Open thread on grad school decisions

We’re now at the point of the year when prospective grad students will be attempting to make decisions about where – and perhaps whether – to go to grad school in philosophy. Such decisions are invariably complicated. But being a female prospective grad student introduces an extra layer of complexity that can be difficult to navigate.

And this brings us to the issue of. . .climate for women. [dum dum dum!]

How can female students try to get information about the gender dynamics in departments to which they’ve been admitted? What strategies can they use to make the most informed decisions they can about whether and to what extent a department is women-friendly? Are there particular things to look for? Particular things to watch out for? What do you wish you’d known to look for when you were applying to grad schools?

Let’s be clear: this is NOT an invitation to discuss particular departments or particular philosophers, by name or by description. Any comments critical of the “climate for women” at a particular university will be deleted. Let’s keep it friendly, and let’s keep any criticisms generic. Specific departments should be named only if you want to highlight something really good that they do. So if there’s something that your department does to help female grad students – current or prospective – then by all means share it. That kind of information is really useful for women trying to make comparative decisions.


46 thoughts on “Open thread on grad school decisions

  1. Getting good answers to these questions is no guarantee of a positive climate for women, but here are some of the things I’d want to know:
    1. Do women faculty members occupy some of the main decision making roles in the department (Chair, Grad Chair, etc)? No good having lots of women if they don’t play a leadership role in the department.
    2. Do women graduate students win awards? Are the women well-represented among the department’s “best” students? Again, no good having lots of women if the women are relegated to the second tier.
    3. I’d ask for a list of titles/topics of recent dissertations and supervisors. Departments may claim they *can* supervise in certain areas but if everyone ends of being talked out of it, the odds of you successfully working in that area aren’t great.
    4. I’d look at recent lists of talks and conferences and see how well women are represented and also whether the topics and themes are ones that speak to you. Conferences and talks give you an idea of what really interests a given department.
    5. I’d read through grad course outlines and if I was interested in feminist philosophy, I’d see how well feminist work is integrated into the curriculum. Ditto for readings by women.
    6. Speak to current students and see what they have to say about the department’s atmosphere. Ask them about directly about the climate for women.

  2. Here’s a salient fact that I, for one, didn’t grasp when choosing a graduate program. One very important thing that matters for getting a good job is that a large portion of your department supports and backs you when you go on the market–you need letters from all the main people in your AOS, and you need your departmental placement director and the department more generally to be excited about and supportive of you as a job candidate. People talk informally about job candidates all the time.

    So, as a woman, just choosing a program based on the fact that it is strong overall or strong in your AOS isn’t enough, because if the climate isn’t good, the department won’t support you in the way it must for you to get a good job in your AOS. (Even if your own advisor is supportive, this is often not nearly enough, especially if she or he is not super-powerful.) So the PGR rankings, which I happen to think are excellent guides in general, aren’t enough for women (and members of other underrepresented groups) to look at when choosing, because there is another significant factor (climate) for women and members of other underrepresented groups to consider if they want the best job possible.

    So here are a few indicators of a good climate that prospective graduate students should try to find (they are merely indicators–not proof!):

    1. The departmental placement record for women (and members of other underrepresented groups). Not just that they get jobs, but where they get jobs and what kind of jobs they are, relative to where male graduate students get jobs. For example, if the department is a top-ranked research program, and the male graduates regularly secure jobs at top-ten universities, while the female graduates rarely or never do, then something may be amiss. (Yes, not everyone wants such a job, but that is beside the point in this context.)

    2. The overall satisfaction levels of female graduate students in the department–as reported by current female graduate students in that department.

    3. The number of senior female faculty in the department, and how central their role is. The centrality of the female faculty is tough to determine sometimes, but here are items to check out: How many of the senior female faculty are full professors? Do any of the senior female faculty hold named chairs? Are the senior female faculty in positions of power in the department, or are they relegated to the sidelines? Current graduate students will probably have a sense of who is central and who is sidelined: visit the department and ask them who is central in the department. One can also look to see who is the department chair, director of graduate studies, placement director, etc.

