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Would you like to Apply for an MA or PhD in Theatre & Performance Studies?

Noe Montez

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Like many of my colleagues, I begin to receive emails from prospective applicants for our January deadline. If you're thinking about a PhD program in the field, now is a good time to start. For those of you who may be looking a programs, here are some tips that you might want to keep in mind. There are only 36 PhD Theatre & Performance Studies programs in the United States so hopefully you'll find a program that's right for you!

1. Think about your interests and how they match up with the interests of university faculties.

You may or may not have a clear idea of a dissertation topic. Even if you only have some vague research questions or interests, you'll want to think about how a particular university's faculty (and its geographic location for that matter) might work in service of your trajectory. Our programs vary widely from highly theatre history focused to purely performance studies. Some department's are particularly well-grounded in critical race studies or gender and sexuality studies. Other programs really seek to ground students in production experiences. Think about the kinds of program that you want to be a part of and let that guide your search. Spend some time on our webpages for seminar listings, faculty publications and bios, recent theses/ dissertations, and graduate handbooks to learn a bit more about institutional philosophies and values

2. Start to think about your application materials

Nearly every institution will want a cover letter/statement of intent, a writing sample, GRE/TOEFL scores, and recommendation letters. Rest assured that most of us won't care even a little bit about the math section of the GRE. But in the cover letter and writing sample we're looking for a). evidence that you understand why a faculty, university, and program might serve you well b). demonstrates an awareness of who you are in academic conversation with c). shows us why you're invested in particular questions and how you hope to creatively answer them through your research. The writing sample should provide some example of this labor.

As you start to cultivate letters of recommendation, think about people who can speak to your intellectual promise and your academic interests. We get a lot of letters that talk about a student's skill as a performer, and that doesn't really help us at all. If performance practice is a big skill that you bring to a program or that informs your research, create an online portfolio so that we can see images or video of your work and speak to how that work is in conversation with critical discourses in the field. 

3. It's never too early to reach out and speak with the Director of a PhD program.

Once you find a few programs that have piqued your interests, try to set up a conversation with the directors of the programs. When I talk with prospective applicants at this point in the summer, I want to know a). How you think a PhD program might serve your individual growth and aspirations?  b). What sorts of research questions are of interest to you. I'm less interested in potential dissertation topic than I am in why you're drawn to particular research questions, what you see as the through-line between your topics, and why you feel a personal investment in the research questions you've selected.

You may want to ask me about the program's mission and values, funding packages, summer funding, travel and research support, program structure, time to degree,  graduate placement, teaching and production opportunities, alt-ac training, credit transfers if you're coming from an MA program, language requirements, or other program logistics. But prepare those questions before we start our conversation (Just FYI: this is the state of T&PS PhD job placement from 2011-2017): 



Finally, you may want to float the idea of visiting campus once the fall semester starts or look for an opportunity to speak with faculty members via phone or web conference. Most institutions can't pay to bring admitted students out until after a review of application materials, but some applicants have the means to visit campus prior to applying. If you can't you can at least learn more about faculty who you might like to work with about the seminars they plan to teach, their mentorship styles, and other opportunities for engagement. Don't be afraid to ask about the possibility of speaking to graduate students either. Most of our programs can facilitate that easily. 

I hope that this helps and doesn't seem too simple. Please feel free to use this thread if you have questions. Or if you have a question that you don't want to ask in this thread, email me noe.montez@tufts.edu. 

Good luck learning about the programs in our field!


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