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Ending with Terminal MA


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Hello,

I've been offered admissions to several programs, one of which is a PhD. I wanted to do a master's first to get more language study in, but the funding for those programs did not pan out. You may ask, then, why did I even apply to the PhD? Well, I was going to use it as a bargaining chip to get funding at an MA, which didn't work out. Obviously it was a place I could also see myself going to--I would have never applied otherwise. The issue is the PhD program is decent, but their placement rate isn't too hot. Were my language skills better, I don't think I would've applied. 

I was wondering if it would be possible to get the language training I am looking for at the doctoral program, and then switch out after two years. Has anyone ever heard of this or had experience with this? 

I also understand that there's the possibility I may like it there and decide to stay, and if I do, all the better. Also, this is not a post about whether it's in good form to take this course of action. I think the answer on that is clear. 

Edited by hellocharlie
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It has happened, but PhD programs tend to frown on this as they don't want to invest already scarce resources into people who will then move on to another program. They'd much rather give those resources to people committed to completing their program. You'll have to play it carefully, as you will need recommendations from the PhD program you plan to leave, and professors there may not be enthusiastic about supporting you. I personally believe you should be upfront about it and see if the program still encourages you to attend, but I'm sure other people will have different advice.

why not apply for a Fulbright or something instead? That way you can spend a year or 2 acquiring a language and experience that would set you apart when you reapply.

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1 hour ago, ashiepoo72 said:

It has happened, but PhD programs tend to frown on this as they don't want to invest already scarce resources into people who will then move on to another program. They'd much rather give those resources to people committed to completing their program. You'll have to play it carefully, as you will need recommendations from the PhD program you plan to leave, and professors there may not be enthusiastic about supporting you. I personally believe you should be upfront about it and see if the program still encourages you to attend, but I'm sure other people will have different advice.

why not apply for a Fulbright or something instead? That way you can spend a year or 2 acquiring a language and experience that would set you apart when you reapply.

I thought about going the route you suggested. I've applied to Fulbright in the past, but I did not receive it. I think what hurt me the first time around was that I didn't have enough language study in the target language to make them want me.  So, not getting more language study in leaves me kind of the same spot. That's why I wanted to get the master's (but not go into crazy amounts of debt). 

Edited by hellocharlie
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  • 4 weeks later...

I wouldn't do it for that reason only.  That's my short answer.

Also, have you considered Middlebury Language Schools?  The financial aid and fellowship competition are quite generous if you apply early.

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17 hours ago, hellocharlie said:

Why not? What reasons would merit it then?

From the original post:

On 4/15/2018 at 4:18 PM, hellocharlie said:

Also, this is not a post about whether it's in good form to take this course of action. I think the answer on that is clear. 

This is not a thread about completing a terminal MA in order to improve a later application to a PhD. OP was specifically asking about misleading their institution by accepting a position at a PhD program with the full knowledge that they plan to leave in a few years in order to maximize job prospects at a "better" school. The potential for this to backfire is immense.

While there may be cases of someone successfully pulling this off, it's not exactly behavior to be emulated.

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There's a difference between going somewhere with the knowledge you're leaving and going somewhere with the full intention of remaining there for the PhD, but then changing your mind due to personal reasons/research fit/etc.

The former is universally frowned upon. The latter is probably far less so.

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Controversial opinion: I'm not sure that what OP is proposing is so reprehensible. Realistically, people need to attend the top programs in order to have a chance at a job, but even becoming competitive for admissions to top programs is logistically difficult and costly for anyone who's changing fields, who comes from a low-ranked undergrad, or who is simply ill-acquainted with how academia works. So what should those people do? Take out student loans for a useless MA in the humanities? Give up and get an office job? One is a stupid financial decision (and one consistently recommended against on this board) and the other is contributing to making academe a club for the wealthy. 

On the other hand, you have low-ranked programs that graduate their PhDs into no chance of a job, and know that this is the reality, where professors will outright tell you that, if you're getting a PhD here, you shouldn't be getting a PhD. Yeah, agreeing to attend a program for 5 years and quitting once you've found something better can be construed as a breach of trust - but taking 5+ years of people's lives (and exploiting their vastly underpaid TA labor so you don't have to create tenure lines to support your undergraduates) and then pushing them out to a world where they have a better chance of winning at slots than getting TT? When the contract is so broken on the one side, I don't know that people on the other side should be held to pristine standards.

