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Chicago or Harvard?


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Anyone with personal experience at either of these institutions is particularly welcome to comment, although helpful advice from others in the community is of course welcome too. (This is not meant as a "brag post" -- I realize that I am very fortunate to have these two schools as options -- I have just been beating myself up over the decision, so I am reaching out for some outside perspectives.)

 

Some details:

 

Chicago

-Good faculty fit with primary advisor

-Environment in which I feel comfortable (I know this from having done my M.A. there); my guess is that I would reintegrate easily and be happier (or at least less stressed) than at Harvard

 

Harvard:

-Better (arguably the best) placement in my sub-field

-Better funding, even after adjusted for COL; that said, Chicago's stipend would also be more than enough to cover my living expenses, so the threat of debt is not an active concern

-Less direct fit with primary advisor (but interesting secondary/tertiary people who work on topics loosely related to my interests)

 

Both advisors are fantastic scholars and people, so it is tough to choose between them.

 

For those of you who are already in programs and can reflect on the most important factors that have made your graduate experiences good/bad, I would be all ears. Thank you for your input.

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Who specifically are you working with at Chicago? I had the good fortune of being particularly close to a number of faculty in the history dept. while an undergrad. From what I've heard, the grad administration at Chicago is not fantastic–and if undergrad is anything to go by, I certainly would believe it. 

Also, if you've done your MA at Chicago, I would seriously suggest expanding your networks by going elsewhere; the faculty you worked with at Chicago will still be there if you need help down the road. Whereas, you've no experience (I'm assuming) with people at Harvard, and building those connections can only be beneficial at this point in your career.

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Thanks for all the feedback so far. I had not really placed as much value on the networking aspect of things as perhaps I should have. Presumably, ceteris paribus, a broader network is better than a narrower one. At risk of sounding naïve though, what is the practical value of having a broader network for a graduate student? More people to write letters? To provide feedback on written work? More ways to get invited to participate in panels, write book chapters? I agree that having a broader network is "important," but I guess I am less clear on the tangible value it has for a graduate student in practice. A lot of it just seems difficult to quantify. (For job placement, for example, I'm assuming that the quality of one's written work and the strength of the advisor's recommendation are the primary deciding factors once you've cleared the "prestige" hurdle, so the extensiveness of one's network seems less directly relevant there unless one is applying to a place specifically within that network. But please feel free to correct me -- I genuinely am curious.)

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The best way I could describe it is knowing what's happening in two separate areas: I'm still in touch with all my faculty from Chicago, and they've invited me to continue updating them on my progress and to stop by when I'm in the area. If they know of panels/books/positions available they send me emails and talk about networking opportunities. I presume that when I see them at conferences we'll hang out and they'll introduce me to other people.

Meanwhile, at Brown, I'll be doing this same sort of networking except with a whole different set of faculties working on a whole different set of projects who will (presumably?) take interest in what I'm doing. When it comes time for job searches, if one's in Chicago I know there's a group of people there who can push for me at other schools in the area. Or if they have friends on job search committees trying to figure out if they want to hire for Atlantic World or Latin America, they can push my name as someone who'll be on the market. And when I start publishing, two groups of scholars'll be interested in what's going on.

In short, obviously broadening networks if you're not good at keeping in touch won't do much for you, but if you can juggle the balls it will work wonders for you in the long run. Further, if you show that you're successful at a number of schools, it makes your future job search applications look more appealing, since you can say "I did well at x y and z schools, it's probably a safe bet I'll do well at your institution as well" and things like that. I spent a long time speaking with faculty about applying to Chicago for my Ph.D and most of them were fairly emphatic that I should avoid going back because it would limit my opportunities.

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I'm in my third year in the PhD program so I can give you some foresight.

 

I kept in touch with some of my "favorite" POIs from the admissions process (even if they rejected me) over the years.  Also, just prior to entering in the PhD program, I worked closely with fellows in an academic research center right in my field and got to know some of them.  I run into them at conferences and go for coffee when we are both in the same area.  They ask how I'm doing and where I am with the program.  They offer tips for research in different archives and leads on fellowships and put me in touch with others who they were in touch with who might have similar interests.  Some of them have turned into wonderful mentors who have helped me develop my professional identity and skills as a budding scholar.  One of the tangibles I got out of networking was organizing a successful international conference of my (and theirs!) dreams.

 

In terms of keeping in touch on my end, I generally e-mail them with updates after a major milestone (i.e. finishing an academic year, receiving a major fellowship, etc.) or when i have a question.

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While 'networking' should be one of your concerns, I feel this thread has placed undue emphasis on it. Harvard and Chicago both have great placement records; your chances of finding a job will be good coming out of either school, regardless of how many scholars you know.

How important is it for you to have an adviser whose research interests align perfectly with yours? I wouldn't consider that a crucial advantage, personally, but everyone is different...

Edited by L13
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I mean the post already stated that there are a lot of pro's in harvard's direction. Not knowing the specifics of the fields, I don't think many of us can offer better input than "think about the network" since it never showed up in the initial post. I do think matters of personal affect are very important, but I think OP is probably aware of that.

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Anyone with personal experience at either of these institutions is particularly welcome to comment, although helpful advice from others in the community is of course welcome too. (This is not meant as a "brag post" -- I realize that I am very fortunate to have these two schools as options -- I have just been beating myself up over the decision, so I am reaching out for some outside perspectives.)

 

Some details:

 

Chicago

-Good faculty fit with primary advisor

-Environment in which I feel comfortable (I know this from having done my M.A. there); my guess is that I would reintegrate easily and be happier (or at least less stressed) than at Harvard

 

Harvard:

-Better (arguably the best) placement in my sub-field

-Better funding, even after adjusted for COL; that said, Chicago's stipend would also be more than enough to cover my living expenses, so the threat of debt is not an active concern

-Less direct fit with primary advisor (but interesting secondary/tertiary people who work on topics loosely related to my interests)

 

Both advisors are fantastic scholars and people, so it is tough to choose between them.

 

For those of you who are already in programs and can reflect on the most important factors that have made your graduate experiences good/bad, I would be all ears. Thank you for your input.

 

Were I in your position, I would pick Harvard.

 

As an undergraduate, a number of us were told in very subtle ways that we would most likely have the opportunity to return as graduate students. IRT to positioning one's self for the job market and remaining in a familiar environment, staying made a lot of sense. My UG school was/is the University of Bees Knees at Buzzland.  

 

However, one professor whom I trusted told me that getting multiple degrees from the same school could send the wrong message to hiring committees (he used the word "incestuous"). 

 

(You could check on the validity of this professor's POV. Take a look at the top twenty or thirty schools you'd love to be as a tenured professor and take a look at the top historians in your field by generation. Do you see patterns in double and triple dipping?)

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