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OK, let's talk about UChicago's MAPH. I need some advice...

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I want to respond a little to @Warelin , @punctilious, and others.

I'm not talking about 100 students in English, for example.  I'm saying the fields of English, History, Art History, Philosophy, Theology, and etc. that feeds into MAPH produces a total of about 100 students.  MAPH has a reputation for accepting more in English, but that wasn't the case in Philosophy.

Of course, a gap year isn't universally harmful.  Sure, someone may be able to make the most of it.  However, showing how that gap year contributed to one's own intellectual development could be a challenge.  Sure, everyone says publish and present at conferences.  How do you know that's going to happen?  Publishing an article or getting an abstract accepted isn't a sure thing.  I think this is especially noteworthy in the case of an undergraduate applicant who has little experience with these dimensions of academic life.  Many students may relocate after completing their degree, and that will make connecting with faculty a little more difficult.  I'm sure they can get some feedback through emails and etc., but I would still argue that its not the same as being a student at that institution. 

Obviously, I don't see UChicago as the only institution that can get someone an adjunct job.  However, it is worth pointing out that someone can adjunct after MAPH and get college credit teaching experience after one year.  The reason why I keep bringing this up is because I am skeptical of all of these other opportunities outside the academy that people seem to think are so plentiful.  They certainly weren't there for me back in 2012, and I think that as much as employers say that they like humanities degrees, what they really mean is that they like humanities degrees combined with other experience.  Maybe they want to see internships and etc., and as easy as those things are to come by, they can be a challenge to fit into a working schedule if you need to survive in that way.  Some of the advice I'm offering here is for students who have it ingrained in their minds that what they want is a teaching gig in the academy at the end of the road, and they have prepared themselves to do not much of anything else.  I don't mean to say that they don't have wide-ranging interests as people, but more so that they used their undergraduate education for nothing other than preparation for a PhD.

PhD admissions are ultimately a crap shoot.  I'm lucky to have received three offers this year, but not everyone is going to be as lucky as Punctilious's husband at Harvard.  For everyone one of him there's another 200 some odd applicants who are denied admission their every year, and I'm sure a sizable number of them are shut-out.  That's a really depressing reality, and it speaks to just how fickle and picky the academy is right now in humanities.

Edited by MetaphysicalDrama

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I'd like to echo the defense for taking a break from academia. In fact, programs in foreign language literature typically have students who took time off university -- perhaps living in France, Italy, working at a high school teaching English (very common), in a bar, in a café, in a summer camp, etc. It is an important part of our formation. It is rather unusual to go into a foreign language literature PhD immediately after college. Very few do it, and even those who do wish they had spent time abroad. 

I think people are aware of what you mean by 100 students, @MetaphysicalDrama. Aren't these students allowed to take whatever courses they want within the humanities, though? This would make this "divisions" between departments more fluid... It also doesn't really change @Warelin's logic, which is solid, esp. about the "selectivity." I attend a "top" school with no equivalent of MAPH. My courses are way smaller than those at Chicago (from what PhD students tell me) -- I've taken courses with 2-9 students, while Chicago grad courses are 15-20 or more. It really affects the classroom experience for everybody, and affects any one person's ability to develop a relationship with the professor.

If PhD admissions are a crapshoot, then attending Chicago's MAPH program to better your chances for admission is pointless. It would be better to improve your profile by attending a funded MA program and writing, publishing, and doing good work generally--and just hoping for the best. Why pay, especially since the 'famous' faculty whose recommendations help with admission -- don't end up writing a letter for you? Why go into debt for an overpriced program (unless you are privileged to complete the program without debt)?

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28 minutes ago, MetaphysicalDrama said:

PhD admissions are ultimately a crap shoot.  I'm lucky to have received three offers this year, but not everyone is going to be as lucky as Punctilious's husband at Harvard.  For everyone one of him there's another 200 some odd applicants who are denied admission their every year, and I'm sure a sizable number of them are shut-out.  That's a really depressing reality, and it speaks to just how fickle and picky the academy is right now in humanities.

