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Hi all

At this point, it looks like I will be entering a master's program at Notre Dame in French. I'm waiting for a few less well-known MA schools, which I think will give me more funding, but idk. I've also been waitlisted at two "big name" schools, so there's that, but I don't think anything will come of it. Anyway, because PhD programs tend to make people repeat 2 years of master's courses ... I was wondering if I should reapply again next year, even though I will not be able to finish the MA program. The living stipend at Notre Dame is OK, not the best, and I really want to go into a PhD program as soon as possible and be done as soon as possible as I don't want to be really old and without an academic job (because of ageism in the industry). I would have to reinvent myself fast and I'd rather do that before I hit 30. Since I am worried about not making it in academia, I'm operating under the assumption that going to a big-name school is the best way to get into academia in the first place, and getting out of it if the tenure bells don't ring in my favor.

My impression as to why I didn't have good luck this year were 1) my age and the fact that I would be right out of undergrad ("too young", according to my faculty member, before I even applied) 2) I changed my major from a STEM field after junior year and let's just say I'm not the best student at STEM. Nobody had any issue with my personal statements or other things under my control.

Other options potentially include Middlebury's MA program in French, in Paris, but idk what the financial aid would look like -- probably not that great.

Idk if any of this makes sense but let me know what you think! I really like academia, but 4 years of courses just sounds like repeating undergrad all over again and frankly I just want to do my own research and teaching.

PS I'm interested in French literature, not language or linguistics, so comp. lit departments are of interest as well.


Edited by frenchlover
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1) Have you talked to the people who read your SOP and WS to see if there are weaknesses in those? Have you taken enough French literature classes to truly be competitive?

2) Why did you apply to MA programs if you think a MA is a waste of time (implied when you talk about "repeating" coursework)? What did you help to gain by doing a MA when you applied? What would you gain by potentially doing a MA in Paris versus doing one at Notre Dame?

3) 30 isn't old whether in academia or beyond to reinvent your career. There are plenty of people on here and who I know personally who start their PhD as a career change in their mid-30s... Also, if you're currently experiencing ageism from being too young (as you say here), why not try to age and mature some before applying again? For the record, I don't think there's any evidence that only those who go straight from undergrad to PhD get academic jobs. In fact, I think the opposite is true... You might want to do more research on careers in academia while you're thinking about this decision.

4) Why did you apply to Notre Dame specifically? Is the funding they've given you enough that you could live on it? Are there professional development opportunities while in the program? 

Answering some or all of these questions might help you make a decision. 

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While ageism obviously exists in academia as in any industry, I really don't think it applies in your case. Reverse ageism (being "too young") would not be a factor in denying a PhD application. The opposite is more likely: a department might not accept a PhD applicant because they are too old (say they are worried about their job placement and can't imagine a 50 year old recent PhD landing a tenure-track job). I haven't seen it happen, but I wouldn't be surprised if it did. The age range in my program goes from 23 (straight out of undergrad) to 37 (coming in with two MAs).

I think you're confusing age and experience. Someone coming straight out of undergrad is not necessarily young, people graduate at all ages for any number of reasons.. Applying straight out of undergrad might hurt you, but only if you don't have the same grasp on the field and bibliography as someone finishing an MA. Your job in the applications is to prove that you are widely read in literature and theory, intellectually curious, abreast of the current debates, capable of performing archival research if necessary, competent in whatever languages necessary, capable of asking the right questions and designing a thesis quickly, etc. Whether or not you're still in undergrad is irrelevant. If you can prove that, they won't care whether or not you have an MA. You might feel that you're at a disadvantage because you are young, and this is perfectly normal. You might have less experience than other applicants because older students simply have had more time to read and think. Of course, this is assuming that these older students have been spending all that extra time studying. 

Given that you transferred from STEM to French in your third year as an undergrad, you probably lack this experience. How much literature have you had time to read? How much theory? Criticism? Historiography? You can't expect to take two years of classes in literature at the undergrad level and expect to launch right into your dissertation or teaching. An MA sounds like a logical solution because your profile suggests that you lack coursework in your field. Also, keep in mind that "repeating" coursework later does not mean taking the same classes over again...you're simply taking more coursework. It is not at all a waste of time and will only make you a better scholar because you will be more widely read. Graduate coursework is not the equivalent of undergraduate coursework, so you are not "repeating undergrad all over again".  Also, you wouldn't be repeating your undergrad experience because you spent 3/4 of it studying STEM. 

Finally, 30 is not old for academia at all. In my opinion, ageism starts to be a factor when tenure-track applicants are 45-50+ because hiring committees know that these applicants (regardless of experience) can't have as long of a career in the department as someone coming in at 30-35. 