  3. Lots of good suggestions! Thanks, and keep ’em coming.

    Just to reiterate some of what philochick says in (1): I think placement info is really important. It’s especially helpful if the placement info includes information about dissertation subject and/or committee. Do the women at this department get good jobs (comparable to the jobs the men get)? Have the recent female graduates all been working in a particular area (ethics or history, perhaps)? Is there any sort of unsettling correlation between quality of job and area of study for female candidates? (E.g., in a department with a wide variety of strengths, you might raise eyebrows if female graduates only seem to get good jobs if they work in ethics.)

    I’m less sure about philochick’s (3). I guess the presence/involvement of senior women does give you some evidence that women are taken seriously within the department. But if we’re trying to evaluate women-friendliness, I’m not sure what kind of evidence it gives us. Women can be really hostile to other women. And men can be amazingly supportive and encouraging. My own department – like so many – is rather lacking in senior women (we’re trying, we’re trying!) but it’s a pretty nice place to be a female philosopher, all things considered.

  4. I’d echo much of the advice above, especially as it pertains to finding good supervisors and ensuring there is a supportive community for graduate women philosophers. You can get this information by asking people directly about how they are finding their experience at a given department. But I also recommend asking specific questions to current graduate students to get more evidence of the climate. Examples of specific questions include:

    1. (Questions for students earlier in the PhD) Do you have formal or informal faculty advisors? If so, how often do you meet with them? What was the most recent meeting like? How do people in the department go about getting advisors? What has been the best/worst seminar you have had?

    2. (Questions for students later in the PhD) How did you come by your dissertation topic? Are you enjoying your research? How did you form your committee? How often do you meet with them? What are you doing to prepare for the job market?

    3. (Questions for everyone in the PhD) Do you spend time with other grad students in your department? What, if any, social activities typically go on in the department?

    I would also recommend getting information for yourself–speaking to students and faculty at programs you are interested in directly. And be wary of information that is out-of-date or second or third-hand. Climates change (for better and worse) very quickly.

  5. Can I just register a reservation about one of the pieces of advice?

    (From redeyedtreefrog)
    “No good having lots of women if they don’t play a leadership role in the department.”

    I’m not sure how relevant leadership, in the administrative sense, is for grad students and the climate. DGS, maybe. And “no good having lots of women” is surely too strong!

    I was going to disagree also with magicalersatz:

    “(E.g., in a department with a wide variety of strengths, you might raise eyebrows if female graduates only seem to get good jobs if they work in ethics.) ”

    But if it’s just an eyebrow raiser, sure. I’d just add that it’s not always a bad thing for women to be working in one particular area… esp. if it’s your area.

  6. I’m a female graduate student at [a top department], and I’ve found the atmosphere for women here to be very good. Some things that the department does which are good for the day-to-day climate for female graduate students: (i) take you seriously as a philosopher (I have never felt like I am taken less seriously than male graduate students), (ii) discuss climate issues and ways of improving them openly (both students and faculty), and (iii) have women faculty in roles that mean that you interact with them regularly, and general student-faculty events where you can do this as well. We sometimes organize social events for the female grad students to get together, but you see the other female grad students around the department on a daily basis.


I’m sure there is room for improvement in almost all departments when it comes to creating a good climate for women and increasing the proportion of women who both apply and come to the department for graduate school, but I certainly can’t complain about my experience at [my department] in this regard. I hope we see a lot of female prospectives at the open days this year, and they can grill us on these issues themselves!

  7. I cannot emphasize talking to currently enrolled students in the program enough! I was a bit leery when (decades ago, no names, no worries) one of the programs to which I applied simply would not give me any way of contacting, meeting with, or talking to currently enrolled students. I got at least some sense of graduate student well-being at other programs, including the one I chose, by chatting them up during visits. And as a graduate student, I eagerly took part in offering my name to the department powers-that-be for contact with prospective students.

    So this is something that I would hope programs and grad students do: Provide the opportunity to prospectives!

  8. I might recommend, try to talk w/ some students individually, and maybe even on email rather than face-to-face. You’re more likely to be given candid evaluations of the department that way. No one wants to be seen as the squeaky wheel in a group, or as the one who causes good students to go elsewhere, so discussions in groups are bound to be less candid. This might also apply to face-to-face as opposed to email discussions, though that might have more variance. (Of course, the flip side of this is that people can have idiosyncratic experiences, so you ought not take one person’s experience as definitive of a whole program.)

