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wilsonrg

PhD Advice for next year?

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This year was my first PhD application cycle which resulted in four rejections, and one waitlist that resulted in a rejection. To give a bit of my background: I had kind of an odd high school experience where I was reading Greek philosophy and political theory (Pretty much from Socrates to Kierkegaard) at 14-17 so my interest in those subjects piqued early. When I was 17/18 I stumbled into John Caputo's writings on Derrida and Christianity. One of the main things I took away from his work was the way every theology assumes a philosophy that makes it coherent, and since then I've been interested in drawing out the philosophical assumptions behind theology.

My undergrad degree is from Belmont in Nashville in Philosophy of Religion where about 60% of my classes were in the theology department and the other 40% was in the philosophy department. When choosing master's programs, I opted for theology over philosophy and went into the MTS at Brite in Fort Worth, partially to be closer to family and partially to study philosophical theology with Namsoon Kang.

When the time came to apply to PhD programs, I felt a bit restrained by some of my theology classes; drawing attention to the philosophical component of whatever is going on was sometimes seen as distracting from the important "explicitly theological" questions. So I opted to apply to four philosophy programs and one religious studies program. (Fordham, Loyola Chicago, DePaul, Duquesne, and UVA, respectively) I had hoped that my undergrad being in philosophy of religion, along with most of my credits at Brite being in the vein of philosophical theology, it would demonstrate some philosophical competency to make me a competitor for these philosophy programs, but I was mistaken.

I was on the waitlist at UVA until May 16th when I received my rejection. I intend to apply there again next year, but I wondered what other departments there are like it. My GPA and GRE are /good/ but not exceptional. I waver around 3.4-3.5 GPA and my highest GRE score (which I intend to re-take) was 157/149/4.5. I know spots like U of Chicago and Boston College are the hot places for people interested in continental philosophy of religion, but I feel as though my numbers aren't high enough to be seriously considered at such departments. My understanding of UVA is that they value your personal "fit" in the department over prior academic achievement. I saw several rejections go out to people with higher GPAs and GREs while I was still being considered. I intend to re-take my GRE, work on getting published/presenting at academic conferences this year, and next year I'll be able to use my MTS thesis as my writing sample which I think will be a much better example of the research I want to pursue.

tl;dr get to the point: Religious Studies/Theology programs with faculty in continental philosophy of religion and/or political theology? Alternatively, are you aware of philosophy programs that might be more apt to admit an MTS?

Edited by wilsonrg

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Were these PhD programs literally in these schools' respective Philosophy Department or was it a focus in philosophy but in the Theology/Religious Studies Department?

If they were actual philosophy departments, you made a costly error. Philosophy departments have a noted bias against people coming over from theology, even more so without a M.A. in Philosophy. Getting accepted into a philosophy program is rather difficult - there's been a resurgence of interest, so most schools have seen an uptick in applicants - coupled with schools generally cutting funded Humanities spots to divert funds to STEM. Also, five schools is, IMO, simply not enough for someone with your stats. When you look at Verbal and Quant scores for successful applicants to philosophy, you're much more likely to see 163+ in both fields and W of 5+. Is your GPA undergrad or grad? A 3.5 from grad school, particularly from Brite, won't be cutting you any favors.

If you made any discussions about reading philosophy and political theory between the ages of 14-18, delete that shit from any Personal Statement you use next time. 1) No one cares, 2) There's 0% chance you understood it in such a way that would be meaningful in a grad program, 3) It gives people the wrong idea of you / it's the wrong kind of bragging.

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The first four schools I listed were philosophy departments, the fifth was UVA's religious studies department. I preferred philosophy programs to theology/RS programs this application cycle at the recommendation of my thesis advisor who admittedly got her PhD in the 80s/90s, and probably doesn't have the best grasp on the current state of grad admissions in other disciplines. I see now there's no real point in applying to PhDs outside of theology/RS no matter how interdisciplinary my work so far has been.

You don't have to point out to me my grades and gre aren't exceptional, I'm well aware bud. I've regularly worked 40+ hours while taking 15+ class hours, I don't have the same grades as someone who has mommy and daddy's money to sit on and I've made peace with it. Also, the number of schools I applied to had more to do with how few departments are working on the intersection of continental philosophy and religion than anything else.