All the more reason not to spend tens of thousands on a master's degree that has no guarantee of getting you into a PhD program. You may be happy with your choice, and that's totally valid, but others here should not feel that they need to go into debt for the MAPH (or any other unfunded MA) and that a gap year (or more) isn't valuable. It absolutely can be and I truly don't think any adcomm would look down upon taking time between your degrees to do other things.

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50 minutes ago, MetaphysicalDrama said:

Of course, a gap year isn't universally harmful.  Sure, someone may be able to make the most of it.

i want to push back on this, that a gap year isn't "universally harmful." i feel like this is very strong wording against advice i feel like is pretty universally given, universally belabored on, and universally true. every single person i've talked about applying to PhD programs with has 1) advised me to take a gap year, if i was already in academia at the time, or 2) made sure i had taken at least one year off, if i was out of academia. it is also one of the most given pieces of advice to what seems like everyone in this particular tiny section of GC; it feels like all of us have heard this piece of advice at least once. why would all of our most-loved and most-favorite professors continue to give this piece of advice over years and years if it weren't true? 

honestly, just living life outside of academia makes you a stronger candidate. developing relationships with coworkers, learning how to be professional as an employee rather than a student, understanding ways of navigating work hierarchies... also just spending time being a person while not in school can really be an awakening process. nearly everyone i've ever encountered who took a gap year (or years) has said that they've done some growing that they felt made them a stronger candidate. 

if anything, perhaps a conversation about if taking a large gap is detrimental would be productive. at what point do gap years become a barrier to communicating fit? does that point even exist?

50 minutes ago, MetaphysicalDrama said:

However, showing how that gap year contributed to one's own intellectual development could be a challenge.

why would you even need to address your gap year? this feels like you're equating a bad GPA or GRE scores to taking a gap year and that it needs to be explained away. however, most people don't encourage the discussion of weaker parts of an application. rather, you should spend time emphasizing what makes you a strong candidate. if the job you took during your gap year doesn't strengthen your application, then it remains a line on your CV, and that's okay.

50 minutes ago, MetaphysicalDrama said:

Sure, everyone says publish and present at conferences.  How do you know that's going to happen?  Publishing an article or getting an abstract accepted isn't a sure thing. 

publications and presentations aren't necessarily markers of a great candidate, either. some students get into top programs without either, but most certainly without the former. however, going through the motions of these professional experiences are definitely good, as it replicates other submission processes that are important to academic life, such as applying for fellowships, applying for grants, and (of course) submitting your work to conferences, journals, and (eventually) publishers. so it doesn't actually matter if it "happens" because a lot of things you apply for as an academic don't always "happen." rejection follows you everywhere, and learning from that is also a good experience.

50 minutes ago, MetaphysicalDrama said:

Many students may relocate after completing their degree, and that will make connecting with faculty a little more difficult.  I'm sure they can get some feedback through emails and etc., but I would still argue that its not the same as being a student at that institution. 

email, phones, and skype exist. i understand the fear that perhaps a professor may not remember you or may not write as good of a letter if you're a year (or few) out of the program/institution, but professors do remember their students. if you did something that made you stand out in the first place, the professor will likely remember it. i say this anecdotally, of course, but i wouldn't be surprised if other students and teachers feel this way as well. moreover, if you create a habit of checking in with professors you'd like to ultimately write you letters during your gap year, then this won't be a problem at all. the additional bonus is that this would mirror similar processes after you complete your PhD of keeping in touch with your mentors from different institutions.

a lot of students, even for their dissertations, may move away and still have a great working relationships with their committee members, who will be providing feedback via email and skype. real world mirrors the real world, and you can't control for people always being in one place. sure, you may move, but maybe you don't move and one of your letter writers moves instead. we've moved into a time where a lot of connecting does happen through email and the written word. whether it's the "same" or not doesn't necessarily matter. it's similar and i'd argue that neither gives you more leg-up on your application than the other.

