work with, it still seems like a smart idea to utilise resources like the rankings.

By the way, in the UK there would be some issues about someone beginning graduate work at PhD level in philosophy without a clue about which area within philosophy they wanted to focus in, simply because a UK PhD is immediately research-based, and one is assigned a supervisor at a very early point. (There's obviously still a long, long way to go to reach the claim that someone who started a UK PhD under such circumstances is unfit for graduate work in the discipline). Similar comments could be made about other countries.

Here in the US, things seem utterly different. There seems no problem at all in people starting their PhD with the expectation that they'll hit upon an area of focus in the first couple of years, while they are taking classes in a broad range of areas, and haven't yet been assigned a dissertation committee. Isn't this in part at least what this period of the US PhD is for? This is particularly clear when we take into account people wanting to pursue graduate studies in philosophy, but who's first degree wasn't in philosophy. And it seems clear that if that's ok, then there should be no general expection that people have a clear idea of who they should be aiming to work with before applying - such people should presumably just try to get into the strongest program they can.

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Hi Aidan,

When comparing UK and US grad stuff, it's important to remember that the UK grad programme typically involves a 1 year masters followed by 3+ years phD work. People tend to have firm ideas about what they're working on by the time they start the PhD (though, in my own case, I changed from working on Phil Maths to ummm... lots of stuff spinning around Phil Lang and Metaphysics).

But I'd guess most people going into Masters programmes will be less committed to this or that area. So at entry point into grad study, the two are less far apart.

Though plenty of people change universities between masters and phD's (e.g. me) I guess the majority do not. De facto, lots of people in the UK will be choosing the location of their grad programme before having a clear idea of research area.

I don't think I'd want to disagree with anything you say. I wasn't really trying to claim that people in the UK usually know what they're going to work on before they apply to institutions where they'll pursue their graduate studies. My main point was that even if there were these sorts of issues to consider in the UK and places with a similar system, it looked like the US system is set up so that people arriving at grad school don't have to arrive with a clear AOI - there's two years built in to the process where they can discover what it is they want to work on.

If it turns out that the masters programs now standardly required in the UK before PhD also build that kind of time in, that's actually grist to my mill - it would make Prof. Pakaluk's comments inappropriate for both the US and the UK. I tried to stay neutral on that in my post, which is why I concetrated on PhD level in the UK. So my aim wasn't to argue for a disparity between the US and the UK. It was rather to suggest that even if you thought that Pakaluk had a good point concerning the process in the UK, it was still hard to see why we might think there were similar problems in the US. If the two systems are actually more similar that I made them appear to be, for the reasons you give, that's good - it means that Pakaluk's point doesn't even have that restricted applicability.
Sure thing! Wasn't meant to be a criticism of you, but rather to strengthen the point.
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