For Prospective Ph.D. Students

Several people have asked me whether they should consider applying to get a Ph.D. in Philosophy in the United States.  I posted my reflections here for their reference.

What does it take to succeed in entering a doctoral program in Philosophy in the United States?

  • a person who is willing to relocate to any location where philosophy is taught in English in order to find full-time employment.  Philosophers who trained in the USA are now working in far-flung places including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and South Africa.

  • a person who is highly motivated, strictly disciplined, and extremely hard working.  S/he is the kind of person who doesn't mind devoting evenings, weekends, holidays and vacation time to work, on a regular basis.
  • S/he needs to be a confident, outspoken person who is developing a robust self concept as a philosopher.  S/he has interesting views expressed via philosophical argumentation, not just strongly held beliefs.  At the same time, s/he is willing to learn in the style of an apprentice from the faculty in the Ph.D. program and to choose a dissertation topic that will demonstrate his/her mastery in one or more of the committee members' areas of expertise.

  • a person who can give extremely compelling reasons why s/he is called to pursue a career in Philosophy rather than any other career on earth, most of which offer better chances of employment and are better paid.

  • a person with the necessary academic background to succeed in a Philosophy Ph.D. program. This means a B.A. with a Philosophy major, an Honors major preferably, with an excellent GPA.
  • a person with outstanding writing, reading and analytical skills.  These skills will be documented in his/her SAT, LSAT, and GRE scores.
  • if this person belongs to an under-represented minority, s/he must be resilient enough to endure multiple acts of implicit racism, sexism, homophobia, classism and ableism throughout his/her career in Philosophy.  Click here to learn about implicit bias. I highly recommend reading Linda Martín Alcoff's "A Call for Climate Change." (you may have to scroll down to find it)
  • a person who is aware that being an under-represented minority will NOT help him/her find employment. On the contrary, the opposite may be true.  S/he is willing to work hard to be better qualified and more dedicated than the very best applicants to the same graduate programs.  Period.  Click here to learn about stereotype threat.

  • a person whom current philosophy professors can easily imagine as a future colleague in a university department.  This person demonstrates professionalism, fairness, integrity, humility, and respect toward all others, especially those who don't respect him/her.

  • a person who is willing to acquire a sweeping breadth of competencies and pursue some speciality in meaningful depth. S/he will be required to teach a variety of courses at the Intro level.  If s/he wishes to teach elective courses and graduate seminars, s/he will have to design, propose, and defend the relevance of these courses and s/he will need to recruit students to register and pay for these seminars.