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IT’S DONE! I finally got the GRE over with. I’m not the happiest with my score, but I feel as though it’s good enough to not get my applications automatically thrown out... anyways, time to try to relax and read a bit the rest of the summer!

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On 7/26/2018 at 1:28 PM, urbanhistorynerd said:

Hey guys! Can you tell me what you think about my research statement? This is an excerpt from my Statement of Purpose. In this I am trying to explain my research project:

 

            In my doctoral work I want to examine class inequality and the political economy of urban and suburban spaces on a metropolitan scale since the 1970s. Suburbia rapidly underwent social, economic, political, and spatial changes in the period between 1970 and 2000s. They became much more socially, racially, ethnically diverse, incubated conservative, centrist, and leftist political and social movements, and massive real-estate investment and development dwarfed the Levittown’s of the postwar period, creating sprawling metropolitan areas that are now the juggernaut of the American economy. My project seeks to examine suburban poverty and metropolitan inequality, focusing on black suburbanization and poor Americans shifting identities and interactions with government in metropolitan areas. The rise of the carceral state and mass incarceration coupled with African Americans increasingly living in suburbs is best observed in what happened in Ferguson, MO, in 2014, where after police killed an 18-year-old black man, two weeks of unrest ensued. Examined in a historical perspective, the situation in Ferguson had roots decades earlier during what the Los Angeles Times calls the “suburbanization of poverty.” I contend that the shift in suburban places since the 1970s have largely shaped race relations in America. By examining the history of these places since 1970s using city and county archives and records, local histories, and the National Archives, my work hopes to delineate suburban poverty and metropolitan inequality, while also analyzing gender, ethnicity, and transnational capitalism. I situate my work in the burgeoning new literature amongst scholars such as Jackie Wang, Lily Geismer, and Emily Straus, while also following earlier urban historians such as Thomas Sugrue and Kevin Kruse. My work seeks to answer fundamental questions about how American metropolitan areas have developed since the 1970s.

I agree with @Sigaba's questions. Especially, I think it's important for you to argue why this is a good project for a PhD in history and not in anthropology. Historicizing recent events tend to demand methods from Anthro. I am not saying this is not a good project, but a friend of mine had this question raised over and over again because he too dealt with recent events and their roots in the late 1970s. Don't let them wander.*

Your third sentence looks important but it is very week. It has "became" as a verb (weak verb), it's too long, and it has a long list after a sentence with another list. Think about what you want this sentence to do. 

I think your sentence starting "My project..." should be farther up.

The contiguous sentences "The rise of carceral..." and "Examined in a historical..." have no connection with the previous sentence or the sentence that follows them. 

The second to last sentence has a list. This is an empty name-dropping. Be more assertive: "I situate my work in conversation with new studies on suburbanization, race relations in urban settings, and blah blah, epitomized by X, Y, Z. 

The last sentence shouldn't be your last sentence. It should be higher up. Your last sentence should connect your work with the department you are applying to. 

 

Good luck!

 

*FYI archival research doesn't "automatically" mean this is a history project.

Edited by AP

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On 7/26/2018 at 1:28 PM, urbanhistorynerd said:

Hey guys! Can you tell me what you think about my research statement? This is an excerpt from my Statement of Purpose. In this I am trying to explain my research project:

 

