Philosophy PhD Programs: Duke University and University of Toronto

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


  • Toronto's program is more than twice as large as Duke's, and some students at Toronto see its size as an advantage
  • Duke places more students in Value Theory and Science, Logic, and Math, whereas Toronto places more students in History and Traditions
  • Both programs have above average racial/ethnic and socioeconomic diversity, and Toronto also have above average gender diversity
  • Students rated the programs about the same, overall and in specific metrics
  • Duke students mention interdisciplinarity as a strength of the program, and Toronto students mention the location as a strength

Overall placement, 2012-present
Duke appears to have had 23 graduates in this period, whereas Toronto has had 55. Duke placed 10 of these graduates into tenure-track or other permanent academic positions (43%), with none of these in programs that offer a PhD in philosophy. Toronto placed 23 into permanent academic positions (42%), with 10 in philosophy programs with a PhD (19%). Of Duke's other graduates, 4 are in postdoctoral or fellowship positions, 3 have other temporary academic placements, 4 are in nonacademic positions, and 2 have no or unknown placement. Of Toronto's other philosophy graduates, 9 are in postdoctoral or fellowship positions, 13 have other temporary academic placements, and 10 are in nonacademic positions. The average salary of Duke graduates was $104,620 and 100% preferred an academic job. The average salary of Toronto graduates was $66,404, but only 91% 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 $71,879.

Areas of Specialization, by Category
Including all past and current students in the APDA database, 28% of Duke students are in LEMM, 33% are in Value Theory, 12% are in History and Traditions, and 28% Science, Logic and Math. 30% of Toronto students are in LEMM, 29% are in Value Theory, 35% are in History and Traditions, and 6% are in Science, Logic and Math. For Duke, the plurality of graduates 2012 onward placed into permanent academic positions were in Science, Logic, and Math (50%), whereas for Toronto the plurality were in History and Traditions (43%).

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 Duke are women (50% of current students, 25% of past graduates), whereas 35% of Toronto students are women (38% of current students, 33% 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, 26% of those who answered questions about race and ethnicity from Duke identified as something other than White, non-Hispanic. Similarly, this number is 25% for Toronto.

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

33% of Duke students were first generation, spanning the lower to upper classes. 28% of Toronto 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.

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

I get the impression that the argumentative nature of philosophic exchange is off-putting to certain people, depending on their personal experiences or ethnic backgrounds. I think that things have certainly become more polite over the past decade. But we could perhaps do more to uphold a respectful tone when engaging in rational disagreement.
Offer more scholarships to underrepresented groups - in both terminal MA programs and PhD programs.

Toronto students also left a few comments on this topic:

Encourage all philosophers to be courteous during seminars and conferences
I think philosophy is inclusive enough as it is.
The more people in underrepresented groups occupy positions of power in departments, the more the culture will change.

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 Duke students selected "somewhat likely," on average (4.2, n=11), as did Toronto students (4.3, n=31). 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," Duke students selected "satisfied" (4.2, n=6), as did Toronto students (4.0, n=22).

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the advice and preparation this program provides to its graduate students for academic research," Duke students selected "satisfied" (4.3, n=6), as did Toronto students (4.4, n=21).

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the financial support this program provides for its graduate students," Duke students selected between "satisfied" and "very satisfied" (4.5, n=6), whereas Toronto students selected "satisfied" (4.3, n=21).

Public Comments

Duke students left public comments about their program overall:

Duke was a small, friendly community that was interdisciplinary to such a degree that it permeated every interaction. The right kind of student - one who is not hyper competitive but broadly interested - would thrive there.
Nurturing and supportive relationships with faculty. Challenging and well structured program. Opportunities for inter-disciplinary collaboration.
Demanding curriculum; close mentoring
Financial support. Ample opportunities (conference, academic centers, training for teaching etc.). Friendly and supportive atmosphere. Academic support (availability of faculty members). Support for everyday life (including family caring).

on training for teaching:

Good teaching experience; excellent job application mentoring
This program let me TA for Intro to Philosophy, among others, so that I can prepare for teaching my own Intro class. It allowed me to teach my own classes such as Intro to philosophy and Logic. It also offers Teaching Philosophy seminar every semester, which helped me a lot.

on research preparation:

Emphasis was placed on generating publications prior to graduating. I found it extremely helpful to go through the process of preparing a submission, dealing with reviews, etc. while receiving support from my advisor.

and on financial support:

I was able to scrape by without going into debt, provided that i managed to find my own employment during the summers. As an international student, local employment opportunities were limited. So I often returned home during the summers to earn money. This was slightly disruptive to my research.
program offers generous financial funding. The stipend is more than enough to support a graduate student who lives alone and the rate is low around this area. The program offers extra funding opportunities such as fellowships and travel funds. It even offers child care subsidy and summer research fund.

