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  1. 475 points
    About your dog: I think that depends entirely on you and your program. I am in a social science program where the majority of my analysis and writing can be done from home, and I prefer to work from home or from a library (as opposed to my cube in the windowless cube farm). When I was taking classes I was generally there from 9-6 or so, but now that my coursework is finished I am rarely at the school itself. I go for meetings, seminars, interesting kinds of things and I do most of my work remotely. My time is verrry flexible, and if my building didn't prohibit it I would get a dog in a heartbeat. Another thing to keep in mind: a dog can be a great comfort when you're all stressed out over graduate school. Advice? Age: -Don't feel like you have nothing to offer just because you are younger. I was 22 when I started graduate school. You got accepted to the program for a reason, and chances are you are just as equipped as any older students are to successfully complete the program, just in a different way. -Your older classmates may be just as terrified as you. Talk to them. You have a lot in common. You are, after all, in the same place. -You will feel like an imposter, like you don't belong, or like you are constantly behind. Or all three. It's normal. It will pass. (Well, sort of.) People of all ages go through this. Adviser related: -If you are lucky enough to get both research interest fit and personality fit perfect, congratulations! But sometimes, personality fit is more important than research interest fit as long as the research isn't too different. A great adviser is interested in your career development, likes you as a person, advocates for you, and wants to hear your ideas. Even if his or her research is quite different from yours, they may give you the autonomy to work on your own projects and just supervise you. A bad personality fit will drive you nuts, even if you love his or her research. Consider that when evaluating your adviser fit. (This will vary by field: research fit may be less important in the humanities, more important in the natural and physical sciences. Social sciences are somewhere in-between.) -Don't be afraid to be straight up blunt with your adviser when it comes to asking about your progress. Ask if you are where you should be both academic program wise and getting-a-job-after-this-mess-wise. -Be proactive. Advisers love when you draw up an agenda for your one-on-one meetings, come with talking points and progress to share, have concrete questions to ask, and have overall shown that you have been thoughtful and taken control of your own program. Of course, this won't immediately come easily to you, but in time you will work up to it. Every semester I type up my semester goals, and at the beginning of the year I type up annual goals. I show them to my adviser and we talk about whether they are too ambitious, or whether I need to revise them, and how I can meet them. -Don't expect your adviser to actually know what courses you have to take to graduate. They will know about comprehensive exams and the dissertation, but a lot of professors don't really keep up with the course requirements, especially if their program is in flux. Get you a student handbook, and find out what you need to take. Map it out in a grid, and check off things when you finish them. Show this to your adviser every semester. You may have to explain how such and such class fills a requirement. -Nobody loves you as much as you, except your mother. Keep this in mind as you take in advice from all sources, including your adviser. Your adviser is there to guide you, but that doesn't mean you have to do everything he says. Studying: -You will have to read more than you ever did before, in less time than you ever have before, and you will be expected to retain more than you ever have before. The way that you studied in undergrad may need some tweaking. Be prepared for this. -Corollary: you may find that your methods change with age or interests or time. I preferred to study alone in college, but in grad school, I prefer to study in groups. It keeps me on task and the socialization keeps me motivated. You may find that you shift from being a more auditory learner to a visual learner or whatever. -You will feel behind at first. This is normal. -At some point you will realize that your professors don't actually expect you to read everything they assign you. This, of course, will vary by program, but there will be at least one class where the reading is actually impossible to do in one week. The point is to read enough that you know the major themes and can talk intelligently about them, and then pick some of the readings to really dig into and think more deeply about. -For most programs, don't worry so much about grades. If you stay on top of your work and do what you're supposed to, you will probably get an A. How much grades matter varies from program to program. In some programs, a B is a signal that you are not up to par, and more than a few Bs will warrant a discussion with your adviser or the DGS. My program isn't like that - A, B, it's all meaningless. My adviser doesn't even know what my grades are. But at almost all programs, a C means you need to retake the course, and two Cs means you have to convince the DGS not to kick you out. Extracurricular activity: What's that? No, seriously: -A lot of your time will be unstructured. You will have coursework, but most grad classes meet once a week for two hours and you may have three classes. You may have meetings with your adviser every so often and some seminars or things to catch (like we have grand rounds and colloquia that are required), but a lot of time will be unstructured. However, since you have so much more work than you had in undergrad, you actually will have less free time than you had in undergrad. This may initially cause you great anxiety. It did for me. Some people love unstructured time, though. (I don't.) -Because of this, you'll have to be planful about your non-grad school related stuff. -TAKE TIME OFF. DO it. It's important for your mental health. However you do it doesn't matter. Some people work it like a 9-5 job. Some people take a day off per week (me) and maybe a few hours spread across the week. Some people work half days 7 days a week. However you do it, there needs to be a time when you say "f this, I'm going to the movies." -Find your happy place, something that keeps you the you you were when you came in. I love working out. It gives me energy and I feel good. I stay healthy. I also love reading fiction, so sometimes I just curl up with a good book, work be damned. You have to give yourself permission to not think about work, at least for a couple of hours a week. You may also discover new hobbies! (I never worked out before I came to graduate school.) -Your work will creep into all aspects of your life, if you let it. This is why I hate unstructured time. You will feel guilty for not doing something, because in graduate school, there is ALWAYS something you can do. ALWAYS. But since there will always be more work, there's no harm in putting it aside for tomorrow, as long as you don't have a deadline. -You may need to reach outside of your cohort for a social life. None of my close friends are in my doctoral cohort. I've met master's students in my program, master's students in other programs, and I know a few non-graduate students I hang out with, too. Go to graduate student mixers. (If your university doesn't have any, organize some, if you like planning parties.) Join a student group that doesn't take up too much time. I had a doctoral acquaintance who kinda laughed at me because I joined some student groups other than the doctoral student one, and I was usually the only doctoral student in those groups, but I met some close friends (and future job contacts) and had a good time. -DO NOT FEEL GUILTY FOR WANTING A LIFE OUTSIDE OF GRADUATE SCHOOL. This is paramount. This is important. You are a well-rounded, complex, multifaceted human being. NEVER feel bad for this. Everybody wants some kind of life outside of work. Yes, you may loooove your field, but that doesn't mean you want to do it all day long. Some other doctoral students, and perhaps professors, may make you feel bad about this. Don't let them. Just smile and nod. Then disappear when you need to. Career: -This is job preparation. Remember that from Day One. Always be looking for ways to enhance your skills. Read job ads and find out what's hot in your field, what's necessary, what's in demand. For example, in my field statistics and methods are a hot commodity, and they're not a passing fad. I happen to really like statistics and methods, so I have pursued that as a concentration of mine. -Don't be afraid to take on volunteer work and part-time gigs that will give you skills that will be useful both inside academia and out, as long as it's not against your contract. Your adviser may be against it, but he doesn't have to know as long as it doesn't interfere with your work. -If you want to work outside of academia - if you are even *considering* the possibility - please please definitely do the above. Even if you aren't considering it, consider the possibility that you won't get a tenure-track job out the box and that you may need to support yourself doing something else for a while. You will have to prove to employers that you have developed usable, useful skills and this is one of the easiest ways to do it. But don't overdo it - get the degree done. -For more academic related ones - always look for opportunities to present and publish. Presentations look good on your CV. Publications look better. When you write seminar papers, wonder if you can publish them with some revision. Write your seminar papers on what you maybe think you may want to do your dissertation on. Even if you look at them three years later and think "these suck," you can at least glean some useful references and pieces from them. Discuss publication with your adviser early and often, and if you have the time and desire, seek out publication options with other professors and researchers. But if you commit to a project, COMMIT. You don't want to leave a bad impression. -If you can afford it, occasionally go to conferences even if you aren't presenting. You can network, and you can hear some interesting talks, and you may think about new directions for your own research. You can also meet people who may tell you about jobs, money, opportunities, etc. -Always try to get someone else to pay for conference travel before you come out of pocket. Including your adviser. Do not be shy about asking if he or she can pay. If he can't, he'll just say no. Usually the department has a travel fund for students, but often it's only if you are presenting. -If you are interested in academia, you should get some teaching experience. There are two traditional ways to do this: TAing a course, and teaching as a sole instructor. If you can help it, I wouldn't recommend doing a sole instructor position until you are finished with coursework. Teaching takes a LOT of time to do right. You should definitely TA at least one course, and probably a few different ones. But don't overdo it, if you can help it, because again, it takes a LOT of time. More than you expect at the outset. If you are in the humanities, I think sole instructor positions are very important for nabbing jobs so when you are in the exam/ABD phase, you may want to try at least one. If your own university has none, look at adjuncting for nearby colleges, including community colleges. (I would wager that the majority of natural science/physical science students, and most social science students, have never sole taught a class before they get an assistant professor job. At least, it's not that common n my field, which straddles the social and natural sciences.) -Always look for money. Money is awesome. If you can fund yourself you can do what you want, within reason. Your university will be thrilled, your adviser will be happy, and you can put it on your CV. It's win-win-win! Don't put yourself out of the running before anyone else has a chance to. Apply even if you think you won't get it or the odds are against you (they always are), as long as you are eligible. Apply often. Apply even if it's only $500. (That's conference travel!) Money begets money. The more awards you get, the more awards you will get. They will get bigger over time. If you are in the sciences and social sciences, you should get practice writing at least one grant. You don't have to write the whole thing, but at least get in on the process so that you can see how it's done. Grant-writing is very valuable both in and outside of graduate school. -Revise your CV every so often. Then look and decide what you want to add to it. Then go get that thing, so you can add it. -The career office at big universities is often not just for undergrads. I was surprised to learn that my career center offers help on CV organization and the academic job search, as well as alternative/non-academic career searches for doctoral students. In fact, there are two people whose sole purpose it is to help PhD students find nonacademic careers, and they both have PhDs. This will vary by university - some universities will have very little for grad students. Find out before you write the office off. -It's never too early to go to seminars/workshops like "the academic job search inside and out", "creating the perfect CV," "getting the job," etc. NEVER. Often the leader will share tips that are more aimed towards early graduate students, or tidbits that are kind of too late for more advanced students to take care of. This will also help you keep a pulse on what's hot in your field. It'll help you know what lines you need to add to your CV. And they're interesting. Other: -Decide ahead of time what you are NOT willing to sacrifice on the altar of academia. Then stick to it. I'm serious. If you decide that you do NOT want to sacrifice your relationship, don't. If it's your geographical mobility, don't. I mean, be realistic, and realize that there will always be trade-offs. But you have to think about what's important to you for your quality of life, and realize that there is always more to you than graduate school. -If you don't want to be a professor, do not feel guilty about this. At all. Zero. However, you will have to do things differently than most doctoral students. Your adviser will probably never have worked outside of the academy (although this may vary depending on the field) so he may or may not be able to help you. But you have a special mission to seek out the kinds of experiences that will help you find a non-academic job. Test the waters with your adviser before you tell him this. My adviser was quite amenable to it, but that's because I told him that my goal was to still do research and policy work in my field just not at a university, AND because it's quite common in my field for doctoral students to do non-academic work. If you're in a field where it's not common (or where your professors refuse to believe it's common, or it's not supposed to be common)…well, you may be a little more on your own. -Every so often, you will need to reflect on the reasons you came to graduate school. Sometimes, just sit and think quietly. Why are you doing this to yourself? Do you love your field? Do you need this degree to do what you want to do? Usually the answer is yes and yes, and usually you'll keep on trucking. But sometimes when the chips are down you will need to reevaluate why you put yourself through this in the first place. -To my great dismay, depression is quite common in doctoral students. Graduate work can be isolating and stressful. Luckily your health insurance usually includes counseling sessions. TAKE THEM if you need them. Do not be ashamed. You may be surprised with who else is getting them. (I found out that everyone in my cohort, including me, was getting mental health counseling at a certain point.) Exercise can help, as can taking that mental health day once a week and just chilling. Don't be surprised if you get the blues… -…but be self-aware and able to recognize when the depression is clouding your ability to function. Doctoral programs have a 50% attrition rate, and this is rarely because that 50% is less intelligent than, less motivated than, less driven than, or less ambitious than the other 50% that stays. Often they realize that they are ridiculously unhappy in the field, or that they don't need the degree anymore, or that they'd rather focus on other things in life, or their interests have changed. All of this is okay! -You will, at some point, be like "eff this, I'm leaving." I think almost every doctoral student has thought about dropping out and just kicking this all to the curb. You need to listen to yourself, and find out whether it is idle thought (nothing to worry about, very normal) or whether you are truly unhappy to the point that you need to leave. Counseling can help you figure this out. -Don't be afraid to take a semester or a year off if you need to. That's what leaves of absence are for. Lastly, and positively… …graduate school is great! Seriously, when else will you ever have the time to study what you want for hours on end, talk to just as interested others about it, and live in an intellectual community of scholars and intellectuals? And occasionally wake up at 11 am and go to the bank at 2 pm? Sometimes you will want to pull out all of your hair but most of the time, you will feel fulfilled and wonderfully encouraged and edified. So enjoy this time!
  2. 114 points

