David Hildebrand (Ph.D. Philosophy, 1997)
(Douglas Browning, Supervisor)
Assistant Professor, Philosophy
University of Colorado at Denver
I learned several things from my participation in UT's graduate program in philosophy. Here is what stands out for me:
Read everything you can. As a graduate student without a wife or kids, I did not read as much as I could have, and I regret that now. I didn't slack off, by any means, but I could have developed a much broader knowledge about my subject area than I did.
Form or participate in graduate student organizations.Sharing information about graduate life and about what's going on in your field forms bonds that can last a lifetime. It's weird to think of that guy next to you in a t-shirt and shorts as your future colleague, but it will happen sooner than you think. Your discussions about university politics and intellectual issues will make you a savvy junior professor, and that may prevent some problems later on.
Form a reading/discussion group about teaching. While a grad student, I founded a pedagogy group with 4 or 5 great graduate students. We read articles about teaching techniques, educational philosophy, sat in one another's classes and discussed what we witnessed. UT is a laboratory for becoming a better teacher, and we took advantage of our time together to improve. At later stages, our group discussed how to write a CV and cover letter, and we practiced for our job interviews.
Start a dissertation file sooner rather than later. I found the book How to Complete and Survive a Doctoral Dissertation by David Sternberg (St. Martin's Press, 1981) very helpful. It's also the case that there are faculty at UT with great advice about dissertations and job hunts that are not in your department. Katie Arens from German department was a great help to me. Seek these people out.
Start thinking about publications sooner rather than later. While I didn't relish the idea of the "publish or perish" nightmare, I did try submitting a seminar paper to a journal early on. It was accepted just as I was heading into my third year in graduate school. This brought significant attention from my professors and gave my ego a badly needed boost. If you don't feel ready to submit, at least think of your work as aiming for a professional audience.
Don't expect your professors to be of significant help on your job search. The philosophy faculty at UT came primarily from top flight programs and didn't consider its own graduate students to be of that same caliber. I think this resulted in an overall mediocre effort to "pound the pavement" for placement of its students. There are exceptions--professors who went to great lengths to be helpful for particular graduate students--but overall the graduate placement effort was wan. Take charge of your placement situation by going to conferences, establishing contacts with good letter writers outside your department if possible.
Imagine yourself teaching at universities with missions different from UT. Most jobs are not at research institutions and I was unprepared for the kinds of interviews that are held by teaching-oriented colleges. Remember, your professors are researchers and many won't have a good idea of how to prepare you for any other kind of job market.