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Krauge

Writing Sample and Asking For Advice

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Posted (edited)

The absolute last results haven't come in yet, but it very much looks like I'm not going anywhere this fall. Whether I try again in the future is up in there air for me. But something that I have been thinking about is the task ahead of me of retooling my writing sample. I have been out undergrad for a few years now, and so have not had that frequent contact professors who could go over my writing sample with me to see how it stacks up. My sample was a punched up version of my capstone thesis/term paper, whatever you call it. Not only is it a relatively understudied subject area, hellenistic philosophy, which my professor evidently didn't know very well. I found as I was going through it during my rewrite, that my professor had missed many many mistakes; not just interpretation things, but flat out factual errors in my presenting positions, dates, and even to my unbelievable shame, names. There were extenuating circumstances at the time that I don't need to go into; suffice it to say that I wasn't at my absolute best that semester, but it was still a solid paper. And, This is an excellent professor as well, I don't want people thinking it was some uncaring bad teacher. It just seems that they missed some stuff in an unfamiliar subject while grading one of the 15 capstone papers. 

Thats kind of a mouthful for an introduction, but my question is, how do I go about getting help/advice/guidance for this next round of editing? I thought my paper was pretty good (I actually thought one of the sections was excellent), but I had no way of knowing. There is no one I know who I can shoot an email and say "hey, can I get some feedback here?" It seems unbelievable tacky to email professors that I don't know who have giant course loads already and ask them to read through 20 pages and make comments. I was thinking of maybe emailing the professors at the schools I applied to who probably read my sample, but even that seems out of line. I just want someway to find a baseline telling me that I'm in the right ballpark. Being out of school, and having just rewritten it last year, i just have this horrible feeling that I might be in the middle of nowhere, completely out of line with how I should be writing. And I don't know how to find that baseline. 

Any advice would be hot.

 

Edited by Krauge

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Yeah, as Prose notes, if you really want to apply again, cold emailing profs might be your best bet. Maybe you could audit classes at a local place? That'd help you become familiar to a prof too.

And feel free to PM me if you want me to look at it.

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Posted (edited)
15 hours ago, Krauge said:

The absolute last results haven't come in yet, but it very much looks like I'm not going anywhere this fall. Whether I try again in the future is up in there air for me. But something that I have been thinking about is the task ahead of me of retooling my writing sample. I have been out undergrad for a few years now, and so have not had that frequent contact professors who could go over my writing sample with me to see how it stacks up. My sample was a punched up version of my capstone thesis/term paper, whatever you call it. Not only is it a relatively understudied subject area, hellenistic philosophy, which my professor evidently didn't know very well. I found as I was going through it during my rewrite, that my professor had missed many many mistakes; not just interpretation things, but flat out factual errors in my presenting positions, dates, and even to my unbelievable shame, names. There were extenuating circumstances at the time that I don't need to go into; suffice it to say that I wasn't at my absolute best that semester, but it was still a solid paper. And, This is an excellent professor as well, I don't want people thinking it was some uncaring bad teacher. It just seems that they missed some stuff in an unfamiliar subject while grading one of the 15 capstone papers. 

Thats kind of a mouthful for an introduction, but my question is, how do I go about getting help/advice/guidance for this next round of editing? I thought my paper was pretty good (I actually thought one of the sections was excellent), but I had no way of knowing. There is no one I know who I can shoot an email and say "hey, can I get some feedback here?" It seems unbelievable tacky to email professors that I don't know who have giant course loads already and ask them to read through 20 pages and make comments. I was thinking of maybe emailing the professors at the schools I applied to who probably read my sample, but even that seems out of line. I just want someway to find a baseline telling me that I'm in the right ballpark. Being out of school, and having just rewritten it last year, i just have this horrible feeling that I might be in the middle of nowhere, completely out of line with how I should be writing. And I don't know how to find that baseline. 

Any advice would be hot.

 

Are you committed to working on Hellenistic philosophy? Keep in mind that your interests will likely change, so it may not be worth it to have a WS on a topic that isn't much studied. If your paper is on a marginal topic, it may be harder to demonstrate fit with a program, since the faculty on the admissions committee might have a harder time evaluating it. It may be worth switching to a paper topic in an area with which the faculty advising you/the faculty at the programs you're applying to are familiar. You'll be able to get more useful feedback and probably have a better shot at getting in.

