Thursday, August 13, 2009

Preparing Majors for Graduate School in Philosophy

Here are comments from survey respondents describing how, if at all, they have dealt with the issue of effectively preparing majors for graduate school in philosophy.

  • Focus on basics of reading primary sources, writing, and being honest with students about the job prospects for philosophers.
  • I teach Independent study courses in which we read scholarship on Plato (after they have taken the Plato seminar). They start to understand what graduate school is like, what is being done right now, and I also assign my own work so they can see how I stand vis-a-vis other Plato and Aristotle scholars.
  • We have a major concentration/emphasis that recommends courses to our majors who are considering attending a philosophy graduate program that we think would best prepare them for graduate school. We also try to teach our upper division courses (e.g., metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, philosophy of language) using cutting edge texts and articles.
  • Still finding my way here.
  • We have increased the number of courses required of majors in light of the fact that it appears increasingly difficult to put students directly into PhD programs.
  • We have an assessment program - barely used - in which we gather three papers of each graduate and we read together as a department to determine the degree to which we have been successful in educating our students.
  • Crud, I'm not sure we do that well at all.
  • This is tough. We are discussing ways in which our dept. fails to effectively prepare our majors. We are considering a change to our course requirements so that they are less history-heavy and more oriented to the "core."
  • Recently, we have added a "major philosophical author" course, which functions like a topics course (i.e., with variable content) but is devoted to the work of a single author, sometimes even focusing on a single seminal text. We believe that this kind of close focus will better prepare our students for graduate school by supplementing our more survey-oriented history-of-philosophy courses. Also, we have recently added a year-long senior seminar, which is co-led by all three members of the department, in order to better initiate students into professional-level conversations among philosophers.
  • Given my own experiences in graduate school and post-doc, I would never advise someone to go to graduate school for philosophy unless they were independently wealthy and could do it for kicks.
  • My arrival coincided with a phil curriculum review that made our dept. course offerings less idiosyncratic and more reflective of widely-accepted practices about what a responsible set of offerings should look like. This is one way of preparing students for grad. school. Another is to encourage students to submit work to undergrad journals and conferences and to take a course or two at a nearby R1 university that has a Ph.D. program and with which we have a partnership. We routinely advise students who express interest in going on, and in recent years we have had uncommon success (four of our students are currently enrolled in Ph.D. programs that rank 10, 16, and 35 in the Leiter Report on U.S. programs, and #1 in the UK). But most of our students won't go on to grad school and some who wish to do so shouldn't, given the dim prospects for all students--and we tell them this.
  • by varying class formats from lecture/seminar to 2 hour reading group/workshop with student presentations; 2. by ensuring availability of an undergraduate dissertation module to capture the imaginations of budding philosophical talent.
  • Mixture of historical and specialized subfield courses
  • We have redesigned our program to include 1/2 year 'core' history survey courses from which students branch out into topics courses, and we have developed senior topics courses with 'rotating' topics so the course can be taken more than once. So a 3000-level or 4000-level philosophy of science, for example, will focus on one topic one year, another the next, and students who take it in one year can take it in the next. This requires faculty to vary content significantly which increases teaching load in an 'invisible' way to the extent that a great deal of renovation work is required each year, yet the course number and name remain the same and internal credit for 'designing a new course' is not gained.
  • Just the usual stuff about breadth and methodology. I advise students who apply to Ph.D. programs. There is much advising about the process (covering what constitutes an effective writing sample, how to target appropriate schools). When I applied to Ph.D. programs I was not advised at all, and consequently I made many mistakes (although I was ultimately successful).
  • Individual attention.
  • I prepare students for study in graduate school in logic and computer science; I generally discourage students from going to graduate school in philosophy.
  • Our students go on to undergraduate institutions because we're a community college. We've had an excellent record on this front. Simple answer to prepare our students: tough classes. I require a number of writing assignments. The content is the same as when I taught at 4-year institutions.
  • As a department, we decided to require a senior thesis, standardize our expectations on those, increase the rigor of our rhetoric and logic requirement, and concertedly discuss, as a department, the state of the profession and graduate school today.
  • I have now made a greater effort in my major courses to introduce students to the contemporary literature (so they are not only reading historical works) and also to introduce students to how to construct and research a substantial philosophical essay (for example, introduce students to Philosopher's Index and introduce them to some of the prominent journals). We have also started a yearly (possibly we'll move to twice a year) forum on Grad School. This would cover what to expect in grad programs, how to apply, and on what admissions committees are looking for. These forums are for students looking at graduate (primarily PhD) programs across the humanities.
  • More intentional development of capstone programs and common expectations for research papers in upper level seminars. More time "professionalizing" students and conveying expectations for work at the graduate level.
  • None of our majors have gone on to graduate school in philosophy.
  • Independent studies, in which the very small number of graduate school bound students can engage in work suited to their interests and abilities.
  • The very few students that have expressed interest have received tutoring and special guidance to fit their needs. (outside of regular teaching hours)
  • Courses are taught at a high level.
