December 18, 2008
The Case for Fewer PhD Students
This thread at Leiter's has turned into a discussion of whether we should be admitting fewer students to PhD programs, given how bad the job market is. I take Matthew Smith's side here; I think we're seriously hurting ourselves by glutting the job market; it makes things bad for the candidates who can't get tenure-track jobs, and it also makes things bad for philosophy departments as a whole. When we create a pool of adjuncts and temp lecturers, administrations are going to rely on them if they can. But the whole thread is worth discussing.
[Another thing I think is that it would be good if we had a lot more MA students; it would let students do graduate work without devoting the rest of their youth to the field, PhD programs would have better information if they were admitting MAs instead of undergrads, and it would mean that departments still had graduate students for their teaching needs.]
I also thought that Brian Leiter might wish to have the comments return to the topic of the original post; in case he does, I'd be happy to host more discussion on the topic.
Posted by Matt Weiner at December 18, 2008 02:15 PM
Allow me to second your position on MA students. I had no philosophical background 1.5 years ago, now I'm finishing an MA and looking to go on to PhD work. It's been a marvelous experience, and it's true that the winnowing or attrition process happens at the MA level as well as the PhD. Certainly undergrads (but only those with phil majors) are prepared to go on to PhD work, but I think a substantial number would profit from an MA, and would find out whether or not they want to continue. The difficulty, of course, is that endorsing an MA for future philosophers further extends the already comparatively intense amount of time in between undergrad completion and job.
Glad to hear you've had a good experience, Josh! The added time is a concern -- in my ideal world PhD programs could be shorter because people would have taken an MA beforehand. Another added concern would be that if everyone went through an MA and a PhD they'd have to move one more time, which could be hard on people with partners and families. But still I think emphasizing the MA could do more good than harm.
I'm in complete agreement with you about MA programs. Such programs can have a filtering role. Many schools with second or third rate PhD programs would better serve the field by eliminating their PhD programs and just having terminal master's programs.