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top ten PhD programs in art history according to you....


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9 hours ago, pedestal said:

Hopkins doesn't seem to come up often in top 10 posts. Is that just because it's small? What do people think about this program? How would you compare it to Northwestern, NYU, Chicago, Stanford? A wide range, admittedly.

I don't think Hopkins (especially since Fried's retirement) can compare to the programs you listed. As far as I know, they recently changed their funding structure and are generally very unsupportive of their PhD candidates (both in terms of stipends and advising), which leads to poor job placement and unhappy students.

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Because I’m forever curious about how our field works – and because I’m avoiding a bit of real work – I pulled together a few lists of programs’ placement rates for:   Pre-Doc Fellowships, 2010-2014

I don't think that's what anonymousbequest is saying at all. There is nothing undesirable about the job in question. What has changed is that a job that might have gone to a University of Kansas PhD a

Wow, thanks for doing this research.  A few remarks.   NYU obviously has an "in" with the Met and that is why many people go there, so the fact they placed 22 in the Met internship is not very surpr

1 hour ago, bosie_dearest said:

I don't think Hopkins (especially since Fried's retirement) can compare to the programs you listed. As far as I know, they recently changed their funding structure and are generally very unsupportive of their PhD candidates (both in terms of stipends and advising), which leads to poor job placement and unhappy students.

I actually think Hopkins recently raised all their funding packages to nearly 30k. Can I ask what you're basing your assessment on? 

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14 minutes ago, pedestal said:

I actually think Hopkins recently raised all their funding packages to nearly 30k. Can I ask what you're basing your assessment on? 

I used to work at Hopkins and have audited classes in their art history grad program. Re: funding, I didn't mean the amount of money, per se, but one of my friends is in the English PhD program there and told me other humanities programs had restructured their funding so that grad students were required to teach and TA significantly more than they had to in the past, which added a lot of unanticipated stress while they were trying to work on their dissertations (my friend is teaching and TAing in his 5th year). I thought that this also applied to art history, but I could be wrong! In any case, the people I know there have expressed to me that they feel unhappy and unsupported. Perhaps I've encountered a particularly gloomy cross-section of people, but that's just what I've seen.

I apologize if I came across as unduly harsh. I don't know much more about the art history program, but if you're thinking of attending I'm happy to answer questions about Baltimore if you want to PM me. 

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On 12/20/2015 at 0:25 PM, aglaea said:

Yeah right, if they'll work with you! These superstar professors have so many advisees already that they reject advising requests all the time. Also, Linda Williams has retired and is not accepting any students. 

When they do agree to work with you, they have little bandwidth for actual advising, and try to slow the students down. Several of these are notorious for drawing out the qualifying exam and prospectus processes for years, such that their students are in their 5th or 6th year before they begin writing their dissertations!

Well their students get jobs. 

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31 minutes ago, betsy303 said:

I think people should remember that folks at all departments have opportunity to present their research at conferences, symposia, etc. As long as you are active in the field outside of your department and meet folks, I think one ends up fine. 

THIS. This is so true. 

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6 hours ago, betsy303 said:

I think people should remember that folks at all departments have opportunity to present their research at conferences, symposia, etc. As long as you are active in the field outside of your department and meet folks, I think one ends up fine. 

5 hours ago, m-artman said:

THIS. This is so true. 

Would this were true! 

Unfortunately, everyone out there is active outside their department and meeting people and presenting their research. This is not enough. You need fellowships. You need publications in good journals. Coming from a lower-tiered school puts you at a clear disadvantage for fellowships, which slows down your research and also makes it harder to meet important peopel--it's at these various research centers (CASVA, Getty, the Met, iTatti, etc) where you meet people. The competition is fierce. There are more qualified people than jobs. Most people do not end up fine. Most people end up on the job market for years, even ones who are more than qualified. Some never find jobs. Going to anything less than the a top program puts you at such an advantage that the deficit is hard to make up.

 

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Many people get fellowships. Also, you can always save up some cash in your pocket and finance your trips to conferences. You can meet plenty of folks at these. I got several job offers from a smaller conference as well.