  9. @Jamie: I didn’t mean to suggest it was a requirement that there be women in administrative leadership roles. You’re right that’s too strong. Probably the number of senior women researchers as the rank of Professor matters too. The kind of department that I think I can be misleading in terms of climate is one with lots of women but all, or most, untenured, or lots of women who aren’t centrally involved with the running of the department. I do think having a woman as department head–not just grad chair–makes a difference in terms of climate but you’re right, it’s not the only thing.

  10. I want to second what profbigk (7) and my fellow Matt (8) said and, indeed, to suggest that folks (esp. women students) follow both pieces of advice. That is to say: try to meet with both a group of graduate students *and* try to speak with a (preferably at least one woman) graduate student individually.

    While the group would probably not be comfortable revealing any major problems openly, what the group *will* do is give you some sense for what the social life of the department is like. The folks who attend the group meeting with the prospective grad students are also generally the people who are going to be your friends (or enemies, or frenemies…) after you arrive. Best to meet them to see what they’re like and what they’re doing socially. The individuals can give you a more in-depth sense of the climate of the department and what your potential advisers are like, and so on.

    I’d be very, very skeptical of any department where at least a couple of grad students couldn’t be bothered to do lunch or coffee. It probably means they either have no department social life or there are deep issues.

  11. Dear Peggy,

    I am very disturbed by the list of the APA CSW. Despite the disclaimer, “there may be departments that many would judge women and/or feminist friendly which are not included on our list,” not being on the list will surely count against the relevant departments.

    So, why are some departments on the list and others not? Where all the departments contacted? If not, what were the criteria?

    As the DGS of the HPS department as Pitt, I don’t remember having received any email asking for information.

  12. To add to what magicalersatz said about placement: think about it this way. If you think you might want to specialize in, say, philosophy of language, and you are considering a department that is strong in philosophy of language, look to see how well the department places women doing philosophy of language (and women in cognate fields like epistemology or logic). If the department doesn’t place women in the most competitive jobs, or only succeeds in placing women in competitive jobs in subfields that are traditionally more hospitable to women such as ethics or history, then that is a warning signal.

    And to reiterate a more general point: placement data is the best sort of data to gather here. Talk is a lot cheaper than action, so take testimony from interested parties with a grain of salt. But if a department is supporting its women, it will be placing them well.

  13. I look forward to other forthcoming APA-endorsed lists—Self-Reported Clever Departments; Self-Reported We’re All Quite Handsome Really Departments; and Self-Reported Awesomest Department EVAR Departments.

  14. I agree that it’s important to meet with students as a group and individually. Personally, I give way more candid advice to prospective students in person (and over the phone) than over email — there are things I’ll say, but not in writing. If others here report being freer over email, then I guess you have to try a range of communication forms. (For what it’s worth, I do respond to emails with, “These are great questions. They might be easier to discuss on the phone. Is there a time you want to give a me a call?”)

  15. With my moderator’s hat on, I’ve edited a comment to remove the name of a department. Commenters should feel free to mention *specific, objectively verifiable things* their department does (e.g., “Here at Awesomesocks University, we have monthly dinners for female faculty and grad students/have a mentoring system set up for female grad students/etc).

    Less specific/more abstract endorsements of specific departments will be edited, since others might disagree, but per the terms of this post they can’t voice that disagreement here.

  16. I don’t understand what in Amanda’s post wasn’t specific enough. I also don’t understand the verifiability requirement. Do you not trust graduate students to report their own experiences honestly and accurately?

    My own department has a very good climate for women. And, of course, there are *some* specific things I could point to to demonstrate this and that are verifiable (I suppose, if by that you mean that if you were to ask authority figures in the department, they would report that what I said was true). But in many ways, indeed in most ways, I think these specific things (women’s dinners, instituting a department-wide climate study, etc.) are much less important/less telling than the kind of information Amanda gives, e.g. that female graduate students are taken just as seriously as male graduate students in her department.

