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Choosing Between History Programs


AMC
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Hey Guys~

It seems that with majority of admission decisions having been made and campus visits well under way, many of us have moved from one grad school dilemma to the next; we have shifted from "who will admit me?" onto "where should I go?"

With this in mind, I thought we could offer each other suggestions.

I know that I could REALLY use your help.....

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Should my focus be on life AFTER the phd program or life DURING the phd process???

I think it should in some ways. The decision you make now will affect the life you have later. So that's a good thing to have in mind. Get a sense of the placement record of your potential advisors. Find out if their graduate students have gotten external funding for their research. Do they publish with their graduate students / do their graduate students publish while in school? These things will help you figure out if the lower-ranked school is better for you than top-notch school.

P.S. I totally understand where you're coming from with the weather considerations. I definitely consider weather, mostly because cold weather affects my health negatively. But I'd say money may be more important than weather. Plus, if you go to school someplace warm, there are more distractions from doing work (you'd be amazed at how many afternoons of reading I piss away when it's 78 and sunny out).

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*raises hand* I can prove that weather has a big impact on your ability to study. When I was in Israel for seven months, it felt like a vacation! I was far too interested in going outside and play on the beach rather than to stay inside and work on my monster load of Hebrew homework and archival research work. It was often just too beautiful outside to be studying inside. I don't know how people in California do it. Heck, thank goodness I never got into Stanford for freshman admissions! I'd probably would rather train for a marathon than be in the library.

I do really need cold weather. :) Fortunately, all of my choices are right in the North so no weather dilemma (except that i'd like to be out of this extremely cold weather that my school regularly gets for being in middle of the state). My dilemma will be who will freakin' get me in a top PhD program :)

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I think you have to find the right balance between the here and now and the future. The future academic life depends fully on the grad school experience and on graduating. You need to figure out which place is one where you can be happy while you pursue your goals and one that will push you toward the achievement of those goals.

If, for example, you are prone to Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder (not uncommon in northern cold climates) than going to a high ranked program in a cold, dark place is not a good idea, even if it's the best program in your field. If seeing sunshine all the time will weaken your resolve to stay inside and write papers, then perhaps the nice warm sunny place is not for you. I went to undergrad in a cold northern place and did my MA in a sunny temperate place. I could work equally well in each but the tradeoffs are different.

I think it's easy to underemphasize the isolating tendencies of grad school. It's easy to say it won't happen to me and even if it does I love books and that will be enough. But it's hard to do your best work when you are frustrated that you have no one to spend time with outside of class and the library. Most of my college friends are in grad school and I know several who, in hindsight, say they should have trusted their instincts about the kind of environment in which they work best and minimized the impact of rankings on their decision making process. Determine where the students who graduate from each program to ensure it's a good place, then so figure out what kind of community you want to be a part of, and trust your gut about the best place for you.

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*raises hand* I can prove that weather has a big impact on your ability to study. When I was in Israel for seven months, it felt like a vacation! I was far too interested in going outside and play on the beach rather than to stay inside and work on my monster load of Hebrew homework and archival research work. It was often just too beautiful outside to be studying inside. I don't know how people in California do it. Heck, thank goodness I never got into Stanford for freshman admissions! I'd probably would rather train for a marathon than be in the library.

I do really need cold weather. :) Fortunately, all of my choices are right in the North so no weather dilemma (except that i'd like to be out of this extremely cold weather that my school regularly gets for being in middle of the state). My dilemma will be who will freakin' get me in a top PhD program :)

I find this kind of funny, since I was born and raised in the northland. If there is the remotest possibility of a hockey game or snowboarding trip, there is no possibility I will study. On the other hand, the ultimate frisbee players can go do their thing, and I'll get my work done. =)

I come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun, where the hot springs blow.

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I think you have to find the right balance between the here and now and the future. The future academic life depends fully on the grad school experience and on graduating. You need to figure out which place is one where you can be happy while you pursue your goals and one that will push you toward the achievement of those goals.

If, for example, you are prone to Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder (not uncommon in northern cold climates) than going to a high ranked program in a cold, dark place is not a good idea, even if it's the best program in your field. If seeing sunshine all the time will weaken your resolve to stay inside and write papers, then perhaps the nice warm sunny place is not for you. I went to undergrad in a cold northern place and did my MA in a sunny temperate place. I could work equally well in each but the tradeoffs are different.

I think it's easy to underemphasize the isolating tendencies of grad school. It's easy to say it won't happen to me and even if it does I love books and that will be enough. But it's hard to do your best work when you are frustrated that you have no one to spend time with outside of class and the library. Most of my college friends are in grad school and I know several who, in hindsight, say they should have trusted their instincts about the kind of environment in which they work best and minimized the impact of rankings on their decision making process. Determine where the students who graduate from each program to ensure it's a good place, then so figure out what kind of community you want to be a part of, and trust your gut about the best place for you.

Thanks for your insight everyone!

