Philosophy PhD Programs: University of Cambridge and University of Waterloo

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


  • Waterloo is a smaller program than Cambridge, and in a different geographic region (Canada vs. UK)
  • They have similar academic placement rates and graduate student ratings
  • Cambridge students had better placement into programs that offer a PhD, and better ratings on teaching preparation
  • Waterloo had better gender and racial/ethnic diversity
  • Cambridge's ratings are higher for graduates of more recent years

Overall placement, 2012-present
Cambridge had 47 PhD graduates in this period, whereas Waterloo had 22. Of Cambridge's 47 graduates, 43 went into academic or unknown employment, and they placed 16 of these into tenure-track or other permanent academic positions (37%), with 8 of these in programs that offer a PhD in philosophy (19%). Waterloo placed 5 of 13 into permanent academic positions (38%), with 1 in a philosophy program with a PhD (8%).

Of Cambridge's other graduates, 16 are in postdoctoral or fellowship positions, 11 have temporary academic placements, and 4 are in nonacademic positions.

Of Waterloo's other graduates, 5 are in temporary academic positions (not including postdoctoral positions), 9 are in nonacademic positions, and 3 have no or unknown placement.

The average salary of Cambridge graduates is $49,042 and 100% preferred an academic job. (Too few graduates from Waterloo provided this information to report.)

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, 35% of Cambridge students are in LEMM, 26% are in Value Theory, 20% are in History and Traditions, and 19% Science, Logic and Math. 23% of Waterloo students are in LEMM, 27% are in Value Theory, 9% are in History and Traditions, and 41% are in Science, Logic and Math. For Cambridge, the plurality of graduates 2012 onward placed into permanent academic positions were in Value Theory (38%). For Waterloo, the majority were in Science, Logic, and Math (60%).

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 Cambridge are women, as are 50% of Waterloo 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, 11% of those who answered questions about race and ethnicity from Cambridge and 43% from Waterloo 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.

29% of those from Cambridge were first generation college students. (Too few graduates from Waterloo 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 Cambridge provided one public comment on how philosophy could be more inclusive:

I think the non-inclusiveness of philosophy in the Western world may not be the mistake of the philosophers themselves. After all, human beings are human beings. They may be biased, and they may be too sensitive. Philosophy itself is always inclusive and does not exclude people based on reasons other than philosophy.

Waterloo students provided two:

A serious culling might help.
Read more, and read better, and enjoy reading more and reading better. Anything else I could say is either obvious or is window dressing.

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 Cambridge students selected "somewhat likely" (4.1, n=13), as did Waterloo students (4.0, n=5).

Cambridge also had a moderate positive correlation between graduation year and program rating; more recent graduates rated it more highly (.39). 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," Cambridge students selected "satisfied" (4.0, n=8), whereas Waterloo students selected "neutral" (3.4, n=5).

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the advice and preparation this program provides to its graduate students for academic research," Cambridge students selected "satisfied" (3.9, n=8), as did Waterloo students (3.8, n=5).

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the financial support this program provides for its graduate students, Cambridge students selected between "neutral" and "satisfied," (3.5, n=8), whereas Waterloo students selected "satisfied" (3.6, n=5).

Public Comments

Cambridge students provided two public comments on the program overall:

Harder to get jobs in North America. Also, lack of teaching experience and corse work. But great program for people who know what they want to write about and Cambridge is a brilliant place to study.
There is an excellent group dynamic between the graduate students; everyone is working together, rather than competing.

Waterloo students likewise provided public comments on the program overall:

I joined the program during a period of rapid change in the department. My aim was to study with research professionals who were experts in their fields and who had a feeling for and drive towards independent inquiry. However, by the end of my degree, the focus in the department quickly shifted towards collaborative and experimental work, which I personally have less use for. But my needs are idiosyncratic. So whether I recommend or do not recommend the department would depend on the needs and interests of the person who is asking for advice.
The freedom to explore philosophy outside the academy with (paid) research opportunities in industry.
The range of research areas that the faculty can support. The lack of diversity among faculty and the level of oversight regarding diversity issues when I started, though it has improved slightly during my enrollment in the program.

on preparation for teaching:

I felt generally prepared for teaching, did not feel forced to teach, and was offered generous latitude in what was offered to me, which I appreciated.
There is very little advice given, other than stating expectations around email response time. No advice given regarding teaching diverse students, universal design, accessibility and accommodation, other resources available on campus for professional development in this area, and the only group regarding teaching (critical pedagogy group) held only 4 or 5 meetings. There were no talks on phil of education or critical pedagogy.

on preparation for research:

I did not leave the program with any success at publication. Those who work in my area who might have served as mentors were either nearing retirement, or overworked, or were guiding me through the rigors of my dissertation. That said, I was very pleased with my dissertation and supervision, and was happy with the research areas.
Longer projects should start earlier. We are briefed on the publication process during the Pro-Seminar, but not on how to approach larger projects. This may have changed since I took these classes.

and on financial support:

Ok, this is a loaded question for many of us. The amounts are fine, and there is an obvious effort to help those who are vocal about their needs, but the process by which TA ships and the like are awarded needs to be more transparent. MANY students in the program are frustrated by this.
The department was very supportive, financially, despite significant intra-departmental setbacks, and despite a lack of a union representing the students. I never doubted that they were trying to help as best they could.
Unlike most programs that claw back internal scholarships when students get outside funding, Waterloo rewards students with an internal award which increases ones total scholarship. Furthermore the department requires all students to apply to major national and provincial scholarships and rates the students by which applications seem most likely to win rather than by internal politics as to who is whose grad student.

Next week I hope to look at Emory University and Boston College. Feedback is welcome, at

Link to this post at: