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Fit and Previous Dissertations


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I'm still trying to understand the intricacies of fit...My understanding of it is that admissions committees at the PhD level only admit certain people each cycle that work within a single field, be it a time period or a school of theory. One of the programs I am very interested in has a strength in my field, modern British, but the program and faculty is kinda small and centered on Joyce (not my bag). However, in 2007 one of their grads completed a dissertation that is very similar to some of my research interests, specifically the Catholic novel in England and English national identity in the modernist period. 

 

How should I approach that in my SOP? Or should I not mention it? I guess what I am asking is how does a school look at an applicant who wants to study some subject that another graduate student in their program recently wrote their dissertation on? Is this generally a plus or a minus with regards to my fit with the program? Or does it not matter? 

 

 

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2007 was ages ago - I wouldn't worry about adjusting your SOP in relation to a former student's dissertation.

 

I’d be more concerned with the department’s strength (or lack thereof) in your field. Considering that there will be a 10+ year difference between the 2007 dissertation and your own, you should make sure that whatever supervision and faculty expertise that student was able to draw on will still be there for you.

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Remember, your statement of purpose isn't a contract. They don't expect you to write your dissertation about what you think you'll write your dissertation about now. They know that your academic identity is going to change a ton between now and the time you write your prospectus. What they want to see is that you know what an academic project is, that you can define an area of interest that would be conducive to writing a dissertation and building a career. Don't worry too much about the topic you choose. Focus on demonstrating that you know what academic projects and focuses are like, and on showing that you have an understanding of the arc of an academic career.

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