I received some lovely questions from a couple of users this week, so this blog entry is going to cover some things about my perception of interdisciplinary programs. The tail end of the entry will be a little about interviews. Leave questions in the comments about this entry and what you would like to see for future blogs.
Spectastic asked me several questions, and I'm going to go through them in order:
1. How do you think an interdisciplinary program differs from a field specific program in curriculum, research, and career placement?
For the most part, I think that the majority of the classes I take are also taken by students in field-specific programs, but the emphasis is more broad. An example would be the genetics class I took first term. It did not simply focus on one system, but required me to learn prokaryotic systems, as well as eukaryotic systems including yeast, C. elegans, drosophila, mouse, and human. The goal is to give you a more broad understanding of the whole field.
However, it should be noted that not all interdisciplinary programs are the same. Some start you out in interdisciplinary coursework, but later place you into a specific department based on the lab you choose. That department may have additional required coursework. In others, you remain in the program your entire graduate career and only have a set amount of coursework that must be completed. My program is the latter type.
Some students complain that interdisciplinary coursework is a little more difficult for them because they expect us to have a broader understanding of the biomedical sciences, but I really think that this helps me in the long run.
This is not going to really be different than a normal field-specific program except for one thing. I'm still rotating right now, but my interdisciplinary program allows me to select faculty from many different programs at my institution rather than being limited. If I really wanted to, I could rotate with someone from Immunology, Physiology, Molecular Biology, or Biophysics. This is good for someone like me who is interested in general gene regulation as well as immunological activation. I do not feel limited, though sometimes the sheer number of faculty I could rotate with is overwhelming. In the end, the research aspect is going to be similar between programs. You still defend you research proposal, still have a committee, and still give presentations and do your research.
Being interdisciplinary is beneficial these days because you yourself are better able to approach a scientific question from many different angles, but as a student, you need to work to maintain your interdisciplinary nature after coursework is over. Your success at this will be apparent when you are applying out to post-docs but even more so when you're interviewing for faculty positions and applying for funding. More and more programs are taking the interdisciplinary slant, even if they're not marketing themselves that way. Interdisciplinary program names may make you sound a little more fitted to a wider variety of post-doc labs, but in the end, I think it ends up being what you make of it.
2. Were there a lot of things you had to learn from the ground up?
As far as coursework goes, a lot of the non-mammalian and non-prokaryotic studies are new for me, but not so difficult that I can't figure it out.
In the rotations labs, having 6 years of research experience is proving extremely beneficial as I'm not being taught many new things and am able to adapt rapidly to the new lab settings. It allows me to focus more on the lab environment and figuring out if I can see a feasible and fundable project if I were to join that particular lab. This is really important. You need to be able to work well with the PI and it helps immensely if you also get along well with the technicians and lab manager. Even more importantly, I can take the time to focus more on the literature, current lab projects, and trying to figure out if there is enough promise for a dissertation project. Many times, the PI will discuss this with you as well, but you might need to bring up the topic.
3. Is it a different experience working with students from other similar fields?
I wasn't really sure what you were asking with this, but I'm going to assume you're asking about the different types of students that come into an interdisciplinary program. I'm surrounded by students who are interested in microbiology, eukaryotic cell biology, cancer, aging, autoimmunity, etc, and they have the degrees that match those interests. It is different from my previous experiences where everyone was in the same field and research area. I actually love it; none of us look at or approach anything in the same way, so a research discussion may result in a novel approach to solve a problem that we would never have reached if there weren't a microbiologist in the room.
4. Assuming you don't already have a thought out career plan (which I think you do), how do you think your opportunities will differ?
I don't know that my opportunities will be different than someone in a general program. However, because my background is so interdisciplinary and because I intend to maintain my microbiology knowledge on top of my eukaryotic molecular biology and immunology knowledge, it may affect where I get post-docs or make me a little more versatile. If I didn't want to go into academia, I would be able to contribute readily in industry or in patent law (starting to be hot for scientists). However, I want to stay in academia and run my own lab, and I think I'll be able to relate a lot more to different areas of research than someone who has stayed in one small field area their entire education.
5. User Ratlab asked: How do you prep for interviews with PIs, and what do you do if you're not interested in some of the PIs?
I went into every interview prepared to talk about my own research (with my current PI's permission) and ready to ask questions about the research the person interviewing me does. Taking my research with me meant printing out a couple of copies of my most recent research presentations (notice I am emphasizing: with my current PI's permission!). I didn't give the slides to the professors, but I was able to show them what I was doing. This was beneficial for my interview in several ways. First, it demonstrated to them that I know how to generate a research presentation, have research experience that I have data to demonstrate, and that I know what I'm talking about. Another benefit was that I could point out things without having to draw them, so the understanding was a ton easier. The third thing was that, since I'd already presented the data, I was very comfortable with it and able to discuss future directions, etc. It is also a great idea to take in new copies of your resume with any updates that occurred since application. Be sure to leave your resume with the person you interview with.
I also went through pubmed and read abstracts from the PI's I was interviewing with for the past 2-3 years. If it wasn't something I was familiar with, I found a short review and learned a little bit. I printed out a couple abstracts, maybe some interesting figures, and took them on the plane with me to study. I prepared 2-3 questions for each PI in case the conversation was stale or I found I wasn't interested in what they were working on. I was lucky and got to choose all of the PIs that interviewed me, but I prepped just the same. It could be as simple as "I noticed in *paper name* that you showed *interesting observation*. How do you think *something that ties their project to your interests* participates in this process?" I never acted like I knew their field, but the questions I asked let them know that I had at least researched them a little bit.
Make eye contact.
Shake their hands when you get there and when you leave them.
Avoid "stuff" words (like, kinda, sorta, maybe, ummm, etc) and run-on sentences (and.... and then.... but..... and.....).
Ask questions about their research, the students, AND the program (the PIs might not know, but they will see your interest).
Say thank you!
Do all of the things you know to be professional, but try not to make yourself seem plastic.
It is a great idea to have someone give you a practice interview a few times before you go. Some career services places at your university may have this service for you. It is a good idea to film and watch yourself to see where you need to improve.
6. Microarray asked: What do I wear to an interview?
Microarray was specifically asking what to wear to an interview that doesn't specify a dress code, but I noticed that most biomedical sciences and molecular biology interviews had about the same dress code. Most guys wore dress slacks and dress shoes with a nice sweater -or- a shirt and tie -or- a button down shirt and sport coat -or- a suit. The guys in full-out dress suits were almost too dressy, but all of those things worked out well. I was mildly annoyed by some of the guys who wore bow ties that very horribly contrasted with their shirts. Just make sure you match and look professional.
I am a female and I wore nice, tailored grey trousers, comfortable black boots (low heel), a blouse, and a black ¾ sleeve blazer. I saw lots of girls in adorable little skirt suits with spiky heels... however, I would not go that route. You are going to be walking.... A LOT. You want to have low or no heels, and if you have heels on your shoes, you want them to be fat heels so you're not wearing yourself out. Break your shoes in well ahead of time. As far as wearing a skirt, I would avoid that as well for interview day. Many skirts are relatively short these days, and sometimes it is quite cold. I heard PIs commenting on how inappropriate some of the clothing some of the ladies were wearing... so to avoid any problems, avoid it altogether. For ladies, stores like Maurice's tend to have cute, appropriate clothing (minus the skirts) that won't make you feel like you're an old lady.
