Interdisciplinary PhD including philosophy
October 18, 2010 7:21 AM   Subscribe

Suggestions on interdisciplinary PhD programs?

I'm a senior philosophy major at a US liberal arts college. I'd like to get a PhD in philosophy or a related interdisciplinary focus. In philosophy, I'm interested in philosophy of language (particularly Wittgenstein), 20th century continental, and existentialism (particularly Kierkegaard). Outside the discipline, I have studied linguistics and critical theory, and have an interest in social theory.

I've found (and intend to apply to) Chicago's Committee on Social Thought and Berkeley's program in rhetoric. Any suggestions on similar programs? I'd also love to hear about philosophy programs that produce great interdisciplinary work.

posted by roast beef to Education (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Two of these things that I know about: Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society at U. of Minnesota and Comparative Studies at Ohio State University.
posted by silby at 7:34 AM on October 18, 2010

History of Consciousness at UC Santa Cruz.

But my advice? Check out anthropology. Seriously consider having a home discipline. I have two, and have crafted an interdisciplinary career out of that.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:36 AM on October 18, 2010

The UCSD philosophy program has an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in cognitive sciences which might be interesting to you, especially since UCSD has some of the best neuroscientists in the world. (They also have a straight-up doctoral program in philosophy.)
posted by kataclysm at 7:39 AM on October 18, 2010

Duke's Program in Literature (where I go) and Stanford's Modern Thought and Literature see like they could fit the bill as well.
posted by gerryblog at 7:52 AM on October 18, 2010

posted by gerryblog at 7:52 AM on October 18, 2010

Cognitive science might be a good degree, and Berkeley's rhetoric program is very well-known, but in general getting an interdisciplinary PhD in a bad job market is a terrible idea. Philosophy departments won't hire you and interdisciplinary programs are smaller and more poorly-funded. (All of these things are exacerbated by the economy.) I would consider applying to a philosophy department within one of those schools and then taking classes with professors in the interdisciplinary program.

Also, from what I understand interdisciplinary PhDs are more likely to be unfunded, which should be one of your top concerns right now. If you can't live on your funding offer, it's better not to go.
posted by nasreddin at 7:54 AM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I agree with nasreddin: stick to a "core" department when you're getting your Ph.D. If you want to branch out to a more interdisciplinary area of research, do then when putting together your thesis proposal and your committee. Plus, little of what you've described about your interests requires an interdisciplinary program.
posted by deanc at 8:14 AM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, remember that almost everyone, including faculty at core departments, has interdisciplinary interests. Humanities (and some social-science) fields are sufficiently flexible that this is rarely a problem; in fact, you'll generally find that bringing in a sexy new methodology from outside the discipline is very effective. (History, for instance, was totally transformed by anthropology in the 1980s.) Most universities have working groups, colloquia, and so on that bridge the gaps between departments and help you meet people you intersect with in your work.

I'm not sure how it is now, by the way, but as a Continentalist you may have a lot of trouble getting a job in a US philosophy department. I would consider theology, believe it or not, as my first choice, since that's where all the interesting Continental work is being done these days. (Anthro too.)
posted by nasreddin at 8:25 AM on October 18, 2010

nasreddin & deanc: Your words of caution are appreciated, though I think you don't give me enough credit. I know that one doesn't need to be in an interdisciplinary program to pursue interdisciplinary work; I'm asking because I think I would feel very comfortable in that sort of environment. (I've found that there's a strong correlation between interest in other disciplines and interesting work... and, maybe more dramatically, the reverse.) I'm applying to several philosophy PhD programs (primarily those that are good in continental) as well, and of course I'm taking into account placement records and funding. I wouldn't go somewhere with a bad placement record, and I certainly wouldn't accept an offer that wouldn't support me. So all of that is already a part of my thinking, though I didn't mention it in the question.

