Philosophy PhD Programs: Pennsylvania State University and University of Pennsylvania

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


  • By chance, two institutions in Pennsylvania with very different reputations were chosen this week
  • Penn State, a program long neglected by PGR, appears here comparable to UPenn, a well-ranked program in PGR
  • Both programs have above average academic placement, with Penn State's placement rates and average salary a bit higher than UPenn's
  • Both have above average gender and racial/ethnic diversity, but Penn State's numbers are higher
  • The student recommendations for these programs are about the same, with UPenn's ratings higher on specific measures

Overall placement, 2012-present
Penn State appears to have had 41 graduates in this period, whereas UPenn has had 28. Penn State placed 20 of these graduates into tenure-track or other permanent academic positions (49%), with 7 of these in a program that offers a PhD in philosophy (17%). UPenn placed 12 into permanent academic positions (43%), with 3 in philosophy programs with a PhD (11%). Of Penn State's other graduates, 8 are in a postdoctoral or fellowship position, 7 are in other temporary academic positions, 5 are in nonacademic positions, and 1 has no or unknown placement. Of U Penn's other philosophy graduates, 3 are in postdoctoral or fellowship positions, 8 have other temporary academic placements, and 5 are in nonacademic positions. The average salary of Penn State graduates was $68,633 and 100% preferred an academic job. The average salary of UPenn graduates was $63,489 and 93% 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, 3% of Penn State students are in LEMM, 34% are in Value Theory, 59% are in History and Traditions, and 3% Science, Logic and Math. 8% of UPenn students are in LEMM, 38% are in Value Theory, 38% are in History and Traditions, and 15% are in Science, Logic and Math. For Penn State, the majority of graduates 2012 onward placed into permanent academic positions were in History and Traditions (55%), as were the plurality for UPenn (50%).

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, 40% of those from Penn State are women (67% of current students, 35% of past graduates), as are 36% of UPenn 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, 38% of those who answered questions about race and ethnicity from Penn State identified as something other than White, non-Hispanic. This number is 24% for UPenn.

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.

13% of Penn State students and 0% of UPenn 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.

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

Actively recruit and hire philosophers from underrepresented groups. Take their work seriously, and allow them to mold their classes and research in ways that may strike you as unorthodox. In other words, stop with the gate-keeping nonsense that often denies underrepresented scholars publication and tenure: labeling certain types of work as not philosophy simply because it is unlike the work that you do or you were trained in.
Departments should go out of their way to meet students that might need an invitation to feel included, not simply be ready with the resources for those students to turn to once a crisis of confidence presents itself. As a young woman experiencing the trauma of miscarriage and later, the challenges of pregnancy, I did not even feel entitled to look for resources within my department. Had there been a more overt sign that the department recognized, ahead of time, the various challenges that might present themselves to under-represented groups such as mine, seeking out those resources would have been a recognizable option for me.

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 Penn State students selected "somewhat likely," on average (4.0, n=16), as did UPenn students (4.0, n=15). Neither Penn State nor UPenn had 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," Penn State students selected "satisfied" (3.7, n=10), as did UPenn students (3.9, n=10).

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the advice and preparation this program provides to its graduate students for academic research," Penn State students selected "satisfied" (4.1, n=10), as did UPenn students (4.4, n=10).

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the financial support this program provides for its graduate students," Penn State students selected "satisfied" (4.3, n=10) and UPenn students selected between "satisfied" and "very satisfied" (4.5, n=10).

