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2019 Visit Days/Decisions

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As I have my Yale visit day next weekend, and building off of what @AfricanusCrowther posted in the general thread: 

For current PhD students: what were some of the questions you wish you asked (or perhaps what were you glad you asked?) at your campus visit days? What were the most important considerations in making your decision about which school to ultimately attend? 

Those who are currently deciding between schools: which schools are you considering? what considerations are most important to you? 

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The two most important questions are:

1) What options are available to fund research travel? 

2) What sorts of funding are available for my sixth and seventh years? 

ANY hesitation on the part of faculty in response to these questions - if they don't know, if they say such monies aren't necessary, if they defer you to grad students - is to be taken not so much as a red flag but rather a full on May Day parade.

 

Much harder to negotiate are the questions you can't just ask but still need answered: How supported do the graduate students feel in both academics and teaching? Do faculty treat them like members of the department or as if they were their paterfamilias? Are departmental politics collegial or a knife fight? Do graduate students get dragged into them? 

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1) Language study support

2) Are there enough courses to support  your needs? (This is critical if the program is looking to get smaller) What if there aren't enough courses? Will your adviser be willing to supervise independent study?

3) How good is the student health insurance? Does it cover dental and vision? (Trust me, you will need the vision even if you don't currently wear glasses :) )

4) What is the teaching/grading load like?  

5) How does stipend increases work in the university?  Is it be progress in the PhD program or by class enrollment?

6) What kinds of jobs are graduates getting after they defend? Are they happy with their non-academic jobs?

7) What is the continuous enrollment policy, if there is one? (Essentially, it means that graduate students are required to pay tuition to stay enrolled as they work on their dissertations if they don't have tuition waivers.)

😎 How much time does the Graduate School give to students to graduate after completing their exams?

9) Can you tell me about the university's dissertation completion fellowship? What does a successful application package look like? (Asking this question will give you a sense of the department's highest standards)

10) If you are a NON-US citizen, ask international students about external funding opportunities. (Unless the faculty member has lots of experience of advising non-US citizens or was a non-US citizen during his/her PhD, you aren't going to get a good answer out of them. They're that clueless.)

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Here’s an important one, if you work outside the US: what is the grad schcool’s policy on banked semesters for external fellowships? That is, if you win a year-long fellowship (Fulbright, SSRC), do you get an extra year of funding “banked,” or do they just take your money?

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A lot can be said for the collegiality of the dept. Last year, I was choosing between two top 10 programs, but one was slightly higher ranked. On the visit day for the better program, I saw that students hated each other, the professors, and the administration. 3 students said that they were transferring out to other programs because of the lack of support from their advisors. That was a HUGE red flag to me. 6th and 7th year funding also seemed to be incredibly contentious and competitive. I couldn't see myself being happy there for next 5-8 years. 

When I visited the program that I am now attending (the slightly lower ranked one) the students and faculty both stressed how much collegiality there was in the department. Now that I'm here, I can absolutely attest to that. Obviously, more went into my decision than just whether people were happy, but at the end of the day, with all other things being relatively equal, it's ok to choose the place where you'd be happy and where others seem happy.

There is something to be said about choosing a program where you would be happy, especially because this is a process which will consume your life for the next 5-8+ years. The job market is terrible for all of us, so in some instances, choose the place where you would be the happiest and most supported because that is the place where you are going to get the best work done. If you're going to be miserable at X school, you'll be more likely to drop out and your work will likely suffer. 

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7 hours ago, Manuscriptess said:

A lot can be said for the collegiality of the dept. Last year, I was choosing between two top 10 programs, but one was slightly higher ranked. On the visit day for the better program, I saw that students hated each other, the professors, and the administration. 3 students said that they were transferring out to other programs because of the lack of support from their advisors. That was a HUGE red flag to me. 6th and 7th year funding also seemed to be incredibly contentious and competitive. I couldn't see myself being happy there for next 5-8 years. 

When I visited the program that I am now attending (the slightly lower ranked one) the students and faculty both stressed how much collegiality there was in the department. Now that I'm here, I can absolutely attest to that. Obviously, more went into my decision than just whether people were happy, but at the end of the day, with all other things being relatively equal, it's ok to choose the place where you'd be happy and where others seem happy.