            In my doctoral work (Don't really need those words, it's already obvious). I want to examine class inequality and the political economy of urban and suburban spaces on a metropolitan scale since the 1970s. Suburbia rapidly underwent social, economic, political, and spatial changes in the period between 1970 and 2000s. They Suburbs (**"suburbia" is singular, so you can't begin the next sentence with "they") became (I agree with others that this is too passive) much more socially, racially, ethnically diverse, incubated conservative, centrist, and leftist political and social movements, and massive real-estate investment and development dwarfed the Levittown’s of the postwar period, creating sprawling metropolitan areas that are now the juggernaut of the American economy. My project seeks (this needs to go earlier, where you say "I want to...") to examine suburban poverty and metropolitan inequality, focusing on black suburbanization and poor Americans' shifting identities and interactions with government in metropolitan areas. The rise of the carceral state and mass incarceration coupled with African Americans increasingly living in suburbs is best observed in what happened in Ferguson, MO, in 2014, where after police killed an 18-year-old black man, two weeks of unrest ensued. Examined in a historical perspective, the situation in Ferguson had roots decades earlier during what the Los Angeles Times calls the “suburbanization of poverty” (this sentence reads back to front and needs to be re-written and divided into a few sentences). I contend that (probably better to pose interesting questions than to make early conclusions in your SoP) the shift in suburban places since the 1970s have largely shaped race relations in America (also, this is, of course, central to the work of various urban US scholars... I'm wondering what you want to do that's new). By examining the history of these places ("these places" is vague - not sure what you mean. Suburbs in general? Majority black suburbs? Majority African American suburbs? Northern suburbs?) since 1970s using city and county archives and records, local histories, and the National Archives, my work hopes to delineate suburban poverty and metropolitan inequality, while also analyzing gender, ethnicity, and transnational capitalism (this is too non-specific to distinguish yourself from the other students who'll be applying to grad school with very focused projects drawing on, for e.g., the work of Tom Sugrue). I situate my work in the burgeoning new literature amongst scholars such as Jackie Wang, Lily Geismer, and Emily Straus, while also following earlier urban historians such as Thomas Sugrue and Kevin Kruse (I don't think Sugrue or Kruse would like this line you're drawing!). My work seeks to answer fundamental questions about how American metropolitan areas have developed since the 1970s.

 

 

This is a good start but I'm not sure I come away with any sense of what you're really, really interested in, in terms of questions. Don't worry about claiming to have any answers yet, instead show readers that you can formulate a historical question. 

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@urbanhistorynerd, one of the many challenges you're facing is that urban history is complex, intricate, detailed, and nuanced yet its best practitioners make it seem so easy that it's easy to conclude "I can do that, too."

Overall, the feedback you're receiving is saying to you that you might be better served preparing a SOP that indicates you know the basics of making thread and maybe a stitch or two before you endeavor to make the sweater.

  1. What big picture historical debate do you wish to address?
  2. Can you succinctly summarize those debates?
  3. Can you succinctly define your terms? Can you describe realistic projects centered around the use of primary source materials you'd want to do that will advance those debates?
  4. Can you indicate how your interests will fit into the research interests of the departments you wish to join? (I am hinting here that you should not focus on individual scholars by name.)
  5. Can you chart/project future projects you wish to do as you progress from newly minted assistant professor to Professor of BTDT at Happyland University?

For examples of how to address questions [1] to [3], I recommend that you spend some time in the stacks (not on line) of a periodical library. Start with copies of The Historian, JAH, and AHR, maybe even Reviews in American History. Once you feel that your on solid footing, up the level of intensity and start reading through journals that are in your wheelhouse including the Journal of Urban History and the Journal of Social History. After that, if you want to take it up another notch, consider stepping out of your comfort zone to look at journals not directly connected to your interests. For this task, I strongly recommend journals that publish articles on modern German history.

An objective of the above-recommended task is that you'll start to see the elegance with which historians communicate. As a mentor told me while he was standing on my head during office hours, "a historian is a historian is a historian." By that he meant (I believe), that there's a structure to historical writing that allows one to communicate a great deal of information in a very limited space to an engaged audience of varying interests.

A secondary objective of the task is for you to find ways that you can curb your tendency towards editorializing. As someone who likes to throw in a zinger here, there, everywhere, I get the appeal. And, as someone who has been bounced off the walls of professors' offices and now makes a living as a technical(ish) writer, I understand how editorializing gets in the way. Here's the thing. if you're a very good writer and you editorialize, professors may cut you some slack. But eventually, the practice will catch up to you and you'll get "notes" that you won't enjoy hearing/reading. 

A pivot.  @ALCON, it appears that this season is going to see more applicants asking openly for feedback on their SOPs. In the event you give feedback, please keep in mind that in some quarters, giving specific guidance can put an applicant on a slippery slope. At some programs, incorporating feedback either word for word or close enough constitutes plagiarism. Let's not screw aspiring graduate students over unintentionally. 

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18 hours ago, Sigaba said:

@urbanhistorynerd, one of the many challenges you're facing is that urban history is complex, intricate, detailed, and nuanced yet its best practitioners make it seem so easy that it's easy to conclude "I can do that, too."