Also, don't be afraid to ask for feedback on your WS from the faculty you've had in the past. Ask for comments, and see if you can talk through those comments, either in person if you're nearby, or via Skype if you're not.

Edited by hector549

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On 3/13/2019 at 6:24 AM, Prose said:

I do ancient and I could read over it if you'd like.

 

18 hours ago, Marcus_Aurelius said:

And feel free to PM me if you want me to look at it.

That’s more appreciated than I can say. I’ll do that in a few months when your semesters are over.

And, while I have you both here, some professors suggested to me Boston University’s dual PHD philosophy/MA classics program. Do either of you have any option of that?

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9 minutes ago, Krauge said:

 

That’s more appreciated than I can say. I’ll do that in a few months when your semesters are over.

And, while I have you both here, some professors suggested to me Boston University’s dual PHD philosophy/MA classics program. Do either of you have any option of that?

'Option' or 'opinion'? No to both.

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17 hours ago, hector549 said:

Are you committed to working on Hellenistic philosophy? Keep in mind that your interests will likely change, so it may not be worth it to have a WS on a topic that isn't much studied.

The general area of interest is Ancient. The specific subset I wrote about is Hellenistic, the area my capstone paper was about. I emphasized in my Statements of purpose my interest in the full scope of Ancient- Presocratics to Augustine. I have also read posts and comments from various philosophy blogs (legitimate ones, not just any schmuck) that emphasizing a strength in Hellenistic could be advantageous for study and job prospects, since it is rarer to find someone who does it, and that person will most likely know the standard Ancient stuff (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle) anyway.

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On 3/13/2019 at 3:54 AM, Krauge said:

I was thinking of maybe emailing the professors at the schools I applied to who probably read my sample, but even that seems out of line.

 

Requesting feedback on applications isn't unheard of. Instead of asking for their thoughts on the paper, ask about your application overall (so it won't sound like you're asking for a proofread/edits). If your paper was weak, then they'll mention it.

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Posted (edited)

I'm in exactly the same situation as you OP. I'm dying to hear from 2 schools that haven't notified me about their decision yet, but I'm pretty sure that I will be rejected because my writing sample is not strong enough as crazy as it sounds. I'm starting to worry that my status as an international student has something to do with it LOL🙃

Edited by markovka

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, Krauge said:

 

That’s more appreciated than I can say. I’ll do that in a few months when your semesters are over.

And, while I have you both here, some professors suggested to me Boston University’s dual PHD philosophy/MA classics program. Do either of you have any option of that?

BU isn't a particularly well known program for ancient phil afaik, but if there are profs you really like, could be worth it. Michigan also has the PhD in one topic and MA in the other, but I doubt an MA improves one's job prospects, though the places with joint programs are often better programs. 

I'm no expert, but if you're applying to Philosophy departments (as opposed to Classics departments or Classics tracks of joint programs), I'd recommend against focusing mainly on Hellenistic. Few profs specialize in it, and it'll be much easier for them to imagine you as a good fit if you have familiarity with Plato/Aristotle. Whether you like it or not, they're unavoidable, and besides, much of Hellenistic philosophy indirectly or directly responds to them anyway, so to really be a specialist you'll need to know them well. My biggest passion is Epicurus, but in my statements of purpose I mentioned Aristotle first. And my sample is on Aristotle, though that's in large part because my advidor works on Aristotle. It seems much easier to insert oneself into the literature for Plato or Aristotle and get one's bearings because there's just more literature. 

Edited by Marcus_Aurelius

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On 3/13/2019 at 2:54 AM, Krauge said:

The absolute last results haven't come in yet, but it very much looks like I'm not going anywhere this fall. Whether I try again in the future is up in there air for me. But something that I have been thinking about is the task ahead of me of retooling my writing sample. I have been out undergrad for a few years now, and so have not had that frequent contact professors who could go over my writing sample with me to see how it stacks up. My sample was a punched up version of my capstone thesis/term paper, whatever you call it. Not only is it a relatively understudied subject area, hellenistic philosophy, which my professor evidently didn't know very well. I found as I was going through it during my rewrite, that my professor had missed many many mistakes; not just interpretation things, but flat out factual errors in my presenting positions, dates, and even to my unbelievable shame, names. There were extenuating circumstances at the time that I don't need to go into; suffice it to say that I wasn't at my absolute best that semester, but it was still a solid paper. And, This is an excellent professor as well, I don't want people thinking it was some uncaring bad teacher. It just seems that they missed some stuff in an unfamiliar subject while grading one of the 15 capstone papers. 