You also need to bring clothes that are comfortable and a little less dressy for outings with the current graduate students and for traveling. I wore jeans on the plane, but changed to khakis before meeting the people who were picking me up from the airport. The most important thing is to be comfortable at all times: traveling, informal meetings, and your formal interview. Don't pick something way out of the norm for you your personality; you need to feel like yourself in your interview clothes. This helps you to present yourself more confidently. However... under no circumstances should you show up in jeans and a t-shirt to your interview (on the plane or with grad students is fine). Wear professional and fitted clothing, and you'll be fine.
If anything isn't clear enough or if you have more questions about what I mentioned in this entry, leave me a comment. Good luck on your applications and interviews!
I missed a deadline.
This is totally unlike me, but it's true: I missed the deadline for one of my schools.
In my defense, I'm a few weeks post-op on a minor surgical procedure and had a horrible stomach virus over the weekend. I wasn't thinking about much, except for not messing up my almost-healed incisions and staying hydrated. I submitted the application only 17 hours late...but the school's website is very clear about having a hard deadline. Still, my payment and online submission went through and I received an automated confirmation of its receipt.
I emailed the admissions coordinator to see if I still would be considered and explained I had been ill.
I will update this when I get a response, but for now I am mortified. I'm sick to my stomach! I am not applying to so many schools that I can just cross one off of my list...
Has anything similar happened to you? How did things work out? Let me know in the comments.
UPDATE: Just looked again and it seems because I was panicked and in a rush, I spelled a POI's first name (tricky in my defense) wrong in the SOP. Guess I can cross this one off my list regardless of the deadline snafu...
UPDATE: Admissions got back to me and said the department is still taking applications! Hurray! I figured I'd push my luck and send them an updated SOP with the error corrected, just because...well, what do we have to lose? Thanks for all your helpful comments guys!
To that end, a funny thing one of my letter writers told me is that they admit people who spell her name wrong every year, and as much as she hates it, sometimes a candidate is just too great in other respects. What a weird process.
Disclaimer 1: The information I have on how admissions committees use GRE scores is entirely based on information I received from professors at the universities and departments that I am applying to. This can also be field specific. Please take this information with a grain of salt and inquire at your own prospective programs for more information. Remember that GRE scores are nowhere close to the most important part of your application, and many programs don't use them beyond a cutoff or correlations with GPA.
GRE scores are primarily used, in conjunction with GPA, to weed out the lower end of applicants from the pool. This does not mean that low GRE scores will immediately disqualify you from a program, however. Committees take a holistic view. If you have another outstanding aspect of your application (e.g. letters of recommendation or publications), low GRE scores may not take you out of the running. But if you already have a weak application, low GRE scores may cut you from the pool. Only one school I looked at had a GRE cutoff listed on the website (70th percentile in all sections).
I've heard that the verbal section matters more for humanities and social sciences, and the quantitative section matters more for the natural sciences, but I approached the test believing that both are equally important. I don't subscribe to the idea that social sciences and humanities don't need to be good at math, and that natural sciences don't need to be good at reading/writing. Of course, ask your programs if they weigh each section differently, but I approached this blog post with the idea that all sections are of equal importance.
GRE scores are also used as one of many factors that can qualify you for a competitive departmental fellowship. Nominations are made based on a variety of factors, including GRE, GPA, publications, letters of recommendation, and prior professor contact. Then, nominees are interviewed and final decisions are made. The professors I talked to told me that competitive GRE scores for their specific programs start at 80th percentile in every section, but the average is much closer to 90th percentile. So I set that as my goal when I was studying.
Disclaimer 2: Going into my GRE preparations, I was already relatively good at the verbal, quantitative, and writing sections. My approach to studying was not to learn new material. It was to refresh the material that I had already learned, since GRE math is mostly high-school level, verbal is common of higher reading levels, and writing is in one of the simpler formats. Remember that everyone is coming into GRE preparation with different levels of schooling, different learning styles, and different life circumstances. I'm merely sharing what I did with the circumstances that I had. I think that the study methods I describe below are best suited for those who know the material, but need more practice to get to the higher score ranges. Adjust your own study methods as you see fit.
How I studied for verbal:
I primarily used Magoosh to study. I watched the verbal video tutorials and took notes throughout to make sure that I retained the tips, but I didn't do any practice questions. Most of the tutorials were on how to approach the questions. I found that the hardest part of the verbal was figuring out what the question was asking and identifying the trick answers. Comprehension for the reading passages comes with practice. The only thing I can say that helped with that was being an avid reader of both fiction and academic journals. For vocabulary, I only used the free vocabulary book (see below) from Magoosh. Again, being an avid reader, my vocabulary already included many of the words on the test.
How I studied for quantitative:
Again, I primarily used Magoosh to study. I didn't watch the video tutorials, but I did read through the free equations book (see below). I didn't try to "memorize" these; instead, I tried to understand each one and how they might be used. All of these equations were from high-school level math, but I had forgotten their applications for standardized tests. When I did the practice questions from Magoosh, I used the custom settings to start with only medium-level questions. Once I had finished all of those, I went on to only hard-level questions. Then I went to only very-hard level questions, until I had finished all of the ones that Magoosh offered.
How I studied for analytical writing:
To study for the writing portion, I read through the sample essays on the ETS GRE website, as well as the reviews for each one. I focused on reading through the two essays that scored 6 and 5, breaking each one apart and thinking about the structure of each. Mostly, I focused on figuring out how my essay would be structured, since the GRE prefers a "formula" of sorts. Essentially, if you stick to the 5-paragraph format that you learned in gradeschool, you'll be good. Don't try to be profound or sound smarter than you are. Just stick to the basic format and make sure that your examples all relate to the prompt and that you writing flows clearly.
Other study materials:
I didn't use any study books, like ETS, Princeton, Barrons, or Kaplan. I did use the Manhattan 5lb Book for quantitative, but I got tired of it after one chapter. Magoosh better suited my study needs and was more adaptive to my learning style. If you can afford it, I would recommend getting Magoosh, instead of buying multiple books.
My practice scores:
Powerprep Test 1: V 158 / Q 160
Powerprep Test 2: V 160 / Q 160
Magoosh Predicted Score Range: Q 155-160 (No V)
I'm going to be a hypocrite and say don't freak out on test day. But I did exactly that. Since you can't stop some of the subconscious anxiety that will come up, just do everything that you can to not elevate it. Don't drink coffee right before the test, because you'll get jittery and need to pee every five minutes. Make sure to eat a good breakfast or lunch (I had a subway sandwich and some juice). Don't do anything out of the ordinary, like pull an all-nighter or join a pie-eating contest right before the test. Also, I have heard too many stories about anxiety ending up in lower-than-expected scores on test day. Anxiety can make or break your test, regardless of how much you study. So, try as hard as you can to not let it get the best of you.
When I took the test, the office I went into had four main rooms: the waiting room with lockers, the check-in/security room, and two testing rooms. I left everything, including water, in the lockers in the waiting room before I went to the check-in area. There, I had to have my picture taken, show my I.D., give my signature, turn my pockets out, and get waved down with a metal detector. Then I was taken to a computer that the assistants set up specifically for me. Whenever I wanted to take a break, whether it was scheduled in the test or not, I had to go through the entire procedure again. The actual testing area was pretty nice. I had a padded swivel-chair, so I took off my shoes and sat cross-legged to be comfortable. I was provided with a few sheets of scratch paper and pencils, as well.