Overall, the feedback you're receiving is saying to you that you might be better served preparing a SOP that indicates you know the basics of making thread and maybe a stitch or two before you endeavor to make the sweater.

  1. What big picture historical debate do you wish to address?
  2. Can you succinctly summarize those debates?
  3. Can you succinctly define your terms? Can you describe realistic projects centered around the use of primary source materials you'd want to do that will advance those debates?
  4. Can you indicate how your interests will fit into the research interests of the departments you wish to join? (I am hinting here that you should not focus on individual scholars by name.)
  5. Can you chart/project future projects you wish to do as you progress from newly minted assistant professor to Professor of BTDT at Happyland University?

For examples of how to address questions [1] to [3], I recommend that you spend some time in the stacks (not on line) of a periodical library. Start with copies of The Historian, JAH, and AHR, maybe even Reviews in American History. Once you feel that your on solid footing, up the level of intensity and start reading through journals that are in your wheelhouse including the Journal of Urban History and the Journal of Social History. After that, if you want to take it up another notch, consider stepping out of your comfort zone to look at journals not directly connected to your interests. For this task, I strongly recommend journals that publish articles on modern German history.

An objective of the above-recommended task is that you'll start to see the elegance with which historians communicate. As a mentor told me while he was standing on my head during office hours, "a historian is a historian is a historian." By that he meant (I believe), that there's a structure to historical writing that allows one to communicate a great deal of information in a very limited space to an engaged audience of varying interests.

A secondary objective of the task is for you to find ways that you can curb your tendency towards editorializing. As someone who likes to throw in a zinger here, there, everywhere, I get the appeal. And, as someone who has been bounced off the walls of professors' offices and now makes a living as a technical(ish) writer, I understand how editorializing gets in the way. Here's the thing. if you're a very good writer and you editorialize, professors may cut you some slack. But eventually, the practice will catch up to you and you'll get "notes" that you won't enjoy hearing/reading. 

A pivot.  @ALCON, it appears that this season is going to see more applicants asking openly for feedback on their SOPs. In the event you give feedback, please keep in mind that in some quarters, giving specific guidance can put an applicant on a slippery slope. At some programs, incorporating feedback either word for word or close enough constitutes plagiarism. Let's not screw aspiring graduate students over unintentionally. 

Thank you everyone for tremendous advice - currently working through your suggestions and comments.

@Sigaba How should I do this? I tried a similar tactic - to go through the Journal of Urban History issues and skim through the contents, looking over how arguments, methodologies and theories have changed over time. But there are hundreds of articles...how can I best synthesize all the information I need to read? Could you go a little more into how do I start doing this? Should I take notes as I read? Or would little blurbs on the thesis, argument, and evidence work? 

You're very right that urban history is complex. I'm doing a project right now on historic preservation on my campus (located in the middle of a city). There are nuances of social and political history while also paying attention to political economy, architectural and urban planning history. I address this complexity in other parts of my SOP.

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@urbanhistorynerd, I empathize. Getting a strong grasp of the historiography and major debates of one's field is an intimidating process. I'm in the midst of it and always feel like there's something else I should be reading, or some crucial piece of the puzzle I should already have. And yet, of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg. However well we do our homework during the application process, we're in for a constant process of challenging and refining that knowledge once the actual graduate work begins. There will always be hundreds of articles, but we needn't start from scratch when it comes to how to synthesize them. 

I've found the following threads from the History section to be extremely helpful. They're full of the wisdom of established grad students, including @Sigaba answering some of the questions you posed above: 

I agree with the suggestion to start with AHR, not only because of the quality of the scholarship but because they're publishing to the widest audience of historians. Thus, the author can't assume the reader is going to be intimately familiar with the major debates in the field of African public health/gender in the British Caribbean/medieval Iberian convivencia/etc. etc. AHR is a great place to practice close reading for "state of the field" summaries, and the bibliographical goldmines that accompany them.

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Thank you all for the very considerate, informative, and extremely useful comments!

I will definitely be going through periodicals, and that information on how to read as a graduate student is invaluable!

Should I just start with the latest issues? Or should I make it a point to go through earlier to later?

