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PhD: to what end?

Philosophy grads from Canadian universities are at a disadvantage in landing tenure-track jobs

by Louis Groarke and Wayne Fenske

PhD: Two what end?
Two philosophy professors argue that Canadian PhDs in philosophy are at a disadvantage when it comes to finding employment in the philosophy departments of Canada’s major universities.

There have long been anecdotal reports that graduates of Canadian PhD programs are often overlooked in favour of graduates with foreign credentials when Canada’s larger universities hire new faculty. Prompted by the suggestion of a sessional instructor who does not yet have full-time employment, we – two professors with permanent positions in small Canadian philosophy departments – decided to take a look within our own particular discipline to see if this indeed was the case.

What follows is a snapshot of the faculty complement for tenured or tenure-track positions in major philosophy departments in Canada. As the data indicate, graduates with PhDs in philosophy from Canadian universities are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to finding employment in larger Canadian universities, especially those with graduate programs in philosophy. University of Toronto graduates fare slightly better in getting hired than graduates from other Canadian schools, but most of the bigger Canadian programs are staffed primarily by individuals who obtained their PhDs from universities outside of Canada.

This raises serious ethical questions about the purpose of the graduate programs offered by Canadian universities, about the information given to graduate students who enrol in such programs, about the use of public monies to fund such programs, and about the hiring criteria used by philosophy departments in Canada.

Given that universities in Canada are, for the most part, funded by the public, one could argue that it is imperative that such important decision-making processes be made more transparent to the public eye. Yet, the phenomenon of university hiring presents particular obstacles to any scientific study of trends.

As with most jobs, when it comes to hiring faculty, the decision-making takes place behind closed doors. The precise criteria used to make these decisions are more complicated and subtle than job advertisements would indicate. Various issues can play a large role in determining who is actually hired for a particular academic position: academic distinction, research potential, teaching needs, ideological affiliation, gender, and so on. The rationales that ultimately lead to the hiring decisions – in any line of work – are rarely communicated to the public.

However, when it comes to the employment of Canadian PhDs in Canadian philosophy departments, some trends can be easily identified. This study focuses on tenured or tenure-track positions in philosophy programs at major anglophone universities in Canada (including the bilingual University of Ottawa) that have doctoral programs in philosophy.

These positions are generally considered to be the best positions in Canadian universities. Although establishing oneself in a major department is not a guarantee of academic distinction, it is, at the very least, a good start to an academic career. Such employment includes many advantages: higher salaries, lighter teaching load, more generous research funding, graduate students, and the added prestige that is naturally associated with larger institutions. (For the purposes of this study, “major programs” or “major philosophy programs” refer to departments that offer a doctoral degree in philosophy.)

The issue we wanted to investigate can be posed through two straightforward questions:

  • At major philosophy programs, what percentage of faculty holding tenure-track, tenured, or research-oriented positions earned their PhD at a Canadian university, and what percentage earned their PhD outside Canada?
  • Do individual departments differ in terms of their “Canadian content”?

We would have also liked to learn the success rates of Canadian PhDs in competitions for such openings, but because information about applications isn’t made public, we weren’t able to investigate this. What we weren’t interested in, for the purposes of this study, was the nationality of faculty members. Our focus was strictly on where they earned their doctoral degree.

Our method was to scan the faculty lists of the departmental web pages of the 15 major philosophy departments in anglophone universities in Canada. These websites generally contain a list of “regular” faculty (sometimes called “main faculty,” “core faculty,” “research faculty,” or “graduate faculty”). Sessional, part-time or contract faculty and retired, adjunct or visiting professors were not included in these tabulations, nor were instructors. Tabulating a list of the universities where regular faculty members in Canadian philosophy departments obtained their PhDs was relatively straightforward.

The findings

The data, collected from May 30 to June 2, 2009, are surprisingly clear and unassailable. Although departmental web pages were not always up-to-date and there were rare idiosyncratic cases, the data give an accurate report on the makeup of philosophy departments in Canada (see Table 1 below).

PhD table
Where regular professors in major canadian philosophy departments earned their PhD

About 70 percent of tenured and tenure-track professors in major Canadian philosophy departments have been awarded degrees from non-Canadian (usually American or European) institutions; about 15 percent of regular faculty have PhDs from the University of Toronto and about 15 percent have PhDs from other Canadian universities.

The percentage of faculty with Canadian PhDs ranges from 5.6 percent at the University of British Columbia to 77.8 percent at Memorial University. At six universities – Dalhousie, Memorial, Ottawa, McMaster, York and Guelph – 40 percent or more of regular faculty members earned their PhDs at Canadian schools.

Because University of Toronto PhDs do significantly better in getting hired than graduates from other Canadian programs, we also examined them separately. The percentage of faculty in the major philosophy departments holding PhDs from Canadian universities other than U of T ranges from zero (UBC) to 44 percent (Memorial).

At the four anglophone programs that many would consider the most prominent in Canada – UBC, Toronto, Queen’s and McGill – the ratio among regular faculty is close to 80 percent non-Canadian, 16 percent U of T and four percent PhDs from other Canadian universities (Table 2).

Table 2
Where regular professors at ubc, Toronto, Queen's and McGill earned their PhD

In the West, philosophy programs at the universities of Calgary, Alberta and Simon Fraser have less than 20 percent of faculty members with PhDs from Canadian universities other than U of T (Table 3).

Table 3
Where regular professors in major philosophy departments in Western canada earned their PhD

At the remaining major Ontario universities (Western, Guelph, York, McMaster, Ottawa, Waterloo), 20 to 30 percent of faculty have PhDs from Canadian universities other than U of T.

In the East, Memorial and Dalhousie, have strong Canadian numbers, with almost 78 percent and 67 percent, respectively, of regular positions staffed by PhDs earned in Canada. At Memorial, 33 percent and at Dalhousie, 44 percent, hold Canadian PhDs from schools other than U of T.

Finally, the university websites rarely provide the date of hiring, so it was not apparent whether the 70-30 overall split reflects current hiring practices; it’s possible that the faculty complement in some departments is dominated by people who were hired years ago. So, in late September, the 15 major programs were asked which tenured and tenure-track faculty members they had hired in the last five years.

For the 14 departments that responded, the recent hires have, in aggregate, continued the trend of hiring significantly more PhDs from outside Canada. Of the 88 regular faculty members hired by the major philosophy departments in the past five years, less than 27 percent had earned their PhDs at Canadian universities, compared with 70 percent who earned their PhDs outside Canada, mainly in the U.S. (The figures don’t add to 100 percent because the origin of three PhDs couldn’t be determined.)

For comparison purposes, we also looked at universities offering master’s programs, but not PhD programs. In the West, the University of Saskatchewan has almost 88 percent of regular faculty from Canadian PhD programs and 63 percent from programs other than U of T. But the universities of Victoria and Manitoba reflect the trend in the larger institutions, with about seven percent of regular positions being filled by Canadian PhDs other than U of T.

Impact and consequences

There are many pertinent questions for which the answers are not available: How many Canadian PhDs and non-Canadian PhDs apply for such jobs? How many candidates with non-Canadian PhDs are Canadian citizens? Are the academic records of non-Canadian PhDs better than those of Canadian PhDs?

If, to cite only one possibility, a substantial majority of applications to some of these jobs were Canadian PhDs, this would increase the disparity between the relative success rates of successful Canadian and non-Canadian applications.

There has been much discussion about discrimination in university hiring on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, ethnic extraction and physical handicaps, and there have been formal and informal attempts to ensure that underrepresented groups have a place in university faculties. One could argue that Canadian PhDs are, in the eyes of top philosophy departments, “educationally handicapped.”

One might conclude from these data that a pervading sense of colonial inferiority continues to exist in Canadian philosophy departments. Non-Canadian PhDs have their place in higher education, of course, but the degree to which they are apparently advantaged over Canadian PhDs is disconcerting.

Or, one might argue, perhaps Canadian PhDs are not as good as the very best in the world; the reported trends thus reflect a movement towards excellence in university hiring in Canada.