    SOP mistakes: what to avoid

    Medievalmaniac, I really don't think that the SoP is the right place to explain your coursework, unless it has direct relevance to the narrative you're writing about your development. I just attached a sheet with all my applications called "Undergraduate Coursework in Literature" or "Relevant Coursework," and then divide it up into "English" and "French." Under each category, I had the course number, the actual full title, the prof, and my grade in it. That way they can cross-reference with my transcript if they want, but they have the important info that they'll really be mining my transcript for isolated for them already. And I didn't have to take up precious space in my SoP explaining them. As for what I did in my SoP that I think worked, I have some perspective on that, having been roundly rejected two years ago and pretty decent success this round (though UVa and U Washington, what is UP?! Still waiting on them). I really think the difference between my two SoPs is the big thing that made the difference, as my numbers and other qualifications (and even most of my writing sample, though I edited it) are the same. So here's what I think made the difference, in three alliterative categories: 1. Focus. Like it or not, they want to be able to categorize you. You can have secondary interests, but they have to be clearly secondary and bear some relation to your main focus. Last time I tried to tell too many stories of my development, and there were too many directions I could go in. This was partially a reflection of where I was at the time, and honestly I think they were right to reject me straight out of undergrad - I needed some time to reflect, to think about what I actually wanted to do in the field. Now that I have, my SoP reflects that clearer sense of direction and purpose. 2. Fit. Everyone tells you this, but it's true. I spent a lot more time really researching profs on the websites, then looking up and scanning through a few key articles, and skimming through the courses they taught. It really gives you a better idea of whether their interests and methodologies ACTUALLY fit yours, or whether it just looks like that on paper. I then tailored my fit paragraph to show how multiple faculty members could support my research interests (this may be English-specific, as in other non-humanitites disciplines you are applying to work with one advisor). Also, if the department has a pet methodology, it's helpful to know that - they'll look for students who fit that bill. Interdisciplinary programs that faculty are involved in and subfield/methodologically-specific colloquia, etc. are also things to look for. 3. Future. This could vary, depending on how much of an academic past you have, but for me what helped was focusing discussing even my past towards showing how it formed a trajectory for the future. I've said in other places around here that the best advice I got for my SoP was that you should think about demonstrating that you are capable of conceiving of a larger project; whether or not you end up doing that project is irrelevant, as you probably won't and the adcomm is well aware of that - the point is that you are CAPABLE of conceiving of a future direction for yourself. I focused on telling a story (i.e. "I'm interested in the relationship to place in Modernist literature") and cutting all details of my past that didn't mesh with that. So by the end I was able to say look! What I discussed doing in paragraphs x (gloss of relevant coursework/advisors, focus), y (challenges and triumphs of writing my thesis and learning theory), and z (teaching, living different places) all feed into the project I'm proposing in this last paragraph (though the project was sufficiently broad so as not to pigeonhole me). I said that I wanted to go in certain different directions, but it was clear that it would be a continuation of my development, not starting anew. They want to see that you are capable of functioning independently as an academic (should be demonstrated by your past and by the fact that you can independently come up with good future directions), but that they have something to offer in terms of guiding you. Hope that helps!
  3. 88 points

    It Happened

    This morning I woke up to the coldest winter day so far this year. I could barely bring myself to get out of bed. Making coffee was a chore. My apartment was freezing. Our shitty prewar radiators are no match for this kind of weather. I just wanted to get back under my comforter, preferably wearing at least six pairs of sweatpants and my parka, and sleep until May. By 9AM, I'd already checked my email and this board approximately 200 times. The last couple of months haven't been easy for me. After implied rejections from what I felt were some of my strongest fits, I was feeling discouraged. What if I hadn't improved my profile all that much over the last year? Should I have retaken the GRE? Was it a mistake to take on multiple editing projects for faculty instead of working on publishing my thesis? Was trying to switch disciplines an impossible task? Why didn't I apply to more schools? Should I have tried for an NDSEG even though I wasn't firmly in the behavioral sciences? What if I just wasn't ever going to be good enough, no matter what I did? It doesn't help that I had a bad interview with a school I really love. I had two interviews there, but the bad one just really sticks in my mind. I replay all the awful moments in my head in the shower. I hear the dumb words come out of my dumb mouth when I'm trying to get work done for my actual job that pays actual money. To make a long story short, I have not been feeling hopeful. I have heard nothing from a lot of schools I applied to. I've been looking into all sorts of non-academic jobs, convinced that trying to get into a program for the third time would just be too much. YA novelist? Book publishing? Bartending? Teaching secular subjects at Yeshiva high schools? I've really thought through pretty much any possible career route, but nothing can stand up to just wanting that PhD. For my interests, you need the PhD even for non-academic jobs, so if I do anything else, I'm selling myself short. Around 9:15 this morning, I got the email. I've been waiting for this email for almost two years. I've dreamed about this email. I get mad at other emails because they are not this email. I have probably broken world records for refreshing my inbox because I have been waiting so impatiently for this email. I got in. I got into a program I genuinely love with faculty I respect and admire. I got into a program that believes in my work and can support my scholarship. I got in with funding! I got into a department where I fit, where I have more POIs than I know what to do with, and where I can, just maybe, soon call home. I got in! I want to scream it from the rooftops. There is still plenty of waiting to do. I have other schools to hear from, other disappointments, and maybe even other triumphs. But what matters now is that I have the chance to prove myself. Getting into the program isn't the hard part. Getting the PhD isn't even the hard part. Doing something with it -- something truly and fundamentally meaningful with that degree is the hard part. And I am a long way off from that part of my life, but what matters now is that I am on my way. I know a lot of you have been following this blog, whether from the beginning or just stumbling upon it now. I hope you can find the strength to drag yourself out of bed on the coldest day of the year just so you can get some of the best news of your life. I hope you soon have an excuse to drink cheap champagne and look at weird Craigslist ads for apartments in cities you barely know. I hope you finally get that email you've been waiting for. I hope you get in. I know you will.
  4. 85 points