    I hope I’m not contributing to what I see as this thread being a potentially poisonous place. I just think the standards for what one is allowed to post in it are a bit off. I would strongly suggest just not allowing any department to be mentioned by name.

    Here’s one reason why: someone in Amanda’s program might disagree with her, for sure. But it’s also the case that if someone writes in and says “my department is so great for women for specific verifiable reasons x,y, and z” that there might (as we hopefully learned this summer) be things about that department which more than compensate–in the negative direction–for the good things that department is doing. And so there might be people who strongly disagree that those things make the department a good place to study philosophy as a woman. Why should the person I imagined be able to post such a thing, with no opportunity for response from people from her department who feel differently, while Amanda’s post is censored?

    (Posting anonymously only so that people can’t identify my department/I don’t violate the rules. I really would appreciate if the moderators would address this worry.)

  17. [sigh] I was afraid of this.

    Anonymous – No, it’s not that I don’t take people’s reports about their own experiences seriously. (Though I don’t think such reports are infallible.) It’s just that two people at the same program mights have very different experiences, so I don’t feel comfortable allowing one person to say “hey, department x is awesome for women!” and not allowing another to reply “er, well, not in my experience”. Since this thread isn’t supporting the latter, it also isn’t supporting the former.

    I’m allowing people to mention specific things their department does because I think this information is good to have floating around. If someone says “our department does x, therefore we are uncontroversially awesome for women” I’ll edit it. But I’d like people to be able to say “our department does x, which is cool – x is the kind of thing you might look out for as you’re shopping around programs.”

    Basically, I want to allow the kinds of things we put on the ‘what we’re doing” blog. I think those posts are really helpful, and I wish we had more info like that floating around. (Personally, it helps give me ideas for things I can do in my own department.) If we’d post it on the “what we’re doing” blog, I’ll post it here.

    Anyway, sorry if you feel this thread is “poisonous”, anonymous internet person. We really do try our best at difficult moderating decisions. We don’t always get it right, but we do try.

  18. I am currently a graduate student at a mid-top program, with a few years in. In applications season, I visited several departments, almost all more highly ranked (in the PGR sense) than the one I am now attending. Most of these programs also offered more money. The two factors that most influenced my decision were:
    – How I liked my potential advisors, both philosophically and personally
    – How the department social/political life seemed to me, esp. as regards women
    I think I made the right choice, and the advice I most consistently followed during my visits was to ask the following sorts of questions of the grad students at each school. I tried to ask many individuals, both men and women, and at least one group:

    1. What are some things you really like about the department?
    2. What are some things you *dislike* about the department/would change if you could? (Beware if they don’t come up with anything)
    3. How much interaction do you have with the profs? Are they friendly?
    4. Do the grad students socialize? If yes, how much/what sorts of activities?
    4. How do you think women profs/students are viewed in the department?
    5. (for the women) How have you found your experience as a woman at the department?
    6. (for people currently working with my potential advisor) How has working with X been? (If you follow up 5 with 6, it’s usually clear that you’re asking for information regarding being a woman as well)
    7. What’s it like in [the town/city the university is in]?

    Don’t be shy! This is a serious decision. What I found was that the way that these questions were answered indicated just as much as the answers themselves. At some departments, many people felt uncomfortable discussing the professors socializing, women’s status, working with the advisor, etc. If many people feel uncomfortable about discussing a topic, it’s likely that it’s a sore spot for the students (and I still feel this way).
    Needless to say, I also tried to talk to as many faculty as possible, and asked them similar sorts of questions, esp. regarding women, socialization, department atmosphere. Lastly, I would be … not wary, but more reserved about forming positive judgments about a program on a “structured visit” — something like a visiting students’ week. On the one hand, it’s nice that the department would go to the trouble of organizing such an event. On the other hand, you don’t get as clear of a sense of how the department is *normally*, both socially and philosophically, which is what you really care about, and there is probably more pressure on everyone to be positive than there is normally.