This riposte brings the following dilemma into clear focus: either major programs in Canada are discriminating, at least in some cases, against equally qualified candidates with Canadian PhDs; or, graduate programs in Canada are turning out inferior students who cannot compete with their counterparts with non-Canadian PhDs. We maintain that neither alternative is ethically and politically acceptable.

Consider the first horn of the dilemma. If employment practices at major universities discriminate against Canadian graduates, this is unfair and perhaps illegal. It certainly goes against the spirit of government policy. It seems unlikely that Canadian taxpayers would knowingly fund a system that discriminates against Canadians who, for many different reasons, choose to remain in Canada to pursue graduate work.

Now consider the second horn. If Canadian PhDs are, to put it bluntly, an inferior product, one is left wondering why Canadian universities support such programs in the first place. Why would the government – Canadian taxpayers – actively fund programs that produce only second-rate academics? It would make more sense to force promising students to leave the country for non-Canadian institutions where they can get “a real education.” Philosophy departments in Canada could focus on undergraduate training and service courses instead of PhD programs.

There is a deep incoherence here. If a department considers a Canadian PhD a liability, how can it, in good conscience, busy itself producing more Canadian PhDs? Surely, individuals enrol in Canadian graduate programs with the understanding that they will be advantaged, not disadvantaged, when they graduate with a PhD from that institution. They may be encouraged to believe this by departments eager to attract the very best students.

Morality requires at the very least full disclosure. Potential students applying to Canadian PhD programs should be informed about the trends reported in this article. Students hoping for academic distinction or high-level employment should, it seems, be dissuaded from enrolling in Canadian programs. Any other approach would be intellectually dishonest.

Yes, Canadian PhDs can find employment in smaller, undergraduate institutions, in community colleges, or as sessional or part-time employees. But the smaller institutions are, well, smaller. In terms of faculty numbers, we would have to add together the philosophy departments of many smaller, primarily undergraduate universities to produce even a single large university philosophy department such as the University of Toronto’s.

Let us finish, not with a conclusion but with an open question: Does the situation in philosophy departments in Canada mirror what is happening in other academic disciplines? One wonders. If this is, in fact, the case, perhaps the time has come for something to be done about it.

Louis Groarke is an associate professor in the philosophy department at St. Francis Xavier University. Wayne Fenske is a permanent philosophy instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

 For more on this topic, please see The end of the Canadianization movement, by Yves Gingras.

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Comments on this Article

Statistics published in this article are indeed a surprise for me as I have been told by many people that it is harder to find academic job in Canada if you have done PhD from outside of Canada. I have been applying for an academic post for about a year and did not receive any interview call. I thought it's because my PhD is from UK and Canadian Universities prefer Canadians?. My view is that competition is severe in Canada because of the number of academic jobs and the people applying for a job. Good luck to all- I believe PhD is a hard work and a much prestigious qualification so not getting a job after PhD is not without a shame.

Posted by AJamal, Jul 27, 2014 2:36 PM

I am now in sort of disguise after reading these scholarly article and views. Can anyone here who can suggest/advise or throw some facts whether is worth doing PhD in Canada ? Best regards.

Posted by Kamlesh, Jan 4, 2013 12:27 PM

Completely agree with the article and that of Dr. Doinglittle in the comments. I, too, am a largely unemployed Ph.D. graduate from UBC (2006). After a postdoc and a limited term contract, I've been unemployed and looking since about 2010. My teaching record and student feedback has been consistently high (over 90%) for years and I've been writing articles. After applying from coast to coast to over 75 tenure track positions and not receiving a single interview, this article really shone the light as to why. Other colleagues graduating with me are also in the same position - most have just given up. I just don't understand why a university would hire a foreign Ph.D. when there are hundreds here, freshly minted, waiting for a chance? I don't buy that Canadian grads are inferior - in fact I suspect that many of the American grads getting jobs in Canada are more inferior than Canadian grads. Why would Americans come to Canada unless the competition is too stiff in their country that they come to Canada to highlight "everything American is better than Canadian" - playing into the maddening Canadian inferiority complex Canadians have with regard to their own talent. To even suggest that Canadian talent is a tiny drop in comparison to the ocean of world talent is a stupid argument. I doubt very much that American universities are higher foreign talent even close to the rate that Canadian universities are. Americans would, rightly, be up in arms. From the over-reliance on foreign academics, to the reliance on postdocs to do much of the teaching and research grunt work, to the reliance on contract academic labour, to the over expansion of Ph.D. programs there is absolutely no reason why a Canadian student should even consider entering a Ph.D. program until things change. I listened to a graduate advisor at a Canadian university quite freely say that it is not her responsibility to tell incoming doctoral students about the lack of jobs - that's the student's responsibility. Hers was simply to get as many to come into her university's graduate programs. And that's the beginning of the problem...

Posted by Steve, Aug 31, 2012 8:47 AM

(Part 1 of 3)

Groarke and Fenske’s analysis of the woeful lack of success of graduates of Canadian philosophy programs is entirely accurate. I did very similar research myself several years ago, and came up with similar numbers. The only flaw in the article is the authors’ timidity in drawing the obvious conclusion that Canadian universities discriminate against hiring their own graduates. The other horn of their dilemma – that Canadian graduates are “inferior” – would be very difficult to prove in a systematic fashion. My own experience is that much of the vast “potential” of these prestigious foreign hires fizzles away once the person in question gets tenure.

I graduated from a middle-level Canadian PhD program in the late 1990s. Even though I’ve taught 75 courses, published three books and over 90 articles (half of them academic), I’ve never gotten an interview for a tenure-track job. I’ve taught in six disciplines at five universities and colleges, and have gotten a few limited-term contacts, but have never been within shooting distance of the plum jobs reserved for graduates of foreign programs and U of T. When I apply to a tenure-track job today, I’m about 95% sure that I’ve out-published the entire appointments committee that sends me a rejection letter three months later. Many of these people are the graduates of the so-called “prestigious” foreign programs that defenders of the system laud.
But what’s interesting about this article is not so much the conclusions the authors come to, which I think are unassailable, but the shoddy, arch-conservative criticisms from some of the commenters below. Even though these arguments often come from people in positions of authority at the departments Groarke and Fenske attack and are thus little more than ideological defenses of personal economic and political capital, I’ll take on their main points seriously and counter them one by one.

1. The Neo-Conservative Argument: “Canadian English-speaking doctoral universities represent only a small fraction of the worldwide total. The fact that 30% of those hired come from Canadian programs isn’t proof of anti-Canadian discrimination – instead, it’s proof of pro-Canadian bias!”

My jaw dropped when I read this argument repeated over and over by the article’s critics. Yes, Canadian PhD programs probably don’t spit out more than 5% of English-speaking Philosophy graduates. But assuming that this figure is somehow relevant reduces academics to the social status of migrant farm workers. It may be the case in neo-conservative economics textbooks that labour is perfectly mobile, but in the real world people often feel a sense of loyalty to the land of their birth. This may be the result of a connection to family, friends, patriotism, a love of the city or countryside of their homeland, or a feeling of comfort in a liberal democratic state with a reasonable social safety net such as Canada. The critics assume that anybody is willing to move anywhere in the world for a job. This assumption is plainly false, and is so conservative that it would make Dick Cheney grin with approval.

Posted by Dr. Douglas Mann, Jan 5, 2012 11:02 AM

(Part 2 of 3)

Added to this is the fact that the Canadian state has long supported Canadian content programs in various aspects of culture and media, these being fairly successful in building local publishing, music and TV production industries. Why would such programs not be relevant to academic life, where at least in history, sociology, economics, political science, literature, media and popular culture having a lively knowledge of Canadian content is very relevant? Not to mention having people in the sciences who can actually speak English. So a pro-Canadian hiring policy can be supported ethically as in the public good.

Further, if you think about it, it’s very unlikely that the Americans heading north to take Canadian positions are, in fact, the “cream of the crop” from Ivy League institutions. Why would a hotshot Harvard or Yale graduate want a job in at a Canadian school they’re never heard of if they have a chance to be hired at a “prestigious” American school? Most of the hires from south of the border are, in fact, middle-of-the-pack scholars with little teaching experience and next to zero publication record. I’ve proven this to be true in the fifty or so times I’ve looked up CVs of people who have gotten on short lists or gotten hired to Canadian jobs I’ve applied to – 90% of the time they are generic candidates with about a year’s worth of teaching experience and 1-3 publications (and no books), sometimes without even a finished PhD (which raises the separate question of age discrimination).