ABC~ your post really hit home. I AM from California-- born, raised and attended college in Los Angeles. Upon graduation I lived in the midwest and barely survived the two winters I was there. It wasn't the cold, specifically, but the circa 9 months of grey. It literally sucked the life right out of me. I felt sad, disconnected and barely left my apartment (which I had painted sky blue and summer yellow).

When looking at grad school programs, specifically the "better" ones that happened to be in the midwest and northeast, I thought that I could tough out the isolation and long, cold winters for the sake of my studies. But after visiting the other programs in warmer localities, seeing the city and feeling like I was leaving friends after only three days on campus, I wondered if the sacrifice was worth it.

Your input- everyone's input -really took away some of my anxieties. Thanks!

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I've had the opposite experience. I'm from a place where there are actually four seasons and living in the Southwest has not been a fun experience. It feels like summer all year round and when the temperatures reach 117 or 118 degrees, I don't even want to walk to my car much less drive to work or go shopping. I miss snow. I miss the fall. I miss watching the snow slowly recede and the green grass begin to appear underneath.

I don't think I could make it another year in a place with very little change between the seasons. California and the like just don't appeal to me anymore.

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It should be illegal to build a college in places where it becomes 117 degrees. Seriously! Anything over 70, and there had better be a pool or lake nearby. 117? Maybe that's why southerners seem to think so slowly -- they don't want to get heat stroke. lol

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It was funny in Ithaca when the first snow would come and all of the California students would stand around in amazement. My roommate my senior year was a scrawny transfer student from Vietnam and boy was he cold. The poor kid didn't even own a mildly heavy jacket!

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Someone mentioned SAD (seasonal affectiveness disorder). If you are not from the east coast, be warned that the sun goes down at a ludicrous hour in the wintertime. I moved to Boston in September and was shocked. On the other hand, I have gotten used to it and now that winter is almost over, I am a bit nostalgic about the dark, wintry nights (Boston has a strange aura that just seems to fit with that type of weather).

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On the topic of weather...even in the North it really depends where. For example, I lived in Indiana several years and the winters are incredibly grey and dreary--wet, not snowy, but still chilly. I also lived in Minnesota, however, and although you may think it's worse up there it's actually a lot better since the sun is out almost all the time during the winter. There may be a foot or so of snow on the ground through March, but at least there's a sunny blue sky. So...spend lots of time on weather.com seems to be my point.

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All of my schools are in the Midwest/Great Lakes area, which is where I was born and raised, so no big changes there. I complain about the snow but I guess I'm not ready for the land of perpetual tan yet. Luckily weather wasn't important for me - it was whether it was urban, which actually doesn't help me that much. But when I read about weather, I have to laugh because my boyfriend's sister was visiting us from South America and there, it's summer sun and here it's snowy and grey. She came off the plane in a little jacket... She went back with two ski jackets.

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I'm used to all the cold, grey skies, and snow. If anything, my stay in Israel gave me a GREATER appreciation for our snow! So I've been taking almost all of my runs outside this winter thus far instead of wimping out on the treadmill :D So for grad schools, cold weather, please.

Now I am wondering, should my decisions on MA programs be any similar to if I was going for PhD? I don't know what kind of questions to ask for MA programs as I'm used to looking at the ones for PhDs... any suggestions for factors to look at for MA programs? :?

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  • 4 weeks later...

Hey guys, I am trying to decide between two great PhD East Asian history programs in Cambridge University, UK and a top Ivy league university in the East Coast. While the former has an adviser I would really want to work with who has almost the same exact interests as me, Cambridge traditionally offers much lesser resources (in terms of funding [only 1/3 to 1/2 tuition waver not including living expenses and funding has to be competed for every year from various sources], attention, research grants, library materials etc) than the latter. The latter university does have potential advisers that are peripheral to my interests (in terms of both time periods and research topics), but all of my potential advisers have said they are very willing to work with me on my interests, even though they might not be experts on the field.

Another factor to consider is training. In Cambridge, it would be pretty much just working on a dissertation which would be done in 3 years but in the Ivy league university, I will be able to get research, language and coursework training for 2 to 3 years before writing my dissertation. But that also means a longer program. In terms of intellectual community, I guess they are pretty equal with the latter having an edge with a vibrant area studies institute.

If I was to go to Cambridge, I would have to pay realistically around 20,000 pounds per year for 2 or 3 years to finish my PhD. For the Ivy league university, it would be pretty comfortable living on a stipend. I have heard mixed things about placement for Cambridge but a very solid placement for the Ivy league university.Do you think my current interests will shift in graduate school? Anyone trying to make similar decisions? If not, which school will you decide on if you were me?

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I'm used to all the cold, grey skies, and snow. If anything, my stay in Israel gave me a GREATER appreciation for our snow! So I've been taking almost all of my runs outside this winter thus far instead of wimping out on the treadmill :D So for grad schools, cold weather, please.

