Philosophy PhD Programs: University of South Florida and University of Tennessee

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


  • USF is a large program, whereas UTK is a smaller mid-sized program
  • USF has below average permanent academic placement, whereas UTK is above average
  • USF students focus on History and Traditions, whereas UTK students focus on Value Theory
  • USF has higher than average racial/ethnic and socioeconomic diversity
  • USF students are less likely than average to recommend the program, with lower satisfaction in teaching and research preparation

Overall placement, 2012-present
USF had 59 PhD graduates in this period, whereas UTK had 23. Of USF's 59 graduates, 54 went into academic or unknown employment, and they placed 17 of these into tenure-track or other permanent academic positions (31%), with 1 of these in a program that offers a PhD in philosophy (2%). UTK placed 10 of 19 into permanent academic positions (53%), with 1 in a philosophy program with a PhD (5%).

Of USF's other graduates, 2 are in postdoctoral or fellowship positions, 30 have other temporary academic placements, 5 are in nonacademic positions, and 5 have no or unknown placement.

Of UTK's other graduates, 1 is in a postdoctoral or fellowship position, 8 have other temporary positions, and 4 are in nonacademic positions.

Nonacademic positions held by graduates of USF include the non-profit, government, teaching, and tech sectors, whereas those held by graduates of UTK include university administration, law, and medicine.

The average salary of USF graduates is $55,128 and 92% preferred an academic job, whereas too few UTK graduates provided salary or job preference information to report.

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, 22% of USF students are in Language, Epistemology, Metaphysics, and Mind (LEMM), 25% are in Value Theory, 41% are in History and Traditions, and 13% are in Science, Logic and Math. 24% of UTK students are in LEMM, 72% are in Value Theory, 3% are in History and Traditions, and none are in Science, Logic, and Math. For USF, the plurality of graduates 2012 onward placed into permanent academic positions were in History and Traditions (47%), whereas the majority of those from UTK were in Value Theory (60%).

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, 30% of those from USF are women, as are 17% of UTK students.

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

Including all past graduates and current students, 24% of those who answered questions about race and ethnicity from USF identified as something other than White, non-Hispanic. (Too few students from UTK answered provided this information to report.)

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.

33% of those from USF were first generation college students, but too few UTK 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 USF and UTK did not provide any public comments on how philosophy could be 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 USF students selected between "neither likely nor unlikely" and "somewhat likely" (3.5, n=11). (Too few UTK students answered this or the following questions to report.)

USF has a moderate negative correlation between graduation year and program rating (-.43). That is, more recent graduates gave it a lower 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," USF students selected "neutral" (3.3, n=7).

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the advice and preparation this program provides to its graduate students for academic research," USF students selected "neutral" (3.1, n=7).

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the financial support this program provides for its graduate students, USF students selected "satisfied" (4.1, n=7).

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

USF students provided public comments on the program overall*:

Departmental in fighting, poor placement record, unsupportive environment, just not a well regarded program. Only go if you don’t have a choice and only then if they really pay you.
I was able to not only pursue my philosophical interests (theoretical and applied ethics) in the Philosophy Dept towards two masters (Social & Political Thought and Philosophy/Ethics), but also pursue course work and independent study in the Business school at USF.
Mostly its a matter of the program being a Philosophy Program. I am firmly of the belief that the vast majority of undergraduates considering studying philosophy at a graduate level would be better served studying something more profitable. Given the state of the job market, and the hardships associated with earning a Ph.D. (financial, psychological, and others), it is in the best interest of most prospective student to pursue a different degree. I would, however, highly recommend that they audit philosophy classes, and develop relationships with the faculty and graduate students in the department.
My doctoral program trained me in the history of philosophy and in a wide range of contemporary issues, making me extremely marketable as compared to others who specialize heavily in one sub-discipline.
While I received a generous university stipend, many students in my grad program received half or one-third stipends (e.g., $6K/year + waiver). In my opinion, this is not enough for students to live on, let alone support research endeavors/travel necessary to succeed in contemporary academia. In short, there was far too little equitable and regular support within the department for most students. Furthermore, there was rampant nepotism on the part of the department chair. It was well known (among students) that students working with professors the chair did not like were punished with less than ideal teaching opportunities, were not extended more time to degree, and were not offered post-degree positions, whereas those students working with the chair himself received coveted RAships (associated with a journal he edited), given more support (time to degree, supplemental teaching, post-graduate positions), etc. I was lucky insofar as I had a strong network outside of my department, had university funds that did not come under the discretion of my chair, and had mentors that were willing to help me to the finish line.

