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Hi all,

I just learned that two programs that are top on my list (Yale ma/phd and Uchicago Art history phd) are both suspending their graduate program admission during the 2021 admission cycle because of covid-19. This will have major impact on my plans since I was going to apply to both programs in this fall. I'm scared that more programs on my list will make the same decision. And I'm also really scared that this will make the 2022 fall round extra competitive because there will be more students applying in the same round. 

I also have some other programs on my list that have not suspended their admission this fall (yet). I might still apply for them but I'm also really conflicted because Yale and Chicago are top on my list because there are faculty members I really want to work with in both programs. Also it wasn't easy for me to find suitable programs in the first place because I want to focus on contemporary East Asian and not every school has faculty who focus on this area. 

A bit about myself, I'm currently a rising senior at a small liberal arts college, majoring in art history. My school offers a AB/MA program so I also have the option of staying here for one more year and get a master in Art history and then apply to phd in fall 2022. I didn't consider this in the first place because even though my school has a solid art history graduate program, I would prefer to experience different programs and go to a larger university for my graduate studies. But it might be a good choice for me in this pandemic? 

Any general advice on what to do? Should I apply this fall to programs on my list that are still accepting students this fall or wait until next fall? If I decide to wait, should I stay and get the one-year MA at my school or go do something else (like get a job or internship in museums if I can in this pandemic)? 

Also, if you're someone who's experiencing the same struggle right now, what are your plans?

Edited by paprika21
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Hi!

This situation has been really uncertain and messed up our plans, so I get your concern!

If I were you, I would first contact the faculty or department administrator at the other universities you were considering applying to and ask about their admission plans this cycle. Maybe that could give you a clearer picture what your other options are and if you could see yourself in those programs. 

However, if Uchicago and Yale are your top choices, I think waiting one year to apply while you get your MA at your current university could be a smart move. Most applicants to PhD programs already come in with their MA and work experience, so you could use this upcoming year to do research at graduate level and present yourself as a more competitive candidate.

Unfortunately, I do think next admissions cycle will be more competitive, so keep that in mind. Personally, I am taking the MA before PhD route precisely for that reason.

Hope this helps and good luck!

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Hi,

I wanted to add a little perspective as a current PhD candidate at an ivy currently organizing to pressure my department to follow Yale and Chicago in suspending admissions for Fall 2021. The response of most programs to the disruptions presented by the pandemic has been atrocious. PhD students of all disciplines find themselves looking at what amounts to a year loss of progress towards degree--many students have had to abandon research in the US and abroad, obviously library access has been severely limited. Hiring freezes set in pretty quickly after the pandemic's outset, so the class of students meant to defend this year have had to drum up funding to keep themselves afloat, with no guarantee that any kind of job market will exist next year.

At my institution, after a flurry of action largely organized by our student union in the Spring,  university admin made it clear that the only way departments could issue a blanket funding extension for current grads would be to forgo future admits. Every slot canceled frees up 10 semesters of funding to be redistributed among current students. I imagine the decisions at Yale and Chicago were made under similar conditions. This is a form of austerity, and all evidence points to it getting worse, not better in upper ed, with, as usual, outsize effect on the humanities.

I think its quite easy to focus on "how" to get into grad school rather than "why" to go to grad school (which this forum obviously abets). Now more than ever I would urge all prospective PhD applicants to REALLY think deeply about the latter. To be able to ask yourself and answer honestly: am I emotionally, mentally, and financially capable of putting 5-7 years of work into a career path that most likely will not lead to employment in my field?

Towards answering this latter question and getting a better idea of the wrecked landscape that is graduate work in the humanities currently I highly recommend perusing discussions on the Chronicle of Higher Education such as: https://www.chronicle.com/article/how-the-coronavirus-will-or-should-transform-graduate-education/

and also discussions on Karen Kelsky's website: http://theprofessorisin.com/ 

(her 2015 book "The Professor is In" remains a really useful read)

 

Edited by vivodito
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Have you considered doing an MA elsewhere instead? Tufts, Williams, and Courtauld (one year) have the top rated programs. I'm going to the Courtauld and they do have a specialist in contemporary Asian art. You should also look into applying to fellowships such as Fulbright as an alternative. I would definitely hold off on applying for a PhD if you can't apply to your top programs (i'll probably be in the same boat) because you shouldn't compromise on something that is such a long term, career-defining commitment.

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On 8/15/2020 at 12:00 PM, vivodito said:

Hi,

I wanted to add a little perspective as a current PhD candidate at an ivy currently organizing to pressure my department to follow Yale and Chicago in suspending admissions for Fall 2021. The response of most programs to the disruptions presented by the pandemic has been atrocious. PhD students of all disciplines find themselves looking at what amounts to a year loss of progress towards degree--many students have had to abandon research in the US and abroad, obviously library access has been severely limited. Hiring freezes set in pretty quickly after the pandemic's outset, so the class of students meant to defend this year have had to drum up funding to keep themselves afloat, with no guarantee that any kind of job market will exist next year.

At my institution, after a flurry of action largely organized by our student union in the Spring,  university admin made it clear that the only way departments could issue a blanket funding extension for current grads would be to forgo future admits. Every slot canceled frees up 10 semesters of funding to be redistributed among current students. I imagine the decisions at Yale and Chicago were made under similar conditions. This is a form of austerity, and all evidence points to it getting worse, not better in upper ed, with, as usual, outsize effect on the humanities.

I think its quite easy to focus on "how" to get into grad school rather than "why" to go to grad school (which this forum obviously abets). Now more than ever I would urge all prospective PhD applicants to REALLY think deeply about the latter. To be able to ask yourself and answer honestly: am I emotionally, mentally, and financially capable of putting 5-7 years of work into a career path that most likely will not lead to employment in my field?

