Jump to content

Need help - grad school process (German political history) overwhelming


Recommended Posts

Hello all. I've been going through the forums here for a while, looking for help, but haven't found much that helps me out.

Here's my situation: I'm a May 2010 graduate from a decent school with high honors, Phi Beta Kappa, great GPA, etc. I'm not particularly worried about getting into grad school - I don't mean I assume that I will, just that it's not among my worries at this point. What I am worried about, however, is finding the right school and/or advisor. I am wanting to seek a PhD, but a solid MA program would be tempting as well.

So, basically, I have no idea how to find out who the best people to study with would be. I've looked at journals, talked to my professors, emailed a few professors recommended by others (looking for advice, not as potential advisors), cold-searched the history departments of various schools, etc. I honestly don't know how to find the professors and schools where I can have the best experience. I also don't know who the "names" in my field are, or really how to find out - there weren't any German historians at my undergrad who would know.

BTW, I am interested, per thread title, in German/Central European political history. In particular, I want to study power structures and transitions in the Holy Roman Empire and Prussia. There's a definite focus in my interests on medieval history, but I also want to look at early modern Prussia and the formation of the German state.

So, I'm hoping that some of the brighter minds on here can help me out with this process. How should I go about locating my POIs, and how do I know who is a worthy scholar and who is a schlub? Any help at all would be greatly appreciated, as this is my biggest hurdle for grad school.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 weeks later...

One good idea is to try and contact your POI beforehand. I assume that, since you're applying to graduate school, you have a reasonable well-defined time period, geography, and thematic focus (also, the thread-title and original post would seem to indicate that my assumption is correct).

Where you should go from here depends on what research you've already done. If you've done any secondary-source reading, think about whose work interests you. Then, look them up, and see if they're a professor at a university. You may have trouble distinguishing the big names from the less-than-big names, or the "good-to-work-with" professors from the ones who are rude and unsupportive. But, simply by reading books in your field, you should be able to figure out whose ideas you like and whose you don't.

Also, look through the History Department websites of universities you're interested-in. If they're a professor or an associate professor, that should be a positive. Assistant professors are generally the new-kids-on-the-block, so they may not have the experience or the job security to properly see you through a full PhD program, and Emeritus professors are retired. By looking through individual faculty profiles, you can get a reasonably good idea of their field of expertise, whether their interests are relevant to yours, and (sometimes) whether or not they're big names in the field.

Another great way to figure out who's good to work with is by asking your current professors. (If you're not already on speaking terms with at least one or two professors at your university, then don't bother applying for a PhD -- you need three glowing recommendations from professors who can attest to your academic excellence by application season.) They're people who have built a lot of connections and developed a lot of experience in the field, and should be able to suggest a few advisors who might be a good fit (both academically and personality-wise).

After you've narrowed it down to a list of people in your field whose work (if not personality) fits well with yours, there are a number of ways to see if they're a good fit personality-wise. First, (again) ask your professors at your current school -- their jobs require for them to extensively interact with other professors, and if their field is relevant to your field and the field of the prospective advisor, they might be able to tell you a little bit about the POI's personality. Secondly, if the school has a list of graduate students who had the advisor and/or are currently studying under that advisor, see if you can't get in touch with them. Be cool and respectful and (if possible) subtle about it, since it's a bit awkward to receive an e-mail from a total stranger asking you whether or not you like your mentor. Thirdly, contact the professor directly. If you can do it through an intermediary (i.e.: maybe a professor who graduated from the prospective advisor's department), try that. Otherwise, just respectfully send an e-mail introducing yourself, your work, your interests, your plans for grad school, and ask if maybe that professor's interested in taking students. If possible, try to arrange for some sort of appointment to meet in person and chat. I recommend doing all three. The main idea is to (first) develop a list of people who are professionally-respected and whose fields are relevant to yours. After that, it's about figuring out what sort of person the POI is, and whether or not you can put up with them for the next 5-9 years. That's why it's important to contact POIs beforehand -- because you get to meet the POI in person, but also, you get to introduce yourself (and possibly turn your application from "Applicant 286 with a GPA of 3.9, two lukewarm LORs, and a research internship" to "JTausTX, who I chatted with that one time and who had some pretty good ideas about how we should approach this historical debate.").

Finally, if all else fails, don't be afraid to enter an MA program. It'll give you a chance to develop your qualifications, get some grad-school experience, and build more connections with professors.

Edited by thedig13
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use