There is something to be said about choosing a program where you would be happy, especially because this is a process which will consume your life for the next 5-8+ years. The job market is terrible for all of us, so in some instances, choose the place where you would be the happiest and most supported because that is the place where you are going to get the best work done. If you're going to be miserable at X school, you'll be more likely to drop out and your work will likely suffer. 

Hey, glad to see you posting again and so happy that things are going so well for you in your program!  😃  Thanks for checking back in and updating/giving us some good advice.

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Thanks for the above suggestions.

I’m in need of some advice concerning visit days/decisions. I applied to four schools, as of now, 2a/1r and waiting to hear from the last. Both of the schools I have been accepted to are having their visit days on the same day. I have already booked travel to one school (A) that I feel is the most likely the best fit for me.

The other school (B) has said I can visit anytime and that they’d work with me to plan the visit. But as of now, I’m finding it difficult to schedule a time that works for myself and the school. 

For some reason, even though school A seems like the best fit, I’m finding it hard to officially decide to go there without seeing the other program in person. Is this realistic? I know I have until April 15th to decide, but I’m not sure if I should wait until a visit to school B (potentially end of March) to ensure my decision. 

Not sure if all of this is clear. But I’m a little hung up on the possibility of not visiting the schools I’ve been accepted to, and therefore not getting the opportunity to make the best possible decision. 

Any advice? 

 

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This is my first time going through this, too, but I can give you advice based on how I feel. To me, not only are the visit days a crucial chance to get a feel for the personality of the program and to try to get a sense of whether you'll be happy there, but they seem like good opportunities to put some "what ifs" to rest. If, for example, you choose school A without going to school B, and then later (probably inevitably) learn that School A is not perfect, you might always wonder if you would have chosen School B if you'd visited. But if you visit both, it might 1) affirm your decision to choose School A; 2) give School B a chance to surprise you, and 3) allow you to know that you made your decision with all the possible information at your disposal.

One of my visits is at the end of March, so I get the frustration with the decision-making process stretching out so long. But IMO, increasing the confidence in your decision is worth it.

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Is it too early to make a decision? Either way, I need some advice/help choosing:

School A: My current/undergrad institution. Accepted for the MA to PhD in American history (not sure if I can transfer to a European history program) and no word on funding. I love the program and know there's a supportive grad school environment. There are also some fantastic medievalists and early modernists here. Rigid program (less room to explore) and lack of public history, which I'm interested in. I have the option of writing a thesis and I know that there's travel funding available. I know the city well and I love it. 

School B: Full tuition scholarship (no stipend, but with the work load for my scholarship and the class schedule, it would be easy to get a part-time job and my parents have offered to help with food). It's a flexible program with a ton of interesting classes, so I'd have room to explore. I've heard from a former MA student there that the environment is a lot like the grad environment at my current/undergrad. It's not as known for medieval/early modern history, but has some public history options and is a pretty well-regarded school in general. I'd have the option of writing a thesis and getting some practical teaching experience. There's funding available for travel and to take language classes. I've never been to the city it's in, but I enjoy moving to new places.

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20 minutes ago, historygeek said:

Is it too early to make a decision? Either way, I need some advice/help choosing:

School A: My current/undergrad institution. Accepted for the MA to PhD in American history (not sure if I can transfer to a European history program) and no word on funding. I love the program and know there's a supportive grad school environment. There are also some fantastic medievalists and early modernists here. Rigid program (less room to explore) and lack of public history, which I'm interested in. I have the option of writing a thesis and I know that there's travel funding available. I know the city well and I love it. 

School B: Full tuition scholarship (no stipend, but with the work load for my scholarship and the class schedule, it would be easy to get a part-time job and my parents have offered to help with food). It's a flexible program with a ton of interesting classes, so I'd have room to explore. I've heard from a former MA student there that the environment is a lot like the grad environment at my current/undergrad. It's not as known for medieval/early modern history, but has some public history options and is a pretty well-regarded school in general. I'd have the option of writing a thesis and getting some practical teaching experience. There's funding available for travel and to take language classes. I've never been to the city it's in, but I enjoy moving to new places.