Now I am wondering, should my decisions on MA programs be any similar to if I was going for PhD? I don't know what kind of questions to ask for MA programs as I'm used to looking at the ones for PhDs... any suggestions for factors to look at for MA programs? :?

Look at where there graduates end up, the professional development offered, how they view class papers, and the interaction level between MA and PhD Students and MA students and faculty.

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Hey guys, I am trying to decide between two great PhD East Asian history programs in Cambridge University, UK and a top Ivy league university in the East Coast. While the former has an adviser I would really want to work with who has almost the same exact interests as me, Cambridge traditionally offers much lesser resources (in terms of funding [only 1/3 to 1/2 tuition waver not including living expenses and funding has to be competed for every year from various sources], attention, research grants, library materials etc) than the latter. The latter university does have potential advisers that are peripheral to my interests (in terms of both time periods and research topics), but all of my potential advisers have said they are very willing to work with me on my interests, even though they might not be experts on the field.

Another factor to consider is training. In Cambridge, it would be pretty much just working on a dissertation which would be done in 3 years but in the Ivy league university, I will be able to get research, language and coursework training for 2 to 3 years before writing my dissertation. But that also means a longer program. In terms of intellectual community, I guess they are pretty equal with the latter having an edge with a vibrant area studies institute.

If I was to go to Cambridge, I would have to pay realistically around 20,000 pounds per year for 2 or 3 years to finish my PhD. For the Ivy league university, it would be pretty comfortable living on a stipend. I have heard mixed things about placement for Cambridge but a very solid placement for the Ivy league university.Do you think my current interests will shift in graduate school? Anyone trying to make similar decisions? If not, which school will you decide on if you were me?

If it were me, I would absolutely go to the Ivy League school. The item you brought up that concerns me most is the financial aspect. My advisor has told me time and again that only under the rarest of circumstances should someone pay for grad school. If you go to Cambridge you are going to accrue 40-60,000 pounds of debt (or spend that much), and should you get placement at an American university (and the dollar remains weak), then that translates to roughly 80-120,000 dollars in debt. Even if you remain in GB, that is an absolutely insane amount of debt to have out of grad school, particularly in the humanities. It is totally realistic to expect that your interests may shift a bit during your time in grad school, especially as you take graduate level seminars and begin to explore thesis topics, so I really wouldn't worry about your potential advisors not being absolute experts on your current research interests.

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thelowendhz,

That's really good advice about the financial aspects. I wonder how many people actually end up doing their dissertation based somewhat on their initial interests on entering graduate school? Perhaps one possibility to enjoy the benefits of both programs is to think of a way to visit Cambridge for a summer or a year to work with the professor that has the same interests as me (assuming that my interests persist throughout grad school) if I do decide to go to the Ivy league one. What do you think?

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I'm not sure of your academic career thus far, and by that I mean whether you're coming straight out of undergrad or you've already done MA work, but I think very few people going to grad school out of undergrad are really expected to have a really definite plan of what they're going to study. For example, at this point and time (I'm coming out of undergrad) I can say that my interests are in medieval Germany and the Church, with topics like the development of Roman primacy, the Empire, and Church-state relations (i.e. the Investiture Controversy) interesting me. But I personally at this point cannot date my interests as being solely in the early or high middle ages, and in visiting UCLA this past week (which is where I'm going) I got the impression that no one was expecting me to be able to name the years I want to focus on or a real specific project. I have a general area that I want to focus on and I will do the necessary coursework (i.e. languages) and seminars in my field and see where all this work leads me. I think there is a very strong possibility that my dissertation won't have anything to do with the topics I listed above, but I do think it will evolve in some way out of my broad interests in Germany/Germanic people and Christianity/the Church.

Also, regarding your question, if you're an American you could apply for a Fulbright to do research in England and ask this guy to be your sponsor (I'm not an expert on applying for these, but I'm fairly certain you not only need a sponsor or two, but you also need to demonstrate that some sort of resources [i.e. library] at Cambridge are necessary to your research). Otherwise, I'm sure you could find some sort of grant money to go there for the summer or for a year to work this guy. I still wouldn't bet around $100,000 that my interests will not change at all in grad school.

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Cambridge has already offered money to applicants, so if you didn't get any notification yet you're probably out of luck from their funds. That's something else to think about. And as thelowendhz says, you really need to know what you're going to study since you start your thesis almost immediately.

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  • 2 months later...

I kind of wish I had that huge dilemma of "should I go to this top 25 or this top 25 school?" Although, if the one choice is the mecca of your field, it seems like a no-brainer if there is no real outside factors involved. Going to such top notch schools you will get the interviews (of course it is up to you to get the job, but you will at least be at the table). Some of us less fortunate History PhDs with no major rep behind our degree, will have to beg to get the interviews. Actually, this forum seems overly abundant in those who attend or will attend Ivys or near Ivys, which I think is sort of interesting considering that I am guessing there are more History PhD grads out there that are not attending Ivys. Also there does not seem to be much representation from major phd producing schools such as OSU, PSU, UT, or UF? Just an observation.

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