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I identified fit by reading professor profiles and previous course lists. I had made a list of like 30 schools I was interested in, and knocked off any school that didn't have at least one prof whose work fit directly/clearly with mine and made me excited. Once I narrowed down to my 7, I read a few publications or abstracts from each of my top POIs at each school, and also skimmed their CVs if those were available! That gave me a good sense of their work, and allowed me to make semi-specific claims  in my SoP about how their research works with mine or could direct mine. This was easier to do when the word count allowed for more than 2 sentences per POI haha. 

Also, I generally tried to make arguments about department cultural fit (e.g. learning as a communal process at Michigan, theory at Chicago), although those are feel less weighty to me than having a strong case about how my research fits with the kind of research or coursework happening at the department. That could just be me though!

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I'm not going to get into details with mine because I'm a little paranoid but, the process I went through was this:

- Go program by program and look at faculty profiles, write down every name that I recognized as being in my field or who seemed to work on things related to my work (African-Americanists, anyone who worked on my specific authors, theories, time periods, methodologies), as well as anyone whose work seemed interesting (as in, am I compelled to read their work even if it doesn't entirely or at all align with my own)

- With that list, I go to my library search and look for their work, focusing on anything published recently if possible. I download every article that seems relevant or interesting. I was away from the library so could not access physical books. I SHOULD have written down the names of key books, but did not. If anyone did not have anything relevant/interesting, I removed them from consideration.

- Go through and organize all the articles (over 1000). Then go through again and select all those that seem particularly relevant to my work, separate them.

- Go through these lists, if a program does not have at least 3 scholars who have made it this far, or if the article list seems bare and there are no articles that are amazingly relevant, I removed the school from consideration

- Start skimming/reading articles, take notes and highlight anything that is especially relevant to my work.

- Go back to the programs and universities and do some searching for any institutes, characteristics or anything else that seems relevant

- With all of the prep done, it's time to write the fit-specific part of my SoP.

So, that was my prep. What did I actually talk about?

- My specific interests are quite... specific. So no one has really been working about it. If anyone came close, I mentioned it.

- If anyone had done work combining my methodology and textual focus, I mentioned it.

- If anyone did one or the other, but specifically using authors or theories or texts I would work on, I mentioned it.

- Sometimes the above wasn't there, or only one person. In those cases there was usually a lot of people working within one of the fields I'm interested in, but not specifically on my authors/theories. If so, I mentioned it.

- Sometimes I mentioned someone's work generally. However, I usually tried to pinpoint specific articles or quotes. Firstly because I'm afraid of generalizing or getting something wrong, since it's impossible to know everything a scholar has written or is interested in, for every scholar we want to work with. I tried to avoid getting too focused on specific arguments, and instead on how the questions they were asking or their expertise as demonstrated by their work could guide my own.

- Faculty fit was the biggest part,  but I also discussed any institutes or centers or certificate programs, when relevant.

- For 500 word SoPs, I sometimes only mentioned 2 faculty members. I usually aimed for 3, but other times I discussed quite a lot more, maybe even 6-7. I obviously did not go in depth, and sometimes mentioned faculty as a unit, but always focusing on ow each one will be helpful in different ways.

- I usually avoided focusing on big names, but generally tried to at least mention them. If the program recently hired anyone in the field, I mentioned it.

-Oh, I forgot that I also looked at recent course offerings and mentioned them when relevant, same goes for anything of note in their library collections.

Ultimately, every app was it's own thing, but this was my process and how I wound up using it. Since fit is so important, I'm curious how others have approached it.

 

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10 minutes ago, Bopie5 said:

I identified fit by reading professor profiles and previous course lists. I had made a list of like 30 schools I was interested in, and knocked off any school that didn't have at least one prof whose work fit directly/clearly with mine and made me excited. Once I narrowed down to my 7, I read a few publications or abstracts from each of my top POIs at each school, and also skimmed their CVs if those were available! That gave me a good sense of their work, and allowed me to make semi-specific claims  in my SoP about how their research works with mine or could direct mine. This was easier to do when the word count allowed for more than 2 sentences per POI haha. 