Go with the one who funds, that being School B, unless you hear back on funding from School A. I'm sure they would offer funding for the PhD at School A, so it might be the MA you'd have to pay for. In this case, I would recommend School B. One, you'll get funded, and if they fund for an MA, that usually indicates that there is other money there (research assistant, more chances to TA for extra cash, etc) for MA students. Two, it'll probably give you more flexibility if you are still wanting to change fields. From what I know about MA to PhD programs is that you start the beginnings of your diss in your MA or at least work on some foundations for it. Even if School B isn't that hot on medieval/early modern, an MA is mostly just classes & I'm sure you could probably do an independent study or two on a specific history that isn't offered there.

Edited by urbanhistorynerd

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47 minutes ago, historygeek said:

Is it too early to make a decision? Either way, I need some advice/help choosing:

School A: My current/undergrad institution. Accepted for the MA to PhD in American history (not sure if I can transfer to a European history program) and no word on funding. I love the program and know there's a supportive grad school environment. There are also some fantastic medievalists and early modernists here. Rigid program (less room to explore) and lack of public history, which I'm interested in. I have the option of writing a thesis and I know that there's travel funding available. I know the city well and I love it. 

School B: Full tuition scholarship (no stipend, but with the work load for my scholarship and the class schedule, it would be easy to get a part-time job and my parents have offered to help with food). It's a flexible program with a ton of interesting classes, so I'd have room to explore. I've heard from a former MA student there that the environment is a lot like the grad environment at my current/undergrad. It's not as known for medieval/early modern history, but has some public history options and is a pretty well-regarded school in general. I'd have the option of writing a thesis and getting some practical teaching experience. There's funding available for travel and to take language classes. I've never been to the city it's in, but I enjoy moving to new places.

What are your language skills currently like, and are both programs the same duration?

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Just now, telkanuru said:

What are your language skills currently like, and are both programs the same duration?

Right now, I have one language under my belt; I'm a history and Italian studies double major. I'm also working on some independent study in Latin and French, but it's not formal. Both programs are two years, and Villanova offers courses during the summer. 

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20 minutes ago, historygeek said:

Right now, I have one language under my belt; I'm a history and Italian studies double major. I'm also working on some independent study in Latin and French, but it's not formal. Both programs are two years, and Villanova offers courses during the summer. 

Would your eventual M/EM PhD application define a project related to the Italian peninsula? 

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Just now, telkanuru said:

Would your eventual M/EM PhD application define a project related to the Italian peninsula? 

Definitely. 

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If you want to be competitive for the level of program to which you have applied this time around (Columbia/Harvard/NYU/Rutgers/Michigan), language needs to be your primary focus. As you're already fluent in Italian, I wouldn't spend too much time with French - just enough to read articles, which you should be able to acquire in a semester course. You do need to spend a lot of time bringing your Latin up to snuff - the University of Toronto posts Latin exams online, and I would say at minimum being able to pass the MA one is a good bar. I would also spend some time on German, which any good program will want to see.

Not all masters programs will give you the course flexibility to spend so much time on languages. Do the legwork to see which would be better for you to acquire these skills.

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Bringing the focus back to the point of this thread.... ASK (THE GRADUATE STUDENTS) ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES and the Department's attitude toward mental health concerns

During my last visitation day experience as a host back in 2016, when we discussed the inclusion of mental health services in student insurance/tuition, we could see quite a few faces sighing in relief.  Clearly, it was on their minds but didn't know how to ask.  While the discussion of mental health concerns has been more open, much more work needs to be done. The quality of mental health services to graduate students vary quite widely from institution to institution.  Most of the focus has been on undergraduates but not enough on graduate students (or faculty too) and you'll want to make sure that the institutions that accepted you are well on their way to servin to the graduate student community or have already established support systems.  Also, not all departments have caught up on the reality of depression/anxiety and the ways in which they truly affect students' well-being and progress to the PhD.  You'll want to investigate how supportive the faculty is of students' well-being, particularly your POI and the older faculty whom you may be working with (they're of survivalist mentality-- one didn't talk about loneliness, depression, and anxiety that came with graduate school, you simply survived).

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I wholeheartedly agree with @TMP. Speaking from admin experience, I've seen a huge number of grad student medical leaves of absence for anxiety/depression. To add onto the mental health treatment question, find out what the leave policies are at your school: medical, parental, personal, etc. Find out if you will lose a semester of funding if you go on leave. Some departments may defer your funding for your return--others might not. 

