Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I can't be right all the time..

I know something is wrong with the following thoughts:

1. Where someone goes to grad school has a significant impact on her job prospects. After all, right after getting the PhD we all tend to have very similar CVs (a conference or two, maybe a publication) which will naturally make the school we go to an important part of our application.

2. Prospective students do not have much information about the different graduate programs (props to Leiter for trying to help with this). After all, most people applying to grad school have only been doing philosophy for 1-2 years. This is hardly enough time to figure out which philosophers are alive, much less to figure out the strengths of different departments or a particular person who you want to try to work with.

3. Students are largely admitted to graduate school after 3 years as an undergraduate. When determining who to admit it may make more sense to take people with MAs since they've already decided not to quit, but at least a good portion of us seem to have come straight from undergrad.

This makes it seem like there may be a fairly strong tie between someone’s semi-informed choice of where to go to grad school where her options depend on her potential as a junior in college and her job prospects upon receiving a PhD. Am I just grossly overlooking the importance of dissertation projects or something? I’d like the think my progress as a philosopher’s going to matter in the fall..

-- Second Suitor

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

There's a simple explanation:

The leiter rankings correspond to faculty quality; ceteris parabis, students who work with better faculty become better philosophers.

in other words, if you take two equally qualified undergrads, put one at nyu and another at an unranked department, and wait six years, the student who went to nyu will be a better philosopher than the student who went to the unranked department. ceteris parabis, of course.

and before someone calls this elitism... isn't this EXACTLY undergrads compete to go to the higher-ranked departments? that is, doesn't everyone assume that ceteris parabis studying in a better department makes you a better philosopher?

Anonymous said...

There's a little truth to what you say, but you leave out several things. First, the school you went to matters mostly to just the top schools, and let's face it, most of us won't get a shot at those. Second, a lot of grad students from top programs self-select themselves out of being competitive for jobs at top schools in all sorts of ways. Third, often lesser ranked schools do a better job at preparing their students for the job market, for example by encouraging publication or requiring heavier teaching loads. This has frequently been pointed out here.

I'd say a much more important criterion has to do with the weightiness of one's advisor: is s(he) a luminary in your subfield, and highly respected? Undergrads rarely know how to pick schools based on individual professors in their subfield, but they should. Plus they frequently change subfields in grad school, which can really fuck with prior planning. So the key is picking the right school qua the school that will make you the best and most marketable you that you'll be when you graduate, 5-10 years from now. We almost never can anticipate who we'll be, and what school is most likely to make us that person; the most successful candidates are the ones who picked at the outset the school that will have turned out to be the best for them after the fact.

Anonymous said...

Re: 2:56 -

CETERIS PARABIS. I agree. I think a lot is packed into the concept of "faculty quality." For example, faculty quality is not synonymous with being a star.

Anecdote: I know of at least one student coming out of a top-ranked program, advised by two legendary philosophers, who publishes some truly rotten stuff. Rotten as in (1) it in misrepresents any view not sympathetic to the author (that is, when it's not excluding most of the relevant literature) and (2) borders on plagiarism (I guess journals don't require use of turnitin.com)

Anonymous said...

Actually, faculty prestige and all that rot matter fuck all. What matters is quality of your peers. Surround yourself with awesomely smart folks and you get better. Jerry Fodor and Kit Fine don't make you any smarter or any better a philosopher, interacting with uber-sharp grad students at Rutgers and NYU for 5-6 years will. Most of your philosophical time will be spent with them and not faculty.

student from top-ranked program said...

Gosh, 5:07, I hope that's not me...

Anonymous said...

CETERIS PARABIS? people, what are you ON? It's 'ceteris paribus', fyi

Jon said...

@ 2:56 and 5:07 -

I'd imagine it's a little bit of both, but I think this is the right idea. The main point is that interacting with people who are intelligent tends to make you a better philosopher, and top-tier schools tend to attract both intelligent students and intelligent professors.

The key is that a student coming out of NYU or Rutgers will have 6 or so years of pitting himself against the best minds in the field, which will have the effect of sharpening that student's ideas and philosophical reasoning skills.

Anonymous said...

Either that, or the letters from the famous people will carry a lot more weight.

Anonymous said...

Please, please, give us some hints, 5.07!

Anonymous said...

Re: 5:36

Thanks for the correction (in all sincerity). My brain is seriously addled at the moment, and not by anything fun - no crack spider webs here.

Re: 5:27 & 6:23
No hints. And for those that might worry that it's "them," such worry is probably a good sign that it's not you. Such comments are always directed at people who never get them...

Anonymous said...

Quick question: is it appropriate to put job talks on one's c.v.? I know in English this isn't done, but I have see lots of cv's in philosophy that seem well populated with January /February talks.

Anonymous said...

