I'm about to complete my B.A. in philosophy, and I want to pursue a PhD in philosophy. I'm aware that it's a long, difficult, lonely process and that doesn't scare me off. But I can't help compare myself to the grad students who TA in my school's philosophy department. In particular, I lack the clarity of argument (especially verbal) and originality of thought that they regularly exhibit. I know these skills are developed, but I wonder if any part of them is innate. That is to say, it seems to me unlikely that everyone who desires to get a PhD and go into teaching is capable of doing so, just like not everyone's capable of being a professional basketball player, regardless of desire or training. Obviously you should go for your dreams, but it's important to be pragmatic and recognize your limitations.

My question is this: what would it look like if someone wasn't cut out for a PhD program, and how would they know? I ask because I want to be sure (as much as is reasonable) that I'm capable of being accepted to and eventually completing a program before I invest a lot of time and money into the application process.

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    This question is quite challenging for a bunch of internet strangers to answer. Have you asked your tutor/advisor/mentor-- even the grad students you mention-- what they think? Feb 3, 2018 at 21:22
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    I am uncomfortable seeking advice from nonstrangers, haha. I know any answer will be very vague, and I'm OK with that. That's why I left out so much info about me.
    – Ryan A
    Feb 3, 2018 at 21:31
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    This is, ironically, a deep philosophical question: heredity vs environment, nature vs nurture, predestination vs free will. We're not going to resolve it here. But a more practical question might be: what preparation is important for a PhD in philosophy (content knowledge, academic and meta-academic skills, etc), and how can one self-evaluate it? Feb 3, 2018 at 21:37
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    Regarding your previous comment: unwillingness to seek advice from those who know you best is certainly a major obstacle to success in graduate school (and many other pursuits). So if you're going to work on getting better at something, start with that. Feb 3, 2018 at 21:40
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    When you apply to such a program, you will need to get some letters of recommendation ... presumably from the faculty at your current institution. So it is not out of line to ask those same faculty about your chances ahead of time.
    – GEdgar
    Feb 3, 2018 at 21:48

1 Answer 1


As everybody in the comments are saying, this is a very individualized thing. However, to get a good grasp of your standing relative to other students, I would check out thegradcafe.com.

Yeah, thegradcafe is an especially anxious and paranoid subset of grad school applicants, but you can see what kinds of applicants got accepted or rejected by checking the app board or skimming the forums. There's a dedicated Philosophy forum.

  • I think you wanted to link thegradcafe.com instead of gradcafe.com (which is broken / not active)
    – J-Kun
    Feb 4, 2018 at 8:45
  • @J-Kun Yep, thanks. Something was niggling in the back of my mind about the web address, but I ignored it. This was it.
    – user81856
    Feb 4, 2018 at 8:47
  • Wow, an entire forum devoted to anxious grad school applicants!
    – Nat
    Feb 4, 2018 at 8:55
  • The first post of the first thread I'd clicked on there claims that someone did 115 hours of GRE prep, and then apparently spent yet more time writing up analytics about their GRE prep!
    – Nat
    Feb 4, 2018 at 8:58
  • @Nat Yeah, the users there are very thorough, to put it mildly. I organized multiple polls about people's "stats" (GPA & GRE), their worries about admission, and even stipend amounts. Another forum on thegradcafe took it a step further and created a spreadsheet of schools' offers. Never heard of anybody as dedicated as you're describing though.
    – user81856
    Feb 4, 2018 at 11:20

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