Towards answering this latter question and getting a better idea of the wrecked landscape that is graduate work in the humanities currently I highly recommend perusing discussions on the Chronicle of Higher Education such as: https://www.chronicle.com/article/how-the-coronavirus-will-or-should-transform-graduate-education/

and also discussions on Karen Kelsky's website: http://theprofessorisin.com/ 

(her 2015 book "The Professor is In" remains a really useful read)

 

IF YOU ARE THINKING OF APPLYING PLEASE READ

I have lurked these forums for years since first thinking of attending a graduate program in art history in 2012. I finished my PhD this spring from a top-tier program and I now feel more than ever that it is imperative for me to loudly voice what is, in some ways, a cruel but honest truth about this system: A PhD in art history is a bad idea.

Everything vivodito mentioned above is true. To add anecdote to fact I will say I had a tenure-track job at a decent liberal arts college revoked this summer because the department put a hiring freeze in place and is now cutting funds. I am now returning to a competitive field of recent elite PhDs from this graduating cycle in addition to those lingering from nearly a decade of cycles past. I have colleagues who are brilliant, and whom I adore, who finished their degrees in 2012–14, in the early recovery post 08' recession, who have spent a decade now trapped in adjunct hell, working 3 jobs a semester at different universities to make ends meet. The constant demands on their working hours means they are never able to do the kind of work museums or schools want to see in their hirees. They will never find stable jobs in the field but that doesn't stop them from competing with those of us graduating now. The finalists last year for Columbia's unfilled architecture spot where largely c.2014 grads. We should loudly sing the praises of those like Prof. Ilene Forsyth at UMich who had the immense foresight and ability to endow chairs on her way out, but sadly most institutions do not have such saints.

If the dimming prospects of the field don't dissuade you, think about the PhD itself. It is a horrible and arduous process that is, somehow, simultaneously full of some of the most amazing, fulfilling, and formulating experiences you will ever have. Especially if you are just finishing undergrad, know this, you will give your 20's to this process. Your non-academic friends will be establishing careers, getting raises, maybe even starting families or buying houses. You will be married to your work, your dissertation, and your classroom. You will make less than $30k if you are lucky. You might have health insurance, you might have labor rights. If you are lucky you will also see the world, meet inspiring minds, make friends for life, and learn more about yourself as a human (not just as an intellect) than you are prepared for. [I am going to get grilled for this, knowing this forum, but] EVEN THESE SILVER LININGS ARE NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE IF YOU ARE NOT IN ONE OF THE TOP TIER PROGRAMS. We no longer live in a world where the independently wealthy whimsically dig mummies at the behest of colonial Egypt. If your department cannot: pay you living wages, ensure full health insurance, provide ample time to complete the program (5-7 years), protect your rights as a laborer in the department DO NOT GO TO THAT INSTITUTION. You will be taking on debt you can never recover from and placing yourself in serious harm. For all my struggles this past year I have watched friends and colleagues from places like UWisconsin and UCLA absolutely suffer over the past 8 years. Imaging working a full-time job (your studies) on top of which you must teach (another part- to full-time job) after which you either make "Extremely Low Wages" (HUD's classification one step above poverty) while living in the 9th most expensive city in the US (UCLA) with no ability to unionize and demand better working conditions OR make NOTHING if UWisconsin cannot scrounge the funding for a stipend on top of your fee waivers. This is nothing against the quality of the professors in these institutions and the students they produce but know this: Yale and Harvard send at least one class a semester abroad on study trips (to places like Russia, the UAE, and Mexico) because they have the money to do that on top of paying their students over $30K for 7 years. Imagine entering the job market out of UWisc. where you never had the funding to travel to your sources, time to truly invest in your work, or chances to network locally and abroad. Now know you are against a Yalie who had the time and support to go to every conference, travel to Russia on Yale's dime, write a solid dissertation because they didn't have to TA after year 3, and spent the night before the CAA interview in a fancy hotel they could afford on their real (albeit still meagre) stipend. This is also not to mention the cruel and classist stigma of hiring committees: I once had an ivy-league professor (old white man) tell me that ivies don't hire graduates of non-ivies, "you can only ever move horizontally or down in the pecking order," which is, thankfully, not a universal truth, but one that still lingers painfully on.

"Okay, I'll apply to one of the top programs then." Not this year. As mentioned above, in the (I would argue correct) demands and interests of their current students, many programs are cutting admissions to support current candidates. Yale and Chicago are skipping the whole year. The IFA is reducing admissions to half for at least a year. UPenn is considering something similar. Assuming they will not also make such drastic changes, you can guarantee Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Berkeley, and Michigan will all also be slimming their usual 12 or so a year down to maybe 8-10. That's potentially up to HALF the number of genuinely funded and supported spots available in top-tier American programs for this application cycle. And you can bet rejected students will be applying again next year, meaning the application pool will only be growing. [we can argue over who is and is not in that top tier but each of those programs pays living wages, insures their students, is overly represented in major fellowships like Kress and CASVA, and in new hires. Only ONE (IFA) is fully unionized, ensuring students are paid extra when they choose to teach as compensation for extra labor]

If you have made it this far please hear me out, none of this is a reason not to apply. When I was finishing my undergraduate I was deeply in love (and still am) with the field of art history and gave myself gladly and fully to a senior thesis supervised by my favorite professor who was caring and helpful and incredibly supportive. What he told me come application time was crucial: "If you can imagine yourself doing anything other than a PhD in art history then you should not be applying for a PhD." At the time I was a little hurt and took it as his admonition of my unreadiness for graduate school. What I have realized since is that 1. he tells this to all his good students and 2. the process of getting a PhD in art history is mentally, emotionally, and physically (yes, books are heavy) destructive work that will chew you up and spit you out into an even more grueling and horrible world, and if you are not so enamored of, so head-over-heels-crazy about doing this insane thing, weathering all the long nights, sacrifices of friends and family, and meagre living standards then you must (not should, must) turn elsewhere. It is no mark against you. There are brilliant, interesting, passionate, and powerful people doing all sorts of things other than PhDs in art history and I encourage you to think long and hard, especially now, if you are one of those people. If you can imagine yourself doing anything other than a PhD in art history—and I mean anything: an MBA, law school, finance, a start up, tech, medicine, hell, even history (those guys can get cushy state department jobs)—then you should not be applying for a PhD in art history.

