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Johnvcm

Importance of prestige for a masters with intent for a PhD

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I am agonizing over my decision of which masters program to attend. I have been accepted to the Univeristy of Chicago, George Washington U and Georgia St. U. I’m studying anthropology and intend to pursue a PhD with the goal of becoming a professor at a research institution. I’m in my mid 30s and changing career paths  

I have partial funding offers from UofC and GWU and a no tuition with Grad Assitant position offer at Georgia St. I could probably attend either UofC or GWU without taking on debt, but I would be taking substantial amounts from personal savings that could obviously continue to grow or be used for other life things down the road like a house, traveling, emergencies, etc. I’m also married with four children. I’m really struggling with what to prioritize the most in my decision making. 

UofC was my first choice coming into the application process and ideally would be where I receive a PhD from. Part of the reason for that though, is I have a strong desire to live in Chicago in the long run. I went to DePaul for undergrad for two years and had to leave because I had a child at age 20 and have been dreaming of getting back there ever since. I have returned a few times and still love it like the first time I set foot there. I haven’t seen the whole world, but a decent portion of it and Chicago is by far my favorite place. One of my good friends that lives there thinks I’m obsessing and there is probably merit to that. 

While my stated goal is to be a research professor it is probably almost equally to be in Chicago. When the time comes I would take positions at pretty much any institution in Chicago over opportunities elsewhere no matter the prestige, from UofC, to UIC to Northwestern to Loyola, to good positions at the Field museum or the Chicago history museum or virtually any cultural institution in Chicago as long as it allowed me to support my family. I just want to do something I am passionate about, ie research/teach culture/history etc. That said, there’s no guarantee that positions at any of these places is available when I’m ready and I would be a fool not to go where the opportunity presents itself. 

GWU is intriguing because it would give me an anthropology masters as well as a certification in museum studies, thus giving me opportunity to pursue a PhD as well as bolstering my resume for museum positions like those I listed. Georgia State is the least prestigious option, but I would spend the least money. Also there are three professors there closely aligned with my research interests including one that has Chicago ties. Her PhD is from UofC and her ongoing research is in conjunction with the Field Museum, which could prove beneficial in my pursuit of building a life in Chicago down the road. 

As I write this I feel even more merit to my friends comment about my obsession lol. But it really is just a strong preference. I won’t limit my PhD applications to Chicago,  nor my job search when the time comes. With that in mind, I’m struggling to decide what is the best path to take. Go to the best school possible (UofC), get to Chicago now and make my future PhD and job applications as appealing as possible as well as the ability to network in the city and see where I end up, go to GWU and have a path to a PhD as well as museum training giving me a wider path to finding a job I am happy with, or go to Georgia State, spend the least money, I presume get to work very closely with some faculty as a grad assistant, kick ass at a “lesser” institution and see where it takes me.

reading over this before I post I feel maybe I am going crazy but it is such a big decision and will have such a big impact on my future I am just feeling very anxious. I don’t want to make the wrong decision based on emotions or some long held desire to be in a specific place. I am struggling to prioritize the factors such as prestige, cost, and location. Ultimately, achieving my goals (a PhD and a job as a professor or within an institution such as a museum that could lead to a position such as a curator) and being able to provide for my family are the objectives. I apologize for my long-windedness and hopefully don’t sound like too much of a nut, I just wanted to provide as much info into my thought process as possible. 😏

thanks to any one who takes the time to read all that and respond 

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The short and skinny: at our age, we need to focus on what is less of a burden on our lives and our family.  Choose the university that fits you best that is less of a financial burden overall, with emphasis on financial burden being the deciding factor.

It is extremely ambitious to want to be a professor considering how overwhelmingly competitive the field is.  Your best bet is to try to get in as a adjunct professor at the university you did your PhD in. 

Edited by Ternwild

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16 minutes ago, Ternwild said:

Boy, I wish they introduced TL;DRs to this forum...

Lmao. Sorry. I was really going through it last night in terms of stress. I appreciate your response though, very valid points and that is what is keeping me from just outright going with my “dreamy” ideal. I have so much else to consider that affects a lot of people besides me. Thanks again. 

