Philosophy PhD Programs: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Northwestern University

In this blog post I provide some detailed, up-to-date information about two philosophy PhD programs. This week's picks are University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Northwestern 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.


  • UIUC and Northwestern are programs of similar size within a few hours drive of one another
  • Both appear to have above average placement into permanent academic positions
  • UIUC students are largely in LEMM and Science, Logic, and Math, but place in Value Theory and History and Traditions; Northwestern students are primarily in History and Traditions but place in LEMM
  • Both have lower than overall gender diversity, but higher than overall racial/ethnic diversity; Northwestern has lower than overall SES diversity
  • The program ratings for both are below average, but Northwestern's is higher

Overall placement, 2012-present
UIUC appears to have had 23 graduates in this period, whereas Northwestern has had 30. UIUC placed 9 of these graduates into tenure-track or other permanent academic positions (39%), with 1 of these in a program that offers a PhD in philosophy (4%). Northwestern placed 16 into permanent academic positions (53%), with 2 in philosophy programs with a PhD (7%). Of UIUC's other graduates, 5 have other temporary academic placements, 5 are in nonacademic positions, and 3 have no or unknown placement. Of Northwestern's other philosophy graduates, 1 is in a postdoctoral or fellowship position, 7 have other temporary academic placements, 4 are in nonacademic positions, and 2 have no or unknown placement. The average salary of Northwestern graduates was $75,408, and 100% preferred an academic job. (Too few UIUC students provided this information to report.)

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 $71,879.

Areas of Specialization, by Category
Including all past and current students in the APDA database, 32% of UIUC students are in LEMM, 21% are in Value Theory, 14% are in History and Traditions, and 32% Science, Logic and Math. 15% of Northwestern students are in LEMM, 36% are in Value Theory, 41% are in History and Traditions, and 8% are in Science, Logic and Math. For UIUC, the plurality of graduates 2012 onward placed into permanent academic positions were in Value Theory or History and Traditions (33% each), whereas for Northwestern the plurality were in LEMM (44%).

Note that the current database values for all past graduates and current students are 27% in LEMM, 34% in Value Theory, 24% in History and Traditions, and 15% in Science, Logic, and Math.

Including all past graduates and current students, 23% of those from UIUC are women (32% of current students, 20% of past graduates), whereas 27% of Northwestern students are women (34% of current students, 24% of past graduates).

29% is the overall proportion reported by APDA in 2017. Current database values are 31% for all past graduates and current students, 37% for current students, and 28% for past graduates.

Including all past graduates and current students, 22% of those who answered questions about race and ethnicity from UIUC identified as something other than White, non-Hispanic. Similarly, this number is 23% for Northwestern.

13% is the overall proportion reported by APDA in 2017. The current percentage in the database is 15%.

Too few UIUC students provided information on SES status to report. 8% of Northwestern students were first generation, spanning the lower to upper middle classes.

The percentage of all survey respondents who are first generation college students is 23.3% (CI: 20.7% to 26.0%), compared to 31% for all United States doctoral degree recipients in 2015.

Northwestern students provided the following public comments on how philosophy could be more inclusive:

Reach out and reach down. Don’t assume that because someone is younger, unemployed, or not like you that they can’t develop as a philosopher. View yourself as a generous teacher, not as a combatant who has to win and/or look clever. Wisdom over speed.
We should be ensuring that we are accepting graduate student from a variety of backgrounds, and we should be hiring from a variety of backgrounds. We need a deep commitment to epistemic diversity, and this commitment needs to be matched with a willingness to change in light of that diversity.

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 UIUC students selected "neither likely nor unlikely," on average (2.7, n=6), whereas Northwestern students selected "somewhat likely" (3.9, n=29). Neither university had a moderate or higher correlation between graduation year and program rating. Of 65 programs with at least 10 survey participants who are past graduates, 15 had moderate negative correlations between these values, 6 had moderate positive correlations, and there is a slight negative overall correlation of -.07.