If you can look yourself in the mirror and know that you are willing to weather the horrifying tempest that is dying humanities, collapsing departments, under-supportive programs, and a field that is only just (but thankfully is) beginning to deal with its historically myopic fixation on white-western-male-centric topics then I wish you the best of luck, godspeed, and may you and all those like you save us all.

Edited by wt2020
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1 hour ago, wt2020 said:

IF YOU ARE THINKING OF APPLYING PLEASE READ

I have lurked these forums for years since first thinking of attending a graduate program in art history in 2012. I finished my PhD this spring from a top-tier program and I now feel more than ever that it is imperative for me to loudly voice what is, in some ways, a cruel but honest truth about this system: A PhD in art history is a bad idea.

Everything vivodito mentioned above is true. To add anecdote to fact I will say I had a tenure-track job at a decent liberal arts college revoked this summer because the department put a hiring freeze in place and is now cutting funds. I am now returning to a competitive field of recent elite PhDs from this graduating cycle in addition to those lingering from nearly a decade of cycles past. I have colleagues who are brilliant, and whom I adore, who finished their degrees in 2012–14, in the early recovery post 08' recession, who have spent a decade now trapped in adjunct hell, working 3 jobs a semester at different universities to make ends meet. The constant demands on their working hours means they are never able to do the kind of work museums or schools want to see in their hirees. They will never find stable jobs in the field but that doesn't stop them from competing with those of us graduating now. The finalists last year for Columbia's unfilled architecture spot where largely c.2014 grads. We should loudly sing the praises of those like Prof. Ilene Forsyth at UMich who had the immense foresight and ability to endow chairs on her way out, but sadly most institutions do not have such saints.

If the dimming prospects of the field don't dissuade you, think about the PhD itself. It is a horrible and arduous process that is, somehow, simultaneously full of some of the most amazing, fulfilling, and formulating experiences you will ever have. Especially if you are just finishing undergrad, know this, you will give your 20's to this process. Your non-academic friends will be establishing careers, getting raises, maybe even starting families or buying houses. You will be married to your work, your dissertation, and your classroom. You will make less than $30k if you are lucky. You might have health insurance, you might have labor rights. If you are lucky you will also see the world, meet inspiring minds, make friends for life, and learn more about yourself as a human (not just as an intellect) than you are prepared for. [I am going to get grilled for this, knowing this forum, but] EVEN THESE SILVER LININGS ARE NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE IF YOU ARE NOT IN ONE OF THE TOP TIER PROGRAMS. We no longer live in a world where the independently wealthy whimsically dig mummies at the behest of colonial Egypt. If your department cannot: pay you living wages, ensure full health insurance, provide ample time to complete the program (5-7 years), protect your rights as a laborer in the department DO NOT GO TO THAT INSTITUTION. You will be taking on debt you can never recover from and placing yourself in serious harm. For all my struggles this past year I have watched friends and colleagues from places like UWisconsin and UCLA absolutely suffer over the past 8 years. Imaging working a full-time job (your studies) on top of which you must teach (another part- to full-time job) after which you either make "Extremely Low Wages" (HUD's classification one step above poverty) while living in the 9th most expensive city in the US (UCLA) with no ability to unionize and demand better working conditions OR make NOTHING if UWisconsin cannot scrounge the funding for a stipend on top of your fee waivers. This is nothing against the quality of the professors in these institutions and the students they produce but know this: Yale and Harvard send at least one class a semester abroad on study trips (to places like Russia, the UAE, and Mexico) because they have the money to do that on top of paying their students over $30K for 7 years. Imagine entering the job market out of UWisc. where you never had the funding to travel to your sources, time to truly invest in your work, or chances to network locally and abroad. Now know you are against a Yalie who had the time and support to go to every conference, travel to Russia on Yale's dime, write a solid dissertation because they didn't have to TA after year 3, and spent the night before the CAA interview in a fancy hotel they could afford on their real (albeit still meagre) stipend. This is also not to mention the cruel and classist stigma of hiring committees: I once had an ivy-league professor (old white man) tell me that ivies don't hire graduates of non-ivies, "you can only ever move horizontally or down in the pecking order," which is, thankfully, not a universal truth, but one that still lingers painfully on.

"Okay, I'll apply to one of the top programs then." Not this year. As mentioned above, in the (I would argue correct) demands and interests of their current students, many programs are cutting admissions to support current candidates. Yale and Chicago are skipping the whole year. The IFA is reducing admissions to half for at least a year. UPenn is considering something similar. Assuming they will not also make such drastic changes, you can guarantee Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Berkeley, and Michigan will all also be slimming their usual 12 or so a year down to maybe 8-10. That's potentially up to HALF the number of genuinely funded and supported spots available in top-tier American programs for this application cycle. And you can bet rejected students will be applying again next year, meaning the application pool will only be growing. [we can argue over who is and is not in that top tier but each of those programs pays living wages, insures their students, is overly represented in major fellowships like Kress and CASVA, and in new hires. Only ONE (IFA) is fully unionized, ensuring students are paid extra when they choose to teach as compensation for extra labor]

If you have made it this far please hear me out, none of this is a reason not to apply. When I was finishing my undergraduate I was deeply in love (and still am) with the field of art history and gave myself gladly and fully to a senior thesis supervised by my favorite professor who was caring and helpful and incredibly supportive. What he told me come application time was crucial: "If you can imagine yourself doing anything other than a PhD in art history then you should not be applying for a PhD." At the time I was a little hurt and took it as his admonition of my unreadiness for graduate school. What I have realized since is that 1. he tells this to all his good students and 2. the process of getting a PhD in art history is mentally, emotionally, and physically (yes, books are heavy) destructive work that will chew you up and spit you out into an even more grueling and horrible world, and if you are not so enamored of, so head-over-heels-crazy about doing this insane thing, weathering all the long nights, sacrifices of friends and family, and meagre living standards then you must (not should, must) turn elsewhere. It is no mark against you. There are brilliant, interesting, passionate, and powerful people doing all sorts of things other than PhDs in art history and I encourage you to think long and hard, especially now, if you are one of those people. If you can imagine yourself doing anything other than a PhD in art history—and I mean anything: an MBA, law school, finance, a start up, tech, medicine, hell, even history (those guys can get cushy state department jobs)—then you should not be applying for a PhD in art history.