Added to is the niggling question of facts. My one glimpse through the dense fog surrounding hiring procedures came during my doctoral days, when I noticed that 80-90% of people applying to an open tenure-track job at a middle-level Canadian school were either Canadian, had Canadian PhDs, or both. Several critics have pointed out that this is a mystery we’ll never penetrate; one even suggested that maybe 10% or less of applicants to Canadian jobs are from Canadian programs. This is nonsense.

My challenge to the critics is this – if I’m wrong that the majority of applicants to Canadian tenure-track jobs have Canadian PhDs, prove it by releasing figures that break down the origins of applicants to each job. This isn’t a mystery. It’s a secret: there’s a difference. As far as I can see the facts support Groarke and Fenske. So the “30% hired” figure for Canadian graduates is very low, and provides prima facie evidence for discrimination.

2. Bad Causality: “Inferring causality from the facts presented in the article is impossible. The authors are committing a host of statistical sins. Hey, maybe those applying from outside Canada actually have stronger CVs and that’s why they all get hired!”

Posted by Dr. Douglas Mann, Jan 5, 2012 9:05 AM

(Part 3 of 3)

My jaw is getting sore from all this dropping. As any student of Hume knows, constant conjunction IS an element of causality. If 3% of non-smokers and 50% of smokers get lung cancer, one can safely guess that smoking is bad for your health. Of course, the other element needed to show causality is some sort of causal mechanism. And we have at least two: first, the neo-colonial mentality in Canadian academic institutions that everything American or European is better; second, that like hires like. If hiring really were an impartial, discrimination-free process, it’s almost impossible that a department like UBC could have hired only one Canadian graduate. Instead, it’s far more likely that departments dominated by Americans hire more of the same via the old school tie, ideological affinities, or personal connections, perhaps so they can discuss the intricacies of college basketball in the corridors. The department I graduated from had, at the time, about ten Americans, two Canadians, one German and one Brit. The four or five least-published and least-effective teachers in it were all American. The two Canadians were both well published scholars.

3. The Silly Non-Sequitor: “Not all Canadian profs are competant”.

This is irrelevant: if you take any large group of people sharing some common factor, some of them are competent, and some of them are incompetent. But at least we can spell the word “competent”. Probably the worst Philosophy conference paper I ever heard was by an American grad student studying at U of T; I’ve heard several colloquia presentations where tenured presenters managed to talk for a half hour and say nothing, while I’ve also heard some very interesting papers presented by unknown graduate Canadian students.

4. The More-Study-Needed Fallacy: “We need a qualitative study of the hiring process, from dossier creation through the nature, tone and quality of letters of reference, to attitudes towards interviews, and a trans-cultural analysis of how candidates, Canadian and non-Canadian, fare in this complex process.”

The interesting thing about this suggestion from a university official, which sounds so reasonable, is that it excludes the most important element in the hiring process: the attitudes, values and rationale of those doing the hiring. It utterly fails to question those in power as to why they make the decisions that results in what looks like to any reasonable outsider as discrimination. “Dossier creation” and “attitudes towards interviews” by a Canadian candidate don’t matter if the cards are stacked against him or her from the start.

In short, Canadian universities, especially Philosophy departments, are neo-colonial and neo-conservative institutions that systematically ignore qualifications and practice discrimination in hiring tenure-track professors. Funding shortages have forced them to employ a large army of sessional teachers and grad students to do the drudge work: teaching large undergrad classes, marking essays and exams. That’s what the Canadian PhDs are for, to serve as a reserve army of the semi-employed. As others have said, it’s a caste system.

Posted by Dr. Douglas Mann, Jan 5, 2012 9:04 AM

This has been happening for years in my discipline. Canadian candidates really are at a disadvantaged when it comes to hiring decisions. I've seen candidates with only a BA and fast-tracked PhD from the States or overseas land top jobs at Canadian universities with next to no teaching experience or publications - picked over over stellar candidates with an MA/PhD from Canadian schools and a much stronger CV. And I'm talking about Canadian fields of study too.

The question that needs to be asked is why this is happening? I believe it owes to biased and inept -- even sometimes corrupt -- hiring practices that take place in depts. Faculty are too easily swayed by what they think are "star" candidates who might bring funding and prestige to their depts.

The solution is to stop faculty from being able to basically select and hire themselves without accountability. Instead, admin and HR people should play a lead role in all hiring decisions from the get-go. This would ensure that the best people for the institution are hired - not the darlings or buddies of a select few faculty on a hiring committee.

Posted by Dr.Doinglittle, Aug 16, 2011 6:58 PM

The article is excellent and timely. The question is whether many Canadian research Philosophy programs can be justified, given that after nearly two hundred years of research universities, the majority of programs are simply not competitive. The same holds true across many other disciplines including the sciences.

One solution may be, is instead of having research programs stagnate in the rankings, resulting in lack of academic success for the graduates, simply turn major programs into service departments, focused on undergraduate training, as indicated by the authors. The money saved could be partly used for vouchers for potential graduate students to attend top international universities. Moreover the students would be well prepared for these international universities. The students would then receive a strong education but also have a better chance at academic employment success not only at Canadian but also international universities.

As a number of potential Canadian graduate students are unaware that they have little chance at academic success with a Canadian Phd, this would allow Canadian students the same opportunities for academic success as American (respectively UK) students attending a highly ranked program within the US (respectively UK), for instance.

Posted by Chris, Aug 16, 2011 12:42 PM

There's nothing in the article to support the claims the authors make; what should be a scoop is instead an object lesson in basic statistics.

First, no 'trend' is identified, because the data is cross-sectional (that is, it gives a single snapshot of a moment in time, without anything to compare it to). Are MORE Canadian PhDs being hired today than 10 years ago? We don't know that either.

Second, without knowing the backgrounds of all applicants and their relative success rates, we can't make any meaningful conclusions. Are Canadian PhDs even equally represented among applicants? Canada's English-speaking doctoral Universities represent a very small fraction of the worldwide total; why would we not expect that to be reflected in staffing?

Third, without knowing about the individual or collective merits of applicants, inferring causality is virtually impossible. Maybe more casual 'chancers' will try for a job at a local University, whereas those applying from abroad do so more seriously? Maybe students who study and apply for work abroad have stronger CVs than those who don't? etc. etc.

The quality of Canadian PhDs and their competitiveness in the job market is an important debate, but this article contributes nothing to it. This is simply bad science.

Posted by mike, Mar 29, 2011 6:51 AM

Most of the lecturing jobs that I see provide favour to Canadian Citizens and, or Canadian permanent residents. So if the posts are being taken up by many foreign trained professionals, is it that there are some other competencies that are missing in the local marketplace?

Are local experts applying for these posts at similar levels as the other candidates? I believe in cause and effect.

Posted by Andrea Livingston-Prince, Mar 23, 2011 4:42 AM

In short, the answer to the question about whether the same trend is happening in other disciplines is Yes.

ACCUTE, the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English, and CACE, the Canadian Association of Chairs of English, have been conducting annual hiring surveys since 1999 and did a 15 year study prior to that. Since HRDC removed the two-tier hiring system previously in place until about 1999, the rate of hire of non-Canadian PhDs in English was low (below 30%). Since the two-tier hiring system has been removed, and universities have been allowed to self-police on the assumption that they will respect the spirit of the old law, they haven't.

In English, hiring has hit a high of 54% non-Canadian PhDs just a few years ago, and the last known results put it at 50% non-Canadian PhDs, for tenure-track positions across the country, i.e., counting all departments, those with graduate programs and those without. If one looks only at those departments with graduate programs, the rate of non-Canadian PhD hiring is much higher than 54% and the results are comparable to those found in philosophy. The data can be found in the annual newsletters available on the ACCUTE website (, but, sadly, very few members of the association have been willing to take action to enact change or even try to slow the trend.