 

i apologize; this was long. however, i've taken a lot of gap years, and i've never once felt like it put me at a disadvantage. in fact, i feel like it's prepared me more for graduate study, so the idea that it would be discouraged is bizarre to me.

Edited by mandelbulb
how many mistakes will i catch before this doesn't allow me to edit anymore...

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2 minutes ago, mandelbulb said:

why would you even need to address your gap year?

Exactly, I graduated in winter of 2015 and applied this year for programs. I did not mention it at all in my SOP. Each professor that I talked to about whether to mention it said that it is totally not necessary and would take up space where you could be selling your research and fit (I work at a non-profit, which I put on my cv, that isn't expressly related to English literature).

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Just now, jadeisokay said:

would taking a year off after already having two years-ish of time off in the past be any kind of disadvantage?

i graduated in 2011 with a BA in psychology and took a research assistant position in the psychology department of a local university. i applied to english MA programs in 2016. i graduated in 2018. i never felt ever disadvantaged by this time off. if you want more specifics, i'm happy to talk about it in PM :)

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4 minutes ago, jadeisokay said:

would taking a year off after already having two years-ish of time off in the past be any kind of disadvantage?

From graduating to when I start my MA program, I will have almost 4 years. It seems like it was no hindrance to me. No one at my accepted schools mentioned anything about it. I guess it could have been a negative at some of the schools I was rejected from, but there were probably more important factors than that. I think you will be totally fine!!!

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11 minutes ago, mandelbulb said:

i want to push back on this, that a gap year isn't "universally harmful." i feel like this is very strong wording against advice i feel like is pretty universally given, universally belabored on, and universally true. every single person i've talked about applying to PhD programs with has 1) advised me to take a gap year, if i was already in academia at the time, or 2) made sure i had taken at least one year off, if i was out of academia. it is also one of the most given pieces of advice to what seems like everyone in this particular tiny section of GC; it feels like all of us have heard this piece of advice at least once. why would all of our most-loved and most-favorite professors continue to give this piece of advice over years and years if it weren't true?  

 

I'll also chime in and say that I think this is spot on in my experience. I'm a student that took five years in between undergraduate and graduate for mostly financial and health related reasons. When I applied for graduate school, I contacted the one faculty member who I thought might remember me (he was my advisor) at the very beginning of the process. I ended up getting in contact with two other faculty and sending them copies of papers that I had written for them as an undergrad. I was able to mention that I was already being mentored by my former advisor (and that he had signed off on my decision to apply). So, yes, it was more difficult to build these relationships back up when they had lapsed, but it wasn't impossible.

While applying, it didn't offer me any significant disadvantage. I would come home from work and work for a few hours on my applications at the end of every day, sending drafts to my advisor as I finished them. I mentioned vaguely in a subordinate clause of my SOP that I had researched and studied during the gap (I didn't give specifics). No-one asked me why I had taken the time off; no-one cared.  I got the sense that as long as I acknowledged it like a banal fact and didn't make a big deal about it, that others would take my cue. I did exactly zero publishing and conferences during this time. I certainly didn't put non-academic work on my CV. I stuck to things I had done during undergrad, leaving all my gap year stuff off. So there was no opportunity for anyone to judge me for working in catering. It simply didn't come up. I think only Boston University asked specifically for a work resume, so that's the only exception.

In grad school the gap has only been an advantage. As others have said, it gives me perspective; I've cultivated friendships and relationships outside of the academy and that helps tether me during times of stress or self-doubt. I have a better sense of how to prioritize my responsibilities and make time for my health and well-being. I also had a generally looser point of view on what I wanted to achieve in grad school rather than being tied to an undergraduate thesis project (which I saw sometimes happen with straight from undergrad people). That's only benefited me.

This is just my own two-cents, but I think that sometimes because we know that the process is grueling and rigorous we want to impose rigor onto all aspects of it, even to aspects that the institution itself isn't rigorous about. There's no indication (in my experience) that anyone has to worry about the gap year.