I understand that people feel very emotional about the kind of plan OP proposes, because academia is more than just a job, but it's much easier to reflexively shit on the little person than to recognize that they are operating within the confines of a broken system.

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2 hours ago, ExponentialDecay said:

Controversial opinion: I'm not sure that what OP is proposing is so reprehensible. Realistically, people need to attend the top programs in order to have a chance at a job, but even becoming competitive for admissions to top programs is logistically difficult and costly for anyone who's changing fields, who comes from a low-ranked undergrad, or who is simply ill-acquainted with how academia works. So what should those people do? Take out student loans for a useless MA in the humanities? Give up and get an office job? One is a stupid financial decision (and one consistently recommended against on this board) and the other is contributing to making academe a club for the wealthy. 

On the other hand, you have low-ranked programs that graduate their PhDs into no chance of a job, and know that this is the reality, where professors will outright tell you that, if you're getting a PhD here, you shouldn't be getting a PhD. Yeah, agreeing to attend a program for 5 years and quitting once you've found something better can be construed as a breach of trust - but taking 5+ years of people's lives (and exploiting their vastly underpaid TA labor so you don't have to create tenure lines to support your undergraduates) and then pushing them out to a world where they have a better chance of winning at slots than getting TT? When the contract is so broken on the one side, I don't know that people on the other side should be held to pristine standards.

I understand that people feel very emotional about the kind of plan OP proposes, because academia is more than just a job, but it's much easier to reflexively shit on the little person than to recognize that they are operating within the confines of a broken system.

I understand your point. I agree that the system is broken. I agree that at least one contract has been broken. However, I don't agree with the reasoning.

My perspective on the OP is that it proposes gaming the system in a way that works to the detriment of qualified applicants who want to attend that program. Also, while the professors at this institution are beneficiaries of a broken system, it is undetermined if they're working to changing things as individuals. If they are such individuals at this school, will they just grin and say @hellocharlie beat us at our own game and move on? Or will they be pushed along the path that has gotten us to this point in the first place?

IRT the plan, I would point out that it's a smaller world than the OP may realize. A graduate student who screws over a department is going to generate chatter. Even if names are not named, given the (over) specialization of the profession, how hard will it be to figure out who that person is when he/she applies to programs and for fellowships and for jobs down the line?

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2 hours ago, ExponentialDecay said:

Controversial opinion: I'm not sure that what OP is proposing is so reprehensible. Realistically, people need to attend the top programs in order to have a chance at a job, but even becoming competitive for admissions to top programs is logistically difficult and costly for anyone who's changing fields, who comes from a low-ranked undergrad, or who is simply ill-acquainted with how academia works. So what should those people do? Take out student loans for a useless MA in the humanities? Give up and get an office job? One is a stupid financial decision (and one consistently recommended against on this board) and the other is contributing to making academe a club for the wealthy. 

On the other hand, you have low-ranked programs that graduate their PhDs into no chance of a job, and know that this is the reality, where professors will outright tell you that, if you're getting a PhD here, you shouldn't be getting a PhD. Yeah, agreeing to attend a program for 5 years and quitting once you've found something better can be construed as a breach of trust - but taking 5+ years of people's lives (and exploiting their vastly underpaid TA labor so you don't have to create tenure lines to support your undergraduates) and then pushing them out to a world where they have a better chance of winning at slots than getting TT? When the contract is so broken on the one side, I don't know that people on the other side should be held to pristine standards.

I understand that people feel very emotional about the kind of plan OP proposes, because academia is more than just a job, but it's much easier to reflexively shit on the little person than to recognize that they are operating within the confines of a broken system.

I don't think it's inherently reprehensible, but it is dishonest. To be completely honest, when I was an undergrad, one of my advisors proposed I do something similar. The problem is that even the good, not great programs have migrated towards a joint MA/PhD model, where there's no way to get an independent MA. This wasn't the case even 20 years ago, as most programs have become fully-funded.