Posted by Dr. J., Nov 8, 2010 9:34 PM

I am finishing my Masters in Education at UPEI, well, at least I am trying to finish my degree. It has taken longer due to my thesis advisor, who had been trained from a university in B.C. He refused to follow the ethics protocol for my research and as a result, my thesis was totally destroyed. For me, this means more time at this university. For the university, it means more money from me to continue with a thesis so I can graduate. Not all Canadian profs are competant.

Posted by Arlene, Sep 12, 2010 5:11 PM

I think all graduate studies in Canada are all a money making business as all educational institutions are like any other company who survives on profit. The reality is that many students like me are made to believe by universities that after graduation you will end up in a good paying position (i.e. just look at the ads of colleges and universities on the high way and subway stations and trains) but that's not always true. This is the reason why I decided to only complete my Masters and NOT go on for the PhD program as my professors were encouraging me to do at my university. I came to the conclusion that in reality you don't need that much education in order to get a good decent job. Besides, if you want to go into academics it is extremely competitive since you could end up applying for positions that are already given to people that the department has recommended via an internal process as I learned through first hand experience. My recommendation to all those "hopeful students" out there in Canada think twice before pursuing a PhD in this country because you could end up being in school for as much as 9 to 10 years if you don't finish your dissertation within the 4 year time frame most universities give you. It's a big commitment and the stress, time demand, money expenses and trying to be competitive all the time could put a strain on your psychological and physical health. Let's be honest being ambitious is not always the best choice in life. Being practical could save you a lot of headache and regret. So don't do your PhD unless you're really are sure you could finish it.

Posted by B. Jackson, Jul 15, 2010 12:04 PM

In my experience, this lack of Canadian educated faculty does not hold true in the Biomedical sciences or Engineering. Indeed, most faculty recruitments ads expressly ask for Canadian citizens/ permanent residents (as it should be).

Posted by S Chakrabarti, Mar 22, 2010 5:13 PM

After trailing off from graduate studies at U of T (MA, 1991, and some Ph.D. studies, 1991-93), I eventually did my Ph.D. in musicology in the US, at UCLA. The vast majority of academic jobs in my field are in the US, but I wrote my dissertation on a Canadian topic (and a fairly progressive, cultural-studies one at that), and I haven't been able to land a tenure-track position in either country (or in England), despite some promising interviews.

I've published journal articles (in Canada and in the US), co-edited and contributed to a book (on my disseration topic, though for a US publisher), written most of another book (on a different topic), presented various conference papers and invited talks (roughly equally between the US and Canada), written dozens of reference articles, and taught 31 sections of 22 music history courses at seven different universities and colleges (again, split between the two countries).

I've gone back to school this year to study computer programming, but despite my excellent grades, I also don't make any sense to HR people in that world, apparently! I just can't win, and 2009 was the first year since 1998 that I didn't teach at least one university course. With all the moving around, I also couldn't sustain my secondary field of professional (part-time) choral singing, and, in addition, I accumulated a huge amount of debt, much of which was recently absolved through a Canadian bankruptcy.

My suggestion would be that a lot of people (esp. in the humanities) should think long and hard about pursuing doctorates--and then not go through with it. I'm proud of my accomplishments, but I regret my unemployability every single day. If you don't have a well-off family, spouse, or existing employer paying for your graduate school, you will almost certainly live to regret the eventual conundrum.

Posted by Durrell Bowman, Mar 13, 2010 3:33 PM

the same thing is happening at our university. In our program, a course focusing on Canada is taught by someone born and educated recently in France when there are specialists here that are equally qualified. In any other country, citizens would be asking why?


Posted by Jacques, Jan 28, 2010 4:57 PM

I am a business PhD at a major Canadian school - and the exact same thing happens here. We have very few Canadian Professors, and those we do have were all trained in the States. It has been made quite clear that our chances of being hired by a major Canadian school would be increased had we done a PhD in the States. Straight BS.

Posted by Theresa, Jan 9, 2010 3:14 PM

Thank you so much for this study and this article. My fiance and I are both academics - he has completed his MFA and I am considering a Ph.D Program either abroad or at U of T. Based on his difficulty in securing a teaching position I have often been left wondering the ease with which universities are able to discriminate in their hiring practices and the lack of transparency with such policies. I hope that universities will investigate the consequences of their decisions - and it is especially discomforting to know that candidates from non-Canadian universities who have not necessarily graduated from Ivy league universities are at a competitive advantage than those graduating from top Canadian schools.

Posted by Sundeep, Dec 28, 2009 11:13 PM

My field is mathematics. I can say that similar to the Ph in philosophy, the composition of most mathematics departments of Canadian universities consists of professors who obtained at least one degree (B Sc, M Sc or Ph D) from a non Canadian university.

Some Canadian students are advise to obtain their Ph D in USA if they ever hope to get a tenure track position.

Posted by Maria Torres, Dec 28, 2009 4:55 PM

Thank you so much for this thorough investigation. I am so glad that someone finally had the courage to ask this question. I fear that this also might be the trend in health sciences and medicine and should be investigated. I graduated with an MSc and a PhD in Pharmacology and Toxicology in Canada, and now I am finishing my second postdoctoral fellowship, I won awards throughout my training as a graduate student and as a post-doctoral research fellow, yet I have a better chance of getting a full-time faculty appointment if I leave Canada, which is not what I want to do. It is really sad, knowing that it was Canadian taxpayer's money (OGS, OGSST, NSERC and other scholarships and fellowships) that provided for my education, but most likely they are not going to be the ones to benefit from my extensive education and training. I think this question should be asked for all other disciplines in Canadian Universities that offer PhD's. Thanks again.

Posted by Asma Yaghi, Dec 18, 2009 12:43 PM

from the article:
"Students hoping for academic distinction or high-level employment should, it seems, be dissuaded from enrolling in Canadian programs. Any other approach would be intellectually dishonest."

I completely agree with this statement but this will never happen - depts would stand to lose precious funds, prestige, and their cheap pool of sessional labourers. It'd be much better to shut down a lot of graduate programs in Canadian universities to stem the glut of grads that our system produces. Then, Canadian Phds might be able to better compete with extra-Canadian degrees. The bigger issue here is the oversupply of labour and scarcity of university jobs. Departments are in a conflict of interest when it comes to the real needs of students.

Posted by Bryan L, Dec 15, 2009 1:38 PM

To answer the final question at the end of the article: "Does the situation in philosophy departments in Canada mirror what is happning in other academic disciplines?" Yes, it happens to other disciplines as well. I know a friend who is in a PhD progrm and he is having second thoughts about its usefulness. The main reason, at the end everyone wants a good paying job and having so much education doesn't garantee that and actually puts you in a position where you cannot get many other choices but to look for hard to get academic positions. I myself if I were the manager of a big company I would reject people that have PhD's in humanities and choose the ones that have more actual and real experience in the world not a lot of publications. I see my PhD friend always at the library doing research but for what? I wonder what will happent to him...because as the article says if you don't graduate from a prestigious top notch institution you're but one of many more PhD graduates looking for a profesor job. And, if you can't find it as is the case of those unlucky ones that weren't able to land a tenure track position at some small university you end up looking for any damn job you could get to survive. I actually think that tax money is being wasted funding so much PhD programs that don't make a difference in the world.

Posted by Julianna D'Souza, Dec 8, 2009 8:11 PM

Entitled to positions or entitled to fair consideration during the hiring process?

Posted by R. Lawson, Dec 7, 2009 7:35 AM

Wow, lots of men on here who feel entitled to professor positions.

Posted by Jane Browning, Dec 4, 2009 9:35 AM

A vey meaningful,informative and an excellent resarch .I would only suggest to the hiring authorities that we read " Be Canadian buy Canadain"
I would say"Be Canadain hire Canadain'.
It not dicriminatory its patriotic.