I didn't include comments about my high school education in my statements of purpose, but I do applaud you for reading my post just to find a way to be condescending at every turn, and then not actually answer my question.

 

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@wilsonrg With all due respect, xypathos is not only very respected on the board, but moreover and to the more germane point, his response provided answers that were spot on and lucid. Perhaps it was not in the tone or inflection you desired, they were nonetheless entirely accurate. A tad bit of advice and counsel, the academy is a long arduous road, filled with much more disappointment than success, and if this blunt but totally on point assessment already rankles you, perhaps you need to rethink your attitude as you go down this incredibly long path....

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Lol, okay. Let's take a look together at what just happened so we can all come back to reality.

In my original post I indicated I was looking for religious studies/theology programs with faculty that work in philosophical theology. I acknowledged that I made a mistake by applying to philosophy programs, and that both my grades and my GRE are not spectacular. Then some guy jumps in to tell me I made a big mistake by applying to philosophy programs, that my grades and GRE are too low, and then provide no info on programs that line up with my research interests.

"Accurate" I guess. "Helpful" no. If this is one of your "well respected" posters they aren't exemplifying anything they've done to earn that title in this thread.

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@wilsonrgI suggest you look at the breath and content of many many of his past posts, it’s both extensive and highly comprehensive and accurate on the topic of the study of theology/religion. As well, look at the institutions at which he matriculated—equally impressive—in total, all of it speaks for itself. But, please do what you think is appropriate it with the information.

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I've no doubt his credentials are very impressive, I'm more concerned with his ability to offer advice to people lower down on the food chain in a non-condescending tone. It's not very hard at all.

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I'm fine with you being upset with what I wrote. I could've sprinkled some sugar on it and beat around the bushes, but you need someone in your corner to tell you the hard truth. You clearly didn't have that someone this cycle.

I worked full-time in undergrad, as a line cook and pantry chef. Plenty of people before you, your classmates, and future students worked full-time and still slammed out high grades at probably every university in the US/world. You're nothing special there.

More than five schools work on continental philosophy and religion. That's just poor planning.

If you want to be in a competitive philosophy department you need a M.A. in their field. You can get in to a PhD program without an M.A., your chances are higher than 0% but not by much. If you haven't seen it yet, the PGR (Philosophical Gourmet Report) is considered the preeminent ranking system but it also has a fair share of detractors. Recently Brian Leiter (founder) stepped down from running it and that's for the better - they have a solid Advisory Board in place now. Dailynous.com is also a top site to learn about the field itself, what prof is moving where, where the leaders in the field think the next hot subfields will be, etc.

The people in the Philosophy forum here at GradCafe are far better equipped to handle philosophy questions. I can direct you to some funded M.A. options but they'll know even more. If you're wanting to do a PhD in Religious Studies (or Theology) with a focus in philosophy of religion, I can certainly help there.

My intent was not to hurt your feelings but to simply tell you the truth, nothing more, nothing less.

EDIT: Thanks for the kind words @Boolakanaka!

Edited by xypathos

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I have to say I was taken back by this rather sweeping generalization and conflation that because one works there is somehow a space to rationalize that less than stellar grades are not just OK, but somehow a curated outcome. Further, this assertion that folks who do have money or support are the ones that are leading the pack academically —that borders on a pithy trope—but moreover just not accurate,

Excuse me if I come off a tad tart or terse on this topic, but I’m a old school cat, well past the prime of life, (mid 50s) and for every degree I received, and there are many (BA, JD, LLM, MA) I always worked—there was just no way about going at it, than having to study and work at the same time. 

The struggle is real, but not uncommon or particularly rare just  to you young fella...

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On ‎4‎/‎19‎/‎2019 at 1:19 PM, Boolakanaka said:

I have to say I was taken back by this rather sweeping generalization and conflation that because one works there is somehow a space to rationalize less than stellar grades.

This 110%. Schools sift through hundreds of applications to find what amounts to the 2-10 best students to give fully funded offers to. Why on earth should they care about someone's work status during prior degrees when they are committing hundreds of thousands of dollars in stipend aid to one candidate per specialty?

