Philosophy PhD Programs: University of Sydney and Vanderbilt University

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


  • Sydney and Vanderbilt are both mid-sized programs, but it is much more difficult to access information about students and graduates from Sydney, and very few participated in the survey, limiting what I am able to report
  • Both programs have very strong academic placement rates
  • Vanderbilt has high gender and racial/ethnic diversity
  • Vanderbilt students are satisfied to very satisfied with financial support, but only neutral to satisfied with preparation for undergraduate teaching

Overall placement, 2012-present
Sydney appears to have had 30 graduates in this period, whereas Vanderbilt has had 26. Worth noting is that Sydney's placement page is anonymized, so I worked for some time to verify their information (including searching a few different dissertation databases, with little success). I could only verify 24 of the records, so I am relying on their information on the other 6. The placement record for the 24 I could verify is a bit better than what I am reporting here. Of the 30 graduates in question, Sydney has placed 16 into tenure-track or other permanent academic positions (53%), with 13 of these in programs that offer a PhD in philosophy (43%). Of their 26 graduates, Vanderbilt has placed 14 into permanent academic positions (54%), and 0 in programs with a PhD. Of Sydney's other graduates, 5 are in postdoctoral or fellowship positions, 6 are in nonacademic positions, and 3 have unknown placement. Of Vanderbilt's other graduates, 4 are in postdoctoral or fellowship positions, 6 are in other temporary academic positions, and 2 are in nonacademic positions. Vanderbilt graduates reported an average salary of $74,889. 92% of Vanderbilt students and graduates 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 $71,879.

Areas of Specialization, by Category
Including all past and current students in the APDA database, 19% of Sydney students are in LEMM, 27% are in Value Theory, 19% are in History and Traditions, and 35% Science, Logic and Math. 12% of Vanderbilt students are in LEMM, 62% are in Value Theory, and 27% are in History and Traditions. For Sydney, the plurality of graduates 2012 onward placed into permanent academic positions were in Value Theory, but this was relatively balanced across the four categories. For Vanderbilt, the majority of graduates 2012 onward placed into permanent academic positions were in Value Theory.

Note that the current database values for all past graduates and current students are 27% in LEMM, 34% in Value Theory, 24% in History and Traditions, and 15% in Science, Logic, and Math.

Including all past graduates, 27% of Sydney graduates are women and 47% of Vanderbilt graduates are women. Including only current students, 39% of Sydney students are women, and 67% of Vanderbilt students are women.

29% is the overall proportion reported by APDA in 2017. Current database values are 31% for all past graduates and current students, 37% for current students, and 28% for past graduates.

Including all past graduates and current students, 21% of those who answered questions about race and ethnicity from Vanderbilt identified as something other than white, non-Hispanic.

13% is the overall proportion reported by APDA in 2017. The current percentage in the database is 15%.

20% of past or current Vanderbilt students who answered survey questions about socioeconomic status were first generation college students. Vanderbilt students also spanned the lower to upper middle SES categories.

The percentage of all survey respondents who are first generation college students is 23.3% (CI: 20.7% to 26.0%), compared to 31% for all United States doctoral degree recipients in 2015.

Vanderbilt students provided one public comment on how philosophy could be more inclusive:

One might consider the idea of political diversity, religious diversity, etc. These are well-represented in the world, but not, sometimes, in contemporary academia.

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 Vanderbilt students selected "somewhat likely," on average (3.8). Vanderbilt has a moderate negative correlation between graduation year and program rating, excluding current students (-.49). This means that graduates of more recent years rate the program lower than graduates of years further in the past. Of 65 programs with at least 10 survey participants who are past graduates, 15 had moderate negative correlations between these values (6 had moderate positive correlations, and there is a slight negative overall correlation of -.07).

"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, 4.0 for research, and 3.8 for financial support.

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the advice and preparation this program provides to its graduate students for undergraduate teaching," Vanderbilt students selected something between "neutral" and "satisfied" (3.5, n=11).

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

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the financial support this program provides for its graduate students," Vanderbilt students selected something between "satisfied" and "very satisfied" (4.5, n=11).

Public Comments
Sydney students did not leave public comments about their program, but Vanderbilt students left two public comments about their program overall:

I had a very good experience at Vanderbilt. There was a thriving feminist philosophy community there, and broader departmental interest in social/political work from a variety of perspectives. Pluralism was encouraged, which I think is important, especially as philosophy as a discipline grows more diverse and begins to overcome the (supposed) analytic/continental split. From a practical perspective, I also thought Vanderbilt was a great choice because it was very well funded, and graduate students were much better supported than in many other programs. My only hesitation in recommending is that the department has undergone some significant changes since I left, and I am unsure of how much of the good I remember remains.
Vanderbilt offers a tremendous background in the history of philosophy, encouraging students to obtain a broad range of expertise. This benefited me when looking for a position in the field because so many colleges today have smaller departments where professors must teach a variety of courses. Concentrating too much in a narrow part of philosophy would have kept me from receiving the job I currently have. I also enjoyed the faculty, and I felt that they genuinely cared about me and my education (as well as placing me once I finished).

one on training for teaching:

We were given multiple opportunities to teach our own classes.

one on training for research:

The faculty pushed me to be a better researcher, no doubt. They were strict but fair on this, and I am a much better researcher thanks to Vanderbilt.

and one on financial support:

Having complete funding in Philosophy is difficult, but Vanderbilt was very competitive in this regard.

Next week I hope to look at Indiana University Bloomington and University of Southern California. Feedback is welcome, at

*Post last updated 4/29/19

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