Philosophy PhD Programs: Emory University and Boston College

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


  • Both Emory University and Boston College specialize in History and Traditions
  • Both have higher than average permanent academic placement, but not into PhD-granting programs
  • Both have above average racial/ethnic diversity, and Emory has above average gender diversity
  • Yet, Emory's program rating is far below average, and BC's ratings are lower for more recent years
  • Emory students seem most satisfied with financial support, and BC students seem most satisfied with preparation for teaching

Overall placement, 2012-present
Emory University had 38 PhD graduates in this period, whereas Boston College had 58. Of Emory's 38 graduates, 33 went into academic or unknown employment, and they placed 20 of these into tenure-track or other permanent academic positions (61%), with none of these in programs that offer a PhD in philosophy. BC placed 26 of 52 into permanent academic positions (50%), with 3 in philosophy programs with a PhD (6%).

Of Emory's other graduates, 3 are in postdoctoral or fellowship positions, 10 have temporary academic placements, and 5 are in nonacademic positions.

Of BC's other graduates, 4 are in postdoctoral or fellowship positions, 22 are in temporary academic positions, and 6 are in nonacademic positions.

The average salary of Emory graduates is $72,222 and 91% preferred an academic job, whereas the average salary for BC graduates is $66,385 and 89% 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, 6% of Emory students are in LEMM, 23% are in Value Theory, 63% are in History and Traditions, and 8% Science, Logic and Math. 5% of BC students are in LEMM, 21% are in Value Theory, 73% are in History and Traditions, and 1% are in Science, Logic and Math. For both Emory and BC, the majority of graduates 2012 onward placed into permanent academic positions were in History and Traditions (65% each).

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, 41% of those from Emory are women, as are 21% of BC 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, 21% of those who answered questions about race and ethnicity from Emory and 27% from BC 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.

10% of those from Emory were first generation college students, as were 17% of BC students.

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 Emory provided a few public comments on how philosophy could be more inclusive:

Bring non-Western philosophy into graduate programs more so that we can train a more culturally pluralistic professoriate. Make recruitment of women and people of color a priority such that they are not token members of a department but have enough critical mass to not be considered outsiders. That is, there should not be one or two women and one person of color sprinkled into an otherwise all white and mostly male department.
Hire more women and people of colour.
Undergraduate and graduate programs ought to dedicate time and resources to training their students to be respectful, thoughtful, and humble participants in intellectual discourse.

as did BC students:

I think this survey is a great start. Many of the steps the APA has taken under the leadership of Amy Ferrer have been excellent. I think the biggest challenges lie in the programs themselves. It might help if the APA could offer training and certificates in areas of professional conduct for graduate students and faculty. Also, I think the APA should have stronger connections with Deans and Administrators in graduate education. This way if a graduate student reported something, the university could take appropriate action. Many students from underrepresented groups endure the discrimination and hostility in silence. They need to feel they have a place to go. For example, I was the victim of an assault by a visiting faculty member at a conference at my university. After graduation, I finally told my adviser. She told me she wished I had told her sooner. Title IX has helped in this area, but much work still needs to be done in PhD programs.
Philosophy in the West should be open to non-Western traditions, particularly African and Asian traditions.
Self-reflective attempts must be made. When you meet a colleague, do you assume their interests before hearing them? Increasing the amount of courses offered in niche areas seem like a superficial (if not often counterproductive) solution given part of the problem is precisely that people of various identity groups are then marginalized into a rather specific subfield of philosophy.

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 Emory students selected "neither likely nor unlikely" (3.3, n=14), whereas BC students selected "somewhat likely" (4.0, n=27).

BC does have a moderate negative correlation between graduation year and program rating; more recent graduates rated it lower (-.56). 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," Emory students selected "satisfied" (3.8, n=11), whereas BC students selected between "satisfied" and "very satisfied" (4.5, n=17).

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the advice and preparation this program provides to its graduate students for academic research," Emory students selected "neutral" (3.4, n=10), whereas BC students selected "satisfied" (3.6, n=18).

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the financial support this program provides for its graduate students, Emory students selected "very satisfied," (4.7, n=10), whereas BC students selected "satisfied" (3.7, n=18).

Public Comments

Emory students provided public comments on the program overall:

Excellent mentoring. My committee was amazing, as were many of the other faculty members I worked with. Pretty progressive department that let me choose an unusual dissertation topic (in cross-cultural philosophy). I did not feel compromised or pressured by any internal faculty politics. Great resources at the university for language training and conference travel, etc.
Great library, excellent financial resources. At the time I went this department was the best history of philosophy program in the country; that has changed, but I still think that the resources and brand recognition make it a good choice for graduate school.
This is a very pluralistic department in which students have the opportunity of exploring and expanding their knowledge in ways other departments do not allow. It has an excellent and truly committed and supportive faculty. The program is incredibly well organized. It offers a perfect balance between the training of students as researchers and as teachers.
When I entered my program in 2006, it was quite pluralistic, but with an emphasis on history of philosophy. Starting in 2009, the department turned decidably toward contemporary continental philosophy, with a faculty turnover of 50% within three years. Students working in broadly analytic or historical fields were left to their own devices. I was fortunate enough to make connections with faculty in other departments, but those who were not so fortunate had a very difficult time completing or finding employment. Today the department is still admitting students interested in pursuing historical work, but they are largely without support.