In order to get used to the testing format of the computer-based GRE, I highly recommend taking the ETS Powerprep Tests, which are available for free via the ETS GRE website.
The test will begin with the two writing sections: issue and argument. Read more about the format and question types here and here. You are given 30 minutes for each essay, including the time to read the prompt. You cannot use standard shortcuts like ctrl+v; you have to use the buttons at the top of the screen. You also cannot use the "find" function. The hardest part is the the program will not autocorrect your misspelled words, and it will not underline your bad sentence structure. This means that you will need to pay close attention to common mistakes like "teh" instead of "the".
Then you will get either a verbal or quantitative section. You are given 30 minutes to complete 20 questions for each section. The first sections for verbal and quantitative will be "medium" difficulty. Depending on how you do in these first sections, the second section for each, verbal and quantitative, will either be "easy", "medium", or "hard"; this is because the test is adaptive by section. You cannot get a top score without advancing to the "hard" section in the second half. For each of the second sections for verbal and quantitative, you are given 35 minutes to complete 20 questions. Read more about test format here, verbal here, and quantitative here.
Halfway through the test, you will get a 10 minute break to walk around, stretch, go to the restroom, get a snack, etc. You can also take a break at any time throughout your test. I took a 5 minute break after my second essay to stretch and take deep breaths to relax, so don't be afraid to take more time if you need to. Just remember that any unscheduled breaks are eating into your allocated test time for that section.
At some point during your test, you will get a non-graded extra section of either verbal or quantitative. You will not know which section is your non-graded section, so treat all of the questions that you encounter for any section as if they are all graded.
My actual scores:
Verbal 164 (93rd percentile)
Quantitative 164 (89th percentile)
Analytical Writing 5.5 (97th percentile)
These resources are in addition to those already available through the ETS GRE website.
Magoosh Vocabulary Flashcards
Magoosh Vocabulary e-Book
Magoosh Math Formula e-Book
If there is anything that I didn't address here, leave a comment and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.
I am a senior undergraduate graduating in spring 2014, applying for Ph.D. programs focusing on tropical plant ecology to start in fall 2014. I don't have much to say yet about applications other than that I submitted them, but I am listing my stats below as part of my introduction (taken from the applicants and admissions thread for biological sciences).
Undergrad Institution: top 10 public, top 40 national, state school
Major: Evolution, Ecology, & Biodiversity
Overall GPA: 3.56 Position in Class: Top 25%
Type of Student: Domestic Female
GRE Scores (revised version): Q 164 (89th percentile) V 164 (93rd percentile) AW 5.5 (97th percentile)
- The mechanisms that increase and maintain biodiversity of plant communities in tropical ecosystems
- The role herbivores play in phylogenetic and functional relatedness of these plant communities across space and time
Research Experience (at graduation Spring '14):
- 1 year in a plant ecology lab (senior thesis) as a researcher, investigating the Janzen-Connell hypothesis especially as it relates to temperate habitats, and possibly conducting an observational study at a major field station
- 2 years in a plant ecology lab as a research assistant and researcher, investigating higher adult competition in closely-related plant species, and conducting a meta-analysis of increased herbivory in plant neighbor-removal experiments
- 1/2 year in a plant cell wall lab as a research assistant, isolating proteins in the SYP61 golgi network of Arabidopsis thaliana
- 1/2 year in a plant ecology lab as a research assistant, investigating Mendelian segregation in floral color of Mimulus bicolor
- ESA 2014 annual research conference (applying)
- University 2014 undergraduate research conference (expected)
- University 2013 undergraduate research conference
- Submitting 2 manuscripts for publication in spring 2014
- Phi Kappa Phi Honorary Society member
- Dean's List at university
- 2 scholarships for botany students at university
Pertinent Activities or Jobs:
- 7 years as a tutor for junior high through university level students in core biology, core chemistry, Algebra, Plant Biology, and Spanish
- 1 year volunteering with a local habitat restoration group, teaching high school students on field days, reading high school research proposal contest entries
- 2 years volunteering with the Society for Conservation Biology
- 1.5 volunteering with a 2nd local habitat restoration group
- 1 year volunteering with the university Arboretum for plant propagation
Special Bonus Points:
- Field course in Tropical Ecology and Conservation at a large field station in Panamá over winter break
- Enrolled simultaneously in junior college courses throughout 7th-12 grades (GPA 3.95, 62 semester units completed)
Applying to Where:
- Michigan State University - Plant Biology
- University of Maryland College Park - Behavior, Ecology, Evolution, & Systematics
- University of California Berkeley - Integrative Biology
- Stanford University - Ecology & Evolution
- University of Pittsburgh - Ecology & Evolution
My Application Bonuses:
- Contacted every professor I'm applying to work with (phone, skype, or in-person)
- Wrote my NSF GRFP (major science fellowship) with my top-choice professor and he wrote a letter of recommendation for that application
My Application Concerns:
- My GPA is average for applicants in my field
- Graduating in 3 years from my university puts me at a disadvantage for time to complete more research and outreach
I am a first year student in the biomedical sciences studying molecular and cellular biology, so I went through the whole application and interview process, last year! I was not able to start my blog at that time because I was also frantically trying to recover some samples I lost in a crashed freezer and also generating my thesis at the same time (a story for another time).
I am mid-way through my first year of my PhD studies, am completing laboratory rotations, and will be doing my qualifying exam in about 8 months. 6 months ago, I had just defended my M.S. Thesis and was preparing to move. It is simply amazing how much your life can change in half of a year. You may look at my post and wonder why I am here and writing this blog entry. There were a ton of things that I was not told during my application process, and I want to be around to try to answer some of those questions for this years' applicants.
I want those of you in the life sciences to feel free to ask me questions. They can be about applications, your SOP or Research Statements, interviews, what to wear, etc. Feel free to ask me about things I might not have mentioned about my applications or about things you will do in your first year, such as lab rotations. I will address these questions in future blog entries and fill in things I remember about the application process as we go. This will probably have a mostly biomedical sciences slant, but may be helpful to others as well.
Right now, many of you have submitted your early-deadline applications and are freaking out about those that you have already submitted and also those you have yet to submit. Maybe some of you have heard back about interviews, already? This is the calm before the storm of interviews and frantic last things that will occur this spring. Make sure you take some time around this holiday season to relax and escape from the application frenzy for a little while. Since this is my introduction post, I feel like I can't offer much more advice than that. The rest of this post will include some information about me so that you know my background.
I'm from a very rural area and I also went to an undergraduate institution that was almost equally as rural on an academic scholarship with a Microbiology major. Starting my very first term of undergrad, I volunteered in a laboratory doing phylogenetics research under a zoologist, but by the end of my sophomore year, I joined a molecular physiology lab. There, I realized that molecular biology was my true passion. Though it was too late to change my major by that point, I knew that I wanted to pursue that route. Despite knowing over 20 lab protocols, I was worried that graduate programs would look down on my Microbiology degree since I was interested in eukaryotic cellular physiology, so I stayed on in that laboratory for a funded Master of Science.
My research interests lie in gene regulation, particularly at a transcriptional level, as well as epigenetics and autoimmunity.
