Help Me Get a Degree

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 9, 2010 in News

Many people have told me to get a Ph.D. in philosophy. I don’t need convincing, even though there’s no job market for it. This is obviously where my passions lie. The problem is, I don’t even have a Bachelor’s Degree. I dropped out after 3 years of psychology.

So I’m looking to complete a B.A. program that has the following qualities:

  • Inexpensive, or a decent chance I could wow them and get a full scholarship
  • Completely distance-education
  • Roughly at my own pace (i.e., for people working a full-time job)
  • The B.A. would look good enough that I could potentially get into a fully-paid Ph.D. program in philosophy at a decent university

A kind reader sent me a link to the University of London External Program. Perhaps that’s an option; I’ve literally done almost no research yet. I have no idea what kinds of programs are available. So if you have some tips or advice or recommendations for me, speak up! Thanks.

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{ 61 comments… read them below or add one }

Qohelet April 9, 2010 at 8:08 pm

UoL looks a good option, though rather expensive. There are accredited US universities/colleges which awards philosophy degrees. Also, UniSA (University of South Africa) has a lot of degree programs. It doesn’t have the prestige but it’s less expensive while still being nationally accredited (and acceptable for graduate work).

I myself am planning on eventually finishing a degree (dropped out my 2nd year in pre-law). I’m thinking of getting a classics/classical studies degree, which can be used for graduate studies in history, early christian studies, or philosophy. But first, I have to work for my family. Good luck! :)

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Conversational Atheist April 9, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Well, if you want to go with top-notch for phd programs in philosophy, one option is getting a terminal master’s at Tufts (widely regarded as the best terminal masters program in US — also, happens to have Dennett) — and then applying to a phd program.

Whether you finish your BA anywhere and apply then, or whether you think you can get it in at Tufts w/o it, is a more nuanced question… My impression is that once you get a X degree, your X-1 doesn’t matter as much.

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Josh April 9, 2010 at 8:43 pm

If you have 3 years of psychology and can prove you have the units, it probably wouldn’t be hard to be essentially a transfer student at a Cal State, which is cheap (assuming you count as a California resident) and you could finish in a couple years. If you’re over 24 you can apply for student aid as an independent and it’s relatively easy to get some big bucks.

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Grumpy Bob April 9, 2010 at 8:47 pm

Have you thought of the Open University? The world’s first distance teaching University?
http://www.open.ac.uk

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Liam April 9, 2010 at 9:06 pm

COME TO MONASH!

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anon April 9, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Go to Canada and study with Steve Maitzen. He comments on your blog. He’s smart. His students have gotten into good grad programs.

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Josh April 9, 2010 at 9:11 pm

I should also point out that the key to getting into a good PhD program is reference letters and that’s just not something you get from a distance learning experience.

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lukeprog April 9, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Heh. I would love to come to Monash! :)

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Rowan April 9, 2010 at 9:35 pm

If you can find your nearest parish church and ask the bloke with the funny collar if you can join, then they’ll pay you to get a degree in philosophy, only they’ll have to give it a weird name ‘theology’ and you have to do other harmless stuff that some people seem to find helpful.

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Lora April 9, 2010 at 10:15 pm

I think it’s great that you want to go back and finish/expand upon your education. The problem with distance education is that many schools do not offer funding if you are going this route and as someone mentioned you are missing out on intimate faculty relationships which could result in stellar letters of recommendation. I’m not sure how close the nearest university is to you, but if possible it would be better to see if you could finish your degree through evening classes. Best of luck!

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Evolution SWAT April 9, 2010 at 10:21 pm

It is funny that you mention this because I was thinking about writing you about it. Good to know you are still serious about this.

To echo some comments above, I have also heard very good things about the University of South Africa.

Another option would be to attend a state school in your area. Financial aid would be really good for you in California. I know you want to study at ‘your own pace’ but if no option like that is viable you could get a lot done there. There are a lot of smart professors at state schools, so I wouldn’t believe anyone who says state schools are bad just because they aren’t as famous. Someone like you would learn a lot in a state school or at Harvard.