Related question: I've been accepted to two PhD programs. Program (1) has a young guy who's brilliant and highly regarded in my subfield. Program (2) has older, more well-known and -respected faculty overall (and is higher Leiterly), but nobody who's as well-rounded or -regarded in my area as (1).

Where should I go, assuming that I'm 95% sure I will write a dissertation in the same subfield?

Anonymous said...

2nd's points are reasonable enough, but I think that the people above point out lots of good caveats. Let me add a few more.

(1) Yeah, the CVs of lot of ABDs and recent PhDs look similar in the way 2nd points out, but let's not overstate it. There can still be pretty significant differences in the number and quality of publications, the quality of one's writing sample, how hard your adviser pulls for you to get a job, quality and teaching exp, etc.

The problem with a lot of people from undistinguished programs is that, unless makes their CV stand out right away, they don't make the first cut and their other materials don't get looked at carefully.

(2) As has been discussed on this blog before, it looks a lot more common nowadays for people to VAP for a couple of years, or to spend a few years at TT job #1 before trying to get a 'better' (by most people's lights) job. And then you have more to go on when comparing such applicants, and PhD prestige matters less. (I think it still matters too much, but that's another topic.) We've hired a few people from non-Leiterrific programs whose publication records since they were out made it obvious they'd be excellent researchers (oh, and their teaching exp. was extensive too, so we knew they could step right into the classroom and do fine).

m.a. program faculty member (for some reason it looks like the 'name' identity function hasn't been working for me recently)

cst said...

Anon 2:11,

One way to (sort of) get the best of both worlds is to attend one school and then toward the end of your graduate career visit the other (or some other department that is also good). I recognize that there are some practical obstacles to this sort of thing, but it worked out well in my case.

I went to a department that is around 40-55 on the gourmet report with an up and coming person in my area. After I secured a dissertation grant for a year, this person sent one email on my behalf and I was able to visit a much higher ranked department for a year. I left the higher-ranked school with two letters.

So if the practical issues work themselves out, you could graduate from the higher-ranked school and then visit the school with the up and coming person (or vice versa).

Anonymous said...

Re: job talks on CVs, I think I remember a thread a while back where opinions diverged. My own advisor, who is generally quite good at gauging these informal sorts of norms, said no.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, listing a job talk on a CV might (arguably) be something like listing a rejected submission to a journal as a publication. It's not quite like that, of course, because the search committee did invite you, but it was to check you out, see if you merited hiring (relative to the competition), not because they were interested indepedently in what you have to say (or whatever criteria determine why departments invite less-than-world-famous philosophers to deliver papers to them). A job talk is more like a role-playing colloquium than an actual one.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:11,

If the only attraction of the lower-ranked school is this young up-and-comer, you'd better be sure that he's still going to be there in three or four years for you to work with. And if he's as good as you suggest, and there's nothing holding him where he is, I don't know how confident you should be about that.

There's always a serious risk in going somewhere for a single faculty member.

Anonymous said...

It's been way too long since someone talked about women and philosophy. So check this out:

http://www.theonion.com/content/node/40300

I guess the next product will be "Full Professor of Philosophy at a Top 10 School" Barbie.

Anonymous said...

on a different note, does anyone have any thought on this? Philosophy is at the bottom of the list in terms of starting salaries!

http://mungowitzend.blogspot.com/2008/04/4-with-bullet.html

Anonymous said...

"Interacting with people who are intelligent tends to make you a better philosopher." True, but only to a point. I went to Pitt with John Macfarlane and Hans Halvorson, and there's a reason they're now at Berkeley and Princeton and I'm not. I ain't no fool, but hanging with really good people didn't exactly make me a philosophy god.

Anon 2:11: the one young guy might up and leave for better pastures during your 5-10 years of grad school. Then where would you be at school #1? If the answer is "fucked" then go to school #2.

Khadimir said...

So fellow philosophers, why is it assumed that "lower ranked" departments, particularly on the Leiter report, have less capable faculty?

What about questioning the various latent assumptions here? What is "quality" faculty? Quality to what end? Does this or other rankings adequately measure this? Does it measure it well across the various traditions and goals? How much of an effect does reputation and money have on the perception or ranking of quality? And so forth. I note that few here have mentioned the very controversial nature of department ranking and Leiter in particular.

Anonymous said...

The leiter rankings correspond to faculty quality; ceteris parabis, students who work with better faculty become better philosophers.

Why do people believe either of these claims? These assertions are far from obvious to me, and, in fact, really seem quite dubious.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:44 - no one claimed hanging around McFarlane, et. al would make you a philosophy god, only that it would make you a better philosopher than hanging around Joe Dirt at at some lesser school.

Anonymous said...

