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Humanities POI Pre-Application Zoom Calls

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I am a medieval historian, and while reaching out to potential PhD advisors I had one respond to my first email with an invitation to Zoom and "ask him questions about the program." This feel a bit like the reverse of an interview, and he has seen none of my material but a CV, so I was wondering if anyone has any advice on what kinds of questions I should ask. The only thing I really want to know about the program that I can't find online feels like "how do I get in?" Is it appropriate to ask specific questions about what they look for in applications? Should I try asking about his research? What kind of questions can I ask that'll best turn things around and make him interested in me? Any thoughts will be greatly appreciated, considering my current anxiety level. 

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Congrats on what I've deemed a "preliminary interview" because I could also find zero information on this! I'm in Middle Eastern history and have gone through a few now, and here's some questions that I've asked and some other info.  

First of all, though: Be prepared, e.g. know their research! Have you read articles by them? Do you like their writing style? How does their topic fit into yours? But also, know the research of similar historians. I've had multiple name other historians 

It's rather informal. But mostly, they've had me asking the questions! It was intimidating (I found phone much more difficult than Zoom so if you get any more, aim for Zoom) but each professor has been very helpful and insightful. 

My interviews went like this:

1. I had it twice open with them they're kind of just like "okay, what do you want to know?." In this case, I asked "What can you tell me about the program/yourself?" They will then usually go into a spiel that'll make it much easier to form your questions.

2. They ask you about your research plans, what led you to that, your language skills, and what you plan for your future. 

3. They ask if you have any questions.

This is the most important part in gauging if they've even a good fit for you. Here are some things I've asked (in a more formal way of course):

  • (If your project is related to their field but not exactly it, e.g. Jewish history vs ME History) Have you worked with students with a similar topic to mine, and how did you best help them?
  • Are there any other professors in the department that you can think of that could benefit my research in a secondary advisory role?
  • How are you as an advisor (hand hold, leave the student to be completely alone, or something in-between?) How accessible are you? 
  • For larger programs, how intimate, co-operative is the program? 
  • For smaller programs, how are classes held? Will I be working with history students outside of my field? Will there be directed reading classes, seminars?
  • (If they named a specific research center at the uni) How funded is it?
  • Does the university provide options for extra funding?
  • For smaller programs, does the university have connections with others where I can also take courses? (This can be very important for language courses)
  • What kind of training does the university provide for an academic career?
  • How have students you've advised in the past faired in the job market?
  • What do you specifically look at in the application? (Some said writing sample, some said language skills, some said statement of purpose)
  • How is your program unique to other schools? (This is a vague question so frame it more specifically to the school you're speaking to of course).
  • How is the university handling covid? 

This is my second application cycle, and last time, I didn't have a professor respond willing to interview before I even submitted my application, so I'm taking this as a very good sign and so should you! The professors are busy especially this time of year, so the fact that your POI is willing to take time out to speak with you is AWESOME! So come prepared and ask everything about them. I think this part is the most important because you'll gather if you'll vibe together (you don't want an advisor who you don't vibe with). Clearly they think you're interesting and a great prospect so find out if they're a good fit for you!

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On 9/20/2021 at 3:00 PM, littlestraws said:

How does their topic fit into yours?



This is the most important part in gauging if they've even a good fit for you.

Please keep in mind that professors may have a different (read: opposite) vision of "fit."  So as you seek information to gauge how a program will help you serve your self interest, please consider the benefits of phrasing your questions thoughtfully and tactfully.

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