Philosophy PhD Programs: Cornell University and University of Pittsburgh

In this blog post I provide some detailed, up-to-date information about two philosophy PhD programs. This week's picks are Cornell University and University of Pittsburgh. These programs were chosen randomly, using an app called "Pickster." (Next week's picks are listed at the bottom of this post.) This information comes from the APDA database, and was updated by my research assistant, Anna Durbin, using the program's placement page and what she could find online. The running tally includes select numbers from all of the programs covered so far.

Note: This post was updated on 12/7/2019—see below.


  • Both of these mid-sized programs have higher than average placement into permanent academic positions
  • Cornell's students are mostly in LEMM, but permanent placements happen more for History and Traditions
  • Pittsburgh students are mostly in either LEMM or Value Theory, but permanent placements happen more for Value Theory
  • Cornell has higher than average gender, racial/ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity
  • Both programs have somewhat higher than average student ratings, doing much better in financial support and research preparation than in teaching preparation

Overall placement, 2012-present
Cornell had 47 PhD graduates in this period, whereas Pittsburgh had 42. Of Cornell's 47 graduates, 38 went into academic or unknown employment, and they placed 19 of these into tenure-track or other permanent academic positions (50%), with 7 of these in programs that offer a PhD in philosophy (18%). Pittsburgh placed 18 of 39 into permanent academic positions (46%), with 5 in a philosophy program with a PhD (13%).

Of Cornell's other graduates, 3 are in postdoctoral or fellowship positions, 13 have temporary academic placements, 9 are in nonacademic positions, and 3 have no or unknown placement.

Of Pittsburgh's other graduates, 5 are in postdoctoral or fellowship positions, 11 are in other temporary academic positions, 3 are in nonacademic positions, and 5 have no or unknown placement.

The average salary of Cornell graduates is $86,302 and 91% preferred an academic job. The average salary of Pittsburgh graduates is $65,909, and 92% preferred an academic job.

Note that removing nonacademic positions from the total number of graduates in reporting permanent academic placement is a new standard for this project. According to the old standard, 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 according to the new standard are 42% and 15%, 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, 38% of Cornell students are in LEMM, 26% are in Value Theory, 29% are in History and Traditions, and 7% Science, Logic and Math. 34% of Pittsburgh students are in LEMM, 34% are in Value Theory, 20% are in History and Traditions, and 12% are in Science, Logic and Math. For Cornell, the plurality of graduates 2012 onward placed into permanent academic positions were in History and Traditions (37%). For Pittsburgh, this was for Value Theory (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, 35% of those from Cornell are women, as are 30% of Pittsburgh 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, 17% of those who answered questions about race and ethnicity from Cornell and 13% from Pittsburgh identified as something other than White, non-Hispanic.

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.

30% of those from Cornell were first generation college students, as were 11% from Pittsburgh.

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.

Students from Pittsburgh provided one public comment on how philosophy could be more inclusive (Cornell students did not):

Keep track of statistics on inclusivity and increase pressure on those that underperform.

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 Cornell students selected "somewhat likely" (4.3, n=12), as did Pittsburgh students (4.1, n=15).

Neither program 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," Cornell students selected "satisfied" (3.9, n=11), whereas Pittsburgh students selected "neutral" (3.4, n=11).

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the advice and preparation this program provides to its graduate students for academic research," Cornell students selected "satisfied" (4.3, n=11), as did Pittsburgh students (4.1, n=11).

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the financial support this program provides for its graduate students, Cornell students selected "very satisfied" (4.7, n=11), as did Pittsburgh students (4.6, n=11).

Public Comments

(Note that these comments primarily come from current students and recent graduates, but in some cases may be from non-recent graduates.)

Cornell students provided a few public comments on the program overall:

My department was very welcoming and supportive - it felt like both faculty and fellow grad students were open and receptive to talking philosophy (as well as personal issues) and that everyone wanted each other to succeed (with the exception of one faculty member who has since left the department). This is important for how I answered question #1 because, given the way the job market is, I would only recommend someone go to grad school in philosophy if they believe they will enjoy the experience for itself. A lot goes into whether you enjoy grad school or not, but I personally can’t imagine enjoying it in a department that is not supportive.
My dissertation committee members were extremely supportive of me, and gave me a great deal of personalized attention and feedback. Furthermore, they gave me and other students in my area many opportunities to expand our knowledge of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy and network with other professors. through bringing us to conferences, giving us money to organize conferences, etc. My coursework gave me a broad background in philosophy, which has been useful while job hunting.
Strong faculty in philosophy, good interdisciplinary programs.

on preparation for teaching:

By the end of the program, I felt very prepared for undergraduate teaching, but the first time I TAed I felt underprepared (there is a course on how to teach that all grads must take partway through the program, before teaching a course independently, but after TAing for a couple of years; there’s not guidance before the first time you TA). The department makes suggestions and has information available to get teaching experience that goes beyond what is required for the program.
The teaching assistantships were a mixed bag, and what you learned depended a lot on whom you TAed for. [Cornell Faculty Member] and [Cornell Faculty Member] were exceptionally good, others less so and you were on your own a fair bit (as were those high fee-paying undergrads at Cornell).

on preparation for research:

I was always pushed to research and publish with a great deal of support and feedback.
This likely depends on your dissertation advisor more than anything else, as there wasn’t any centralized preparation for research. My advisor prepared me well.

and on financial support:

I came in with four years of guaranteed funding and then picked up competitive fellowships to supplement this in various ways, partly through cognitive science and partly through the department.
Stipend was good for the cost of living in the area, and there was funding available for travel to conferences and for summer programs.

