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LaMer

From scratch...

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Hi Folks,

I've lurked awhile on these forums and am proud to be making my first post. Here's my story...

I graduated from a public midwestern university with a BA in Economics and Political Science and a Minor in Art History. My GPA was of the average variety - 3.1. I've been working in "high finance" since undergrad in NYC and also lived and worked in said field for 1.5 years in Mumbai, India.

Now, after 4 years in the workforce I want to go graduate school. I fancy myself an autodidact in Literature and Philosophy as I have developed a tremendous passion and informal education in these areas through my own study, etc. I also took the GMAT (for some reason) and received a 700 (low 90th percentile) - so I think my GRE should be okay.

I feel I've reached a saturation point with my solitary study, and would enjoy being back in an academic environment. So, I think an M.A. is what I want to get - particularly one of these interdisciplinary programs (MAPH, etc.) - but I'm so out of touch with Academia, haven't done proper academic research, etc, that I don't even know whether I could even stand a fighting chance of getting into MAPH @ UChicago or something equivalent? Or is there somewhere I should start? Should I take a stab at writing something? I am so clueless...

I would cherish any insight into any part of my dilemma from you guys. You seem to give great, practical advice. If I'm doomed to my solitary study, aka "the old fashioned grad school!", please do not hesitate to say so.

Cheers,

La Mer

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I have a habit of being blunt, but there's no offense intended.

I'd say your biggest issue is that an admissions committee is likely to look at your background and go: "Oh hey, this is someone looking for a place to hide during the market downturn." Unless you find a way to prove your passion outside of just saying so, most schools aren't going to want to invest in a student who's just looking to ride out the recession. Now I don't know your intended field, so maybe they don't care that much, but I'd say your prospects for funding look dim.

Now I have no idea of your actual motivations here, but unless you find a way to counteract this perception (good letters of rec for instance) then you're going to have this issue.

It's a shame you haven't been doing this solitary study under the aegis of a professor who could back you up on it. If you can figure out a way to somehow get a prof involved in this work of yours, that would do a great deal to help.

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hey there,

i'm not actually from the US so i can't shed much light on things for you, but i just wanted to add - i have a friend who got in to the MAPH after 4-5 years in the workforce/out of uni, so don't let that factor alone deter you.

good luck whatever you end up deciding!

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Honestly, those mutidisciplinary MA programs are a pretty easy admit. Most are expensive with no funding, so are cash cows for the university. You shouldn't have a problem.

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I think that your lack of a formal background in the arts will hurt your chances much more than the time you've spent out of school.

Has your solitary reading included criticism/works on methodology/theory? I know many people who are very widely read and well informed, but they would struggle mightily to earn an excellent grade in a senior undergraduate class in a specific discipline because they have not had the training in disciplinary standards and practices, methodology, etc. that you learn through a formal arts education. Without a deep understanding of the state of the discipline you intend to pursue, its current trends in terms of both content and methodology, and what constitutes publishable work, you are unlikely to be able to propose a research project that will get you accepted.

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It's a shame you haven't been doing this solitary study under the aegis of a professor who could back you up on it. If you can figure out a way to somehow get a prof involved in this work of yours, that would do a great deal to help.

In your experience, have you ever seen or heard precedent for forming some kind of a relationship or dialogue with a professor in an informal way? Luckily, I live in a city where there are several uni's - so perhaps that may not be a bad idea.

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Are there any professors from undergrad who you took more than one class with, or in whose class you did particularly well? You'd probably have better luck getting refs from your undergrad institute (4 years isn't a super long time) rather than trying to connect with professors whose institution you don't attend.

There are some posts on the boards about the best ways to go about asking for a reference from undergrad when you've been out for awhile. You might find those helpful.

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In your experience, have you ever seen or heard precedent for forming some kind of a relationship or dialogue with a professor in an informal way? Luckily, I live in a city where there are several uni's - so perhaps that may not be a bad idea.

Before I was a student at the university professors were always happy to talk to me. Since getting to the university, every professor I've met has been nothing but excited to deal with truly passionate individuals and generally respond very favorably. It can be hard to figure out the right situation for dealing with things or getting to know a prof well enough where they'll know your abilities well enough to write you a good letter, but I also think this mostly never happens because most people either don't make the effort or don't think it's possible. There's an idea that unless you're a student you have no business interacting with professors and while the university may see it that way I don't think most professors really do. Although it depends on what you ask of them, there is a clear barrier for some things.