    Questions to Ask

    I wrote up an exhaustive--and exhausting--list of questions before my visit last year and am pasting it below. Keep in mind that encoded within these questions are assumptions and preferences that are likely specific to me and what I was looking for. Also, though I asked many of these questions during my visits, I also found that, in the scheme of things, most of these questions--or, I should say, most of the answers--didn't really matter in my decision-making process. In much the same way that stats tell you something, but not necessarily something useful, about what programs are looking for and what your fellow applicants are like, these questions often tell you structural things about a department but not what it actually feels like to be there. Everyone's mileage will vary, of course, but I found myself not caring if, say, prelims were written or oral (though I had a preference) if everything else about the program was appealing. In the end, if it's a program you love, you'll jump through whatever hoops it presents. I highly recommend visiting schools, as there were programs at which my instinctive reaction told me everything I needed to know after about 5 minutes of being there. Additionally, visiting schools lets you make contact with people who will be important to your work regardless if you end up working with them directly. Good luck! It's an exciting, if unnerving time, and as difficult as it was last year to weigh the options, I found myself missing the sense of possibility after I had made a decision that I was (and am) very happy with. -PLACES TO STUDY AND WORK -Where do most people do their writing and reading? -What study spaces are available? Do students get a carrel? Do those who teach get or share an office? -LIBRARY -What is the library system like? Are the stacks open or closed? -What are the library hours? -Are there specialized archives/primary sources that would be useful to my research? -Are there specialist librarians who can help me with my research? -FACULTY -Are the faculty members I want to work with accepting new students? Are any of those faculty members due for a sabbatical any time soon? -Are professors willing to engage you on a personal level rather than just talking about your work? -Are there any new professors the department is hiring in areas that align with my interests? -Students’ relationships with their professors – are they primarily professional, or are they social as well? -FUNDING -Is funding competitive? If so, do students feel a distinction between those who have received more generous funding and those who haven’t? -How does funding break down among the cohort? i.e., how many people receive fellowships? -How, if you don’t have much savings, do you make enough money to live comfortably? -Are there external fellowships one can apply to? If so, what is available? Does the program help you apply for these fellowships? How does receiving an external fellowship affect internal funding? -If people need more than five/six years to finish, what funding resources are available? (For instance, Columbia can give you an additional 2-year teaching appointment.) -Do you provide funding for conferences or research trips? -How often is funding disbursed? (i.e., do you get paid monthly or do you have to stretch a sum over a longer period of time?) -COHORT -Do students get along with each other? Is the feeling of the program more collaborative than competitive? -Do students in different years of the program collaborate with each other, or are individual cohorts cliquey? -How many offers are given out, and what is the target number of members for an entering class? -Ages/marital status of people in the cohort – do most people tend to be married with families? Are there younger people? Single people? What sense do you have of how the graduate students interact with each other socially? -Do people seem happy? If they’re stressed, is it because they’re busy or is it because they’re anxious/depressed/cynical/disillusioned? -Is the grad secretary/program administrator nice? -What is the typical time to completion? What are the factors that slow down or speed up that time? -I’ve read that there are two kinds of attrition: “good” attrition, in which people realize that the program, or graduate study, isn’t right for them and leave early on, and “bad” attrition, in which people don’t finish the dissertation. What can you tell me about the rates of each, and of the reasons why people have chosen to leave the program? -JOB MARKET/PROFESSIONALIZATION -What is the placement rate? How many of those jobs are tenure-track? -What are examples of institutions in which people in my field have been placed? -How does the department prepare you for the job search? Are there mock interviews and mock job talks? -Are the people helping you navigate the job search people who have recently gone through the process themselves? -If you don’t get placed, is there anything the department can do for you? (e.g., can you stay an extra year?) -How does the department prepare you for and help you attain conference presentations and publications? -SUMMER WORK -What is encouraged/required? -If there separate funding/is the year-round funding enough to live on during the summer? -Do people find themselves needing to get outside work during the summer in order to have enough money? -Am I expected to stay in town in the summer, and what happens if I don’t? -LANGUAGE REQUIREMENT -What is done to help people who don’t have language proficiency attain it? Does the university provide funding? -What is the requirement, and by when do you have to meet it? -Given my research interests, what languages should I study? -When do you recommend doing the work necessary to fulfill the language requirement? (i.e., summer before first year, summer after first year, while taking classes, etc.) -LOCATION REQUIREMENTS -How long are students required to be in residence? -How many students stay in the location for the duration of the program? (i.e., how many dissertate in residence?) -How is funding affected if you don’t stay? -Incompletes on papers at the end of the term: What is the policy, how many students take them, and how does this affect progress through the program? -TEACHING -What sort of training is provided? -What types of courses do people teach? -Does teaching entail serving as a grader? Serving as a TA? Developing and teaching a section of comp? -How are students placed as TAs? Is there choice about what classes you teach and which professors you work with? Do classes correspond to your field? -How many courses do you teach per semester/year? -How many students are in your classes? -How does the school see teaching as fitting in with the other responsibilities/requirements of graduate study? -How do students balance teaching with their own work? -Is the department more concerned with training you as a teacher/professor or with having cheap labor to teach their classes? -How, if at all, does the economic downturn affect teaching load/class sizes? -What are the students like? Can I sit in on a course a TA teaches to get a sense of them? -METHODOLOGY -Is a theory course required? -What methodology do most people use? -Where, methodologically, do you see the department – and the discipline – heading? -Is interdisciplinarity encouraged, and what sorts of collaboration have students undertaken? -Typical graduate class and seminar sizes -What should I do to prepare over the summer? -Ask people I know: What are the questions – both about the program itself and about the location – I should ask that will most help me get a feel for whether this is the right program for me? -Ask people I know: What do you wish you knew or wish you had asked before choosing a program? -Is the school on the semester or the quarter system, and how does that affect classes/teaching/requirements? -What is the course load for each semester, and how many courses are required? -What kind of support is provided while writing the dissertation? I worry about the isolation and anxiety of writing such a big project. What does the program do to help you break the dissertation down into manageable pieces, and to make the experience less isolating? -What do writing assignments look like in classes? Do they differ based on the type/level of class and/or based on whether you intend to specialize in the field? -Ask professors: what have you been working on lately? -Ask professors: What is your approach to mentoring and advising graduate students? -How long are class meetings? -How often do professors teach graduate courses? -Are course schedules available for future semesters (10-11, etc.)? -Can I see the grad student handbook? Are there any other departmental documents – such as reports on the program prepared for accreditation – that I can see? -QUALITY OF LIFE -Prices – how does the cost of gas, milk, cereal, etc. compare to other places I've lived in? -Cost and quality of typical one-bedroom apartment. -What does the university do to provide you with or help you find housing? -When (i.e., what month) do people start looking for an apartment for the fall, and where do they look? -Is it easy to find a summer subletter? -How close to campus can—and should—one live? -What grocery stores are there in town? -How late are cafes, bookstores, malls, restaurants typically open? -What do people do to make extra money? -Does the town have more of a driving or a walking culture? What is parking like near campus (availability, ease, cost)? -Where do most English grad students live? Most other grad students? Most professors? Where is the student ghetto? Do most students live near each other, or are they spread out far and wide? -How far does the stipend go in this location?
  5. 79 points
    I've posted here before with my thoughts about choosing graduate school. Seeing how so many of you are in the middle of this supremely stressful time, agonizing over admissions and deciding where to go, I thought that I would let you all have some insight into what the process looks like from the perspective of an admissions committee member. I do this for three reasons. First, some of you could use the distraction. Second, many of you are facing the prospect of asking "why was I denied at school X" and should know how difficult this process is. Third, this is the first time that I've served on an admissions committee and I frankly was surprised at how hard this was, so now that it's all over I want to record my own thoughts. Some background: I am an associate prof at a large department that is somewhere in the 20-40 range. We're good, not great, and we place our students fairly well. We admit an average sized class for schools at our rank. We have somewhere between 30 and 40 times as many complete applications as we have spots in our program. Another 50-75 every year are incomplete (missing GRE scores, something like that). We do not hold it against you if you are missing one of your letters of recommendation, but if you are missing more than one your files goes into the incomplete pile and is not reviewed. From there, the process works like this. Every candidate who submits a complete application is given an anonymous number. We then do an initial pass through the applications to eliminate students who are simply unqualified based on test scores. The bar for this is very, very low, but if you cannot score at least a 100 on your TOEFL and a 500 on each of your GRE sections you are eliminated at the very beginning. This doesn't cut a lot of people, but it does have the benefit of eliminating students whose English or basic math skills are not up to snuff. From there, the files are