If you can look yourself in the mirror and know that you are willing to weather the horrifying tempest that is dying humanities, collapsing departments, under-supportive programs, and a field that is only just (but thankfully is) beginning to deal with its historically myopic fixation on white-western-male-centric topics then I wish you the best of luck, godspeed, and may you and all those like you save us all.

EVERY. WORD. OF. THIS.

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For those who are thinking about applying: I want to offer a response to wt2020's post, from the perspective of someone similarly situated (recent PhD recipient from a top program, also had the rug yanked out from under me this job cycle). 

I agree with a lot of the content of the post, particularly that one's university should "pay you living wages, ensure full health insurance, provide ample time to complete the program (5-7 years), protect your rights as a laborer in the department" (though I note that graduate student workers at UCLA are indeed unionized - https://uaw2865.org/about-our-union/). However I find the tone to be too flippant and very gate-keepy -- I'm wary of recent PhD's whose impulse is to slam the door behind them, and warn everyone else away on anonymous forums.  

To the many soon-to-be PhD students who are queer, and/or poor, and/or disabled, and/or for whatever reasons don't have a normative relationship to the expectation of long-lasting stability: the idea that getting a PhD is a choice to suffer and fall behind one's "non-academic friends" who are "establishing careers, getting raises, maybe even starting families or buying houses" may ring hollow... and that's okay. For many, having access to university health insurance and student health centers (and mental health counseling), an institutional affiliation for the next 5-7 years, and a stipend for at least part of that time (even at public research universities) can open a lot of doors and may offer so much more stability than the alternatives. Particularly in this moment, as the restaurant industry is collapsing and public-facing, service industry jobs aren't safe (especially for the immunocompromised). And since we don't know how long Covid-19 will pose acute danger, for many going to graduate school in this moment may actually be a good idea.

Having said that: no one should pursue a PhD in Art History with the expectation that there is a tenure-track job waiting at the other end -- but I also think prospective students have already been disabused of that idea. 

Yes, it's very much a good idea apply to top, well-funded programs. And/or if you do choose to pursue a PhD at a public research university, do it with eyes wide open, and a full understanding of what your funding package looks like, what opportunities are guaranteed, which one's you'll have to apply for, etc. And given that many programs are suspending and reducing admissions this cycle, it may indeed be prudent to wait out this cycle, particularly if you have a viable alternative thing to do (if a funded MA is an option, do it!). But -- you may also have very good reasons for applying to PhD programs this cycle, and accepting an offer from a public research university... trust that. 
 

Edited by qwer_asdf
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On 8/20/2020 at 9:58 AM, wt2020 said:

IF YOU ARE THINKING OF APPLYING PLEASE READ

I have lurked these forums for years since first thinking of attending a graduate program in art history in 2012. I finished my PhD this spring from a top-tier program and I now feel more than ever that it is imperative for me to loudly voice what is, in some ways, a cruel but honest truth about this system: A PhD in art history is a bad idea.

Everything vivodito mentioned above is true. To add anecdote to fact I will say I had a tenure-track job at a decent liberal arts college revoked this summer because the department put a hiring freeze in place and is now cutting funds. I am now returning to a competitive field of recent elite PhDs from this graduating cycle in addition to those lingering from nearly a decade of cycles past. I have colleagues who are brilliant, and whom I adore, who finished their degrees in 2012–14, in the early recovery post 08' recession, who have spent a decade now trapped in adjunct hell, working 3 jobs a semester at different universities to make ends meet. The constant demands on their working hours means they are never able to do the kind of work museums or schools want to see in their hirees. They will never find stable jobs in the field but that doesn't stop them from competing with those of us graduating now. The finalists last year for Columbia's unfilled architecture spot where largely c.2014 grads. We should loudly sing the praises of those like Prof. Ilene Forsyth at UMich who had the immense foresight and ability to endow chairs on her way out, but sadly most institutions do not have such saints.

If the dimming prospects of the field don't dissuade you, think about the PhD itself. It is a horrible and arduous process that is, somehow, simultaneously full of some of the most amazing, fulfilling, and formulating experiences you will ever have. Especially if you are just finishing undergrad, know this, you will give your 20's to this process. Your non-academic friends will be establishing careers, getting raises, maybe even starting families or buying houses. You will be married to your work, your dissertation, and your classroom. You will make less than $30k if you are lucky. You might have health insurance, you might have labor rights. If you are lucky you will also see the world, meet inspiring minds, make friends for life, and learn more about yourself as a human (not just as an intellect) than you are prepared for. [I am going to get grilled for this, knowing this forum, but] EVEN THESE SILVER LININGS ARE NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE IF YOU ARE NOT IN ONE OF THE TOP TIER PROGRAMS. We no longer live in a world where the independently wealthy whimsically dig mummies at the behest of colonial Egypt. If your department cannot: pay you living wages, ensure full health insurance, provide ample time to complete the program (5-7 years), protect your rights as a laborer in the department DO NOT GO TO THAT INSTITUTION. You will be taking on debt you can never recover from and placing yourself in serious harm. For all my struggles this past year I have watched friends and colleagues from places like UWisconsin and UCLA absolutely suffer over the past 8 years. Imaging working a full-time job (your studies) on top of which you must teach (another part- to full-time job) after which you either make "Extremely Low Wages" (HUD's classification one step above poverty) while living in the 9th most expensive city in the US (UCLA) with no ability to unionize and demand better working conditions OR make NOTHING if UWisconsin cannot scrounge the funding for a stipend on top of your fee waivers. This is nothing against the quality of the professors in these institutions and the students they produce but know this: Yale and Harvard send at least one class a semester abroad on study trips (to places like Russia, the UAE, and Mexico) because they have the money to do that on top of paying their students over $30K for 7 years. Imagine entering the job market out of UWisc. where you never had the funding to travel to your sources, time to truly invest in your work, or chances to network locally and abroad. Now know you are against a Yalie who had the time and support to go to every conference, travel to Russia on Yale's dime, write a solid dissertation because they didn't have to TA after year 3, and spent the night before the CAA interview in a fancy hotel they could afford on their real (albeit still meagre) stipend. This is also not to mention the cruel and classist stigma of hiring committees: I once had an ivy-league professor (old white man) tell me that ivies don't hire graduates of non-ivies, "you can only ever move horizontally or down in the pecking order," which is, thankfully, not a universal truth, but one that still lingers painfully on.