Posted by Mehdi Rizvi, Nov 25, 2009 12:37 PM

continuation of previous post:
Again, their data is consistent with every single Canadian philosophy PhD from a school other than U of T having a job in Canada, clearly not the case, but this shows that their claim about relative success of U of T graduates in comparison with other Canadian PhDs is unfounded.
One could go on to demonstrate other ways they misuse and misunderstand their own data. Their errors culminate in the false dilemma that they think their data “brings into clear focus,”—either Canadian universities discriminate against Canadians, or Canadian PhD students are simply no good. But their data does not support the former, and, as for the latter, for all we know from their article, Canadian programs turn out students who go off to find positions in many of the great Universities of the world, including those not in Canada.
This points to additional shortcomings in their article. As placement officer I know that the graduates of my program for the most part desire to obtain a tenure track job at the best department they can, regardless of where it might be, in Canada, or not. Of course some would, all things equal, prefer a job in Canada, but philosophy, as a discipline, is not geographically situated (the way, say, if you had a Ph.D. in Canadian history it might be intrinsically to your advantage to obtain a job in Canada). Perhaps Canadian produced PhDs are actually advantaged by their Canadian PhD so they are likely to obtain jobs at prestigious programs elsewhere. Since there are, numerically speaking, far more than 5 such programs in the world (the number of “prominent” programs in Canada the authors identify), there simply may not be enough Canadian PhDs to go around for these five Canadian programs (they are, in effect, in direct competition with, say, some 20-30 other programs).
This also points to another shortcoming of the authors study. I know from experience at my own institution (and this is certainly the case at other Canadian Universities) that many of our highly talented philosophy undergraduate majors go off to do graduate work in the U.S. and abroad, choosing these non-Canadian programs both for their intrinsic quality, their fit with their emerging research interests, and, quite frankly, for the opportunity to live and study abroad. This is a reflection of the quality of undergraduate philosophy education in Canada, and it is odd to have it indirectly somehow support an argument either for the lack of such quality at the graduate level, or discriminatory hiring practices. Many of these undergraduates enter the profession, and some of them, no doubt, are now in tenured and/or tenure track positions at Canadian universities.
This letter is already too long. For all my complaints, there may very well be issues to investigate with respect to Canadian academic hiring practices. In Philosophy at least, we would need not just far more data then these authors supply, but, importantly, a qualitative study of the hiring process—from dossier creation through the nature, tone and quality of letters of reference, to attitudes towards interviews, and a trans-cultural analysis of how candidates, Canadian and non-Canadian, fare in this complex process. We must await far, far more research before their claims can perhaps be vindicated. I for one doubt that such research would support their claims, but perhaps their rather impassioned cry can be transformed into a more sober call for further research and investigation.

Posted by Prof. Eric Lewis, Nov 24, 2009 10:08 AM

Since 1992 I have been the graduate placement officer for the Dept. of Philosophy at McGill University (I should add at the outset that my own PhD is not from a Canadian University). In this capacity I have overseen all aspects of our PhD students’ attempts to secure academic positions. I have, I believe, a somewhat privileged position from which to comment on the recent thought provoking article by Groarke and Fenske concerning the employment possibilities of graduates of Canadian philosophy PhD programs, and the possible existence of bias against “Canadian bred” PhDs.
The question these authors address is both serious and important: Do Canadian Universities discriminate against Canadian produced PhDs in their hiring practices? Regardless of what one might think is the answer, the evidence and arguments G and F produce go no distance towards answering this question, and do not even suggest, in and of themselves, that there is reason to think there may be such discriminatory practices in place.

The base their argument on the percentage of faculty at Canadian PhD granting institutions that received their PhD from Canadian vs. non-Canadian programs. What does this tell us about the chances a Canadian PhD in philosophy has in obtaining a tenure track job in philosophy at a Canadian Univ. in comparison with others? Does it support their claim that “As the data indicates, graduates with PhDs in philosophy form Canadian universities are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to finding employment in larger Canadian universities,” or that “Canadian PhDs are, in the eyes of top philosophy departments, ‘educationally handicapped.” Absolutely not. Their data is consistent with every single Canadian produced PhD in philosophy finding a tenure track job in philosophy. Now, this is not, as a matter of fact, the case, but it shows rather graphically just how inadequate the data they collected is with respect to answering the questions they ask. Lets consider a far more realistic scenario. If PhDs from any English speaking program in the world are qualified candidates for a position at an Anglophone Canadian Univ. (bracketing the legal question of the existing “Canadians first policy which concerns citizenship, not nationality of PhD granting institution), the data they produce suggests, I think, that Canadians are actually privileged over others when it comes to obtaining jobs at Canadian Universities. This follows simply from the fact (the precise numbers would have to be collected) that 30% of faculty in Canadian Universities have Canadian PhDs, but Canada surely produces far, far less than 30% of the philosophy PhDs in the English speaking world. What requires investigation, so far as the data the authors produce goes, is not why the number of Canadian PhDs in Canadian philosophy departments so low, but why it is so high.
That the authors seem unaware of how to use the data they did collect is supported by other claims they make about it. They state “Univ. of Toronto PhDs do significantly better in getting hired than graduates from other Canadian programs….” They seem to think that they have established this with their data, but their data, again, tells us nothing about this. The number of Canadian PhDs is roughly split between those from U of T and others. If, misleadingly, they thought this was enough to establish their claim, they are wrong on their own terms. Slightly more PhDs are from Canadian Universities other than U of T then from U of T. But, as to whether a U of T graduate does better at getting hired than others, we need to know the percentage of U of T graduates who get jobs at Canadian Univ. relative to the total percentage of U of T graduates who attempt to obtain such positions (and similarly for non U of T graduates), not the raw percentage that they present. Again, their data is consistent with every single Canadian philosophy PhD from a school other than U of T having a job

Posted by Prof. Eric Lewis, Nov 24, 2009 9:52 AM

**{this is the conclusion of my previous submission, which was cut off in mid-sentence}:

[My mentors suggested that I was being shown the door; and on the heels of that] advice, I received a letter from one of my advisors that if I returned in September I would have to have the written comprehensive and the full course design submitted in four months or else. So I withdrew from the degree.

As of this writing, I have received no official follow-up or communication from UBC-Okanagan. After two years, successfully completing coursework, compiling four boxes of research materials, attending workshops, it all seems a sad dream, as if this PhD student didn't exist. The treatment of grad students (not just myself) at this university is an exercise in negativity. So Groarke and Fenske's statement about morality issues in misleading potential PhD students is correct. Despite accepting applicants, this post-graduate program's disdain toward PhD students suggests they are there simply to pad the numbers in reports, provide free research materials for lazy professors, and fill in as figurehead in front of classes, with no hope of future employment. Very sad.

I am, however, a life-long learner. If I was younger and the above happened to me, I'm sure I'd be pretty devastated. Yes, my dreams were squashed and my senior years will be spent differently, but I'm moving on. I'm working on a couple of book projects related to the research I did for the degree, and I'm continuing to enjoy where I live. Thank you, philosophers Groarke and Fenske, for speaking up and inviting replies.

Posted by Gary B. Kines, Nov 20, 2009 3:49 PM

Groarke and Fenske's comments are appreciated, and the responses their article elicited have shed some light on why my attempt to acquire a PhD at a Western Canadian university encountered so many obstacles. I'm a middle-aged man who was thrilled when a branch of UBC opened in the region where I lived, so I waited a few years for them to work out their start-up problems before I applied to do an interdisciplinary PhD in history, geography and visual arts.

I have a solid MA from Carleton's Institute of Canadian Studies, and felt patriotic enough to insist on acquiring a Canadian doctorate. The valley where I live is ripe for research and publications about it, so I rationalized I would become a learned resident expert and finish my life teaching and writing about my environs.
I knew several faculty members of UBC-Okanagan from mutual community activities, but despite those connections I nearly failed to find advisors willing to support me. Many were either getting ready to retire or their research was too distant from my regional focus. But in the eleventh hour my application was sponsored by professors in anthropology and geography, and I was offered a PhD Tuition Award (strictly on paper). Then it was all uphill from there.

