Keeping Philosophical between Undergrad and Grad


A reader writes in:

I am planning on applying to graduate school in philosophy for 2017. However, I graduated from my undergraduate institution a few years ago and have been doing non-philosophy things since. I’m looking for opportunities to get (re)involved in philosophy, but pretty much everything I’ve found (institutes, journals, etc.) is either for current undergraduates or for those already in graduate school/ who have professional credentials. Is there anything out there that is accessible for those people “between” levels of education? Any suggestions would be excellent. I’m sure other people are in a similar situation—it seems more and more common that individuals delay applying to graduate school these days—and would appreciate ideas as well.

One possibility is to take graduate courses as a non-degree student. If there is a graduate program nearby, you might consider asking them. Readers, what are your ideas?

(Red, Black and White - by Terry Frost)

(Red, Black and White – by Terry Frost)

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Tom
Tom
5 years ago

I took up tutoring. I only took students who either wanted help writing philosophy papers or who needed help with logic. It kept my philosophy-ing, I could do it on my own time, and I got paid to do it… Come to think of it, why did I ever stop doing that??Report

Joe
Joe
5 years ago

I’ve just done this – I am starting my PhD in September and finished my MA in 2012.

I recommend podcasts. Elucidate, Partially Examined Life and Philosophy Bites are all good.

SEP is great for browsing and to refresh your memory of a topic.

Finally: public lectures. Many schools advertise their colloquia and public lecture series on their websites, so get involved at your closest good department.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Joe
5 years ago

Also, if your local department(s) doesn’t advertise widely, try asking to be put on their general email listserve for events. I bet lots of departments don’t do much more to get the word out about talks/events aside from sending out an email and putting up an obscure notice on their website, which are often infrequently updated.Report

WP
WP
Reply to  JT
5 years ago

My experience is the same as JT’s. Don’t take the level of advertising to reflect the department’s willingness to have members of the public at their colloquia. If there’s a department near you, you shouldn’t hesitate to email their administrative assistant to ask if colloquia are open to the public and, if they are, how you can hear about them.Report

JT
JT
5 years ago

Another thing you might try is to see if someone will let you sit in on a smaller upper-year seminar, though this might be a bit of a long shot if they don’t know you well.Report

Former and Future Inbetweener
Former and Future Inbetweener
5 years ago

[My earlier response was accidentally wiped so I’m rewriting it all in a rush.]

1) Biographies of philosophers can be genuinely interesting, here are some recommendations http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2013/11/philosophy-biographies-for-the-holidays.html

2) Follow real seminars/classes. A lot of professors publish their syllabi on their pages and sometimes you can find very good lecture series recorded on youtube, e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fTnEB_r_6Q ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbU3yW2xIGE

3) I want to second Joe on public lectures but they can be inaccessible so I would recommend those who upload to youtube (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/user/RoyIntPhilosophy/about) or to their own site as audio files (e.g. http://www.aristoteliansociety.org.uk/the-proceedings/the-2014-15-programme/)

4) I’ll definitely second Joe on podcasts. They can be an easy way to pass the time while commuting, for example. I’m not a huge fan of Philosophy Bites. I prefer History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, and New Books Network. They go into more depth.

5) Reading reviews. http://ndpr.nd.edu/ publishes at least one review a day. They can be a good way to get the juices flowing and keep up with what’s new.

6) Note: you should never be without access to philosophical books and articles unless they are immensely obscure. There are pirate sites and networks for those who do have access to share with those who don’t.Report

David
David
5 years ago

I too was in this situation, albeit for only one year – so not sure how much of this applies to your situation. But, I found that working and re-working my writing sample engaged me philosophically more so than just picking up a text. Since your sample is often relevant to your interests, you will likely enjoy the readings + get more out of them, challenge your own assumptions, and the process can only be beneficial to your application. Other than that, ditto to what others have said previously – especially if you are lucky enough to sit in on upper level undergraduate classes.

