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EarlyXianity

Application Post-Mortem Evaluation

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As I await responses and assume the worst, I find myself evaluating and second guessing various elements of my application and other aspects of the application process.  

I'd love to glean from the wisdom of the rest of you as I consider the possibility of applying for a second time next year

What would you do differently if you were preparing your applications now (or what have you done differently if you didn't get in in the first cycle that you applied), in terms of: 

  • where you applied?
  • how you communicated with programs before applying?
  • asking/disabling social media and other online presence?
  • elements of your application -- writing sample, personal statement, etc.?
  • seeking opportunities to publish/present? 
  • other things I might not be thinking of?  

Though I'm new to the forum, I'm betting participation drops off significantly by the end of the admissions cycle, and I would love to glean from your collective wisdom here before everyone disappears! 

Edited by EarlyXianity

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If I were to do this again, I guess I would branch my interests out even more to appeal to more schools. I am interested in pastoral theology, specifically fields that engage Psych and Religion and there are few schools that "play in this pool" so applying has been weird.

I emailed Department Chairs and/or POI at every school that I applied to, most of them wanted to arrange a Skype chat so they could get to know me better, wanted to see drafts of my PS, etc. Every single one of them commended me for this b/c they would be able to put a voice to someone's app when it came time to advocate for candidates. Apparently A LOT of people just apply blindly and had they emailed they would've been told that they're not accepting anyone with their interests or in their field, so it's a waste of time and money for everyone.

I'm obviously involved on TGC and have been for several years now. I'm also involved on Reddit and some FB groups, particularly geared toward people discerning calls to seminary/divinity schools. Maybe if PhD life doesn't work out I can return to Admissions for a div/sem school? I always encourage people to utilize privacy settings on FB but I don't post anything that I would be embarrassed to say to someone.

Yea, writing samples and the PS could always be tweaked. I thought I had stellar samples and I pulled them out several weeks ago to brush the dust off and found several places that I would make changes to.

Regarding publishing and presenting, it's a two edged sword. My advisors and faculty encouraged us to stay away from publishing entirely (minus lit and book reviews), presentations depend on the conference. I had two book chapters in a book designed for clergy, on the topic of suicide and religion but it's not an academic book.

Involvement does drop off big time come late spring - early summer.

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40 minutes ago, xypathos said:

I'm obviously involved on TGC and have been for several years now. I'm also involved on Reddit and some FB groups, particularly geared toward people discerning calls to seminary/divinity schools. Maybe if PhD life doesn't work out I can return to Admissions for a div/sem school? I always encourage people to utilize privacy settings on FB but I don't post anything that I would be embarrassed to say to someone.

I'm a pastor, so I'm already pretty careful in terms of what I put out into cyberspace. Even so, I wonder if should have gone "dark" just so that conversations I have on Twitter or FB about specifics of what's happening in my denomination or current events don't jade an admissions committee.  

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2 hours ago, xypathos said:

 

Regarding publishing and presenting, it's a two edged sword. My advisors and faculty encouraged us to stay away from publishing entirely (minus lit and book reviews), presentations depend on the conference. I had two book chapters in a book designed for clergy, on the topic of suicide and religion but it's not an academic book.

 

Genuinely curious . . .  why would you not publish or present?  Isn't that, in large part, what we're working toward?  I think it helps demonstrate that you're ready to be part of the guild.  I think a track record of publications and presentations helped my applications.  It isn't everything, but I'm at a loss for what the downside would be.

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The often cited downside is that as much as you think you're ready as a Master's student, you're not.

You'll grow so much as a student during your PhD studies and early career that you'll look back and be embarrassed of the material you prepared. If you don't, you didn't take the risks and pursue the questions that needed to be explored and your program failed you / you failed.

There's also this belief that as a Master's student, you'll never have the clout needed to land a publication in a major journal without riding on the coattails of a professor that gave you a freebie.

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I'm second guessing everything right now. The big one is that I didn't apply very widely and now I think I'm gonna strike out completely and have to either switch from my MA track to Mdiv (yuck) or do a last minute ThM application. Or just sit for a year and try to get published- though that could be risky too.

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I actually think it is worth the effort to try and present at conferences or publish in a top-tier journal (don't waste your time with denominational or lower-tier journals). This might sound harsh, but many of our senior profs advise against presenting and publishing because they applied and studied in an era when it was the norm to graduate from a PhD with no publications. Now, you seriously hurt your chances of landing any kind of job if you have no publications.

I disagree that you shouldn't publish because you're not ready as a master's student. If you submit an article to a top-tier journal, the reviewers have no idea that you're a master's student since it's a blind review, so they merely judge the quality of your work. If it gets accepted, then that means it met their quality standards. Also, even if it gets rejected, the feedback you'd receive would be invaluable in revising your writing sample (assuming you submit it early enough to get it back in time).

I tried to reach out to POIs during the app season but had little success. I honestly don't think reaching out to POIs helps your chances with them. The benefit of contacting POIs is that you can get a better idea of how to craft your SOP for each school and you can also find out if the school is a good fit. In other words, all the benefits are on your end. POIs are not making decisions based on who reached out to them and the extent of your prior contact. This may just be my personal experience, but some of my POIs (at schools where I got accepted) either ignored me entirely or told me they had decided not to meet with prospective students at SBL.

