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How to get into UCLA's African history program


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Hello all,

I'm new to the forum.  I really want to get into the African History PhD program at UCLA.  My BS and MA have nothing to do with history, and I have spent a significant amount of time staying home with my 3 children.  I am familiar with the PhD life since my husband spent the majority of our marriage working on his phd in math.  I would need to retake the GRE because my scores have since expired.  However, my past scores were relatively high and so was my GPA.  Also, the language requirements would not be such and issue as I am practically a native speaker of an African language in which I am interested and have familiarity with one other language relevant to my research interests.  In addition to UCLA's wonderful reputation in this field, I am in relatively close proximity to it. I am worried because I have 3 chidren, with the oldest being 8 years old and I don't have much work experience, and am an older student.  What do you think I should focus on doing to convince the faculty to accept me?  Am I kidding myself?  I wanted to know if anyone has any advice or thoughts for me.  Thanks in advance.

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You have the credentials. The most important element of your application, however, will be how well you articulate your fit with a potential adviser and your research interests in your SOP. In African history, it is less important to find advisers who would work on your specific sub-region than it is in other fields, but you should be able to make a strong case at least for shared research interests. What are you interested in and who do you want to work with at UCLA? 

Edited by AfricanusCrowther
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I second the above advice--reach out to potential advisors and see what they say (though note that this is an extremely busy time of the academic year for a lot of profs). I'd be careful about saying you're only interested in UCLA (as in, I wouldn't mention it at this stage--regardless of your circumstances it will make people think you're not genuinely committed to doing "whatever it takes" to try and succeed in academia). But it is definitely worth being upfront about what you've been doing since your MA and why you want to do a PhD in history--what is your MA in? Plenty of people (not the majority but plenty, even so) come to a history PhD from another field, but pretty much all of those people have a good sense of the historical field that they're entering. The language is a huge advantage but do you also know your way around the historiography? I am guessing that you probably do, but it would be something to make pretty obvious straight away, because it's common for people to come to history thinking that it's about "uncovering the past" etc etc, when it's really about engaging in/complicating/messing up whatever contemporary conversations are happening, and it's good to be able to position yourself somewhere inside a conversation, even if tentatively. Good luck!

Edited by OHSP
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Thank you for the above advice.  Unfortunately (or fortunately), I am interested in many topics, but I am especially interested in exploring literature and scholarship among Hausa women. My MA is in Health Promotion.  I have and continue to make strides at knowing my way around the histiography but acknowledge that I have almost no training or background in history from a formal perspective. From what I can see, I am currently interested in possibly working with Dr. Lydon.  It seems she is currently on sabbatical.    

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1 hour ago, FDS said:

Thank you for the above advice.  Unfortunately (or fortunately), I am interested in many topics, but I am especially interested in exploring literature and scholarship among Hausa women. My MA is in Health Promotion.  I have and continue to make strides at knowing my way around the histiography but acknowledge that I have almost no training or background in history from a formal perspective. From what I can see, I am currently interested in possibly working with Dr. Lydon.  It seems she is currently on sabbatical.    

You'll want to express your research interest in terms of a specific historical question or questions that you are seeking to explore. You also want to start thinking about sources, if you haven't already. Have you read Graham Furniss' work? His chapter on Hausa print culture in Karin Barber's edited volume Africa's Hidden Histories might be useful for you.

By the way, Bruce Hall at UC Berkeley would be an excellent adviser for your interests. 

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Again, thanks alot for replying with your suggestions.  I haven't read Graham Furniss' work yet.  In regards to Bruce Hall, are you suggesting that I try for UC Berkeley?  After staying home for so long, I'm still a little shaky on my confidence level.

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Make sure the advisor you want to work for at UCLA is taking students for the year you’re applying to. I find that making sure there are advisors who would fight for your app at a particular school is paramount.

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Honestly, you can handle it if you want to. My mom started her PhD after having me (I'm the youngest of 3). Did it take her longer than some of peers? Absolutely. But she finished and had a career based on her doctorate outside academia. I would be clear with prospective advisors that you have a family and gauge their reaction (if possible through an in person conversation if you're near there anyway). That way, you know if they'll be understanding/supportive. If they aren't, then it will be very hard to be successful and actually complete the PhD even if you do get in.

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11 hours ago, FDS said:

 In regards to Bruce Hall, are you suggesting that I try for UC Berkeley?  After staying home for so long, I'm still a little shaky on my confidence level.

It might be easier to get into Berkeley than UCLA, in that Berkeley is not known for African history and you would have much less competition than at a famous Africanist program like UCLA. If Richard Roberts is still accepting students, you should consider Stanford too.

Edited by AfricanusCrowther
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  • 3 weeks later...
On 4/13/2018 at 4:13 PM, FDS said:

Hello all,

I'm new to the forum.  I really want to get into the African History PhD program at UCLA.  My BS and MA have nothing to do with history, and I have spent a significant amount of time staying home with my 3 children.  I am familiar with the PhD life since my husband spent the majority of our marriage working on his phd in math.  I would need to retake the GRE because my scores have since expired.  However, my past scores were relatively high and so was my GPA.  Also, the language requirements would not be such and issue as I am practically a native speaker of an African language in which I am interested and have familiarity with one other language relevant to my research interests.  In addition to UCLA's wonderful reputation in this field, I am in relatively close proximity to it. I am worried because I have 3 chidren, with the oldest being 8 years old and I don't have much work experience, and am an older student.  What do you think I should focus on doing to convince the faculty to accept me?  Am I kidding myself?  I wanted to know if anyone has any advice or thoughts for me.  Thanks in advance.

This will sound horrible, so apologies: For entering a PhD program you need more than just proximity and a family. Those are excellent reasons for you to personally prefer UCLA. But those will not get you in, they will not even get you on the 'maybe' pile. 

Here's what you can do to make your case: 

1) Show your non-traditional experience. I am biased here because I love people that come to a PhD in History through other programs or atypical paths. In your SOP, show how this life experience informs your research questions. 

2) Foreground your background to show your preparedness to talk about the topics you are interested in from an interdisciplinary perspective. 

3) Do not apologize for your "disadvantages": use them as advantages. For example, as you write, do not say that your other degrees have nothing to with history, but that you bring to the department a fresh perspective for the study of X topic in Y place. 

4) Since you are close, can participate in events open to the public to mingle with faculty and students? 

 

You've got this!

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