Pittsburgh students likewise provided public comments on the program overall:

It teaches a person to be a great philosopher.
Pittsburgh is extremely affordable, even on a graduate student stipend. This makes it attractive for low-income applicants, or those without parental support. I found the department atmosphere to be inclusive and welcoming, and the quality of instruction excellent.
The professors and graduate students are engaged and smart - talking with people in the program always makes me better at philosophy. And the department climate is good - people get along and are genuinely friends with one another (plenty of people spend time together outside of philosophy).

on preparation for teaching:

Undergraduates at the University of Pittsburgh come from a diverse range of backgrounds. The opportunity to teach them proved useful in my subsequent positions at selective liberal arts colleges, ivy league schools, and large, state schools.
We were required to do a lot of teaching and we had to take courses on how to be a good teacher. We could design our own undergraduate courses. And all the undergraduates had to take a philosophy course, so there were huge enrollment numbers to go around.
You get a lot of experience in the classroom, which really prepares you to start in your first job. There is a good balance of teaching support (i.e. getting paid for teaching) and fellowship support (i.e. stipend without teaching), and it is generally run like a good socialist economy: there are no superstars who have some vastly better deal than everyone else etc. So there is good morale among the students. Of course, I completed in 2004, so things could have changed since then.

on preparation for research:

I had an excellent PhD supervisor who took my work seriously and would have long meetings with me discussing it very carefully. We had a lot of coursework prior to figuring out what our PhD topic would even be, and that was also excellent training. I came to the program with a kind of slap-dash, last-minute philosophy major, so I really needed that background.
The coursework phase leads naturally into independent research, and students receive a pre-dissertation advisor who talk to them about their progress/what courses to take given their intended AOS. The variety of courses also helpfully lead to well-rounded interests and abilities later on. The only downside is what courses are mandated and what are optional - e.g. foreign language and philosophy of science are mandated, and that come could plausibly be spent in other ways.
The major professors are huge world-class philosophers. They shape the debates. They have the connections. They have the major grants. Their letters open doors.

and on financial support:

We received good compensation for teaching, but not compared to other top ten programs.

Next week I hope to look at University of Cambridge and University of Waterloo. Feedback is welcome, at

Link to this post at:

Update 12/7/19:
I received the following message from the Chair at Cornell, which is relevant to the above. I removed some content, replaced with the bracketed content, to preserve the above commenter's anonymity, which might have been revealed by that content. I also added a note at the beginning of the public comments, which I will start added to blog posts from now on.

Dear Professor Jennings,

Thanks so much for your email, notifying me of this post. Thanks also to the randomizer that selected us for comparison; it's an honor just to be randomly selected.

I am pleased that Cornell's graduate program has better than average ratings in diversity, placement, and student satisfaction. Our department works hard to make both itself and the profession at large more inclusive; to place our own students in excellent jobs; and to treat them humanely during their brief time in Ithaca.

Let me mention some of the programs that our department sponsors or has sponsored that serve the aim of increasing inclusion.

  1. Cornell has been one of the lead sponsors for the Athena-in-Action mentoring program for female grad students, since its inception in 2014. After having been held at Princeton twice and Rutgers once, the 2020 biennial summer session will be held at Cornell this coming summer.
    We are also committed to financially supporting its next two sessions in 2022 and 2024. This comes at a considerable cost to our department's total budget for conference spending, and reflects our faculty's priorities: we are committed to opening up the philosophy profession to female philosophers and philosophers of other under-represented genders.

  2. Last summer, one of our grad students, Bianka Takaoka, organized and ran the first North American meeting of the Feminist Summer Reading School, holding it here at Cornell. This was supported by the Philosophy Department, with ancillary support from other sources.
    Keynote speakers included Robin Dembroff, Elena Ruiz, and Cornell professor Kate Manne.

  3. This coming summer, another of our grad students, Bianca Waked, will be run-ing a summer school program for undergraduate students from under-represented minorities who are interested in the Philosophy of Law:
    This program will be hosted and supported by our Philosophy department, and is also receiving significant funding from the APA.

All of these programs consume significant resources from our department's budget and from our staff's resources of time and energy. And all of them are worth it.

About your blog post -- there are two small points that could be improved, both of them resulting from the age of the comments.

  1. One of the quotes refers to "four years of guaranteed funding." For at least the last 12 years, since I have been on the faculty, our department has given every admitted grad student 5 years of contractually guaranteed funding. And during that time, every student who needed funding in the sixth year has been provided with it -- that's not a guarantee for the sixth year, but it's a darned good track-record. We have also occasionally supported students beyond the sixth year, in cases of special need. Readers of your post should know that the 4-year guarantee was superseded many years ago.

  2. One of the quotes praises the teacher-training provided by [Cornell faculty member] and [Cornell faculty member]. There is much to praise about both of them, as philosophers and as teachers. However, [Cornell faculty member] became an emeritus professor [many years ago], which makes this particular praise at least [many years] out of date. Our department still prides itself on working hard to prepare our grad students to be excellent teachers. But perhaps a small square-bracketed note about the likely date of this comment would give your readers some useful context?

best wishes, Tad Brennan

Chair of Philosophy

Cornell University