Thats kind of a mouthful for an introduction, but my question is, how do I go about getting help/advice/guidance for this next round of editing? I thought my paper was pretty good (I actually thought one of the sections was excellent), but I had no way of knowing. There is no one I know who I can shoot an email and say "hey, can I get some feedback here?" It seems unbelievable tacky to email professors that I don't know who have giant course loads already and ask them to read through 20 pages and make comments. I was thinking of maybe emailing the professors at the schools I applied to who probably read my sample, but even that seems out of line. I just want someway to find a baseline telling me that I'm in the right ballpark. Being out of school, and having just rewritten it last year, i just have this horrible feeling that I might be in the middle of nowhere, completely out of line with how I should be writing. And I don't know how to find that baseline. 

Any advice would be hot.

 

I was in a similar situation last year. So, I can sympathize. If you'd like i can look at your paper too, I'm not an ancient person.. but I can probably help with the logic or writing. I teach at a university where they have an amazing ancient prof from UT and i can ask him to see if he'd be willing to help you out. He's very busy with his own stuff (studens, referring etc.) but I can definitely ask. Also, may I ask where are you located? I could suggest some other resources, I know of some schools that do writing sample workshops during the fall. PM me if you're interested.

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Posted (edited)
On 3/14/2019 at 5:01 PM, Marcus_Aurelius said:

I'm no expert, but if you're applying to Philosophy departments (as opposed to Classics departments or Classics tracks of joint programs), I'd recommend against focusing mainly on Hellenistic. Few profs specialize in it, and it'll be much easier for them to imagine you as a good fit if you have familiarity with Plato/Aristotle. Whether you like it or not, they're unavoidable, and besides, much of Hellenistic philosophy indirectly or directly responds to them anyway, so to really be a specialist you'll need to know them well. My biggest passion is Epicurus, but in my statements of purpose I mentioned Aristotle first. And my sample is on Aristotle, though that's in large part because my advidor works on Aristotle. It seems much easier to insert oneself into the literature for Plato or Aristotle and get one's bearings because there's just more literature. 

Is it suggested then that I write a new paper from scratch? One that is a Plato and/or Aristotle based one? 

The paper was on The Intellectual Children of Socrates in the Hellenistic world, looking at the three major schools of Hellenistic Philosophy that claimed Socrates as their intellectual progenitor, and who has the best claim to him. So, it does deal with Socrates and Plato. And Xenophon, but most philosophers don't care about him. This brings up something else that I had been thinking about, which is how useful a paper that is historically based like this one is as opposed to a topically based paper (e.g. epistemology in Plato, volition and will in Aristotle)? I happened to catch some of the advice given in another post to someone trying to come up with a writing sample, and there was a disagreement about the usefulness of a paper that compared and contrasted two position. This is something similar; do Philosophy departments care at all about a historically based writing sample like mine, or should it be saved for Classics departments? That's not to say that there is no philosophy in the paper - there is plenty of it. It's just that it takes a more historical approach to a philosophical period than an exposition of a particular idea in a philosopher.

 

Edited by Krauge

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Yeah, I wouldn't say a Hellenic sample is necessarily bad, but it should be complemented with perhaps other non-Hellenic stuff elsewhere in the application and should perhaps show familiarity with non-Hellenic material. (Though my impression is that your sample deals extensively with Plato and Xenophon? That sounds great.)

This is a diagnosis from afar and I can't say anything concrete without reading the paper, but it sounds like you take on way too much in that sample to be able to make a cogent argument and engage with relevant literature. Philosophy departments want to see your philosophical potential, so focus on philosophical argumentation in a niche of current literature. To be honest, it sounds like the question of to what extent School X follows Socrates is too big for even one writing sample; I can't imagine being able to discuss three schools thoroughly in under 20 pages.

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14 hours ago, Krauge said:

Is it suggested then that I write a new paper from scratch?

 

Agree with @Marcus_Aurelius here. But also, it just sounds like you have very little idea what exactly you should be doing; the distinction between historical/philosophical, for example - you really need a better idea of what ancient philosophy done today entails. Read some journal articles. You've said that you're far removed from your studies, so no blame there, but you NEED to talk to an ancient philosopher about this, even if it might be embarrassing to cold e-mail them. Me and Marcus' (amateurish) thoughts probably won't carry as much weight as talking to an actual professional, but I'm willing to bet they'll say similar things.