Also, I should note that there's nothing that stops you from attending graduate courses if you have several unis nearby. Crashing an interesting grad course (try and find one that isn't tooo small) is a good way to learn a bit about the field, graduate coursework and get to know some professors in a sense that shows them you're serious. Let them know you're auditing though.

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Crashing an interesting grad course (try and find one that isn't tooo small) is a good way to learn a bit about the field, graduate coursework and get to know some professors in a sense that shows them you're serious. Let them know you're auditing though.

ASK them if you can audit. Most grad classes are small and the prof will notice if there's a random person in the room.

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Also, I should note that there's nothing that stops you from attending graduate courses if you have several unis nearby. Crashing an interesting grad course (try and find one that isn't tooo small) is a good way to learn a bit about the field, graduate coursework and get to know some professors in a sense that shows them you're serious. Let them know you're auditing though.

This might be good advice for computing science, but it would be social suicide in the humanities. I guarantee that if you did this, nobody who heard about it would want to work with you. A polite e-mail well in advance or meeting during office hours would be a good first step to requesting the privilege of auditing. Many humanities courses are discussion based and have 10-12 students in them, so the professor will be very careful about who to let audit, if anyone. In the 10 grad seminars that I have taken or audited, only current grad students who had already earned enough credits were allowed to audit the course. The only people allowed to take the course besides current students in the department were students in other departments or at sister institutions, and they all had to formally request to be included.

The suggestion to take or audit graduate courses gets thrown around a lot, but it can be much more difficult to do than it seems. Many programs zealously guard their classrooms to make sure that their limited resources are only going to the people who they have vetted, admitted, and invested time and resources in.

Man, I'm being a Debbie Downer on this thread!

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The school where I ended up doing my MA allowed people to register for (and Pay for, no auditing for non-students) up to two classes w/o enrolling, but I had to submit undergrad transcripts, fill out a modified application, and meet with the dept head before permission was granted. I have also audited grad classes, but only after I was enrolled in the MA program at that university. So jasper speaks the truth, at least in my experience (humanities).

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Bummer... It seems my field is pretty different there's usually a couple classes big enough to go ahead and hang out in. Mostly the core required courses for the program during at least the fall tend to have enough students where they're done more in bulk. Oh well.

I would still go ahead and send an e-mail around and see if someone's willing to let you drop by... but again, it appears our fields appear to have many differences in how open a classroom is, so ymmv!

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This might be good advice for computing science, but it would be social suicide in the humanities. I guarantee that if you did this, nobody who heard about it would want to work with you. A polite e-mail well in advance or meeting during office hours would be a good first step to requesting the privilege of auditing. Many humanities courses are discussion based and have 10-12 students in them, so the professor will be very careful about who to let audit, if anyone. In the 10 grad seminars that I have taken or audited, only current grad students who had already earned enough credits were allowed to audit the course. The only people allowed to take the course besides current students in the department were students in other departments or at sister institutions, and they all had to formally request to be included.

The suggestion to take or audit graduate courses gets thrown around a lot, but it can be much more difficult to do than it seems. Many programs zealously guard their classrooms to make sure that their limited resources are only going to the people who they have vetted, admitted, and invested time and resources in.

Man, I'm being a Debbie Downer on this thread!

Thanks to all for the great responses to this post. Really great insights...

To the above post from jasper, who has been very helpful via private messages, I wonder if this is indeed the state of graduate study today? The assertion that - "I guarantee that if you did this, nobody who heard about it would want to work with you." seems downright vulgar and cynical in the worst possible way (not jasper, but these others who would react to a course auditor).

I acknowledge that some degree of patrician elitism must exist in a respected educational institution, but to the degree that it is "guaranteed" to be this way stinks of a regression to the prejudicial days of Harvard as an 'old boys club'. I suppose it also highlights the possible insecurity and fear that grad students and potential collaborators live under - that above all their work mustn't be tainted or even perceived to be tainted by Joe Blow auditor, despite Joe's intellectual capacities.

Is it this way? Please answer truthfully - void of cynicism or optimism.

Thanks again for all of your insights...

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Certainly isn't in my field. Quite a few mavericks.