  19. I’m unclear as to why you are taking a jab at me by referring to me as “anonymous internet person”. I’m happy to reveal my (not very interesting) identity, but I assume that that is not allowed, given that I already said generically positive things about my department. I also tried, as respectfully as possible, to voice a legitimate concern, and though most of your response was reasonable, three things you did were not. First: “[sigh] I was afraid of this.” I wouldn’t start a response to someone whose concern I was taking seriously this way, and it was obviously intended to minimize the concern I was raising and make me look like some kind of concern troll. Second, you state that I said that I think this thread is poisonous. That is not at all what I said. Third, the “anonymous internet person” jab. I’m unclear about why my comment didn’t just warrant a straightforward response that didn’t try to belittle me.

    I’m not an idiot. I’m a female graduate student at [another top department] who takes issues of gender in our profession extremely seriously, and has spent lots of time both thinking about them and trying to do things about them. If I said something that was deserving of the way you responded, then by all means point it out to me, and I will apologize. But I didn’t deserve the snarky response.

  20. I would just like to say that this post is a great idea, I’m currently trying to decide between a few schools and looking into some of the questions/features you guys have listed in the comments will definitely help!

  21. Anonymous, my “[Sigh] I was afraid of this” comment was meant to refer to my general worry about how to handle comments on this post – and the lurking worry discussion would somehow get tied back to unpleasant conversations that were had last spring. (Er, was it spring? I can’t remember.) It wasn’t intended to belittle you, or your post.

    Nor was anything else I said. I was being sarcastic with my “anonymous internet person” comment, yes. And I’m sorry if you took offence. But I’m not sorry for being sarcastic – I’m often sarcastic, especially when blowing off steam while blogging. That doesn’t mean I didn’t take your points seriously or respond to them seriously – I think my response to you shows the contrary. It just means I was trying – and probably failing – to be funny.

    And I didn’t say that you thought the thread was poisonous. I made a conditional apology. And I really am genuinely sorry if this thread is bugging you. But I worry that conversations like the one we’re having detract from the focus and the point of the discussion.

  22. Dear Anonymous at 4:47: what is the placement record like for women in your department? (And is the best placement of female job candidates in areas other than ethics and history at least as good as that for AOSs in ethics/history?)

  23. One thing that I think is important to ask is what is the department doing to insure gender diversity? You can likely find out rather easily how many other women have been admitted to the program, but you won’t know whether or not any of the others will actually accept—and I think it would be very difficult to be the only woman in a given year of students. In my cohort, there are two other women besides me, and I’m not sure I could make it without their friendship and support. It’s important to have people to talk to who understand what you’re going through—and even at the best of schools, sexism can still happen. This is where having female colleagues can be a relief. So, if the other female admits decline, will the program just go straight down the waitlist? Or is there a process for insuring some gender diversity should this happen? (It’s also a small way to measure whether or not the program is trying to institute structural ways of improving the climate, which could be some indication of the support for women more generally).

    Second, make sure you talk to more than one female grad! Try and get them on the phone or in person. I was given much more honest answers about this stuff when the person I was talking to didn’t have to commit to something in writing. At some of the schools I looked at, I received very positive responses from a good chunk of students, but then it turned out there were some pretty egregious things going on that only one or two students were aware of. So try and talk to as many as you can. If you can’t visit, look at the program web page and send out some e-mails to listed students—you can always ask if they would be willing to chat on the phone.

    Third, ask if there have been any complaints of sexism or discrimination (formal or informal) made known to the faculty, and if so, how were they handled? Stuff happens at lots of programs—how they handle it can tell you which direction they’re headed at least.

    Fourth—ask about attrition rates by gender. If the attrition rates for female students are vastly higher than they are for male students, it probably means something. But this may also give you a chance to see how the Director of Graduate Studies (or whoever, depending on the school) reacts to questions about the climate for women. The data may be telling, and so may be their reaction to the question.

  24. magical ersatz: thanks. I agree that this is detracting from the thread, and I didn’t mean to detract from it, but I felt quite attacked by your response.

    philochick: The placement record for women in my department is very good, in a variety of different areas (of course, the terrible market has affected things, but that seems to be at least equally distributed to men and women). My department is extremely strong in history, so some of our best placements (men and women) are in history, but the placement record for women seems to reflect that no more than it does for men, and, at least glancing at the last 5-6 years or so, it seems pretty clear that women have been doing better than men across all areas. Probably our strongest four placements of women in the past 5-6 years have been in ethics, mind, ancient, and epistemology.