Also, people from all sorts of universities end up getting their doctorates at more prestigious schools. Just keep in touch with your profs and get A’s in all of your classes. With the popularity of your blog and your activism I wouldn’t get too worried about getting into the right grad school.

Also, when you decide where to apply, it wouldn’t hurt to ask John Loftus and Alonzo Fyfe to write you a recommendation :). They would probably want to help you in any way they could.

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Haecceitas April 10, 2010 at 12:02 am

Moody Bible Institute

Just kidding! ;)

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SBell April 10, 2010 at 1:02 am

One option is to find a good local college or university and take a philosophy class or two as a non-matriculated student (or audit them, which is usually much cheaper). If you can do well enough to impress the professors, that could help you get strong internal references that would make it easier to get admitted. The problem is that you would still need to get a financial aid scholarship, but you would have nothing to lose by going through the normal process and seeing how things come out. In California, given state budget cuts, you may be more likely to get a full scholarship at an otherwise more expensive private college than at a state university. If you’re independent of your parents, you can strongly play up both your work to support yourself and your extensive self-education in philosophy. An interesting personal narrative is a strong selling point. An essential thing, with any college you’re applying to, is to establish personal relationships with both professors and financial aid people there, so make sure at all colleges you get interviews with them and make sure you give a good impression.

And hey- maybe you can audit one of William Lane Craig’s classes at the Talbot School and get an impressive recommendation from him!

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snafu April 10, 2010 at 1:29 am

Hi Luke –

A word about UoL and the UK higher education system, as it seems to be on your radar.

University of London is an umbrella term covering several institutions in the metropolitan area. The ‘giants’ are UCL, Imperial and King’s – they have excellent reputations, teach huge numbers of undergrads, but aren’t particularly geared towards mature students. Birkbeck is a smaller college that specialises in taking people coming from a slightly unusual route. And Heythrop is a leading theological college in the UK – in theology/PoR you won’t find a much more prestigious name outside Oxford and Cambridge. (For what it’s worth, Stephen Law lectures there, and he’s a reasonably prominent atheist blogger in the UK).

Someone else mentioned the Open University – this is worth researching. It’s a specialist intitution that only does distance-based learning. I assume there are no difficulties taking foreign students.

Best of luck – I hope you find something that suits you!

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lukeprog April 10, 2010 at 1:50 am

Thanks, snafu.

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Steve Maitzen April 10, 2010 at 5:46 am

Go to Canada and study with Steve Maitzen.He comments on your blog.He’s smart.His students have gotten into good grad programs.  

Thanks, anon, for the compliments. I hope you’re one of those students and are thriving in grad school yourself. We’d of course love to have Luke in our program, but he’d be crazy to leave the beautiful climate of southern California for, let’s just say, the less reliable weather of Nova Scotia. Plus which, California has a smorgasbord of excellent philosophy programs, both state-run and private. Best of luck, Luke!

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RA April 10, 2010 at 6:00 am

You don’t want it bad enough. You’ve got to sacrifice. That means saving up some money and dropping out of the work force to get your BA. Once you have the BA then you can probably get the Ph.D without much trouble.

You’ve got the skills to get back into the job market.

I went back to school for a 1.5 years by dropping out at your age. You can do it but you are going to have to make some sacrifices. It’s just a year.

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MKR April 10, 2010 at 6:50 am

These people who think that going for a Ph.D. in philosophy is such a grand idea — have any of them actually been through the Ph.D. mill and through the process of trying to find an academic job? I know that your main question was about getting a bachelor’s degree, but if you are seriously considering going for a Ph.D. after that, I would, as someone who got a Ph.D. in philosophy from a highly ranked program and spent twelve years trying in vain to secure a tenure-track position, strongly advise against it. If you were a woman or a fell within some racial or ethnic classification that gets you preferential treatment, you might have a decent chance. For white males, things are bad and are only likely to get worse. Tenure-track jobs make up an ever-decreasing proportion of academic jobs. And believe me, nobody in his right mind would go through the misery and degradation of a Ph.D. program purely for the sake of improving his knowledge and without regard to professional advancement.

