Philosophy PhD Programs: Western University and University of Oxford

In this blog post I provide some detailed, up-to-date information about two philosophy PhD programs. This week's picks are Western University and University of Oxford. These programs were chosen randomly, using an app called "Pickster." (Next week's picks are listed at the bottom of this post.) This information comes from the APDA database, and was updated by my research assistant, Anna Durbin, using the program's placement page and what she could find online. The running tally includes select numbers from all of the programs covered so far.

tl;dr

  • Western and Oxford are both very large programs
  • Oxford's academic placement is about average, whereas Western's is below average
  • More Western students are in Science, Logic, whereas more Oxford students are in LEMM
  • Western survey respondents report below average racial/ethnic diversity, but above average socioeconomic diversity, whereas Oxford has below average gender diversity
  • Program ratings for Oxford are above average, whereas Western is below average
  • Yet satisfaction ratings on support for teaching, research, and finances are about the same for these programs

Overall placement, 2012-present
Western had 80 PhD graduates in this period, whereas Oxford had 107. Of Western's 80 graduates, 56 went into academic or unknown employment, and they placed 12 of these into tenure-track or other permanent academic positions (21%), with 6 of these in programs that offer a PhD in philosophy (11%). Oxford placed 42 of 100 into permanent academic positions (42%), with 26 in philosophy programs with a PhD (26%).

Of Western's other graduates, 12 are in postdoctoral or fellowship positions, 21 have other temporary academic placements, 24 are in nonacademic positions, and 11 have no or unknown placement.

Of Oxford's other graduates, 24 are in postdoctoral or fellowship positions, 33 have other temporary positions, 7 are in nonacademic positions, and 1 has no or unknown placement.

Nonacademic positions held by graduates of Western include university administration, law, writer/editor, advisor, and researcher, whereas those held by graduates of Oxford include military, advisor/consultant, law, government, and non-profit.

The average salary of Western graduates is $77,880 and 79% preferred an academic job, whereas this is $63,464 and 94% for Oxford.

The current database values for all 2012 and later graduates now in permanent academic positions, out of those in academic positions overall, is 42%, with 14% in programs that offer a PhD in philosophy. The average salary of all graduates who took part in the survey is $68,542 and 90% prefer an academic job.

Areas of Specialization, by Category
Including all past and current students in the APDA database, 19% of Western students are in Language, Epistemology, Metaphysics, and Mind (LEMM), 29% are in Value Theory, 19% are in History and Traditions, and 33% are in Science, Logic and Math. 37% of Oxford students are in LEMM, 33% are in Value Theory, 17% are in History and Traditions, and 13% are in Science, Logic, and Math. For Western, the plurality of graduates 2012 onward placed into permanent academic positions were in Value Theory (42%), whereas the plurality of those from Oxford were in LEMM (43%).

Note that the current database values for all past graduates and current students are 28% in LEMM, 33% in Value Theory, 24% in History and Traditions, and 15% in Science, Logic, and Math.

Diversity
Including all past graduates and current students, 31% of those from Western are women, as are 24% of Oxford students.

The current database percentage is 31% for all past graduates and current students.

Including all past graduates and current students, 0% of those who answered questions about race and ethnicity from Western and 24% from Oxford identified as something other than White, non-Hispanic.

13% is the overall proportion reported by APDA in 2017. The percentage from the Diversity and Inclusivity survey is 14%. The current database percentage is 21%, but this is likely inflated relative to the true population due to some of our data gathering efforts.

60% of those from Western were first generation college students, as were 23% of Oxford students.

The percentage of all survey respondents who are first generation college students is 23.4%, compared to 31% for all United States doctoral degree recipients in 2015.

Students from Western provided some public comments on how philosophy could be more inclusive:

More diverse conference programs/contributors to volumes. Much more attention paid to diversity in course syllabi.
The discipline (including the well-intentioned sects of it) need to broaden how it understands diversity and inclusion. For instance, we need to pay way more attention to class and first generation status, and the unique difficulties that arise for low SES/first-gen students in navigating the waters of a professional and academic discipline.
The discipline needs to realize that diversity does not equal inclusivity. These are both important and necessary efforts. but diversity and inclusivity are different. Diversity is about who is here (and who is not here) both in terms of philosophers and the canon. And how do we get more underrepresented people in the field is a critical, important effort. But inclusivity is about thinking about the environments we work and teach in. We need to be more empathic and reflective on what can be done to make our spaces such that diverse groups of people WANT to be there. There needs to be more efforts placed on thinking about what inclusive practices are in the discipline in terms of behavior, cultural of philosophy departments, and also ways in which one engages in philosophy. We need to be more pluralistic about what makes a good philosophy. It it not just single authored, brilliant philosophy papers. There are many ways to positively contribute to this field. And it is often those who are mindful and working to make the spaces more welcoming that are not having their efforts rewarded.
as did Oxford students:
Hire more faculty who identify in a diversity of ways: women, genderqueer, POC, various socioeconomic and educational backgrounds. Support philosophical work that engages feminist, queer, non-Anglophone ideas, concepts, histories. Encourage students who show a passionate interest in the questions and arguments, even if their approaches seem rough around the edges, experimental, pushing the boundaries– Philosophy as a discipline honestly needs some of this, I think! The Humanities are dwindling in universities across the U.S.; we have to think of ways of hooking Philosophy (along with other humanistic disciplines) into society, culture, and politics. Philosophy faculty can consider how the discipline offers students not just access to a body of knowledge or a specifically academic methodology, but also a whole set of skills that can form critical citizens and caring humans. This has to happen through *teaching*; so work too needs to happen to center teaching as valuable and essential in the discipline.
Program Rating
In response to the question: "How likely would you be to recommend the program from which you obtained or will obtain your PhD to prospective philosophy students?" past and current Western students selected between "neither likely nor unlikely" and "somewhat likely" (3.5, n=17), whereas Oxford students selected between "somewhat likely" and "definitely would recommend" (4.5, n=20).