"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, 4.0 for research, and 3.8 for financial support.

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the advice and preparation this program provides to its graduate students for undergraduate teaching," Northwestern students selected "neutral" (3.0, n=15). (Too few UIUC students provided this information to report, as with the other ratings below.)

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the advice and preparation this program provides to its graduate students for academic research," Northwestern students selected "satisfied" (3.6, n=15).

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the financial support this program provides for its graduate students," Northwestern students selected "satisfied" (4.0, n=15).

Public Comments

UIUC students left one public comment about their program, on financial support:

The department did a wonderful job of providing funding. I had a TAship and fellowships throughout my time in graduate school. Luckily we had a union that was very good at bargaining for salary and benefits. But it was often a struggle to get the university to cough up the money for those things.

Northwestern students provided public comments on the program overall:
Faculty largely exhibit features that make for a friendly and supportive, yet rigorous grad experience. Grad students are very congenial with a wide range of interests and a healthy sense of pluralism about the value of different interests.
Good outside-of-department resources (CogSci and Critical Theory). Fair/decent social and learning environment. Good financial package.
In the early 90s NU was one of a handful of universities that taught both analytic and Continental traditions in 20th c. philosophy. Unlike some similar programs, there was little sense of tension or hostility between the two camps. I hope it is still that way.
Not internally competitive -- i.e., culture among the students is very collegial and friendly. Highly supportive faculty and advisement. Great funding for 5 years, with possibility 6th year of TAship. Seems to be a hospitable place for women/minorities. Access to lots of stuff going on in the philosophic community outside Northwestern, e.g., UIC, DePaul, University of Chicago, Notre Dame.
Pluralistic program, excellent funding, dedicated professors, great city.
When I was there, the program was very strong in phil sci (physics and bio). But students left with an incredible historical education as well. Both the analytic and Continental sides of the department shared a deflationary/pragmatic sense of truth, so there was no war there, and we all benefitted from learning across the divide.

on training for teaching:

Our TA training is very cursory. It is common practice for faculty instructors to sit in on TA sections at some point during the term and give feedback, which is helpful but not sufficient. Further training must be done informally and initiated by graduate students. Moreover, it is relatively difficult to find a position as the primary instructor of a course at Northwestern, so we receive very little preparation for teaching independently.
The Northwestern University teaching center, the Searle Center for Teaching Excellence, was one of the best teaching centers in the country at that time. Ken Bain was there, and Jim Lang, a graduate colleague of ours, followed. The grad students were well prepared to teach. In fact, I think the students who graduated around my time of whom I’m still aware in the profession are some of the best philosophy teachers out there.

on preparation for research:

The "pro-seminar" system was terrifying, but practical in its preparation for publishing.
We didn’t have a lot of research support. There was no summer funding, so the summers were always lost. And the faculty were more concerned with their research careers than ours.
We have a proseminar system during the first and second years of the program that is helpful for developing skills in academic research. Moreover, I had very good experiences with faculty advising and mentorship that supplemented these. However, I think there could have been more formalized expectations of research and publishing training.

and on financial support:

As far as graduate programs go, my program is very well funded, with moderate research support. My reservations stem from the fact that I think that graduate programs in general should be better funded.
During my time, there was no summer funding, and there was only one dissertation fellowship.
I have never felt financially burdened since entering this program.
Northwestern provides very generous financial support of roughly $31K/year (with slight increases each year) guaranteed over 5 years. This permits a comfortable lifestyle in the Chicago area, provided the student is not supporting a whole family. The 1st and 5th years are fellowship years. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th years require TAing 2 or 3 classes during the year. There is some possibility for 6th year funding, but this is competitive as it depends on whether there are TA slots that need to be filled or whether the university has a slot available for teaching a class in the evening school program.

Next week I hope to look at University of California, Irvine (LPS) and University of Oregon. Feedback is welcome, at

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