It *is* a small community though and word does get around. It doesn't mean it's uniform but if someone doesn't like you they can always make times difficult for you because then you'll be restricted to working with the people who don't respect that person's opinion. Really as a graduate applicant you have very little clout to throw around, so anyone with any clout who don't like you can throw your chances off.

But guarantees? No.

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To the above post from jasper, who has been very helpful via private messages, I wonder if this is indeed the state of graduate study today? The assertion that - "I guarantee that if you did this, nobody who heard about it would want to work with you." seems downright vulgar and cynical in the worst possible way (not jasper, but these others who would react to a course auditor).

We're not talking about auditing a course, we're talking about crashing a course, which is completely different. Obviously, a polite request to formally audit would certainly not blackball you from the department. Just showing up on the first day and taking a seat? Completely different. It would be presumptuous and rude.

I acknowledge that some degree of patrician elitism must exist in a respected educational institution, but to the degree that it is "guaranteed" to be this way stinks of a regression to the prejudicial days of Harvard as an 'old boys club'. I suppose it also highlights the possible insecurity and fear that grad students and potential collaborators live under - that above all their work mustn't be tainted or even perceived to be tainted by Joe Blow auditor, despite Joe's intellectual capacities.

I'm surprised that you jumped so quickly to accusations of ivory tower prejudice. This is not a case of dysfunction or elitism. It is a simple function of how seminars work in the humanities at the graduate level. Anyone who has participated in a small seminar course can attest to how easily the productivity and focus of the group can be thrown off by one person. As a result, participants are carefully screened to ensure that they have the adequate background to contribute meaningfully, the good will to participate productively, and the dedication to see the course through. Honours programs and admissions committees are, in large part, screening processes of this kind. There are other ways to prove that you are all of these things, of course. Participation in casual academic reading groups, independent scholarship and publication, building a relationship with a professor, etc. can all substitute for a formal education in the discipline in various ways. But the fact remains that completing a degree in the field with success evidenced by grades and letters of recommendation is the most widely accepted way to prove your ability. Not because it proves that you have conformed to the system, and not because it screens out the plebians, but because having completed a set distribution of courses ensures that when a classmate proves a point by referring to Foucault or Dickens' Bleak House, he/she can reasonably expect most colleagues to be able to understand and further the point.

Again, having everyone in the class more or less on the same page about the broad limits of the discipline and the various possibilities within it is not elitism, nor is it an attempt to quash creativity or keep out the taint of "Joe Blow". It is simply that when we begin a conversation from a shared background, we will be able to delve much more deeply into detailed discussion and the exploration of nuance. This is because we don't have to spend time establishing that background for each member of the group. The complexity that is possible is the best part of a graduate education. It pushes every member in the group to higher levels. It can be absolutely exhilarating and life changing if done right. Without the level of detail and rigor provided by this set up, I hazard to guess that we would be ill prepared for the difficulties of publishing in competition with others who had the benefit of this experience.

Now, in a course based largely on the transmission of information, I can understand that crashers would not be a problem. In a course based entirely on complex conversation, it is. My field is not an old boy's club, nor is it always or even largely elitist. The department I just left was full of young, vibrant professors, mostly female, mostly deeply politically engaged, and yet not a one of them would have allowed someone to crash a graduate course. Not because they're snobs, but because it wouldn't work.

Finally, who do you think populates graduate courses? Joe Blows with the intellectual capacities to see an education through. They may have the same intellectual capacities as a non-graduate student, absolutely. The difference is that they have proved those capacities and honed them. I see nothing elitist in the standard that everyone must prove themselves through training before they are allowed to join an advanced group of collaborators. With years of training, I may be able to run at a competitive level (not likely, but let's run with the analogy). Does that make me entitled to a spot in a race with people who have already put in the work? Sure, maybe in a sprint, where any weakness will only hurt myself. But not on a relay team, where my lack of preparation could cost others the level of performance that they have worked for years to reach.

You cannot crash a course in the humanities because nobody will let you. They will not let you because centuries of institutional experience have produced a model for learning that relies on collaboration at a complex level. They will not let you because that model works, and because it works so well if executed properly that it is highly, highly prized by those involved. You may have the same capacity as the participants. This does not mean that you get a free pass to skip the meaningful training and screening that they went through. Now the training may seem meaningless, and the screening arbitrary. I submit that you feel this way because you have not yet understood the serious and time tested reasons why they are in place. Are they flawed? Of course. Every institutional model is. But the vast majority of the time, they are effective. They are there for a reason, and those reasons have been established slowly, by experts in the field.