divided randomly into piles, which are divided up across the members of the admissions committee without regard to subfield or anything like that. Each file is read carefully by a committee member and assigned a numerical score from 1-10. Anyone who receives a "1" at this stage is automatically forwarded to the final round. The remaining files that receive a 2-10 ranking are then given to another member of the search committee, who re-reads them and rescores them. Any file that receives a "1" in this second stage is automatically forwarded to the final round. The remaining files from this stage (meaning that they received "2" or lower on both initial reviews) are then divided up based on subfield and given to the member of the admissions committee who represents that subfield. That committee member then ranks the files a final time. Any student that receives a "1" or a "2" at this penultimate stage makes it to the final round, regardless of the earlier scores from the first two reviews. The point of doing it this way is to ensure that we give every student a fair shake. Each student receives a close read from three separate faculty members, each of whom can advance a student to the final round. We end up with around four times as many files in final round as we have available spots. Each committee member then ranks these students, and we have a big meeting where we decide who to admit and to waitlist out of this group. We then bring our proposal to the subfield representatives who are *not* on the search committee, and they have the ability to lobby for different choices from the final round (although they tend not to do this). From there, the department votes on the proposed list of admits and waitlisters. *********** So that is how the process works in terms of procedures. I suppose that all of you are probably wondering how we decide who gets one of the 1s. The answer is that it is supremely difficult to do this. We make mistakes, I am sure of it. Our goal is to find people--and this is important, so read carefully--who can successfully complete our program and secure a tenure-track job. That is the outcome that we are trying to achieve; we are not trying to admit the smartest, the most unique, or even the most interesting students (although we do want these people too!). It's possible that other departments that care less about placement are more interested in just admitting smart people, and I bet that for schools like Harvard and Princeton, that's probably true. But for us, we want students who will succeed. The challenge is that it is really difficult for us to tell what kind of applicant will be able to do this. We know that you will have to be bright, you will have to be creative, and you will have to be highly motivated. But trust me, anyone who has gone through a PhD can tell you, it's not like anything you've ever done before. Unless you already have a PhD, there's nothing that you could write in your application that will convince us that without a doubt you've got the chops. We have to make a bet based on imperfect information (and in fact, we probably are facing a game of incomplete information too, at least about your own objectives). It takes a special kind of person to do this, and I'm not certain how much we learn from pedigree, letters, grades, and test scores, but that's what we have. What I can say for sure is that even if we only based our decision on pedigree, letters, grades, and test scores, that wouldn't be enough to whittle down our choices to a manageable number. We are dealing with a massive oversupply of qualified candidates. In my first round alone, at least 20 students were Ivy League grads with 3.7+ GPAs, 700+/700+ GREs, and glowing letters. We could have populated an incoming class with these alone, yet each other admissions committee member probably had the same number of people with similar backgrounds. Then you dig deeper and you realize the number of people with incredible life experiences, great grades, great letters, and all the rest, but from other schools. Or they have great writing samples that make it clear that they know what a political science PhD is all about, even if they don't have the very best grades. Or you get a student who has worked two jobs to pay for an education at a regional state university, someone whose drive and motivation clearly signals his/her ability to bring a project to completion even if s/he does not have the best pedigree. Or someone who's at the top of her class at a top-rank Indian university. I could go on. There are simply too many of these people for us to admit all of them. So what does it come down to? At the end of the day, it's seemingly minor things like "fit," or "interest," or "promise." Most of these are beyond your control as applicant. If you don't seem to have a good idea of what graduate school is all about--many applicants, unfortunately, do not--you don't make it. If you make a big deal about how you want to work with Professor X, and Professor X is considering a move to a different department, we don't accept you. If your writing sample doesn't show that you can express yourself clearly, there is little hope for your application. If your application emphasizes grade/scores/letters/pedigree, but doesn't convince us that you have what it takes to succeed in the PhD, you're not going to be admitted. If you've gone straight through from undergrad, without the sort of life experiences that convince us that you know why you want to go to get an advanced degree, the bar is a lot higher (but not insurmountable). And these are very fine distinctions, and again, we definitely make mistakes. There are two things that you should take away from this. The first is that, at least this year, admission to my department (admittedly, not the best one) was fiercely competitive. Unbelievably so. I have never served on an admissions committee before (my department only allows tenured professors to be on this committee) but I get the impression that it's gotten much harder since I got my PhD. The second is that you should not sweat it if you don't make into the departments of your dreams. I'd say that at least 80% of the total applicants in our pool this year were plausible candidates for admission, meaning that I would have been happy to admit them. We end up making a lot of hard choices based on imperfect signals of future professional performance, and to reiterate once more, we definitely make mistakes. Nothing makes me more frustrated than when we admit a dud (it happens). I am always happy to see a student who didn't make it into our department succeed somewhere else. Best of luck to you all.
  6. 78 points
    Ok, not little All too often people post here asking what their chances are at this and that school. I completetly understand their desire to know the answer. However, I also understand why some other people get somewhat annoyed by this question. Indeed, it is very hard to tell what somebody's chances are at certain schools, even if you know their stats and other details like a number of publications they have. That is why I decided to write this post. I will explain how, in my opinion, one can estimate one's chances and choose programs correctly. I hope that other people experienced in application process will correct me if I am wrong and add their advice. And may be, if moderators consider this post useful, they will be able to make it always stay on top of this board - if it is possible on this forum. First of all, if you want to know whether your stats (GRE, GPA, TOEFL score) are good enough for you to be accepted to certain schools - there is one easy way to find the answer. Most schools post stats of students they have accepted, like on this page here. So try to find this info on websites of schools you are planning to apply to and if you can't find it, ask graduate secretaries/coordanators if such a page exists and if not, where you can find those stats. Remember that if your stats are low but not abysmal, that does not mean that your chances are low. It does not (always) go like - lower the grades, lower the chances (unless they are above some bare minimum) and vice versa. Because... Second of all, even with the best stats, numerous publications, brilliant letters of reference, etc. you may not be accepted to a school if you have not chosen a program wisely. Because the most important thing in this game is fit. If a program thinks they are a bad fit for you, they will not admit you, however wonderful your application is. So you should apply only to schools that fit well your research interests and experience. How can you find schools with a good fit? First, of course, you schould know what your research interests are. If you know that, visit as many websites of programs in your field as you can find - and read about them, very carefully. Where can you find a list of programs? Well, browse the internet. When I was applying last year, I came across a biiiiiig list of programs in my field (it was not a ranking, just a list) and I spent a lot of time just going through all these program's websites. If you don't find such a list, just find some rankings. Not in order to find out what programs are the best in your field (many people don't believe in rankings anyway) but just to see what programs are out there. So, you read about the programs on their websites. From the way these programs are described you should get an idea if you would be interested in studying there or not. When I was choosing programs to apply to, I first used the list that I had found to make a shorter list of programs with a very general fit. Then, as I knew that I would not be able to attent a program without funding, I looked through this new shorter list looking for programs that were offering funding. As you can imagine, the list became even shorter after that Then I started to read about faculty in the programs from the last list, looking for professors who could potentially become my advisors. Then I contacted these professors, telling them about my research project, asking about their opinion. When some replied and I saw that they liked my ideas, I asked them if they would be taking graduate students next year. In the end I had only 5 programs left and I applied to all of them. About contacting professors. As far as I understand, you can do that in all fields, except - for some mysterious reason! - English. (Here I ask other experienced forumers to correct me if I am wrong.) BUT: If a professor is interested or even very very interested, that in no way guarantees that you will be accepted to this program because there are many other factors at play during the application process (most important of them being funding and faculty politics). But of course having a professor in a program who has expressed interest in working with you is a very good sign. It is definetely better than having no such professor. If you find a profesoor who is willing to take you as a graduate student but you are unsure about your stats, you can ask them about that. But of course don't ask it in the first letter to them!!! Only when you see that they are interested (and friendly). Finally, I want to say, that all I have told above is based on my experience and it helped me - I was accepted to a school with a great fit (which is supported by the fact that they decided to give me a nice fellowship). May be there are other ways to choose programs and estimate your chances with them. May be in other fields (I am in social sciences) rules are different. I hope that others will correct me or pitch in some ideas based on their own experience with application process. Good luck!
  7. 67 points

