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Aspiring towards PhD, but second MA required? US programs


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Hello all,


Thank you in advance for any advice you might have and sorry if this is long.


Here is my profile to begin with:


- BA and MA in a related humanities field from the same university... a public research university (state), generally well-regarded but no ivy.

- BA overall gpa horrendous (2.5), but within major not horrible (3.5)

- went to MA at same institution. 3.9 gpa, participated in 2 conferences, taught 2 undergraduate courses independently. also took seminars in art history, contemporary art while in MA program. CON: there was no MA thesis, but instead a comprehensive exam which i aced... but still, no MA thesis.

- received MA in 2013.. have been living abroad and working at a well-regarded art non-profit for 2 years. trying to find a new job at the moment, as i have just given them my notice of leave. in my role at this current job, i've been an associate editor for 7 anthologies on contemporary art. 

- have published 2 articles; one was translated, the other republished elsewhere. but these were not peer-reviewed journals or anything.

- will have 3 strong recommendations for PhD programs should i apply. 2 of the recommenders are from the art history field. 

- languages: i am bilingual but not in a language related to my field of interest per se. my french is intermediate with strength in reading.




I'm currently having a bit of an identity crisis, especially given how insanely competitive PhD programs are in the US. I've tried to be devoted to this field of contemporary art, but I'm thinking more and more that maybe I need to get a second MA in art history/visual culture proper in order to produce a solid MA thesis, and also for networking and contacts, before applying to a PhD. I certainly don't have the funds for an MA and would have to take out loans. I'm also maybe in a weird state because I just quit my insanely demanding and exhausting job, and feel like I've forgotten what my own interests are after 2 years of working on other people's projects. It's weird, I feel like I've gotten dumber. 


I'm also wondering whether my past track record (undergraduate GPA, namely) will still prevent me from getting into an top-ranking PhD program. I'm targeting visual culture programs over strictly traditional art history ones, as I come from an interdisciplinary background and my interests tend to spill into several disciplines. 


Has anyone tried to write a solid paper as a substitute for a thesis on their own? I see that most programs require 15-20 pages. Think I could do this on my own? I thought about taking a seminar at nearby schools when I return to the US (moving back soon) and using that as an opportunity to craft a good paper. 


I have a paper from 2012, a seminar paper, but it is very outdated.



Any and all advice regarding what I can begin to do now to help my application in the fall is appreciated. Thank you.

Edited by riceandbeans12
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Your GPA from your undergrad certainly isn't going to help you, but it's also not the be-all, end all I would say. As you mentioned, you had a great GPA in your MA program and you can really play that up in your application (if you told us what the related field was it would probably be more helpful in figuring out if that no thesis thing is going to really hurt).


It sounds like you've made some good traction though in the Art Historical field since leaving school - being the associate editor on 7 book projects is no small thing and you have two publications of your own which were obviously well received if they've been translated/republished. Could you not expand on those articles/submit one of them as a writing sample? Taking an MA level class as an independent in Art History could be advantageous insofar as a) you'll get to write that paper and b ) it shows that you're dipping your toe back into the pool that is academia, so to speak.


I think that the decision is ultimately up to you, but I personally wouldn't do an MA. You already have one and you've clearly been successful outside of school which is where it counts - honestly, unless you have a killer supervisor at the MA level who is willing to go above and beyond for you, you're probably not going to make that many contacts. Going to art shows, meeting artists and other people interested in the arts has always been a lot more fruitful for me than mingling with my cohort. Don't get me wrong, I love them all to death and we hang out all. the. time, but I don't think that any of us have made any connections of note through each other.


Just be sure that you write a really amazing SOP that highlights your best qualities and your experience in the art world and how that's gone well for you!

Edited by happy little pill
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  • 2 weeks later...

I would apply directly to PhDs and see what happens. You could also apply to several MAs to diversify in case you want to go that route, but I would think carefully about doing a second MA, for the simple reason that the second degree may not help you get into the PhD programs you are aiming for, and you have already been successful in the kinds of positions that most hope to get with only a terminal masters in Art History. If you want to go for the experience and knowledge that would be one thing, but since you say that you would have to take out loans for an MA and that your ultimate goal is the PhD, I don't think it would be worth the risk for a slightly better shot at PhDs.  

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  • 2 weeks later...

If you have a good connection with one of the profs from your alma mater, consider approaching them about writing an independent project with them "off the record" so to speak: tell them you have an idea for a topic and would appreciate if the prof could read your proposal and final version. Doing a project with a prof might also help reconnect with them and get you a better LOR. It's also clearly better than trying to do it all by yourself - although it is certainly doable to write a sample of writing on your own, I know people who've been successful doing just that.


I agree with the above comments that you probably should at least try applying for PhD directly; you could also do both MA and PhD applications in the same season, as it's too late now for MA anyway, isn't it?

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