on preparation for teaching:

I taught four of my own classes by the time I finished. This was HUGE on the job market. Once I started my job, I felt that I had really solid experience already in designing and running courses entirely my own, etc. Training for teaching was a bit thin, but I always felt that I could get mentorship when I had questions about syllabus design, course dynamics, etc. I felt very well prepared to teach by the time I left grad school.
I was fortunate enough to work with some of the few members of the department who were somewhat aware of the broader trends in the profession. These faculty members gave me exceptional training as a teacher, and this is one reason that I did well with elite SLACs on the job market. However, they have all left the program.
The program is excellent in terms of preparation for teaching. During the first two years students attend a pedagogy seminar and serve as teacher assistants and co-teachers in courses taught by professors of the department. This offers students the possibility of becoming used to the idea of teaching and learning how to do it before it actually happens. Moreover, this means that students do not have to teach their own courses until the third year, when they have already completed most of the requirements of the program. ↵In the third year students design and teach one undergraduate course and two more in the fifth year. The students are allowed to choose among different options. Moreover, they can ask professors to attend their classes and give feedback, so that they can improve their teaching skills.

on preparation for research:

I loved my coursework and working with my committee on my dissertation. The community of grad students was also helpful in prepping conference presentations, which was really valuable as well. On the whole, the department was really accommodating and supportive of my project.
I mostly had to learn how to publish on my own, and it took me a few years out of graduate school to figure it out.
This is an excellent place for academic research. The program allows students plenty of time as well as financial support to work of their research. Professors are excellent in their fields and genuinely supportive. I loved my coursework and working with my committee on my dissertation. The community of grad students was also helpful in prepping conference presentations, which was really valuable as well. On the whole, the department was really accommodating and supportive of my project.

and on financial support:

As I mentioned above, support for language training, conference travel, etc was very good. Certainly made a crucial difference in my graduate education, without which I am not sure how I would have earned the successes I did as I grew as a scholar and got a job.
Emory is a wealthy school and the students benefit from this; its a very important consideration when choosing a grad school since it will mean the difference between funding for travel to conferences, language programs, study abroad, etc., all of which affect your training and readiness and which in turn strengthen your profile as a job applicant.

Two students from Emory mentioned problems with sexual harassment in non-public comments.

BC students likewise provided public comments on the program overall:

Boston College is an excellent PhD program for history of philosophy, especially in Ancient and Medieval philosophy.
Having the opportunity to use the Continental Phenomenology tradition and method to read, analyze and evaluate African History and the History of Sub Saharan Philosophy is something unique. This, however, depended on my ability to navigate the two worlds having primarily been educated in Africa in both Western Philosophical traditions and in Contemporary African philosophy.
Strong sense of community amongst graduate students. Good departmental support towards dissertation completion.
The program is excellent in Ancient and Medieval philosophy. It also has strengths in ethics. Obviously, the program is one of the best in Continental philosophy, philosophy of religion and aesthetics. The Boston Area consortium (with Harvard, MIT, Boston University) is also an excellent way to learn relevant logical and epistemological topics. The reason I went, and I do ancient comparative philosophy (Aristotle and the Aztecs) focused on ethics, is that it becomes difficult to understand interdisciplinary research without a relevant background in Continental philosophy. But it makes little sense to go to a Continental philosophy program in the United States, if that is your sole focus.

on preparation for teaching:

This program prepares its graduate to teach both in graduate and undergraduate programs. The program allows Ph.D. students to teach limited philosophy courses to undergraduate students of Boston College.
We actually had classes on how to teach, that included syllabus design, lecture preparation, appropriate exam or assessment measures, and the creation of in-class exercises to foster discussion. In my experience, this is rare among graduate schools.

on preparation for research:

I chose to specialize in Ethics and Social and Political philosophy. The program is weaker in these areas, and as a result, I needed to seek faculty outside of my program for additional support. The BC faculty encouraged this. One downside in the BC program is the emphasis on Continental philosophy and the job market. The program is very good in Continental philosophy, but I think the department needed to be more forthcoming about the challenges of job placement within the United States for students specializing in Continental philosophy.
Boston College is a premier university for research and the philosophy program is a leading program for research in the country.
Most of the guidance for research was modeled by top researchers. We learned by doing, and I published quite a bit as a result. We had a culture of presentation and publication, and this nudged everyone in the right direction. One difficulty students might find is that the best researchers are not in their field--so one will have to examine their actions and transfer those (making changes as suitable) to their own field.

and on financial support:

As an international student, I had a full scholarship. I know that Boston College accepted students in its Ph.D. program only if it could provide them with a scholarship. I am not certain if all of them get a full scholarship.
Boston is an expensive city, but what BC provided was adequate. I also had another stream of external funding and a spouse who worked, so I did not need to take any loans to finish the program. Obviously, this may be different for people with different circumstances.
Look, I could have used more money -- but the stipend was better than most, and on par with the remainder.
The program makes little effort to help students complete in five years, but offers very limited funding after the completion of five years (or four years for students coming in with an MA).
The program offers a variety of fellowships and tuition remittance. Additionally, many students receive a dissertation fellowship.

Next week I hope to look at University of Chicago Committee on the Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science (CHSS) and Syracuse University. Feedback is welcome, at

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