    Some Advice on Writing an SOP

    First, my credentials. Well. I can spell my own name, though I don't usually know exactly how old I am. I'm within a year or two, but I'm usually wrong until I've done some subtraction. I teach composition and like to write calculus equations on the board when I take classes in poetry writing. But, here's my real credentials: consider what is written herein in conjunction with what the various instructions on SOPs that you've read have said, with the requirements the program you are applying to has put forth, and with your own experience as a writer. Do you think I know what I'm talking about? Should you pay any attention to it? Is any of it useful? Second, I'm not going to give you a formula for what the standard SOP is like, or a list of things the various thousands of admissions committees will be looking for. There are plenty of prescriptions on the internet, many of them written by professors who have presumably gotten sick of badly written SOPs. Third, I'm not promising that SOP writing be easier after this. It'll be harder, actually. I'm not promising that you'll get in to any place you desire, or that there is any one best thing to put in the SOP to get noticed. That would be totally impossible. Each discipline has its own needs and values, as does each university, each department, and each faculty member on the admissions committee (adcomm). There is no one size and it doesn't fit most, let alone all. There are conventions (use Standard English, for one), but other than include your research interests, I won't advocate that any one thing is strictly necessary. I leave that up to the more knowledgeable. The advice: First thing is to deeply understand that you should write an SOP for each program. Most people take this to mean write one master SOP and then tweak as necessary to make the one SOP applicable to each university (U of A becomes U of B, Professor X becomes Professor Y). You can do that. You can be very successful doing that. You most likely, really shouldn't do it. The next thing to understand is the SOP's purpose. Why do the adcomms want to see SOPs? Shouldn't transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a writing sample do it? After all, transcripts and samples show the actual scholarship and the letters verify it. The SOP isn't for showing scholarship off, or to act like a resume, or anything. So why do the adcomms want an SOP? Why are the SOPs one of those make-it-or-fail things? What is the SOP's purpose? In job hunting terms, the SOP is like a cover letter. The cover letter is to make clear connections between the resume and the job ad. For you, its primary purpose is to make the adcomm offer you admission with full funding. For the adcomm, its primary purpose is to help them see how you would fit into their program (make connections between their program and you). By fit, I mean do they have faculty (or enough faculty) in your area of research interest that can advise, mentor, supervise, and/or committee you through the program to get your degree? Do you have the kind of understanding of the discipline, your research interests, and their program that would make you successful? Do they have something to teach you? Offer you? What can you offer them? They want to brag on you as much as you want to brag about them. If they offer you admission, will you be a good scholar? A good student? Here is the most basic question the SOP should answer: What is it about you that makes you a better prospect than everyone else who's applying? Understanding the SOP's purpose, in practical terms, means that you will know what to put into it and what to leave out of it. And how to phrase it. So, with the purpose in mind, there comes the question: what should you put into it and leave out of it? What format should you use? (MLA? APA? Is footnoting okay?! What about citation?!) Should I stick in a personal story that everyone seems to recommend, except for the half that don't? My research interests? The story about why I got on F in that one, very important class? I'm not going to answer those questions because I can't. Every discipline and department is different. I will give you an answer you won't like: research. Find out the requirements each program you're interested in has for the SOP, think of the SOP's purpose: and now research. Research is one of the basic keys to writing an SOP. It's no different than the writing sample you'll be including in your application packet. For each program you apply to, do some research. How much research you need to do depends on a lot of things, the least of which is your personality. More research does not automatically mean a better SOP. Less research doesn't automatically mean a better one, either. What makes the right amount of research? The ability to craft an SOP that is specific for the program that you're getting into. Here's some ideas (not an exhaustive, inclusive list of what to do) on what to research: The program itself. Look at the recent graduates and, if possible, read their theses and/or dissertations, at least in part. The acknowledgements can give you an idea about the program's culture. The introduction can give you an idea about what kind of scholarship the program produces and expects. It will also, and this is very important, give you an idea as to how the program uses language. If you speak to them in their own language, that helps your case. You've likely done this, if not, seriously, you should have done this. Look at the program's website and read it all. What kind of classes are offered for both undergrad and grad. Who are the faculty, the tenured, the assistant, the visiting, the emeritus, and the graduate students. What kind of ties to the community (both academic and their local town) do they like to talk about? Do they talk about how their graduate students are working with community partners? Do they host conferences? What happened at the last one? This gives you a taste of the program's culture. The faculty. All of them that might be on the adcomm and the ones that are relevant or somewhat relevant to your interests. Crack open JSTOR etc. and search for recent faculty publications. If you're basing your interest on a faculty member on the interests they've got listed on the site and a reference to them in an article from a decade ago, or worse, only their reputation, you don't have a strong basis to establish clear reasons why they have anything to offer you. Read their recent publications, see who they name drop in terms of theory, other faculty, and so on. Make a list of what each faculty member can offer you in terms of research, not just the ones that are directly related to it. If you're into studying apples, but Dr. V works with oranges, think about how Dr. V's work might help you out. Take notes when you research. Each program has a bunch of people, and you're likely applying to multiple programs. It's easier to refer to notes than to go back and look it up all over again. What's happening in the field with your current research interests, if necessary. This is so you can situate your research interests in the discipline, and then situation your research interests in the program. You can just tell them what you're research interests are and leave the situating to them, but you can lose that chance to sell yourself as the best amongst the rest. Research you. Yup. You. Scribble out some lists or paragraphs or whatever that inventories you. Who are your influences? Who are the theorists you keep coming back to? Who are the theorists you loathe, mock, and/or ridicule? What are your research interests in general and specifically and anywhere in between? Some SOPs will need to be more general, some will need to be more specific. Length restrictions, what you found out about the program, the faculty, the state of the discipline, and so on, can alter this for you. What kind of scholar are you? Student? What's the difference? How do you manage your time? Stress? Health? Do you expect to bring your dog? Do you have health issues? Do you have any academic things that are a negative? If you do, how negative are they? It's easy to see that as an either it's entirely bad, or it's somewhere in the huge good category, but some things are negatives that need to be addressed for certain programs, while other negatives can be ignored, or you should discuss with the one relevant letter writer so they can address it. While Sam ultimately received a C in the Research Methods course, the grade doesn't reflect the actual scholarship as Sam fell ill during the mid-term and consequently failed it; my course policies do not permit re-taking the test. What are the good things about you? Not just the grades, awards, publications, and presentations, but also the character traits. What are you weaknesses? Don't do the job interview baloney, my greatest weakness is my perfectionism. Of course, the important, probably ought to be on the SOP questions: why grad school? What will you do with the degree you want? Why are into the research you're into? Why that particular school? Why are you worth admission and funding? Research the assistanceships. Some SOPs will want you to write a bit about teaching or research with assistanceships in mind. So, do a bit of research on what these entail in the programs you're looking at. What do they do and how do they get it? Have you done assistanceships in the past? If so, what were they like? Do you have a teaching philosophy? If not, make one. Have you done anything that can be discussed in terms of the assistanceship? I taught kung-fu to white belt children, so I have teaching experience. I was part of the state herpetological society and went out to help them with their field counts twice a year. I learned that licking petrie dishes is always a bad idea, no matter how much they resemble pistachio ice cream. Research SOPs. You're doing that, right? Go on to forums (like this one) and read the SOPs people have posted and then read the responses. Look particularly at SOPs in your discipline or related disciplines. Psychology might look at other social sciences. Physics might tell the joke about the Higgs Boson and Sunday mass. Bear in mind that the people responding to and/or criticizing the posted SOPs are likely not on an adcomm. Some have been or will be, but it's not likely they'll be on the adcomm you're hoping will like you best. However, you can start to get a sense of what SOPs are like. What format is it in? Does yours look like everyone else's? Do you have the exact same opening sentence as half of the people hoping to get into a program in your discipline? I've always wanted to be a librarian since those wonderful, summer days I spent in my (relative of choice)'s home library. So, to take stock. First, understand the purpose. Second, research. A lot. Let the purpose of the SOP guide your research efforts. Next, get the specific requirements for the SOP from each program. Make a list of similarities. If they all ask for a statement of your research interest, score! One sentence fits most! Most of them will be of different lengths and will have different ideas of what specific information they want. Most won't tell you enough, aside from length and one or two "should have" things. They mostly won't tell you if you should use APA or if you should footnote, or how to format it. Single space? Double space? They will tell you whether it should be on paper or what kind of file format to use. I have only one suggestion: consistency. Okay, two suggestions: unless otherwise specified, don't include anything other than the SOP. No bibliography or footnotes. If you quote or paraphrase someone, cite them in the text the way they do it in the average newspaper article. As Scooby says, "Ruh-roh!" Now, start writing. Create something of a master SOP, or a set of master sentences for the SOPs. Some things should be in every one of them, like what your research interests are. Because length requirements are different for each program, you should work out more than one sentence or set of sentences for each thing you plan to put into more than one SOP. Have a more detailed explanation of your research interests and a more concise one. Even though this might be central and, perhaps, most important to the SOP, you don't want most of a short SOP taken up by one thing. Make these sentences do extra duties. If they can explain not only why you're into what you're into, but also why it's significant to the discipline/program, and how the program factors into it, bonus! The more functions one sentence can serve, with clear, readable logic, the more room you have in the length requirements to bring in other things. Think of this master SOP as more of a set of sentences you can hang on the individual SOP's unique structure. A flesh and skeleton metaphor can work here. You can order all SOPs at this point, you'll probably want to put research interests in the middle or toward the end, rather than in the first sentence, but the key here is that the skeleton of the individual SOP and most of its flesh will come from the needs of the program you're writing it for, not from some predetermined formula. No generically applicable, master SOP that has a few tweaks here and there. Here's the thing. The SOP is one of the most important documents you'll write in your life. It's not something that should be done in a few hours, after looking at the program website and spending some time on the net searching for a how-to-write-an-SOP-guide. It takes work backed by research. The readers can tell quite easily how much research you've done on them by the way you structure and write your SOP. They can tell if you're sending out a generic SOP to several programs because it will be too general. You can't change faculty names in and out, along with a detail or two that makes it seem tailored to the program. The individual SOP should be tailored from the beginning. Some sentences won't change much, so you can pre-write them. But how they fit into each SOP, the reasoning you'll use to try to convince the adcomm that you're the best applicant, and the perspective you'll take all the way to the words you use should be done with the program in mind. It shouldn't be generic. Even if it doesn't seem noticeably generic to you, that doesn't mean that the adcomm won't notice it. They read many, many SOPs every year. People who read SOPs develop a sense about the generic, the cut and paste work. How to name drop gracefully, or bring up the theory and histories and whatnot you're working with when there's only a teeny amount of space for everything? That's a bit easier than it might seem. It's not in the explanation; it's in the usage. If you can use the relevant theories and people and methodologies correctly in a sentence, you don't have to show the adcomm that you know how to use them, or how they're related, by explaining it. Trust them to have enough education to make a few connections for themselves when it comes to the discipline. Example: Novels such as Twilight exemplify how Marxist alienation can be applied to childbirth. My research interest lies in the alienation of women from the product of delivery in Modernist American fiction, such as Faulkner's Sound and the Fury. (Huh, I wonder if that would really work?) Two sentences and I've referenced theory, period, history, relevance for today, and some methodology (it's literature, not science). Use it, don't explain it. If possible, have a professor you know read the SOP to your preferred school and give you some advice. They know more than most other groups of people. If not possible, your current university's writing center can help, or other people who are familiar with the field, or with writing. Your high school English teacher or your English major buddy can probably say something about your grammar, but might not be as helpful as expected. Example, in English, the convention is to speak of historical people in present tense. Shakespeare writes, "To be or not to be," because he thinks it is the question. History has kittens. Shakespeare has been dead for centuries, he can't write! Past tense! Shakespeare wrote, "To be or not to be," because thought it was the question. Someone in the field is preferable! Finally, a word about my real credentials. The adcomm is going to do to your application what you've just done with this post. They are going to judge your credentials (your ethos, trustworthiness, veracity, credibility, knowledge, and so on) based on the impressions they get of you from what you've written. So, be knowledgeable about you, your field, and the program, and use that knowledge well.
  8. 64 points

