Come to Michigan!

It’s the time of year when students thinking of applying to PhD programs have to decide where to apply, and faculty need to advise these students on applications. So I thought I’d add a few words about the ways in which my department (Michigan philosophy) has changed over the last few years in ways that are relevant to these students. A bunch of things have happened that make us a much more attractive destination than we were a little while back for a large class of students. (I won’t say much about the ways in which this place continues to be great in ethics, and in epistemology, and in philosophy of language, and in philosophy of physics, and in many other fields. The focus here is on new strengths.)

One is that it is now a really great place to do work on race and gender. Obviously that’s always been possible, with Liz Anderson here. But having hired Ishani Maitra, Derrick Darby and Meena Krishnamurthy in the last few years, it’s now as good a place as any to do work at the intersection of analytic philosophy with work on race and gender. The department has (and has had for a few years now) an active Minorities and Philosophy chapter, and a (graduate student run) feminist philosophy and philosophy of race reading group. There is a good critical mass of students interested in philosophical issues about race and gender, which makes it (I think) a good environment to work in. And you see flow on effects from that; lots of students, and faculty, who don’t primarily work on race and gender nevertheless have active research programs in those fields. So there are lots of opportunities for feedback on one’s work.

We currently have 23 full-time faculty. We may expand this year, either due to hiring through the Collegiate Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, or through our search (joint with Asian Languages and Culture) for a new faculty member in Chinese Philosophy. But there are a lot of supports for philosophy here beyond the department. Michigan is in many ways a very theory-friendly university, so there are many departments that have faculty with philosophical interests. Some of those faculty have cross-listed appointments in philosophy. Chandra Sripada, whose tenure home is in psychiatry, is quarter-time here. And Scott Hershovitz and Gabe Mendlow in the law school both do a lot of philosophical work. A number of our students are working with Scott on various projects, and Gabe is teaching a graduate seminar in our department next term. When you add in the faculty in our department with interests in philosophy of law, we’re a very strong place for students with legal and philosophical interests. (Not coincidentally, we have a lot of graduate students who have either completed law degrees, or are completing law degrees while doing the PhD.)

The department is more diverse demographically than it used to be. Four of our last five hires have been non-white philosophers. (I’m the fifth.) Three of the last five hires have been women, so now the full-time faculty is over 1/3 women. And the graduate student body is a lot more diverse, along many dimensions, than was typical for an analytic philosophy department not too long ago. This is not to say that we are as diverse as, say, the psychology department here. But the trends are promising.

The university has a fellowship, the Rackham Merit Fellowship, that aims to promote diversity by “encouraging the admission and funding of students who represent a broad array of life experiences and perspectives”. This program has been around for a while, but some recent changes to its administration have meant that it has become much more accessible to philosophy students. Indeed, in the last two years we have recruited three students who were awarded these fellowships. The fellowships only go to students who had been already admitted to the program, but they result in extra funding, fellowship time and resources. So they make UM a more attractive destination for students from a range of non-traditional backgrounds.

Note that by state law, the fellowships can’t be awarded on the basis of race or gender. And they are not just intended for promoting racial diversity. They are also for first-generation immigrants, first-generation college students, community college graduates, students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds, students from geographic areas that are under-represented in universities, and so on. So there are a lot of different students who benefit from the program.

And one thing I didn’t realise about UM before I got here is that there is a lot of encouragement of inter-disciplinary work at the graduate level. Graduate students across the university are required to do some of their coursework outside their home department, and to have a faculty member from outside their home department on their thesis committee. This means we have more non-philosophy students in our seminars. And it means that our students get to take classes with faculty like Susan Gelman and Catherine Mackinnon. There is now a graduate certificate in Cognitive Science, and our students teach in Cognitive Science and in Psychology. So it’s a great place to do inter-disciplinary work.

So there has been quite a bit happening here. For what it’s worth, I’m sure we’re not the only department that has been rapidly changing. Especially if you are advising a prospective graduate student on where to apply, it’s worth taking some time to get up to date information on what different departments are like right now, and how they might or might not be suitable to your student’s interests. Hopefully many of these students will apply to, and end up working at, Michigan.

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