Saturday, March 03, 2007


Wow, I'm feeling incredibly spoilt. I've received offers from Princeton, NYU, Rutgers, Michigan Ann Arbor, UNC Chapel Hill, and Arizona. [Update: Harvard too.]

(For completeness: I was turned down by Stanford, haven't heard from waitlisted at Yale, and Harvard won't decide till next week.)

So. Which grad school should I pick? Bearing in mind that my main interests are in ethics and political philosophy, but with side interests in metaphysics and, well, pretty much everything...

All of these schools have pretty great faculty [PGR top 15] and placement records, so I assume none can be ruled out on those grounds. I guess it then comes down to more subtle differences: which offer a more collegial atmosphere, a friendly student environment, quality teaching and supervisor support, etc.? In short, where would be the most enjoyable and rewarding place for me to study over the next five years?

Or is there a big difference between the top 5 and, say, UNC or Arizona? Is the prestige of an Ivy especially valuable? (Might it, for example, help my efforts outside of academia, if I wanted to become a public intellectual or influence policy-makers, etc.? Or would the first-hand experience of public philosophy offered by UNC actually be more valuable? Do the more prestigous private universities offer anything comparable?)

(I also note Leiter's assessment that NYU could become "the top department by a wide margin", if all five of its recent faculty offers are accepted. One has been already.)

I'll hopefully get a better feel for it all when I visit each campus later this month. But in the meantime, any comments/advice welcome. Sensitive information may instead be emailed to me at -- at a time when all the schools are putting on their best appearances, it would be helpful to hear of any negative experiences too, in addition to the good. Thanks in advance!


  1. Congrats. I advise against NYU. Full of bureaucracy, and the city a mess. Unless you really adore run-down megalopolis. :-)

  2. Further digging yields some good questions from Richard Heck: "What one wants is some sense of how involved the faculty is with graduate students. Do the students feel well cared for? Do they feel as if they have to struggle for attention? Are they satisfied with the sorts of feedback they get on their papers? If they have a question, do they feel comfortable barging into someone's office to ask it? What is the atmosphere like in the seminars? Is the discussion free, open, and wide-ranging? or is it constricted, repressed, and a bit too respectful of the teacher? Do students feel as if they are taken seriously by the faculty? Do they think the faculty likes reading their work and likes talking to them about philosophy? Or do they feel like they are just in the way? a distraction from what the faculty would really prefer to be doing, namely, their own stuff?"

    Though Leiter's reply argues that faculty quality (as measured by the PGR) is still of central importance.

    Plus, Keith DeRose offers Some Thoughts on How to Choose a Graduate Program in Philosophy.

    Now I just have to wait for my campus visits...

  3. Congrats!

    I think Richard Heck's comments are good advice, I have several friends at Oxford for example who are having radically different experiences depending mostly on how involved and interested their supervisor is in helping them and working with them. So this is the warning, working with a big name is definitely a plus, but make sure they are someone who is going to actually be involved and put the effort in, not coast on their reputation...


  4. Keep in mind that the overall rankings in the PGR are a little misleading if you already know your primary interests; a department ranked highly overall may be relatively weak in the sub-fields that most interest you. It's been a while since I've looked, and I never pay much attention to the gossip mill anyway, but I would imagine that (in terms of what the PGR considers) Arizona, for instance, trounces most of the others on your list in political philosophy.

    Vera brings up an important point; while it probably shouldn't by any means top your list of criteria, you might keep in mind that you're not just picking a department but a school and a city. Things like bureaucracy, crime rate around the campus, and even quality of public transportation can sometimes make the difference between heaven and hell; and while I'm sure you'd manage well enough in either case, the general consensus seems to be that it's a bit more difficult to do good-quality grad work (and enjoy doing it, which is not a small thing) in hell.

  5. Congrads Richard! I'm curious: Did all this blogging help, hurt, or was it neutral to your academic career?

    ...I'm brought over here from Felicifia the online utilitarianism community with a philosophy question. I'm working on the Hume's Law page on Wikipedia, and, since I'm not a formally-trained philosopher, I'm wondering if I paraphrased it correctly:

    Hume's Law says that normative statements cannot be deduced exclusively from positive statements.

    This post on Felicifia has more.

  6. this is awesome!

  7. Congrats Richard. Some really good faculties in there.

    The only real piece of advice I'd offer is to make sure you go and visit before finalising your choice, and speak to your potential supervisor (and, just as importantly, students). That way you can get some idea of whether or not you'll get on, and the students there are in the best position to tell you how attentive your supervisor will be and how they find the department generally.

  8. congrats!

    Given that your main areas of interest are ethics and political philosophy, why the choice of sub-thesis topic? Just wondering...

  9. Oh, the metaphysics of modality was puzzling me greatly around that time, so I just wanted to make some sense of it. (A major reason for going to ANU was so that I could work with Chalmers on that stuff.) I finally de-muddled myself with this post early in the year (perhaps by unconsciously internalizing Brandon's suggestions). My eventual sub-thesis then grew out of all the other things I was learning about modality while at ANU. (Note also that it may have important implications for meta-ethics.)

  10. Congratulations! I don't have much advice, except to say that having visited most or some of those places, you should already have some intuition about what place best suits you. Department culture can have a huge impact on your development (esp. early on), and you have to make sure you and the dept are a good fit. Granted, this is difficult to know at this stage, but its importance can not be underestimated. The departments you list are extremely different in personality (as it were), and I know people at (e.g.) Princeton who might not have flourished at Michigan, simply because the ethos of the grad student body and faculty is so different.

    Good luck!


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