    SOP mistakes: what to avoid

    I just had a professor who sits on admissions committees look over my SOP. My introduction was talking about how I liked to go to museums as a child and was fascinated by the ancient world. He said that starting out like this is a huge mistake. Obviously if you are applying to study archaeology at the graduate level, it's pretty much assumed that you're fascinated by the ancient world and probably enjoy museums. But so do lots of people. What makes you unique. Attempt to illustrate your passion for the field without really telling some kind of silly story about your childhood. This is also an approach that many people take, and if you really want a strong SOP you'll find a better, more mature, and more creative way to say it. The next point is, whether or not to talk about the negatives on your application. I wrote mine this year mentioning them extremely briefly and moving on. My thought behind this was to simply focus heavily on all the points that make me a competitive applicant. However, some graduate programs explicitly say that your SOP is the place on your application to mention your negatives and why the committee should overlook them. Obviously, this should not be the focus of your SOP. What the committees are looking for here is growth and improvement above all. Do not make excuses for poor grades, weak GRE scores, or a spotty work record. Do, however, point out how you have grown, how the committee can see improvement, and then highlight the things that make you a fabulous candidate. The last thing I will mention is also very important, particularly for PhDs. Make sure that you know who you are applying to study under, and what your project is. Demonstrate that you would fit into the department like a glove and that you read Dr. Octopus' latest article on the newest theory, etc. etc. etc. Also, have a concise project in mind. Remember, you're not married to this idea, but you need to show the committee that you can ask the right kind of questions concerning your proposed research and that the project is something that the faculty could help you on based off of their interests and previous work. Do not make this project a carbon-copy of something they have previously accomplished, but a project that complements the research they have already performed. It is also highly advisable, since your job as a PhD student is essentially to perform lots of independent research, to demonstrate that you are capable of performing independent research. Although you want to show that you are a good fit for the program, you do not want to appear as though your adviser will have to hold your hand for the next five years. Hope that helps! I'm no expert, but these are simply my thoughts on the process.
  9. 61 points
    I haven't posted much recently, but I thought that I would throw out a recent reflection that I think could help a lot of applicants and current grad students. Losing sucks. A lot. Not getting something we really want sucks. A lot. But life goes on. I recently was awarded an Honorable Mention for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. This is a pretty big honor, as 16,000+ students apply each year. I know a few people who have applied multiple years and never even gotten that. But, of course I'm still bitter that I didn't get the full award. To make things worse, the other two students in my cohort were awarded. This lead to a lot of feelings, including anger, embarrassment, and self-doubt. I feel like maybe I'm not good enough if everyone else can get it but I can't. I feel lied to by my peers when they said my application materials were the best in my cohort during review sessions. I feel jealous that the awardees will make $15-20k more than me and not have to work as a teaching assistant or graduate assistant. I took all of yesterday to myself to get those feelings out, to scream, to cry, to vent. But life goes on, and today is a new day. I realized a lot of things about not winning the award, which can extend to a lot of future competitions in life. Yeah, I didn't get the award I wanted, but am I a worse person than before I found out the results? No. Actually, I still have another line on my CV to say that I got Honorable Mention. I still have feedback on my application that I can apply to other things in my career. And the other people in my cohort who got the award are some of my closest friends here. So, at the end of the day, I'm happy that they have a higher stipend that will help them. One is going to buy a house with her new husband. Another can travel more, which is her biggest passion in life. And I'm not making any less stipend next year due to their win, so I should just be happy that something good happened to my friends. As cliche as it sounds, I realized this morning that I have a lot to be thankful for. I still have a fellowship from my university. I still have another year to reapply for this national fellowship. I still got into an amazing program at only 20 years old and held my own against more experienced students. I still have an amazing partner who supports me in everything I do, completely unconditionally. I still have a online community of people I can vent to about grad school to get out my frustrations. I still have a group of people in real life who I can hang out with when I need to be away from school. I still have a lot. And I didn't really lose anything from not getting that award. Next year will be difficult for funding, but it will work out (it always does). In our little world of academia, whether it be applications or publications, everything is a competition (even if we don't want it to be). People will constantly make you feel like you need to be the best, you need to have the most awards, you need to have the most publications, you need to have the highest impact, you need to have the best committee. And it's great to aspire to do well in all of these areas. But, school/work is school/work, and it doesn't really change who I am as a person and my value. Yes, having a better CV gets me a more competitive job. Yes, having better funding makes my life a lot easier next year. But, I have a lot beyond what a few pieces of paper say. No one has everything. Someone may get more awards or publications. Someone may have more friends or a more stable relationship. Someone may make more money or be prettier or have fewer health problems. But no one really has everything. And, after reflection, I'm really happy for the things that I do have. More lines on a CV, more money, and more recognition in my department are great. But they don't define me.
  10. 55 points
    "Alas, Harvard isn't ready for this jelly."
  11. 46 points
    A pamphlet, you say? Presenting! a preview! Front side Back side
  12. 43 points
    I'm in a MSc program, but in Canada, everyone starts grad school as a MSc student, graduates, and then applies for PhD programs (which can be at the same or a different institution). I'm finishing up my second and final year now. First -- your question about time: It really depends on your program / department / research group / supervisor as well as your own goals in academia. For me, almost all of my research work can be done remotely (although I prefer to work in the office) so I really only need to go to school to attend class, TA, talk to my friends, attend seminars, and meet my supervisor. None of these things happen outside of 9-5 so I tend to stick to a 9-5 ish schedule and do extra work from home if necessary. I usually try to not do any "work" outside of 9-5 and not take my "work" home. However, I don't count course-work as "work" and I try to do that at home so it doesn't cut into research time too much. But if you work in, say, a chemistry lab, you might have stricter requirements as to when you need to be in the lab. Many of my friends in school have dogs. Some of them take a break in the middle of the day to go home and walk their dogs or see them, if they live close. I try to treat grad school as a "job" -- unless there are deadlines approaching, I don't feel bad leaving at ~5pm even if there is stuff left to be done since it will still be there tomorrow! I know this means I'm not working to my fullest potential, and I'm okay with that. I'm not aiming to be the best in my field, and I choose to have other priorities. Which comes to the second thing I want to say -- grad school is as much work as you want it to be. To use a cliche -- you will get out of it what you put in. So it's important to think about what you want to get out of your PhD program and then schedule your life accordingly! I think it's really important to budget your time and energy so that you don't neglect your priorities (whether it's courses, research, teaching, family, dogs, whatever). I think graduate school is hard enough even when you have a positive/healthy mindset, so maintaining whatever makes you happy is important. I got some advice from my mentors (previous supervisors) that I thought was really valuable. They said to pick your supervisor and project in a way that will help you get a post-doc job (if that is the goal after PhD). If so, your PhD project will be the strongest argument you have for yourself when you apply for jobs. Pick something that will be interesting to people ~5 years from now, don't work on a super specific field that only you or your supervisor cares about (instead, do these as side projects). You don't have to love your thesis topic, just don't hate it! Next, make sure your project contributes to the field in a meaningful way, so that ideally people will start to connect the concepts you are working on with your name. As for picking supervisors, my mentors told me that I should find someone who is a good mentor, not just a good researcher. We will need to trained in other skills such as how to write papers really well, how to apply for grants, how to give compelling presentations, how to get ourselves known. Many good researchers have these abilities but not everyone is good at teaching these abilities too. Also, if possible, find someone who will care about their students' success and will give us opportunities like attending conferences and so on. If you have an external scholarship and thus your supervisor may not pay you at all (or very little), it's common in the physical sciences to actually negotiate non-salary things like having a budget for travel or equipment, and so on. (Last piece of advice -- apply for external fellowships whenever possible, even if you are already funded by internal means. You probably won't get any more money, but you will get a lot more freedom and independence). Those were some of the important (in my opinion) things I've learned in the last 2 years as a graduate student and from many conversations with my mentors while applying for PhD programs for this fall! Hope that gives you some things to consider
  13. 40 points
    I was surprised that I got into...anywhere. Background story: I only have a 3.2, and a guidance counselor told me not to bother applying anywhere. She said I wouldn't get in anywhere decent. I went ahead and applied anyway. And I guess all the undergraduate research paid off. I think my grades were offset by the fact I was in ROTC for the first half of college... it was tricky to juggle a math-heavy major while in the program (I'm not a math whiz). And here I am, 12 months after she told me not to bother applying, getting ready to go to Hopkins, the top school in my field so glad I didn't listen!
  14. 37 points
    I've made this point in years past, but I saw someone express this kind of anxiety recently, so it bears repeating: it's perfectly natural and quite common to not feel happy or excited after you decide what school to choose. When I heard back from the program I'm attending, I knew I should feel ecstatic. It was my top choice, by a wide margin. I had worked to get into grad for ages. I also had the daily experience of reading people here who hadn't gotten in to the schools they wanted or anywhere, sometimes. I expected to feel fantastic. And then I just... didn't. I felt guilty for not feeling anything. Why didn't I feel happier? But when I shared that feeling here and with other people I knew, I found it was quite common. I think there's a variety of reasons for that. First, there's just the mental and emotional drain of the process. You spend all this time working, and then all this time stressing, whether it's about getting in or choosing your school, and then it just... stops. Which might make you feel really happy, or might just make you feel a little numb or exhausted. Second, no program can ever be as exciting as the promise and potential of any program. It felt good to know where I was going. But before you choose, there's limitless potential. You could end up anywhere, which is exciting and invigorating. No matter how happy you are with your choice, it can't contain all the potential of all the schools you applied to. Finally, I find that unless they get into all or almost all of the departments to which they apply, many people can feel somehow unsatisfied or rejected even if they get into their #1 choice or a school that they are very happy to attend. I know I've talked to different people who have said, "I would have chosen the program I'm in even if I got into those other schools... so why does the rejection hurt so bad? Why do I wish I had gotten in so much?" If you don't feel this way, all the better. But if you aren't feeling as good as you thought you would, don't sweat it, and don't feel guilty. It's natural and happens to a lot of people.