Public Comments

Penn State students provided public comments on the program overall:

Departmental strength in the history of philosophy, continental philosophy, feminist philosophy, critical race theory. Recent hires add breadth to the department and make it even more appealing.
Diverse and inclusive department, excellent training, focus on pedagogy, graduate student community.
The program that I experienced (2004-2006) is no longer the program that exists- with a complete change-over in faculty, the department has largely reinvented itself.
The relatively isolated rural setting of the school made it easier for me to stay focused on my graduate work. Faculty were generally supportive of interdisciplinary course work.

on training for teaching:

By the time I was completing coursework, more was being done to prepare TAs to teach (especially large) introductory classes. I did appreciate the autonomy I had, but it was pretty overwhelming to design an intro course from scratch and teach it for the first time!
I am not sure if we had good training, but penn state phil students are really good teachers.
Seminar dedicated to developing your first syllabus, guaranteed small class sizes, ongoing teaching mentoring
The quality of preparation for teaching depended largely on the faculty member assigned to lead the teaching seminar in any given year. The faculty member who led that seminar when I took it left much to be desired, but the faculty member that was assigned to me as a teaching mentor was phenomenal. I would say that it pays to shop around for a good teaching mentor, even if that mentorship is informal. Ask other graduate students for advice when looking for a mentor. I imagine that this is true for most PhD programs, however. As a whole, this department seemed to care about training graduate students to provide good undergraduate instruction.

on preparation for research:

Quality seminars and feedback on early work. Great working relationship with advisor and committee willing to read drafts, comment, edit, etc.
The department provided us with many workshops and seminars on research, professionalization, and paper writing. Of course, the quality of your research preparation will largely depend on your individual adviser as you progress in the program. It pays to ask older graduate students for advice when shopping for an adviser.
Upon graduation I realized that a lot of my peers at other institutions did not know that they would need to publish or perish.

and on financial support:

I am not sure how it is anymore. I found the offer generous and was grateful.

UPenn students also provided public comments on the program overall:

Faculty at Penn were very engaged in mentoring, which prepared me well for the job market
I would definitely recommend the program for anyone doing philosophy of science/biology, and some other AOS. Not necessarily for all AOS.
My advisory committee was helpful in many different ways. My primary advisor provided me with excellent guidance and support, without attempting to impose his own philosophical views on my thinking. This made me feel like I had a certain independence and ownership of my project. I benefited from that immensely.
Penn was a superbly supportive environment. Both the graduate student community and the faculty contributed to this. There was little competitiveness between graduate students (all students were on the same scholarship for the first five years, which helped with collegiality). I had wonderful teachers and mentors at Penn and quite a few of those were women! It was a fantastic place to study the history of philosophy. I would recommend Penn very highly but some of the faculty I have worked with have since left. So I can only within limits speak to the department in its current composition.
philosophy of science faculty are wonderful advisors. strong support for interdisciplinary coursework and research

on training for teaching:

2 days of general university sponsored training is required—not a very good use of time. graduate student-led efforts to create opportunities for philosophy specific pedagogy training have, in the past (circa 2016), been met with departmental support, but there are substantial institutional barriers to implementing, say, a course in philosophical pedagogy that grad students can put on their CV
Great range of opportunities to TA and teach independently, and great faculty support for doing so.

on preparation for research:

I was very satisfied. I had an amazing supervisor. Other students with other supervisors were not very satisfied. There was a lot of variation within the program, in this regard, at least when I was there.
Students are encourage to present at conferences and sometimes helped with publishing. It could be better, but is generally strong.

and on financial support:

Opportunities for post-fellowship funding are dwindling alarmingly. There are also fewer opportunities for all post-fellowship students to instruct courses as means of collecting a cost of living income. Given that plenty of survey data shows that PhD students should expect to spend around 6 years in graduate school, a diminishing pool of available funding to graduate students is very worrying. While I was in my graduate program, I only knew of one student who graduated within the five-year fellowship period.
The funding package is generally pretty solid and has a good mix of service and non-service years. Funding beyond the official funding package is sometimes available. The health insurance and coverage is good. I suppose it could be better, but it was generally very competitive and solid, especially given the relatively low cost of living in Philadelphia compared to many other large cities.
The PhD funding package (for US students, anyway) was more than sufficient to live comfortably in Philadelphia. I know some international students who had issues with getting enough money and getting it in a timely fashion.

One private comment mentioned sexual harassment in the program.

Next week I hope to look at McGill University and Harvard University. Feedback is welcome, at

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