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To the OP, I just want to reiterate that xypathos is correct that you're not going to get into a philosophy Ph.D program with an M* degree in theology, no matter how philosophical the degree is. Philosophy programs are notoriously protective of "philosophy-as-such," whatever that means, and so typically do not admit anyone they deem to have strayed from that path. 

I work in your field, broadly speaking (continental philosophy of religion), and I think you might consider taking another M* degree both to try and raise your GPA but also to demonstrate that you do philosophy if you really want to get into a philosophy program. UChicago's philosophy of religion program would give you a much, much better chance if added to your credentials. Since they have an internal petition process for MA students to be considered for the Ph.D program, it would greatly increase your chances there as well. 

If you're interested in other religious studies programs besides UVA, I would look into UC Santa Barbara (Tom Carlson), Syracuse, Columbia, and Stanford, although those last two admit philosophy of religion folks only very rarely. The other issue you're going to face (and I know because I faced it as well) is making your project as non-theological as you can. You've situated yourself in a somewhat difficult practical position: Too philosophical for theology programs, too theological for philosophy/RS programs. That's not necessarily a bad thing from a career perspective down the line. Not to toot my own horn, but I feel I've been able to carve out a niche for myself in the AAR and have caught some moderate attention of other scholars whom I respect and have now started to collaborate with. As far as the job market is concerned, it remains to be seen if I'll have any success, but I feel comfortable applying to positions in theology, philosophy of religion (in an RS department), and religious studies (e.g. looking for an expert in Christianity.)

But to get into an RS or philosophy program, you have to sell yourself as doing something that doesn't have theology as the primary focus, even if you engage theological texts. I think completing another MA in a program like UChicago will really help you do that.

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I know it feels difficult to hear tough advice, but I genuinely wish someone had given me advice like that before embarking on graduate school. I'm in my tenth year of college with this year only being my first year of PhD work (4 year undergrad, 3 year MA, 2 year MTS). It's a super long and difficult road. 

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21 hours ago, KA.DINGER.RA said:

I know it feels difficult to hear tough advice, but I genuinely wish someone had given me advice like that before embarking on graduate school. I'm in my tenth year of college with this year only being my first year of PhD work (4 year undergrad, 3 year MA, 2 year MTS). It's a super long and difficult road. 

I just want to second this. Some of the advice in this thread would have saved me some heartache and financial stress this year. Tough love is a great kindness in the long run. 

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Your GPA is average enough to get in with great GREs and great LoRs and a decent writing sample. Simply put, however, your current GREs won't get you anywhere near the top tier of schools like U of Chicago. They will be looking for verbal scores above 165. Even the middling schools will be looking for verbals over 160. That's just the way it is with Phil departments, given the degree of literacy that is required for their programs. Since you can't change your GPA, work on getting your GRE at least into the 162-163 range. That should give you a shot at a desirable program.

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On 4/18/2019 at 7:47 PM, wilsonrg said:

The first four schools I listed were philosophy departments, the fifth was UVA's religious studies department. I preferred philosophy programs to theology/RS programs this application cycle at the recommendation of my thesis advisor who admittedly got her PhD in the 80s/90s, and probably doesn't have the best grasp on the current state of grad admissions in other disciplines. I see now there's no real point in applying to PhDs outside of theology/RS no matter how interdisciplinary my work so far has been.

You don't have to point out to me my grades and gre aren't exceptional, I'm well aware bud. I've regularly worked 40+ hours while taking 15+ class hours, I don't have the same grades as someone who has mommy and daddy's money to sit on and I've made peace with it. Also, the number of schools I applied to had more to do with how few departments are working on the intersection of continental philosophy and religion than anything else.

I didn't include comments about my high school education in my statements of purpose, but I do applaud you for reading my post just to find a way to be condescending at every turn, and then not actually answer my question.

 

Learn to accept criticism. The poster you replied to was just being honest. You're attitude won't do you any favours. I also worked 40+ hours per week while taking more than a full course load, and I have better grades than you. Instead of blaming your life circumstances, look towards what you can do to succeed. Your GRE scores seem to suggest that your grades are in line with your ability rather than some unrealized potential. If hope that you can re-take the GRE, do great and prove me wrong. Your ability to get into a good program will depend on it. But for now, you should be looking inward to figure out whether you are actually cut out for a life in academia.

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