"Okay, I'll apply to one of the top programs then." Not this year. As mentioned above, in the (I would argue correct) demands and interests of their current students, many programs are cutting admissions to support current candidates. Yale and Chicago are skipping the whole year. The IFA is reducing admissions to half for at least a year. UPenn is considering something similar. Assuming they will not also make such drastic changes, you can guarantee Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Berkeley, and Michigan will all also be slimming their usual 12 or so a year down to maybe 8-10. That's potentially up to HALF the number of genuinely funded and supported spots available in top-tier American programs for this application cycle. And you can bet rejected students will be applying again next year, meaning the application pool will only be growing. [we can argue over who is and is not in that top tier but each of those programs pays living wages, insures their students, is overly represented in major fellowships like Kress and CASVA, and in new hires. Only ONE (IFA) is fully unionized, ensuring students are paid extra when they choose to teach as compensation for extra labor]

If you have made it this far please hear me out, none of this is a reason not to apply. When I was finishing my undergraduate I was deeply in love (and still am) with the field of art history and gave myself gladly and fully to a senior thesis supervised by my favorite professor who was caring and helpful and incredibly supportive. What he told me come application time was crucial: "If you can imagine yourself doing anything other than a PhD in art history then you should not be applying for a PhD." At the time I was a little hurt and took it as his admonition of my unreadiness for graduate school. What I have realized since is that 1. he tells this to all his good students and 2. the process of getting a PhD in art history is mentally, emotionally, and physically (yes, books are heavy) destructive work that will chew you up and spit you out into an even more grueling and horrible world, and if you are not so enamored of, so head-over-heels-crazy about doing this insane thing, weathering all the long nights, sacrifices of friends and family, and meagre living standards then you must (not should, must) turn elsewhere. It is no mark against you. There are brilliant, interesting, passionate, and powerful people doing all sorts of things other than PhDs in art history and I encourage you to think long and hard, especially now, if you are one of those people. If you can imagine yourself doing anything other than a PhD in art history—and I mean anything: an MBA, law school, finance, a start up, tech, medicine, hell, even history (those guys can get cushy state department jobs)—then you should not be applying for a PhD in art history.

If you can look yourself in the mirror and know that you are willing to weather the horrifying tempest that is dying humanities, collapsing departments, under-supportive programs, and a field that is only just (but thankfully is) beginning to deal with its historically myopic fixation on white-western-male-centric topics then I wish you the best of luck, godspeed, and may you and all those like you save us all.

^ This. While there are some slight errors in facts, the overall sentiment is true. I'm in a program that should be in an ideal spot to support students throughout this pandemic, and it's no cakewalk. I can't imagine what it's like elsewhere.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I want to second and third the posts by wt2020 and vivodito. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DONT DO IT. It's not worth it and it will only lead to misery and financial insecurity. I attend arguably THE TOP program there is and the vast majority of my classmates are absolutely miserable. It doesn't matter that we have publications, top fellowships and big name LORs - our job prospects vanished virtually overnight and the university refuses to use its considerable resources to help us in any real way. We will not get jobs in Academia. This is absolutely a lost cause and no good will come from pursuing academia. The only people who I think should be applying right now are those that are seriously independently wealthy and do not need to work for a living. An Art History PhD no longer leads to a job in academia. 

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To reply as a human who has a few potentially relevant experiences:

I am queer.
I hold an MFA, which is a terminal degree that sets one up for the potential of tenure track.
I’ve done the adjunct circuit (see username).
I have museum experience as well and understand the politics of that world.
I am a potential applicant in upcoming cycles for an art history PhD.

So, with all that in mind ..... this is my opinion. 

The art world doesn’t have any jobs right now. Not for me, not for you. The pandemic had caused issues in academia that have long reverberations, but so too in the museum field. Everything is a wreck, and will probably be a wreck for years to come. 

I am considering going back to school. I know there are no tenure track jobs waiting - I am already proof of that. But trying to navigate the world as it currently is just isn’t working. I don’t have a spouse to support me, and even if I did, they would be a woman (and a queer woman) and thus statistically wouldn’t earn the same that a male partner might. So I’m doing this on my own and making this work on my own ... and it isn’t working, especially now with covid. As @qwer_asdf pointed out as well, many of the historic ´backup’ plans don’t work anymore either - I don’t feel safe waiting tables or teaching kids. 

Will more education get me further? Maybe not. But it can’t be worse than this, and it’s most likely faaaaaaar more stable than piecing together one semester contracts at a time. And then in five or seven years, the economy might be better. It might not be. But 5-7 years of relative stability just feels so tempting, and it’s a gamble that I’m willing to take. 

I feel frustrated at the flippant tone that assumes that everyone comes from the same place and wants the same things. I don’t want kids - I want to learn. None of my friends are getting married. None. And no kids, and no houses, and I’m not young. My friends are in similar boats as me, and being poor and in school doesn’t mean anyone ´missed out’ but that our paths are different from the prescribed heteronormative assumptions others have for us.

And top tier programs and state schools are not the same. Of course they aren’t. For my terminal degree, I went to a school that that wasn’t top tier, and all opportunities were competitive. But I was a big fish in a little pond, and I had a really good experience and was able to gain experience that wouldn’t have been possible in top tier programs. My peers who went to "better schools" with "more money" didn’t have a better experience. In fact, it was probably the opposite, and with that in mind, I would be super wary of actually applying to top tier programs this next time around.

Just my two cents. Essentially, not everyone's story is the same.

Edited by adjunctlifer
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Honestly I don't think that Yale Ph.D. track in art history will be open for at least 2-4 years because of how much COVID-19 will have impacted. I find it ironic that more people are applying to art history in a time when the job market is shrinking and museums are facing challenges.