I think that sometimes certain schools are ranked lower on Leiter or not at all is not because of faculty quality (whatever that comes to) but because the department as a whole may not provide broad coverage in certain areas of philosophy. Small PhD granting departments are penalized in this respect.

Anonymous said...

"The leiter rankings correspond to faculty quality; ceteris parabis, students who work with better faculty become better philosophers.

Why do people believe either of these claims? These assertions are far from obvious to me, and, in fact, really seem quite dubious."

why are they dubious? maybe the first claim should be qualified: the leiter rankings correspond to _perceived_ faculty quality. this is just a platitude: the survey asks people to measure faculty quality. perceived quality might differ from actual quality, though it's not clear how you'd measure the latter independently of the former.

the second claim seems pretty obvious. i mean, it's certainly true that you might have an extremely talented philosopher who just can't teach. but it seems that the first quote is just saying that holding this sorts of variation fixed, working with a higher quality philosopher is going to make you a better philosopher. that seems true: you'll get more incisive feedback, deeper criticisms, etc. as teh first post pointed out, that's presumably why people compete for admission to the higher ranked schools.

anyway, of course all these factors aside from quality are certainly not fixed. there are big differences in the amount of time faculty spend with students, etc. but presumably this is true both at the top and the bottom of the leiter rankings.

Khadimir said...

And who, anonymous, is "Joe Dirt" such that one would become less by being around that person? The same goes for a "lesser school."

My point is that judgment should be hard to make and that we should question making such judgments at all. Issues of practicality--hey where am I going to study--come into the discussion, but we should be careful about how they enter. I believe that department ranking, and particularly Leiter, do not handle those issues well.

I would like to note that some great suggestions are present in this comment thread.

huh? said...

Anon 8:34 (responding to Anon 6:44): "No one claimed hanging around McFarlane, et. al would make you a philosophy god, only that it would make you a better philosopher than hanging around Joe Dirt at at some lesser school."
Yes, 8:34, and 6:44 was agreeing with that point (in a nice, lighthearted sort of way), while observing that the influence of good grad students only goes so far.

Anonymous said...

a comment on Anon 9:32 who wrote

working with a higher quality philosopher is going to make you a better philosopher. that seems true: you'll get more incisive feedback, deeper criticisms, etc.

This might seem obvious but I have seen a lot of exceptions. Higher quality philosophers can be too busy or distracted, or curmudgeonly, to give you time. Or they can meet with you and deliver pronouncements on your thesis in progress rather than help you think through points. Or they can be emotionally disabling to students whom they perceive as potential future rivals. One of the highest quality philosophers at my graduate school was an alcoholic and his intellect was unreliable. Sometimes the highest quality philosophers will allow no intellectual independence from their students who either become their clones or their sycophants. I have known a number of students from some famous philosophers who were paralyzed by their reverence/awe of BIGNAME here to the point they could never afterwards produce any philosophy themselves.

My one tip to people is to consider working with mid-level people. After all you will need a person to support you as you move up through your career to help you get fellowships, nominations to things, etc. The older people may retire or (worse fate) and not be around to keep helping as you progress.

From
Anonymous Female Department Chair

Anonymous said...

Welcome to Lake Woebegone, philosophy version, where all universities, departments, and philosophers (at least white male ones) are above average.

Thus any fair ranking system should reflect the fact that many more than X departments merit being included among the top-X departments. Barring this, rankings should be abolished altogether, no matter the criteria and metrics used.

Anonymous said...

This may be heretical, but...

Don't get me wrong. Leiter has done some great things, and his blog/report is immensely useful. But the usefulness of the rankings is all and only what he states it to be: It ranks departments by "reputation" where the said reputation is ascertained by asking other faculty at Ph.D. granting programs. That is all.

Now, that's also quite a bit if you want to be employed at one of the ranked programs, or at one some program that pays attention to the PGR and uses it in hiring situations. But it is patently false to assume that everyone is even aware of the existence of Leiter. Of all the groups of persons in academia, the group that appears to care the most about him are those who are right now on the market or right now applying for admission.

I happen to be finishing up my first year of a "real job" after my Ph.D. was completed. I didn't have a lot of interviews, but I did have a few. While I didn't ask, I'd bet that not a soul on the committees had even heard of the PGR. They would have had the same warm fuzzy feeling about Purdue as they would have about Rutgers. And they should.

True, we're not talking about the eleite schools here. We're talking Community Colleges (which are great places to work, by the way), small liberal arts colleges or lesser-known state schools. Those places are where the most jobs are.

Frankly, I would not at all be surprised to see prejudice at those places against the leading nationally-known programs. If you only have a grand to fly in candidates, would you wager that money on Princeton when there appears to be a perfectly good person from the University of Arkansas?

Of course, all of this presupposes that you can receive just as rewarding and excellent an education at 40+ on the PGR list as you can at 40-. I wholeheartedly think that is the case.

