Jump to content
cybe2001

So what's this "FIT" people keep talking about?

Recommended Posts

Many people seem to be very sure of their case: it's mainly the 'fit' or 'match' you have with certain members of faculty or the department that gets you into graduate school. I myself have heard professors use that term in very positive ways.

I however have some reason for doubt.

First, I have heard faculty members, often the same ones mentioning 'fit', express their concerns with the practice of 'cloning' - i.e. when professors take in students through which they seek to replicate their own ideas and continue their research. To say the least, this practice is frowned upon.

Second, the 'fit' or 'match' thing seems like a very good excuse to turn down an applicant. (With some reflectivity, it seems that we - the applicants - are doing just that: convincing others and ourselves that it is the lack 'fit' that cost us the position). Taking seriously the works of Bourdieu & Passeron, Bowles & Gintis, Collins, and the like (i.e. similar in this regard), implies keeping open the possibility that 'fit' is just a way of saying you're not the kind of student they want because of your background, (political) color, or whatever reason they can come up with but are unwilling to share with you.

I'd be very interested to hear your views on this, especially your definition of the concept of 'fit', and/or any concrete examples you might have to illustrate.

Thanks!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Many people seem to be very sure of their case: it's mainly the 'fit' or 'match' you have with certain members of faculty or the department that gets you into graduate school. I myself have heard professors use that term in very positive ways.

I however have some reason for doubt.

First, I have heard faculty members, often the same ones mentioning 'fit', express their concerns with the practice of 'cloning' - i.e. when professors take in students through which they seek to replicate their own ideas and continue their research. To say the least, this practice is frowned upon.

Second, the 'fit' or 'match' thing seems like a very good excuse to turn down an applicant. (With some reflectivity, it seems that we - the applicants - are doing just that: convincing others and ourselves that it is the lack 'fit' that cost us the position). Taking seriously the works of Bourdieu & Passeron, Bowles & Gintis, Collins, and the like (i.e. similar in this regard), implies keeping open the possibility that 'fit' is just a way of saying you're not the kind of student they want because of your background, (political) color, or whatever reason they can come up with but are unwilling to share with you.

I'd be very interested to hear your views on this, especially your definition of the concept of 'fit', and/or any concrete examples you might have to illustrate.

Thanks!

Fit is not necessarily a matter of there being a faculty member with the same interests and ideas. When I say fit I'm looking for 1. A faculty member that would be willing to take me on and potentially be my dissertation chair 2. Has enough expertise in the areas that I'm interested to be of use to me

In talking with some faculty members its also a matter of potential students literally fitting into their schedule. If the person that they are expecting to be your advisor is planning on going on a two year leave for research leaves that student out in the cold instead of putting a student and the dept in that situation its better to just not accept.

There are tons of people who apply to schools simply based on the name of the school with no thought into what the faculty at the school is working on you can't apply to a school know for work in deviance and criminology and want to work on sociology of education for example.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

OK so there's 'fit' once you know that there's at least one able-minded faculty member willing to work with you on the topic you're interested in?

That sounds very, very basic. I mean, I'd go with that; it sounds very common sensical.

But then, if 'fit' is so straightforward, why is it discussed as something you can establish only after extensive research, and why is it still mentioned (and accepted) as a major reason an applicant is rejected admission?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

OK so there's 'fit' once you know that there's at least one able-minded faculty member willing to work with you on the topic you're interested in?

That sounds very, very basic. I mean, I'd go with that; it sounds very common sensical.

But then, if 'fit' is so straightforward, why is it discussed as something you can establish only after extensive research, and why is it still mentioned (and accepted) as a major reason an applicant is rejected admission?

There are a lot of people, myself included, who made the mistake of applying to places without paying close attention to faculty fit, but location and prestige. Seems

common sense now but it certainly wasn't before.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There are a lot of people, myself included, who made the mistake of applying to places without paying close attention to faculty fit, but location and prestige. Seems

common sense now but it certainly wasn't before.

I still find that somewhat hard to believe. Most top university faculty, as small as some of them might be (i.e. Stanford/ Harvard) explicitly try to cover a wide variety of substantive topics, so that for virtual any topic bordering on inequality/race/migration/culture/networks/organization 'fit' can be found -- let alone at such large departments as Berkeley, Ann Arbor, Wisconsin, and Chapel Hill.