Perhaps China will be the future of contemporary art so ideally it would be a good idea to move over to do curation and museum jobs.

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On 9/10/2020 at 6:49 PM, adjunctlifer said:

To reply as a human who has a few potentially relevant experiences:

I am queer.
I hold an MFA, which is a terminal degree that sets one up for the potential of tenure track.
I’ve done the adjunct circuit (see username).
I have museum experience as well and understand the politics of that world.
I am a potential applicant in upcoming cycles for an art history PhD.

So, with all that in mind ..... this is my opinion. 

The art world doesn’t have any jobs right now. Not for me, not for you. The pandemic had caused issues in academia that have long reverberations, but so too in the museum field. Everything is a wreck, and will probably be a wreck for years to come. 

I am considering going back to school. I know there are no tenure track jobs waiting - I am already proof of that. But trying to navigate the world as it currently is just isn’t working. I don’t have a spouse to support me, and even if I did, they would be a woman (and a queer woman) and thus statistically wouldn’t earn the same that a male partner might. So I’m doing this on my own and making this work on my own ... and it isn’t working, especially now with covid. As @qwer_asdf pointed out as well, many of the historic ´backup’ plans don’t work anymore either - I don’t feel safe waiting tables or teaching kids. 

Will more education get me further? Maybe not. But it can’t be worse than this, and it’s most likely faaaaaaar more stable than piecing together one semester contracts at a time. And then in five or seven years, the economy might be better. It might not be. But 5-7 years of relative stability just feels so tempting, and it’s a gamble that I’m willing to take. 

I feel frustrated at the flippant tone that assumes that everyone comes from the same place and wants the same things. I don’t want kids - I want to learn. None of my friends are getting married. None. And no kids, and no houses, and I’m not young. My friends are in similar boats as me, and being poor and in school doesn’t mean anyone ´missed out’ but that our paths are different from the prescribed heteronormative assumptions others have for us.

And top tier programs and state schools are not the same. Of course they aren’t. For my terminal degree, I went to a school that that wasn’t top tier, and all opportunities were competitive. But I was a big fish in a little pond, and I had a really good experience and was able to gain experience that wouldn’t have been possible in top tier programs. My peers who went to "better schools" with "more money" didn’t have a better experience. In fact, it was probably the opposite, and with that in mind, I would be super wary of actually applying to top tier programs this next time around.

Just my two cents. Essentially, not everyone's story is the same.

I'm sorry but this is terrible advice. There are infinite career paths beyond restaurant server and teacher that would provide significantly more stability than a PhD program. Also academia is chock full of disillusioned queer people. Not sure if it's the paradise you're looking for. 

And re: your final point... I have attended low/medium ranked and high ranked programs for my graduate education and anyone who says that lower ranked schools are a better experience is lying or delusional. It's the difference between a 15k and 35k stipend. It's the difference between having a fast tracked application to funding opportunities vs not even knowing they exist. It's the difference between having a guaranteed 6 years of funding vs never knowing if you will have to take out a loan to pay your rent or lose your health insurance at the end of the semester. Ok maybe your advisor will be "nicer" at a lower ranked program, but a letter from them won't go as far on the job market or during fellowship season. You certainly have a lot of advice for someone who has never attended an Art History PhD program of any kind. 

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@kaufdichglücklich

You're right: I have not done a PhD in art history.

I have, however, spent decades in academia as a student in a terminal degree program, as a professor, and as a program administrator. I have so much experience, but I'm choosing not to list it here. My opinion comes from a different place, but my advice isn't terrible just because it is different than yours. And I am not delusional - that is a word derived from psychology with specific clinical meaning and it does the mental health community disservice to co-opt it as a descriptor (please don't for the sake of other people).

So, we are going to have to agree to disagree, because, as I stated in my post, not everyone's story is the same and not everyone comes to the table with the same set of experiences that drives them to look for the same things in life or a graduate program. Clearly, my goals are different than yours. And that is okay.

Edited by adjunctlifer
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On 9/16/2020 at 9:24 PM, adjunctlifer said:

@kaufdichglücklich

You're right: I have not done a PhD in art history.

I have, however, spent decades in academia as a student in a terminal degree program, as a professor, and as a program administrator. I have so much experience, but I'm choosing not to list it here. My opinion comes from a different place, but my advice isn't terrible just because it is different than yours. And I am not delusional - that is a word derived from psychology with specific clinical meaning and it does the mental health community disservice to co-opt it as a descriptor (please don't for the sake of other people).

So, we are going to have to agree to disagree, because, as I stated in my post, not everyone's story is the same and not everyone comes to the table with the same set of experiences that drives them to look for the same things in life or a graduate program. Clearly, my goals are different than yours. And that is okay.

I am fine with my usage of that word. You are doing yourself and others a disservice by promoting a reckless and doomed plan of study. An MFA has very little weight in the humanities (in programs that offer credit for MAs it usually isn't accepted) so I'm not sure why you think this gives you authority on this topic. 

On 9/17/2020 at 10:32 PM, qwer_asdf said:

just want to amplify adjunctifier's sense that people have different goals and different reasons for attending graduate school.

I mean I guess if your goal is financial ruin, go right ahead. In my decade of higher education I have only met 2 Art History PhD students who had "different goals for attending graduate school" (aka not to find a TT or museum job). One was the wife of a tech billionaire and one was essentially a trust fund socialite. 

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one last response to this thread:

adjunctifier never claimed to be an "authority" or even to be offering advice -- adjunctifier noted very clearly that their post was based on their own experience in higher ed as an adjunct professor & administrator with an MFA, and provided some insight into their own current thinking about applying to get a phd in art history. Moreover, one's idea of "financial ruin" may be someone else's idea of financial stability, especially right now (ie. having access to university health insurance and student health centers (and mental health counseling), an institutional affiliation for the next 5-7 years, and a living stipend for part/most/all of that time). 

and: in my decade+ in art-history higher-ed spaces, i've seen peers and colleagues go on to do lots of things from starting and leading nonprofits, to working in government and tech, to ending up in top law and business school programs. This in addition to writing and publishing in art history. 

