Monday, February 25, 2008

Thanks for the Information, I Know I Should Look Before I Leap

I need to be thinking about more applications right now, but every time I try, it just makes me want to go to bed and pull the covers over my head. So instead, let me say one more thing to prospective grad students.

Wiser people than me have already told you to make sure you get a look at the placement stats for the departments you're thinking of going to. That's really, really important. But at the same time, you've got understand most departments are probably--in at least some small way--juking their stats, as Major Daniels might put it. Not lying exactly, just, well, juking.

So let me try to lay out the information I think you want, even though I suspect you're not really going to get it all from most departments.

1. How long to people take to finish the program, and how many people bail or get kicked out before they finish? Suppose you get a five-year funding package, and whoever you're talking to in a department keeps telling you, "It's a five-year program." Well, maybe. I'm sure there are places out there that get people through in five years. But there sure as hell aren't a lot of them. So when you get told you're looking at a five-year program, you're probably getting a pile of bullshit. If you can, I'd suggest e-mailing a senior grad student in the department and asking them what their sense is of how long people take to finish. And ask them how people pay the rent in their sixth, seventh, and nth years. Those years can be damn lean.

Okay, onto placement stats proper. Here's what you want to now about them.

2. How many grads of the program get tenure-tracked jobs? This seems like it should be easy to get, right? It's not. For a department to give you a meaningful number here, they've also got to give you answers to these questions:

3. Exactly who does the department count as not getting tenure-tracked jobs? Here's where things get shady, because a lot of departments aren't going to count people who choose not to go on the job market. But what does this choice look like, and why do people make it? because they think they've got no chance on the market? That's certainly one obvious reason to choose not to go on the market.

So one guy from my department realized he had no chance on the market, and so he went straight to law school. He doesn't count. Another guy was one-half of a two-body problem, and realized he had no chance of ever getting a job in the same place as a partner. So after a year on the market, he bailed on academia. He doesn't count. If someone strikes out on the market four or five years in a row and then decides to throw in the towel, do they count? (Afer all, they did choose to throw in the towel.) If the placement stats are going to tell you much of anything, you need to know this shit.

Now here's a killer.

4. On average, how long do people spend on the market before landing a tenure-tracked job? Do most people coming out of the program get jobs as ABDs? Do they do a one-year? Or do they bounce around the country doing one-year after one-year after one-year before finally getting a chance to settle down?

Do not, under any circumstances, expect faculty from a program to be giving you honest and fair-minded assessments of their own placement stats. Maybe they are. I'd like to think most are. But maybe they're not, so don't get took.


Anonymous said...

I think this is the worst post I've seen here. It's embarrassing.

You could have put things this way:

It's difficult to get a really good sense of how successful a program's students are on the job market just by looking at official stats.

That's true. You need lots of details. That would have been a perfectly fair point, and good advice for prospective graduate students.
But instead, you suggest that the faculty are lying or deliberately misleading prospective students. That's dumb. There's only so much information the director of graduate studies can tack up on a web site. She isn't going to publish a list of every reason that every student had for bagging philosophy and going off to do something else.

I can't believe you actually think I'm going to lie to you, the #6 on my list of admits, to get you to come here instead of going to Chapel Hill, so that I won't have to dip down to the #8 on my list. That's ridiculous. Seriously, I don't love you that much.

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

Anon. 6:17 --

Nice to hear from a fan. If you want to see just how much information a DGS can tack up on a website, take a look at this. It still doesn't have all the information you might want, but it's still a lot of information.