West, for instance, do you think you were rejected at Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, Georgetown for lack of such 'fit'?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Fit is not necessarily a matter of there being a faculty member with the same interests and ideas. When I say fit I'm looking for 1. A faculty member that would be willing to take me on and potentially be my dissertation chair 2. Has enough expertise in the areas that I'm interested to be of use to me

In talking with some faculty members its also a matter of potential students literally fitting into their schedule. If the person that they are expecting to be your advisor is planning on going on a two year leave for research leaves that student out in the cold instead of putting a student and the dept in that situation its better to just not accept.

There are tons of people who apply to schools simply based on the name of the school with no thought into what the faculty at the school is working on you can't apply to a school know for work in deviance and criminology and want to work on sociology of education for example.

Punctuation is a useful tool.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I still find that somewhat hard to believe. Most top university faculty, as small as some of them might be (i.e. Stanford/ Harvard) explicitly try to cover a wide variety of substantive topics, so that for virtual any topic bordering on inequality/race/migration/culture/networks/organization 'fit' can be found -- let alone at such large departments as Berkeley, Ann Arbor, Wisconsin, and Chapel Hill.

It's not just topic, though--it's theoretical background, methodology, and so forth. For example, does the department tend to emphasize quantitative or qualitative research? That's the type of thing that takes a little bit of work to discover. A faculty profile lists "sociology of religion" as an interest, but do they mean within religious organizations or how religious groups exist as units in society? (Sorry if that's a lousy example--I'm not in sociology). What is the department's view on interdisciplinary work?

Also, keep in mind that "fit" as an admissions criterion is only a part of the "fit" that means you will be happy in the program you ultimately choose.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's not just topic, though--it's theoretical background, methodology, and so forth. For example, does the department tend to emphasize quantitative or qualitative research? That's the type of thing that takes a little bit of work to discover. A faculty profile lists "sociology of religion" as an interest, but do they mean within religious organizations or how religious groups exist as units in society? (Sorry if that's a lousy example--I'm not in sociology). What is the department's view on interdisciplinary work?

Also, keep in mind that "fit" as an admissions criterion is only a part of the "fit" that means you will be happy in the program you ultimately choose.

This is exactly right. You really have to dig deep to understand how they are approaching the sub-field. Ultimately, you don't really want to repeat all the work they've done (i.e. "cloning"), but you want to make sure they will be an adequate resource in knowing what data would be useful to your project, etc. I would also emphasize that a good "fit" school would have MORE THAN ONE faculty member like this.

ALSO, keep in mind that even if you are a good fit somewhere, so are other people. A rejection doesn't always mean you weren't a good fit, but it could mean that among those who were good fits, your credentials weren't quite competitive enough. But if you're lucky enough to get feedback from them, and they say your rejection was because you weren't a good "fit", I would take their word for it. They know more about themselves than you do.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

(...) if you're lucky enough to get feedback from them, and they say your rejection was because you weren't a good "fit", I would take their word for it. They know more about themselves than you do.

You hit the nail right on its head: we have to be 'lucky' to get some feedback. In other words: the selection committee has no one to hold them accountable for their decisions.

So... why are we so eager to blame (i.e. no fit, not 'competitive') rejection on ourselves, and why should we "take their word for it" when we have no guarantee whatsoever that we were meritocratically selected/rejected?

(Let me stress, at this point, that my comments do not reflect sour grapes. I have been accepted at a top-ranked university and am very grateful for that.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Many people seem to be very sure of their case: it's mainly the 'fit' or 'match' you have with certain members of faculty or the department that gets you into graduate school. I myself have heard professors use that term in very positive ways.

I however have some reason for doubt.

First, I have heard faculty members, often the same ones mentioning 'fit', express their concerns with the practice of 'cloning' - i.e. when professors take in students through which they seek to replicate their own ideas and continue their research. To say the least, this practice is frowned upon.