 

Edited by urbanhistorynerd

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22 minutes ago, urbanhistorynerd said:

Thank you all for the very considerate, informative, and extremely useful comments!

I will definitely be going through periodicals, and that information on how to read as a graduate student is invaluable!

Should I just start with the latest issues? Or should I make it a point to go through earlier to later?

 

It's up to you where to start.

What works for me is to  identify a significant inflection point, drift back a year or two, and then start going forward while simultaneously working backwards from the present. Among other things, I'm looking for extended "state of the art" historiographical essays, roundtables, and extended reviews of significant works. I am paying attention to how my fields of interest are being represented overall. I am "reading selectively" which frequently means reading the footnotes carefully and skimming through the rest of an article and taking very deep dives into historiographical essays. I take very few notes, but I do print/photocopy physical copies and use post it notes to flag points I find noteworthy, insightful, controversial (at my most focused, I'm using four colors of postits with each color meaning something).

But ultimately, it's up to you, through trial and error, to find the methods that work the best for you. (And also defining "what works" means.)

A tip. If you're going through journals and you're feeling good about what you're doing and you're making progress and then all of sudden  you  want to take a nap, give some thought to having a quick nap. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3768102/

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6 hours ago, historygeek said:

Would anyone be interested in another SOP swap?

Send me one. I'd be interested in seeing how it's progressed.

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Since the American system is about to start back up, how are our applications coming along? Anyone stuck on a specific part of it? Any good/bad news from professors and universities?

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I'm chugging along on my writing sample. My SOPs are in good shape, I think. I am a bit concerned that no POI has mentioned a phone call- is this normal? Should I be worried?

I am interested in finding a couple more programs to apply to. If anyone has any suggestions, they would be greatly appreciated! My research interests are in the presence of Italian-, Greek-, and Russian-Jewish-American women in public space during the twentieth century. I am particularly interested in sexual identity and activity, food desire, fashion and beauty, and participation in social movements. I'm considering the MA program at Toronto and looking closely at Yale and Wisconsin, but I'm not sure.

Edited by historygeek

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2 minutes ago, historygeek said:

I'm chugging along on my writing sample. My SOPs are in good shape, I think. I am a bit concerned that no POI has mentioned a phone call- is this normal? Should I be worried?

I am interested in finding a couple more programs to apply to. If anyone has any suggestions, they would be greatly appreciated! 

I have contacted something like 30 POIs and got ~25 supportive emails back, but only 3 phone calls.

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5 minutes ago, TsarandProphet said:

I have contacted something like 30 POIs and got ~25 supportive emails back, but only 3 phone calls.

That's reassuring to hear!

I honestly have such imposter syndrome and self-doubt that I'm petrified that I'm not a strong applicant, I think. My GPA isn't great (3.45 overall, but a 3.82 in history), and my GRE scores were okay (160V, 5.5AW). I have 3 languages that are relevant, 2 internship experiences, 3 strong LORs, and an optional honors thesis in a relevant topic. My advisor says I have a first-rate application, but I struggle with confidence and optimism. 

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Just now, historygeek said:

That's reassuring to hear!

 I honestly have such imposter syndrome and self-doubt that I'm petrified that I'm not a strong applicant, I think. My GPA isn't great (3.45 overall, but a 3.82 in history), and my GRE scores were okay (160V, 5.5AW). I have 3 languages that are relevant, 2 internship experiences, 3 strong LORs, and an optional honors thesis in a relevant topic. My advisor says I have a first-rate application, but I struggle with confidence and optimism. 

How have POIs responded so far? I did notice that those that replied tended to reply honestly: saying, for example, that the fit is low with the overall department or that my project is too 'ambitious' or 'far-fetched' to work in that department. Others have responded enthusiastically, so when I feel like an impostor I read their emails - even if I am sure they are not that enthusiastic and its much more a matter of stylistics. 

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7 minutes ago, historygeek said:

I am interested in finding a couple more programs to apply to. If anyone has any suggestions, they would be greatly appreciated! My research interests are in the presence of Italian-, Greek-, and Russian-Jewish-American women in public space during the twentieth century. I am particularly interested in sexual identity and activity, food desire, fashion and beauty, and participation in social movements. I'm considering the MA program at Toronto and looking closely at Yale and Wisconsin, but I'm not sure.