For what little it's worth, I'm considering reapplying next year. It's not because my program is bad, as it isn't. It's due to personal reasons, dissatisfaction with the university, and a very broad shift in research focus which puts me a bit beyond the pale of faculty research.

Edited by psstein
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11 minutes ago, psstein said:

I don't think it's inherently reprehensible, but it is dishonest. To be completely honest, when I was an undergrad, one of my advisors proposed I do something similar. The problem is that even the good, not great programs have migrated towards a joint MA/PhD model, where there's no way to get an independent MA. This wasn't the case even 20 years ago, as most programs have become fully-funded.

For what little it's worth, I'm considering leaving my program after next year and reapplying. It's not because my program is bad (far from it), but it's related to personal issues and a change in research fit (nobody does 19th century American medicine).

'@psstein;s situation is an excellent example of acceptable switches.  His/her adviser can justify the situation-- the student came in with an interest in XYZ but switched to ABC and the department doesn't offer as much support as whatever othe department s/he wishes to apply to. S/he did not come in knowing that s/he was going to move across the Pond, jump a century or two ahead in history, and change thematic focus.  

What OP wants to do is just dishonest.  Period.  The academic world is scary small, especially that you will run into people in the archives who you will see again at conferences and vice versa.

One of the biggest considerations is the will and stamina to do the MA coursework all over again.  Is it really worth another 2 years of history graduate school? Do you really want to historiography class again (not everyone will accept that credit)? After doing an interdisciplinary MA and 2 years of grad work in my PhD program, I definitely was ready to be done with coursework forever (and I still had to take a few more classes for electives and I'm still burnt out).

 

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I’m in a relatively similar situation, but I expect I will stay in my program. I got into a great school, but it’s not well known for my speciality (early modern) with no placements at all. My would be advisor there suggested if I didn’t feel the program was right for me, I could leave in a year with their ma, even though I already have a terminal ma in history. It seems redundant for me to get two masters in history and although there’s no placement, the school’s in a great area and the advisor is an up and coming professor. 

In terms of languages, i guess it wouldn’t be a terrible idea if your advisors sign off on you leaving, but you’d have to consider if after you leave whether your chances of getting in a higher level program will be better. The competition will still be strong and you will still compete with other people who will have strong languages as well.

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I'm just going to reiterate here: if OP wants to switch, they will need recommendations from the program they intend to leave, and I doubt many professors at that program will write glowing recommendations. A lackluster or critical rec will torpedo an application--as @TMP said, academia is extremely small, professors know each other and will more than likely listen to their colleague's warnings and criticisms. If OP DOESN'T get recs from the program, it will be extremely suspicious to adcomms. 

Going into a PhD program that does not have a terminal MA with the intention of using it as a terminal MA is most definitely dishonest--unless OP is up front with their adviser, ensuring they're supportive, which is one way to guarantee there are no terrible recs dragging down a future application. It's hard for me to imagine an adviser being happy in this situation, but stranger things have happened.

Side note: it's not just professors who view as dishonest those using a program as a launch pad to another program--during my application year, a person was accepted into one of the same places as me. This person was switching programs, which made a lot of the prospective and graduate students suspicious off the bat. Then we found out this person was attending a prospie weekend even though they already chose another program--this exacerbated the negative feelings, because we viewed this person as callously taking advantage of program funds while deliberately being a dishonest actor. The moral of the story is: profs and students, rightly or wrongly, do not like when department funds are used in what they view as a cavalier manner because these resources are precious few and could go to honest actors. It's one thing to enter a program, have your project radically transform to the point the program cannot support you, and applying to somewhere that can--this happens and is totally legitimate. It's another thing entirely to know from the start that you plan to apply elsewhere and you just want access to resources you do not have (that could go to someone who genuinely wants to be there). That's why you need to be as honest as possible about your intentions.

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19 minutes ago, ashiepoo72 said:

 The moral of the story is: profs and students, rightly or wrongly, do not like when department funds are used in what they view as a cavalier manner because these resources are precious few and could go to honest actors. It's one thing to enter a program, have your project radically transform to the point the program cannot support you, and applying to somewhere that can--this happens and is totally legitimate. It's another thing entirely to know from the start that you plan to apply elsewhere and you just want access to resources you do not have (that could go to someone who genuinely wants to be there). That's why you need to be as honest as possible about your intentions.

