What kind of advice can you offer students trying to figure out which terminal MA program in philosophy to apply to or attend?
Perhaps you know something about some of the faculty at some of them, and perhaps you’re familiar with the “Funded MA Programs in Philosophy” page maintained by Geoff Pynn (Elgin Community College), but apart from the departments’ own websites, there is not a lot of information out there.
Professor Hersch’s site includes some general remarks about the benefits of such programs, worth noting here:
Getting a terminal MA before applying to a PhD program can be an attractive option.
This is particularly true for students from less prestigious undergraduate institutions, students from underrepresented backgrounds, students with an uneven academic history, or students with limited philosophical training during their undergraduate degree. For such students getting admitted directly into a PhD program can be quite difficult, and terminal MAs in philosophy can be one of the only possible entryways into the field.
A terminal MA can increase the odds for such students of getting into the sort of PhD program that they are interested in. It also provides a low stakes way of trying out academia. Students get to explore whether they like doing independent research, teaching, being part of an academic community, all this without having to make at least a five-year commitment. Many terminal MA students end up deciding that academic philosophy isn’t the life for them, and a terminal MA can help them see that, ideally debt-free and with a degree in hand. Generally speaking, terminal MAs play a crucial role in diversifying the profession, both demographically and in terms of research (because they allow students to major in something else and then transfer into the field).
He then provides a ranking of the programs, based on how well they place their graduates in PhD programs. However, it isn’t just a matter of counting placements. Professor Hersch explains:
This measure takes each terminal MA program’s placement record at philosophy PhD programs over the past five years. For each MA graduate placed in a philosophy PhD program I assigned a numerical value based on that PhD program’s mean score in the PGR [Philosophical Gourmet Report] general ranking. The PGR general ranking is based on a reputational survey of the overall research strength of the department’s faculty, so the scores below roughly reflect the average overall research reputation of the PhD departments students attended from each MA program… I created both a mean and a median score of those values (1.5 is the lowest and 5 is the highest) to arrive at an overall numerical value for each MA program that can then be used to order the MA programs.
He put the results in a sortable table. Here are the results ranked by number of placements (left) and median placement score (right):Hersch admits some of the limitations of his approach. Among other things, he says:
- since his measure “piggybacks off the PGR mean score measure… any issues with the PGR will probably carry over to this one,”
- “the PGR general ranking does not measure many other factors that can make a department more or less suitable for a particular student, such as its placement record, its climate, or the quality of its mentoring (https://philosophydata.org/ gathers data on job placement).”
- There are also questions of correlation and causation. Are the MA programs that place at higher ranked PhD programs merely better at admitting and recruiting the more promising students? Are they training them better? Do they do better in helping their students prepare for the PhD application process? I don’t claim that placement records provide any good answer to these questions.
There’s more of interest in the section of the page entitled “Discussion of methodological issues.”
Professor Hersch welcomes feedback on the Philosophical GourMA, including information from programs that would like to make corrections to the data or be added to the measure (to submit such information, use this form).
Check out the site here.