No funding, and two failed SSHRC applications that would supposedly place me in line for in-house funding that never did materialize. No dedicated office space: I shared a desk in an open room with 55 other grad students.
Limits placed on what one could take courses in. After I had completed the required 12 credits of coursework (with an A-minus average), I was refused permission to take additional courses that would contribute to my dissertation research, which I was pushed relentlessly to complete. Having no funding I applied for several Research and Teaching Assistantships at the university, but was unsuccessful, despite having done both in my previous degrees.
There were no printed instructions or guidelines for completing written comprehensives. It was suggested I could peruse anthropology journals to determine a writing format.

In my professional life prior to entering this program, I worked in the tourism industry for 25 years, but I needed some intellectual distance from that field. Despite my objections to any further study of that industry, I was assigned an alternate comprehensive requirement: design a full upper-level undergraduate course in tourism studies, with course outline, lecture notes for at least four classes, marking system, reading lists, the whole kit. A course of this magnitude can take six to ten months to design, and other academics I discussed the project with just shuddered and wished me luck.
Then I learned I would not get to teach it. There were sessional instructors on staff who were completing their PhDs at other universities, but UBC would not hire one of their own to teach a course despite my qualifications. (An irony: I filled in for a sessional teaching a geography class and taught two classes in geography while they were away. That was acceptable, I guess, because I wasn't being paid.)

The final straw came when an instructor I had taken a course with 'borrowed' from my research for an article in which I was not given credit. When I showed a copy of their article to one of my mentors, they suggested I either make a stink or be prepared to withdraw. So I decided to tell my advisors about it first. Their response was to hush it up, draw their reins in, and offer me a cold shoulder. From that point on, our relations were strained and I was not supported in my bids for funding.
As a result I developed a couple of stress-related health issues that caused me to take medical leave. In my seven months away, only the professors I knew before I became a student bothered to contact me to check on my health.
My mentors suggested that I was being shown the door; and on the heels of that adv

Posted by Gary B. Kines, Nov 19, 2009 6:36 PM

I thought I would add to your point that there may be discrimination against potential faculty candidates who have Canadian PhDs. I earned a PhD from Tulane University in the U.S. but have an interest only in teaching as opposed to doing research. I have an interest in teaching at Centennial College where they explicitly state on their website a 'hiring preference for candidates who are either women, aboriginal, physically challenged, or a visible minority'. According to my brother who is a professor in the U.S. this hiring practise would be illegal in the U.S. Sadly, in Canada, according to a top litigation firm I consulted, this hiring preference does not violate our Charter of Rights. George Brown College has also stated a willingness to hire faculty who have received their graduate degrees outside of North America (e.g. from developing countries)upon completion of a 1 year teaching certificate program. This would suggest that Canadian white males with PhDs within North America may be excluded from hiring at either Centennial College or George Brown College with no apparent violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights.

Posted by David Wand, Nov 19, 2009 1:51 AM

Discrimination against Canadian Ph.D. programs?

In “PhD: to what end?”, Groarke and Fenske draw attention to what seems a disturbing statistic. Roughly 70% of faculty at our major Philosophy departments have non-Canadian degrees. They consider two possible explanations. Either there is unfair discrimination against candidates with domestic Ph.Ds, or Canadian programs are preparing their students poorly, and are thus misusing tax dollars.

Neither claim stands up to scrutiny. Discrimination is by no means the most compelling explanation of the numbers. Several better ones come immediately to mind. Canada produces far less than 30% of doctoral degrees in Philosophy. It has only two doctoral programs in the English-speaking top 50, as per the widely accepted international ranking at The Philosophical Gourmet. (They are Toronto, tied at 17th with CUNY, Notre Dame and St. Andrews, and Western Ontario, tied at for 47th with Nottingham, Reading and Warwick.) Finally, reputational rankings aside, search committees worldwide naturally hire from doctoral programs with extremely competitive admissions, exceptionally influential faculty (e.g., ones about whom books and doctoral theses are written), etc.

Is there no domestic-foreign discrimination in hiring here in Canada? To the contrary. When one considers the placement records of doctoral programs of comparable renown, a pattern of favoritism emerges. Placing Canadian doctoral programs alongside not Princeton or Harvard, but, say, Arizona State, University of Kansas or University of Nebraska, it is evident that graduates from analogous Canadian programs fare rather better. At my home institution, for instance, Philosophy is home to three faculty members from Canadian departments which do not appear on international rankings; from outside Canada, in contrast, we have hired only one (from Uppsala).

So much for the first horn of Groarke and Fenske’s dilemma: the only bias appears to be in favour of Canadian programs. What of the second? Most Ph.D. program in Canada fill a special and important niche. Every department produces stellar individual candidates. Nonetheless, looked at from the perspective of cost-effectiveness for the taxpayer, I would be concerned about the 70% figures if the sole aim of Canadian doctoral programs were to train scholars for a career at top-tier research-intensive departments. Obviously, however, that is not the sole justification for funding doctoral education. Notably, there is a new and crucial role for graduate degrees in the Humanities. In the 1960s, undergrad enrollments grew exponentially because Canadians recognized that a high school diploma was no longer sufficient. Nowadays, the Master’s degree has become “the new BA”. The Ph.D., in turn, raises a student’s critical analysis and writing skills to the level required for the most intellectually demanding careers.

I would summarize with some advice for applicants to graduate schools. If you are set on a faculty position at a university in Canada, especially at a research-intensive one, all else equal you should attend the most prestigious, most selective doctoral program you can. One with an excellent global placement record. If, however, such an academic position is not your sole ambition, there are many, many excellent options in Canada. Finally, given a choice between two otherwise equally promising schools, pick the domestic one: Canadian departments, including the highest profile ones, seem prone to discriminate in favour of “home grown” Ph.D.s.

Posted by Robert Stainton, Nov 18, 2009 2:30 PM

None of this is news to anyone who has spent some time glancing over faculty lists of various Canadian departments. I'm in another field of the humanities, but I did exactly that as an undergraduate when I was deciding between a fantastic U of T program and a couple of American schools. (Perhaps for this reason, I think it's not departments that ought to warn students, but students who should do their research before committing their careers to an institution.)

What I noticed around 2001/2 was that U of T hired top American, top Brit, and U of T grads. Other Canadian schools hired more of the U of T grads, but also many American PhDs. I didn't do the numbers, but the trend was clear enough. I knew that if I wanted to work in Canada, my best bet was in leaving the country.

The only discrimination present is that in favour of Canadian citizens. The preference for Oxbridge graduates and the products of top American schools is prevalent everywhere, and has more to do with the schools themselves than with the countries they're found in.

Posted by IDumitrescu, Nov 16, 2009 11:02 AM

I, too, had the option of doing my PhD at a top-ten US school, and made what "was in retrospect the spectacularly bad" decision of doing it in Canada. I was granted my PhD in 2005, have a book and seven articles in leading philosophical journals, have applied for about 150 jobs (many at Canadian schools), and haven't been offered a single interview. I used to blame myself: E.g., "I stayed in Canada for personal reasons, and I shouldn't have let personal considerations interfere with my career." But I don't anymore. Good philosophers, no matter where they get their PhDs, should get jobs. But they don't.

There's a full-blown caste system in Canadian philosophy departments: the Canadian grads do the menial sessional labour or contract work, and the non-Canadians (especially those who've done their PhDs at the top American departments) get the coveted tenure-stream jobs. The department where I did my PhD is so bourgeois that it will hire a top-ten US grad who has no publications or teaching experience over a Canadian grad who has oodles of publications and plenty of teaching experience. I suspect that this is the case in most Canadian departments.

With the exception, perhaps, of UBC, UofT, Western, and McGill, Canadian PhD programs should be dismantled.

Posted by Pete Smith, Nov 14, 2009 4:57 PM

I stand corrected on the CT text. My notes from the class I taught last summer (where I didn't use it as the main text, but drew many examples from it) simply list "L. Groarke" as the first author, I just assumed it was the same person.

Of course, it is still disheartening to see philosophy professors make one of the mistakes we normally warn against in first-year CT courses, and not even a particularly subtle version of it.