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3 hours ago, condivi said:

Would this were true! 

Unfortunately, everyone out there is active outside their department and meeting people and presenting their research. This is not enough. You need fellowships. You need publications in good journals. Coming from a lower-tiered school puts you at a clear disadvantage for fellowships, which slows down your research and also makes it harder to meet important peopel--it's at these various research centers (CASVA, Getty, the Met, iTatti, etc) where you meet people. The competition is fierce. There are more qualified people than jobs. Most people do not end up fine. Most people end up on the job market for years, even ones who are more than qualified. Some never find jobs. Going to anything less than the a top program puts you at such an advantage that the deficit is hard to make up.

 

While this is somewhat true, I think we need to remember that the field is RAPIDLY changing.  More and more people are being hired for tenure track positions who did not attend the Ivies/Berkeley//Chicago/Etc.  I am currently at a university that is certainly not in the top tier (as in probably not top ten) but I can name a number of our PhD students who have held CASVA, Met, and Getty fellowships. Condivi is right in saying that the competition is fierce, but the age of tenure track positions only being given to the old Harvard alumni is gone.  

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8 hours ago, marie_ret said:

While this is somewhat true, I think we need to remember that the field is RAPIDLY changing.  More and more people are being hired for tenure track positions who did not attend the Ivies/Berkeley//Chicago/Etc.  I am currently at a university that is certainly not in the top tier (as in probably not top ten) but I can name a number of our PhD students who have held CASVA, Met, and Getty fellowships. Condivi is right in saying that the competition is fierce, but the age of tenure track positions only being given to the old Harvard alumni is gone.  

This is brilliant! 

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11 hours ago, betsy303 said:

Many people get fellowships. Also, you can always save up some cash in your pocket and finance your trips to conferences. You can meet plenty of folks at these. I got several job offers from a smaller conference as well.

I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing. I'm talking about tenure-track jobs. You don't get job offers at conferences. At CAA you might do a first round interview, but you will not get a job offer; that's not how the job search process works. Also--saving up some cash in your pocket for a trip to a conference, which, with accommodations and airfare, will cost about $1000? Ha! Not easy when your stipend is less the $30,000 or when you're on a TA salary. Better to go to a school that has funds to send you to conferences or better that sets you up to get a fellowship with a travel budget. And when I'm talking about fellowships, I'm not talking about fellowships from your home university. I'm talking about external fellowships. Most people don't get those. In fact, a professor at Rutgers and another at Pittsburg once lamented to me that their students never get fellowships, and they're not sure what to do.

 

9 hours ago, marie_ret said:

While this is somewhat true, I think we need to remember that the field is RAPIDLY changing.  More and more people are being hired for tenure track positions who did not attend the Ivies/Berkeley//Chicago/Etc.  I am currently at a university that is certainly not in the top tier (as in probably not top ten) but I can name a number of our PhD students who have held CASVA, Met, and Getty fellowships. Condivi is right in saying that the competition is fierce, but the age of tenure track positions only being given to the old Harvard alumni is gone.  

Again, wish this were true. But this has not been my experience. Look at any decent school, and you'll see the majority of the faculty got their PhD at Harvard, Berkeley, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, etc, not University of Illinois, Kansas, Pittsburg, Temple, etc, etc. Do you have numbers to back your assertion up? I have some numbers. Here's the distribution of schools for CASVA fellowship for 2014-15: Stanford (2), CUNY, Johns Hopkins, Harvard (3), Princeton (2), Brown, Yale (2), Berkeley, Columbia (2), USC, UPenn, UChicago.  All of these, with exception maybe of USC, are top 10 programs. And notice how Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Columbia have the most fellows? That's not an accident. I'm not saying it's right, but you should know going into a less prestigious program, the cards will be stacked against you to a degree.

So please people, I'm not saying this to be nasty or snobbish. I'm saying this so you go into this with your eyes open. Don't kid yourself about the realities of the job situation.

