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« on: February 01, 2012, 09:40:27 PM »

Has anyone here ever applied to, or studied in, a PhD program? How difficult are they to get into? How does one finance a PhD? Any advice?

Of course I am look a few years down the road, but I want to start preparing now.
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« Reply #1 on: February 01, 2012, 10:09:07 PM »

For a lot of subjects, at a major school you should generally have most or all of your tuition remitted in exchange for slave labor (srs). Getting into one depends on the school and subject I suppose. Some schools publish acceptance rates, you can check their websites for the ones you're interested in. I've researched graduate programs in several fields, and generally the acceptance rates were in the 2-10% range, depending on various factors.
« Last Edit: February 01, 2012, 10:09:39 PM by Asteriktos » Logged
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« Reply #2 on: February 01, 2012, 10:10:26 PM »

Yes, I'm starting on my PhD in the fall.

What is your current educational situation?  What field are we talking here?  My experience is in the humanities, so this might not be as helpful if you're in something in the sciences, though there are a lot of commonalities between the two anyway.  

If you're coming straight out of undergrad, or just have your BA and a bunch of years of work in between, you're going to be a bit behind the 8-ball.  Your best bet is to have your BA and your MA.  Some programs don't even take student straight out of undergrad.  You should have a reasonably good idea of what kind of dissertation project you want to do, what you want to accomplish, and be competent with your particular discipline and the kinds of work current scholars in your field are doing.  You won't get anywhere with a redundant or irrelevant project, and you'll have an infinitely better chance if you can articulate why what you want to do is worth their time and money.

If you're serious about applying, research programs and contact faculty you may be interested in working with.  When you apply, you're going to be applying to a specific program and faculty member or two who you think will be able to reasonably facilitate your research interests.  Not only will you have a better experience, but you will have a better chance of getting in if you choose faculty whose interests align with your own, and who will have a good idea of what you're trying to accomplish.  You're going to want to find 5-10 schools to target.  Don't apply to just two or three schools.  These are situations where you have 100-200 people, sometimes more, applying for as few as 5-10 spots.  It's extremely competitive out there right now.

As for funding, in the humanities, many PhD's are funded in part, if not entirely.  You absolutely do not want to undertake paying for this yourself.  Paying your own way, if you receive an unfunded offer, is setting yourself up for disaster in the long run.  You get funding for things like being a teaching or research assistant.  Essentially, you're working for them in return for your training, so you can go forward in your career and do the same for others in the academy.  When you research programs, look at their policies for funding graduate students.  Every school is different.

Above all, don't do a PhD unless you are absolutely in love with what you're doing, have no qualms about moving almost anywhere to do it, have no issue with making little to no money along the way, and are prepared to make a lot of sacrifices in your personal life over a period of 4-6 years, sometimes even longer.  Being a graduate student is difficult, and you have to be committed to your research and your field.  You will be miserable if you force yourself into graduate study with serious reservations about what you're doing.  It will be difficult for you, for your program, the faculty, your students, and your classmates.

At any rate, that's a quick rundown of it, at least as I experienced the process.  I can answer other things more specifically if you want.
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« Reply #3 on: February 01, 2012, 10:16:05 PM »

Thank you both for your replies. I am currently about a third of the way into my MA in philosophy, and I hope to continue studying in this field. The 2-10% acceptance rate of most universities is quiet intimidating, but I suppose we will see how things go.
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« Reply #4 on: February 01, 2012, 10:57:22 PM »

I think it might also be wise to locate employment statistics for recent graduates.

EDIT: And also a few years back, since - I believe - the economic downturn severely affected new university hires.
« Last Edit: February 01, 2012, 10:58:04 PM by JamesRottnek » Logged

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« Reply #5 on: February 01, 2012, 11:10:10 PM »

Let's get this out of the way right now. PhD programs are nothing like college. PhD != college.