Again, I'm greatful for the work that Leiter has done for the profession. It's very much welcome. But my suspicion is that if you think that you would like a career other than at the top programs, then Leiter's work will be far more important to you than it will be to the people who hire you.

What I would like, and I'm not sure how we could ever get it, is a PGR-like ranking where you can select your own criteria for the rankings, with one of them being "best proportion of Ph.D.'s granted to tenure-track jobs landed." That would have been a MUCH more valuable criteria to me than little differences in rankings by reputation.

Sisyphus said...

working with a higher quality philosopher is going to make you a better philosopher. that seems true: you'll get more incisive feedback, deeper criticisms, etc. as teh first post pointed out, that's presumably why people compete for admission to the higher ranked schools.

I think there's a gap between "being a good philosopher," which involves thinking and writing clearly and inventively and producing a lot of high-quality research in the form of talks and papers, and "being a good mentor to philosophy grads," which would involve taking the time to talk and interact with them, marking up their papers, giving them advice, critiquing their presentations and work, etc. Those can actually be contradictory --- in order to be successful, a lot of profs focus intently on their own research and cv and have no time for their grad students.

I know plenty of hotshot, big-name English profs who never return their students' papers and can't ever be found to give feedback or advice because they are always shooting off to one conference or another. And I know quite a few whose students never seem to graduate, but you can always find them around photocopying something for their illustrious advisor or doing some other form of work for them.

So I would tell prospective students of any department to get the on-the-ground perspective of a prof's current grad students (and placement rates!) and weight that much more heavily than rankings by outsiders.

Sometimes the synonym of "superstar" is "asshole."

Anonymous said...

Who is to say that Joe Dirt, the grad student in the unranked dept., is lower "quality" than Immanuel Kant?

Anonymous said...

Ceteris paribus, the original responder is correct! But keep these things in mind:

1. The Leiter Report's overall rankings *do* import a few biases (though the specialty rankings largely negate these). It is a bit skewed toward analytic philosophy, for example. But Leiter has done a great job ironing out these biases, though not a totally complete one.

2. The rankings are based on the quality of the faculty and its coverage. Smaller departments often get the short end of this. You can this this *especially* with regard to departments like Johns Hopkins, Iowa, and Rochester - departments that only have 8-12 faculty. These departments are extremely strong in the areas that these limited faculty #'s happen to study.

Anonymous said...

"perceived quality might differ from actual quality"

Really? You think?

"though it's not clear how you'd measure the latter independently of the former"

Weak. Sounds to me like you haven't even tried.

"I think there's a gap between "being a good philosopher," which involves thinking and writing clearly and inventively and producing a lot of high-quality research in the form of talks and papers, and "being a good mentor to philosophy grads," which would involve taking the time to talk and interact with them, marking up their papers, giving them advice, critiquing their presentations and work, etc."

Sisyphus is absolutely correct, and this is obvious.

Further, what about the quality of the students that enter different grad programs? Doesn't this have anything to do with who becomes a "better" philosopher?

And don't tell me that it's obvious that better students go to the programs with the highest quality faculty without also factoring in the difference between perceived and real quality of faculty, and money and other support offered to grad students and so on.

Anonymous said...

"Further, what about the quality of the students that enter different grad programs? Doesn't this have anything to do with who becomes a "better" philosopher?"

Of course it does, and that's been repeatedly acknowledged above.


"And don't tell me that it's obvious that better students go to the programs with the highest quality faculty without also factoring in the difference between perceived and real quality of faculty, and money and other support offered to grad students and so on."

So you're suggesting that some senior in college with a few philosophy classes under his/her belt, who's maybe heard of one or two faculty from a couple of the departments, is a better judge of faculty quality than the 50 or so respected philosophers who conduct leiter's ranking? Right. Sounds spot on.

Anonymous said...

"And don't tell me that it's obvious that better students go to the programs with the highest quality faculty without also factoring in the difference between perceived and real quality of faculty, and money and other support offered to grad students and so on."

I suspect that students tend to go within 10 "Leiter units" of the top program they get into. Since better students tend to get into higher programs, the higher ranked programs tend to be populated by better graduate students. That's a consideration in their favor.

Ted said...

I've done graduate work at both a Leiter sub-40 program and a top 5 program. There was not a lot of difference in the support I received from the best profs or the feedback I received from them. However, there was a vast difference in the graduate students. I learned a heck of a lot more from my fellow grad students in the top 5 program than the other one. There were one or two grad students in the sub-40 program that helped make me a better philosopher, while in the top 5 program, all but one or two really helped make me a better philosopher. So, yea, you can find really smart grad students in lower ranked programs, but given the fact that the top programs do the best they can to grab the smartest students, it should come as no surprise that overall student quality would be higher at higher ranked programs.