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Geiseric

Undergrad Interested in Late Antiquity/Early Middle Ages - advice appreciated

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Hello all,

I am currently a junior at a large public university in the Midwest, majoring in History and minoring in German and Medieval Studies. I intend to apply to grad programs next fall, my main interest being the late Roman Empire and the successor kingdoms, especially Late Roman North Africa and the Vandal period. Maybe it's a bit premature, but I want to make sure I'm doing what I can to improve my chances, so I have a few questions I hope someone can shed some light on. 

First, languages. I have pretty good German, and I will have taken the equivalent of 6 semesters by the end of this year (having tested out of the first two semesters as a freshman). My interest in this subfield came rather late, so I have no Latin as of now, which I feel is my biggest weakness. I've been looking into summer intensives, like the CUNY Latin/Greek Institute program, which would work quite well for me since I can take advantage of in-state tuition and live at home while doing it. Is this an appropriate program to look into at this stage? If so, should I look to do it this upcoming summer, and try to take some more advanced Latin courses next year? I also have a (very rusty) foundation in French, having taken three years in high school. 

In terms of interesting programs, I've identified Brown (Conant), Harvard (McCormick), Penn State (Kulikowsky), Princeton (Reimitz), Leicester (Andy Merrills), and Freie Universität Berlin (Stefan Esders). Andy Merrills' work interests me the most right now, though I understand I would need an MA to apply for a European PhD and funding might be hard to come by. Any other people I should be looking into, either as potential advisers or just for exposure to the field?

I've also thought about studying abroad in Germany next fall, hopefully at FUB, but I'm not sure if I'd be better off doing coursework here, especially since I'll be doing applications then. Undergrads also have the opportunity to do research projects advised by faculty (separate from the senior capstone thesis), would that be of value to my applications? 

Thanks for your input!

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Prof. Eric Rebillard at Cornell might suit you - I believe Christianity is his main interest but he has done extensive work on Late Roman North Africa/Late Antiquity in general. He's very friendly, so an email couldn't hurt. He will be on research leave throughout Fall 2020 though.

Your Latin will be a disadvantage (but not a deal-breaker), and any intensive programs you are able to take will definitely help. Try to do some independent study on your own as well, being able to state on your SOP that you have been working on teaching yourself (x language) in addition to taking intensive courses can reflect well on your drive, as well as help to alleviate any concerns the reviewers may have. Having some French and German also really helps so be sure to state that.

Also, be sure you produce a writing sample in the field you're looking to work in. A research projected advised by faculty may be a good way to do that, but I'll defer to people who actually did their undergrad/masters here in the US and are able to actually speak from experience. If that Prof. Esders bloke is a big name in your field then working with him could be a big boon for you personally & professionally, even if you don't end up doing a PhD with him.

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I have a non-field-specific piece of advice: Drop the undergrad in your applications. 

Grad school is not about "chances", it's about having a strong application that evidences potential (which is ironic, right?). So, it's not about ticking things off a list, although sometimes it might feel like that. You should demonstrate ability to read your sources (so @telkanuru correct me if I'm wrong), so Latin should be a priority. 

Doing a secondary project besides your thesis could be useful, but I'd connect it to your thesis (either as a chapter or a section of a chapter). But my point is, do not think that more things is better. Graduate school is about the questions you have and how you try to answer them.

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McCormick is an old adviser and Conant is on my diss committee, and of course the latter was the former's student. McC is fairly absolutist when it comes to languages (as befits a trained and ardent philologist), but Jonathan just took a student with German and little Latin, so there's possibly a bit of hope for you there? You should also consider learning Arabic.

The list of professors is solid! Others, like Kyle Harper, are not at institutions I can recommend attending in this job market - even PSU is a bit touch and go there. 

Just looking at recent acceptances, I don't see you having a good shot at any of these programs without a good MA or a Fullbright year, for what that's worth.

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Thanks for the feedback everyone, it’s much appreciated. 

I’ve started to think it may be best for me to take the full four years for undergrad (I previously planned to finish in 3). That could give me two years of Latin and I could also do two years of another language (Greek? Arabic?). Would that be worthwhile? If I did that I would probably also do a minor in Classical Archaeology.

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On 9/24/2019 at 12:55 PM, Geiseric said:

Undergrads also have the opportunity to do research projects advised by faculty (separate from the senior capstone thesis), would that be of value to my applications? 

Please clarify. At your current institution, what is the deliverable of a "senior capstone thesis"? How would it differ from a traditional undergraduate thesis and a faculty advised research project?

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46 minutes ago, Sigaba said:

Please clarify. At your current institution, what is the deliverable of a "senior capstone thesis"? How would it differ from a traditional undergraduate thesis and a faculty advised research project?

