Deciding between offers

Dr. Keith DeRose wrote a post on the subject, here, and Dr. Richard Heck’s advice is available here.

There are a number of factors you’ll want to consider, and this is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some things to think about:

Funding. Getting a PhD isn’t going to have the same sort of financial return as e.g., an MBA would. In fact, I strongly suspect that many philosophers could make more money if they worked in a different field. In the current job market (here’s hoping it changes soon!) this should be an even bigger concern since there may not be a job for you at the end of the tunnel. So with that in mind, better funding should count in favor of an offer. And don’t forget to compare costs of living (helpful website for that, here).

Potential Advisors. Whoever ultimately becomes your advisor will have a big impact on your graduate experience. If you’re admitted to program Y, where there’s only Professor X working in your field, and it turns out you don’t get along with Professor X at all, you’re sort of in a bind. Beyond personality issues, you’ll want to consider how long it takes on average for Professor X’s students to complete their degrees, how involved with students and accessible is Professor X, how likely is it that Professor X will soon retire, etc. Of course lots of students change their mind about what exactly they want to work on once they’re in grad school, so it’s a good idea to meet faculty and talk with graduate students about their experiences, in and outside of your current area(s) of interest.  

Placement. Take a look at placement records. Note things like whether or not distinctions between tenure-track, visiting, and adjunct positions are indicated. Do they list all of their recent graduates, or only the ones whose placement is something to be proud of?

Attrition Rates. Some schools have excellent placement, but very few students actually complete the program. We can probably think of all sorts of good and reasonable explanations for why some students drop out, but when only 40% or so of those who enroll at institution X are completing the program, I would wonder why. One way to get a sense of whether or not this is happening is to look at the National Research Council data on PhDs.org (click on an institution name for data on that particular program)—for each program there’s a set of data under the “Outcomes” tab. There will be a percentage of students who completed their degree within 8 years, and an average time to completion. If the average time to completion is 6 years, and only 40% of the students complete their degree within 8 years, it’s likely that a fairly high percentage of students are dropping out of the program.  

Program Environment. There’s a helpful post from Leiter Reports on the importance of visiting a program and talking to current graduate students, here. Many schools set up visits for prospective students, but some don’t. If there is no department-sponsored visit, ask if they will subsidize a visit (one school I was admitted to, offered to pay for my plane ticket when I asked).

Is the program competitive? Is the department supportive? Are there on-going department feuds? Are certain philosophical interests looked down upon? What you should ask depends on what you’re looking for in a department—but here are some of the questions I asked graduate students enrolled in the programs I was admitted to: Can you tell me a little bit about your experience in the program? Have you found professors to be helpful and engaging? How has your TA experience been? How is the TA workload? Is there anything you wish you had known about the program before matriculating? How is the graduate student community (i.e., supportive, competitive, friendly, factionalized, etc.)? Are there close working relationships between students and faculty? Are there faculty members who don’t get along? How do you feel about the placement record? Are there particular advisors whose advisees don’t place well? How friendly/unfriendly is the department to women? Do you feel the department has taken the appropriate steps to prepare you for an academic career, e.g., preparing you for an eventual job search, teaching development, good research practices, etc.?

Graduate Student Responsibilities. Most likely, your funding offer will have some responsibilities associated with it and it’s probably a good idea to compare these between programs as well. From what I’ve heard from faculty serving on hiring committees—teaching experience is important (both in getting your C.V. noticed by a hiring committee and in acing the teaching demonstration portion of on-campus interviews). So, are you only being offered a position as a T.A.? Will you have the opportunity to teach a course down the road? Are you guaranteed the opportunity to teach? And ask current graduate students about the workload. The department may tell you that you’ll be working about 20 hours a week, but the graduate students may tell you it’s really more than that in practice. A heavy work load may interfere with your course work (and certainly with your ability to take an extra course each semester if you’re so inclined).

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~ by humeisapotato on March 15, 2011.

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