Responses from survey
In our survey to faculty members, we asked the following question:
How important is it to have the writing sample be on the same topic the applicant is trying to pursue?
- If you are planning to do a very specialized area like medieval philosophy or philosophy of physics, then it’s a good idea to have a writing sample in the area. Otherwise it’s not very important, not least because people change areas during the course of their studies. PS students often harm themselves by proposing a very narrow topic which isn’t a good fit for the department they are applying to. You would like to study Husserl’s relevance to bioethics? Good luck, but we can’t help you here… Remember that we are reading hundreds of files for the dozen offers we will make, so we are looking for reasons to reject your file. Don’t make it sound to us like you’d be much happier elsewhere: that makes rejection feel like a win-win.Not very, in my experience. Most important is to have the writing sample be the applicant’s best work. A committee will be most impressed by a good sample, regardless of whether it is in the area the applicant is pursuing. That said, one should try to avoid a writing sample outside of the areas of any of the faculty where one is applying, as even an excellent sample outside of the areas of expertise of faculty will likely be unappreciated (or they’ll feel like they don’t know how to evaluate it).
- Not very important actually
- Extremely important. You need allies in the department to get in and they are likely to be in your proposed AOS. Not taking advantage of having them read your writing sample is a big mistake.
- It’s fairly important. For one thing, to be admitted, you’ll need someone arguing in your favour, so if you wish to go to a school where they do what you want to do, it’s best to choose something along those lines. But you want the best writing sample possible, even if it’s not exactly what you intend to do.
- It is pretty important, though not utterly vital. It is very helpful to see that students really have a clear sense of what they are getting into, in terms of areas. Sometimes students have a different idea of what counts as Phil of X than we do, and finding that mismatch prior to admission is good for everyone in terms of our program as a fit for them.
- I think it helps the committee get a stronger idea of who you are and where you are going as a researcher.