Edited by qwer_asdf
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@kaufdichglücklich I encourage you to re-read the words that I wrote. I do not think that you are listening to what I am saying here. I am approaching this with a specific set of experiences, which are different than yours, and I have offered an opinion based on my experiences.

I also want to add a gentle reminder that this is an anonymous internet forum. You do not know me. You do not know the qualifications that I bring to the table. You do not know my accomplishments. You do not know what my previous education was or what my professional history has been. Likewise, I do not know these things about you, or anyone else who chooses to write here. We are all just peers offering advice based on what we know, in order to learn from others who may know things that we do not know. The spirit of the internet forum is that a plurality of voices strengthens the conversation, and I am offering just that. I also am going to reiterate that stories differ, lives differ and goals differ. I do not need to prescribe to a heteronormative narrative of what is "right" in terms of pursuing life goals, career goals or more education (or not) in order to voice my opinion. 

Now, that's all folks. Over and out. I'm not responding to this thread anymore.

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I’ve enjoyed reading the comments on here in as far as it gives light to all the different opinions there are in this given topic. For one, it is telling that those within current programs are not even cautioning us but rather persuading us not to apply. This just highlights how out of touch institutions are to the world. It is sad that future scholars are advising current applicants not to apply. This kind of sentiment is not unique to academia. Lawyers have the highest rate of alcoholism in any profession, yet there are still many people going down that track even knowing the amount of stress and unstable financial return. This probably ties into what the poster above mentioned. We all do certain things for our own reason. Every profession has its exploitative side as well. Does that stop people from doing it? No. There are social workers who are severely underpaid and overworked, yet they still find a reason to help others. Should they get paid more? Yes, without a question. 

Academia is unique in that it is held up by powerful institutional pillars. And in the past 20 years or so, we've only really seen this institution open up and accept scholars from non-traditional backgrounds. By its design, academia is supposed to uplift a heteronormative, homogenous white space. Because of this, most scholars within undergrad/grad environments don't see beyond these walls. And really, I am talking about the elite of the elite schools. Most people getting into the top schools have been pipelined into getting there, whether it be coming from a top prep school/boarding school, going to a top 30 undergrad, and then getting a place to a top grad school. This is no mistake. Does it erase the amount of work the person experienced to get there? No. But it does put into context when you start having applicants from low-income backgrounds who have faced more adversity on their way to getting to one of these top schools. Many of these new scholars have already realize that though they have achieved a great feat, this degree is still not a means to an end for them. Simply getting a degree from harvard or yale will not make things easier if you are a black or brown phd holder applying to further white institutions. 

 

So in this context, it does still feel as though certain ideas echoed here are gatekeeping those same very underrepresented scholars who by design as well have had to overcome many obstacles and jump through similar gatekeepers just to get a similar spot where you stand. I really do believe these underrepresented scholars are the ones who are paving the way in creating a new reimagined institution. 

 

With Covid having destroyed nearly every field, it's hard to even gatekeep something we all know is going to majorly change in the coming years if not sooner. Gatekeepers telling certain applicants not to apply because they are being foolish of their career prospects may seem harmless and just "advice", but there are many who do not look at this from that perspective.

 

And we all see how exploitative this profession is even before we get there. From the application process to being a grad student to entering the field. It never ends. But does that mean we accept this cynicism that one should stop trying?

 

These kinds of conversations touch on certain aspects of our current society. And who is facing the discomfort right now? In short, the very same homogenous white space that for the first time ever is feeling the same pressure and discomfort that certain minorities have been feeling for quite a long time now... 

Edited by Maple1eaf
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I'm a recent MA graduate who's considering applying and getting steadily more defeated as i talk to more people/obsessively stalk forums. Naive as i may be, as one of the lucky students who've only ever had profs encourage them toward a phd, for better or worse 2020 has really forced me to revaluate my life goals and whether academia/art history is truly the calling as i've always known it to be. i'm also in a weird place as an upper middle class queer person of color who's been fed through the pipeline and happens to really care about ethics and justice-oriented research, and i perhaps have lofty ambitions of ~transforming~ the discipline. I don't have much advice... only to say that if you're in the same boat, please know that you're not alone -- anyone who is seriously applying (esp under current circumstances) already shows immense dedication to the field and deserves a place in it! 

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15 hours ago, Maple1eaf said:

Gatekeepers telling certain applicants not to apply because they are being foolish of their career prospects may seem harmless and just "advice", but there are many who do not look at this from that perspective.

It's easy to look in from the outside and fantasize about living the PhD life, but you'd be wise to not dismiss what current students are saying as "gatekeeping." I'm about halfway through a PhD at a, maybe the, top program and every day think about the years of proper income and career growth opportunities I'm missing out on. I was very educated going into the process, and there are things you simply can't know unless you're in a program. Friends at other of the top 5 programs corroborate this. Apply if you have an outside stream of income, but it should be a red flag that well-funded programs are choosing to suspend admissions right now.

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17 hours ago, Maple1eaf said:

I’ve enjoyed reading the comments on here in as far as it gives light to all the different opinions there are in this given topic. For one, it is telling that those within current programs are not even cautioning us but rather persuading us not to apply. This just highlights how out of touch institutions are to the world. It is sad that future scholars are advising current applicants not to apply. This kind of sentiment is not unique to academia. Lawyers have the highest rate of alcoholism in any profession, yet there are still many people going down that track even knowing the amount of stress and unstable financial return. This probably ties into what the poster above mentioned. We all do certain things for our own reason. Every profession has its exploitative side as well. Does that stop people from doing it? No. There are social workers who are severely underpaid and overworked, yet they still find a reason to help others. Should they get paid more? Yes, without a question. 

