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How Can I Strengthen My Application For Next Cycle?


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I graduated in Spring 2018 and just recently submitted my applications for the 2020 cycle. Now that I’ve had some down time from the constant grind, I’m trying to come up with a backup plan in case things dont go well. I have some strong points in my application, but I’m a little all over the place. For example: 

For undergrad I went to a public institution. I majored in Anthropology, minored in Philosophy.

I had a good undergrad. Two prestigious fellowships, various scholarships and honors, a few research grants, presented at multiple conferences, took a graduate course. 

BUT my letter writers are all over the place. They’re in Antho, Philosophy, and Comp Lit. But they’re all strong letters. I’ve taken courses and conducted research with all the professors. They’re all tenured faculty. Each of them are pretty well known in their fields. One of them (Philosophy) is very well known. So maybe that's in my favor? 

 

So, this year, I applied mostly to interdisciplinary PhD programs (American Studies, Ethnic Studies, etc) and a few history programs, as I know that I want to work with primary sources and historical methods. I finished up my Anthro major because by the time I realized It wasn't what I wanted to do long term I was already almost done with undergrad.  

While my letter writers and disciplinary orientation is a mess, my research topic is focused. I am interested in the wildlife preservation and hunting movement of British East Africa from 1890-1920, looking at it through the lens of Black Studies and critical race theory. 

I recently submitted my applications for the 2020 cycle. I felt like I didnt have ample time to prepare and adequately research programs and think long term strategically. Like checking out funded MA programs or Post Bac programs. Finding departments that really fit my interests. I’m anticipating that Im going to be rejected from the history programs since I dont have formal training. I'll see how the interdiscplinary programs go. 

If things don’t go well, I’m wondering what I can do to make myself a stronger applicant for the next cycle. Should I apply to post bac programs or MA programs for the spring deadline? Is the multiple disciplines of my letter writers a problem that needs to be addressed? Should I situate myself more strongly into a traditional discipline? If so, how do I figure out which one is best for me? And how would I make the convincing case that even though I did not major in it - I could still be a competitive applicant? 

Thanks so much for reading! Any feedback would be much appreciated. 


 

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19 hours ago, Coconuts&Chloroform said:

Did you write your writing sample in bold font?

A bold response. 

 

On 1/1/2020 at 5:56 AM, yuyuuu said:

I graduated in Spring 2018 and just recently submitted my applications for the 2020 cycle. Now that I’ve had some down time from the constant grind, I’m trying to come up with a backup plan in case things dont go well. I have some strong points in my application, but I’m a little all over the place. For example: 

For undergrad I went to a public institution. I majored in Anthropology, minored in Philosophy.

I had a good undergrad. Two prestigious fellowships, various scholarships and honors, a few research grants, presented at multiple conferences, took a graduate course. 

BUT my letter writers are all over the place. They’re in Antho, Philosophy, and Comp Lit. But they’re all strong letters. I’ve taken courses and conducted research with all the professors. They’re all tenured faculty. Each of them are pretty well known in their fields. One of them (Philosophy) is very well known. So maybe that's in my favor? 

 

So, this year, I applied mostly to interdisciplinary PhD programs (American Studies, Ethnic Studies, etc) and a few history programs, as I know that I want to work with primary sources and historical methods. I finished up my Anthro major because by the time I realized It wasn't what I wanted to do long term I was already almost done with undergrad.  

While my letter writers and disciplinary orientation is a mess, my research topic is focused. I am interested in the wildlife preservation and hunting movement of British East Africa from 1890-1920, looking at it through the lens of Black Studies and critical race theory. 

I recently submitted my applications for the 2020 cycle. I felt like I didnt have ample time to prepare and adequately research programs and think long term strategically. Like checking out funded MA programs or Post Bac programs. Finding departments that really fit my interests. I’m anticipating that Im going to be rejected from the history programs since I dont have formal training. I'll see how the interdiscplinary programs go. 

If things don’t go well, I’m wondering what I can do to make myself a stronger applicant for the next cycle. Should I apply to post bac programs or MA programs for the spring deadline? Is the multiple disciplines of my letter writers a problem that needs to be addressed? Should I situate myself more strongly into a traditional discipline? If so, how do I figure out which one is best for me? And how would I make the convincing case that even though I did not major in it - I could still be a competitive applicant? 