Neither university had a moderate or higher correlation between graduation year and program rating. Of 69 programs with at least 10 survey participants who are past graduates, 14 had moderate negative correlations between these values, 7 had moderate positive correlations, and there is a slight negative overall correlation of -.06.

"Somewhat likely," 4.0, is the average rating reported in 2017. The current database overall average is the same, with an average of 3.7 for teaching, 3.9 for research, and 3.7 for financial support. It is worth noting that some students give lower ratings to their program because they would not recommend a graduate education in philosophy to anyone or because they think it is more difficult to find employment from that program for reasons that have little to do with the quality of that program.

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the advice and preparation this program provides to its graduate students for undergraduate teaching," Western students selected "neutral" (2.8, n=14), as did Oxford students (3.2, n=14).

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the advice and preparation this program provides to its graduate students for academic research," Western students selected "satisfied" (3.6, n=14), as did Oxford students (4.3, n=14).

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the financial support this program provides for its graduate students, Western students selected "neutral" (2.6, n=14), as did Oxford students (2.8, n=14).

Public Comments (Note that these comments primarily come from current students and recent graduates, but in some cases may be from non-recent graduates.)

Western students provided public comments on the program overall:
4 years is an inadequate time for all but the most privileged of students to have a reasonable chance of competing. Claims to the contrary are disingenuous at best, and maliciously manipulative at worst to prospective students.
After finishing my MA (at an institution that has historical and ongoing climate issues) it was incredibly important for me to find a place where I felt like people like me could do work like I do, and be not only left alone, but supported. I have that here. Though the department is far from perfect (it is professional philosophy after all), I find that there is a generally good climate for those of us who are not cis-hetero white men in the discipline.
If I only had to evaluate my program based on the people I have met, what I have learned and the overall support I received from faculty members I worked with, I would highly recommend my program, especially in my area. However, the finances and length of the program have generated so much stress and obstacles that it clearly has taken over my otherwise grateful look at my department. Being paid way below the poverty line, having no other incomes available from the university and having my scholarships taken away from me by the university to pay for my tuitions have generated very important difficulties that clearly have affected both my experience and my work, and my vision of the academic world.
It is a very strong program that excellently trains PhD students in all aspects of the job -- research, teaching, and service. The program has a good placement rate, and when its alumni are hired, they hit the ground running because of the excellent training. However, I selected somewhat likely rather than definitely would recommend because of climate issues in the department that have made the program somewhat inhospitable for women.
Lack of employment opportunities; Length of time to secure stable employment; Lack of control over where you live and work
The program at UWO was extremely supportive. The faculty were intent on getting you through the program, rather than attempting to weed people out. There was also a great deal of support amongst the graduate students (reading each other’s work, study groups, socializing, etc.). Overall it was a great experience.

on preparation for teaching:

No teaching opportunities
There are no actual teaching opportunities and TA opportunities do not teach all but the most basic of lecturing skills. Administrative skills regarding curricula, syllabi, and other course development are non-existent at the department level.
We need more opportunities to design and teach our own courses in order to be successful on a teaching-oriented market.

on preparation for research:

I had nothing but very good feedback and sincere support from the faculty I worked with.
No formal research trading or advice
Preparing graduate students to produce top-tier research is the clear priority and area of strength of the department. While the nature and degree of this preparation will vary with the mentoring approach and degree of engagement of your supervisor (as is true in any program), in general the department does a good job at preparing and encouraging its grad students to produce top-tier research and to be actively engaged in the research community in their specific area. Expectations on the quality of graduate student work are consistent with the expectations of quality that would be expected of researchers at top-tier research programs and from reputable journals. The program recognizes that graduate students will not necessarily be at this level when they enter, but they are clear about what the expectations are from the start. Graduate students are also actively encouraged to participate in conferences and to network with researchers in their area. In my experience, graduate students were not only encouraged to become familiar with the literature in their area, they were additionally encouraged to reach out to the researchers producing that literature, collaborate with them (where possible), and meet with them (perhaps at a conference) to discuss their work. The faculty in the department lead by example in this area - the vast majority of faculty are actively engaged with researchers at other institutions, engaged in editing/publishing activities, and are actively organizing conferences and other events. The best supervisors in the department include their graduate students in these activities in meaningful ways so that when they graduate from the department they are already involved or embedded in collaborations, associations, or activities before securing academic work (this can be an asset when entering the academic job market).
The kind of research advice and preparation students receive depends largely on their supervisor. I had very good advice, but others were not so lucky.