Toronto students provided public comments on the program overall:
Large selection of professors to work with. Large selection of graduate student courses to take. Supportive administration. Generous stipend.
Faculty are dedicated and committed to student excellence. Active and engaged graduate student community. Large faculty which means a diverse set of research interests and possible projects can be accommodated. Interdisciplinary research projects are encouraged and there are institutional resources to help. Graduate student funding is excellent. Funding for conferences is excellent. Program is well-structured (what it takes to get through the program is clearly defined). Many talks, reading groups, and research events. Toronto is a diverse, fun and interesting city with amazing food, art and culture.
It depends enormously on which area you work in: except for ancient/medieval or political philosophy, you have to be lucky to get a decent perm. job soon enough not to despai
Large faculty, a lot of opportunity for different areas of study, a very good faculty.
The great abundance of faculty and courses available; excellent advisors for my doctoral work; solid professional development and job market training; exceptional library system at the university; the diversity of the city (Toronto)
The U of T Department of Philosophy is known for its large faculty. This is a major resource. For those who come into graduate school with a less-defined sense of what we want to work on, the size of the U of T faculty offers ample opportunity to learn about different areas from world-leading experts. This means that you might start out in Ethics, get tempted by Ancient or Early Modern, and then end up doing something in Mind or Language or Metaphysics. I also found the departmental culture very conducive to getting good work done. The graduate student community is supportive, but not suffocating. Students are largely left to figure out their own path, both philosophically and socially, yet with the clear expectation that help will be there for them if they ask for it. The department also provided ample opportunity to acquire teaching experience, both as a TA and as an instructor. Yet the teaching demands were relatively light, and it is possible to go many semesters without teaching if you so desire. Toronto is also a fabulous city in which to live. Large, but not overwhelming, it provides a life outside of school.
Top-ranked program in the country with good placement record
While I am not yet enrolled in the PhD program, the course selection looks interesting.

on training for teaching:

Training for teaching undergraduates is mandatory. Program allows graduates to teach a full course after completion of the area year (2nd year if in four year program or 3rd year if in five year program). Fellow graduate students willing to share experiences. Professors willing to assist with training.
At the University of Toronto there are many large undergraduate classes, which means that there is plenty of opportunity for our graduate students to become familiar with teaching. Moreover, summer classes are explicitly reserved for graduate students in the program, which means that every graduate will have ample opportunity, should they wish it, to teach their own class as primary lecturer. The program also makes a great effort to teach its TAs and instructors to be better educators with multiple training workshops offered at different stages throughout the program (some mandatory, some not).
The training I received at the start of the semester, along with the benchmarking sessions arranged by the professor who was leading my course, made me feel well prepared to grade undergraduate students’ submissions.
We were given ample opportunities to teach undergraduate courses, even if the training for that task was rather sparse.

on preparation for research:

From the moment we enter the program, we are encouraged to submit to APAs and many other conferences. We are also guaranteed money to attend two conferences every year.
The main thing that Toronto does well at an institutional level for this is it structures its program well. Doctoral students are expected to complete two years of coursework at the beginning of their program, with strict breadth requirements, which allow them to meet many of their professors and investigate new areas of research at an advanced level. In third year students are required to choose an area in which they specialize. This year is typically spent familiarizing themselves with their area of specialization, and writing a written exam, an oral exam, and a paper. It is only after these requirements are met that you begin the thesis writing years, and at that point, you have a lot of experience writing high level philosophy papers and doing self-directed research work. I think that this system sets our graduates up well for doing self-directed research, because how self-directed you are slowly builds up through the years that you are a member of the department; though certainly who is on your committee (and how much advice they give you) matters as well.
There was alot of emphasis on publication and conference attendance. Both funds and advice about each were available.

and on financial support:

Very generous stipend. Several opportunities to win scholarships. Administration is very helpful during the application process.
The department covers tuition and guarantees a livable stipend, as well as money for conference attendance. We also have access to extra work, which is paid at a high rate (because of our teaching union). General health care is covered completely, and after the most recent round of bargaining, we also have a good vision/dental/mental health plan. After the funded cohort (in year 6 +), the funding becomes more precarious, since there is no guaranteed stipend. However, there is still plenty of work and good health care benefits, so Toronto does better than many other programs.
The standard funding package was adequate, and additional work was always available. I believe terminal M.A. students may have a different experience.
While U of T offered a generous stipend, York University was willing to be competitive; they increased their initial offer to be $4k more for the same program (MA in Philosophy). As well, York did not require me to do TA work to earn any portion of the stipend.

Next week I hope to look at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Northwestern University. Feedback is welcome, at

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