Thanks so much for reading! Any feedback would be much appreciated. 


 

The wait period is far from over, @yuyuuu. Sorry if I missed it but have you received an actual rejection yet? And if you do get shut out, I think you answered a lot of your own question as far as feeling as though you didn't have enough time to do more thorough research of programs and possible mentors whose work would gel with the topics and methodologies that interest you. Did you have a chance to reach out to any POIs before applying to suss out their availability and receptiveness to your proposed scholarship? That would have been a great opportunity to get their opinion about the patchwork nature of your academic background, which TBH doesn't strike me as a "mess," especially if you're applying to interdisciplinary programs. The most convincing case you could make are your SOP and writing sample. These will demonstrate more than any letter by a well-known figure or a more consistent undergrad curriculum that you're ready to take on the project you're proposing in your application.

But like I said, the 2020 cycle is not over by a long shot. Good luck!

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On 1/1/2020 at 3:56 AM, yuyuuu said:

Thanks so much for reading! Any feedback would be much appreciated. 

If you are going to be a graduate student in a history program, you need to define yourself as a historian, identify which trajectories of historiography you want to address, and how you anticipate your work will move the needle in each trajectory.

Your emphasis on critical race theory and black studies may need significant reconfiguration. You want to avoid a situation in which you're proposing an approach that is increasingly accepted as something that is cutting edge. You might also benefit from displaying a firm understanding of the appropriate balance between the needs of the profession and one's own political agenda generally and also within each department you would like to join as a graduate student. (Eventually, the quality of your work as a historian will be more important than you dedication to a cause, no matter how important it is.) You want to assure the Powers That Be that you understand that you have some catching up to do and that you're committing to doing it. 

You will also want to communicate to decision makers that while you may use the tools and some of the sensibilities of other disciplines, that you are, in fact, a historian who is loyal to the House of Klio. That is, while the craft of professional academic history may benefit from the use of X from Y discipline, history should not become Y discipline. (If you seek a program where you straddle two disciplines with one being history, you will likely want to send a different message.)

Also, at least for history, leading with your stats likely puts you at a competitive disadvantage right away. Academic historians talk about history and historiography much more than their GPAs and what not. The names of institutions and professors are used as an elegant shorthand to compress schools of thought into a few words that support a focused argument. So "I went to Happyland University and studied under Professor Biles" isn't about bench marking or measuring johnsons, it is saying "So far, my analysis of X centers around A, B, and C."

Additional guidance and resources for applicants to graduate history programs are available in the history fora, but especially at

Lessons Learned: Application Season Debriefings

Rejection Advice

What type of writing samples did you submit?

Crucial Theory for Historians

#HTH

 

 

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On 2/12/2020 at 3:07 PM, Coconuts&Chloroform said:

Did you write your writing sample in bold font?

I find this excessively rude, especially to someone who just wants help.

And truly, with that level of repetitiveness in your own writing (I mean really, "did you write your writing sample?" 🤣), you will certainly make a competent social science writer.

But obviously, if you intend to critique someone's writing, you should at the very least exhibit a higher level of word choice. As a scholar in your writing, you want to show competence and mastery, not condescension and mockery.

Edited by Shakespeares Sister
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Should I apply to post bac programs or MA programs for the spring deadline?

  • If you want to do that. You could also strengthen your application and apply again, or try both. You can also do one after the other. You can even get multiple MAs before getting a PhD.

Is the multiple disciplines of my letter writers a problem that needs to be addressed?

  • No.

Should I situate myself more strongly into a traditional discipline?

  • Yes. Your research and writing should always be situated in conversations that scholars in the field know well.

If so, how do I figure out which one is best for me?

  • If you still have access to your university library, you should read the journal articles from the famous in the fields of the most prestigious journals. When you see their inspiration in the research of the greats, you will find out what works for you.

And how would I make the convincing case that even though I did not major in it - I could still be a competitive applicant?

  • You do not need to have a BA in a subject to be admitted to a PhD program in the same subject. If you are unable to navigate concrete research interests that align with faculty members in the program, your best bet is to simply try to score as high as possible on the statistical measurements (GPA, GRE) so the programs take a chance on you simply because you are smart. Keep in mind, you also need to develop research interests that are rooted in some sort of important scholarship for the programs which you are applying.
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