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Advice for Succeeding in Grad School

Writing (and rewriting)

Writing philosophy is the backbone of academic philosophy: you'll have to do it to complete your PhD, and you'll have to do it as part of your job.

Writing regularly

Figure out a technique that gets you to write regularly, and then do it.  Here are some techniques that might be useful:

·      Schedule blocks of writing time for yourself at least three times a week.

·      Use the pomodoro technique.  Set a timer for a short period of time (customarily 25 minutes), work until the timer goes off, take a 5-minute break, and repeat.  After 4 work sessions, take a longer break.

·      Give yourself short assignments: explaining the nature and significance of a question that you want to answer; summarizing another author's paper on a topic of interest; setting out the main argument of your paper in premise-conclusion form; sketching a possible objection to your argument.

Keeping up to speed

To keep your writing on schedule, it’s also helpful to keep in mind some big-picture things about your PhD.

·      Start thinking about your second-year paper early: the summer after your first year is a good time to start.  (The name “second-year paper is potentially misleading: you shouldn’t wait until the first quarter of your second year to start work on it!)

·      When it comes to coursework papers, don’t let perfectionism slow you down.  Your job in these papers is to:

o   consolidate your knowledge of the field,

o   try out original philosophical ideas, and

o   practice writing.

The paper doesn’t have to be journal-ready.  It is more important to finish the paper than to make it perfect.

Responding to criticism

Criticism is not an indication that you have failed, or that you should throw your paper away and start afresh.  It might not always feel like it at the time, but criticism is a sign that what you're doing is valuable: it shows that somebody cares about your work and wants to engage with it, and it gives you the opportunity to improve your argument.

·      Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck contrasts a fixed mindset ("believing that your qualities are carved in stone") with a growth mindset ("based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts").[1]  It's important to aim for a growth mindset here.

·      Taking criticism is a skill that is particularly important for writing your second-year paper.  Your aim is to turn a term paper into a polished essay.  To do this, you need to seek out feedback, and then edit your paper in response to it.

Things to do when someone raises an objection to your paper

·      First, restate the objection in your own words.  Challenge yourself to make the objector's argument as strong as possible.  (If you want to persuade an objector, the first step is always to understand where their objection is coming from.)

·      Next, think of possible responses to the criticism; there is probably more than one.  Your advisor can help with this step!  It's sometimes tempting to think of your advisor's role as wholly negative and adversarial: they point out problems with your thesis.  But this isn't true; part of the advisor's job is also to help you figure out how to fix problems and make the thesis stronger.

·      Only after you've charitably restated the criticism, and brainstormed possible responses, is it time to endorse a response (or several).

·      Remember that it's impossible to make a philosophical position watertight against all criticisms.  Your goal is not to produce an argument that admits no objections; rather it is to know what the strongest objections to your argument are, and how to respond to them them.

Good sources of feedback

You can benefit from actively seeking out criticism (more politely known as feedback).  Here are some promising sources of feedback.

·      Your advisor and other committee members.  (It's their job to provide feedback.)

·      Your classmates.  You can exchange papers and give each other comments.

·      Presentations.  If you're looking for feedback on a paper (e.g., your second-year paper), you can present it at a conference, or some other low-stakes venue.  You could try a graduate conference, or a workshop/reading group at Stanford.  Recruit a friend to take notes on the questions during the Q&A, so that you can keep track of what the main objections were.


For better or for worse, publications are increasingly important to junior hiring.  You should aim to have at least one publication accepted by the time you go on the market.

Where to publish

Publications in "top-tier" journals count for more, in the eyes of hiring departments, than publications in "lower-tier" journals.  How do you know which journals to submit to?

·      Journal rankings can be found on various philosophy blogs, but be aware that the social landscape is shifting, and information more than five years old is likely to be somewhat out of date.

·      Kate Devitt has a ranking of philosophy journals at, based on survey data and citation data.

·      In addition to journal prestige, you should consider probability of acceptance and turnaround times.

o   The APA provides useful (user-supplied) survey data here:

Stages of the publication process

1. Write and polish your paper. 

Before you submit the paper, you should make sure that it:

·      is structured so that a reader can easily follow what is happening,

·      makes an original point,

·      cites and engages with a representative sample of relevant literature on the topic, and

·      is relatively typo-free.

2. Check with a faculty member to make sure the paper is ready for submission.

It's a good idea to run your paper past a faculty member or two before submitting it.  Your advisor and other committee members should be prepared to provide feedback as part of their job.

3. Submit your paper to a journal.

·      Submit early in your PhD!  Journal turnaround times can be surprisingly long.

·      Aim high!  The peer review process includes a lot of random noise, so it makes sense to submit to a highly-ranked journal.