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6 hours ago, HardyBoy said:

This is my first time going through this, too, but I can give you advice based on how I feel. To me, not only are the visit days a crucial chance to get a feel for the personality of the program and to try to get a sense of whether you'll be happy there, but they seem like good opportunities to put some "what ifs" to rest. If, for example, you choose school A without going to school B, and then later (probably inevitably) learn that School A is not perfect, you might always wonder if you would have chosen School B if you'd visited. But if you visit both, it might 1) affirm your decision to choose School A; 2) give School B a chance to surprise you, and 3) allow you to know that you made your decision with all the possible information at your disposal.

One of my visits is at the end of March, so I get the frustration with the decision-making process stretching out so long. But IMO, increasing the confidence in your decision is worth it.

I appreciate this, and I hope you are right! I was accepted to two very comparable R1 schools in states with similar cost-of-living. School A guarantees 3 years of great fellowship funding, and strong assurances that I will be able to secure funding for years 4-6. School B offers a guarantee of a slightly lower stipend for 4 years of TA funding, and assurance of funding opportunities for years 5-6. I like faculty and POIs at both schools. SO, I am really looking to visiting both in late March with the hope that the experience will give me that gut feeling. All of that said, I am still waiting to hear from two other schools, which could throw the whole A/B dynamic out of wack. Looking at your many acceptances, I can't imagine how difficult the choice is for you!

Edited by sickeagle

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Probably a long shot, but is anyone else flying to Hartford on 3/3 and wants to split an Uber to New Haven? DM me. :) 

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22 hours ago, sickeagle said:

I appreciate this, and I hope you are right! I was accepted to two very comparable R1 schools in states with similar cost-of-living. School A guarantees 3 years of great fellowship funding, and strong assurances that I will be able to secure funding for years 4-6. School B offers a guarantee of a slightly lower stipend for 4 years of TA funding, and assurance of funding opportunities for years 5-6. I like faculty and POIs at both schools. SO, I am really looking to visiting both in late March with the hope that the experience will give me that gut feeling. All of that said, I am still waiting to hear from two other schools, which could throw the whole A/B dynamic out of wack. Looking at your many acceptances, I can't imagine how difficult the choice is for you!

On the strict financials, go to A. TAing is valuable experience, but it can eat up your time and make doing your own research/writing/etc. very difficult. The hiring process for many (most?) universities focuses on research and productivity. The "teaching experience" trap is one a lot of adjuncts get stuck in, too.

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2 hours ago, psstein said:

On the strict financials, go to A. TAing is valuable experience, but it can eat up your time and make doing your own research/writing/etc. very difficult. The hiring process for many (most?) universities focuses on research and productivity. The "teaching experience" trap is one a lot of adjuncts get stuck in, too.

Put another way: it's always possible to find more TA experience if you want it, but it's much harder to jettison TA commitments once they're in your funding package.

Having said that I do find it a bit odd that you're not getting years 4 through 6 guaranteed at school A? You would have better funding at school A, but also less of it. At the visit day I would make sure to understand the process of allocating funding for those three years, as well as whether/how fourth through sixth year students are being funded.

Edited by gsc

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Really wish I was able to attend Cornell's visit day. Unfortunately being Australian has its downsides. 😛

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On 2/24/2019 at 2:19 PM, gsc said:

Having said that I do find it a bit odd that you're not getting years 4 through 6 guaranteed at school A? You would have better funding at school A, but also less of it. At the visit day I would make sure to understand the process of allocating funding for those three years, as well as whether/how fourth through sixth year students are being funded.

Thanks for the input to you and @psstein. To clarify, School A offered me its best fellowship package, which actually requires 2 years of TAship, and then a third year free of teaching responsibilities. Not trying to sound self-important, but I think they wanted to give me strong incentive to attend up front -- it just so happens that their best award has a 3-year cap. In speaking with POI (who is also the DGS) he stated that he can guarantee a tuition waiver for year 4 and *most likely* a TAship or dissertation fellowship for years 4-6. As I already have an MA, I am hoping to finish PhD in 4 years, 5 at the most.

All of that said, since my original post a School C has entered the equation with 4 years of decent TAship stipend, a pot-sweetening scholarship for the first year, and assurance of lectureship for additional years. School C is the place where I got my MA, and accepts all MA coursework toward PhD, meaning I could finish there even more quickly... but cost-of-living is very high.