  15. 37 points
    I was 21 when I started my master's degree, so I can relate to being the youngest person in a batch. I don't know how much use my advice may be, as a master's, rather than Ph.D. student, but I'll try anyway. First of all, congratulations on your acceptances. In my opinion, your age won't make a difference. It obviously didn't to the admissions commitees. Also, based on my experience, I don't think your social interactions with your peers would be altered at all due to your age. I imagine most people start their Ph.D. from 22-25 years of age, and it's not like you're 16 or something. I see there have already been very thorough posts made in reply to your questions, so a lot of what I am about to say may be repetitive, but here goes. Selecting a research topic: One suggestion is to try and choose a research topic which has reasonably wide appeal in the field that you intend to pursue your career in. You don't have to pursue a career in whatever you do your dissertation research on, but obviously it would be great when you apply for jobs if your dissertation fits with what your potential employers do. You have time to think about what you want to do after your Ph.D., whether you want to pursue academia or industry, etc., but try to give it a bit of thought.You don't want to pigeonhole yourself by working on an obscure topic which would be appreciated by only a few specialists in the field, and thus limit your job prospects. Picking a research project which would be of significant interest or importance to the field will also help in the short-term, as you'll have a wider pool of professors to choose from to comprise your dissertation committee. Don't be like me, doing a basic molecular biology thesis project despite being an engineering student, and having to scramble to find committee members from my department who have at least passing interest in what I do. Another very important thing is to select a doable project. It's easy to pick the most challenging project, thinking you have so much time to work on it, only to get inconclusive results and find yourself scrambling at the end. Even the best planned project may look great on paper, but when you actually go around to doing it, you can get all sorts of setbacks you had never foreseen. For example, stuff which had been working before can inexplicably stop working, such as genomic DNA purification kits, molecular cloning, and sequencing reactions (drawing from my own experience). You can find yourself spending a lot of time on troubleshooting simple problems for even the best thought-out projects, so don't stress yourself out by being too ambitious in your project choice. Obviously you don't want to do pedestrian, barely original research, but strike a balance. A possible approach would be to pick a high-risk, high-reward topic, but have a less glamorous, "safety net" project as backup. This is what developmental biologist Leonard Zon of Harvard advises his graduate students and post-doctoral researchers. I'm not saying don't pick an interesting project or be afraid of challenges, but be realistic as to what you can accomplish in the timeframe that you have, and have a Plan B if possible. And of course, the main thing is to choose a research topic which you have a passion for; you will likely be spending the next 4-6 years of your life working on this. If you will be doing lab work, laboratory rotations will be extremely important in this process. Three to four weeks of working in a lab will give you a sense of what life would be like working in a particular field or subfield. Selecting an advisor: It goes without saying, but pick an advisor whom you can get along well with. Make sure it is a person you feel like you can communicate candidly with, and who will be candid with you. Again, you'll find out about the personalities and expectations of potential advisors during laboratory rotations. Some advisors expect you to be in the lab at certain times, some advisors could care less when you show up, as long as you get the work done. Some advisors are very hand-on, will provide a lot of advice and suggestions, others are more laissez-faire, and will give you a lot of autonomy. Think about whether you want a lot of flexibility in doing your project, or whether you want to be in a more structured environment. In general, established professors, who often have large labs, tend to let students sink or swim on their own; newer professors, who often have smaller labs, are probably more invested in your success or failure. On the other hand, well-established professors tend to have more resources and funding, and their recommendation will carry a bit more weight when you apply for post-doctoral positions. Also, one thing I would like to say is, don't be afraid to let your opinion be heard. Don't just agree with everything your advisor says. He or she may be the most eminent person in the field, but if you have a disagreement over how an experiment should be done, for example, make sure you voice your concerns. Selecting a dissertation committee: I've only had experience in selecting a master's thesis committee, but I imagine it would translate to a selecting dissertation committee as well. It's important to select committee members who work well together. As in any workplace, there are people who get along well, and those that don't, so discuss your intended committee composition with your advisor before reaching out to potential committee members. I've personally not had to deal with any personality clashes with my committee members, but I would still say it's something to keep in mind. Also, try to include professors who are prominent in your field of interest. Don't think that a professor is too famous or too important to serve on your dissertation committee. I've heard that one physics Ph.D. student was hesitant to ask the eminent Richard Feynman to serve on his committee, but when he did ask, Feynman readily agreed. Apparently this was the first time someone had ever asked Feynman, because all the students were afraid to thus far. Imagine getting a job recommendation from the Feynman of your field! Having said that, make sure that your committee members are there for a valid reason; select committee members primarily based on the skills and expertise that they bring to the table. If you are doing an epigenetics study, it's far better that you pick the lesser-known expert in chromatin remodeling rather than the world-renowned leader in gold nanoparticles, to use an extreme example. Interacting with faculty: Obviously, it is important that you should try and build strong relationships with the professors in your department. I'm sure you must have been good at that as an undergraduate, since you would have gotten strong recommendations for graduate school, so what I say may be superfluous to your requirements. I think it's more important, but at the same time easier, to interact with your professors in graduate school. In undergraduate, your main avenue for interaction is through office hours, and your grade in their class is mainly what shapes the professor's impression of you. In graduate school, you'll get to go through laboratory rotations with different professors, and the classes will be much more of the seminar variety, where you interact directly, discussing primary literature with the instructor and your classmates. In one of my graduate seminar courses,(headed by the DGS for the program), I, along with some other people, actively contributed to the class discussion throughout the semester. Others were mostly silent throughout, basically just showing up just for attendance. It didn't affect their grade, but the DGS expressed his disappointment that some people did not seem to show interest in the field that they had ostensibly chosen to pursue for their career. That's obviously not the best way to kick things off in a program you are planning to spend the next few years in. If you have strong relationships with your professors, when the time comes to pick your dissertation committee, get job recommendations, etc. it will be much easier. Graduate work and studies: DO NOT feel that you have to give your dog away. I know plenty of Ph.D. students with dogs, and they do manage to find the time to spend with their pets. However, based on my experience, you'll have to be a bit flexible at times when it comes to your research, being prepared to work on nights or weekends if necessary. This is especially true if you'll be working in a lab. There will be periods where you need to get a lot of stuff done in a short period of time, but there will also be relative lulls, so be prepared to adjust your schedule accordingly. But you don't have to be in the lab 24/7. The most important factor is your time management. If you are organized and plan ahead, there's no reason why you can't do your research mostly in a 9-5 timespan. Some people do that, others, like me, are haphazard, and come at random times in the night to get work done. So definitely, as long as you manage time well, your life won't be swallowed up by research, and you can devote the time that you need to your dog. As far as coursework, I don't think you need to worry about it occupying an inordinate amount of time. The courses will be more advanced, but since you have been accepted into multiple Ph.D. programs, you are obviously smart enough and talented enough to handle it. The courses will be much more of the seminar-type, involving discussions of primary literature, and your exams will be testing your critical thinking more than requiring you to cough up book knowledge. You will have to do a ton of reading of journal articles for both your research and many of your courses, which of course can be done at home. It might take a bit of getting used to at first, especially since many articles are not exactly lucidly written. Unless you do absolutely atrociously in a course, you'll get A's and B's in your courses, so don't stress about grades too much. You're obviously intelligent, so as long as you put in an honest effort, you'll get your just reward; you don't have to put in superhuman time and effort to get good grades in your coursework. Non-academic life: The following advice is not stuff which I follow myself (wish I did), but I think it is valid nonetheless. Do not let your graduate work consume your life. Yes, you will have to spend a lot of time and effort on your research and courses, but set a limit. Do not let it prevent you from having a social life, spending time with your dog, etc. If you are someone who wants to have the weekend off, manage your time wisely, as I said before. But if you do find yourself having to spend inordinate amounts of time, just stop, take a step back, and make sure you get your time off. Ph.D. is a marathon, not a sprint, so it's much more important to stay mentally fresh, both for your own sake, and the quality of work that you do. I don't have much of a social life, but that's not because I can't find the time; I'm just simply an insular person. I know Ph.D. students, and they do manage to have time to do stuff, like play intramural sports, spend time with friends, etc. Unlike in undergraduate, where you are focused on coursework, and your schedule is much more rigid, in graduate school, your time is much more flexible; you can make decisions on how to use your time, so you can structure it such that you can have a social life. Just be careful not to procrastinate, because that can come back to bite you. When it comes to friends, I suspect you will make good friends in your cohort, because it is a small group, and they will be going through many of the same experiences that you will be. You can also meet graduate students in other departments, often through mixers and events hosted by your graduate student organization. If you are into sports, you can also make new friends by meeting other people if you play your basketball, tennis, etc. at your school recreation center. And again, your age will definitely not be a problem when making friends, having a social life, etc. This is about all I have for now, and if I think of anything else I feel is important, I'll post again. Best of luck with graduate school this fall!
  16. 36 points