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Steve Maitzen April 10, 2010 at 7:21 am

Right: Let’s not put Luke’s PhD cart before his BA horse. Sadly, MKR is right about the prospects for many philosophy PhDs in the current market, and I too see no sign that the market will improve very much. If (and it’s a big “if”) PhD programs shrink or disappear in response to the lack of secure academic jobs, then those who end up going to the programs that remain will eventually have less competition. Still, going is a significant risk. But what other options are there for those who deeply want to pursue high-level philosophy in a long-term and serious way? It’s hard to do that while holding down some other full-time job.

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Josh April 10, 2010 at 7:22 am

These people who think that going for a Ph.D. in philosophy is such a grand idea — have any of them actually been through the Ph.D. mill and through the process of trying to find an academic job? I know that your main question was about getting a bachelor’s degree, but if you are seriously considering going for a Ph.D. after that, I would, as someone who got a Ph.D. in philosophy from a highly ranked program and spent twelve years trying in vain to secure a tenure-track position, strongly advise against it. If you were a woman or a fell within some racial or ethnic classification that gets you preferential treatment, you might have a decent chance. For white males, things are bad and are only likely to get worse. Tenure-track jobs make up an ever-decreasing proportion of academic jobs. And believe me, nobody in his right mind would go through the misery and degradation of a Ph.D. program purely for the sake of improving his knowledge and without regard to professional advancement.  

A quick perusal of the list of faculty in every academic department ever reveals the flaws in this argument about it getting worse for white males.

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lukeprog April 10, 2010 at 7:54 am

Thanks for your comments, MKR and Maitzen!

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ayer April 10, 2010 at 9:06 am

Since the academic job market is so bad, the best option might be to earn your income in the non-academic world and get your degrees through distance learning from South African universities, highly respected and accredited institutions which appear to be quite inexpensive (e.g., $4,000 for the whole Ph.D program). Mike Licona speaks highly of his experience getting a Ph.D from the University of Pretoria. (See his discussion here: http://www.risen-jesus.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=51) They also offer B.A.’s.

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lukeprog April 10, 2010 at 10:01 am

ayer,

Thanks for the Licona link; that’s interesting.

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Andy Walters April 10, 2010 at 10:11 am

Ask for financial help on this blog, wherever you go. I’d donate to help you out.

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Robert Gressis April 10, 2010 at 10:13 am

If you can get a B.A. from an accredited, cheap, distance-learning institution, you might be able to get into CSU, LA’s master’s program, assuming your college GPA was 2.75 or higher (and even if it wasn’t, I should think this blog would really help your chances of getting in there; plus, there are, no doubt, some professional philosophers who would be happy to give you recommendations!).

If you perform well at CSU, LA, there are a lot of good Ph.D. programs in philosophy you could get into, especially west coast schools.

If you get into a *good* Ph.D. program, you certainly have a shot of getting a tenure-track job, but with this market, and with future trends in academia looking dark, I’m not sure I would think of the point of getting a Ph.D. to be getting a job. (I didn’t, until near the end.) It’s much more enjoyable if you view the time spent there as a self-improvement program. And of course, even if you couldn’t get a job teaching at a university, you could perhaps get a job for a naturalistic think-tank.

That said, getting a job in philosophy is not as hard as you might think, if you get into a program that has a good placement record. NYU, MIT, and Harvard have particularly good placement, with Rutgers and Princeton not too far behind; the University of Arizona has good placement too. If you got into one of those programs, I would put your odds of getting a tenure-track job to be around 80% (higher if you get into NYU, MIT, or Harvard).

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Chris Hallquist April 10, 2010 at 10:21 am

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned yet: you should ask yourself what you’ll do if midway through the Ph.D. program, it becomes clear you won’t finish in the advertised time. Programs will advertise that they’re not supposed to take more than six years, but I understand that the average is eight years. Richard Carrier took ten years to get his degree.