Also, I generally tried to make arguments about department cultural fit (e.g. learning as a communal process at Michigan, theory at Chicago), although those are feel less weighty to me than having a strong case about how my research fits with the kind of research or coursework happening at the department. That could just be me though!

Funny because that's basically the same as what I did only I made a meal of talking about it. You reminded me that general inclinations and culture were another thing (as you said, theory at Chicago and Penn, Af-Am at Rutgers et al, psychoanalysis at GW, etc.).

One thing I wonder about is how specifically did you identify fit? I mean, it's rare to find someone who works your exact works with your exact methodology (otherwise what would be the point of doing it yourself?). Did you identify some in methodology and some in text, or only applied to places where you find someone who did both? What if they're in the field but not working on exactly the same things? Where do you draw the line?

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22 minutes ago, WildeThing said:

One thing I wonder about is how specifically did you identify fit? I mean, it's rare to find someone who works your exact works with your exact methodology (otherwise what would be the point of doing it yourself?). Did you identify some in methodology and some in text, or only applied to places where you find someone who did both? What if they're in the field but not working on exactly the same things? Where do you draw the line?

Ah, I think my process here might look a bit different than yours, just because you have more experience/knowledge than me in this process, and because of the different nature of our research interest. My primary research category is bodies/embodiment, which is relatively more niche as a guiding impulse (in that most department sites don't have a "bodies" tag the way they might for "queer theory" or "20th century American"). Therefore, my fit search meant reading tonnnnns of profiles looking for specific work on embodiment (sometimes I got there through feminist theory or performance studies tags, but sometimes I stumbled on it only after reading the profile of every listed faculty member!). Finding POIs who consistently write on bodies narrowed my field significantly, to be honest. From there, I prioritized period fit, especially at more historically organized departments. At more interdisciplinary departments, I prioritized shared sub-interests (gender performance, emotion, beauty, pain/suffering). Generally, I valued overlapping areas of interest over methodology, but often I was fortunate enough to find POIs who carry out research in ways that easily make sense to my brain. I mostly ruled out people who were in the field but doing totally different things (e.g. I ruled out several Medievalists who talked about bodies and gender, as the discourse for that period is so different to the kind of scholarship that happens around bodies in 20th/21st century lit; also generally didn't mention a lot of Victorianists since that period doesn't excite me in the same way other periods do). 

One notable exception to the above approach was my naming of Lisa Ruddick as a POI at Chicago, because that was a methodology/ethos choice more than a works one. We overlap in period and interest in feminist theory, but I was more drawn to her work because of her compelling perspectives on the use of theory. In my SoP, I presented us as sharing an ethos/approach, and that her knowledge of the period could guide my work even though we don't necessarily work on the same sub-topics or authors, while also claiming her background in psychoanalysis could push my research in new directions.

Hopefully that all makes sense!

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It does! I think our differences are indeed due to our interests. My specific interests are too specific to find anyone who works on them, but the broader fields are much more established which makes it hard to find someone who is in those fields but doing work relevant to my own. Then again, perhaps that’s not needed and just general viccinity is good. 

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I totally feel that! Honestly, can’t even imagine what it must’ve been like to sift through all the Af-Am scholars, trying to find someone whose authors, methodology, or sub-interests fit well with yours! If it helps, three of the current or recent PhD students that I talked to also mentioned to me that as far as dissertation advisors go, sometimes personality fit can be more important than interest or period fit, especially in highly interdisciplinary departments. Two of them had an advisor whose research didn’t directly overlap with their thesis, but provided important perspectives anyways and were a good fit in terms of feedback and support. But  that’s also something you’d have virtually no way to know before you’re in the program!