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Not 

2 hours ago, condivi said:

I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing. I'm talking about tenure-track jobs. You don't get job offers at conferences. At CAA you might do a first round interview, but you will not get a job offer; that's not how the job search process works. Also--saving up some cash in your pocket for a trip to a conference, which, with accommodations and airfare, will cost about $1000? Ha! Not easy when your stipend is less the $30,000 or when you're on a TA salary. Better to go to a school that has funds to send you to conferences or better that sets you up to get a fellowship with a travel budget. And when I'm talking about fellowships, I'm not talking about fellowships from your home university. I'm talking about external fellowships. Most people don't get those. In fact, a professor at Rutgers and another at Pittsburg once lamented to me that their students never get fellowships, and they're not sure what to do.

 

Again, wish this were true. But this has not been my experience. Look at any decent school, and you'll see the majority of the faculty got their PhD at Harvard, Berkeley, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, etc, not University of Illinois, Kansas, Pittsburg, Temple, etc, etc. Do you have numbers to back your assertion up? I have some numbers. Here's the distribution of schools for CASVA fellowship for 2014-15: Stanford (2), CUNY, Johns Hopkins, Harvard (3), Princeton (2), Brown, Yale (2), Berkeley, Columbia (2), USC, UPenn, UChicago.  All of these, with exception maybe of USC, are top 10 programs. And notice how Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Columbia have the most fellows? That's not an accident. I'm not saying it's right, but you should know going into a less prestigious program, the cards will be stacked against you to a degree.

So please people, I'm not saying this to be nasty or snobbish. I'm saying this so you go into this with your eyes open. Don't kid yourself about the realities of the job situation.

No, completley valid. But, with a big but everyone comes into graduate school with a different situate. Shelve out money for a MA to get a stipend with 5-7k more of funding a year? I'm not sure if thats wroth the trade off. Many people go into programs with previous experiences, contacts, and net egg funds. There is no one size that fits all. Again, coming to a good, but not well-funded program, I can confidently tell you that we have successfully completed MANY tenure track job searches. Also, comparing a program like Illinois, Minnesota, Bryn Mawyr, etc to an ivy is really like comparing apples to oranges. Clearly, more art historians will have a PhD from Columbia or Yale than these smaller programs. Try comparing a program that currently houses 100 students as opposed to 30. They have the most fellows simply because they have money and size. 

 

Oh, and yes job offers have happened at conferences my experience. My good friend got one right after his/her presentation at CAA at a top notch liberal arts college. He/she recently go tenured there as well and went to a program that at best was 30-40.

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22 hours ago, betsy303 said:

I think people should remember that folks at all departments have opportunity to present their research at conferences, symposia, etc. As long as you are active in the field outside of your department and meet folks, I think one ends up fine. 

I've never heard of anything like this--I can't even really imagine it--but that's great for your friend. But as a rule this does not happen. Schools put out a job announcement, people send in applications (cover letters, writing samples, teaching statement, research statement, letters of recommendation), the committee invites a short list for skype or conferences interviews and then invites about 4 people for campus interviews. The problem is, given a stack of 150 applications, half of which are from places like Harvard and Yale and Berkeley, it becomes very easy to divide the pile into apps from places like these and less prestigious places. Guess who's going to get the closer look? Again, not fair, but this is how it works. 

My feeling is--and I know this will offend a number of people--if you don't get into a top program, you should think real hard about going to grad school in the first place. There are all sorts of reasons why people don't get into a top program--maybe you're a late bloomer, maybe you had some personal problems--but already the fact that one didn't should raise some red flags. Not everyone's got the stuff for top level academic work; it takes a very particular kind of aptitude. If you can't get into a top program, which is the first and EASIEST step on the road to tenure, that might be a good indication you don't have the stuff. As I said, there are all sorts of reasons why people don't get into a top program, and people do succeed coming from less prestigious programs--but you'll really have to work to get the best fellowships and publish in good places, which is the minimum for getting a decent job these days. You have to have a compelling reason--beyond a gut feeling that you, because you're special, will beat the odds--to think you can perform with the best of the best. Passion is, sadly, not enough. You don't want to be 35 years old, with no savings, realizing that following your passion for 10 years got you nowhere. All I'm saying is that you really have to reflect and be honest with yourself before you make the decision to go to a less than prestigious program. Heck, you have to do that if you have the chance to go to Yale!