Edited by Bleep_Bloop
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Thanks for the input, all. I interviewed at one school over a visit, where they told me that my personal statement was "a work of art", so I'm not worried about that, or my recommendations, or my writing sample, which was also well received.

I was only echoing my advisor's comments, who said that the 3 years of coursework she had to do in her graduate program was like undergrad part 2, and how everyone in her cohort was "burnt out" and some even dropped out. Obviously I wouldn't launch straight into a dissertation, but frankly an MA, then an MA again, seems excessive, given how long the average humanities PhD takes to complete. I don't think it's a waste of time, but it is safe to say that many of us want to do in-depth academic research more than take courses.

As for me, I took the equivalent of a literature course every semester in my undergraduate years, which is why I was able to switch my major so late (I only spent 1/3 of my academic career studying STEM, actually) -- why I even had the confidence to apply to PhD programs. I also saw that people from my school with only 3-4 courses in French literature have been admitted to top graduate programs in French, so that definitely informed my rationale. Before I applied, I did review the reading list of the comprehensive examinations that French departments have, and I will have covered more than half of it in my undergraduate coursework. I'm only missing the early modern and 18th-century courses. 

But that said, I could use more experience, and given you all think ageism only affects people much later, it's reassuring!

Anyway, one important question that I wanted help with was this: for an MA program, if I receive offers that are funded, do I choose the one that gives me the best funding, given I want to simply gain more comprehensiveness with the discipline versus finding people with matching research interests, or do I choose the most well-known school?

Edited by frenchlover
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7 hours ago, frenchlover said:

frankly an MA, then an MA again, seems excessive, given how long the average humanities PhD takes to complete. I don't think it's a waste of time, but it is safe to say that many of us want to do in-depth academic research more than take courses.

you're entering a field where you will essentially commit to a lifetime of learning, or perish in irrelevancy. Though I have certainly been in graduate courses that were not as great as I could have hoped, I have benefited from every graduate course I've taken. This can be in the general, "I know am better qualified to teach X" statement for courses not tied to my research OR have been able to apply aspects and writing from a course to my own research. The more graduate courses you can take, the more chances you have to vet your research and make connections with professors.

Yes, all the credits you earn during your MA won't significantly reduce your time to degree with a PhD. It depends on the specific PhD program, though; some will take 2 classes top, others count 3-4 semesters worth. This actually makes a great deal of sense, given no university teaches the same exact graduate class. In English/lit, there seems to in fact only be a consistent one or two courses that most universities touch on. The rest varies greatly.

If you're looking for a career that has a clear, quick path that can be easily managed and predicted, academia isn't it. Yes, people experience fatigue and drop-out. This is the nature of the career path though; even those who finish their doctorates in under 5 years can still experience burn-out with academia after completing their degrees. Coming off of UG, it might be tempting to see the whole MA/PhD question in the same vein that most UG folks see their lives -- "the faster I finish my B.A., the faster I can start my actual career." In other words, it seems like the mindset of runners with distance events (i.e. sprint, 10K). The reality is academia is a life-long distance event that, though there are desired goals (finish PhD, get on the TT, get tenure, etc), doesn't really stop until you die or retire. Further, you have already started your career. This is it. Though you are incredibly limited in what you can do, research and teaching-wise, you are know basically considered a member of the academic profession.

Returning to my distance event analogy, with your BA you've essentially completed a 5K. Though you may be able to, why jump straight to one 10K (MA en-route to PhD) while training for a Marathon? Knock out a 10K before you start training for that Marathon. Yeah, you'll need to do more running, but you'll be better prepared for the marathon. Plus, you aren't doing just one marathon in this analogy; you're entire life will be marathon after marathon (publishing, getting tenure, publishing more, etc) until you're physically or mentally unable to run anymore marathons.

All of this is to say that another year or two between now and getting your PhD is not as big a deal as I think you think it is.


7 hours ago, frenchlover said:

, if I receive offers that are funded, do I choose the one that gives me the best funding, given I want to simply gain more comprehensiveness with the discipline versus finding people with matching research interests, or do I choose the most well-known school?

Instead of most well-known, you might instead consider if the professors are a good fit for your specific interests. Just because a program is X rank on USNWR, doesn't mean that the faculty will be able to help you develop as a researcher. Then consider funding. Some may disagree, but I think a well-fit program with full-funding and profs who don't have PhD students to wrangle is a far better option than  having partial- to no-funding in a big program where you'll be competing with PhD candidates for attention.


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