and on financial support:

Competitive scholarships; Some departmental grants
I had external funding, which made my situation very comfortable. Those who had departmental funding were less than pleased, and even in my case I did not receive clear information at the departmental level about how my funding would be instituted.
It is absolutely impossible to live with the financial package delivered by the university ( $12700 smoothed over the year); especially given that the real estate market has changed a lot in the last years and prices have been increasing every year during my PhD whole my income was staying the same. Tuitions are covered by a WGRS but not waived, which allows the university to claw back any scholarship we receive and re-direct them toward the university. The only scholarship available for international students for instance, the OGS, is supposed to be $15000. Only 8 awards are available for the entire campus. When this scholarship is awarded, the university cancels the WGRS and take the corresponding money from the OGS, i.e., around 70%. The only solution to pay the bills is to find an extra-job that will ineluctably slow down the progress in the program, unless one has a supervisor who cares and actively support graduate students. The situation is difficult for Canadian graduate students, but it is untenable for international students.
there is no funding available for summer (TA-ships), nor is it guaranteed in any other fashion. Funding packages are only for the 4 years that the program is marketed as taking to complete.

Oxford students likewise provided public comments on the program overall:

High quality of faculty, covering a very wide range of areas. Very vibrant intellectual culture. Large number of events.
Oxford arguably has the best philosophy faculty in the world. As a result, the Philosophy Department attracts excellent graduate students. And the combination of world-renowned faculty and brilliant colleagues means Oxford is an incredibly stimulating place to conduct research and complete a graduate degree.
Small cohort size (even more so at the time), wonderful teachers with 1-1 contact, lots of great research seminars
The academic discussions to which we were exposed were fantastic, conducted by world-leading philosophers at the highest level. The program of optional seminars and lectures available was very extensive, and one could easily spend far too much time attending them! The atmosphere was generally good, though not suited to everyone, especially to people with low confidence levels. Some students experienced high stress and some isolation; others thrived in the high-pressure environment and made numerous good friends. Academic bad behaviour in Q&A sessions was fairly widespread, and this attitude was absorbed to some degree by the students. As a result the discussions could become macho and confrontational at times, although this varied widely from setting to setting and has improved in recent years. Careers advice was somewhat patchy and half-hearted but good enough, backed up by pedigree, for most students to end up with jobs of some kind. Supervision quality and quantity varied greatly from supervisor to supervisor, but could be absolutely exceptional, especially for students supervised by named chairs with much more time on their hands.
Very formative and intellectually stimulating. Very supportive supervisors. However, somewhat stressful and competitive environment, which can be hard to sustain especially toward the end of the program.
Very high quality tutorials and supervision, top-notch peers, excellent and thriving intellectual environment

on preparation for teaching:

Again probably depended on individuals, but some provided excellent guidance
good training for individual tutorials, possibility to design and give wider lectures.
Limited opportunities to teach (much less lead a class), though this was changing when I graduated in 2014.
Oxford began giving graduate students the chance to lecture just as I was finishing up my DPhil, but running undergraduate tutorials at Oxford both made me a better philosopher and helped me see precisely what kind of questioning provokes philosophical thinking in people new to philosophy.
The opportunities for undergraduate teaching were limited for most graduate students, and provision of opportunities was somewhat erratic. The preparation provided was minimal, with something of a sink-or-swim approach.

on preparation for research:

Again probably depended on individuals, but some provided excellent guidance
Excellent supervisors, excellent research environment.
High-quality supervision and guidance on preparing publishable manuscripts.
There is no coursework, comprehensive exams, prospectus writing, supervision by committee, or colliding of graduate students at Oxford. This lack of oversight and direction can be daunting for some, but it also comes with plenty of freedom to pursue your interests in whatever direction they take you. This freedom also teaches you how to work effectively on your own, and so really prepares you for professional academic life.

and on financial support:

Fellowships are difficult to come by, esp. for BPhil
Financial support is reasonable overall, and very good for the UK. Colleges can sometimes top up University resources.
limited scholarships, often for 3 years max, often not covering all the living expenses, many self-funding students.
Oxford does not provide the same amount of funding as top US schools, but there are plenty of scholarship, fellowships, and funding opportunities for graduates students pursuing advanced degrees at Oxford.

Next week I hope to look at University of Minnesota Twin Cities and Johns Hopkins University. Feedback is welcome, at apda@ucmerced.edu.

Link to this post at: http://placementdata.com:8182/philosophy-phd-programs-western-university-and-university-of-oxford/