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13 minutes ago, Johnvcm said:

Lmao. Sorry. I was really going through it last night in terms of stress. I appreciate your response though, very valid points and that is what is keeping me from just outright going with my “dreamy” ideal. I have so much else to consider that affects a lot of people besides me. Thanks again. 

Yes, I can imagine you do.  And we don't have a lot of time to consider them.  Good luck.

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It might be helpful to also think backwards in this situation as well since you have a strong preference for a specific city. First, many places do not want to hire their own PhD graduates; it is not very common to do so these days (especially at top tier universities) and if they do, you run a very real risk of "always being the student"--it can be hard for your mentors to just automatically start thinking of you as a colleague vs. student immediately and can strain your professional relationship. Second, unless you applied to an MS/PhD I also wouldn't feel tied to trying to attend the same university for both. If you want to be a professor, these days it actually looks good to see that you've spread your education across multiple institutions.

Honestly, for your master's I would try to go to either a) the least expensive option or b) the one where people will actually let you publish with them (this is often mistaken for 'top name' places but don't bet on it---reach out to students or if you look at their PhD candidate profiles and there's not a ton of publications they've worked on since being there be wary of the ease of opportunity). If you're super self-motivated and good at seeking out opportunities, sometimes smaller, less known schools can be the best bang for your buck because you'll stand out significantly, and you will have a lot less competition for limited resources/opportunities ("the extras") that you will need for a really good PhD application. There's a lot to factor in, but where you go to school for your MS will not dictate where you get into for your PhD as much as where you go for your PhD will dictate the job opportunities in academia. Hope that helps a little!

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It sounds like the only reason you want to go to Chicago is because of the city itself, which should not be the most important consideration when choosing a school. It seems like Georgia state has research that aligns with your interests (you didn't mention research interests when talking about the other 2 schools), AND it is the cheapest (seems like a double win to me). GW is in an extraordinarily expensive area in DC, so if you don't have good funding, you will be broke. I think you may also want to consider how much you like the environment of the program itself (i.e. are the professors psychos? Are the students cutthroat-competitive?) 

If you look at UChicago and LOVE the environment (professors, students) and it is a perfect match research-wise, then definitely go there. Otherwise you will be financially struggling for nothing and regret it. The other thing is that getting a masters at a given school does not guarantee phD admission to the same school, so that should not be a reason for consideration. 

All that being said, you say you want to go into academia, which means that pedigree matters.  

 

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Are you talking about the MAPSS program at U of C? If so, the program is known to primarily function as a cash cow for the school, and it is difficult for students to gain much from the program as it is only one year and faculty do not always prioritize MAPSS students. I would suggest turning elsewhere if the biggest factor is just location.

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12 hours ago, msers said:

Are you talking about the MAPSS program at U of C? If so, the program is known to primarily function as a cash cow for the school, and it is difficult for students to gain much from the program as it is only one year and faculty do not always prioritize MAPSS students. I would suggest turning elsewhere if the biggest factor is just location.

Yes it is the MAPSS program. I’ve done a good amount of researching and talking to people about it and I’m probably leaning away from it right now. The only advantage is the prestige of the school and the possibility of making connections with people that may directly impact or even decide your fate as a PhD candidate there, but as you noted the accelerated nature of the program and litany of other priorities for both the student and professors don’t make that as easy to make those connections as in a two year program. 

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It’s not just the city that makes me want to go to Chicago but that is where I would ideally end up as my home base in the long run. The other draw to UofC specifically is it is regarded as one of the best schools in the country, their anthro department is also rated very highly within the field and I know that pedigree matters if you want to enter academia. 

But the point about scholls not generally hiring professors from their own students is a good one. I wont presume I would be able to ever get a job at UofC anyway lol, I imagine the difficulty in getting a professor position there is pretty intense. But going to UofC could make me more appealing and give me more options to choose from (presumably). 