I'm out of upvotes today but I am 100% with @ashiepoo72 on this very statement. I can't tell you how many graduate students will gripe when they see that individuals just can't continue to the end unless these individuals are truly struggling and becoming emotionally unhappy.  I have known 2 graduate students (one of them my best friend) who told their advisers that they didn't want to continue beyond the MA.  My best friend's adviser urged her to take advantage of the summer monies to get into research and finish her MA thesis to be sure that she wanted to leave all the research behind.  She did the research and concluded that she still loved the research but couldn't handle the quirks of academia.  Another student, an international student whose interests laid outside of US history and her home country's history, already had an uphill battle coming in. There was something about her that hinted that she would eventually leave the program, particularly her initial impression that she just wanted to study history at graduate level with no understanding of reality in academia.  She confirmed it after dodging my questions about her summer, exams and dissertation plans for almost a year.  Her reason was that she wanted job stability and I was not happy because I know I told her that being in academia was not going to be easy and she would need to think about jobs beyond the professoriate and no doubt that she has at least heard around the department the challenges of the job market.  She admitted to me that she told our adviser back in September, beginning of her second year, I was even less thrilled.  I suspect, though, my adviser knew that this student wasn't cut for the PhD as her MA thesis did not show any real sign of original thinking (it was a saturated topic.  But to be honest, her BA topic was quite exciting in comparison but she didn't want to pursue it).

Although my adviser and my best friend's adviser dealt differently, when graduate students leave before finishing the PhD, their departures hurt the department more than them.  The Graduate School counts how many students finish as part of deciding how many students the department can fund.  Also, they hurt other graduate students' morale and trust because we all have invested in time into one another through classes, chit-chats in TA rooms, and other areas of socialization.

One needs to understand that once entering in a PhD program, one has become part of a community.  Community members understand more if the reason for departure has to do with mental heath crisis or strongly academic. But to treat the community and its resources less respectfully?  Nope.

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2 hours ago, Sigaba said:

My perspective on the OP is that it proposes gaming the system in a way that works to the detriment of qualified applicants who want to attend that program.

Sure; but is keeping people out of a 5-year-long dead end bad or good?

I guess I'm struggling to express my thinking. In my understanding, this all goes back to the question that, if a PhD program consistently cannot graduate employable specialists, why does it exist? It should be a fully-funded master's that prepares people for entry to programs that can, or else gives them 2 years to experience professional scholarship and conclude it's not for them. Given there are major structural issues for why that will never happen, is it still immoral to treat these programs as funded master's? I don't know; but at least it seems to me efficient.

My other qualm is that there is a lot of people are spiritedly defending these institutions and The Community, but these institutions are constantly and brutally shafting graduate students and junior faculty, and the more junior you are, the harder you get shafted. The "wasting money that could've gone to qualified applicants who would get the PhD" argument doesn't really work for me, because if all your PhDs end up adjuncting six introductory classes or in the nebulous miasma of "alt-ac" rather than doing what they've trained for the better part of a decade to do, in my understanding that's still wasted money. If the department loses PhD funding because they can't retain enough PhDs - well, maybe they should. Maybe that will push them to offer respectable master's options, which is what is actually needed, rather than having people pledge their lives to the void. 

I'm not arguing that OP will be shooting themselves in the foot if they get a reputation for being opportunistic. I'm just arguing for clemency towards people who face OP's choices.

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I don't have sympathy for programs. I said that 1. Anyone who wants to switch programs will need recommendations from the place they want to leave, and using said place as a terminal MA when it isn't one isn't going to endear the OP to the professors they need on their side; and 2. Professors and grad students in grad programs are cognizant of the often desperate financial situation at said programs, so if someone goes to those programs to essentially use them as a bank to pay for skill acquirement so they can move on to something better, it's frowned upon. Professors want grad students who are committed to finishing their program, and grad students are in competition with each other for funds (not to mention the people who genuinely WANT to go to those programs who potentially lose a spot in the program to someone who is NOT committed). This isn't sympathy for programs, it's the reality, and I've laid it out because I don't WANT OP to end up screwed because their adviser won't write a good rec for them down the line.