Now for the stuff you really care about, the stats! I'm borrowing the format from the 2014 Biology Applicants thread:
Undergrad Institution: Public Research Institution, probably medium funding, very rural
Major(s): Microbiology Minor(s): Chemistry/Psychology
Overall GPA: 3.68 Position in Class: Top 25%
Master's Institution: Same place, but within the School of Medicine
Concentration: Cell and Molecular Physiology GPA: 3.61
Type of Student: Domestic Female
GRE Scores (revised version): All were right about 75th percentile at application.
Q: 156 V: 157 AW: 4.5
6 years research experience within my university, 4 years undergrad, 2 years masters. Experience generating transgenic mouse lines, generating primary cell lines, RNA extractions, DNA extractions, genotyping, PCR, Chromatin IP, bacterial culture, etc.
I have excluded all but the most important, including my undergraduate scholarship, which was academic in nature and covered tuition, room and board for my undergrad. I also was active in the Honors Program and was selected to travel to China as a student ambassador. I also received 4 small research grants during my undergrad (and 2 during my masters) and placed within the top 4 presenters at each of the 4 research forums I attended.
Pertinent Activities or Jobs:
Student Tutor for all 6 years, Teaching Assistant for 2. I also participated in science outreach to local schools as a supplement to their educational program. I would show up, teach them how to run PCR and a gel, and we would have all sorts of fun.
Special Bonus Points:
I was very well known on campus through involvement in various science-related groups and the honors program, but also the marching band and pep band (clarinet and trumpet for the win!). My research experience also sets me apart because we literally did not use kits for our experiments. If I wanted some DNA to genotype, I did a phenol:chloroform extraction. I'm easily able to adapt and trouble-shoot many different types of experiments, so this makes me a little more versatile for the places I applied to. I also ran a transgenic mouse colony for 4 years, which is a lot more complicated than it sounds. When I interviewed, my lab skills and mouse work were frequently brought up as something immensely positive.
Applied to Where:
I applied to programs that I felt would be interdisciplinary in nature because I did not want to be limited to a specific area. My two degrees also make me an interdisciplinary student, so I felt that my chances would be better at such institutions. I looked for places that had a large variety of research interests as well as things that fit my own interests and pushed my research skills as one of my biggest assets.
My Application Concerns:
My GRE scores and GPA were not stellar, and I was a little worried that my undergrad degree and the change of fields for my MS might raise some questions. However, I had research experience going for me, and I really banked on that.
I applied to 6 institutions. I was flat-out rejected from two, one of which I had a typo (the wrong schools' name in my SOP) and the other had hundreds of applicants for 3 spots. I was initially wait-listed at one school and invited to interview at three. After interviewing at my top two choices, I knew which I wanted to attend and declined the third interview. The "wait-listed" school later contacted me for an interview, which I declined.
Hello all, I'm doing my intro live from AGU (American Geophysical Union) Fall 2013 Meet, I have 20 minutes to kill before the next session starts. Sure, I could be working on one of my finals tomorrow or doing some grading, but procrastination is necessary.
Anyway, not that that is all sorted away, I guess this is a good place to start introducing myself. I am currently an MSc student in geology with a focus on modeling the effects of mantle flow at important tectonic regions such as Subduction Zones, Rifting Centers and of course mantle plumes. I got my undergraduate degree from a small liberal arts college, majored in physics.
So about graduate school, well, I am applying to do a PhD in both Geodymamics and perhaps Seismology . I had thought my strong research in undergrad (2 posters, 1 REU at a top 5 institution) would have been enough to offset my low undergrad GPA (3.05) and get me into a top flight PhD program, but it seems it didn't work out 2 years ago. I am hoping this year my Masters GPA (3.7) and my thesis + all my previous work will be enough to get me into one now. Some people find out that undergrad research isn't as novel as one would like it to be, but thats why it's undergrad research.
What will I be posting in this blog? I don't know. Probably rants about people who rant about the GRE, some of my interactions with POIs, and random other stuff grad school related. I somewhat wish this was started during the semester, so I could have an outlet to talk about my students, but perhaps it's not a good idea to post things about anyone online. I'll probably have a lot of baskteball references, with kind regards to Kobe Bryant as well.
Anyway, follow my blog, even if my writing is a bit unorganized.
I figured that those of you interested in my admissions journey are due an introduction of sorts.
So here goes: I'm in the middle of applying for my PhD in sociocultural anthropology and sometimes I think I'm a great candidate and sometimes I think I'm the worst. I'm beginning to think that duality is part of what makes this process so trying, as I'm sure most of us have a lot of great qualities, but we aren't without our faults.
I'm currently finishing my MA in media studies from a name brand R1 and my BA (interdisciplinary) is from a prestigious SLAC. In the four years between undergrad and grad, I worked my way into a management position in a 'sexy' (and unstable) industry and was frustrated with the impossible hours and what amounted to an intellectual dead zone. I spent an ill-advised year applying to fiction MFA programs (struck out across the board), partially because my now-husband is a working writer and so are a lot of our friends and I think it made me think I was a writer too. It was clear after the fact that my talent lies in scholarship and not fiction, and I applied to interdisciplinary MA programs for fall 2012 and got in to all of them, some with decent funding. My MA, I admit, is almost expressly to bolster my chances for the PhD--at this point in my life I know I want to teach and do research. My subject?
Now, the details:
I'm applying to 7 programs: Yale, NYU, Columbia, Princeton, Rutgers, CUNY, UPenn. I've submitted 2/7 so far. I have a few more pages to add to my writing sample and I should be set to complete the remaining 5 applications. In fact, I currently attend one of those universities, just in a different department.
I have a 3.9 (MA) and 3.4 (BA). I have taken several classes in anthropology (including their required first year PhD seminar) at my current university, and my thesis adviser is co-chair of that department. She asked me to be her TA next semester, so I feel that bodes well for my chances, though I know the appointment is far from a promise of admission.
GRE is a sore spot: 147Q/164V/4.5AW.
I have 2 solo paper presentations (one at a graduate school conference, the other at the annual meeting of a national professional association) and a couple web publications for a relevant academic blog, which I don't consider to have the weight of a peer-reviewed publication.
I also hold 2 of the 4 research assistantships available to MA students in my current department. One of those is as an editorial assistant at an international peer-reviewed academic journal.
I have 4 LORs: both of my supervisors (neither of them are anthropologists, but do have ethnographic work on their CVs), a former medical anthropology professor and my thesis adviser, who is also a medical anthropologist. I have a lot of faith in the quality of the letters written on my behalf, as I have a close working relationship with each writer.
My weaknesses are undoubtedly my quantitative GRE score, my undergraduate GPA and the fact that I am switching disciplines. I have been told the Q GRE is not valued highly in anthropology, so I am trying not to tear my hair out over something I can't change. I have prepared to switch disciplines by taking courses in anthropology and my thesis, which is also my writing sample, hopefully displays a synthesis of media and cultural studies with anthropological theory and methodology.
I admit, my final concern is that my SOP, being a strong research proposal with clear aims and questions, is potentially impersonal and might come off as cold. My readers (my LOR writers) have told me they think it's a great statement and I shouldn't worry, but there's always the chance that a perceived lack of warmth on my part could knock me out of the running.
