Philosophy PhD Programs: McMaster University and University of Washington

In this blog post I provide some detailed, up-to-date information about two philosophy PhD programs. This week's picks are McMaster University and University of Washington. 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 McMaster and UW have below average permanent academic placement
  • Both have a focus on Value Theory
  • UW has above average gender diversity, whereas McMaster appears to have above average racial/ethnic and socioeconomic diversity
  • The program ratings for both programs is below average, with higher ratings for UW in preparation for teaching

Overall placement, 2012-present
McMaster had 33 PhD graduates in this period, whereas UW had 22. Of McMaster's 33 graduates, 24 went into academic or unknown employment, and they placed 6 of these into tenure-track or other permanent academic positions (25%), with 1 in a program that offers a PhD in philosophy (4%). UW placed 8 of 20 into permanent academic positions (40%), with 1 in a philosophy program with a PhD (5%).

Of McMaster's other graduates, 3 are in postdoctoral or fellowship positions, 14 have other temporary academic placements, 9 are in nonacademic positions, and 1 has no or unknown placement.

Of UW's other graduates, 1 is in a postdoctoral or fellowship position, 7 have other temporary positions, 2 are in nonacademic positions, and 4 have no or unknown placement.

Nonacademic positions held by graduates of McMaster include bioethics, government, counselor, web developer, and editor, whereas those held by graduates of UW include analyst and marketing.

The average salary of McMaster graduates is $69,484 and 100% preferred an academic job, whereas this is $63,355 and 80% for UW.

The current database values for all 2012 and later graduates now in permanent academic positions, out of those in academic positions overall, is 42%, with 14% in programs that offer a PhD in philosophy. The average salary of all graduates who took part in the survey is $68,542 and 90% prefer an academic job.

Areas of Specialization, by Category
Including all past and current students in the APDA database, 16% of McMaster students are in Language, Epistemology, Metaphysics, and Mind (LEMM), 59% are in Value Theory, 16% are in History & Traditions, and 8% are in Science, Logic and Math. 5% of UW students are in LEMM, 67% are in Value Theory, 5% are in History and Traditions, and 24% are in Science, Logic, and Math. For McMaster, and equal number of graduates 2012 onward who were placed into permanent academic positions were in LEMM, Value Theory, and History & Traditions (33% each), whereas the majority of those from UW were in Value Theory (75%).

Note that the current database values for all past graduates and current students are 28% in LEMM, 33% in Value Theory, 24% in History and Traditions, and 15% in Science, Logic, and Math.

Including all past graduates and current students, 28% of those from McMaster are women, as are 41% of UW students.

The current database percentage is 31% for all past graduates and current students.

Including all past graduates and current students, 29% of those who answered questions about race and ethnicity from McMaster and 8% from UW 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 21%, but this is likely inflated relative to the true population due to some of our data gathering efforts.

25% of those from UW were first generation college students, but too few McMaster students provided this information to report.

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

I would say that philosophy departments have gone a very long way toward being more inclusive of people with diverse backgrounds, appearances, and lifestyles. In that regard, philosophy is very diverse today. On the other hand, there is much less diversity of opinion when it comes to social/political issues. The philosophers I had contact with were overwhelmingly left politically, and tended to be mildly hostile to views to the contrary. Given that views on the right tend to be held predominantly by people with light skin color, and by males, there seems to be no concern about the suppression of these views or the people that hold them. In that way, I would say philosophy is not very diverse in terms of social/political viewpoints.

Retire senior professors; stop emotional/intellectual/sexual harassment; welcome new topics and methodologies; hire scholars who are not traditional philosophers; consult actively and sincerely with members of underrepresented groups; study inclusiveness using empirical methods; collaborate with other disciplines that are more inclusive.

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 McMaster students selected "somewhat likely" (3.8, n=6), whereas UW students selected "neither likely nor unlikely" (3.0, n=14).

UW did not have 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. It is worth noting that some students give lower ratings to their program because they would not recommend a graduate education in philosophy to anyone or because they think it is more difficult to find employment from that program for reasons that have little to do with the quality of that program.

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the advice and preparation this program provides to its graduate students for undergraduate teaching," UW students selected "satisfied" (4.2, n=10), but too few McMaster students provided this or the following information to report.

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the advice and preparation this program provides to its graduate students for academic research," UW students selected "neutral" (3.2, n=10).

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the financial support this program provides for its graduate students, UW students selected "neutral" (3.3, n=10).

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

McMaster students provided just one public comment on the program overall:

Intellectually inclusive, diverse, rigorous.

UW students likewise provided public comments on the program overall:

A couple of factors prevent me from recommending my former graduate program: -Insufficiently inclusive intellectual and social environment, with too much boundary work about what counts as philosophy and persistent hiring of traditional philosopher from overrepresented backgrounds/interests. -Insufficient support for placement and job search, in part due to the state of the field but also because professors leave graduates to fend for themselves (aside from the occasional reference letter). My understanding is that these features are not unique to my program.
the department is not supportive of candidates in their attempt to obtain employment; the department is not a diverse environment
The program does not have a track record of successful placement as compared to other top-50 ranked programs. They fail to discourage weaker candidates from leaving the field, and instead allow them to stall-out and waste their time. Stronger candidates get decent support, but tend to struggle on the job market. Department culture is good, as in friendly and collaborative (depending on what subfield the student is in), but there is certainly an emphasis on value theory, gender issues, race, and liberal or progressive politics, and department members who are more to the right politically, and those who resist some aspects of the more left political/social agenda may feel isolated and devalued. There is not much debate in these areas. Instead, these issues are largely treated as already decided, and those with dissenting opinions may be treated as poorly in certain ways as a result. This may be due, in part, to the general social/political climate at the University of Washington as a whole.

on preparation for teaching:

There is a heavy emphasis on teaching (including pedagogy). This is an excellent program to hone teaching skills and teach a wide variety of philosophical topics. The teaching load is a bit strenuous, due mostly to the timing issues inherent to the quarter system.

on preparation for research:

Program faculty actively police what counts as good philosophy, discouraging and even forbidding involvement in courses and methods seminars outside the department. Faculty rarely involve graduates in their research program and offer no guidance for grant applications.

and on financial support:

Most candidates receive financial support for the duration of their time in the department, as long as they are making adequate progress in the program. In the past some candidates have been offered to enter the program without financial support. I do not recommend anyone accept such an offer.
Our union has fought for a good and strong contract. We had very good health insurance.

Next week I hope to look at Birkbeck, University of London and University of Rochester. Feedback is welcome, at

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