    Free GRE Resources Master Post

    Powerprep software: this gives you practice tests directly from the ETS, timed and untimed. From the ETS website: Practice book, Math Review, Math Conventions, Intro to Quant, Intro to Verbal, Overview of the Analytical Writing. Magoosh: their website gives you free questions and free videos explaining things. They also have free ebooks: general, math, verbal. They have the option to upgrade to get access to more things, but you can use the free options. You do need to register to have access to the free resources. Manhattan: I’ve heard from multiple sources they have are the best. They give you one free practice test. GRE question a day: they will send you a daily question to your email, but you can also browse questions from previous days. I like it because it gives you an explanation to the questions if you get them wrong. Princeton Review: I’ve heard their practice are very easy compared to the real thing, but you can take a free practice test. It might still be helpful. Virtual Math Lab help for the GRE: This gives you tutorials for all the math concepts covered in the GRE. My GRE tutor: covers information about all the sections of the GRE. Number2: Provides you with practice questions and explanations. Powerscore GRE prep: they have free online seminars as well as other GRE info and even info on graduate schools. Vocabtest: this site helps you learn vocabulary and lets you create your own vocab tests. Kaplan practice test: don’t know how good it is, but it’s a free practice test! This list is definitely not complete, if you do a google search there will be lots of resources, but I think this is a good and helpful list. Feel free to add resources you think are good! Good luck!
  17. 33 points
    1. Start the process as early as possible. Seriously. It's never too early to start. 2. Spend time researching the programs you are considering applying to - read their website, as well as potential advisors' websites. Read about the location, the weather, the current funding situation. Ask your professors about each school. 3. Don't apply to "safety schools", there is no such thing. Also don't apply to schools in locations you absolutely don't see yourself living in. Don't make choices that will make you unhappy before you even start. 4. Write an early SOP draft and put it aside for at least a few weeks. You may find while writing the draft that you struggle to define your interests. Spend some time thinking about that; it can be a real soul-searching process and you should not apply before you've gone through it and are confident in your chosen field(s). 5. Think ahead. One of the papers you write for a class this year will likely turn into your writing sample next year; get good feedback and revise accordingly. One or more of the professors you are taking classes with this year will be recommenders next year. Go to office hours, make yourself known to them. Seek feedback from them on your work, maybe even on papers for other classes if they are interested. 6. Use the summer wisely. A small RAship or an independent study could go a long way towards getting you some much needed research experience, maybe also a LOR and/or a writing sample. Not to mention how much it'll help you to better define your interests for your SOP. 7. Find out if it's customary to contact potential advisors ahead of time in your field. If so, do it a few weeks before or a few weeks after the new term starts. Don't wait, this can affect your choice where to apply. 8. Don't stress overmuch about grades. For one, there's little you can do to change the ones you already have. Further, the "intangible" parts of the application are so much more important. 9. Revise, revise, and revise some more. Let professors and friends read your SOP for content and for style. Let someone read your writing sample as well. Go through multiple versions, take your time. These things are hard to write. 10. Be on top of things, part 1. I suggest a chart with the following info for each school: (a) deadline, (b ) app fee, (c ) link to app website, (d) username, password for website, (e) requirements (how many transcripts, GRE/subject GRE score, TOEFL score, LORs, SOP prompt, writing sample length, other - diversity statement, personal statement, letter of intent, etc.), (f) potential advisors, links to websites 11. Be on top of things, part 2. Have a time line: deadlines for each school, when to order transcripts (how many), when to send out application packets, when to contact recommenders, when to send reminders. If you're international, look up American holidays around when you expect to send your app so you're not surprised by the (lack of) operating times of the post office and the schools. 12. Be on top of things, part 3. Get in touch with your recommenders early. Prepare a packet for each of them with your transcript, a paper you wrote for their class, a draft of your SOP, a list of the schools you're applying to with their deadline. Ask them if/when they would like you to send them reminders. Consider having a backup plan for flaky recommenders - in particular ones that will be away and will be hard to track down if they disappear.
  18. 31 points
    "RELAX. You'll get in everywhere!" My least favorite line ever
  19. 31 points
    Here's my male perspective. I would personally resent being with a spouse who thinks I am a failure.
  20. 30 points
    Jesus H. Christ, you all. What has happened to this forum in the last few days? A friendly piece of advice: faculty and grad students read this website. You all are a lot more identifiable than you think you are, especially when you post stats, personal details, and the other bits of information that are often included in "What are my chances?"-type posts. And we recognize you when you come to visit or interview with our programs. It's easy. So, when you are a jerk on this forum, or you throw up red flags that you might be a bad colleague (like you divulge that you may be on the verge of starting an affair with a married professor, or display general and inexplicable belligerence, or are quick to judge/pile on other people), we are less likely to want to be your colleague, and therefore your chances of becoming our colleague diminish significantly. So be careful. This is not directed toward any one person. There have been a lot of folks being less than collegial around these parts in the last few days. Watch a movie, drink a beer, do some yoga. Whatever will calm you. Don't be a jerk on the internet, because we can see you.
  21. 29 points

    Acceptance Freakout Thread

    MY HUSBAND AND I WERE BOTH JUST ACCEPTED TO LSU WITH FULL FUNDING!!! I am BEYOND happy!!! We didn't think we would get in anywhere together!!!!!
  22. 29 points
    Two Espressos

    Acceptance Freakout Thread

    After two years of posting on these threads, rejoicing in others' acceptances, commiserating in others' rejections, and constantly questioning whether or not I really could be a scholar, I'm ecstatic to report: I'VE JUST BEEN WAITLISTED AT UNC-CHAPEL HILL!
  23. 29 points

    Dealing with Jealousy

    I think that there are two separate issues here, which I'll address in turn. First, it sounds like you need to take a more active role in your education. That's precisely what you describe your friend as doing: apply for positions, schmooze with professors, talk yourself up. Since you do less of that, I think it's not unreasonable that professors have less of an idea of your research interests, and that they associate you with your friend's interests (since you describe yourself as his sidekick). Furthermore, since your friend has obviously been successful in his past positions, you can also kind of see why he would be recommended or sought after by other professors. You need to start building a name for yourself that's similar to that. If you do a good job, I don't see why you wouldn't also be appreciated. People are recognized for work they do, not for potential they might have. Prove yourself, and people will take notice. Second (and more difficult), you need to stop comparing yourself to your friend. A fact of life is that there is always going to be someone smarter/faster/better at something than you are. If you give up as soon as you encounter such a person, you won't get very far. A fact of life is also that it's not always those smarter/better people who succeed more in life, you can affect your destiny by being active and taking initiative. Get your foot in the doorway, get to know professors and try to start collaborations - essentially do the things you say your friend is doing. Hey, maybe your friend will even be willing to talk to you about how he strikes up conversations with professors and gets these collaborations. It's something useful to learn how to do. From your story, I didn't think he was doing anything to harm you, though he may have been insensitive or oblivious when he could have helped you out. If you talk to him, that may change. ... or you may find out that you were right to distance yourself from him, but either way I think you'll use your energy better if you invest it in furthering your own causes rather than comparing yourself to others.
  24. 29 points
    I just want to say, if you look at the thread title from the front page it says: "my phd-advisor stole my man" I have nothing else to contribute to this conversation.
  25. 29 points
    I'm pointlessly posting in this topic for no other reason than to move up to the next "coffee"


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