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TK April 10, 2010 at 10:33 am

Maybe one of you can help answer my question, as well:

I graduated with a B.S. in three science majors and some upper-division philosophy coursework. Supposing I wanted to get a PhD in philosophy of science, what would I have to do? Get an MA first? Would it be sufficient to work with a faculty member for a while and maybe write a paper so I’d have a good rec letter and some philosophy cred?

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MKR April 10, 2010 at 10:38 am

Josh writes:

A quick perusal of the list of faculty in every academic department ever reveals the flaws in this argument about it getting worse for white males.  

Wrong, Josh. The fact that white males predominate in the makeup of academic departments does not mean that other groups do not have an advantage in hiring. It reflects the facts (1) that the predominance of white males is of long historical standing — that, after all, is why such efforts have been made to hire more non-white and non-male candidates — and (2) that women have a higher attrition rate beyond the junior level.

My claim was not based on anecdotes or personal impressions. In 1995, the American Philosophical Association gathered statistics on the hiring process, which it published in its Proceedings. The results showed that the ratio of job offers to job candidates for women was 2.5 times the ratio for men. I have seen no evidence that the pressure to hire women and minority candidates has let up since then. The fact is that they have a huge advantage at the initial stage of hiring, whatever disadvantages they may face in the subsequent progress of their careers.

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MKR April 10, 2010 at 10:44 am

Robert Gressis writes:

That said, getting a job in philosophy is not as hard as you might think, if you get into a program that has a good placement record. NYU, MIT, and Harvard have particularly good placement, with Rutgers and Princeton not too far behind; the University of Arizona has good placement too. If you got into one of those programs, I would put your odds of getting a tenure-track job to be around 80% (higher if you get into NYU, MIT, or Harvard).

I think that this is a fair statement, allowing for the roughness of the estimate of 80%. The trouble is that you have no way of knowing in advance if you will be part of the 80% (or whatever it may be) that get a tenure-track job or the 20% that become gypsy scholars and try for year after year until they give up. Of course, if you know that you are smart and everybody praises your work and tells you that you are hot stuff, you will assume that you will be one of the successful ones. It can then come as a serious blow when you find that you are not. If, however, you are well prepared to pursue a career outside of academia (few people are so by the time that they finish a Ph.D. program, but it is possible), then it is reasonable to take your chances.

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lukeprog April 10, 2010 at 11:29 am

Andy,

I’ve thought about that, but for some reason I just don’t feel comfortable with it. We’ll see.

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Charles April 10, 2010 at 11:46 am

Wow, Luke. That’s a tough call. As someone with a PhD in the sciences who (briefly) sought a tenure-track job, I will echo what others have already said. It is damn hard to get a job. If you’re all right with that, keep going.

I don’t know the best route on getting into a philosophy PhD, but I would definitely think about contacting any philosophy professors who read your blog! Begin cultivating those relationships now. You need three or four letters to get into a PhD program. A good letter from the right person can carry a lot of weight. (I know this because important people told me.)

Something else to keep in mind. Once you start the PhD, you’re going to want to go full bore. Because after, when you are looking for an academic position, if you took a long time to finish, they are going to thing something is wrong.

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Chris Hallquist April 10, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Maybe one of you can help answer my question, as well:I graduated with a B.S. in three science majors and some upper-division philosophy coursework. Supposing I wanted to get a PhD in philosophy of science, what would I have to do? Get an MA first? Would it be sufficient to work with a faculty member for a while and maybe write a paper so I’d have a good rec letter and some philosophy cred?  

It depends a lot on what “upper division philosophy coursework” means. If that means three classes with three profs, all of whom were happy with your work, and at least one of which involved writing a solid term paper, I don’t see why you couldn’t apply to grad school now. But your last sentence makes it sound like that’s something you have yet to do. If you didn’t do that in undergrad, I’d lean towards the M.A. over trying to get by with a minimum of post-college coursework.