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Most of the time people end up at a 10-20 school instead of a 1-10 because they got letters of recc from the "Wrong folks." Also, these "top programs" are pretty arbitrary. Top 10 programs for someone interest in lets say 19th century British or French painting may look very different from someone interested in contemporary art and critical theory. Not every top 10 school has a scholar in every field of study. Moreover, many may not be taking students for quite some time too. From my experiences, at least, many of the smaller colleges seem to be catching on. I have to say from my recent conference visits the folks from the top 10 actually had by far the worst papers. This is one conference (a big one still). I would stick with the idea of working with an advisor who you work well with. Whether you are lucky enough to have a well funded program or have to fund yourself, then do go present your research and get it published! 

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1 hour ago, betsy303 said:

Most of the time people end up at a 10-20 school instead of a 1-10 because they got letters of recc from the "Wrong folks." Also, these "top programs" are pretty arbitrary. Top 10 programs for someone interest in lets say 19th century British or French painting may look very different from someone interested in contemporary art and critical theory. Not every top 10 school has a scholar in every field of study. Moreover, many may not be taking students for quite some time too. From my experiences, at least, many of the smaller colleges seem to be catching on. I have to say from my recent conference visits the folks from the top 10 actually had by far the worst papers. This is one conference (a big one still). I would stick with the idea of working with an advisor who you work well with. Whether you are lucky enough to have a well funded program or have to fund yourself, then do go present your research and get it published! 

Hiring committees & grant adjudicators do not know, or care, about the minutiae of your subfield. It doesn't matter if your program is the #1 place for 17th century British print-culture (etc) if the people evaluating your application work in different subfields. An advisor who is a superstar to you may be a completely unrecognizable name for the people judging your work. You can subdivide "top tens" are much as you want, until you have little niche specializations for which top-30/40 schools are superior, but when it comes down to it you can't assume that other people have the same specialized knowledge. 

As an example, a recent job search at my institution was for an ass. prof in the modern/contemporary art of a specific Asian country. Because the institution did not already have a specialist in this area, the committee was comprised of, amongst other, a Western modern/contemporary scholar, a Historian specializing in that country and period (but with basic knowledge of the Art Historical context), and an Art Historian working on a different Asian country and period. Across almost all contexts, this is the reality of job searches and grant selection processes. Because of this, evaluations of a candidate most often will turn to wider rankings and systems of prestige/quality. Princeton or Berkeley will always signify quality across different scholarly demographics, whereas Indiana or Emory will not. Is this fair? No. Is your deep, specific knowledge being recognized? No, potentially not. Yet that's how things work; as soon as you retreat into your subfield, and assume that people will evaluate you based on that, you're shooting yourself in the foot. 

No one is attacking "lower-tier" programs. In a perfect world they would be recognized for producing very high quality work. Unfortunately money and time enter the picture pretty quickly, and candidates/applicants have to be evaluated, ranked, interviewed, flown out, etc within a very, very, very short span of time. The current system simply isn't able to give every candidate the attention they probably deserve. It sucks, but it's how shit works. 

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Let's take it this way - say you study British painting. The top 10 program with the British painting specialist is Yale. He is not taking students at the moment. Hence, you have Wisconsin, Washington, USC, etc. Also, you could have an advisor who is top notch, super well known in the field but may not be at the most top notch or well known program. Part of the game.

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17 minutes ago, betsy303 said:

Let's take it this way - say you study British painting. The top 10 program with the British painting specialist is Yale. He is not taking students at the moment. Hence, you have Wisconsin, Washington, USC, etc. Also, you could have an advisor who is top notch, super well known in the field but may not be at the most top notch or well known program. Part of the game.

Or you have Columbia (Crary), Princeton (McCauley, Alsdorf, etc), Berkeley (Davis), Harvard (Lajer-Burcharth), etc... David Solkin at the Courtauld as well. I could probably go through other top schools and find suitble people . They've all worked on/supervised dissertations on British art, whether they're explicitly specialists or not. Moreover, you'd be able to put together a dissertation committee that makes sense (with Lit folk, Historians, etc). Your supervisor is there to ask good questions, help you push independent thought forward, not to be an absolute expert in what you're writing about. If anything, that can be overwhelming. 