·      Submit to only one journal at a time.  Most philosophy journals do not permit simultaneous submissions.

·      Before submitting, read the journal's submission guidelines, and make sure your paper complies with them.

4. The journal will get back to you with a verdict and referee reports. 

Possible verdicts are:

·      Acceptance: you correct any small errors in the paper, and it is processed for publishing.

·      Conditional Acceptance: the paper will be accepted if you revise in accordance with the conditions specified by the editor.

·      Revise and Resubmit: the paper may be accepted if you revise it to take the referees' criticisms into account, but the editor can still reject it if your revisions are deemed unsatisfactory.  It's common for papers to go through one or more rounds of revise and resubmits before an eventual acceptance.  Don't mistake this verdict for failure; it is a very good sign, and an opportunity to eventually get your paper into a journal.

·      Rejection: the journal will not publish your paper.  (Some other journal might.)

5. If you've received a conditional acceptance or a revise and resubmit, respond to the referee reports and resubmit the paper.

·      Be extremely polite!  You are trying to persuade the referees to accept your paper.  If the referees did not understand something you wrote, don't imply that they're stupid for not understanding; take it as an opportunity to clarify your statement of your views.  If you think the referees are stupid, keep it to yourself.  (It's not prudent to share that thought.  Aside from that, it's rude; these people have volunteered their time to read your paper, for little or no professional gain.) 

·      Include, as a separate document, a list of your responses to the referees' comments.  This document should quote the comments, and go through them point by point, explaining how you have revised the paper in response to each.  (The purpose of this document is to provide an easy-to-scan record of your changes to the paper, so that the editor and the referees can easily see how thoroughly you've responded to the feedback provided.)

·      Sometimes referees make suggestions that won't work.  (They're fallible human beings, just like the rest of us.)  You don't have to take all of their suggestions.  But if you don't take a suggestion, be sure to explain why in your response to the referees' comments.  You can (and should!) do this while being polite, and taking the referee's criticism seriously.

6. If your paper is rejected, revise it and send it to another journal.

·      The referees' reports can provide useful feedback.  You don't have to worry about crafting a diplomatic response, but you should mine the reports for any useful criticisms.

·      Don't sit on the paper! The publication process is extremely noisy, and one rejection is no reason to give up. Make any changes that seem necessary in light of the referees' reports, and then send the paper out to another journal immediately.

Book reviews

In addition to publishing journal articles, you should consider publishing a book review.  Publishing a book review is not a substitute publishing a journal article, but it does have the following benefits:

·      It's a good way to practice critically reading and writing philosophy.

·      It’s a good way to get publishing experience.

·      It shows that you are active in the philosophical profession.

·      It provides an accomplishment for your CV (though again, a book review is not a substitute for a journal article).

·      It's good for networking: if you write a positive review, this may result in fruitful correspondence with the author of the book.

Furthermore, publishing a book review is easy.  Find a journal that publishes book reviews, find out who the reviews editor is, and write them a note introducing yourself, and asking whether they have any books in your area for you to review.

·      One good venue is Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, an online, open-access publication dedicated entirely to reviews.

More publishing advice

Thom Brooks offers additional publishing advice for graduate students at


In most academic jobs, you'll be expected to teach.  The teaching you do now will prepare you for teaching later, and it will also provide prospective employers with evidence that you're good at teaching.

·      An important task: choose a faculty member to write you a teaching recommendation when you are on the job market.  Get this person on board as early as possible, preferably by the time you start teaching.  You should make sure this person sits in on one of your classes to watch you teach, so that they can gather evidence that you are a good teacher.  (Their job is to advocate for you on the job market, and the way to help with them is to provide them with as much evidence as possible.)

·      The philosophy department has an excellent TA mentoring program, run by a grad student representative.  (This year's representative is Hyoung Sung Kim.) 

·      Teaching at another institution can help you broaden your portfolio.

o   The Stanford Teaching Commons program sends up to six Stanford humanities PhD students each fall to teach a course in a CCNY humanities department. The program gives students the opportunity to broaden their teaching experience, while taking advantage of the terrific academic and cultural resources in NYC.

o   San Jose state is eager to recruit Stanford graduate students to teach their courses.  Interested students are encouraged to contact one of the placement directors, or Janet Stemwedel <janet.stemwedel [at] (janet[dot]stemwedel[at]sjsu[dot]edu)>.

Presenting Your Research

Presenting your research at conferences is a good way to get feedback, network with philosophers at other institutions, and practice explaining your research to others.  Conferences are also a lot of fun!

·      A good concrete goal: around the time you submit your second-year paper, present it at a conference.  If you've written a successful second-year paper, this means that you have a polished piece of research to present.