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Bill Maher April 10, 2010 at 1:07 pm

I am in the same boat brother. I have a B.A. in history with 27 hours in philosophy credits. I am finishing the last 3 classes I need to have an unofficial B.A. (critical thinking, ancient phil, modern phil) at an accredited program about 40 minutes away from where I live while I simultaneously work on my M.A. in history.

Good luck man.

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lukeprog April 10, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Bill,

Huh. Didn’t know you could do that. :)

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Dan April 10, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Birkbeck is a smaller college that specialises in taking people coming from a slightly unusual route.And Heythrop is a leading theological college in the UK – in theology/PoR you won’t find a much more prestigious name outside Oxford and Cambridge.(For what it’s worth, Stephen Law lectures there

more to the point – A C Grayling is a professor at Birkbeck! – the same A C Grayling who recently won a debate for the atheist position alongside Stephen Fry. ( Admittedly not against the most challenging opponents out there…)

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TK April 10, 2010 at 4:24 pm

It depends a lot on what “upper division philosophy coursework” means. If that means three classes with three profs, all of whom were happy with your work, and at least one of which involved writing a solid term paper, I don’t see why you couldn’t apply to grad school now. But your last sentence makes it sound like that’s something you have yet to do. If you didn’t do that in undergrad, I’d lean towards the M.A. over trying to get by with a minimum of post-college coursework.  

Thanks, I ought to have clarified. What I meant was writing a paper suitable for publication. I wrote some good papers in my classes (five 400-level classes, all with different profs) but I don’t know that this would provide me with strong enough rec letters to get me into a top PhD program.

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Chris Hallquist April 10, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Thanks, I ought to have clarified. What I meant was writing a paper suitable for publication. I wrote some good papers in my classes (five 400-level classes, all with different profs) but I don’t know that this would provide me with strong enough rec letters to get me into a top PhD program.  

Oh my gosh, no, you definitely don’t need a paper suitable for publication to apply to grad school. That’s a very high standard. At Notre Dame, the theoretical standard is that you’re supposed to learn to do that by the end of your second year of your Ph.D., and the de facto standard is “convince a professor you’ve come pretty close.” All you need to show in your writing sample is that you have the potential to learn to write publishable papers.

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lukeprog April 10, 2010 at 4:55 pm

Guys, I think I read somewhere that publishing before applying for a philosophy grad school somehow HURT your prospects. Any thoughts? A few more years as an amateur and I might be able to write something publishable…

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Robert Gressis April 10, 2010 at 5:28 pm

I don’t think publishing before applying for a philosophy grad school admission would hurt you.

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Chris Hallquist April 10, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Do you have any idea where you heard that, or what the reasoning was? It’s so rare for undergraduates to publish in philosophy that I would expect admissions committees to be impressed by this. Perhaps the person who said this had in mind publishing in second-tier venues, triggering the thought, “Oh, this guy wasted his time publishing in a second-tier venue, he must not understand what this is all about.” That I could understand, otherwise the idea makes little sense.

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MKR April 10, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Oh, dear God — now people are expected to publish not just after they have their Ph.D. to get tenure, and not just before they have their Ph.D. to get a first job, but even before they have started Ph.D. study in order to get into a good program? If that is so, then expectations have gotten totally out of hand. If you can write something that is accepted for publication in a prominent scholarly journal, then power to you, but I only know of one undergraduate who ever did that. There are now, however, several journals of philosophy published for and by undergraduate and graduate students. Publishing in one of those (and/or presenting a paper at a student philosophy conference) would be an entirely reasonable way to adorn your c.v.

Edited to add: Here is a page listing undergraduate journals, conferences, and essay contests in philosophy.

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Jacopo April 10, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Wouldn’t it look a bit ‘naughty’ to publish in these journals without actually being a current undergrad?

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Andrew April 10, 2010 at 6:33 pm

“If you can write something that is accepted for publication in a prominent scholarly journal, then power to you, but I only know of one undergraduate who ever did that.”