Edited by Bopie5
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My approach was pretty similar to both of yours, but I get the sense that I did much less excavating. I looked for people in my fields and, reading their research online, checked if I liked their methodologies and perspectives. I didn't look for their research to relate to mine perfectly at all, but just wanted to make sure they were generally relevant and that I thought what they're doing was compelling and interesting to me. I did get pretty specific in detailing how I would benefit from their guidance in the fit paragraph. However, knowing that my interests are likely to expand and shift, I didn't search for overlap in theory, time-period, and texts. One of the three was good enough for me, assuming that I found myself intrigued by their research. But I think this is very personal, and as you both mentioned, also very dependent on what type of research you hope to pursue.

I didn't mention courses, by I did briefly discuss other factors (certificates, reading groups, etc). I also obviously mentioned if one of my areas was stated on the department's website as a particular strength or emphasis. Is this what you mean by "culture," @Bopie5? I see references to departmental "cultures" etc. being talked about occasionally in the fora, but I'm not quite sure what that means and how to gauge what the culture of a particular program is. Coming from a very different educational setting, I find myself occasionally confused by things that seem obvious to everyone else.

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to me, fit meant (1) a location where i felt like i could personally thrive, (2) possible prospects after graduating, and (3) faculty with expertise in areas where i need more knowledge in order to answer (and ask more questions about) the research i'm interested in doing. more or less, i tackled this last part more as though i'm building a dissertation committee. who will help me think deeper about X questions? who will help me develop ideas around Y theories? who will bring an additional layer of questioning about Z? 

so i started with (2) and (3), curating a list of programs with prestige and programs with scholars i greatly admire in affect, posthumanism, and ecocriticism. then i tackled (1), so places where i felt like i wouldn't like living much (like Atlanta) fell off my list. i also took off programs that required the GRE subject test because fuck that. i discovered programs as i researched, too, finding collaborators through browsing faculty research. 

in my sop, i listed 2-3 professors depending on word count requirements and bridged my proposed research questions with their specific areas of knowledge. i often also identified 1-3 other professors in the department that could support my work if there was room (and if it made sense). i figure more or less what i've done is present a fun research project to a handful of people who, out of all of the professors in the US, would be most likely to be interested. maybe this isn't the project that i'll end up doing specifically, but it'll likely be similar. if these professors think it's cool, then fantastic. if not, then that makes sense too. it's not like i can read their minds and determine across hundreds of miles what types of projects they're interested in mentoring over the next 5-6 years or whether over their career they've mentored 1000 people who want to work on XYZ. there's a part of this equation that we just can't figure out from this side.

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16 minutes ago, beardedlady said:

I also obviously mentioned if one of my areas was stated on the department's website as a particular strength or emphasis. Is this what you mean by "culture," @Bopie5? I see references to departmental "cultures" etc. being talked about occasionally in the fora, but I'm not quite sure what that means and how to gauge what the culture of a particular program is. Coming from a very different educational setting, I find myself occasionally confused by things that seem obvious to everyone else.

Yeah, that’s mostly what I meant! Sorry for using unclear language. By department culture, I’m largely referring to a few things. 1, what are they known for? 2, do they prioritize individual or collaborative work? How interactive/communal/social is the cohort/department? 3, does the department skew more toward interdisciplinarity or specialization? 4, does the department primarily organize faculty/research by period (e.g. medievalist, early modern, 19th century, 21st century), genre (e.g. novel, poetry, media studies), theory (e.g. ecocriticism, feminist theory, postcolonial), or something else? 5, what’s placement (e.g. where do people get hired after graduation, and in what positions) like? 6, what resources are available (libraries, funding, teaching help, social events, activism groups, student unions)? are profs accessible? 7, larger geographic/demographic fit—what part of the country is it in? what’s the town like? what’s the racial demographics (of the town and the faculty)? what’s the political climate (of the town and the school)? what’s there to do near or on campus? does the school offer housing for grad students? 

Basically, as I use the term, department culture is an amalgamation of all of these factors. It’s a fancy way of asking what this place is “like”—although that’s hard to find information on, and difficult to quantify or support with non-anecdotal data.