·      The category “conferences” includes more than just the annual division meetings of the American Philosophical Association.  If APA conferences seem huge and daunting, consider a smaller venue.

o   You might try a subdisciplinary conference on a topic you work in.  Ask your advisor.

o   Berkeley, Stanford, and UC Davis co-organize a graduate student conference each year.

o   Phil-Events ( lets you browse conferences by geographic location, topic, and type.

o   You can find a list of recurring philosophy conferences, created by Elizabeth Harman and Daniel Wodak, at

·      In addition to presenting papers at conferences, you can volunteer to comment on someone else’s paper.  (This is a good way to work up to presenting your own work.) APA division meetings let you volunteer on the conference website.

Departmental Citizenship

Having a departmental community is important to your morale, and your ability to learn.  Here are some things you can do to help sustain our community, and to make sure you get the most out of it.

Attending colloquia

Colloquia are a good way to learn about areas of philosophy that are outside your research topic.  They can get you unstuck with your own research; engaging with a colloquium speaker about their topic can help you find new angles on your own.  We strongly encourage you to show up at the colloquia.

Asking questions

At colloquia (in fact, at any talk you attend, you should practice asking questions.  This will help you engage with and learn from the talk, and it will give the speaker the opportunity to learn from your criticisms. 

If asking a question in front of a large group seems daunting, here are a few ways to work up to it.

o   Ask a clarificatory question.  These questions are extremely valuable to the speaker (who is often so deeply embedded in the details of their work that they haven't noticed the need to explain it properly to outsiders) and to the audience (many of whom are probably hoping for the same clarification).  Also, clarificatory questions are a good way of finding philosophical problems: one common explanation for your not understanding something is that the thing doesn't make complete sense.

o   Think of a question, and write it down.  Challenge yourself to do this for every colloquium talk you attend.  Once you've gotten into the habit of thinking up questions, you can challenge yourself to ask some of the questions you've written down (e.g., at least one question per quarter).

o   Mention your questions to a faculty member in a one-on-one interaction after the talk.

Be excellent to each other.

It might seem tempting to think of your classmates as competitors, but that's not right. Your classmates are valuable collaborators: they can offer intellectual feedback and moral support, and you are likely to learn as much from them as from your professors.  They are doing research on inherently interesting topics.  They are likely to be your friends and colleagues for a long time.

·      Grad students at Stanford are already doing valuable work to help each other thrive.

o   The student-led TA mentoring program prepares graduate students for teaching.

o   Graduate student professional development officers run a group to job candidates prepare their materials for the market.  They make available dossiers from past students, organize peer review of applicants' dossiers, and run a round of mock interviews.  This year's professional development officer is Grace Paterson.

Career Prospects Outside Academia

You are here because the faculty are convinced that you are capable of becoming an academic, succeeding in a tenure-track job, and making valuable contributions in philosophy.  However, not everybody who is capable of these things will end up with an academic job: there are more talented candidates than there are positions.  About half philosophy graduates end up outside academia; and Stanford's placement statistics reflect that reality.  Luckily, there are opportunities outside academia, and you can make sure you're prepared to take advantage of them as you earn your PhD.

Master's Degrees

While you are enrolled in your PhD can earn a Master's degree in any department at Stanford without paying extra.  Most Masters' programs here tend to be time-consuming, which means that this option is most practical if you start early, and already have a strong undergraduate background in the topic of interest.


A (non-exhaustive) list of options:

·      Political Science:

·      Statistics:

·      Computer Science:

Stanford Teacher Education Program

The Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP) is a nationally renowned, 12-month program in the Graduate School of Education leading to an MA in Education and a preliminary California Single Subject Teaching Credential. It has a nearly 100 percent job placement rate. 

NB: The STEP program trains people to become English, History/Social Studies, or Foreign Language/Literature teachers, and to get in, you will need a way of demonstrating content knowledge in at least one of these disciplines.

Stanford Ignite

A certificate program at the Graduate School of Business, where students learn business skills by creating venture projects (four weeks over the summer full time, or nine weeks part time).  Subsidized for Stanford students.

Other Resources at Stanford

Stanford has several offices that provide career guidance (for careers both within and outside academia).  Here are some links with more information.

·      Professional development website from the Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education:

·      PhD and Postdoc Career Guide from the Office of Career Education and Student Affairs: Postdoc/PHD Career Guide

·      PhD Pathways in Higher Education:

·      Find Graduate Teaching Opportunities:

APA Resources on Philosophers Outside Academia


[1] Dweck, Carol (2006) Mindset: the new psychology of success, New York: Random House, pp. 5-6.