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I agree with the suggestion that you should contact philosophers working in ancient/Hellenistic phil. I think it's also worth contacting the faculty members of Classics departments near you, as there are many ancient philosophers working in Classics departments.

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14 hours ago, quineonthevine said:

I agree with the suggestion that you should contact philosophers working in ancient/Hellenistic phil. I think it's also worth contacting the faculty members of Classics departments near you, as there are many ancient philosophers working in Classics departments.

Regarding the second point, it's worthwhile if you want to apply through Classics departments, but otherwise perhaps not. And there are some philosophers in Classics departments, but not all that many.

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5 hours ago, Marcus_Aurelius said:

Regarding the second point, it's worthwhile if you want to apply through Classics departments, but otherwise perhaps not.

This ties into what I was going to ask anyway. And, I know that you can’t say anything concrete without actually seeing the paper, but would a more historically based paper like mine be looked at more favorably by a classics track of ancient philosophy than a philosophy track, or is it just a bad way to proceed?

Prose is obviously right that I need to get back into reading journal articles for philosophy, but in your experience, would classics look more favorably on this than philosophy?

And, as far as articles go, how different would an article in an academic journal, say Nous, be from an article in a Cambridge Companion or Blackwell Companion? I went through a decent number of those for the paper? I’m trying to gauge what I have cut out for me.

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4 minutes ago, Krauge said:

This ties into what I was going to ask anyway. And, I know that you can’t say anything concrete without actually seeing the paper, but would a more historically based paper like mine be looked at more favorably by a classics track of ancient philosophy than a philosophy track, or is it just a bad way to proceed?

Prose is obviously right that I need to get back into reading journal articles for philosophy, but in your experience, would classics look more favorably on this than philosophy?

And, as far as articles go, how different would an article in an academic journal, say Nous, be from an article in a Cambridge Companion or Blackwell Companion? I went through a decent number of those for the paper? I’m trying to gauge what I have cut out for me.

That sort of paper would likely be looked at a bit more favorably if you were applying to a Classics track, but it probably wouldn't make a huge difference.

Chapters of Cambridge or Blackwell companions are fine sources, but they're often not a good way to get a sense of the current discourse. Looking in journals shows what people are most interested in talking about at the moment.

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2 hours ago, Krauge said:

This ties into what I was going to ask anyway. And, I know that you can’t say anything concrete without actually seeing the paper, but would a more historically based paper like mine be looked at more favorably by a classics track of ancient philosophy than a philosophy track, or is it just a bad way to proceed?

Prose is obviously right that I need to get back into reading journal articles for philosophy, but in your experience, would classics look more favorably on this than philosophy?

And, as far as articles go, how different would an article in an academic journal, say Nous, be from an article in a Cambridge Companion or Blackwell Companion? I went through a decent number of those for the paper? I’m trying to gauge what I have cut out for me.

Read Phronesis or Ancient Philosophy or Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie or British Journal for Hist of Phil

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Posted (edited)

If you find some recently articles you're interested in, you might find that they are behind a paywall to read past their first page or abstract. If you are lacking library-access to journals and you have an account on Facebook, look for the Phil Underclass group on FB. You can post PhilPapers links to request fulltexts of papers you are trying to hunt down. Most people there are really happy to help.

Edited by Duns Eith

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Thanks to everyone who responded, and having thought through this a bit, I’ve got a follow up question, for anyone who knows, but especially for people in Ancient, like Marcus and Prose.

Having now been informed that I should avoid Hellenistic as a main focus for at least this part, are there also parts of the more commonly studied subjects (meaning mostly Plato and Aristotle) that it would be better to avoid in the same vein? That is, are there areas that I should focus on and avoid, like more popular and less popular dialogues and treatises? In regards to Plato, I find myself drawn to the Crito and Charmides, but these are short works, and there is much work being done on things like the Republic and Symposium. And similarly Aristotle

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Often, Aristotle's Poetics is more commonly worked on by classicists rather than philosophers. Ditto for Plato's Symposium. Crito and Charmides seem fine, though it's a lot about method and how you think, more than the exact text. That being said, you're right that there's a lot of discussion on some works, so just make sure to key into relevant (preferably recent) literature.

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