I am currently a second year student at an American mid-ranked liberal arts college, majoring in philosophy with hopes to attend a PHD program in philosophy (in the US) and become a philosophy professor.

I have read all the advice I can find on graduating a year early, and there is some conflicting suggestions. I also find my reason for graduating early to perhaps be more compelling than some that I have seen be dissuaded on this site. To spit it out; I am a closeted transgender person, who, if I were to come out, would likely be disowned by my family whom I am currently reliant on for my tuition. I fundamentally cannot tolerate delaying being who I am any longer than I must to graduate undergrad. I need to graduate in 3 years as opposed to 4.

Some facts about my application:

  • I have a 3.9x gpa, 4.0 in philosophy (which I hope to keep).
  • I will have taken 16-17 philosophy classes, including nearly every advanced course offered.
  • I conducted research last summer, am writing a paper this semester that will likely be published, will conduct research this upcoming summer, and will, both semesters next year, be conducting independent research. I will graduate with a sizable amount of research experience in just 3 years.
  • I have been deeply involved on my campus, and have achieved a lot extracuriccularly. (Don't want to dox myself with specifics, and know that extracurriculars aren't that important, but hope that this would diminish worries about youth/maturity and being someone just interested in my discipline).

My big conflict at the moment is trying to figure out whether or not I should apply to PHD programs next year, or spend a year after graduation in a fellowship or job before going for my PHD. I suppose I may apply to both fellowships/jobs and some PHD programs next year, and then if I don't get accepted to the PHD programs I would do the fellowship and reapply to more in the next cycle, but I am really just looking for advice here.

Thank you all for reading this mess!

  • Is this a US question? Study in the US, that is.
    – Buffy
    Feb 16, 2021 at 23:07
  • Yes! I will edit that into the post, so sorry that I missed it! Feb 16, 2021 at 23:20
  • 4
    Just apply. Apply widely, and apply to terminal master's programs as well as PhDs. Don't accept an unfunded or underfunded offer. Make sure you're getting good letters of recommendation. The pessimism about the job market of Alexander Woo is misplaced. You'll either come out of a PhD program as a competitive candidate for academic jobs, or you'll have a good platform for getting industry jobs (if you know how to leverage your skills and sell yourself). And if you really care about philosophy, there are worse ways to spend 5-7 years than studying it in a funded program. Feb 17, 2021 at 1:20

3 Answers 3

  1. Talk to your current professors.

  2. Assuming US, it's too late to apply for most good PhD programs this year.

  3. The academic job market in philosophy is worse than abysmal. You should assume you will not find a permanent academic position. Moreover, the data suggests that your chances are even worse if you do not attend a top program - though it's not at all clear that there is a causal relationship.

  • Sorry for the confusion, I would apply next year for the year after. I graduate in spring 22, would start fall 22 (one option), I graduate in spring 22 and start fall 23 after a fellowship of some sort (other option). Feb 16, 2021 at 23:47

While the answer of Alexander Woo is pessimistic and likely correct, let me offer different advice.

If you want to study for a doctorate in Philosophy or any other field, then just do it. Delay is probably not needed nor helpful. If you can get accepted then start the study. Apply whenever you can to a variety of programs. Too narrow a focus can leave you without options.

Yes, the job market is bad now, but who knows what it will be like in six years. You may find that you can't get hired at an R1 university, but that is not the only option open to you. Small colleges and even community colleges teach philosophy, some of them at a high level.

No one can predict what jobs will be open to you when you finish. And it isn't impossible to move from a lower ranked place to a higher one if you are good enough and organize your professional life correctly. My opinion is that you make a mistake to assume all doors are closed and turn away from your goals prematurely. But you have to excel in what you to and you have to make appropriate professional contacts to move on.

My situation was just the opposite. It seemed like jobs would be plentiful by the time I finished my (math) degree. But the market completely crashed and I had to make do for several years. I could have moved up earlier than I did, I think, but overall my career was satisfying. You only live one life. Make the most of it. Do not accept wooden nickels.

At worst, a PhD (philosophy) will give you useful and marketable skills. You will learn to think. You will learn to write. You will have options that you probably won't have if you turn aside out of pessimism.

But try to make it happen without an unacceptable debt load.

  • 3
    The academic job market in philosophy is abysmal counting community college and liberal arts college positions. One should assume that one cannot get a permanent community college position. And stop it with the "who knows what the job market will be like in 6 years" business - in the last 30 years the academic job market in philosophy has fluctuated between merely very bad and absolutely dreadful (though it hasn't dipped to "there just are no jobs"). Feb 17, 2021 at 0:33
  • 1
    @AlexanderWoo, only an anecdote, of course, but I have a family member in Philosophy who has been able to build a career in that period. Someone has to get the few jobs available. You need to work hard to be the one. But it isn't limited to philosophy and it is cyclical.
    – Buffy
    Feb 17, 2021 at 0:40
  • "Small colleges and even community colleges teach philosophy, some of them at a high level." But they don't hire people to teach it. I've pointed out several times that your repeated claims it is easy to get a job at a small college or community college are nonsense. Feb 17, 2021 at 10:32
  • Job market in six years can be predicted from birth rates - and they're low. Feb 17, 2021 at 10:33
  • "it is cyclical." The data says that's not true. See the graph: chronicle.com/article/… Feb 17, 2021 at 10:39

If you have decided to get a PhD in the US, do apply to PhD programs during the application season of your last year of undergraduate studies. If you do not get an offer you like, reapply later.

The number of years it takes to get your bachelors degree and your gender identity have no effect on this application timeline.

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