 

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5 hours ago, MetaphysicalDrama said:

It's really easy to say just say no to MAPH or just say no to adjuncting, but some of us want to stay in academia.  MAPH and adjuncting turn out to be our only options at one point or another, and I don't think taking a gap year to "read" is all that helpful.  It certainly doesn't look good on a CV to interrupt your pursuit of an academic life with a year or two of selling copy paper at Office Max.  While adjuncting might end your potential for employment with that school, it doesn't end your job prospects absolutely (Provided you haven't been adjuncting for like five years). 

Okay. Several major problems with what you're saying here. 

No, adjuncting is not your "only option" to stay involved in academia, and not everybody has had to adjunct at some point or another. In fact, again, I would recommend that you do not do this unless you absolutely HAVE to (as in, "I need to stay alive and adjuncting is the only way I can buy food this month"). Yes, the system is exploitative. Yes, the universities are to blame. But no, you are not somehow obligated to be exploited simply because you need to stay in academia and you have an English degree and boy oh boy what are you supposed to do now. 

More importantly, a degree in English is not some kind of sentence to working at Office Max or Starbucks. To say that is just wrong, and it also hurts us in the long run. Part of the reason the academic job market is so bad--especially in the humanities--is because of the near historic decline of people majoring in the humanities. The school where I got my PhD is busy dismantling the English department as we speak, replacing required lit classes with business writing and creative writing. (And this, by the way, is a "top 30" program, though I doubt it will be much longer.) Part of this decline is due to the fact that people buy into the bullshit that getting a degree in English or history or French will doom you to a lifetime of pouring coffee, and therefore no one is allowing their kids to major in the humanities anymore. When we talk about having to work into Office Max, we perpetuate that myth and do a terrible job of selling our line of work to the next generation of students. A degree in English is actually super useful and can be lucrative. In fact, it may actually be more lucrative in the long run if one decides to go into private sector work. Here's the notoriously conservative "The Hill" on the subject: https://thehill.com/opinion/education/411925-a-humanities-degree-is-worth-much-more-than-you-realize

I got my (fully funded) master's in a humanity at a time when the economy was tanking--in a much worse place than it is right now. I decided I didn't want to continue to a PhD at that point. I applied for jobs--both adjunct and professional jobs. I landed my first professional editing job making $40k a year with excellent benefits (they wanted an English major!) ... on the same day I got a call from the community college offering me a couple classes for $1100 each. Obviously I chose the editing job. 

I have never worked as an adjunct. 

I managed to get into a PhD program several years later; not being part of academia didn't keep me from getting back in. Sure, it was harder in terms of the fact that I didn't have access to JSTOR from home, but I had several public universities in my area where I could go and make copies of articles and use databases. 

And even if you don't land a professional job, no PhD program is going to care that you worked at Office Max or mopped floors at Wendy's. They just are not going to care!

I would also add--and this is super important to keep in mind--that it's necessary for humanities PhDs to cultivate skills outside academia. Because, as others have pointed out, even if you get your PhD at Harvard, that's no guarantee of academic employment. The copy editing or technical writing you did for a couple years between degrees might come in handier than you realize. 

Edited by Bumblebea

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Chiming in on the gap year. I've been out of school for one year now and I don't feel as if it's negatively impacted me at all. If anything, it's only reinforced how much I want to be in academia and how much I want to do this kind of work again. I've also been universally told that the gap year/(s) can only be a good thing, with some profs even emphasizing that I take more than just one year off. I only took one year off as a disclaimer however, so I still felt the halo effect of being part of an institution and arguably I don't think I quite took as much time off as I should've. However, that's water under the bridge now.