  • We do our best to provide our majors with a good background in philosophy. But getting them into strong doctoral programs has proved difficult. One suggestion that I have been making during the last several years is for our majors to consider enrolling in a good terminal MA program in philosophy first. Schools like Northern Illinois University, the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, or Tufts come to mind. These schools have good placement records and would probably have more luck at getting our students into the top tier of doctoral programs.
  • Work heavily on their writing skills and critical reading skills Provide and informative gathering describing what graduate school is like and how to prepare for GREs, etc
  • None of our students have gone to grad school in my short time here. We think it unlikely that many will. Nevertheless, we have an annual meeting for the Philosophy club about grad school, and it is always well-attended. We tell them there how to prepare for grad school, and warn them that a simple major in our department is inadequate.
  • Identify early where possible and adapt coursework assignments to help work toward a solid writing sample, possible student conference submission, etc. Small classes help with this.
  • The primary avenue for preparing students for graduate work in philosophy is to have the students supplement their basic grounding in philosophy by enrolling in as many directed reading courses as possible.
  • Strongly encouraging students to take appropriate second languages, offering courses that cover authors & topics they should know
  • I have been engaged in an ongoing discussion with my philosopher colleague about the constitution of the philosophy offerings for the major in an effort to do as much as we can to introduce the students to an appropriate range of topics and methods.
  • In advising sessions and in upper level classes talk through the demands of graduate school, but also explain that the best prep for grad school is a firm understanding of the key readings in the field coupled with an ability to research and write well.
  • In my year here, none of our majors has planned to go to graduate school in philosophy.
  • I am not sure that we do. Many of our majors aspire to go to graduate school but are not accepted. I think we do not put enough emphasis on traditional preparation for the GRE and attendance at undergraduate conferences/submission to undergraduate populations. We are perhaps beginning to remedy this, but if not all faculty are involved, in a small department the burden often falls to one person.
  • If there are students who are thinking of grad school, I tend to slant my comments on their papers toward the concerns that graduate faculty would have.
  • Extra attention outside class; independent studies
  • Clearer assessment methods for developing critical thinking skills, paper-writing abilities, presentation skills, etc.
  • Use of independent study.
  • The three most crucial things are (1) a firm grounding in and reinforcement of logical/critical thinking skills; (2) breadth of content areas and strong history background; and (3) have them write lots of essays that take a developmental approach toward identifying and cultivating the various philosophical skills (i.e., argument reconstruction, critical evaluation, construction of a positive thesis, anticipating and responding to criticisms of one's positive thesis).
  • Read their papers carefully, discuss them thoroughly; ask the students what they really want to do, show them what would matter in order to achieve such a goal.
  • The philosophy curriculum involves a strong core of primary readings; we make wide use (for graduate school bound majors) or directed readings (independent study); we try to keep the standards of the cap-stone Senior Essay (which must be on a problem or author of contemporary interest) high. Recent graduates are presently in studies at Penn, Emory, U. Toronto, SUNY, Boston College.
  • University has a set up a curriculum based on Greek to 20th Century Philosophy. I need not do the same
  • We've designed a curriculum that has a small core of four required courses and any six upper division classes. Students work closely with their teachers here as well. Upper division classes enroll between 10 an 15 students. They tend to be vibrant and interactive.
  • Lots of one on one time.
  • I warn them away and tell them it will ruin their life.
  • We looked at other well-regarded undergraduate philosophy majors, and spoke with graduate advisors at a number of Ph.D granting programs in an effort to see what they wanted. We have a senior seminar offered in the fall in which the sole purpose is to prepare a writing sample for graduate applications. One assignment is to apply to a Ph.D. program. If you want to see a very fine example of meaningful learning outcomes, look at Wheaton College's handout for philosophy majors, available on the web. Wheaton College, a small liberal arts religious institution, claims to have more undergraduate philosophy majors than any other institution in America. If true, that is astounding.
  • Promoting work, work, work.
  • Requiring fall semester senior year work on the comprehensive exam colloquium paper presented in the spring; instituting a career counseling event in fall of the senior year.
  • When it comes to preparing them in areas in which none of the three of us have any strong training (such as philosophy of language, for example), I don't think we've done a good job there. But we've had good success teaching to our strengths, and giving students ample opportunities for independent research.
  • developed senior course with emphasis on grad school prep; course in philosophical writing required for majors;
  • Reshaping the old philosophy curriculum to make sure majors are exposed to courses in value theory, epistemology/metaphysics and the history of philosophy, while also having some background in logic.
  • there were none.
  • We have had talks on preparing and applying for graduate school. I also spend a great deal of time advising and helping students work through their application materials.
  • Because of the way that my teaching load is distributed (I don't teach very many major courses) this has not been an issue for me.
  • The majors requires ethics, Ancient, and Modern philosophy to provide a solid background in the history. Logic and language highly recommended. Independent studies and honors work with all students intending to go to graduate school. Still, we have difficulty putting out strong candidates and meeting our other requirements. We need to find a way to get "outside certification" since we doubt that our rec letters carry enough weight with admissions committees.
  • We have a rigorous selection process in that only the best students are allowed to read philosophy in the final year. The courses we offer are treated in depth and students spend a whole semester writing a dissertation of about 15,000 words under the supervision of a member of staff. All dissertations are vetted by external examiners from either Europe or the United States.


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