It’s not as uncommon as you suggest. Over the past few years, many undergraduates have published in very highly thought of venues (I have in mind journals like AJP, Philosophical Studies, Analysis, and the like). My sense is that publishing in these venues is unlikely to hurt the prospects of an applicant and will (in some but not all circles) enhance that applicant’s prospects. Publishing in an undergraduate journal will (in most but not all circles) hurt your prospects.

Advancing one’s professional profile through conference presentations and publications is all find and dandy. But I recommend that aspiring applicants spend their time trying to be better philosophers. In order, I suggest that an aspiring applicant’s priorities should be these: Read. Converse. Write.

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MKR April 10, 2010 at 6:43 pm

It’s not as uncommon as you suggest.

Well, it’s been a while since I kept track of such things, and they have been changing rapidly in the past few years.

Publishing in an undergraduate journal will (in most but not all circles) hurt your prospects.

What?! Why? If you are in academe (I no longer am, and was never involved in graduate admissions), then I trust that you know more about this than I do, but I find this astonishing. I assumed that those journals existed chiefly for the purpose of self-promotion on the part of the contributors.

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Chris Hallquist April 10, 2010 at 6:55 pm

MKR: Does it surprise you that self-promotion can hurt you? Dislike of conspicuous self-promoters is pretty deeply ingrained in human psychology. It would be unsurprising in this case even without knowing any specifics of the academic world.

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Robert Gressis April 10, 2010 at 7:26 pm

My sense of these things is:

(1) It’s very uncommon for undergraduates to publish in prestigious journals;
(2) There is no expectation by anyone on any graduate committee anywhere that undergraduates should have published in prestigious journals before entering their graduate program;
(3) Publishing in undergraduate journals does not help you. I guess some people might see it as distasteful, but I’ve never (to the best of my knowledge) met them.

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lukeprog April 10, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Thanks, Robert.

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Charles April 10, 2010 at 7:57 pm

I think doing that which is considered normal for a PhD candidate when still an undergrad can’t hurt! It may even be what gets you noticed. However, it’s no substitute for all the normal factors: good grades/test score, reputable institution, ability to write, letters, etc.

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Landon Hedrick April 10, 2010 at 8:47 pm

Luke, publishing as an undergraduate can be very good. I attended an undergraduate conference last April (as SUNY Oneonta, which I believe Christ Hallquist attended the year before) and I met one student who had published three papers and had gotten full funding for a good PhD program. One of those papers was co-written with a professional philosopher, so that’s always an option for you to keep in mind as you move forward with your plans.

The pessimism about getting a job in academia is a little disheartening. I try to keep my mind off of that. But I have some backup ideas floating around in my mind, and I’m reminded of them when I read things like this.

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Evolution SWAT April 11, 2010 at 12:50 am

@Lukeprog

Could you clarify why you want a PhD? Does getting a tenure job matter much to you? My guess is that you 1. Would have more credibility if you wrote a book and 2. You would be in a great environment and learn a lot in the process

Or is it also important for you to get tenure at a university?

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lukeprog April 11, 2010 at 5:37 am

Evolution SWAT,

A tenured position would be very useful for conducting decades-long research, yes.

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cartesian April 11, 2010 at 6:45 am

Luke,
I think you’ve gotten a lot of good feedback here, but let me just put in my two cents, for what it’s worth. You seem to have impressed this Robert Gressis fellow. If I were you, I’d email him to talk about the prospects of getting into the BA program at CSULA, and what the requirements are for graduation. Then I’d fulfill as many of those requirements as possible at a local junior college. That’s cheap and relatively easy. While doing that, I’d sit in on classes offered by Gressis, and perhaps some classes offered at places in the general area, like Talbot. (WL Craig offers interterm classes at Talbot, for a couple of weeks in early January, for several hours per day. That might fit with your schedule.) I could put you in touch with some Talbot profs to help make that happen.

After completing as many requirements as possible at a JC, I’d transfer to CSULA and work with Gressis. That should only take a couple of years at most. You’ll probably do well, get some good letters of rec, and be well-positioned to get into a good MA program, or perhaps go straight to a PhD program. Gressis would be able to advise you at this point.