However, my strengths are undoubtedly my commitment to scholarship, my work ethic, ability to research independently and high MA GPA. Hopefully that will be enough to get me to a program with great funding, but I won't find out for a few more months. Until then, stick around, read my blog, and together I think we can get through this with our sanity intact.
I had induction for my course this week and they were suggesting that I needed to put in 180 hours of work (including lab time, in course time, and course work) per semester per course for my Master's. In the 11 weeks of the semester that equals to about 65 hours per week.
I spoke to a Ph.D. student who had just graduated from my course and she said "Say goodbye to your friends for 12 months. You'll have fun but you won't have time for them."
My cohort is all professionals excluding myself and another student. It's not a bad thing, but it is definitely intimidating.
Needless to say this has left me feeling really defeated. I just moved to a new city for this program, and was planning on both enjoying school and life while I was here. Based on what professors and this one previous student have told me . . . I won't be enjoying my life it seems. My life will equal grad school and nothing but grad school.
I understand that grad school is a commitment and requires a lot of time and effort. But I really want to know how much these people are exaggerating vs what the reality actually is. I won't find out until I am in the thick of it, but part of me wants to run away now before I even start.
Anyone else felt this way on their first week?
Edit: For some reason 130 hours per course turned into 180 hours in my brain. The maximum I am expected to work on the program each week is 47 hours, which is much more like what I was expecting. Freakout unnecessary.
Two weeks ago I was rejected from the University of Toronto. Thankfully their letter was not snarky or mean, but it was short and I feel like I wasted too much of my time impatiently waiting - not to mention the couple hundred dollars I spent to apply and to have a copy of my transcripts sent.
I wasn't too discouraged when I first received the rejection, it wasn't my top choice of school and I had a conditional acceptance elsewhere. But, as time passed, I soon became more and more worried about my situation come the fall. The rejection slowly ate away at my self confidence concerning my acceptance at City University London, especially since I had that panic a few weeks back.
From the realization I might not be going to grad school, to the blow of a rejection I have realized a couple of things.
I want this degree, and the career that comes with it more than anything. At first I was most excited about the prospect of moving to London, or Toronto, places that I have dreamed about moving to for years. I forgot that this was all about my education. After the scare of not going I remembered what it really was about. Education and then career. I'm not going into academia like many of the other people here, but in Canada a Master's degree is worth it's weight in Tuition.
Since I feared rejection from both schools so badly I began on my quest to learn the content I needed to succeed in the career of my choice, not an easy feat when you only possess about half the skills required (for those of you curious, I want to be a UX Designer/Researcher eventually becoming a freelance consultant in the field, something where I only possess the knowledge of Human Factors, and no design experience . . . about 50% of what I need to get a job). I could do it alone, but I'd rather go to school.
It has been a whirlwind of a month, to say the least, my emotions have been all over the place in regards to this grad school thing. Additionally I am dealing with the repercussions of graduating during an economic downturn. I haven't worked for 3 months now and my bank account is running on empty. Thankfully my parents were more than happy to have me move back into their home, even if I am stuck in the now spare bedroom (which used to belong to my sister) because my room has been transferred to someone else.
The situation has all culminated to this morning, when I got my long awaited UNCONDITIONAL ACCEPTANCE to City University London. The financial fears have long been dealt with, and I've already paid a deposit on a place to live so I needn't worry about that anymore either. AS of 12:30 today I began working on gathering my things for a Tier 4 VISA to the UK, and applying for OSAP (Ontario Student Assistance Program) once again - the fifth time in my life I've completed this task. The next couple of weeks are going to be filled with embassy and bank visits, and browsing the many websites which allow me to search for the cheapest possible flight to Heathrow. I'm feeling like a huge bundle of nerves from the excitement, and fear. But mostly I'm glad I don't have to keep trying to learn design on my own - I'll have a well versed professor helping me out in a couple of months.
Now, to start brainstorming on a dissertation topic.
Thank you to everyone who has followed along on this journey with me. I am so glad for all your kind words, and encouragement, as well as helpful advice and ideas for what I could do if I didn't make it in. This community is so wonderful and I am so glad to have found it to help me out.
Anyone who has seen my most recent post on the forum knows that I did not meet what I thought my conditional acceptance average requirement was. After speaking with someone on admissions and going over my acceptance again at 3am I realized I was never going to go to City University.
For some reason I had placed the idea that the B+ was only for fourth year in my head. It's not. I needed a B+ average over the course of my entire degree to meet the condition. This is the thing that prevented me from applying to universities in Canada; the high GPA requirement. I applied to schools in England in hopes of bypassing this and I thought I had after receiving an acceptance letter from City University London a mere 3 weeks after I had applied. It was even before my letters of recommendation were in.
Alas, I was wrong. Unless, I get some amazing exceptional email about how they want me anyway, despite my shortcomings, I am not going to London in the Fall. I will probably not even be going to grad school unless I finally hear back from University of Toronto. But, like I said, I am in the sub-3.00 GPA group; acceptances are few and far between (so I've heard). I have no desire to continue desperately take courses at the University where I've done my undergrad, and I've already taken the majority of the Psychology courses offered and I don't really have the perquisites to take things in different topics. Maybe it's not a good idea to be making such a bold statement right now about my future due to how low this had made me feel, but the way I feel at this moment is that I am never going to apply for my Master's again nor am I ever going to get a Master's degree.
Just a quick entry, as I am in the midst of studying for my last exam and writing the final paper of my undergraduate degree.
I still haven't heard from the University of Toronto, my application has been under review since February 15th. I think a fair amount of people on this forum would have emailed them demanding a response by this point, but all applications were only due 6 days ago. I personally am leaning towards believing that I've been rejected by the program; the academic side of my application was less than stellar and I've come to believe more weight is placed on that part over the individual's resume, letters of recommendation, and statement of interest.
Part of me thinks that I am a maybe, if they don't fill up the school with individuals who are better suited for their requirements - a last choice, if you will, but I don't even know if I've managed to impress them that much. Maybe they're waiting for my final grades to come in, but to me I'd rather get the money back from how much it is going to cost to send the copy of my transcripts over, especially since I am so convinced I do not fit their standards. Thankfully it's not so much a blow to my self esteem as it is confirmation that heading to England next year is the right choice; I'm merely waiting for official confirmation.
When I was deciding between Maryland and IUPUI, I was weighing the lesser amount of debt versus connections. Or at least, I thought I was. But then someone told me this:
Pick the place that will make you the happiest, but remember that you always have the right to change your mind about what criteria constitute happiness.
I love that quote. It told me that I wasn't choosing Maryland because of the connections. It was telling me I could be the happiest at Maryland. I made the decision to become a Terrapin two weeks ago and I honestly think it's the best decision I've made. I could not, for the life of me, get excited about IUPUI. It is a great school and I refuse to knock it at all. But I just couldn't get excited about going there. Maryland, well, I was calling the director of student services with a huge grin on my face, scoping out apartments even though it's a little early, and just... seriously, you couldn't get the smile off of my face.
I know I will have more debt at Maryland. I know I might be living off of ramen for the next three years. But I also know that I am going to be in my favorite city in the world (it even beats some of my favorites in Europe) and I am going to have so many doors opened to me. I am required to do a field study as part of my program. The list of institutions Maryland does field study with is long and includes places like the Shakespeare Library, the Smithsonians, the National Archives, Library of Congress - the list goes on. My adviser for my Archives Specialization worked at the National Archives for 30 years and loves helping students get there.
