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chances for Ph.D. at Michigan (History/Anthro) with a blemished M.A. record?


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Hi all,

I'm currently a first-year MA student in Islamic Studies, and will be applying next year to Ph.D. work to several top programs -- Chicago and Yale in Political Science, Duke, Princeton and Harvard in Near Eastern Studies/Religion, and Michigan in History/Anthropology. I've got a strong undergraduate record (4.0 GPA and multiple majors), decent GRE scores (660V, 730Q, 6 writing), and a pretty strong publishing record this early in the game -- several articles, several conference papers, and I'm working on my first book as we speak. The thing is, in my first year as an MA student this past year, I took a bit of a ding, getting two A minuses (in language courses, not content courses). It was entirely on account of taking on waaay too much this year -- I took 1.5x the standard number of graduate credits, and juggled it around this book project, which was just a recipe for disaster. Still, the A minuses are there, and they aren't going to go away...

I know graduate GPA is expected to be higher than undergrad, so I'm wondering, is an A minus here and there as an MA student a deal-breaker for top Ph.D. programs? I imagine it varies across the spectrum of programs, so if anyone can comment intelligently about any of these programs all the better -- especially Michigan, as I don't specifically have an anthro background (I have sociology as an undergrad major, and I'm doing history in my MA), so that one is going to be a little trickier. Will a less-than-perfect (but still strong) MA record stand in the way of admission to these top programs?

If this does stand to pose a problem, might it be worth retaking the GRE? My scores were above 90th percentile across all registers, but I know the verbal can stand to be improved. Might that be necessary in this case?

I practically had a panic attack after getting my *second* A-minus (I was borderline by half of a point, and my prof refused to budge). I just took on waaay too much this year, otherwise I don't think this would have happened. I'd really appreciate any feedback anyone can provide, as it'd go a long way to alleviate my angst. Thanks!

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Hi all,

I'm currently a first-year MA student in Islamic Studies, and will be applying next year to Ph.D. work to several top programs -- Chicago and Yale in Political Science, Duke, Princeton and Harvard in Near Eastern Studies/Religion, and Michigan in History/Anthropology. I've got a strong undergraduate record (4.0 GPA and multiple majors), decent GRE scores (660V, 730Q, 6 writing), and a pretty strong publishing record this early in the game -- several articles, several conference papers, and I'm working on my first book as we speak. The thing is, in my first year as an MA student this past year, I took a bit of a ding, getting two A minuses (in language courses, not content courses). It was entirely on account of taking on waaay too much this year -- I took 1.5x the standard number of graduate credits, and juggled it around this book project, which was just a recipe for disaster. Still, the A minuses are there, and they aren't going to go away...

I know graduate GPA is expected to be higher than undergrad, so I'm wondering, is an A minus here and there as an MA student a deal-breaker for top Ph.D. programs? I imagine it varies across the spectrum of programs, so if anyone can comment intelligently about any of these programs all the better -- especially Michigan, as I don't specifically have an anthro background (I have sociology as an undergrad major, and I'm doing history in my MA), so that one is going to be a little trickier. Will a less-than-perfect (but still strong) MA record stand in the way of admission to these top programs?

If this does stand to pose a problem, might it be worth retaking the GRE? My scores were above 90th percentile across all registers, but I know the verbal can stand to be improved. Might that be necessary in this case?

I practically had a panic attack after getting my *second* A-minus (I was borderline by half of a point, and my prof refused to budge). I just took on waaay too much this year, otherwise I don't think this would have happened. I'd really appreciate any feedback anyone can provide, as it'd go a long way to alleviate my angst. Thanks!

i don't think the A minuses in a MA program will hurt an application to a PhD program. i also think that your publishing activities provide the type of promise that the programs are more interested in anyway. what i mean is, while other students may need to prove/demonstrate their promise through only grades you have grades and published materials.. and published materials are apart of the means AND ends to being in a PhD program.

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So this would be my question about your application to anthropology, or anthropologically oriented projects....most admissions committees will probably be curious as to how you fit into their department and the discipline itself. There is actually quite a difference between religion studies, political science and anthropology, in terms of canon, methodology, the types of objects they encounter, scope, etc. I am myself a cultural anthropologist who is deeply engaged with history in particular ways but it is not a mere footnote to my research that this relationship takes a particular form - it is probably the greatest theoretical burden with which I am concerned. I suppose what I'm asking is: In what ways is your work "anthropological"? This is something that as a student with interdisciplinary leanings I bumped up against time and time again and I think it will be of serious concern for prospective departments. I think the reason it comes up is that when you are finished you will be looking for jobs in a discipline that will require you to be clearly defined in some way, that's the nature of academic politics - are you a historian who is interested in anthropology? are you an anthropologist who is interested in history? etc. You may well be aware of this, and already well equipped to answer this question, it was just the one thing that popped out for me. From what i hear from my colleagues, I think on all the numerical factors you stand in very good position among any applicant pool, but very often these are the less important of the factors determining your admissions decision. I can't speak for political science, but friends of mine in intellectual history (a department and field with which I often in conversation) say the same thing about history.

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I don't think your lack of background or experience in anthropological methods or research will necessarily deter your chances or ability to demonstrate how you could fit into a PhD program in an anthro department. I speak as someone who took ZERO anthro courses as an undergrad and got into my top-choice program. I did have a lead role in an anthro-style research project last summer for a professor at my alma mater but I don't think that was my strongest selling point/it was probably inconsequential. honestly, schools and departments want to know that you will be productive and can fit in with their school and department but fitting in and productivity are not linked to a background in anthro methodology. in fact, any good program will be expecting to teach you research methods and methodology upon your entrance into their program. anthro is ever flexible and you can find programs and departments that aren't "traditional" in the way that they examine "culture." if you can write your sop in a way that demonstrates that you are interested in looking at something that affects the lives and/or livelihood of a group or how what a group is "doing" changes or supports something, then you should be good.

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