The other thing is that, regardless of your geographical speciality, the chronological period is going to be what's important. Job postings are always 19th century before they're British/French/German, so you'll be competing against candidates in those fields. 

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Every season, a few actual professional art historians play Cassandra, warning applicants and recent admits of the difficult road ahead of them at mid to lower tier schools. None of the admits want to hear it, because they "made it" into a PhD program, sometimes after a few rounds or slogging through (and paying for) an MA at a lower ranked institution. I do know that there are many people on gradcafe admitted to HYP, but I doubt they are the ones so invested in arguing for lower tier schools.

Marie_Ret is arguing that there's a democratization in PhD programs, which is an old chestnut. I'd say that programs are contracting somewhat because many are realizing that it's irresponsible not to fund students. Income inequality affects institutions too. A subset of that argument is "but your advisor is really the only thing that matters." Where did they go to school? A great advisor can make up a little for institutional reputation, but I'd say this would be of greatest advantage to students at still respectable programs, let's say the 10-25 "according to you". The reality is, except in rare cases (likely because of spouse/partner proximity) or really obscure fields, faculty at fair to middling programs are not going to be the most respected in their field. They work too hard, 3-2s if they are lucky maybe more, up to 4-4s, and can't publish as much as their peers with 2-2 or sometimes even 0-1 loads, no matter how brilliant they might be. Even if they have a manuscript they have to slog through many grant proposals to string together enough for the subvention, at rich schools the institution can contribute most or all of it. Not to mention little things that help, like mortgage subsidies and great child care that make being a productive academic just that much easier. So yeah, really hard to be that fully engaged superstar mentor at smaller public programs. 

The argument that "you just have to get out there even if you have to self fund to attend conferences" is totally ridiculous. Condivi addressed this fully above, but dropping $1000 per conference usually isn't feasible for graduate students or junior faculty for that matter. Plus, if you are at a school with poor funding, you are probably TA-ing your ass off, maybe not even in art history but in any department you can, introductory lit perhaps. When are you churning out those papers? I've seen trust fund students do it, so if you are part of the 1% I guess it's possible.

I'm not saying that you are doomed if you are going to Missouri or Kansas, and you may have a very rich experience which is great. But your best outcome is most likely a TT at a lesser school where you are working that 4-4, teaching often ill prepared commuter students, maybe as the only art historian. Maybe you also "get" to be the director of the art department's little gallery too. It'll be hard to publish, but your tenure package doesn't have to be all that extensive, and you'll be making $40,000 as an associate professor, but cost of living will be lower in your rural community. And you will live the life of the mind as a real, fully credentialed, art historian. It's a small world in most fields, so you will also build a network of your peers, who will likely genuinely respect your work, and privately might say things like, "I really wish more people knew of so-and-so's work" while they are on their third book with California or MIT.

I'm also not trying to be a snob, just as others only trying to point out that there really are differences, they are substantial and they are limiting, not just for your career but also your family and future. By all means hold on to that little spot of warmth that lets you want to believe that you'll beat the odds, like the student who got offered the job on the spot on the strength of a paper CAA(?!?!). I hope that person went out directly after to buy a lotto ticket, because they must be the luckiest art historian ever.

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On 3/8/2016 at 1:48 PM, anonymousbequest said:

I'm not saying that you are doomed if you are going to Missouri or Kansas, and you may have a very rich experience which is great. But your best outcome is most likely a TT at a lesser school where you are working that 4-4, teaching often ill prepared commuter students, maybe as the only art historian.

Yeah totally,  or  worst case scenario you could be the director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, or a curator in the Modern and Contemporary department at the Met like a couple other Kansas PhD's. 

Even worse you could be stuck being a curator at one of these awful museums with other Kansas alums: Nelson-Atkins Museum (x3), Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Phoenix Art Museum (x2), Freer Sackler Gallery, Arthur Sackler Museum at Harvard, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Birmingham Museum of Art.

