Philosophy PhD Programs: Columbia University and University of Cambridge, HPS

In this blog post I provide some detailed, up-to-date information about two philosophy PhD programs. This week's picks are Columbia University and University of Cambridge, History and Philosophy of Science. 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.


  • Both programs have potential overlap with other programs, but I tried to keep them separate (i.e. Philosophy and Education at Columbia, and the history track of HPS at Cambridge)
  • Both programs have a good placement profile, especially for those seeking placement into PhD programs
  • Columbia's AOS profile is similar to that of students overall, whereas Cambridge HPS unsurprisingly leans toward Science, Logic, and Math
  • Cambridge HPS appears to have good gender and racial/ethnic diversity
  • Non-public comments for both programs include reference to sexual harassment allegations

Overall placement, 2012-present
Columbia appears to have had 43 graduates in this period, whereas Cambridge HPS has had 20 (at least in the philosophy track). Columbia placed 19 of these graduates into tenure-track or other permanent academic positions (44%), with 9 of these in programs that offer a PhD in philosophy (21%). Cambridge HPS has placed 11 into permanent academic positions (55%), and 10 into a program with a PhD (50%). Of Columbia's other graduates, 5 are in postdoctoral or fellowship positions, 11 have other temporary academic placements, and 8 are in nonacademic positions. Of Cambridge HPS's other philosophy graduates, 7 are in postdoctoral or fellowship positions, 1 is in a nonacademic position, and 1 has no or unknown placement. Columbia graduates reported an average salary of $84,444, and 100% preferred an academic position. While too few Cambridge HPS graduates provided salary information to report, 100% likewise preferred academic placement.

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, 27% of Columbia students are in LEMM, 36% are in Value Theory, 17% are in History and Traditions, and 20% Science, Logic and Math. 14% of Cambridge HPS students are in LEMM, 10% are in Value Theory, and 76% are in Science, Logic and Math. For Columbia, the majority of graduates 2012 onward placed into permanent academic positions were in either LEMM (32%) or Value Theory (32%). For Cambridge HPS, the majority were in Science, Logic, and Math (73%).

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, 31% of those from Columbia are women, whereas 47% of Cambridge HPS students are women.

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, 11% of those who answered questions about race and ethnicity from Columbia identified as something other than White, non-Hispanic. This number is 33% for Cambridge HPS.

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

18% of Columbia past graduates and current students who answered questions about socioeconomic status were first generation, with students spanning the lower middle to upper middle classes. Too few Cambridge HPS students answered questions about their parents' education to provide this information, but they did provide the same range of SES status (i.e. lower middle to upper middle).

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.

Columbia students provided two public comments on how philosophy could be more inclusive:

There should be more mentorship opportunities for and advocacy on behalf of women and members of underrepresented groups. Moreover, the aforementioned mentoring should not be limited to women and members of underrepresented groups. We need those who continue to wield the greatest influence in the field to begin investing their power and influence in members of the profession that have be historically excluded. There is abundant research suggesting that professional progress not only reflects hard work and ability, but also access to social networks that open doors and provide opportunities. This is a domain in which women and other members of underrepresented groups often continue to be disadvantaged. In sum, it is not only women and members of underrepresented groups that should be expected to advocate for women and members of underrepresented groups. This is a burden all members of the profession who are appropriately placed should share.
First, bring more conservative and religious views. This is in no way incompatible with the hegemonic narrative about diversity. There are plenty of smart and articulated pro-life (or even non-feminist) women. Similarly, there are also plenty of racial or ethnic minorities that have libertarian or conservative views. It is a mistake to bundle identity traits with ideological traits. Second, realize that someones political views might not be relevant for their field of work. Political discourse is taking over all of philosophy and that might be dangerous. Finally, more data and less conceptual analysis. Too many claims about justice are based on faulty data interpretation.

(Cambridge HPS students did not provide public comments on this question.)

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 Columbia students selected "somewhat likely," on average (4.0, n=20). Cambridge HPS students selected something in between "somewhat likely" and "definitely would recommend (4.5, n=6). Columbia has a moderate negative correlation between graduation year and program rating, excluding current students (-.54). This means that graduates of more recent years rate the program lower than graduates of years further in the past. 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). (Cambridge HPS did not have a moderate or higher correlation between graduation year and program rating, excluding current students.)

"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," Columbia students selected "neutral" (3.3, n=13). Cambridge HPS students also selected "neutral" (3.4, n=5).

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the advice and preparation this program provides to its graduate students for academic research," Columbia students selected "satisfied" (3.8, n=13), as did Cambridge HPS students (4.2, n=5).

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the financial support this program provides for its graduate students," Columbia students selected "satisfied" (3.7, n=13). Cambridge HPS students selected "neutral" (3.2, n=5).

Public Comments

Columbia students left the following public comments about their program overall:

I obtained my PhD from a highly ranked department (a la the Philosophy Gourmet Report) and while I personally place very limited stock in such rankings, they continue to have a major influence on how an applicant is perceived by hiring committees. I also had access to well-established professors who, while not always the most available or supportive from an advising point of view, could write letters that carry a great deal of weight in the profession. It is for these reasons most of all that I would recommend my graduate program.
Good access to faculty. Good collaboration with outside faculty and grad students in NYC.
very good courses; excellent supervisor; friendly environment.; the amazing richness of NYC philosophical community; the experience of being a student in NYC
The department made no effort to keep their tradition in decision theory, philosophy of economics and logic. In the past years they made no hires in this area. This lead to a vacuum among new graduate students working in these fields. Also, the department became overly politicized. Less political or less left oriented students sometimes do not feel very comfortable. Furthermore, some faculty are unapologetic when making negative generalizations about republican voters and candidates, or even men as a category. There is certainly lack of political diversity in the program.
Columbia is open to and supportive of a wide variety of philosophical approaches and traditions, and especially to interdisciplinary work. Columbia is also situated in a very rich philosophical environment (NYC), which makes openness about philosophy an especially valuable characteristic of the department. As a whole, I find that the department tend towards a hands-off approach in advising, so it is important that students advocate for and organize themselves (eg, through dissertation working groups). Fairly self-sufficient students can do very well here.

[One non-public comment mentioned sexual harassment allegations against a member of the faculty.]

on training for teaching:

Many courses at Columbia do not have discussion/recitation sections attached to them, so TAs often only grade and hold office hours. (This also means that grad students have substantially different teaching experiences, depending on what courses they are assigned to over their TA years.)

on training for research:

I learned many things and I broaden my views on every aspect of my intellectual life; but I did not receive much help on publishing. In fact, I would say that publishing is not really encouraged in the program, rather writing lengthy dissertations. This is a serious fault.

and on financial support:

I have a good life, I have health insurance, there is also money for conferences and trips. Money was not a concern for me in this program.

Cambridge HPS students provided one public comment on training for research:

The faculty are very capable, and willing to spend the time necessary to ensure that their graduate students become capable as well.

[One non-public comment mentioned sexual harassment allegations against more than one member of the faculty. Another mentioned climate issues.]

Next week I hope to look at Duquesne University and Fordham University. Feedback is welcome, at

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