Why is it so different? The faculty and administrators of PhD programs have one goal: to place you as a tenure-track assistant professor at a peer institution. They do realize (especially in STEM) that some of their graduates will go into industry, but PhD programs grow their reputations with successful placements of their graduates. If you don't want to be a professor, that doesn't mean you shouldn't do a PhD. If your target job requires a PhD or you can't imagine doing anything else, then by all means do it, but do NOT do a PhD because you don't know what to do with your life. That's what law school is for.  Wink

Obviously, Papist, you want to do a PhD because you're interested (and educated) in a particular subject, about which you gained some insight with your junior and senior year electives. Remember the professors who taught those courses? Ask them for advice. They'll be able to point you in the right direction with respect to potential programs and advisors. Assuming you did well in their classes, you've started a dialogue that will facilitate better letters of recommendation for you.

Aside from the usual considerations of program reputation, graduate placement, and "Am I going to like living here for 5 years?" is the safety net problem. In most fields, you work under a professor, but what happens if you go to a department that only has one professor in that specialty and they leave? Try not to put yourself in that position.

That said, apply to every program you might attend if admitted. $1000 for a bunch of applications now is a drop in the bucket compared to the rest of your life.

And how are you going to finance all of this? The short answer is you don't. Your advisor/department pays for it. It's generally a bad idea to accept an offer from a program that won't fund you.

Let's say you get into Stanford, Harvard, MIT, etc. Which school do you choose? I can't answer that but you know who can? Students are those schools. You know how you find out? Go visit them. Programs generally have visitation weekends set up for admitted students. Absolutely take advantage of those opportunities. Talk with students. Talk with faculty and administration. Check out the city. You might be living there for 5+ years and working with those people for 5+ years, so choose wisely. Remember, grad students can be surprisingly candid and will probably give you the most honest critique of their programs. Also, no program can force you to make a decision before April 15th. Oh they'll try, but you have rights.

I want to make this especially clear, Papist, the job market in many fields is terrible. (Just don't be that idiot who amassed 300k in debt for a bachelor's degree: http://am.blogs.cnn.com/2010/05/25/the-cost-of-college-dream-school-nightmare-debt/) In philosophy, which is an extreme case, it's not unusual for any given job opening to receive three hundred applications (and that's in a good economy). Most other fields aren't quite that bad, but if you want a job, you need to be prepared to take any job you can get, even if it's the last thing you'd ever want.

Ask me about handling recommendation letters if you need it. I know alot about this stuff because I have quite a number of familiy members and friends who all pursued master or doctorate degrees.
« Last Edit: February 01, 2012, 11:24:50 PM by Achronos » Logged

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« Reply #6 on: February 01, 2012, 11:16:39 PM »

Let's get this out of the way right now. PhD programs are nothing like college. PhD != college.

Why is it so different? The faculty and administrators of PhD programs have one goal: to place you as a tenure-track assistant professor at a peer institution. They do realize (especially in STEM) that some of their graduates will go into industry, but PhD programs grow their reputations with successful placements of their graduates. If you don't want to be a professor, that doesn't mean you shouldn't do a PhD. If your target job requires a PhD or you can't imagine doing anything else, then by all means do it, but do NOT do a PhD because you don't know what to do with your life. That's what law school is for.  Wink

Obviously, Papist, you want to do a PhD because you're interested (and educated) in a particular subject, about which you gained some insight with your junior and senior year electives. Remember the professors who taught those courses? Ask them for advice. They'll be able to point you in the right direction with respect to potential programs and advisors. Assuming you did well in their classes, you've started a dialogue that will facilitate better letters of recommendation for you.

Aside from the usual considerations of program reputation, graduate placement, and "Am I going to like living here for 5 years?" is the safety net problem. In most fields, you work under a professor, but what happens if you go to a department that only has one professor in that specialty and they leave? Try not to put yourself in that position.

That said, apply to every program you might attend if admitted. $1000 for a bunch of applications now is a drop in the bucket compared to the rest of your life.