That said: any ideas on philosophy departments that do good interdisciplinary work? Or other interdisciplinary programs that, like rhetoric at Berkeley, are well-known enough to be less of a risk?

everyone else: Thanks for all the answers so far! Some of these are really interesting.
posted by roast beef at 9:05 AM on October 18, 2010

+1 to nasreddin and deanc. I have interdisciplinary interests that I was able to cultivate by taking courses and speaking to faculty in other departments. Even with a home department though, I had trouble selling my work in job applications that were looking for someone in a particular field I dabbled in. I can't imagine the difficulty of getting a job in the humanities right now, but an interdisciplinary program would make that so much harder. I don't mean to discourage, but I am very thankful for this type of advice now, though it was hard to take when I was looking for grad programs.
posted by Matty_P at 9:08 AM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

+1 History of Consciousness at UC Santa Cruz. Chicago and Berkeley's programs were top of mind a well. Best of luck.
posted by safetyfork at 9:10 AM on October 18, 2010

Nthing nasreddin and deanc.

Don't play up interdisciplinary interests in your app.

As someone that has a strong sub-field, I find myself fucked all the time.

My sub-field folks don't find my work as legit because I'm not so-and-so's advisee. I have serious trouble getting published in sub-field journals. My department also doesn't give a damn if I'm published in a non-field journal even if it is the best place for my work. My primary field doesn't LOVE my sub-field tinged work. I find it pretty tough to get published in my primary field's top journals. On my side I find keeping up with 2 literatures is quite time consuming. I cannot be awesome in both. I also have trouble winning fellowships/grants in sub-field especially, but really both because I am such a square peg.

I also could not find a university that has a good match faculty for both my fields at the grad school or job level.

I eventually found a non-academic job in sub-field using my methodological skills from primary field. I am going to have to play a lot of catch up in sub-field and primary field will probably stop caring about me.

Sorry for being all negative Nancy, but wanted to share my interdisiciplinary experience.

typed on phone, sorry for typos.

When I went on the job market, most universities in my primary disicipline were 'wtf?' about my sub-field tinged work. Any sub-field departments were impossible because I don't have in-roads into their networks.
The interdisiciplinary row is hard to hoe.
posted by k8t at 9:50 AM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

somehow my paragraphs posted out of order.
posted by k8t at 9:52 AM on October 18, 2010

k8t, can I ask what your field and subfield are? If you don't want to be too specific, I'd be interested to know where each falls in the humanities/social sciences/natural sciences trichotomy.
posted by roast beef at 10:00 AM on October 18, 2010

Sure - my primary field is a social science (Communication), with my department having a quantitative bent. My sub-field is mixed social science/humanities -- it is an area study of a particular region (that I have my undergrad degree in and significant in-country experience).

Yet, when I talk to people in Anthropology, I feel like a fraud for using Communication theory (and methods) to explore phenomenon that are specific to my region. Area studies journals don't give a shit about Communication theory. Communication journals (for the most part) don't give a shit about Communication phenomenon occurring in my region. (I've also hung out with folks in Sociology or Political Science, and they seem to have this problem too.)
posted by k8t at 10:22 AM on October 18, 2010

I'm at the New School for Social Research, in philosophy. I'm assuming you've already checked this program out, but I thought I'd just weigh in and say that it's fairly friendly to interdisciplinary interests, though it's a little harder to do interdisciplinary work here.

(The real problem with the New School, of course, is that there's almost no damn funding. Not even for most of the PhD students.)
posted by felix grundy at 8:43 PM on October 18, 2010

I'm back to check in on this thread.

I need to add this: unless you're more brilliant than the average brilliant person who gets into these programs, they can be a career dead end. Having a disciplinary home is so important on the job market. No one knows what an "interdisciplinary PhD" is in a lot of settings. There are way more unemployed HisCon and "Literature" PhDs out there than you might think given the high reputations of programs like those at Duke, Stanford, and UCSC. They are an artifact of the high theoretical furor of the 80s and 90s. All that theorizing has (thankfully, at last) gone somewhat out of fashion in the core humanities and social science fields, and empirical, disciplinary research has made something of a resurgence.

I would not advise an undergrad student of my own, no matter how smart, to pursue an interdisciplinary Phd at a fashionable program, unless she were independently wealthy.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:00 AM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

(The real problem with the New School, of course, is that there's almost no damn funding. Not even for most of the PhD students.)
posted by felix grundy

Oh and this . . . no matter where you get in, seriously consider changing your plans if you *don't* have full funding. It is rule one for PhD study.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:02 AM on November 2, 2010

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