Anonymous said...

whoa, 6:17, sounds like this one hit a nerve!

but just so that you understand which allegation you should be frantically denying:
no one is accusing you of lying because you love potential grad students so much.
they're accusing you of lying in order to make your institution look better.
you (or departments in general, or some departments) are being accused of lying in order to protect your reputation and the benefits it brings you, whether material (better salaries etc.) or merely your own pathetic amour propre.

got it? that's the charge you should start denying, in the most frantic and unconvincing fashion.

there. i knew you could do it!

look; i have been in departments that shaded their stats. there are always good reasons not to advertise sad stories. nobody likes to dwell on the tragedies. was it the committee's fault? not completely, no--the candidate didn't help himself any with that job talk he wrote, and that suit he wore.
and clearly it wouldn't be nice of us to *advertise* the poor kid's bad luck, esp. if he is partly to blame for it. hell, it would almost be like kicking him when he's down. so he didn't get a job--we're supposed to tell the whole world?

and so it goes--the rationalizations for lying about the failures. but it's still lying. and it happens.

fellow grad student said...

Presumably no one is lying to prospective students. That doesn't seem like it would benefit everyone. But it is the case that when the prospective students come to town you want to put your best foot forward. At bottom I don't think you two are disagreeing. Take what departments say as the rosy picture and make the most informed decision you can.

Really THIS is why the Leiter report carries so much weight in philosophy. It gives some semblance of a public, external perspective on departments (even if it has some drawbacks). An undergrad who has done philosophy for a year and a half has next to no idea about other departments and only the opinion of an adviser and Leiter to go on.

All that is to say, ask the toughest questions you can when you go on your visits, but hopefully you've only applied to places you'd be happy going.

Stanford's placement page rocks.

Anonymous said...

I noticed that 4 recent Stanford grads have taken jobs with a consulting firm. Is that a common rout for philosophers who leave the profession, or is it just a quirk of Stanford's?

Anonymous said...

yeah, i think whenever philosophers leave the profession, it should be considered a rout. possibly even a walk-over, or a drubbing.

but maybe the proximity of silicon valley plays some role, yeah?

and i looked at the stanford list too, but it was weird--dissertation titles but no student names? did i get that right? what's that--to protect the innocent?

Anonymous said...

The Stanford grads who went to McKinsey all were engaged in cognitive/philosophy of mind-related fields, which is all the rage in business these days, e.g., artificial intelligence, neuroscience, virtual modeling/simultation, etc. So there's actually some practical value in those grads' fields...bastards.

Anonymous said...

PGS, I *am* a fan, actually. Fans are sometimes disappointed with the performance of their, uh, fan-object. I think what I said is a fair criticism. It's not as if I said you were a liar.

Sure, that Stanford page has lots of information. But it doesn't have the information you demanded. So, does that mean Michael Bratman is a liar?

7:12, yeah when someone says I'm a liar, that does "hit a nerve." Brilliant.

Fellow grad student,
Okay, good point. Maybe I'm being too sensitive.

Anonymous said...

Having looked at McKinsey's website, I am now extremely tempted to toss the whole academic thing and apply. I think I'd have a chance and it would certainly pay more than academia...

Anonymous said...

McKinsey's been trying to figure out how to hire PhDs for 10 or 15 years, and as of maybe 5 years ago, they hadn't figured it out. I went through the first round of the process when I was in grad school, and the one philosopher on their staff was an idiot. I talked with him. He looked at engagements like games, and didn't seem to realize that he was working with real companies that needed to make payroll and keep people employed.

Maybe they've gotten their act together, but at that point I got the distinct feeling that they wanted to hire the "best of the best," in other words people who had succeeded in getting great recs from the best professors at the top schools, so folks who could easily get TT jobs but instead wanted to make the big bucks. So probably few people who read this blog. Now, whether that's the kind of candidate who would be best for them is another question, which I can't pretend to answer (maybe those are the guys who'd be rain-makers if they made partner, who knows?).

I knew a lot of people in college who went into consulting or i-banks, and I'll say two things: (1) the people who did go to McKinsey were really fucking brilliant, and (2) most of the really bright people I knew (I was at Penn, so these were mostly Wharton types) got shit on by McKinsey and went elsewhere. Probably they're looking among PhDs for the same types of people they recruit out of undergrad, which seems really odd because the pool of people who chose Wharton undergrad is mostly very different from those who choose Penn philosophy, for example (well, I knew one guy who did both, hence the "mostly"), and you'd think they'd take this into account.