Academia is unique in that it is held up by powerful institutional pillars. And in the past 20 years or so, we've only really seen this institution open up and accept scholars from non-traditional backgrounds. By its design, academia is supposed to uplift a heteronormative, homogenous white space. Because of this, most scholars within undergrad/grad environments don't see beyond these walls. And really, I am talking about the elite of the elite schools. Most people getting into the top schools have been pipelined into getting there, whether it be coming from a top prep school/boarding school, going to a top 30 undergrad, and then getting a place to a top grad school. This is no mistake. Does it erase the amount of work the person experienced to get there? No. But it does put into context when you start having applicants from low-income backgrounds who have faced more adversity on their way to getting to one of these top schools. Many of these new scholars have already realize that though they have achieved a great feat, this degree is still not a means to an end for them. Simply getting a degree from harvard or yale will not make things easier if you are a black or brown phd holder applying to further white institutions. 

So in this context, it does still feel as though certain ideas echoed here are gatekeeping those same very underrepresented scholars who by design as well have had to overcome many obstacles and jump through similar gatekeepers just to get a similar spot where you stand. I really do believe these underrepresented scholars are the ones who are paving the way in creating a new reimagined institution. 

With Covid having destroyed nearly every field, it's hard to even gatekeep something we all know is going to majorly change in the coming years if not sooner. Gatekeepers telling certain applicants not to apply because they are being foolish of their career prospects may seem harmless and just "advice", but there are many who do not look at this from that perspective.

And we all see how exploitative this profession is even before we get there. From the application process to being a grad student to entering the field. It never ends. But does that mean we accept this cynicism that one should stop trying?

These kinds of conversations touch on certain aspects of our current society. And who is facing the discomfort right now? In short, the very same homogenous white space that for the first time ever is feeling the same pressure and discomfort that certain minorities have been feeling for quite a long time now... 

No question that academia has been exclusionary for a long time and that it needs to change and, importantly, that it is changing, albeit slowly. Still, while some may be speaking from a place of disappointment and bitterness about their experiences, I don't think anyone here is "gatekeeping." They're asking prospective students to be realistic. Idealism is nice, but reality is reality, and conditions are what they are. You can decide to fight and struggle to make change--and bravo to you if you do!--but before you do decide that, you better be damn sure you know what you're getting yourself into. Knowing how exploitative and cynical the profession is, is it really worth it? Can you really imagine doing nothing else? Can you effect greater change elsewhere, while facing fewer professional hurdles? (You mention social work: well let me tell you, art history is not social work; no matter how socially engaged your work is, scholarship in the humanities, especially art history, is mostly inward looking, not to say selfish. Even within the institutions of the university and the museum themselves, art historians don't really have the power to effect systemic change. If you make it to the top, you may have prestige and cultural capital, but no one in the administration will listen much to you. So if you want to make change on that front, become an administrator.) None of this is to say that being an art historian can't be rewarding and valuable work, and short term yes, maybe hiding out in grad school for a few years isn't the worst idea. But before you take the plunge, I just urge you to square your idealism with the often depressing reality on the ground and take some time to be practical about what you can actually achieve and what you actually are willing to sacrifice to get there. This advice is not a personal attack or an effort to take "gatekeep" or take you down a peg.

Edited by Bronte1985
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  • 4 weeks later...

I have been keeping up with this thread. I am currently a 2nd year undergraduate photography BFA student and I am grateful to have a future minor in art history. I feel based on what has been going on with the MA track here at my university that being a graduate level art history student is a labor of love.

I am the only Muslim, Asian-American heterosexual male who is taking upper level art history courses and having taken numerous undergraduate courses in art history is an immense amount of work and for me to be motivated to get a minor in the field, I have to remind myself that it's a labor of love. I look at the museum jobs even locally here in Utah and those are rather slim and in fact, many folks do not have a Ph.D. in art history to hold key positions in the institution.

I love art history but already I realize that one of my favorite artists Cady Noland doesn't even have a monograph of her work available and there are very few articles about her installations. At this point, I am glad that I am a visual artist and that art history can help me refine my visual language. But the art history students even at a non top tier school are challenged by a bleak future.

On the other hand, our art history department is hiring a young new professor who specializes in Islamic art so I am celebrating. I expect her to be permanent here as there are very few jobs in the field but no one knows at this point.

Edited by SocialKonstruct
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  • 2 weeks later...
On 8/22/2020 at 8:28 AM, qwer_asdf said:

For those who are thinking about applying: I want to offer a response to wt2020's post, from the perspective of someone similarly situated (recent PhD recipient from a top program, also had the rug yanked out from under me this job cycle). 

I agree with a lot of the content of the post, particularly that one's university should "pay you living wages, ensure full health insurance, provide ample time to complete the program (5-7 years), protect your rights as a laborer in the department" (though I note that graduate student workers at UCLA are indeed unionized - https://uaw2865.org/about-our-union/). However I find the tone to be too flippant and very gate-keepy -- I'm wary of recent PhD's whose impulse is to slam the door behind them, and warn everyone else away on anonymous forums.  

Having said that: no one should pursue a PhD in Art History with the expectation that there is a tenure-track job waiting at the other end -- but I also think prospective students have already been disabused of that idea. 

Yes, it's very much a good idea apply to top, well-funded programs. And/or if you do choose to pursue a PhD at a public research university, do it with eyes wide open, and a full understanding of what your funding package looks like, what opportunities are guaranteed, which one's you'll have to apply for, etc. And given that many programs are suspending and reducing admissions this cycle, it may indeed be prudent to wait out this cycle, particularly if you have a viable alternative thing to do (if a funded MA is an option, do it!). But -- you may also have very good reasons for applying to PhD programs this cycle, and accepting an offer from a public research university... trust that. 
 

I agree fully with what is said here. No, it's not wrong to advise prospective students about the job market and what to expect (or not) on the other end. However, let people make their own decisions to attend or not -- as you did.

I'd like to highlight, also, that there are other options, such as funded MA programs, as a first step and possible stopping place if you then decide not to go for a PhD, not covered here, which provide a middle ground. I'd also emphasize that UCs actually have very competitive funding packages (including for certain terminal MAs) and graduate students are unionized. That criticism struck me as fairly typical-- someone who has gone to an Ivy critiquing one of the few top public universities, which put these degrees within reach for many of us, in a way that is unfair and un-evidenced. 

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