MOO, you would be best served working on this task yourself. I recommend using a physical copy of the AHA directory of history departments and going through the faculty rosters of (almost) every department that has graduate programs. Do quick research on any and all scholars who specialize in your areas of interest without worrying too much about a perfect match. Instead, try to see if departments offer a significant amount of overlap.

Make files (physical or digital) of your findings.

if you perform this (time consuming) exercise well, you will start to see patterns. In turn, those patterns will allow you to identify professors, departments, and programs that may help you get to where you want to go. You will also develop your understanding of historiographical debates and professional developments, which will, in turn, inform essays and papers you'll be writing as a graduate student.

Concurrently, you might want to continue and intensify the process of identifying archival resources you would visit when you write your dissertation. You may encounter names of historians who are off the beaten path because they're spending an incredible amount of time cataloging, curating, and editing private papers.

 

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Just now, TsarandProphet said:

How have POIs responded so far? I did notice that those that replied tended to reply honestly: saying, for example, that the fit is low with the overall department or that my project is too 'ambitious' or 'far-fetched' to work in that department. Others have responded enthusiastically, so when I feel like an impostor I read their emails - even if I am sure they are not that enthusiastic and its much more a matter of stylistics. 

A majority have been positive; I've tried to be careful in who I've reached out to. I'm only applying to schools where POI have given me enthusiastic and positive responses-- my POI at Harvard said she would strongly encourage that I apply, one at Columbia said she'd love to work with me if I get accepted, one at NYU said my interests fit "squarely" with hers and those in the department, etc.

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1 minute ago, historygeek said:

A majority have been positive; I've tried to be careful in who I've reached out to. I'm only applying to schools where POI have given me enthusiastic and positive responses-- my POI at Harvard said she would strongly encourage that I apply, one at Columbia said she'd love to work with me if I get accepted, one at NYU said my interests fit "squarely" with hers and those in the department, etc.

So you're probably good ? An email says a lot, because their impression from you is also based on how you write - so you might have a clue regarding the overall quality of your style for your writing sample.

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2 hours ago, historygeek said:

I'm chugging along on my writing sample. My SOPs are in good shape, I think. I am a bit concerned that no POI has mentioned a phone call- is this normal? Should I be worried?

I am interested in finding a couple more programs to apply to. If anyone has any suggestions, they would be greatly appreciated! My research interests are in the presence of Italian-, Greek-, and Russian-Jewish-American women in public space during the twentieth century. I am particularly interested in sexual identity and activity, food desire, fashion and beauty, and participation in social movements. I'm considering the MA program at Toronto and looking closely at Yale and Wisconsin, but I'm not sure.

From my end, I'm not certain what you'd gain from a MA, but maybe I'm not seeing something.

No, don't worry about phone calls. Email is fine. To all lurkers: don't do what I did and apply blindly. It was one of the stupidest things I did in the whole process.

I would caution you against applying to too many programs: I applied to 9 programs, which was about 4-5 too many.

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9 minutes ago, psstein said:

From my end, I'm not certain what you'd gain from a MA, but maybe I'm not seeing something.

No, don't worry about phone calls. Email is fine. To all lurkers: don't do what I did and apply blindly. It was one of the stupidest things I did in the whole process.

I would caution you against applying to too many programs: I applied to 9 programs, which was about 4-5 too many.

I started off with applying to 12 programs, and now I've shortened it to 5. 5 really good applications is a lot better than 12 subpar or moderate ones.

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1 hour ago, urbanhistorynerd said:

I started off with applying to 12 programs, and now I've shortened it to 5. 5 really good applications is a lot better than 12 subpar or moderate ones.

 

4 minutes ago, telkanuru said:

 

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Excuse me for my ignorance - but I looked at some admissions forms. Besides the personalization of the SOP and filling the endless forms, what else would you need to do that differentiates between 5 and 12 applications?

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13 minutes ago, TsarandProphet said:

Excuse me for my ignorance - but I looked at some admissions forms. Besides the personalization of the SOP and filling the endless forms, what else would you need to do that differentiates between 5 and 12 applications?

I wouldn't minimize that part about personalizing your SOP. If you're working off a base template and then plugging in a paragraph or so about each department, it will show.

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