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Professionalization Timeline

Please note: The following are suggestions concerning various professional and pre-professional activities that graduate students might aim to complete, alongside the core academic work for the degree. All students should consult with their advisors and with other faculty members about whether any particular activity would be appropriate or useful for them, at their stage of work, within their subfield. There is no one-size-fits-all course of preparation here.

Note 2: Many of these activities do not bring significant benefits, whether intellectual/academic or for cv-building, when repeated: one publication and a few conference presentations may be sufficient. On the other hand, frequent conference attendance (for example) may be deleterious, in taking time away from serious dissertation work. The recommendations below should not be understood, therefore, to recommend submitting conference papers and papers for publication every year but rather to suggest the various years in which doing so would be reasonable.

Note 3: In addition to preparing for the academic job market, we advise simultaneously working on alternative career plans. Some information about alternative career options for philosophy PhDs is available on our website. TGS and Northwestern career services also offer information and support for investigating non-academic careers.

Note 4: The American Philosophical Association (APA), a major scholarly society aiming to serve everyone in the discipline, has many online resources concerning teaching, publication, conference submission, job search, prizes, and more.  Many of these resources are available only to APA members, currently $40/year for graduate students. Membership is also helpful for participation in online seminars and at APA conferences, which are seen by many as major conferences in the field.

Year/central academic work


First year

  • Acclimating to graduate study
  • Required coursework
  • Attend all departmental colloquia and as many DRS and workshop presentations as possible, to gain familiarity with work in many different areas of philosophy
  • If relevant and available, apply for summer language courses or seminars

Second year

  • Required coursework, and first year of teaching assistantship
  • Attend all departmental colloquia
  • If relevant/available, apply for summer language courses or seminars
  • Submit conference paper/abstract to grad conference(s)

Third year

  • P/N coursework
  • Teaching assistantship
  • DRS
  • Dissertation prospectus
  • Attend all departmental colloquia
  • Attend all DRS presentations
  • Submit abstract/paper to professional conference(s)
  • Participate in organizing a workshop or conference at NU
  • If your advisor (or professor who taught the seminar) agrees that it is worth it, revise seminar paper or DRS etc. to submit for publication; study the style of journals to which you would want to submit as guide to doing so, and discuss framing and other format issues for publishable work with professors

Fourth year

  • DRS
  • Dissertation
  • Teaching assistantship
  • Same as above (third year)
  • Volunteer to be commentator at an APA meeting
  • Attend mock job talks in the department
  • Take Searle Center course to perfect pedagogical technique
  • Apply for research funding from TGS to support archival research or visit to another institution (see below, fifth year)

Fifth year

  • Dissertation
  • Same as above (fourth year), except for organizing workshops
  • Make appointments to practice explaining and discussing your research with faculty members outside your subfield
  • After consultation with your advisor about who/what/when would be appropriate, circulate paper(s) to external senior scholars in your subfield for feedback and potential external letter of recommendation
  • Visit another institution to work closely  with a senior scholar in your subfield, to gain expertise and to receive expert feedback on your work
  • Apply for dissertation fellowships and post-doctoral positions
  • Begin work on job market application materials, in part by taking professional skills course in spring quarter

Sixth year

  • Dissertation
  • Job market
  • Same as previous year, though this year will likely be occupied primarily with dissertation and job market, leaving little time for submissions to journals or conferences