And how are you going to finance all of this? The short answer is you don't. Your advisor/department pays for it. It's generally a bad idea to accept an offer from a program that won't fund you.

Let's say you get into Stanford, Harvard, MIT, etc. Which school do you choose? I can't answer that but you know who can? Students are those schools. You know how you find out? Go visit them. Programs generally have visitation weekends set up for admitted students. Absolutely take advantage of those opportunities. Talk with students. Talk with faculty and administration. Check out the city. You might be living there for 5+ years and working with those people for 5+ years, so choose wisely. Remember, grad students can be surprisingly candid and will probably give you the most honest critique of their programs. Also, no program can force you to make a decision before April 15th. Oh they'll try, but you have rights.

I want to make this especially clear, Papist, the job market in many fields is terrible. (In fact look at the guy who is 300k in debt: http://am.blogs.cnn.com/2010/05/25/the-cost-of-college-dream-school-nightmare-debt/) In philosophy, which is an extreme case, it's not unusual for any given job opening to receive three hundred applications (and that's in a good economy). Most other fields aren't quite that bad, but if you want a job, you need to be prepared to take any job you can get, even if it's the last thing you'd ever want.

Ask me about handling recommendation letters if you need it. I know alot about this stuff because I have quite a number of familiy members and friends who all pursued master or doctorate degrees.

My oldest son had an unusual track. He spent his entire collegiate career at one university - quite the exception, rather than the rule. He is a scientist, doing his post-doctoral research at the University of Pennsylvania Medical College in a genetics related lab. He is in his mid-thirties and still has to complete post-doc work before settling in to either academic, corporate or government research. In other words, you have to be prepared to sacrifice many years to reach your goal.

When you are comparing technical fields with traditional liberal arts fields, sadly, you are comparing apples and oranges. My son was funded throughout his Masters and Doctoral programs under research grants that his mentoring professors had obtained along with some additional funding from the University's endowed funds for those disciplines. Most of the grant funding was NSA or NSI - less money is available for non-scientific research these days. This is unfortunate for areas like history or philosophy. (That's why so many of us went to law school back when even...)

Good luck and Achronos' advice is good advice.
« Last Edit: February 01, 2012, 11:18:02 PM by podkarpatska » Logged
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« Reply #7 on: February 02, 2012, 01:59:31 PM »

Thank you all for the sage advice. The reason I want to pursue a PhD in philosophy is that I would like to become a Philosophy professor. However, it's that it is, most certainly, a difficult path. It appears that the odds are against making it in such a profession. This gives me a lot to think about. Thank you.
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« Reply #8 on: February 02, 2012, 02:19:06 PM »

My uncle got a PhD many years ago. He went on to be a composer and an opera director. It can be done.  Smiley
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« Reply #9 on: February 02, 2012, 03:04:31 PM »

Yes it can, my daughter-in-law got her PhD in English and is employed in the private sector by a publishing company. Her job has little to do with her area of academic expertise, but the education certainly helped her advance and the job allows her to write in her spare time and pay the bills.

Don't despair, the world needs philosophy and history professors and poets just as it needs bio-chemists.

best of luck!
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« Reply #10 on: February 02, 2012, 04:04:54 PM »

Thank you both for your replies. I am currently about a third of the way into my MA in philosophy, and I hope to continue studying in this field. The 2-10% acceptance rate of most universities is quiet intimidating, but I suppose we will see how things go.
It might be easier to find an academic job in philosophy if you obtain your PhD in philosophy from one of the top schools, such as Princeton, MIT, Harvard, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Notre Dame, or Columbia.  It will also depend on the specialty you choose for your dissertation. Some specialties are more in demand than others. I would guess that medical or bioethics, feminist philosophy, philosophy of science, might be more in demand than some other specialties such as Husserl and the foundations of phenomenology, but it is just a guess, and things can always change. BTW, have you given any thought to your eventual area of PhD research? 
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« Reply #11 on: February 03, 2012, 03:01:30 AM »