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Just to add in, although I probably won't add anything new to the processes mentioned, I basically separated fit into four criterions that I believe my project/interests fit into (the period, methodology, theory, and cultural focus). I made sure that my schools had 1-2 strong professors in at least one of those criterions with supporting professor(s) in the following criterions. After that, I spent about one sentence per professor describing a significant work that I took inspiration from, or the current research that the professor was involved with. But instead of just saying how their scholarship "fit" with mine, I tried to make an argument that they could provide unique directions as mentors for the methodology and/or theoretical angle of my project. Also, I tried to make sure my SOP conveyed that my interests/project could add something fresh to the current student body within the program. 

Edited by lyonel_
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6 minutes ago, lyonel_ said:

But instead of just saying how their scholarship "fit" with mine, I tried to make an argument that they could provide unique directions as mentors for the methodology and/or theoretical angle of my project. 

I did this too!!! A few profs did work with embodiment in angles I don’t have as much experience with, such as ability theory, and I mentioned how they could guide my work toward being more intersectional.

I wish I had had this thread when I wrote my first drafts of my SoPs in September—I saw so many threads and articles emphasizing the importance of fit, but it took me a while to put my finger on how to articulate it well. Still not even convinced I spent enough of my word count on it.

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3 minutes ago, Bopie5 said:

I did this too!!! A few profs did work with embodiment in angles I don’t have as much experience with, such as ability theory, and I mentioned how they could guide my work toward being more intersectional.

I wish I had had this thread when I wrote my first drafts of my SoPs in September—I saw so many threads and articles emphasizing the importance of fit, but it took me a while to put my finger on how to articulate it well. Still not even convinced I spent enough of my word count on it.

Nice, embodiment is definitely something I want to explore more as phenomenology (central to my project), especially Maurice Merleau-Ponty, is, I believe, a major precursor to that whole theoretical umbrella. 

I was more concerned with the word count on describing my project and the Undergrad seminars and papers + thesis that have culminated into my potential pursuit of it in grad school. As long as you have the equivalent of a paragraph of fit per SOP, I'd argue that is plenty– you definitely don't want to belabor it!

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40 minutes ago, lyonel_ said:

I was more concerned with the word count on describing my project and the Undergrad seminars and papers + thesis that have culminated into my potential pursuit of it in grad school. As long as you have the equivalent of a paragraph of fit per SOP, I'd argue that is plenty– you definitely don't want to belabor it!

Yeah, same--I spent a paragraph on my guiding question/project, a paragraph on my undergrad research, a short paragraph on my senior honors thesis, and a paragraph on fit, so I think I should be okay. 

And yes, Merleau-Ponty is so interesting! A big implicit line of inquiry in my work is whether we have bodies, or are bodies (essentially, does literature operate on dualist or monist assumptions about what embodiment means), and Merleau-Ponty's emphasis on the primacy of the body for perception is definitely significant there. Have you read Iris Young's "Throwing Like a Girl"?

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26 minutes ago, Bopie5 said:

Have you read Iris Young's "Throwing Like a Girl"?

I have not! But it has been on my radar to get into at some point! However, I did read excerpts from Justice and the Politics of Difference for a philosophy seminar this last semester, although that text is more concerned with inefficiencies of distributive justice than embodiment– still a great writer nonetheless! 

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For identifying fit, I had a spreadsheet with schools/names which I shared with my LORs. I tweaked the list a bit based on their advice.

For professors I wanted to mention in my statements, I read abstracts and reviews of their books, and in a few cases listened to their lectures that were available on YouTube. I also looked at CVs (when available--it seems like they scarcely ever are!) and classes recently taught. After reading other people's posts, it seems like only having one sentence per professor may be on the short side. I didn't address departmental culture either--these are all really good things  to point out that I'll take into account for next time (as it seems more likely there will be a next time!). 

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On 1/3/2019 at 12:53 AM, WildeThing said:

It does! I think our differences are indeed due to our interests. My specific interests are too specific to find anyone who works on them, but the broader fields are much more established which makes it hard to find someone who is in those fields but doing work relevant to my own. Then again, perhaps that’s not needed and just general viccinity is good. 