I understand the capstone thesis as being the same as a traditional undergraduate thesis. An independent research project advised by faculty is not for credit and not part of graduation requirements like the thesis is. 

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30 minutes ago, TMP said:

What does the thesis consist of?  Primary source research?

It can. I think my best move would be to work on my languages and write a solid thesis senior year, using those language(s) and primary source research of course. 

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On 10/11/2019 at 11:58 AM, Geiseric said:

I’ve started to think it may be best for me to take the full four years for undergrad (I previously planned to finish in 3). That could give me two years of Latin and I could also do two years of another language (Greek? Arabic?). Would that be worthwhile?

Or look at a 2 year MA, or a Fullbright app. There's nothing particularly notable about taking more undergraduate courses, especially if you can be doing instead of just sitting in class. A couple semesters of, say, Arabic looks good, but a year in Marrakesh (or Seville) looks better, for example - and it would probably actually give you more useful skills. Going in straight from undergraduate is very rare these days, in any case.

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On 10/11/2019 at 5:01 PM, Geiseric said:

It can. I think my best move would be to work on my languages and write a solid thesis senior year, using those language(s) and primary source research of course. 

If you write your thesis next spring rather than next fall, you'll have a completed work that could serve as your writing sample and the experience could inform your SoP for the better and you may develop a relationship with someone who can write you a strong LoR.

$0.02.

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I second Cornell. Apply to the Medieval Studies Program, which would involve skewing your application a tiny bit more medieval. Once in the program, you can work on whatever (and with whoever) you want. A lot of Cornell MS people work Late Antique. Latin is important, so the intensive program would be a plus but simply taking a Latin course or two would be fine (I got in having taken only an intensive summer course). For Rebillard, having Greek would be a plus on your application. Kim Haines-Eitzen is another person to look at for Cornell. Also, if you apply to Cornell, email the grad school and tell them you have no money and ask them to waive the application fee---they will. The Toronto Latin exam is no longer required at Cornell. MS students have recently appealed to the department to no longer require GRE. That requirement should be removed by the time you apply. The MS program is very collegial and not competitive at all. 

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On 9/24/2019 at 3:55 PM, Geiseric said:

Hello all,

I am currently a junior at a large public university in the Midwest, majoring in History and minoring in German and Medieval Studies. I intend to apply to grad programs next fall, my main interest being the late Roman Empire and the successor kingdoms, especially Late Roman North Africa and the Vandal period. Maybe it's a bit premature, but I want to make sure I'm doing what I can to improve my chances, so I have a few questions I hope someone can shed some light on. 

First, languages. I have pretty good German, and I will have taken the equivalent of 6 semesters by the end of this year (having tested out of the first two semesters as a freshman). My interest in this subfield came rather late, so I have no Latin as of now, which I feel is my biggest weakness. I've been looking into summer intensives, like the CUNY Latin/Greek Institute program, which would work quite well for me since I can take advantage of in-state tuition and live at home while doing it. Is this an appropriate program to look into at this stage? If so, should I look to do it this upcoming summer, and try to take some more advanced Latin courses next year? I also have a (very rusty) foundation in French, having taken three years in high school. 

In terms of interesting programs, I've identified Brown (Conant), Harvard (McCormick), Penn State (Kulikowsky), Princeton (Reimitz), Leicester (Andy Merrills), and Freie Universität Berlin (Stefan Esders). Andy Merrills' work interests me the most right now, though I understand I would need an MA to apply for a European PhD and funding might be hard to come by. Any other people I should be looking into, either as potential advisers or just for exposure to the field?

I've also thought about studying abroad in Germany next fall, hopefully at FUB, but I'm not sure if I'd be better off doing coursework here, especially since I'll be doing applications then. Undergrads also have the opportunity to do research projects advised by faculty (separate from the senior capstone thesis), would that be of value to my applications? 

Thanks for your input!

Current Harvard PhD student here - to my knowledge, McCormick students are often funded through this program called the "Initiative for the Science of the Human Past at Harvard." Basically McCormick has been working on this for a while and many of his recent admits are working on it as well, so they are funded through the program and not through the graduate school. That being said, I have a person in my cohort who is working with McCormick. I can connect you if you'd like.

https://sohp.fas.harvard.edu/ 

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I know this is an old thread but I'm also chiming in to say you should definitely look at Cornell! Eric Rebillard is the obvious person as people have mentioned but you could also look at Ben Anderson or Kim Haines-Eitzen. Ben is on my committee and he's great. Latin will definitely be important but honestly the MS program is pretty understanding that not everyone is great at Latin when you start the program. I got in with only a single year of intro Latin, although since I don't really work with Latin texts it's less important for my project. I'm adjacent-ish to your interests and I'm happy to message you about Cornell if you have questions. 

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