Second, the 'fit' or 'match' thing seems like a very good excuse to turn down an applicant. (With some reflectivity, it seems that we - the applicants - are doing just that: convincing others and ourselves that it is the lack 'fit' that cost us the position). Taking seriously the works of Bourdieu & Passeron, Bowles & Gintis, Collins, and the like (i.e. similar in this regard), implies keeping open the possibility that 'fit' is just a way of saying you're not the kind of student they want because of your background, (political) color, or whatever reason they can come up with but are unwilling to share with you.

I'd be very interested to hear your views on this, especially your definition of the concept of 'fit', and/or any concrete examples you might have to illustrate.

Thanks!

First, I've never heard of this cloning phenomenon. In a good department, a professor shouldn't be worried about cloning students, because they should be in productive collaborative relationships that don't seek to replicate themselves.

Secondly, I can give you several examples of "fit". As a student who works closely with the admissions committee, we often see students applying to the same group of schools. Students who are interested in African demography might apply here and Brown, and be accepted to both. But, depending on the student's exact interest "health disparities in Africa" vs "health disparities, including ones in Africa" we might be a better fit than Brown.

In general, we are NOT known to be a theory school, or a qualitative methods school. If you want to do either of those things, you probably wouldn't apply here, and if you got in, you aren't a good "fit" for the program. The few students who are theorists in our department are extremely unhappy because they feel marginalized, or feel like most people don't care about theory much here, and to be honest, they are right. Students delusional enough to think they can come here and do qualitative research will find little institutional support, and be disappointed.

So when I say someone fits in our program, I'd imagine it's a student with a strong quantitative methods background, and an interests in family, migration, or health. Anyone else would be fairly out of place here, and a bad "fit".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I still find that somewhat hard to believe. Most top university faculty, as small as some of them might be (i.e. Stanford/ Harvard) explicitly try to cover a wide variety of substantive topics, so that for virtual any topic bordering on inequality/race/migration/culture/networks/organization 'fit' can be found -- let alone at such large departments as Berkeley, Ann Arbor, Wisconsin, and Chapel Hill.

West, for instance, do you think you were rejected at Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, Georgetown for lack of such 'fit'?

I agree with you in that those universities had faculty I who shared my interests. For example, I applied to Stanford -- not Sociology, but Education. They have a lot of work on charter schools and alternative ways of organizing schools. They even run a few. I was interested in studying this from a comparative point of view (I have this background). Surely, they could accomodate me. But their focus is a policy approach, which I'm interested in, but in a derivative way. In any event, I didn't have a proposal that would really fit perfectly with their approach. I'm sure my grades, which were nearly perfect, and my scores, which were high, nor my record -- I have peer-reviewed publications -- were my limiting factors. It's just that something like two spots were available for what I applied, and they're going to -- I imagine -- take the candidates who fit better with their research plan.

I agree with you that there are going to be a lot of people who are rejected from schools simply because they're not accomplished enough. If you have a 3.2 GPA and 1000 GRE, you're not going to Stanford. You can claim it's fit, but we know what is at work. Maybe this is true for me at a Harvard or a Stanford -- I could have had only 1 B on my record, instead of 2. And a few more points on the GRE. Or maybe my unfocused (relatively) personal statement wasn't appropriate for their program, and that shows I'm not a qualified candidate. That's probably true. But that's what I mean by fit. The focus of me vs. them isn't there at the highest level, even if I have the ability to adjust to their program.

In your case -- you got into some top programs, and rejected from equally prestigious ones. Do you really think the difference between Berkeley and Princeton for you was your talent? Or how you match up in raw numbers against the competition? I very much doubt it. Seems more reasonable to think you got into the schools you did because you fit just a little better than other equally talented candidates with what openings were available. It's not really an "excuse" as you say for turning down an applicant. It's a legitimate matter of fitting better than others with just as a good a resume.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

First, I've never heard of this cloning phenomenon. In a good department, a professor shouldn't be worried about cloning students, because they should be in productive collaborative relationships that don't seek to replicate themselves.

Well yeah, in an ideal department, but that's why we're saying to avoid it. It DOES happen. I have a friend in another field at a high-ranked university whose adviser makes him rewrite papers to match his own style and approach - sometimes he even makes him start over with a different topic! Such a nightmare. I also remember one of my young soc professors saying that there's a faculty member from his graduate school who clones; every time one of his graduate students publishes a paper, you can tell right away who their adviser is, because the papers all sound the same.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.