I have no respect for programs that abuse graduate students and have abysmal placement records. The best advice for that situation is to STOP applying to them. They will continue issuing degrees so long as they need grad student labor and have a supply of grad students.

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8 hours ago, TMP said:

'@psstein;s situation is an excellent example of acceptable switches.  His/her adviser can justify the situation-- the student came in with an interest in XYZ but switched to ABC and the department doesn't offer as much support as whatever othe department s/he wishes to apply to. S/he did not come in knowing that s/he was going to move across the Pond, jump a century or two ahead in history, and change thematic focus. 

I appreciate your remembering so much about my project! I came in as an early modernist, intending to do Jesuit science in colonial contexts, which basically makes me a Europeanist at the outset. For pronouns' sake, it's "he."

I ended up taking a course about public health in the United States and became interested in American history of medicine. My current advisor and I get along quite well, I like her a lot, etc., but she's focused on 20th century American medicine. The best faculty member to supervise my project is currently a) retired and b) 72 years old. My intent, as it currently stands, is to apply to 2 or 3 programs with specialists in 19th century American medicine, and if that doesn't work out, I'll either find a different career path or move into 20th century work, neither of which I'd like to do. At any rate, I didn't enter my program with any intention of leaving.

That's at least the research element of my leaving. The other part has to do with personal concerns (e.g. mental health).

I think @ExponentialDecay is right about how rotten the system is. In many regards, the humanities system, let alone the PhD system, is based upon continuing to train intelligent people to fill jobs that don't exist. Rather than hire more tenured faculty, departments rely upon contingent faculty and graduate students. What has happened, in some programs, is that they've eliminated the PhD element of their program and started only offering a fully-funded (or at least well-funded) MA. The problem is that not enough programs are doing this.

Edited by psstein
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On 5/18/2018 at 11:42 AM, ExponentialDecay said:

Controversial opinion: I'm not sure that what OP is proposing is so reprehensible. Realistically, people need to attend the top programs in order to have a chance at a job, but even becoming competitive for admissions to top programs is logistically difficult and costly for anyone who's changing fields, who comes from a low-ranked undergrad, or who is simply ill-acquainted with how academia works. So what should those people do? Take out student loans for a useless MA in the humanities? Give up and get an office job? One is a stupid financial decision (and one consistently recommended against on this board) and the other is contributing to making academe a club for the wealthy. 

This. I'm coming from a low-ranked undergrad with virtually no advisors in my area and no language training in my area, which puts me at a disadvantage for top programs. I also come from a very poor latino family, which  has its own nuances that translate into disadvantages in academia.  I knew MAs were one way to strengthen my app, but as so many recommend not to do on here, I was not going to go into a lot of debt for the MA. The cheapest MA would have left me with $28,000 in debt. Why do those who come from families with money, those who get lucky and receive a funded MA, or those who risk their finances on a non-renumerative MA get to have  a "second chance", but when one finds another, but albeit untraditional, route, they have to suck it up and stay for the "community"? It seems like most admonishing me on here either got an MA (and got their second chance) or went to well-respected undergrads, with the resources to get them to schools they are comfortable in. 

Also, I don't want to come off entitled. I did do well during undergrad (which is why I was able to get into a decently ranked PhD program without an MA). My MA plan just didn't turn out like I thought it would. So, I'm glad I applied to some doctoral programs, as I would have now have to have been deciding between partially funded MAs.

I did what I thought was best for my academic career and finances moving forward. My advisors are very aware that I was torn between the doctoral program and my MA options. And I don't know where people got the idea that I'm definitely leaving. I'm using these first two years to see if I like it. Don't we all enter big life experiences with an open mind, seeing where it takes us? Who knows? Maybe my project will change and won't be able to be supported there? Maybe I'll find my place there? Maybe the program will exacerbate my mental health (which is already pretty poor and aggravated by this whole process) and I will not find peace there? Or maybe it will?

