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How to tie together my mismatched background degrees


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My background is all over the place, and I feel like that will hurt my chances in a PhD program. I would like to study Social Policy (or Public Policy and just focus on social). Sociology is another option (in which I could study the same thing, but under a different heading). However, my BS is in Animal Science (published thesis on antimicrobial resistant E. coli); I have an MEd in Science Education (unpublished thesis on the effectiveness of a school's health program in teaching students about HIV/AIDS); and I have an MPA (government emphasis, capstone was in economic development - where I ended up, not really my first choice). Currently I work in program evaluation for a state legislature, so I study whatever I'm being told to study at that point in time. 

Would it improve my chances to return to my science roots for the policy part? Should I lean towards health policy so it looks more connected? My original plan was to look at a criminology style subject (mandatory sentencing), but I am also very interested in health care and would be happy to study it for a few years (or longer, though I think I could branch out more later on). Should I figure out a health policy dissertation topic and pitch that? Or does it matter at this point since I already work in policy?

Edited by katiegud
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If you want to study sociology for a PhD, btw, you'll need to take some courses in sociology first.  Most likely 5-7 courses in the major.


To me, the connection is in health: animal science is actually pretty important to health, as there are many public health veterinarians; and then there's the thesis in science ed and the MPA which can be connected in health.  However, I don't recommend writing a statement that you are interested in X when you really want to do Y, unless you would be genuinely happy to do X for several years.  It can take some time even after a PhD to transition, although you could potentially do a postdoc in a different field.


You could also talk about how your MPA made you interested in criminology.  Given that you have two master's degrees, it's clear that you left your bachelor's degree major behind you, so I don't think it matters too much that you are moving on to the criminal justice stuff.  Since your MPA had a government emphasis you can say that there is where you developed your interest in criminology and mandatory sentencing, and economic development work is related to that - low-income folks in low-income neighborhoods are much more likely to be the perpetrators of crimes with mandatory sentencing, so your work may intersect that way.


FYI, it's really common in professional fields (public health, public/social policy, etc.) for people to come from different/tangentially related backgrounds.  I'm in public health and people have had all kinds of undergraduate majors...I knew an English literature major getting her degree here.

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IMO, the common threads are versatility, intellectual curiosity, and the ability to get work done.

Of the three, the first two can be seen as double edged traits. Will you be able to commit to the grind of a doctoral program or will you lose interest? Will you be able to keep pace with graduate students and professors who have been eating sleeping and thinking a field since they were in junior high?

MOO, in addition to figuring out just what you want to study, you will need to develop the argument that you are as committed as any other applicant, and that your track record shows that you cannot be out thought or out worked by any fellow applicant.

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