You need a good part-time job while all this happens. I’d recommend teaching SAT and GRE prep classes for a place like Princeton Review or Kaplan. It pays well, it’s flexible, it helps you get comfortable in the classroom, I’m sure you’d be good at it, and — by far most importantly — it would help you kick ass on the GRE (even if you only ever get to teach SAT prep classes). Princeton Review, for example, has lots of classes in the LA area, though most are near UCLA and USC. If that sounds like a nice job, I can put you in touch with people to help make it happen.

I’d really encourage you to pursue this. What else would you do with your life? It may be a long, hard road, but it will be immensely intellectually rewarding. And graduate school is a really great way to spend 5-6 years, EVEN IF it doesn’t result in a job. (Relatively light work load, good benefits, great friends, great mentors, etc.) And there are lots of Plan B’s: teaching at junior colleges, teaching at high schools, going to law school, working at a think tank, getting an administrative job in a university, going to seminary to get an MDiv — oh wait, probably not that last one, though perhaps all this study will change your mind! ;-)

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cartesian April 11, 2010 at 7:01 am

About publishing before applying to PhD programs:

It depends, of course, on where you publish. I highly, highly doubt that any member of a selection committee at a good PhD program would be impressed to see that you published in an undergraduate philosophy journal. It’s just not hard to publish in that sort of venue, so it doesn’t really indicate anything about the quality of your work. I also doubt this would count against you. Probably it would be a very slight nudge in your favor, since it at least shows you’re interested in doing things that professional philosophers do, albeit on a small scale.

Really, it’s more important to just get together a very impressive writing sample. That’s primarily how the selection committee will form an opinion of your philosophical skillz. I’d recommend going to conferences to present your writing sample before you apply to PhD programs, in order to get feedback. (If it’s about phil religion, maybe submit to a Society of Christian Philosophers conference, or an Evangelical Philosophical Society conference. Relatively low standards for acceptance to those conferences, and the people are nice and generally sharp.) And in your case, I’d recommend posting the paper on your blog, to get feedback from some of your readers.

If your writing sample is especially good, then you may think about submitting it to a journal for publication. Probably (though not necessarily!) you’d be lucky to get it published in a third-tier journal, but that would still impress people on PhD selection committees.

Here’s a pretty useful ranking of philosophy journals. By “third-tier” I mean something with an average score under 5.5ish.

http://brian.weatherson.org/journals/Journals_Survey.htm

I wouldn’t worry about any of this for a couple of years! You have a lot of potential, but you still need to develop that potential quite a bit before thinking about publishing in these places.

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lukeprog April 11, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Wow, those are great tips, cartesian!

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Robert Gressis April 11, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Just for the record, I teach at CSU, Northridge, not CSULA, so I don’t have any pull with them (that I know of).

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Justfinethanks April 11, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Just for the record, I teach at CSU, Northridge

That’s my Alma Mater! If you wind up going there, Luke, and need a few filler credits, take a playwrighting class with Rick Mitchell. The man is crazy/brilliant.

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cartesian April 11, 2010 at 3:50 pm

My bad. CSUN, not CSULA.

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Roman April 11, 2010 at 6:14 pm

If you don’t mind me asking, why did you drop out of uni? Was it related to your deconversion?

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lukeprog April 11, 2010 at 8:04 pm

Nah, I was bored with counseling psychology and didn’t realize the importance of finishing just any Bachelor’s Degree at the time.

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Landon Hedrick April 11, 2010 at 10:20 pm

There are some great recommendations here. The idea about teaching standardized test preparation courses seems like a good idea. I would also recommend that you start studying for the GRE way before you plan on taking it. Granted, I studied for about three weeks and did fine, but my weakness was in the verbal section, and to do good there you need to have memorized hundreds of definitions (and use the tips that a good GRE book will tell you). My recommendation: start learning a word a day now and you’ll be more prepared to take that section of the test in a couple of years.

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Roman April 12, 2010 at 12:45 am

I see, thanks for your answer Luke!

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