Edited by hellocharlie
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3 hours ago, hellocharlie said:

This. I'm coming from a low-ranked undergrad with virtually no advisors in my area and no language training in my area, which puts me at a disadvantage for top programs. I also come from a very poor latino family, which  has its own nuances that translate into disadvantages in academia.  I knew MAs were one way to strengthen my app, but as so many recommend not to do on here, I was not going to go into a lot of debt for the MA. The cheapest MA would have left me with $28,000 in debt. Why do those who come from families with money, those who get lucky and receive a funded MA, or those who risk their finances on a non-renumerative MA get to have  a "second chance", but when one finds another, but albeit untraditional, route, they have to suck it up and stay for the "community"? It seems like most admonishing me on here either got an MA (and got their second chance) or went to well-respected undergrads, with the resources to get them to schools they are comfortable in. 

Also, I don't want to come off entitled. I did do well during undergrad (which is why I was able to get into a decently ranked PhD program without an MA). My MA plan just didn't turn out like I thought it would. So, I'm glad I applied to some doctoral programs, as I would have now have to have been deciding between partially funded MAs.

I did what I thought was best for my academic career and finances moving forward. My advisors are very aware that I was torn between the doctoral program and my MA options. And I don't know where people got the idea that I'm definitely leaving. I'm using these first two years to see if I like it. Don't we all enter big life experiences with an open mind, seeing where it takes us? Who knows? Maybe my project will change and won't be able to be supported there? Maybe I'll find my place there? Maybe the program will exacerbate my mental health (which is already pretty poor and aggravated by this whole process) and I will not find peace there? Or maybe it will?

To me, you sound like you're going into a program with one foot already out the door. To me, it seems that you're looking for reasons to justify why you're dedicated to your own best interests and not committed to the best interests of a profession you seek to join. Your ambivalence will stand out in contrast to your peers who are true believers in themselves, in the program, and in the craft. Who will your professors notice and decide to support and to mentor? Will your opportunism remind your department that the year to year renewal of your funding is not guaranteed (read the fine print)?

My recommendation to you is that between now and the start of classes, you make a best honest effort to commit to the craft, to the program that has made a commitment to you, and, most importantly, to the people who have vouched for you. Pick either the thesis or report track to your M.A., bust your back to learn the craft and to develop  your language skills. If you go in with a great attitude, do your level best to maximize your potential, and do your own legwork in developing opportunities, your professors will quickly show if they're worth their salt. 

IRT your socio economic background, your family history, your ethnicity, and your mental health, you're going to have peers and professors with life experiences similar to yours, in cases much worse. If you go into your program with a dim view of those who come from "families with money," and "those who get lucky," that chip on your shoulder is going to get in the way of building trust and rapport.

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5 hours ago, Sigaba said:

To me, you sound like you're going into a program with one foot already out the door. To me, it seems that you're looking for reasons to justify why you're dedicated to your own best interests and not committed to the best interests of a profession you seek to join. Your ambivalence will stand out in contrast to your peers who are true believers in themselves, in the program, and in the craft. Who will your professors notice and decide to support and to mentor? Will your opportunism remind your department that the year to year renewal of your funding is not guaranteed (read the fine print)?

My recommendation to you is that between now and the start of classes, you make a best honest effort to commit to the craft, to the program that has made a commitment to you, and, most importantly, to the people who have vouched for you. Pick either the thesis or report track to your M.A., bust your back to learn the craft and to develop  your language skills. If you go in with a great attitude, do your level best to maximize your potential, and do your own legwork in developing opportunities, your professors will quickly show if they're worth their salt. 

IRT your socio economic background, your family history, your ethnicity, and your mental health, you're going to have peers and professors with life experiences similar to yours, in cases much worse. If you go into your program with a dim view of those who come from "families with money," and "those who get lucky," that chip on your shoulder is going to get in the way of building trust and rapport.