Posted by Jeff, Nov 14, 2009 3:57 PM

My last (admittedly long) comment got cut off. Here is the rest of it:

6) It is uncommon for philosophy departments to hire their own PhD graduates. Even top programs don’t do this, I think because it is thought to lead to a kind of intellectual in-breeding or stagnation. So, if I am a Canadian prospective PhD student who wishes to get a research job at research-focused Canadian philosophy department upon graduation, I have one more reason not to get a PhD from, say, Toronto, which because of its size hires almost as many faculty as the other top Canadian departments combined. In fact, I was given just this advice when choosing schools.

7) For all of the reasons cited above, top American schools tend to attract better incoming students, who they then seem to indoctrinate into high-level philosophical culture more successfully. And this explains (2).

The picture that emerges from these considerations is one that avoids both horns of your dilemma, although perhaps it leans toward the second. The bottom line is that a very small number of English-speaking PhD programs (certainly less than 10%) can assure their graduates of tenure-track employment. Canadian schools are no different. Meanwhile, the US has many more programs over all, and also more top-ranking programs. Since students from these top ranking programs get a grossly disproportionate share of the best jobs, it is unsurprising that they would get a large number of the best Canadian jobs as well.

Of course, where the second horn looks best is when we notice that nearly all of the top ten English-speaking programs are American (except for Oxford), and most of the next ten as well (except for Toronto, Saint Andrews/Stirling, and ANU). This, we might think, is disproportionate. How might Canadian programs crack the top ten? The short answer is: with piles of well-spent cash. Guarantee excellent funding to incoming students, and attract better researchers with larger pay packages. But the reality is that it would be very difficult for Canadian universities to compete with wealthy American private universities with regard, at least, to faculty salaries. The best-paid philosophy faculty at American institutions are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars more per year than their Canadian counterparts. CRC positions may do something to slow brain drain to the US, but ultimately, I doubt that $400,000 salaries for philosophers working in Canada will happen any time soon.

So, should the bottom two thirds of English speaking philosophy PhD programs shut down? Maybe. At least, this probably wouldn’t cause a shortage of philosophy PhD’s! But that’s true, not just of Canada, but of the entire English speaking world. Any well-informed PhD applicant should know this (the advice is all over the internet, for example here: And all this suggests that one of the fundamental suggestions of your article -- that PhD programs’ only value is in getting people tenure track researchy jobs -- is probably mistaken. Some people get PhDs for the same reason that many people get BA’s: because they like school, or because they can’t think of anything else they’d rather be doing, not because they think it will get them any particular job.

Posted by Daniel Harris, Nov 14, 2009 2:06 AM

PS: The critical resoning textbook is by Leo Groarke, at Wilfried Laurier University.

PPS: Of course, most people would think that if (if!) Canadian PhD programs aren't turning out competitive candidates, the solution would be to improve these programs and not to shut them.

Posted by Richard Zach, Nov 13, 2009 6:39 PM

The last two searches I was involved in had 15% and 18% applicants from Canadian universities. If that's typical, and overall 30% of hires are from Canadian universities, that suggests, if anything, that there is a bias in favor of candidates with Canadian PhDs, not against them.

Posted by Richard Zach, Nov 13, 2009 6:16 PM

Has the elementary notion of a base-rate fallacy really been kept that close a secret?

For all these data show, graduating from a Canadian PhD program may be correlated with an enormous advantage in hiring for Canadian university positions. Without knowing the proportion of Canadian program graduates among applicants, the proportion of Canadian program graduates among hires tells us precisely nothing about hiring preferences.

For the authors to write, and for University Affairs to publish, the allegation of "serious ethical questions" on the basis of such statistically absurd reasoning is frankly shameful.

Posted by Tim Kenyon, Nov 13, 2009 3:37 PM

Also, their choice of the "top four" universities is weird. At least in the Leiter report, but also seemingly by the word of mouth I've gotten at both Manitoba and Rice, Western should be on that list - at #2 if Leiter is to be believed.

Posted by Jeff, Nov 13, 2009 3:29 PM

I completely fail to see any evidence here that "graduates with PhDs in philosophy from Canadian universities are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to finding employment in larger Canadian universities", to quote the second paragraph of the article.

All we know is that the percentage of faculty with Canadian Ph.D.s at the schools surveyed is around 30%. In isolation that number tells us nothing. What percentage of the people who *applied* for those jobs got their credentials in Canada? As the authors themselves point out, there is no easy way to know this, but without that piece of information you can't draw any conclusions about whether Canadian students are at a disadvantage. Suppose only 10% of the applicants had Ph.Ds from Canadian schools. Then if anything, these numbers would show that students from Canadian schools were at an advantage, being hired at three times the rate one would expect.

That number is of course purely speculative; like the authors of this article, I have no way of knowing the real number. But it would not be particularly surprising to learn it was accurate, considering how many Canadian nationals (including myself) go to US grad schools; there just aren't very many good Ph.D. programs in Philosophy in Canada. At any rate, unlike Groarke and Fenske, at least I understand the implications of my ignorance on this point.

Is Groarke not the co-author of one of the top critical thinking textbooks? One of the problems I have with that particular book is that it doesn't discuss statistical fallacies. Now I know why.

Posted by Jeff, Nov 13, 2009 3:24 PM

It's astounding that no one here has mentioned the Philosophical Gourmet Report, which is by far the most rigorous and detailed peer reputational survey in a humanities field.

The survey reveals that Toronto (17) and Western Ontario (47) are the only Canadian programs in the Anglophone world's top 50. Among subfields, history of philosophy and philosophy of science appear to be particular strengths.

It is perplexing that the writers and commenters do not consider this well-known and authoritative survey to be worthy of mention.

Posted by JasonM, Nov 13, 2009 2:51 PM

What percent of Canadian grads should have appointments in Canadian PhD programs? I have no idea, and I find it surprising that the authors can conclude that 30% is too low. Philosophers in particular should have a principled argument for their conclusion.

What would be some appropriate comparison cases, to tell us whether 30% is high or low? How about universities in the Netherlands, a small country with several world-class universities? I'll bet they have a lot of German and French professors. A friend of mine from (an American) grad school teaches there now -- and he had to learn Dutch to do it.

How about California? Not an independent country like Canada, but otherwise it's similar. Almost exactly the same population, several major universities and a number of smaller ones that grant PhDs, both have two major languages spoken, both are on the geographic periphery of North America.

I'd even like to see a comparison to Harvard: neither a country nor a state, but a top school known for being abnormally inbred. How many faculty there are Harvard grads?

Finally, isn't Canadian higher education better because universities hire the best faculty they can -- Canadian when possible, but from elsewhere when necessary? In any top PhD program you'll have graduates who are competent but best suited to teaching schools, as well as future leaders in the field. No shame in that. If Canadian (or Californian, or Harvard) schools just hired their own grads, they'd end up not always hiring the best.

Posted by Carl, Nov 13, 2009 2:48 PM

I am a Canadian who turned down offers from two of the best Canadian philosophy PhD programs in order to attend what I took to be a better program in the US.

Your analysis fails to mention several relevant pieces of information.

1) The philosophy job market is bad everywhere. There are over 100 PhD-granting philosophy programs in the United States and dozens in the UK in addition to the 16 in Canada, and there aren't even close to enough university positions (prestigious or not) to employ all their graduates.

2) Because of this, only the very best PhD programs can offer their incoming students any assurance of eventual success on the job market. The fact that they can do this due in part to the fact that they are better at training and socializing their students to be top notch philosophers, and partly due to the fact that they attract the best incoming students. Note that when I say "very best" I mean roughly the 10 best programs in the world. Most programs in this range (and some below) accept only about 5% of their applicants (that's a lower figure than the most prestigious Law or Medical programs).

3) The faculty quality (and prestigiousness) of PhD programs in the English-speaking philosophy world, as perceived by members of the discipline, is measured by Brian Leiter's Philosophical Gourmet Report (, which ranks the top 50 American programs, the top 15 or so British programs, and the top 5–8 programs in Canada and Australia respectively. The site also offers a combined ranking of the top 50 English-speaking programs, and on this ranking, only two Canadian programs (Toronto tied for #17 and Western tied for #47) make the cut. One Australian and three British programs also rank in the top 50.