Needless to say, I'm over the moon. It has been a long, long journey. What I thought would make me happy has changed throughout this journey. I've thought less debt, a cheaper city, etc. at one point would make me happy. I thought staying in my study abroad city would make me happy. I thought being done in one year would make me happy. In the end, it's Maryland for a number of reasons.
For all those who are still deciding, I wish you all the best! For all that have decided, congrats! For those who are looking to apply next year or reapply next year, take a deep breath. We all will make it!
So, a lot has changed since I last posted. I received two offers in quick succession and now I'm currently in LA and have visited both schools and talked to the graduate advisers.
What a whirlwind!
I came to LA intent on attending the public school because I thought that their tuition waiver would be the most beneficial and I had heard better things about their reputation and connections, professionally speaking. Now that I've talked to both schools, things seem to have completely flipped on their heads.
Unfortunately, $$$ seems to be the only thing on my mind these days. The reputable state school has informed me that I'm 4th on the list for tuition waivers (when they usually only distribute to two students), which had me feeling crestfallen for a whole day. How could I possibly attend that school having to possibly pay 1 year of international student tuition? Prohibitive to say the least. It didn't help that all the faculty were very complimentary and kind to me during my visit.
I visited the private school today and they seem to be awash in funding. I had already been offered a Teaching Fellow position but was worried about how it might only just cover my tuition and leave me with very little beyond that. I was shocked, then, to find that the graduate director began very strongly attempting to "poach" me, after I mentioned I was waiting on final financial information from the state school. What followed was basically a sales pitch, which just by the nature of being a pitch, made me hesitate. But the additional offer of funding above and beyond the Teaching Fellowship pay blew my mind. It was like comparing apples and oranges when I put the funding situation of the state and private schools side by side.
So now the question roiling in my mind is this: is it reprehensible to choose a school purely based on money? I mean I think that may be the case for Ph.D programs but I've heard again and again that paying a single penny for a humanities MA is a death wish and I would be a fool to consider it. The private school's offer addresses this concern (and then some) but I wouldn't feel totally comfortable on an intellectual level if that were the only thing to inform my decision.
I have a lot of thinking to do.
When I first entered the grad school process I thought I would have decided eons before April 15th. I thought I knew exactly where I wanted to go, why, and had even started scoping out potential places to live. That was October.
I still haven't decided but, I think it's time for my biggest lessons learned list..
Don't get your heart set on one place - or try not to!
When I first started this process I only saw myself at South Carolina. Then when I was rejected there, I moved onto my favorite being in the UK. Now, my favorite is wherever they give me money.
Remember everyone gets rejections
My first rejection I didn't take too hard. It was my second. My entire family was shocked. My advisor, however, reminded me that he got rejections when he applied for his PhD. And he turned out fine. In fact, he turned out brilliantly and exactly where I think he is meant to be. Rejections are not the end of the world. And while the first month or so after being rejected from South Carolina I couldn't figure out why, I came to a realization. It was for the best. It wasn't because I wasn't good enough. It was because it was suppose to happen.
Karma doesn't exist; Fate does
I said that I would get rejected from one program because of a letter of recommendation and how I didn't quite listen to one professor when she suggested how to reform a paper that she would base her letter of recommendation on. Well, I got accepted to that program. I'm not a religious person so I call it fate. If you want to call it divine intervention, then by all means, go for it. But I think there was some sort of plan that said "What's meant to happen will."
Take up a hobby - throw yourself into work
In the tense month of February when we were all waiting for answers, I was like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. But I took up cross-stitching again to relax me. I took long walks on the beach (no joke!). I baked. And I threw myself into my senior thesis that's due at the end of April. The busier I was, the less time I had to freak out. And the more I worked on academic things, the more my mind cleared about what was coming ahead.
My final lesson learns comes from a quote from Harry Potter, said by Hagrid. "What's coming is coming, and we'll meet it when it does."
Any big lessons you guys learned that I missed?
By this stage I figure I'm something of an expert at visiting potential grad schools. As mentioned in my earlier posts, I looked around a number of American universities when I was over in the States last summer (before the applications were even created). I visited several UK universities for formal interview days and informal introductions.
Last weekend I had my first Visitation Weekend as an admitted grad student. And I handled it like a pro
Seriously, though - I believe that visiting prospective grad schools is a vital thing to do. For starters it taught me how to interact professionally with faculty, how to make small-talk with grad students and how to interview successfully.
Everybody will have different objectives for the visitation weekend, and will take different approaches to achieving those objectives. Here is advice from my perspective.
Before the Visit
Work out how you feel about the school. Is this place your Top Choice or a Safety School? Did you apply here because you liked the faculty...but think the small college town atmosphere might get to you? If you have concerns about the university think up ways to find out more about the underlying issues. What questions can you ask professors/students/people waiting in the Starbucks queue that will get you the information you need to make a decision.
Scour faculty, school, university and specialist Department webpages for information. See what is available to you in this place that is different from other locations. As an international student I wanted to see what resources are there to inform and support grads moving from another country.
Write down a list of your most vital questions on a piece of paper...then put it in your jeans' pocket. On the morning of my visitiation weekend I could be found in my hotel room, scrawling feverishly on the back of my boarding pass all the questions I could possibly think of to address to POIs, students and both. Keeping that list on me during the day meant I could double-check it discreetly between meetings to check I wasn't missing out on anything important.
Mentally & physically prepare yourself. As an introverted scientist, a whole day spent talking with lots of strangers, acting like a friendly team-player and remaining energetic until I was dropped off after dinner...whew, that counts as an endurance event. I had to take time out to psych myself up and get "in the zone". I'm OK with jetlag, but required a lot of water and an early night beforehand.
During the Visit - Objectives
3-5 faculty that I could see myself working for. As a chemist I go through several lab rotations. I have a thesis committee of 3, including my PI. I don't know that my 1st choice PI will have space to take me on...or that I'll work well with them. Therefore, the grad school I commit to must have an absolute minimum of 3 POIs that I like.
Other Departmental faculty that I get on with. I'm going to be doing more than slaving in the lab for 5 years. I want to be in an environment where the faculty get on with each other and know the grad students quite well. If a major research group-related problems erupts, I want there to be "impartial" figures I can chat to for advice.
Grounded Grad Students. I don't want to be in an ultra-competitive grad school where the students have big egos and distrustful attitudes. I don't want to be in a grad school where the students have submissive posture and low self-esteem. I want to be on a program that produces intelligent, confident and likeable grad students. Why? Well, I'd like to be an intelligent, confident and likeable grad student myself - so perhaps I can learn from their example.
Resources to help me meet my career objectives. Coming into grad school I have quite a clear idea of where I want to end up in the future (industry, not academia) and what is needed to achieve that. The better a grad school can help me along that path, the more inclined I will be towards choosing it. Do industrial companies recruit grad students on-campus? Does the grad school host Career Talks about working in industry? How many?
After the visit
[*]Send brief emails to your POIs and organisers, thanking them for their time. It can't hurt to be polite to the faculty you've met (see my 3-5 rule above). Then see how many working days it takes for them to reply. The faculty who reply quickly? You want to work for those organised people.
Firstly, I would like to thank everyone who commented on my last article with money advice. This whole acceptance has left me with many things to think about but I definitely won't be focusing on simply one aspect anymore.
