Philosophy PhD Programs: McGill University and Harvard University

In this blog post I provide some detailed, up-to-date information about two philosophy PhD programs. This week's picks are McGill University and Harvard University. These programs were chosen randomly, using an app called "Pickster." (Next week's picks are listed at the bottom of this post.) I updated this information myself, using the program's placement page and what I could find online. I aim to construct these posts with an eye to what can be seen about the programs from the APDA data set alone. This information has come from several sources, including current students and graduates. Prospective graduate students should look at the websites for the programs, linked above, for more complete information. The running tally includes select numbers from all of the programs covered so far.


  • Harvard, a mid-sized program, is about twice as large as McGill
  • Harvard has a very high rate of academic placement, whereas McGill is below average on this
  • McGill appears to have a focus on History and Traditions, whereas Harvard has a focus on Value Theory
  • Harvard has good gender and racial/ethnic diversity, whereas McGill has good socioeconomic diversity
  • Harvard's students give it high ratings, especially for financial support, whereas McGill's students gave it higher ratings for research preparation

Overall placement, 2012-present
McGill appears to have had 21 graduates in this period, whereas Harvard has had 40. McGill placed 5 of these graduates into tenure-track or other permanent academic positions (24%), with 1 of these in a program that offers a PhD in philosophy (5%). Harvard placed 24 into permanent academic positions (60%), with 13 in philosophy programs with a PhD (33%). Of McGill's other graduates, 5 are in postdoctoral or fellowship positions, 4 are in other temporary academic positions, 5 are in nonacademic positions, and 2 have no or unknown placement. Of Harvard's other philosophy graduates, 5 are in postdoctoral or fellowship positions, 5 have other temporary academic placements, and 6 are in nonacademic positions. Too few McGill graduates provided salary information to report, but 60% preferred an academic job. The average salary of Harvard graduates was $79,611 and 100% preferred an academic job.

Note that the overall proportion of 2012-2016 graduates from the 135 programs tracked by APDA in permanent academic positions is 36%, with 11% in PhD granting programs. The current database values for all 2012 and later graduates are 37% and 12%, respectively, with an overall average salary of $68,542 and 90% who prefer an academic job.

Areas of Specialization, by Category
Including all past and current students in the APDA database, 19% of McGill students are in LEMM, 31% are in Value Theory, 44% are in History and Traditions, and 6% Science, Logic and Math. 23% of Harvard students are in LEMM, 41% are in Value Theory, 22% are in History and Traditions, and 14% are in Science, Logic and Math. For McGill, the majority of graduates 2012 onward placed into permanent academic positions were in History and Traditions (80%). For Harvard, the plurality were in Value Theory (33%).

Note that the current database values for all past graduates and current students are 28% in LEMM, 34% in Value Theory, 24% in History and Traditions, and 14% in Science, Logic, and Math.

Including all past graduates and current students, 33% of those from McGill are women, as are 39% of Harvard students.

29% is the overall proportion reported by APDA in 2017. The current database percentage is 31% for all past graduates and current students.

Including all past graduates and current students, 15% of those who answered questions about race and ethnicity from McGill identified as something other than White, non-Hispanic. This number is 35% for Harvard.

13% is the overall proportion reported by APDA in 2017. The percentage from the Diversity and Inclusivity survey is 14%. The current database percentage is 20%, but this is likely inflated relative to the true population due to some of our data gathering efforts.

40% of McGill students and 13% of Harvard students were first generation.

The percentage of all survey respondents who are first generation college students is 23.4%, compared to 31% for all United States doctoral degree recipients in 2015.

McGill students provided one public comment on how philosophy could be more inclusive:

I think that ongoing efforts to diversify the canon, our conferences, and our syllabi, and to undermine the myth of genius, are important and useful. And I think that our increasingly low tolerance for sexual harassment will help a lot. I would like to see philosophical organizations (such as the APA, but others too) doing more by way of small grants to fund regional workshops and conferences, diversified curricula, etc. It may also be worth considering starting to fund dedicated PhD studentships and postdocs, to keep some kind of pipeline in place despite the horrific job market.

As did Harvard students:

The main thing, I think, is to stop treating and doing philosophy as a contest. Philosophy is beautiful, inclusive, and empowering when it is collaborative. But due to the way the job market is set up (and what it is set up to do) and given certain traditions, philosophical discussions often turn very adversarial.

Program Rating

In response to the question: "How likely would you be to recommend the program from which you obtained or will obtain your PhD to prospective philosophy students?" past and current McGill students selected "neither likely nor unlikely," on average (3.1, n=7), whereas Harvard students selected between "somewhat likely" and "definitely would recommend" (4.5, n=17). Harvard did not have a moderate or higher correlation between graduation year and program rating. Of 69 programs with at least 10 survey participants who are past graduates, 14 had moderate negative correlations between these values, 7 had moderate positive correlations, and there is a slight negative overall correlation of -.06.

"Somewhat likely," 4.0, is the average rating reported in 2017. The current database overall average is the same, with an average of 3.7 for teaching, 3.9 for research, and 3.7 for financial support.

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the advice and preparation this program provides to its graduate students for undergraduate teaching," McGill students selected "neutral" (3.2, n=6), whereas Harvard students selected "satisfied" (3.9, n=9).

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the advice and preparation this program provides to its graduate students for academic research," McGill students selected "satisfied" (3.8, n=5), whereas Harvard students selected "neutral" (3.4, n=9).

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the financial support this program provides for its graduate students," McGill students selected "unsatisfied" (2.2, n=5) and Harvard students selected "satisfied" (4.3, n=9).

Public Comments

McGill students provided just one public comment on the program:

The department guarantees funding for only 4 years, but the average time-to-completion for the PhD program is 6.5 years.

Harvard students provided public comments on the program overall:
Harvard profs set an inspiring example of doing creative work on important questions (not just chasing current fads and publication). The departmental culture was extremely caring, friendly and comfortable for me as a mixed race woman with various mental health diagnoses. And my advisors consistently went above-and-beyond to help me solve problems re: teaching, writing and the job market.

on preparation for research:

Teaching is great. Emphasis on publication, conferencing etc. subpar.

and on financial support:

Harvard pays well.
pays more than twice as much as the school down the street. As far as stipends go, this must be one of the most generous ones in the country.

Next week I hope to look at University of Kent and University of California, Santa Cruz. Feedback is welcome, at

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