4) Aside from faculty quality and presitigousness, American PhD programs offer other advantages. The most notable common advantage is guaranteed tuition wavers and excellent stipends. This is not universal, but it is much more common than Canadian programs, who don’t compete well. The primary exception is Toronto, which guarantees every incoming PhD five years of free tuition and living stipends. Other Canadian programs usually end up offering TAships, but there are generally no guarantees. By contrast, the best US programs commonly offer free tuition, full health insurance, stipends of over $20k per year (and sometimes more), and reduced teaching duties. And in a discipline with a very shaky job market, funding is seen as extremely important, and taking out loans for 5-8 years of graduate work with, at best, a small chance of a modest salary afterward is rightly seen as foolish. Of course, SSHRC funding can mitigate these differences, but since SSHRC grants are highly competitive and aren’t announced until after prospective students must commit to a program (typically by April 15th), and since most programs typically last longer (5-8+ years) than SSHRC grants (max. 4 years), SSHRC can’t offer much security to students choosing programs. And of course, SSHRC funds many Canadians at American PhD programs (such as myself).

5) Another advantage of many American programs is geographical and educational proximity to other excellent programs. Students in the New York area can take classes for credit from NYU, Princeton, Rutgers, Columbia, the CUNY Graduate Center, Fordham, SUNY Stonybrook, and The New School. Similar arrangements exist in Los Angeles, Boston, and Bay Area schools. Top Canadian programs are too spread out to offer these arrangements.

6) It is uncommon for philosophy departments to hire their own PhD graduates. Even top programs don’t do this, I think because it is thought to lead to a kind of intellectual in-breeding or stagnation. So, if I am a Canadian prospective PhD student who wishes to get a research job at research-focused Canadian philosophy department upon graduation, I have one

Posted by Daniel Harris, Nov 13, 2009 2:35 PM

This is absolutely disgraceful to use Canadian tax payers money and promote other countries graduates. I have been looking for a faculty position in Chemistry and do not even get an acknowledgement from these big universities, forget about big canadian universites, not even my own phd university. I feel that we are given the wrong idea when we join canadian universities. Like someone said above, we are just here to fill candian TA programs and then disregarded when we are done our program. For instance, I have noticed that my own phd Canadian university, never give its own phd graduates a chance to get a faculty position in their depparment. My department hired faculty outside Canada while its own potential graduates are unemployed or not even get an interview with them. This clearly suggest that we are second rated phd's or my phd department is medicre and it is very depressing for me as I really believed in my research and teaching capabilities. "It's time to stop protecting graduates from my good faculty friend's Prof XX outside or inside Canada". Hiring committees should be transparent and give a chance to everybody not only those from Havard, MIT, Caltech, Toronto etc.... I believe that everybody is capable given the chance or if not everybody should go to big universities for graduate school and close all others. The trend in Canadian universities nowadays is that they are accepting more and more international students who are unaware of this situation and no canadian students are enrolling as they want to go outside for their study. Please, do something about that and it is sad and unethical to see that our own Canadian Cadres are creating a double standard.

Posted by Kunta Saler, Nov 13, 2009 10:39 AM

I think the hypotheses of anti-Canadian bias in hiring is implausible at best; surely it is more rather than less likely that Canadian institutions would hire Canadians preferentially. The hypothesis that Canadian PhDs are generally inferior is also implausible—its superficial plausibility arises only if one neglects the base rate. For all we know is the percentages of hired faculty; we have no idea how many institutions are producing PhDs who are looking for academic jobs. If it turned out, for example, than only 5% of candidates seeking jobs in Canada had PhDs awarded by Canadian institutions, then the 30% success rate would look very flattering to Canadian institutions, and particularly to U of T.

Think by comparison: how many US and European institutions have a comparable success rate to U of T in placing candidates in Canadian tenure-track posts? Does Princeton compare? Oxford? NYU? I don't have access to the data, so all I can report is my suspicion that U of T does better than each of these. Does that reflect a problem in the U of T having a graduate program in philosophy—of course not. If it did, that would reflect a problem for these other institutions too. Just because there are not enough academic jobs for every PhD to get one doesn't mean that any particular graduate program should cease to exist, or that it would be 'intellectually dishonest' for any program to admit candidates to which it gives as good a chance as can be given of a permanent job as any other program does.

Of course there are too many PhD programs in the world, so even the best departments only give their candidates a small chance at this prize. But the absolute magnitude of the chance is not as important for individual programs as the relative magnitude; it is only dishonest to admit students to a program that is significantly worse than its supposed peers in success rates. Nothing in the data cited above is evidence either for or against the claim that such dishonesty exists.

One last point. On the first horn of the dilemma, the authors say 'It seems unlikely that Canadian taxpayers would knowingly fund a system that discriminates against Canadians who, for many different reasons, choose to remain in Canada to pursue graduate work.' But why not? If Canadian taxpayers care—as they should—more about undergraduate study than graduate study, then they should care more about the absolute quality of the faculty than about its 'Canadian-ness'. It might be that the best way to secure a superb undergraduate education for Canadian students is to hire foreigners to teach them. It is not at all in conflict with a pro-Canadian policy that this state of affairs comes to pass, even if it is somewhat unlikely to be true that this is the best way of satisfying the taxpayer's goals.

Posted by Antony Eagle, Nov 13, 2009 10:31 AM

The same can be said for other disciplines. I've been on the market in German for over five years and have consistently seen foreign PhDs hired over Canadian grads. In fact, of the ten Canadian PhDs, many of whom are native German speakers, who graduated with their PhD around the same time as me only two have gotten tenure track jobs; and yet more than ten tenure track jobs have been advertised during the same period! I even recall a job interview where a German was chosen over two Canadians despite the fact that he refused complete one third of the interview process and do a teaching demonstration (surprise it proved to be a disastrous hire). I think it is time to reconsider the number and types of PhDs degrees being offered in Canada. It is indeed immoral to keep graduating Canadians when their degree is not valued.

Posted by Robert Lawson, Nov 13, 2009 10:12 AM

It would be interesting to know what percentage of philosophy PhD's granted overall (in North America and Europe) are from Canadian Universities. By my count, there are about 16 PhD programs in philosophy in Canada, and over a hundred in the U.S., many more in Europe. Assuming that international PhD's apply for jobs at top Canadian institutions in significant numbers, the 30.8% of Canadian content seems to me reasonable.

I am a PhD student at a Canadian program, not one of the biggies. I understand that I will never get a job at UoT or McGill. I understand that my university (if not my department) admits the number of graduate students it does because of TA needs, a function of ballooning undergraduate enrolment, not because they think we'll find work.

Posted by J. Fieldman, Nov 13, 2009 9:50 AM

Tim, I myself did an MA at an Ivy League university, had the option of continuing there, but made what was in retrospect the spectacularly bad decision to get a PhD at a Canadian university, despite numerous Canadian academics warning me not to do it.

As a result I've been on the job market for 5 years, despite having a book and several articles in leading journals in my field. I increasingly resent many of the deadwood baby boomers lucky enough to get hired in the 1970s and early 1980s. After much self-blame and introspection about how I'm responsible for my predicament (acknowledging my own stupidity in choosing to go to a Canadian university), I've concluded that he system is rigged.

I warn anyone reading this *not to do their PhD at a Canadian university.* This is the simplest option of all. Canadians have an inbred cultural cringe - why bother fighting it?

Posted by John Smith, Nov 13, 2009 9:22 AM

Thank-you for this long over-due examination of hiring practices at Canadian universities. This situation is by no means restricted to philosophy graduates. I made the deliberate decision to pursue my graduate studies in Canada at an institution that perfectly suited my specialized research program. These studies, in turn, were fully funded by provincial and federal government programs. Since finishing my PhD I have been in the academic job market for the past three years. In this time I've formed the distinct impression that a disproportionate number of new hires carry degress either from non-Canadian (especially Ivy League) institutions or U of T. Your article now confirms my suspicions. I find the lack of transparency and elitism associated with this hiring tendency extremely discouraging.

Posted by Tim Pettipiece, Nov 10, 2009 8:22 PM

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