God forbid you end up with the fate of the Kansas PhD's with tenure track jobs at these godforesaken schools: Colby College, Cornell, Case Western, University of Pittsburgh, Arizona State, University of Alabama, Kansas City Art Institute, Savannah College of Art and Design, University of Cincinnati, University of Houston, College of Charleston, Kenyon College.

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3 hours ago, apaordak said:

Yeah totally,  or  worst case scenario you could be the director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, or a curator in the Modern and Contemporary department at the Met like a couple other Kansas PhD's. 

Even worse you could be stuck being a curator at one of these awful museums with other Kansas alums: Nelson-Atkins Museum (x3), Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Phoenix Art Museum (x2), Freer Sackler Gallery, Arthur Sackler Museum at Harvard, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Birmingham Museum of Art.

God forbid you end up with the fate of the Kansas PhD's with tenure track jobs at these godforesaken schools: Colby College, Cornell, Case Western, University of Pittsburgh, Arizona State, University of Alabama, Kansas City Art Institute, Savannah College of Art and Design, University of Cincinnati, University of Houston, College of Charleston, Kenyon College.

I would bet that most of these curators and professors were advised by just two faculty at Kansas: Charlie Eldredge, who must be close to retiring, or the (late) Marilyn Stokstad. 10-20 years ago, Kansas would likely have been in many people's 10-25, and many of the people you cite (at least those I'm most familiar with) are themselves on the back half of their careers. 

I almost added to my post that students from second tier schools have a much better track record in museums than academia, thank you for bringing it up. There are several programs that have had strong placements in museums, but less success in academia. Curators are more recent to fully professionalize, now lots of positions that would have required an MA from just about anywhere a decade or more ago now want PhDs from the top 25 programs "according to you." Some of the top 10 programs definitely discouraged their students from becoming curators historically, seeing museum work as a waste of talent and time. Yale was really the exception. However, this is changing. A recent Harvard PhD is now the curator at the LSU museum. Let that sink in, both for the dearth of jobs this seems to suggest, and that your competition for a college museum position (that isn't Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, UT, UCLA, Williams, Oberlin, etc...) could be from Harvard by the time you graduate.

But go ahead and hold tight to the exceptions. Whatever gets you through the night.

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1 hour ago, apaordak said:

Oh my god I would shoot myself if I had to be the curator at the LSU museum!!! What does that job even entail, scrubbing the toilets and wiping the drool from the slack jawed yokels who wander in off the street?

Maybe it is because I went to an ivy league school, but I just can't fathom that other people could possibly want any other outcome from their graduate education than to end up teaching other affluent white people art history at elite programs. How else will they earn the esteem of the dozen other people who read their article in oxford art journal?

I mean if talented people end up with degrees from second tier grad programs, and waste their time teaching commuter students at podunk universities, what if one of those untouchable commuters gets it in their head that they might actually want to be an art historian? What will become of our bastion of privilege??!!?

Luckily there are people like me and anonymousbequest to hang around on message boards for potential and current grad students, even though we already have phds (or at least represent ourselves as such) in order to police the discipline under the guise of telling it like it is.

I don't think that's what anonymousbequest is saying at all. There is nothing undesirable about the job in question. What has changed is that a job that might have gone to a University of Kansas PhD at some point has now been given to a Harvard graduate, which means that the job pool is getting more and more competitive. Moreover, the examples you list are completely outdated; Elizabeth Broun received her doctorate in 1979. The job market has radically changed over the eight-year period since the financial bubble & recession, so reaching back 37 years is completely ludicrous. It's like me claiming that a PhD from the Catholic University of America will give me a chance to be the next Marjorie Perloff. 

In regards to Ivy League Schools, your sarcasm gets it completely wrong. I do not have an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League, or from an elite LAC. I received a very good education at a public school, but I will never be buoyed by the name of that institution. Because of this I've been forced to think & act very pragmatically. Every professor I spoke with told me to aim as high as possible when applying to graduate programs. This wasn't because they're myopic elitists, it's because they know the realities of the current job market at the moment, either through departmental hiring or through their own job searches. When it comes to applying for jobs, I will be happy with any tenure-track position, because as the number of candidates for these positions rapidly grows, actual TT openings are being cut left and right. I am sure some people are ok with working as adjuncts, or have the independent resources to do a PhD without needing it to lead to some form of stable employment. I am not one of those people, which is why I pay such close attention to the job market, candidate placement, and the shift towards adjunct labour. There is nothing elitist about this; if anything, I am more aware of the reality at hand because I come from a working-class background, and therefore need to think very hard about any academic decision I make. 