@hellocharlie  I also come from a complicated background but not as much as yours.  But I do have a good friend with a similar ethnic and socioeconomic background who can relate a good bit.  As @Sigaba pointed out, you already have a good uphill climb simply because of the various privileges that exist in academia (class and race).  You will want to immediately seek out resources at your new university for graduate students like yourself, either through the office of counseling or office of diversity and inclusion.  You will find strong psychological and peer support to help you succeed in your program.  My friend found connecting with other graduate students of his race/ethnicity quite crucial to staying in the program.  Has he had doubts whether his academic pedigree was good enough for fellowships and the job market? Certainly.  But he focused on creating a strong research agenda to attract attention (which it has!) and his peers, including myself, have encouraged him to keep his eye on the ball.  Because of his modesty, I think he is one of the underrated graduate students in the program but his dissertation committee recognizes his brilliance and strongly support his work and goals to get the PhD and become a professor. As @Sigaba noted, professors do notice different levels of commitment among students and choose to invest in resources (including time) to the most committed and those who exhibit potential to join the profession.

Given what you just went through (like many others), it's normal to feel ambivalent to enter a new program/school and you feel that you could so much.  I felt similarly when I went to my first undergraduate college (which was good but not in the top 15).  I did my best to embrace the college and its student body but realized the overall atmosphere wasn't really for me at the time.  I also heard that "miserable student makes for miserable grades" and decided to think positively and embrace my academic work to get good grades for a transfer to my top-choice, which had difficult transfer admission rate.  By the time I got my acceptance to that school, I had gotten so used to being in this college, found good people and professors to connect with, and felt okay staying.  I decided to leave for a more personal reason.  From that experience, I think that once you allow yourself to embrace the profession, the program's offerings, and the community (in and out of the department) and do all of that with a positive attitude, you'll feel more settled.

Also, you will want to check out the blog "Conditionally Accepted" (https://conditionallyaccepted.com/) and you might find connection with the bloggers even though many of them are already professors.

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Also one thing I learned during the application process, which I didn’t know before, was that doing a postdoc at a prestigious or high ranked university can help mitigate the “less prestigious/weaker” undergrad/ma aspect. That’s something you can consider if you want to stay at your current school.

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On 5/25/2018 at 10:48 AM, Sigaba said:

To me, you sound like you're going into a program with one foot already out the door. To me, it seems that you're looking for reasons to justify why you're dedicated to your own best interests and not committed to the best interests of a profession you seek to join. Your ambivalence will stand out in contrast to your peers who are true believers in themselves, in the program, and in the craft. Who will your professors notice and decide to support and to mentor? Will your opportunism remind your department that the year to year renewal of your funding is not guaranteed (read the fine print)?

Is it really impossible for one to do both of these at the same time? That is, couldn't one excel in the MA portion of their program while also preparing themselves to get into a better PhD program in the future? I'm asking because what came to mind as I read this is something which is increasingly common on the academic job market: people already in a TT job publish articles/books and/or seek out top grants so they can be more attractive and move to a different university. Thinking of it that way, it doesn't surprise me at all to see this happening on the graduate level.

On 5/25/2018 at 6:32 AM, hellocharlie said:

I did what I thought was best for my academic career and finances moving forward. My advisors are very aware that I was torn between the doctoral program and my MA options. And I don't know where people got the idea that I'm definitely leaving. I'm using these first two years to see if I like it. Don't we all enter big life experiences with an open mind, seeing where it takes us? Who knows? Maybe my project will change and won't be able to be supported there? Maybe I'll find my place there? Maybe the program will exacerbate my mental health (which is already pretty poor and aggravated by this whole process) and I will not find peace there? Or maybe it will?

It sounds like you're going into this with a clear sense of what is important to you and why, which is great to see. I would make sure your advisors remain aware of your overarching goals (in terms of both research and career) so that they'll understand why you're doing what you're doing. Make sure that you're excelling academically throughout your MA, especially in your first year. If you can, make arrangements to see a counselor/therapist about your mental health as early in the semester as possible so that you start off strong. And if it isn't for you, don't be afraid to take a leave of absence from the program or to quit altogether.

If it helps at all, I'll note that I did a MA at a school where I easily could've stayed for my PhD (you had to reapply but it was basically guaranteed if you were finishing the MA in good standing). I made it very clear to my MA advisor and committee that I wanted to consider all my options because the best thing for me career-wise would be to work with someone outstanding, get external funding, etc. The three of them wrote me strong recommendation letters and I got into every PhD program I applied to. I ultimately went elsewhere for my PhD and I don't think anyone was surprised. Now your situation is different since you were admitted to a PhD program but I do think clear communication is key regardless.

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