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xenophon123

Advises Needed: Should I quit current master program and apply for a history PhD/MA?

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Hi, I am new to this site so please correct me if I am doing anything wrong. 

I just graduated from a top 50 university last year and got into a master program immediately after graduation. My undergraduate majors are history and sociology. But the funny thing is I am studying computer science in graduate school. But after one year's study I found CS is not as fascinating and marketable as I expected before. So I am considering to come back to my original interest: history. 

So the question is: is it possible for persons with similar background to get a funded MA/PhD offer in history / sociology? If I decide to re-enter the field of history, should I directly apply for PhD? Finally, is there any interdisciplinary program which can let me take advantage of my CS experience?

Any advises & comments are truly appreciated. 

P.S. I still have a valid GRE score and could probably get a few reference letters from my undergraduate professors. 

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First, I would make sure to ask yourself if this is really what you want to devote the next 7-9 years to. A history degree is hardly more marketable than computer science. I would also think hard about why you want to study history, what specific historical questions interest you, and whether contemporary academic scholarship matches your intellectual and artistic vision.

There is a list of funded history master’s programs that frequently gets mentioned and linked to. I would start there; I think a PhD would be a tall order at this point. A history master’s would give you the opportunity to focus your interests, but I wouldn’t take out debt for it. 

Hope someone can answer the CS question.

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Why did you decide to go into computer science for graduate school?  What does graduate school mean for you?  What are your career goals?

FWIW, there is a growing popularity in the history of science, technology, environment, and medicine so if you are interested in those areas, then finishing the MS may be your best bet. You'd at least demonstrate that  you understand science and technology for what these fields did for the living world.

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I suggest that you stay on your current path to earn a MS in CS.

  • If you're required to do an outside field, look into taking two graduate-level history classes: a reading seminar and a research class. Ideally, the history classes will allow for some overlap with CS.
  • If you're not required to do an outside field, try to find a way to specialize in CS as it may relate to the craft of history.

Either way, work on developing relationships with professors in your current program so that you can earn strong letters of recommendation.

If you apply to a graduate history program with a MS in CS, do seek admission as a doctoral student. (You'll likely be required to earn a master's one way or another before reaching candidacy) For your outside field, do more CS work. For your language requirements, if you're an Americanist, see if you can get a computer language to count as one of your two slots.

If you want to make money, find a niche in which you can bridge the gap among boosters of "disruptive" technology, venture capitalists, and municipalities. There's a lot of snake oil being sold out there right now. You can make a good living by selling more oil, or venom, or anti-venom.

 

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Stepping in from an adjacent field (religious studies) with my two cents on the relationship between CS and your historical interests.

In my view, vital to the question of whether you should stay in your program or try to switch soon is the issue of research interests. What area of history would you like to focus on, and what approaches or methods might you bring in? Conversely, is your CS degree mostly training you to be a "code monkey," or does it include a substantial theoretical or mathematical component? Neither of these is necessarily bad, but they will affect your set of "hard skills" and ability to spin your training for history.

In my own sub-field, there is a growing interest in digital approaches to pre-modern texts and especially "digital philology," which can include things like OCR, various sorts of technological analyses of manuscripts, and even word frequency analysis. A background in CS could let you fit right in here, and a background in theory could allow you to contribute to fundamental questions and developments in this field that some scholars working with these methods might not be qualified to discuss. This could merge into various approaches based on computational linguistics and, job-wise, could lead into archival or library work in addition to academia.

As noted above you could always go the history of science/technology/mathematics route. Don't assume that because your training in CS you have to focus on the past two centuries -- computation theory runs surprisingly deep and a good CS graduate degree should give you a set of technical skills that you can place in dialogue with much earlier forms of scientific and technical thought with the proper historiographic foundation.

Also, since your background is also in sociology, you could use CS as a framework to study media/mass cultural phenomena. Here, again, the technical background could be quite helpful and give you an edge on other job/grad school applicants in your area. Her work is more in the realm of anthropology, but E. Gabriella Coleman's work on the hacker movement is a good example of what you can do with a strong foundation in the humanities and a semi-technical knowledge of computers and code.

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Thank you all for the thoughtful replies. They help a lot. 

Some of you asked why I choose to pursue a CS master. Frankly speaking, I did this purely for the fast-growing job market and high salaries of CS related careers.  Before attending the graduate school, I thought I could overcome the pain of studying CS and forget about history. But after spending one year on coding, I just found it is not that easy to wipe my interest of history and sociology. So I am kind of in a dilemma right now. I have already spent a lot of time & money on this CS program. Meanwhile, I assume it may be harder for me to apply for history PhD/Masters as a CS graduate.  I think staying at my current program for now and looking for potential opportunities after graduation may be a feasible solution. However, is it possible for me to work for a few years and then do the applications? My undergraduate and graduate school have costed my parents nearly half millions of dollars and I don't want to ask for their money after graduation. 

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@xenophon123  I'd suggest actually finishing the degree, not just to make your parents happy but to show to adcoms that you are capable of finishing a graduate school degree.  PhD is a long-term commitment. 

The last line is really between you and your parents.  Know that PhD stipends are generally lower than those in the STEM, simply because we're in the humanities and not able to garner the kind of funding that STEM PIs can get from NSF, NIH etc. There will be plenty of hidden costs beyond typical school fees such as conference travel, health insurance (if your program doesn't cover 100%), etc. I also advise that if you are already carrying loans, try to work for a few years to pay some back.  It's very difficult to pay off student loans while living on PhD stipend. No degree is worth the additional interest when in deferment (meaning you're not paying the loans while you're a full-time student).

What is your end goal with a history graduate degree?

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OP, I think it's important that if you're going to go down the history of science/computing history, you take a higher level seminar in STS sooner rather than later (assuming you haven't already). Or at least pick up an STS reader. You might find the mind-bending, theory-laden writing about historical epistemology bracing and fascinating. Or...

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You could definitely merge CS with historical interests.  As others have mentioned, you could specialize a history of technology.  You could also look into opportunities in digital humanities (which is basically creating tech tools to assist with historical or literary research and interpretation -- a field where both coding skills and a background in history would be valuable).  Another possibility is library work (including special collections, archives, research libraries, etc.), which more and more has a tech component to it.

As you are probably aware, in switching from CS to the humanities and/or nonprofit work, you would be moving from a high-paid field to a low-paid field.  This could have a lot of repercussions for your life to come.  Many people I know in the field are struggling financially, finding it difficult to do things like buy a house. They often take on side jobs to bolster their savings or pay down debts.  Those who are living a typical middle-class or upper-middle-class lifestyle often have a supportive spouse.  

Also, no field is perfect -- before you switch, you should consider your situation to make sure you aren't falling prey to "grass is greener" syndrome.  

Can you hold out to finish your CS degree?  It could serve you well in the future to have it, whether you decide to stay in tech or move into history.  If you have loans, could you possibly snag a lucrative tech job afterward to pay them down before going on to more grad school? 

There are funded MA programs in history. Search the forum for some threads on that. Do not go into debt for a history MA if you can at all help it.

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On 6/11/2019 at 12:41 AM, TMP said:

FWIW, there is a growing popularity in the history of science, technology, environment, and medicine so if you are interested in those areas, then finishing the MS may be your best bet. You'd at least demonstrate that  you understand science and technology for what these fields did for the living world.

I can't say I agree with you here. The history of science/tech/medicine market has always been very small and not particularly robust. History of science is kind of in a liminal position right now. There's been an ongoing trend towards history of science departments/programs consolidating into history programs, which is not good in the long term for history of science.

Certain areas of history of science are particularly trendy right now, but the field as a whole is much less so.

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