on preparation for teaching:

The “training” was being handed tree discussion sections and a pile of grading. No discussion of pedagogy whatsoever. This seriously and unnecessarily delayed my being a decent teacher.
There was almost no preparation for undergraduate teaching. It is my understanding that my experience was typical, and that concerns me. I was assigned as a GA and a TA immediately upon entering the program, having no experience or understanding of expectations. The professors I worked with were considerate of this handicap, to an extent, but made no concerted effort to change this. I was left to muddle through via trial and error, until I happened upon a method that seemed to work better than others I had already tried. This pattern was repeated when I was given Instructor positions. It would seem necessary to have a course dedicated to learning how to teach, as a required course in the semester before being given pedagogical responsibilities. This seems to be a broader issue with philosophy programs at large, rather than a specific issue with the department I was a part of, not that this fact excuses any responsibility.

on preparation for research:

At no point did I get the sense that anyone cared about my research. My dissertation was conducted without any real guidance and never did anyone suggest publications as outlets for my conference papers.
The advice I received was realistic, yet encouraging. The gaps in direction were less a matter of disinterest than a necessary byproduct of the large amount of autonomy I was allowed over my research interests. While I feel this might be better handled by an initial period of directed study, and hands on corrections, it is not the largest problem I encountered. When it came to improving my writing, addressing the issue at hand, and other such content related considerations, I find no fault in the advice or preparation I received. However, regarding the specific steps of discovering a fruitful topic to investigate, and the subsequent publishing process, I was left to my own devices. I had very little direction in recommendations for potential outlets for my work, or appropriate venues to shop it around. I am still merely guessing at where the best places to showcase my work might be. It is, then and now, a matter of quantity over quality, and accepting the first scrap of positive feedback as indicative of where I should be focusing my energies.

and on financial support:

I did receive institutional support for my studies, but not nearly enough to actually live on. In addition, despite the tuition waiver I was promised, I was still required to pay almost $1,000 in non-tuition fees every semester. The result was that my first paycheck every semester was pretty much a joke. I can understand that the finical situation of any philosophy department is strained, even in the best of times, but the amount of work required to do well in a graduate course of study precludes the possibility of outside work. I know there are those who do this, but I have seen the effects this has on their work. Given the available resources, its strikes me a problematic that the department I attended accepted as many graduate students as it did. For myself, the result was that, despite being awarded a full ride, I still incurred a 6 figure student loan debt.
I was provided with research/conference/travel funding for presenting papers at conferences.

UTK students likewise provided public comments on the program overall:

The most relevant aspect is that with a slew of retirements, the program has been fortunate to hire very good, young faculty. Furthermore the current focus is on value theory generally, and less on applied ethics when I was there.

and on preparation for research:

The grad students are getting a much firmer grounding in meta-ethics and normative ethics than when I was there. Furthermore, the current faculty encourage publishing and strongly support professional development, not just dissertation writing, in the graduate program.

*The current graduate director at USF provided me with some updated information about the program that is worth keeping in mind when reading the comments: "I noticed some comments by former students that are no longer accurate characterizations of what goes on in our graduate program. First, our current policy is to only admit (with some minor exceptions, like students with some sort of outside support) PhD students to whom we can offer 5 years of full support. Our graduate stipends are modest, but we no longer split them, at least for the first five years. Additionally, there is now a semester long course on Graduate Teaching Methods that is ‘strongly encouraged’ for all of our incoming graduate students."

Next week I hope to look at University of Arizona and Georgetown University. Feedback is welcome, at

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