    I hope that graduate students visiting or considering my department will look at the placement record and see this. Which reminds me: one thing that I think is really good that my department does, and that I would encourage other departments to do, is organize a women’s dinner or lunch during prospectives’ week; when I visited, I was terrified of having to go to this event, because I didn’t know what to expect. But it turned out to be one of the things that sold me on the department. Of course prospective students will get a skewed perspective because people will be trying to sell the department to them; but in my experience it is pretty easy to see through these things if things are unhappy in a department. The women’s lunch gave me really good insight into important stuff like how the women faculty and grad students interact, how friendly they were with one another, whether there was any gender-related unrest or general dissatisfaction in the department, etc. It made me realize (having had previously had somewhat difficult experiences being a woman trying to do philosophy) that my department was a safe, caring, good environment and that women were taken very seriously as equal members of the department, both at the grad student and the faculty level.

  25. I find the APA/CSW list a bit bewildering. First, what is the evidentiary value of this sort of “self reporting”? Prima facie, I have every reason to think that programs that aren’t women-friendly environment would report falsely that they are. Second, the category of ‘supportive faculty’ is very unclear. Is this merely a list of women faculty in the department? We are all aware that unfortunately being a woman does not by itself make the person in question friendly and supportive to women students. And are those faculty not listed — both women and men — unfriendly to women? [A top program] gave the most sensible reply in this section by claiming that all its faculty are supportive.

    I confess I would not direct a student of mine applying to graduate school to this list. I cannot see how it would provide any help to her at all. Am I missing something?

  26. There is one program on the CSW list of which I have heard pretty bad things, admittedly from just one student, a woman.. The male grad students in the gs lounge are quite capable of pointing out that women can’t do philosophy, the feminist philosophers are unhelpful and disengaged from the department’s gender issues, and all sorts of stress has been created by faculty-student romantic relationships.

    If I ask whether the women hired by the departments tend to have been (before being hired) in romantic/marital relationships with much more qualified and senior male faculty, some answers make me very uncomfortable.

  27. Wow, these sentiments about the CSW list (especially “Worse than useless” [comment #30]) really shock me. I remember when a few of us were trying to get a self-reported wiki going about ten years ago, and when I invited members of the SWIP list to send contributions to a list on wikispaces, the self-reports rolled in and people were actually happy to see such a list. I was dead glad when I heard from someone on the APA CSW that they would do something more structured. What happened to make such a self-reported collaboration go from being welcome to being worse than useless? I understand that there would be lots of room for criticism, but how is a self-report that someone thinks their department good supposed to be so bad? I assume the answer is that they could be wrong, but this seems true of lots of well-intentioned self-reports. It seemed a huge improvement over nothing when it was started.

    I’ve directed students to this list over the years, and advised them to cross-compare what they read there with what they learn from other sources, including the Phil.Gourmet, their campus visits, etc. How is that bad advice? What am I missing, other than the fact that the information could be wrong (which is not exactly news)?

    Eh, maybe I’m just getting old. So let me just say, ten years ago I didn’t hear a single negative comment about doing something similar. If you’re so inclined, with tons of time, feel free to search on SWIPlistserv archives for ancient discussions of this, but I don’t remember anyone saying, Oh, no, we shouldn’t all send in self-nominations of programs we’re in, for that would be bad.

  28. Hi Kate,

    First of all, let me say that I have had, for a while now, a great deal of admiration for you on the basis of your comments on philosophy blogs. (I’m quite serous about that. Consequently, I find it slightly unsettling and unpleasant to disagree with you.) That said…

    The problem is not that the information could be wrong. It is that I have no reason whatsoever to think that the information is right. Even reliable testimony could of course be wrong — that is indeed not news. My concern is that I have no way of distinguishing between reliable and unreliable testimony on the APA/CSW list.

    I wasn’t a party to the conversations ten years ago, so I confess your appeal to them does not move me as much as I wish it did. However, I have been a party to conversations where X seemed like better than nothing until we got around to implementing X and it turned out to be near useless. It doesn’t seem to me to be fruitful, at that stage, to insist on moving forward with a fruitless enterprise on the basis of the fact that it once seemed like a good idea and no one complained about it earlier.