Good luck!Report

PhilAdvisor
PhilAdvisor
5 years ago

Great suggestions so far! One thing you might want to keep in mind is that you’ll need letters of recommendation from faculty for your applications. If your relationships with your undergrad professors have grown rusty, taking some time to revisit and redevelop those connections is a good way to spend some of your time (rather than sending an 11th hour email out of the blue asking for a recommendation based on what they can remember of you from your undergrad days).

One way to do this is to come up with a good project for yourself (indeed, one that might become a writing sample, as David suggests), and ask your former professors if they’d mind taking a look and offering some feedback. Try to minimize the hassle to them…maybe only ask for input on a few pages at a time, and try to ask during times that are less likely to be busy for them (e.g. not during midterms). This lets you get your hands back into doing philosophical work while nurturing an important relationship, both of which can directly lead to improved materials for your applications. It will also give those writing recommendations some recent work to comment on in their letters.Report

Jack Samuel
Jack Samuel
5 years ago

I was out for 4 years between undergrad and my MA, and for part of that time I was living in Pittsburgh. I audited a few grad seminars at Pitt, and the professors I approached were very welcoming. At UWM there was a program for older retired folks to enroll in courses as auditors, including grad seminars, and I’m sure younger auditors would have been welcomed as well. Now I’m back at Pitt and lots of the grad seminars have an auditor or two who aren’t affiliated with any academic department.Report

Arden
Arden
5 years ago

As someone who is also considering on returning to study after a few years away, I have found philosophy podcasts and MOOCs/Lectures to be vital in maintaining my philosophical fitness, so to speak.Report

JT
JT
5 years ago

Another idea: go to nearby or affordably close conferences. Don’t be afraid to go to professional as well as student conferences as long as they let non-participants attend. Even when a talk is too technical or niche to be accessible to non-specialists (this will happen to people at all levels of philosophical education), I find that I can usually get at least a feel for the broader debate from the Q&A after the talk. It’s also a great way to get a sense of the profession’s norms of conduct (however imperfect these may be) and a chance to try asking speakers questions in a low-stakes context (for you anyway), both of which will make the transition to grad school easier. An added bonus, if you can afford to travel, is that this might also give you an excuse to visit interesting places if the stars align. (Also, in my opinion, anyway, given your particular circumstances, it’s fine if you don’t pay the conference registration if you can get away with it, which is surprisingly easy to do, especially if you’re only dropping in on a few talks.)

A last piece of advice is to give yourself a few months off from philosophy before school, if you end up doing this philosophy thing. Your life for the next 5-7 years will be pretty much all philosophy, all the time. If anyone tells you that it doesn’t get to be too much and a bit unhealthy after awhile is either lying or highly unusual, even for a philosopher/academic (unless they’re just one of those super efficient workhorses, in which case, good for them, I guess :P). Maintaining a work-life balance as a grad student (and beyond!) is hard, so don’t overstrain yourself in the warmup to the show. Don’t feel like you’ll be behind everyone else unless you plow your way through a massive summer reading list or whatever. No one expects you to know all that much coming in the door, since learning this stuff is precisely what grad programs are for!

Anyway, that’s enough procrastination for me for today. Good luck, and all the best! I’ll be rooting for you from afar 🙂Report

Nobody Important
Nobody Important
Reply to  JT
5 years ago

I wanted to share my own experience here, but honestly you’ve already struck all the right notes. God bless.

Local conferences are the best, for sure. They can reignite your passion, and make you feel a part of the community rather than just a spectator to it.Report

Jacob Archambault
5 years ago

Sign up for journal alerts from those journals that publish in your areas of interest. It’s pretty important to stay engaged with current literature if you intend to go on to do graduate level work. Assuming you don’t have a personal subscription to these journals, you might be able to stop by the library of a local college from time to time and use their computers to obtain access to their subscriptions. Download PDFs for the work you’re interested in. Repeat periodically. Alternatively, some authors upload copies of their published work on academia.edu, albeit without the pagination and stylistic features one would find in the journal’s edition.Report