Hi everyone! I am grateful to Brian for giving me the honor of guest-blogging here again. It’s been about a year and a half since my last stint, and there have been all sorts of vigorous and controversial discussions going on in the discipline since then; I hope to touch on several of them over the next week.
In the mean time I will start with something seasonally appropriate, as this year’s job market starts to wind down just as the Amazing Graduate Admissions Race hurdles towards its April 15th climax.
I’ve been on the graduate admissions committee at Georgetown for the last several years. It is striking to me what a hefty – and I think growing – percentage of the students we admit are coming out of terminal MA programs, or in some cases other sorts of graduate programs. The large majority of the people we admitted this year had some graduate training already. My informal sense is that it’s getting hard for undergraduates to compete for spots in PhD programs. And while I have no numbers, I know it’s not just us, because top-ranked programs like Pitt, Stanford, and NYU keep scooping our admits (curses!). A quick glance at the placement records of good terminal MA programs like Georgia State and Tufts reaffirms that students with MAs are nabbing top PhD spots, although that’s not comparative data obviously.
Anyhow all this seems to me to be a sea-change. Doing a terminal MA in the US was quite uncommon back when I was a grad student, and it certainly wasn’t any kind of prerequisite for getting into a good PhD program, to understate the point.
Meanwhile, though again I have no systematic data, clearly more people are doing postdocs before they settle into tenure track jobs. There are 29 postdocs listed so far on this Brian’s annual list of hires and I suspect there will be many more to come. This too is a sea change.
It’s unclear to me what is driving all this. Why are people doing terminal MAs? Why are people funding philosophy postdocs? (It’s not mysterious why people are taking them.)
It seems to me that one clear co-traveling phenomenon is a sharp increase in professionalization among young philosophers. I am certainly blown away by how professionalized the PhD applications are from the top people coming out of MA programs; these people have mastered the form and tone of professional philosophical writing and often have several conference presentations and even publications. I can’t tell how much is cause and how much is effect here, although surely the causality goes both ways. (Students need MAs to be professionalized enough to compete, partly because so many of their competitors have MAs…) And on the other end, people coming out of postdocs and into tenure-track jobs have mind-blowingly impressive cvs. The post-doc model is clearly pushing us more in the direction of the sciences, which traditionally have a different publication rhythm than we do.
My question is, what should we make of all this? What are the upsides and downsides of this kind of professionalization and this new and increasingly routine trajectory? How if at all is it changing our evaluative standards? What are the consequences for people’s lives of extending the whole path to a secure job at both ends? We might think about two sorts of questions here:
- Does this all make for better or worse philosophy getting done, in the end? Or neither?
- If a terminal MA and a postdoc become standard parts of the career path, might this create disadvantages (or advantages) for already-vulnerable would-be philosophers, such as people from working class backgrounds, or people with family responsibilities?
My own tentative view is that things cut both ways on both sets of questions. Anyhow, thoughts? I’d love to hear from anyone, but it would be especially interesting to hear from people who have recently chosen to do MAs and/or postdocs.
UPDATE: Some people are posting anonymous comments using fake email addresses. I am not going to post those. Some of these seem to me to be completely reasonable comments, and I encourage people to re-post using a real email address (and ideally your name, but that's not necessarily a deal breaker).
UPDATE: See above update.