    If an undergraduate student asks me for information about how to go about gathering reliable information about women-friendly philosophy departments, I will direct them to this thread for advice about how to gather that information. But I still don’t see how APA/CSW list is useful. Are schools on this list more likely to be friendly environments than those that currently aren’t on the list? I don’t see why; there are too many reasons why schools might not be on the list. Is there a prima facie reason to suppose that departments are in general being accurate in their self-assessments on this issue? While I believe that by and large people are more likely to say what they believe is true, the issue here isn’t honestly so much as it is accuracy. And we are notoriously inaccurate in assessing our own prejudices, biases, and faults.

    So I remain unconvinced, though slightly ashamed of myself as a result.

  29. Dear Kate,

    Exactly what sh said, except for the last sentence (sorry sh). The problem I have with this is that the methodology of such a list (self-reporting) is terrible. And, worse, putting such a thing out there as some kind of guide undermines the credibility of those who endorse it. (See modalist’s comments above if it isn’t clear why.) Ten years ago things might have been different. I’m sorry to have to say it.

  30. Thanks, sh and philochick, seriously with the thanks. No worries about disagreeing with me; I aim for Stoicism when it comes to online conversation. (Go drown any trace of shame in some delicious beverage.)

    I do indeed think it’s a difference-maker that my perception of this is colored by seeing it as a process over the past ten years. I didn’t even realize it had been that long until I started typing my comment; it seemed to me the wiki was really recent, ha ha!

    I find this all good food for thought. I remain unconvinced that self-reporting is terrible, but I think I am taking that in a way different than philochick says it. Philochick refers to the methodology of guides with tacit endorsements, whereas I’m thinking more generally that self-reporting is one source of testimony among others which feminists have argued for as worth valuing. And again, I’m thinking in such broad terms in the presence of old memories of times when online sites simply offered nothing about this aspect of graduate study. If the alternative sources are reputation-rankings like the Philosophical Gourmet and chatty blogs like ours here, then I’d think the self-reports worth taking into account in a comparative way. But the objections above motivate my reflection and re-evaluation!

  31. Female Grad Student (above) suggests asking what the department is doing to ensure gender diversity. This is a question worth asking, and any DGS worth his or her salt will have an answer. But later in the paragraph, she gives a specific example — what will happen if an admitted female student declines; “will the program just go straight down the waitlist? Or is there a process for insuring some gender diversity should this happen?”
    Applicants should note that if a program replies that they will go straight down the waitlist, that does not mean that the program is not committed to gender diversity. I am a Director of Graduate Studies, and I have heard of PhD programs in the US who maintain separate waitlists for men and women. But we have been advised by a diversity officer on our campus, who is a lawyer by training, that maintaining separate waitlists for men and women (or for candidates who would contribute to racial diversity) is not defensible from a legal point of view. We may take diversity into account as one of a number of good-making attributes of an application in a holistic approach to admissions; and we may aim to admit a cluster of women applicants, because clusters contribute to positive outcomes. But we may not accomplish that goal by maintaining separate waitlists for men and women.
    The New York Times has had some useful articles about the state of the law regarding taking diversity into account in admissions lately.

  32. Thanks, Kate, for your very fair and reasoned response.

    Apart from my methodological worries, one reason why I find the CSW list problematic is that, while its data collection was informal (to say the least), it is presented in a formal way, as a list collected and presented by an APA committee. This makes it disanalogous to informal chatting or to testimony on blogs.

    A second problem is that the CSW went public after, it seems, inviting friends of its members to self-report but nobody else. Although apparently now anybody can self-report, the list should not have been presented before a more exhaustive effort to get feedback was made.

    To the anonymous DGS: there is daylight between going straight down the wait list and maintaining separate lists. We don’t maintain separate lists but we certainly try very hard to keep gender balance as the admissions season develops.

  33. Kate, I’d hate to think I’m participating in an argument for closing down women’s contributions, but at the same time, bias may be a special issue.