This might not really help you too much, but I suggest it anyway...  laugh
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« Reply #12 on: February 03, 2012, 11:39:26 AM »

Thank you both for your replies. I am currently about a third of the way into my MA in philosophy, and I hope to continue studying in this field. The 2-10% acceptance rate of most universities is quiet intimidating, but I suppose we will see how things go.
It might be easier to find an academic job in philosophy if you obtain your PhD in philosophy from one of the top schools, such as Princeton, MIT, Harvard, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Notre Dame, or Columbia.  It will also depend on the specialty you choose for your dissertation. Some specialties are more in demand than others. I would guess that medical or bioethics, feminist philosophy, philosophy of science, might be more in demand than some other specialties such as Husserl and the foundations of phenomenology, but it is just a guess, and things can always change. BTW, have you given any thought to your eventual area of PhD research?  
Yes I have to some degree. Bioethics and Metaphysics are both of great interest to me. Because bioethics is a field that is always front and center in public discourse, I will probably pursue an academic career in that area.
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« Reply #13 on: February 03, 2012, 11:49:06 AM »

Just a thought. If I don't have to pay my way through a PhD program, then I am not completely worried about the job market for professors. I still have my degree in Mathematics, and my secondary teaching license. If I come out of a PhD program without having amassed huge debt in student loans, and the job market for professors is still terrible, then I can always go back to teaching high school. That is, I can do so until I find a job at a university. Again, just a thought.
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« Reply #14 on: February 03, 2012, 11:58:51 AM »

Follow the money.
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« Reply #15 on: February 03, 2012, 12:09:52 PM »

Follow the money.

Follow you heart, but keep your wallet nearby.
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« Reply #16 on: March 02, 2012, 12:29:50 AM »

You're facing quite a few problems in wanting a PhD.

First, and most importantly, it's a very competitive degree. However, the three essential things you'll need to get into an upper-level PhD program are:

1) An outstanding entrance essay
2) A CV (peer-reviewed articles in respected journals is very helpful; better start writing)
3) Connections (these are gained through current professors, but are especially gained by attending/speaking at conferences)

If you're accepted into a graduate program, paying for it really isn't an issue as you'll be a glorified servant, teaching eager-young minds unwilling students forced to take an intro to philosophy course.

The second problem is that you're a theist. More importantly, you're a Christian who believes all those weird things. What you have going for you, however, is that Roman Catholics are viewed with a bit more respect in the field of philosophy than evangelicals (I'd much rather read Kreeft or George or Spitzer than Moreland or Craig). Part of that is that Roman Catholics never lost their philosophical tradition, whereas evangelicals have needed to reclaim it in the past few decades. Of course, such an objection goes out the window if you apply to Notre Dame, Boston College, Oxford, or other universities that aren't anti-theist.

The third problem is that by now, even early in an MA, you should really know what you want to do and should be narrowing down schools to apply to, building connections with those schools, emailing professors and asking them what they recommend, etc.

In the end, getting a PhD from a respected university actually does matter as it can build great connections and gives you a better chance at job placement. However, if you can't get into a top university, don't fear; there is always the "blue-collar" approach where you get a PhD, but make yourself known through constant publishing. This is a much harder path and few can traverse it, but if you increase your CV, make your name known, then you can always get into one of those top universities for a second PhD. Or, if you make a name for yourself, you could simply say, "Who cares" and keep on doing what you're doing, realizing that your work made you famous, not the school you attended (I'd still try to get into a top school though...).
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« Reply #17 on: March 02, 2012, 01:27:54 PM »

Well, as someone who is very much interested in becoming a history professor, I'll more than likely be doing PhD work soon. Got to finish my Masters first. As a graduate assistant, I'm already a glorified servant, but I do get paid.
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