In my mind, despite still having not heard from the University of Toronto, I have decided to go to City University London.
In my parents mind, it's too far away, and they're not comfortable with me going.
When I first told them I got in their initial reaction "I don't have that kind of money." So immediately my thoughts went to that as well. As time passed I started to ignore the money thing, I can double my line of credit and deal with the negative monetary repercussions when I finish my Master's. I'll move to Alberta and work for some evil oil company 7 days a week for a year if I have to (I won't be the first Canadian to do it, and I won't be the last).
After milling over it for a week, and speaking mildly intoxicated with a group of very supportive friends (one of whom has lived in almost every large city in Canada, and in New Zealand, all through work-terms while he was in school). I have weighed that the life experience I would gain from this would far exceed what I'll be paying. Not only would I be living a dream I've had for 2 years now, but I would also get to experience the world in a way that I've never been able to before. And I would be attending a school which, from what I've read, will likely one day be a top university in the world. The program there is known for being really good as well, and I was excited about it long before getting accepted (much more excited than the other school I applied to).
Now to convince the parents. I know as an adult the decision is ultimately up to me, but while I'm away my parents will be the people making sure I am still connected to my home country, will be storing a large amount of my things for me, and will probably be taking care of my cat. Plus they're really the people I talk to the most, even more than many of my friends. I honestly think a large reason why I applied to go to school so far away is so I can distance myself from them a little . . . Either way they've moved past the money thing, but I don't think either of them are on board anyway. My dad even said "You come home, and we buy you groceries sometimes, and you come home for dinner occasionally All that helps. If you move to London we won't be able to hop on a plane and help you if you need it, if you're in Toronto we could." And my mom told my sister it's too far away as well. But she didn't even want me to go to school in British Columbia because it was too far, so that was to be expected.
I basically need to convince my parents either: 1) I am responsible enough to go away for a year somewhere very far, to live an experience that I will deeply regret not living, or 2) Convince them that people far less responsible than myself have gone away for longer to theoretically more 'dangerous' countries (the main example I am thinking of is my cousin, who moved to Austria to be a nanny for a year when she was 18 - not insulting her or anything, but obviously 21 year old me who has lived away from home for 4 years and is almost 100% financially independent (minus tuition), moving to a country where I already speak the language, is much less to worry about than a girl fresh out of high school, who has never lived away from home before, moving to a country where she doesn't speak the language to care for some stranger's children).
Sorry if that is terribly written, I'm incredibly frustrated with my parent's reaction right now. But like I said, I really can't go without their partial blessing. In the very least they'll need to cosign so I can extend my line of credit.
Back again after a fairly long absence!
And gentlefolk, it's finally March. I know for my discipline (history), programs are probably about half-way done returning decisions. I personally applied to ten schools and actually heard from the last of them on Monday. I'm extremely relieved to be done with the waiting game, and am extremely happy with how everything turned out (despite getting rejected from six programs - heh!).
As you might know from my last update, UNC Chapel Hill accepted me all the way back on January 31st. Part of the reason I didn't want to post another entry until now, in fact, is because I got so much news during the first half of February. And since most of it was good news, I didn't feel like it would be kind to post an update with so much (probably gag-worthy) excitement when so many folks were still waiting to hear back.
...Now that people are beginning to enter their decision processes, though, I thought I would share a bit about mine!
I was able to eliminate two of the schools that accepted me right off the bat: one due to poor fit and the other because of ranking/some slightly rude POIs. In the end it came down to CUNY and UNC. They're both excellent fits for me - the faculty is just incredible at both programs. As much as I would love (seriously, love!) to live in NYC, though, the cost of living was a big factor in my decision. Of course, the rankings of the schools are quite different (#10 at UNC vs. #27ish at CUNY for European History), and the prestige/external funding opportunities will be very important to me.
I gave myself about a week and a half to really mull it over (and wait for rejections from other programs - ha!), fearing that I might have formed an unreasonable attachment to UNC because they gave me my first acceptance. Tallying up the pros and cons, though, I'm completely confident that UNC is the right program for me...so on Saturday I went ahead and formally accepted their offer! I'm all set to go out to campus for the visiting weekend in March and absolutely couldn't be happier!
Now all I need to do is finish my thesis and complete my coursework, so I can actually - you know - *graduate* and attend my new program in the fall. That's proving easier said than done, but spring break is just a week away at my current school, so the finish line is in sight!
As you all continue the horrible wait and make your decisions, I wish you all the luck and happiness I've been lucky enough to experience the last few weeks! Feel free to comment and share your hopes, anxieties, decisions...whatever you like!
In the UK, there are two tiers of fees: UK/EU and International. The EU has worked really, really hard to make it so you don't need a visa to live and travel within the EU and you get equal treatment in regards to fees for universities. It's a great, amazing, concept for my friend who is Greek and gets the same fee for Aberystwyth as his friend who is from Leeds. It's not such a great concept for me, an American. I am International according to Aber.
The difference in price is one I can swallow, albeit a little painfully: 6,250 pounds or about $10,000. If there was absolutely nothing I could do about this, I would say "Fine, okay. I knew this coming in." But there is something I can do.
I qualify for dual citizenship with Germany through an odd clause in their citizenship laws provided my Mom got her citizenship as well. I've seriously considered doing this many, many a time, for the fact I could save $10,000. So why don't I?
There's a little thing called "divided loyalties" in the US Government. It's a huge thing in getting security clearance for government jobs. Heck, even for internships. When I interned (no pay) at the Smithsonian, I had to go through a background check. They are looking for risk and your loyalty to the United States. Fair enough. But if they question my loyalty because of a foreign exchange student living in our house when I was thirteen, what would they say to my voluntarily taking on German citizenship (even if the US doesn't recognize it)?
I don't know if I'll end up in the US Government but I know I don't want to rule it out. And so, I shall cough up the extra $10,000. Such is the problem of being International and not EU, or more specifically, being American.
Economically, the UK still makes the most sense for me. I hate that economics have to be such a big factor in my decision - they certainly weren't in my undergrad decision - but they will. So any money I can save, I'll try.
In other news, writing my senior thesis (diss), quoting Doctor Who in it, and waiting for the inevitable rejections to a few more schools.
[Note: found this unpublished and unfinished draft of a blog entry I wrote early last year. Thought I'd publish it anyway.]
Like several of you, I've heard back from most of the schools I applied to (actually, all but1). I've had two in-person interviews (both followed Skype interviews), one just over-the-phone interview, and two acceptances (weirdly, not following interviews at all).
In-person interviews are the only way to go. I know SO much more about those schools, the city I would potentially live in, the faculty, grad students, and general climate of the program than I would have otherwise. In both cases they were game changers - I went in with set opinions that were totally blown out of the water. I literally don't know what to do with the two outright acceptances (without interviews) I did get. How am I supposed to make a decision based on the few pieces of paper they sent me? I'm planning to request visits.
In-person interviews are exhausting. Much more so than you think they'll be. I'm pretty sure I stopped forming coherent sentences about three-quarters of the way through. But it's okay, I think they expect this, and hopefully don't judge too harshly when you forget important pieces of information - like your name, where you're from, or who your POI is. And trust me, you get asked that a lot.
Similar-seeming schools and departments can be wildly different.