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I think it is my fault that I didn't communicate properly that I wasn't defending 'crashers'. As a matter of fact, I agree that people crashing courses would be highly disruptive and can certainly understand why enrolled students would want to steer clear of associating themselves with a course crasher in any kind of meaningful work.

That miscommunication aside, I certainly didn't mean to indicate that I had so quickly jumped to conclusions of ivory tower prejudice. Also, my apologies if my language was a little inflammatory in that regard (and definitely didn't mean 'old boys club' literally).

Thanks again for your input...

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Ah. I thought you were saying that the resistance to crashers is elitist, because you quoted my description of resistance to crashers in the post that I replied to above.

The assertion that - "I guarantee that if you did this, nobody who heard about it would want to work with you." seems downright vulgar and cynical in the worst possible way (not jasper, but these others who would react to a course auditor).

You're quoting me strongly encouraging you not to crash. As I said in the other part of that same post, a polite e-mail well ahead of time might get you permission to audit, but you need to go through official channels. They may not let you in, for the reasons I rambled about above.

As a matter of fact, I agree that people crashing courses would be highly disruptive and can certainly understand why enrolled students would want to steer clear of associating themselves with a course crasher in any kind of meaningful work.

Glad you agree. Again, it's not that students would want to steer clear of a crasher, it's that the crasher would be instantly ejected.

If you're not defending crashing, then I'm not sure what your question is at this point, since you were asking whether or not my statement about crashing humanities courses was true. Could you clarify?

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I think her question was more related to whether or not it was true that academia was so cohesive a beast as to blackball an individual if they did in fact unknowingly do something rude in their field like crash a course. The assumption was that crashing a course is in fact rude in this field. (Which indeed it seems to be, unlike in my own... your questionable implications that my field is just about information transmission and doesn't involve discussion aside...) Anyways, I believe the question was about how connected academia was and how uniform the reaction to rudeness might be. How much it would cross institutional barriers, etc...

Then again, I could be missing the point here too. I seem to be doing that a lot in this thread, perhaps I should shut up. :)

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I think her question was more related to whether or not it was true that academia was so cohesive a beast as to blackball an individual if they did in fact unknowingly do something rude in their field like crash a course. The assumption was that crashing a course is in fact rude in this field. (Which indeed it seems to be, unlike in my own... your questionable implications that my field is just about information transmission and doesn't involve discussion aside...) Anyways, I believe the question was about how connected academia was and how uniform the reaction to rudeness might be. How much it would cross institutional barriers, etc...

Then again, I could be missing the point here too. I seem to be doing that a lot in this thread, perhaps I should shut up. :)

Ah, that makes more sense. Thanks, belowthree. And sorry for unintentionally slagging comp sci... I just grabbed at what seemed to my flaky brain to be the most likely possible reason for the difference. Maybe it's more a function of class size? I certainly didn't mean to imply that your *field* is all transmission of information, simply that some of your larger grad *classes* may be.

If the question is whether "academia was so cohesive a beast as to blackball an individual if they did in fact unknowingly do something rude in their field like crash a course", I think that it varies case by case. In my opinion and in my field, crashing a graduate course would be so egregiously rude and make the crasher seem so oblivious to insitutional norms that yes, it would probably keep them from getting admitted to that program in the future. While the hypothetical crasher could probably find a home somewhere else, academia is a small world and you never know if the new DGS will have received an e-mail from their best friend at Crasher U complaining about what some crazy person did. The right person with the right amount of charm could talk their way out of it, for sure. But many couldn't, I think.

So much of the role of letters of recommendation and interviews is to figure out whether or not you're crazy. People don't want to bring someone in who will end up driving the department nuts for eight years. If you ever get a chance to read a wide selection of letters of reference, you will be amazed at how many of them talk about the student's sense of humour, temperament, etc. People are casually checking out the personal histories of prospective grad students and prospective hires all the time. They ask colleagues from the same town if they knew them/knew of them, ask people who have been in contact with them if they were helpful and polite, ask the secretaries if there's anyone who has come across as a potential problem. So yup, a big lapse of professionalism or act of rudeness (intentional or not) can absolutely hurt your chances. After all, it's competitive, and they may as well take the nice, professional, scrupulously polite girl with the 4.0.

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