I'd be interested to hear how this goes for you and if you have any other tips! I'll be applying next year and my problem is that my research interests are really not a defined subfield and the general subfields they relate to are not at all popular in academia at the moment, so I have quite a tough time finding people who work on things even somewhat similar to what I'm interested in. I find it really exciting if I can find one single faculty member who's interested in something somewhat similar to what I'd like to work on. It seems like the best I can do is find Romanticists, most of whom are interested in more in vogue areas like race/gender/queer theory, eco, canon-expansion, identity, material history etc. I have to admit I'm a bit worried about my applications because I find there isn't really a Conversation for me to join as much as there are occasional works I can kind of bounce off of.

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1 hour ago, Indecisive Poet said:

I have to admit I'm a bit worried about my applications because I find there isn't really a Conversation for me to join as much as there are occasional works I can kind of bounce off of.

While this is a valid concern, you're also well-primed to spin this as no one has written on this niche topic before, and you are the best qualified to do so because [insert quals here]. It's a great way to make yourself stand out in an SOP!

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On 1/4/2019 at 9:31 AM, merry night wanderer said:

Were there SoPs any of you used as a model? I'm pondering this out, and I think what i'm lacking are some examples of what to go for.

I used the one offered by Berkeley, and also a couple one of my professors sent from previous students whose graduate applications had been successful.

 

My research interests are very intersectional and therefore could be construed as too broad for PhD study, so my SoPs all listed specific research by current professors and correlated their interests to mine/how their research has impacted me personally and my work.  I mainly focused on feminist research, as that's the main thread of my own research that sort of ties it all together, but looked at professors who layered feminist issues with other issues of marginalization, as I plan to do. 

My advisor did caution me about being too specific in terms of faculty in case I mentioned just one and, unbeknownst to me, they were going on sabbatical or retiring, etc.  

I also mentioned specific opportunities at each school such as GSWS certificates or Disability Studies courses that I would benefit from.  I mentioned schools' successes in creating fine educators and placing them in jobs.

I feel like no matter how much research I did it would never be enough...

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I feel like we always do everything backwards. 

Someone mentioned personality fit up thread. That will more likely result in success and enjoyment for my daughter than anything else. 

I remember when she was just starting her undergraduate thesis. She knew what professor she wanted to work with so she picked a topic that made him the obvious professor to over see the project.  It isn't an exaggeration to say she enjoyed every minute of the process because the compatible personality factor was there. 

She took him a list of the 15 graduate programs that looked promising and he trimmed it down based on departmental culture and personality fit. About one that looked pretty perfect to me, he simply said, "No. God, no." Another school he said would have been a good fit last year, but the person who took over would make my daughter miserable. Another he said was just not enough value for the price. 

For the 5 or 6 schools that made his cut, he told her which professors she would get along with, which ones would appreciate her talents and who he had picked out as her ideal doctoral advisor. 

In her SOP, she had a really nice progression of her research up to this point, then more questions that she still has and how that particular school has resources (culture, courses, professors) who could help her further her research. 

It will be very interesting to see how this turns out. 

 

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It would be awesome to get personality fit advice, but unfortunately it’s unlikely to have an advisor who can answer those questions with such detail. Even then, hard to say if that information would be helpful in actually getting in. Who knows who is reading what and when. For instance, I asked two professors for sdvice and showed them my lists last year. One of them told me to be very careful about mentioning a particular scholar because even though they were top of their field, they were abrasive and most of their department despised them. The other one I asked about their own school and they told me not to mention a certain scholar but would not say why. At first I thought it was because they were lesving but they are still there. Who knows. 

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13 minutes ago, WildeThing said:

It would be awesome to get personality fit advice, but unfortunately it’s unlikely to have an advisor who can answer those questions with such detail. Even then, hard to say if that information would be helpful in actually getting in. Who knows who is reading what and when. For instance, I asked two professors for sdvice and showed them my lists last year. One of them told me to be very careful about mentioning a particular scholar because even though they were top of their field, they were abrasive and most of their department despised them. The other one I asked about their own school and they told me not to mention a certain scholar but would not say why. At first I thought it was because they were lesving but they are still there. Who knows. 