Even as short of a time as a year away from the late-stage undergraduate work I did has allowed me to look back at what I've done with a far more critical lens and it's only helped me in figuring out the larger rationales behind my work. The summer and the fall before I really started to write materials in earnest was productive because I turned off that little tape recorder in the back of my head about academic work. Being away from academia and from a college campus gives a perspective that I don't think I could've gotten had I tried to go into graduate school straight out of undergrad. The project I proposed in my SoP is a much different beast from the undergrad thesis I wrote, and I don't think I could've conceived of that kind of SoP right in the middle of trying to juggle a thesis + other research projects related to undergrad seminars in my senior year. Speaking personally, I was burnt out during the earliest period where I could've applied to graduate school. Half of my CV wasn't even put together by the time I would've sent applications out. I would've had one presentation, and while I had an informal research agenda at that point, it would've been too tied up and bungled up with the work I was doing at the time. Also, way too many personal circumstances happened during senior year which would've made for a graduate application season catastrophe (emotions in flux due to excessive job-related and life stress during the Fall quarter and a family emergency right around the time when decisions would've been released). I'm hesitant to speak on my abilities (I could've surprised during the Fall 2018 cycle just as much as I could've faced a shutout, I'll never know), but that's a what if that'll never be answered.

I can only speak for a circumstance in which the gap year was only one (but even for longer gap years, I can't imagine it hurting at all. As I think about this, I've seen a lot of value starting PhDs with a few years off to have non-academic work experience, save up to supplement the stipend, etc., but I feel as if it didn't hurt me at all. I felt right at home during my campus visit and I feel refreshed in a way I didn't feel even as a first-year undergrad.

Edited by Ranmaag

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3 hours ago, Warelin said:
5 hours ago, MetaphysicalDrama said:

When you think about the number of humanities programs that fly under the MAPH banner, a class of 100 isn't all that big.

100 is actually pretty very big for a class. 15 students per program is actually considered huge for most programs. Most programs also have to accept 1.5 - 3x as many students to obtain their target class size. I imagine that the number is significantly higher for unfunded programs.  When I was an undergrad, everyone I knew that applied to Chicago was offered a spot in their MAPH program. As far as I'm aware today, the only people who aren't offered referred to the MAPH program are those who have a master's in the program they originally applied to. Because the program is not fully funded, I imagine the number of acceptances is somewhere between 500-1,500. 

This. I assume the 15-students-per-discipline thing is the yield, not the number of people they accept. You'd have to accept A LOT of people to get a yield of 15 students to come to a program with no funding and dubious prospects.

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1 hour ago, jadeisokay said:

would taking a year off after already having two years-ish of time off in the past be any kind of disadvantage?

Definitely not! In fact, I would say that taking time "off" between degrees (and I hesitate to call it time "off" since what you do between degrees is hard work, right?) is actually a very smart move these days. I took five years between degrees. 

And, full disclosure: I'm junior faculty now ... and even TT jobs are not secure. People I know with TT jobs (but not yet tenured) are getting laid off left and right to the point that I'm dusting off my resume with all my "non-academic" work experience. Getting let go before getting tenure is a reality that many of us are facing. So many universities are in such dire financial straits that they are eliminating people who are not yet tenured. 

I feel that the work I did between degrees may actually help me get a non-academic job, should it come to that. 

I don't want to be Debbie Downer in this forum, since people should be proud of themselves for getting into graduate school regardless of the outcome ... but yeah, it's really ugly out there right now, and we haven't hit rock bottom yet. That's just to serve as a reminder that you should always keep your options open and think about other things you can do with your skills! 

Edited by Bumblebea

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I had a lot of professors at SMU ask what I’d done during my gap year. My response was working, reading, and counting down the minutes until grad school. Some professors I felt didn’t love this answer. I could have said I’d been working on things for publication, but after taking with one professor about publications at length the night before, I didn’t think what I’d been working on was really ideal. The prof stressed that, in his opinion, publications were really important if they contributed to a coherent idea of the scholar’s specific research goals. The things I was working on did not necessarily do that. They were related to my interests, but that’s all. 

The majority of the faculty seemed to find my answer, I dunno, charming? And then we talked about other stuff. And then I was accepted two days later.

Obviously this is just one school but personally I did not feel any pressure to justify my gap year. I think with how difficult it is to be admitted to a program, gap years, willingly chosen or the result of a shut out, etc., there really shouldn’t be any prejudice against them.

Not that academia gives a single shit about my opinions, 🤣🤣🙃.

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