For now, I only have about a month left to make my decision, but I am pretty sure I am not going to go to UofC just yet. It makes me a little sad but I think it will be best for a variety of reasons. I will still keep my eyes on it as the prize for PhD purposes and try to position myself as best as possible as an applicant. I spoke to someone in the PhD program there who had a similar decision between UofC’s MAPSS program and a normal 2 year MA program and he did the two year and is happy he did and is now a PhD student at UofC. He gave me a lot of great advice. 

So im still battling with the cost vs prestige thing between George Washington and Ga St, but I’ve come to grips with the fact the path I initially dreamed up in my head when I started the new journey is getting a little bit of a reality check and adjustment for now, but that there is a path and it will lead me to good places, whether or not that ever ends up being my dream life as a research professor somewhere in Chicago specifically lol. 

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50 minutes ago, Johnvcm said:

It’s not just the city that makes me want to go to Chicago but that is where I would ideally end up as my home base in the long run. The other draw to UofC specifically is it is regarded as one of the best schools in the country, their anthro department is also rated very highly within the field and I know that pedigree matters if you want to enter academia. 

But the point about scholls not generally hiring professors from their own students is a good one. I wont presume I would be able to ever get a job at UofC anyway lol, I imagine the difficulty in getting a professor position there is pretty intense. But going to UofC could make me more appealing and give me more options to choose from (presumably). 

For now, I only have about a month left to make my decision, but I am pretty sure I am not going to go to UofC just yet. It makes me a little sad but I think it will be best for a variety of reasons. I will still keep my eyes on it as the prize for PhD purposes and try to position myself as best as possible as an applicant. I spoke to someone in the PhD program there who had a similar decision between UofC’s MAPSS program and a normal 2 year MA program and he did the two year and is happy he did and is now a PhD student at UofC. He gave me a lot of great advice. 

So im still battling with the cost vs prestige thing between George Washington and Ga St, but I’ve come to grips with the fact the path I initially dreamed up in my head when I started the new journey is getting a little bit of a reality check and adjustment for now, but that there is a path and it will lead me to good places, whether or not that ever ends up being my dream life as a research professor somewhere in Chicago specifically lol. 

 

Edited by abodas

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I admit I just scanned your post :) but the title caught my eye (before I even realized you were in anthropology). I came to say that I got accepted to two PhD programs with a master's from a no-name tiny school, a master's that isn't even in anthropology (granted it's in an emerging niche of anthropology that falls under the umbrella and is highly specific to my research interest). I was a little concerned about a lack of prestige, but ultimately it didn't keep me from acceptances to R1 programs, with funding. What mattered (I assume) is that I wrote some good papers and honed my interest through my master's, proving myself a strong PhD candidate.

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3 hours ago, Ternwild said:

A woman of many words.

She was balancing out the inordinate length of my initial post lmao. 

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3 hours ago, pyramidstuds said:

I admit I just scanned your post :) but the title caught my eye (before I even realized you were in anthropology). I came to say that I got accepted to two PhD programs with a master's from a no-name tiny school, a master's that isn't even in anthropology (granted it's in an emerging niche of anthropology that falls under the umbrella and is highly specific to my research interest). I was a little concerned about a lack of prestige, but ultimately it didn't keep me from acceptances to R1 programs, with funding. What mattered (I assume) is that I wrote some good papers and honed my interest through my master's, proving myself a strong PhD candidate.

Thank you! This is great to hear. I actually spoke with someone in the program at the “lesser” of my options and he assured me that graduates of the MA haven’t been hurt getting into reputable, strong phd programs. And he did say because of the small size, if you work hard and make your intentions known there is ample opportunity to publish and for conferences etc. So my concerns about the lack of perceived prestige have been eased quite a bit. 

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On 3/12/2019 at 4:02 PM, Ternwild said:

A woman of many words.

Sorry- yup! Just trying to gather my thoughts and then I forgot about it! My bad. I just wanted to ask about the tips you all have gotten about doing Master's at a smaller school vs. PhD at a bigger one! My mentors have advised me to consider doing a Master's first as well so I just wanted to hear what advice other people have. I think my questions have been answered foor the most part though, Thanks!

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