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37 minutes ago, thiscalltoarms said:

I'm second guessing everything right now. The big one is that I didn't apply very widely and now I think I'm gonna strike out completely and have to either switch from my MA track to Mdiv (yuck) or do a last minute ThM application. Or just sit for a year and try to get published- though that could be risky too.

I'm assuming if you're doing an MA that you're doing all the course work you want to do, right? I don't know the ins and outs of your program, but it is my impression that the run-of-the-mill M Div would just inflate your degree with a bunch of classes that are not in your subject area and that might have you beating your head against a wall. I know that was my experience during the last two years of my M Div, when I had to take all the practical theology classes after I finished my Old Testament ones. It was extremely frustrating at times. It may be better just to work a boring job while using your spare time to work on your academic resume and applications. That's what I did this past year and it paid off. 

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1 hour ago, Almaqah Thwn said:

It may be better just to work a boring job while using your spare time to work on your academic resume and applications. That's what I did this past year and it paid off. 

I'm curious to hear more of the specifics of what you did in that interim year if you're willing to share. 

Edited by EarlyXianity

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I'm not saying you shouldn't pursue publications and presentations. I'm just saying that they don't carry as much weight as we might think. It's a fucking amazing feeling when you get a piece accepted for publication, esp. the first one.

I obviously pursued publication myself but I'm ordained clergy and my publications were for fellow clergy. I'm also completely okay getting a PhD and landing a church job as a priest or a TiR (Theologian in Residence), not necessarily an academic teaching job and the schools I've applied to know that.

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15 hours ago, EarlyXianity said:

As I await responses and assume the worst, I find myself evaluating and second guessing various elements of my application and other aspects of the application process.  

I'd love to glean from the wisdom of the rest of you as I consider the possibility of applying for a second time next year

What would you do differently if you were preparing your applications now (or what have you done differently if you didn't get in in the first cycle that you applied), in terms of: 

  • where you applied?
  • how you communicated with programs before applying?
  • asking/disabling social media and other online presence?
  • elements of your application -- writing sample, personal statement, etc.?
  • seeking opportunities to publish/present? 
  • other things I might not be thinking of?  

Though I'm new to the forum, I'm betting participation drops off significantly by the end of the admissions cycle, and I would love to glean from your collective wisdom here before everyone disappears! 

1. where you applied?

I applied to a bunch of programs this year. Here they are in order of my preference: 1) Harvard, 2) Yale, 3) Georgetown, and then the rest  in alphabetical order (Brown, Chicago, Columbia, Duke, Notre Dame*, Princeton). 

* I especially liked ND's program, but I don't know where I'd rank it due to the location (South Bend) and prestige/ranking in terms of placement. (It's an amazing program--but job prospects is something to seriously consider in our current and foreseeable market.)

This is my second time applying. Last year, I applied halfheartedly to three US programs, and to Oxford and Cambridge. At the time, my focus was all on Oxbridge, which I think was a big mistake. I don't think Oxbridge is a good option for PhDs, for a variety of reasons: mostly due to obtaining funding, and also I realized I prefer the more rigorous US-PhD.

In any case, last year I wiped out except at Oxford: accepted, but without funding. I was able to secure outside funding, but it came with too many strings, so I ended up not taking it. 

I reapplied this application cycle, and spent much longer on my applications. The most important change was that I actually sent my application components to be reviewed by trusted colleagues and professors--specifically to people who were brutal in their feedback. 

I have been accepted to Harvard, and am withdrawing my application everywhere else. Suffice to say, I am over the moon with happiness.

2. how you communicated with programs before applying?

This is key. I went to Harvard for my master's, so I knew professors there. Honestly, I think this is the biggest factor--getting to know your POI. I feel that you need to do more than just meet them or email them, but actually establish a long-term relationship long before applying. This is of course not necessarily easy or feasible.

3. asking/disabling social media and other online presence?

I had a cantankerous online presence many years ago, but I went dark on purpose once I decided to go the academic route. Now that I am accepted to a program, I'll light up again. I did not want my political positions to work to my detriment. I realize that this may hurt me once I apply for assistant professor positions, but I don't care.

4. elements of your application -- writing sample, personal statement, etc.?

I massively revised my writing sample and personal statement, and subjected them to brutal feedback by colleagues and professors. As for my writing sample, it is something that I presented at a major conference in the last year.  So, this was a major point compared to last year.

5. seeking opportunities to publish/present? 

See above answer. I'll add that I think presenting is good, but publishing is something you should be careful about for the reasons stated above. On the other hand, I know a student who co-authored a major, major paper (with a professor), and that was very beneficial to his application.

6. other things I might not be thinking of?  

Apply widely. Start your application way in advance. Meet professors. Visit campuses. Show interest. And don't give up.

Edited by Averroes MD

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22 hours ago, EarlyXianity said:

I'm curious to hear more of the specifics of what you did in that interim year if you're willing to share. 

Shoveled coffee and translated through relevant ancient literature in my field to build up my Statement of Purpose. So, I did a lot of Hebrew and other foreign texts and then found how they were relevant for the programs to which I was applying. 

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