    I think there has been a major change in the last ten years. That is the growing awareness that even morally conscientious people who sincerely claim that they champion women’s rights may be mis-reporting. This is, of course, because we’re more and more aware of implicit bias.

    There may, worse still, be other factors involved in the self-reporting that we’re learning about because of the immense amount of research being done under the NSF Advance program. I think some of the research done under that program suggests that often women do not become aware of the bias around them until they are considerably along in their careers, such as undergoing tenure review. (This seems hard to believe when one reads What is it like to be a woman in philosophy, but spotting egregious sexism leaves the possibility of some more subtle stuff going unnoticed perhaps because women do not have access to the discussions where it is most obvious.)

  34. Philochick: Please share how you maintain gender balance as the admissions season develops; if you have a method that is legally acceptable in the eyes of our campus diversity officer, I would be delighted to implement it.

    Anonymous DGS.

  35. Anon DGS, I was thinking something more along the lines of what are you doing when it comes to the waitlist? For example, most schools seem to only fund visits for early admits– but if it shapes up quickly enough, will you fund a visit for an interested waitlisted woman, time permitting? Would you treat the recruitment process the same for each waitlister, even if that means that you’ll end up with a serious gender imbalance? Can you try negotiating with strong female candidates who may be hesitant on account of better funding elsewhere? Can we try not ranking waitlists by individual, but rather by groups? You might want to do this not only for gender diversity, but say, to prevent ending up with only folks who want to do epistemology. If you go 5 down the waitlist, but six on the list is a woman, could the university pitch in for some extra funding for one more slot? I didn’t mean anything like a list of women vs. a list of men– I just meant that rather than sending notifications on down the waitlist, the recruitment process could be handled in such a way as to particularly try and encourage women to come to your program if it looks like you’re going to end up with a problem.

  36. Anon DGS (part II)– it just occurred to me that I’m not sure if any of what I did actually have in mind is also problematic from a legal perspective (after all, I’m only a grad student! I have no legal expertise)– but I bet if you sat down the with diversity officer, you could could up with something, even if none of my ideas are workable.

  37. We do much of that already, Female Grad Student, but thanks for posting your suggestions; I’m sure it will be useful for other PhD programs. Unfortunately, energetic recruiting gets you only so far, and I wish there was a way to guarantee a cluster of women in each class.

    Anon DGS.

  38. An observation (that has exceptions, I am sure): the departments where my fellow female philosopher friends have has the most trouble are departments at which a great deal of extracurricular social engagement with other members of the department is expected or encouraged. The practice of going out (and esp. drinking) regularly with your colleagues is just more likely to lead to awkward situations – particularly for women – than would likely arise at a place where a sharper boundary is drawn between work and play. Moreover, if women (understandably) feel uncomfortable placing themselves in these settings, they may miss out on the advantages (connections, time spent talking shop) other students will gain from these interactions.

    So it’s worth asking a department whether there are a great deal of social expectations (outside of professional settings) for students.

    I am at a top department that does an excellent job of maintaining a friendly atmosphere without blurring the professional and personal domains. After hearing horror stories from my friends at other departments (about faculty members drunkenly making unwanted advances, colleagues making sexist comments, and general gossip/drama that makes life unpleasant), I couldn’t be more grateful.

  39. Hi All, this has been very helpful. I’m in the position of deciding which program to go to, and I will be incorporating much of this information into what sorts of questions I ask while on my visits.

    That said, I’m a bit confused as to why there’s a ban on discussing programs by name. Wouldn’t it be helpful for me to know that a certain school I’m considering actually has a terrible track record when it comes to its treatment of women in the department? I understand that individual experiences vary, etc. but I’m capable of taking individual reports with a dose of skepticism. It seems that keeping discussion of programs anonymous just furthers a hushed atmosphere surrounding certain problem departments, which I may be completely unaware of. Am I missing something? Thanks!

  40. Emily, I hope others respond to your question, but I can mention some things that seem important to me. One is that we have had trouble in the past with simply false tales. The one that struck me most was about an individual, but nothing prevents people from coming here and making things up. We don’t want to relay misinformation.

    Also, these discussions can turn into firestorms while at the same time they put a department on trial. Both are bad.

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