I got in to City University London's Msc in Human-Centered Systems on the condition that I get a B+ average this year, and send in my two references. I can't say yes right now, my dad has said he can't pay for it and I know I would have to take out massive loans to go but I'm going to look into scholarships now to see if maybe I can make this happen.
I don't even know what to say right now. I wish I could write more.
It was late on a Tuesday night when the email arrived. Past my bedtime late: it would be around 5pm on the Eastern Seaboard of the USA. I was lying on my bed stabbing the keys of my laptop in the endless cycle of re-checking my emails.
Over a month had passed since I'd taken those deep breaths and hit 'Submit' on my American applications. I was in London at the time, drafting personal statements in the library on a Saturday. I'd celebrated by wandering out into the cold December night and treating myself to dinner in a Thai Restaurant (their pad thai was far too sweet) before cycling back to my lodgings.
December had rolled through. With Christmas I returned to Scotland - the pretence was that I'd be back with my family until I found a job, but in reality I think I was to work myself into a state of neurosis over the 5 American PhD applications (and 3 British ones) I'd relinquished control over.
I speculated. There were 2 PhD programs I'd felt lukewarm about applying to, 1 of which I thought was definitely a lost cause. There was 1 "top choice" and the other 2 were "decent enough alternatives". I staked out my place on GradCafe, carefully noted when my Reach Schools gave out decisions last year...and waited.
Based upon the Results Search I could see one week would be a real pressure point, several of my schools were likely to notify applicants of positive decisions then. I planned tasks in my calendar to get myself out of the endless Email Inbox Refresh Cycle.
In the middle of the week - on the last round of email checks before I called it a night - I saw the message from one of my programs.
It was my first PhD acceptance.
I'm not the "run around the house screaming in joy" kinda gal. I simply lay there grinning to myself. In fact I kept the knowledge secret from my family until the next day, just to let the realisation properly diffuse in.
The next two decisions came within a week, Acceptance No. 2 & Rejection No. 1 on the same day. I had my two "decent enough alternatives". Holding a choice felt wonderful: for most of the 2011-12 application cycle I felt powerless, forcing myself onto options and choices I would have regretted. One unconditional PhD offer was a gift, two gave me the luxury of weighing up factors and prioritising what I wanted the most (location, research fit, facilities). Oh wow...
But then Rejection No. 2 was from my "top choice" and it felt like a punch in the stomach. My reaction to the email was one of physical shock: I'd courted Top Choice University the hardest, received plenty of encouragement from POIs...yet still got the generic rejection email. I had to snap out of the daze because there were people I had to meet that day, but when I met them I was unable to smile properly.
After a day or so of quietly "grieving", I was able to admit to myself where the faults had lay. Top Choice University put a lot of weight on GRE & GPA scores - I knew that from my summer visit - so I suspect my weak Chemistry GRE quickly eliminated me from the pile. I strongly encourage courting of POIs...but if they aren't members of the Admissions Committee there is only so much they can influence selections.
Sure I was disappointed...but not so disappointed that I would attempt another re-application. The application cycle was expensive. It took up huge reserves of my energy. I'd done enough short-term research internships, I wanted a 5-year thesis project. There would be no guarantees in a re-application - maybe I could improve my Chemistry GRE, but if the first 2 attempts hadn't achieved good marks...
Besides, the two options I had were perfectly fine, they just lacked the brand name sparkle.
At the time of writing I'm still waiting to hear back from the UK institutions and to visit the US schools. Only when I have more information will I make my final decision.
Whatever I chose, I know I'll make it pay off.
This week I got a peek behind the curtain at the application review process and it's not pretty. As they say "a little like watching sausage being made".
At a social function I overheard some discussion about the PhD applications under review (in another department at another school on another planet with no specifics about any individuals, I swear).
Using a sample size of admittedly N=1, I was struck by the difference in the relative importance various members give to different parts of the application. Some like SOPs some don't place much emphasis in them. Some want a hard number for GREs, others(like many of you I gather)think they are worthless. Some are impressed by pedigree - others almost seem to rebel against the idea. Apparently a sort of weighting system has evolved - but in trying to reach consensus among near equals there appears to be a reversion toward the mean - so that in the end no single part of the application was rendered unimportant.
In reflecting on how applicants probably need to react to the process I thought about that old joke:
Two campers are awakened by an angry bear outside their tent. Fearing for their lives they jump out and start to run away. One camper says to the other "I sure hope we can outrun this bear" and the other says "I don't care about outrunning the bear - I just hope I can outrun you".
With no absolute formula or level that ensures acceptance - how you stack up compared to the next guy may matter the most. (Ah, a true economist - thinking at the margins). If the rubrik depends on a small set of judges who hold very different opinions about what they are looking for the best bet is solid strength everywhere rather than brilliance in one aspect of your work that hopes to compensate for major shortcomings elsewhere. This may not be the situation in a lot places - but I suspect it's more common than not.
First off, congrats to everyone who has gotten an acceptance! Second, hugs and much tea and choice of wallowing food for those who have had nothing but rejections or have been rejected to their top choice.
I am sitting with two acceptances right now. And i'm ready to make a decision. I'm ready to start looking at housing for my new program and figuring out if I can get a job in that city. I don't have to officially decide until April 15th for a US program or actually, August, for my other program. So why am I ready to decide now, when all the options aren't in? And what does this have to do with my parents?
Right, so, little back story. I am a DoD brat (sounds a bit nicer than Army brat) and I've moved three times in my life, five if you count undergraduate and study abroad. I'm used to living in a place for 5-7 years and then moving again. In fact, since my parents have been married, they haven't lived in one place longer than 7 years. Needless to say, the transitioning constantly has put a bit of wear on me emotionally.
I know for a fact that wherever I got to graduate school (with the exception of Maryland, perhaps), I will move shortly after graduation for a job. So, in my mind I'm going "Okay, I move from study abroad to either home/DC for the summer, then move to who knows where for three years of graduate school, finally get comfortable and then move again for a job." And to me, that doesn't add up. It's too much transitioning for me. Too much uncertainty, and this feeling that I'll never really get comfortable anywhere because I'm so used to just picking myself up and plopping down in another place.
The UK Master's I'm looking at is a one year program. It's at my study abroad institution so I don't have to move cities (housing, yes). Almost all of my friends at said institution are second year undergrads so they'll be around for the one year I would stay there for. I know the city, and as infuriating as Welsh trains are, it's a nice place to live. A wee bit expensive, but nice.
And then there's tuition. If I got absolutely no funding at my top US choice, it would be double the price of a degree at Aber. So yes, the UK is looking pretty good. I've gotten over the ALA/CILIP accredidation kerfluffle and I'm ready to get my dissertation done and graduate from undergrad and move onto the next step.
But... my parents do have a point. I'm guaranteed housing at Aber so I technically don't have to sign a rent contract if I don't want to. I am probably going to get funding at least one university, despite my being MA and the other degree being Library Science which rarely funds. And maybe that will make the cost comparison at least equal, if not tipped in the US's favor.
But three years for two master's, versus 1 year for one when I'm pretty sure I'll be getting either a second Master's, PhD, or law degree at some point after the first/second masters? I love school but not *that* much.
Everything seems to be pointing in one direction but I shall wait. In the meantime, if any of the MLIS's or Public History/Public Humanities MAs want to send out decisions, I'll be happy to consider them!