As a last note, those of us in this thread who are being more critical are not doing so out of malice. This has been said over and over. It is one thing to be critical of the cultural capital involved in the field in question, and quite another to be oblivious to it. There are programs I did not apply to, not because of any perceived scholarly inferiority, but because I couldn't justify it based on their placement records. No matter how much I agitate or protest, I don't have the ability to change the material conditions of academia. My political beliefs are more or less full fucking Communist, but I will be able to do more good (assuming academia has any political power) working from a position of employment, than I will if I'm precariously employed, or unemployed. I would rather push for that than live in some sort of fantasy land where good jobs are plentiful and the discipline is without hierarchy. Sorry if that rubs you the wrong way. 

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  • 3 months later...

Hi everyone,

I'm applying to grad school next year so I was curious to scroll through this field. I hope someone with experience will sees my reply and can answer my question.

So as I saw the main argument was between top 10 schools and second runners. I do agree on the very fact that if you choose to pursue a PhD program, you have to aim for the best possible school in order to have opportunities within this highly competitive field. You argued that all major fellowships and academic positions go to the graduates of these top schools (fact, true unfortunately, that's how it usually works). 

However, my question is, as a prospective graduate student, currently pursuing my Bachelor's in a low tier public school: how much of a chance do I stand to get into a top graduate school? As you mentioned, most employers (let that be major museums or universities) do not consider candidates who are graduates of lower tier schools, regardless of how smart and academic they are. Then do top schools consider applicants from lower tier schools at all?

I spoke to two professors of mine, one of them had my hopes up and the other had me down. One said anything is possible if my research topic is special enough, stands out and is well written. The other said that I made my choice for a life when I enrolled in a lower tier school for a Bachelor's and there is no way to break out from this. Then I went on the website of the top universities and scrolled through current PhD students, where the majority of them had their Bachelor's from other Ivy Institutions or already a Master's from a similarly well-established university. Then do my Honor's in the major, special and well-written research, high GPA, hopefully good GRE and language knowledge matter at all, if I am only coming from a low tier school? (when I mean low tier I do not indicate top 10-25, even lower than those).

When I chose to attend my school I did not pick it because this would have been the only place where I could get into based on my knowledge. I chose it because this was the only one I could afford.

So my question is, based on your own experience or on others' you know, is it worth aiming that high with a background like mine and spending hundreds of dollars on application fees to top schools? If you already say a few people did it, or someone did it, that's good enough for me, because then I know it's possible.

 

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Of course it's possible! And you would be doing yourself a huge disservice not to apply. You are, it's true, at a disadvantage, but if your writing sample and personal statement are top notch, you stand a decent chance. You can't know until you apply, and neither do your professors. I would also encourage you to apply for terminal masters programs (funded ones)--that would give you a better platform for apply to top tier phd programs later on. 

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You gotta go with what your gut tells you to do. Different folks will always give you different advice. All I can say is your mentor will be your lifeline and you will be working with him/her/them for a very long period of time (and potentially for most of your academic career as well). Hence, its vital you can work well with the person and feel comfortable. I would put that at the highest priority. There are ways around the prestige of the 10 school as well you should be aware of. I.) There are sub-specialities. II.) You should aim to have a dissertation committee that is interdisciplinary. While the art history faculty member in your field may be mediocre or good, the history dept. or English dept. might have someone extremely well-regarded and wonderful. III.) Not everyone wants to work at a top tier university or art museum. Some really enter a PhD with the goal of working at a community college, liberal arts college, or other local public institution. Those aren't things to be ashamed of either and can be quite rewarding careers. Long story short, your success will depend upon not what the "best school is" but rather the "best school for you." 

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