I wonder if anyone currently in a program can comment on how common such "assurances" are? Do most schools make such claims? Do they tend to come through on them, or is it just an attempt to get you in the door?

A LOT RIDING ON THESE CAMPUS VISITS!!

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1 hour ago, sickeagle said:

Thanks for the input to you and @psstein. To clarify, School A offered me its best fellowship package, which actually requires 2 years of TAship, and then a third year free of teaching responsibilities. Not trying to sound self-important, but I think they wanted to give me strong incentive to attend up front -- it just so happens that their best award has a 3-year cap. In speaking with POI (who is also the DGS) he stated that he can guarantee a tuition waiver for year 4 and *most likely* a TAship or dissertation fellowship for years 4-6. As I already have an MA, I am hoping to finish PhD in 4 years, 5 at the most.

All of that said, since my original post a School C has entered the equation with 4 years of decent TAship stipend, a pot-sweetening scholarship for the first year, and assurance of lectureship for additional years. School C is the place where I got my MA, and accepts all MA coursework toward PhD, meaning I could finish there even more quickly... but cost-of-living is very high.

I wonder if anyone currently in a program can comment on how common such "assurances" are? Do most schools make such claims? Do they tend to come through on them, or is it just an attempt to get you in the door?

A LOT RIDING ON THESE CAMPUS VISITS!!

Going in with an MA makes finishing in less than 5 years possible, but it is very, very rare in my experience. Being able to transfer MA credits is great, does this mean you would be able to take comps in the first year? Or are there other requirements beyond the MA that the PhD requires at School C? You should expect 2-4 years beyond comps to finish the dissertation depending on where your archives are. I'm on schedule to finish a transnational dissertation 3 years after comps, but that's after a lot of struggle to line up all my ducks in a row. Things happen that we can't control and many people get derailed for a year or more.

With that in mind, I would accept whichever school gave me the most years of guaranteed funding. Lots of schools give "assurances." Mine guarantees 5 years, but "assures" students they can get years 6 and 7 funded. Because it's a smaller department, it is almost always the case that those years are easily funded, but even so I would take assurances with a grain of salt. Funding is absolutely critical and only guaranteed funding is guaranteed.

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2 hours ago, Nicator said:

Really wish I was able to attend Cornell's visit day. Unfortunately being Australian has its downsides.

Just a FYI, having lived/done research in Australia, I've found that the cost of difference for Uggs brand at the end is utterly moot, which is really weird. I'd definitely pile up on cold weather stuff!

 

1 hour ago, sickeagle said:

Thanks for the input to you and @psstein. To clarify, School A offered me its best fellowship package, which actually requires 2 years of TAship, and then a third year free of teaching responsibilities. Not trying to sound self-important, but I think they wanted to give me strong incentive to attend up front -- it just so happens that their best award has a 3-year cap. In speaking with POI (who is also the DGS) he stated that he can guarantee a tuition waiver for year 4 and *most likely* a TAship or dissertation fellowship for years 4-6. As I already have an MA, I am hoping to finish PhD in 4 years, 5 at the most.

All of that said, since my original post a School C has entered the equation with 4 years of decent TAship stipend, a pot-sweetening scholarship for the first year, and assurance of lectureship for additional years. School C is the place where I got my MA, and accepts all MA coursework toward PhD, meaning I could finish there even more quickly... but cost-of-living is very high.

I wonder if anyone currently in a program can comment on how common such "assurances" are? Do most schools make such claims? Do they tend to come through on them, or is it just an attempt to get you in the door?

A LOT RIDING ON THESE CAMPUS VISITS!!

I agree with @ashiepoo72.  I'd find out how your MA credits work (it should be explained in the department handbook) and how they affect your  time to comps.  Unless you are a brilliant reader, the soonest you will be allow to take your exams is in your 4th semester (or 5th if you are not an Americanist). But it does depend how you spend your first summer. I came in with a MA and just didn't have to do a thesis but I still ended up taking my exams at the beginning of my 4th year (thanks, life).  It's very, very difficult to finish a good dissertation under 3-4 years.  The AHA President already stated that a good history dissertation should  take 4 years, no less.

Also, consider the university's overall budget health.  State schools are under a lot of pressure (unless you'r at Michigan, which it sounds like it's not one of the options) and the department may face budget cuts during your time.  Be sure to ask a lot of questions about the overall health of department and university budget and priorities.

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