Oh, I completely agree. That is why I said that we tend to do things backwards. This morning, I asked my daughter about how much she researched POIs. She did research them, but she said, it is like trying to see if you can work with someone by looking at their FB page. She would rather trust the opinion of someone who knows them personally, in different contexts over a number of years 

She would rather not get in anywhere than get in somewhere that isn't a good fit. I also doubt she will try again another year if she is shut out this cycle. 

Oh, the uncertainty! 

 

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That’s true, though it’s a sentiment I would be careful with. Ultimately, PhD is a job, and you’re not going to get slong with everyone, much less your ‘bosses’. It’s a job that involves a lot of independent work, and you get to have some say on who you work with. Most importantly, scholars move around and have varying availability anyway. It’s definitely something to consider, but I don’t think I would let it sway my choice unless it was down to selecting comparable programs. Cohorts can be more important to personal well-being, after all.

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This one was a very finicky process on my end. I've read a lot of the posts here and tbh all of you here considered things I wish I did when I was configuring the fit parts of my SoP (and at the same time, reading the posts was also a relief because the line of thought I had while constructing the SoP was also fairly similar). Basically, when it came time to determining fit, I took a holistic look at the program's faculty strengths, historical strengths, and whether or not I could determine a sort of skeleton dissertation/exam committee from the faculty. Three to four faculty that had a strong correlation or adjacency with my research interests was the ideal sweet spot, though a few of my programs there was as much as five or six faculty I definitely would not mind contemplating as an eventual dissertation advisor. I selected my seven schools on the basis that I could feasibly select a committee of faculty that would be interested in the proposed project in my SoP. I didn't quite go in depth as I wanted in the researching for faculty aspect, but I focused on researching the works that my POIs did. One top priority went towards looking towards scholars who I have cited in the past (and cited fairly consistently) that are still active faculty, which I admit does have a strongly implicit bias towards more established names and funded chairs who may be too busy/overwhelmed to take on another graduate student on top of their professorial duties. Other critical aspects of fit also involved evaluating their dissertation records (this helped me sway my direction towards a few of the UC schools I am applying to, bless you eScholarship) and the graduate students they chaired or served as committees. Additionally, I also did some field work in evaluating the kind of research that my POIs performed, as well as also evaluating how adjacent my own specific interests could be, as well as also closely evaluating their respective methodologies and favored frameworks of analysis. It does not necessarily have to be a perfect fit, but the potential for dovetailing interests was absolutely critical for the programs I was considering.

Now as far as department culture and availability... Those are a massive gamble. For the latter, I think all of the professors I mentioned should be available for the Fall of 2019, but department culture and politics is a shot in the dark and a gamble I had to take in constructing the fit paragraphs of my SoP. Ultimately, the direction I had to take in demonstrating fit is (similarly to another post), point out how the professors I am interested in could mentor and shape my research interests towards more complex nuances than their current form. The impetus behind all of my SoPs and demonstrating intellectual fit to a program is that I already have established academic parameters through my undergraduate research and seminars, but that these parameters are open to becoming more complex and nuanced through the rigor of a graduate program and the mentorship of the professors that I am interested in (whose specific fields may well run through or are adjacent to my interests). Personality fit is itself another thing I've also had to contend with, and the points that Mumasatus brought up are very salient. Mentioning professors that I could work with is definitely a large gamble in determining the 'fit' paragraphs. I tried to take an approach in which I tried to make it clear that in mentioning my professors, I was evaluating their fit with my research interests in a holistic manner instead of making an absolute commitment. They are critical signposts in which I hope I demonstrate that there are appropriate faculty resources for the type of graduate student I envision myself as.

Despite my most informed efforts, fit feels very clandestine even now. In my discussions with my letter writers, none of the programs I applied to saw any 'Ranmaag no' type of resistance from them. I'm very much hoping for good things come next months, so I'm keeping an eye out that the admission committees see fit within my own application materials.

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