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Dept is in the news for a bad reason...advice?


mmehistorian
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I accepted the offer right before that article came out. My next best choice currently is UMich. After I'm in the program, I could hypothetically jump to another, but that is just a difficult thing. I'm just hoping things aren't as bad as they seem here.

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You still have April 15th to change your mind.

 

As someone who is in a department where we have had some amazing American historians leave, it does shake the morale of the graduate students.  It's the major reason why I settled for a thematic minor field instead of American history.   It's worked out quite well for me.

 

The best one can hope is for transnational hires- where one of the area is American history.   However, a  friend told me just now that Penn ran a job search ad https://www.h-net.org/jobs/job_display.php?id=50520

 

Transferring PhD programs is very difficult though it can be done... but it's difficult because A) your chances of getting in another program will be small as this time around and B) you will need to truly justify why the other department is a much better match (i.e.e you can't say "there aren't that many American history professors at Penn...").

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IMO, the article is a planted story by one or more professors who want to get the department back on track. The fact that there are different POVs IRT what constitutes the best path is a good thing.

I think the article is circling around two or three elephants in the House of Klio, and those elephants will be waiting for you wherever you end up as a graduate student or, down the road, as a faculty member.

Going to Penn during this period of adjustment affords you additional training opportunities. You may get to attend numerous job talks and to be a fly on the wall when professors talk about the factors that come into play when hiring additional faculty. You may even have the opportunity of being a "glue guy/woman" by helping to build trust and chemistry.

The challenges you will face include not getting caught up in the gossip among graduate students or the harping among professors who may want you to see things their way. You will need to be especially keen when it comes to the intentions of your advisers IRT staying at Penn.

Were I in your shoes, I would talk to the reporter who wrote the piece (off the record), and then have an honest conversation with the DGS and your potential advisers.

Pick your words carefully when talking to professors. Sound concerned but calm. Convey a sense of confidence in your ability to handle a turbulent situation for your entire time at Penn. You don't want to come across as someone who is looking for reasons to go elsewhere. Yes, it may come to that, but how you comport yourself is vital to getting the best information you can.

Edited by Sigaba
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It depends on who you were intending to work with.  Daniel Richter, Steven Hahn, of course still go.  Stephanie McCurry or Tom Segrue, you might want to reconsider.

 

FYI: That article is from the Daily Pennsylvanian, the Penn undergrad newspaper, hardly the New York Times...

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Also, why would it be a mess unless your potential adviser is leaving?  Penn might be in a rough spot, but it's not going to fall off the face of the earth.

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I feel like Penn's undergrad newspaper would have much better intel than the NY Times FWIW. Either way I agree the Penn name is going to do miles for you regardless of how "unhappy" people are. 

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None of the Penn Grad students I know seem to hate the department.  My point wasn't that the newspaper didn't know what was going on, but that it's hardly national press or that the article would reflect the penn history dept as a sinking ship in the media.

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I know it's a student paper, but it does give insights. I can deal with "unhappy"; why I worry is because I have heard numerous stories about feuding departmental politics where students suffer because they're used as pawns to provoke or defend at the profs' will. I don't want my opportunities stifled because people can't get along.

That said, the students there and the professors that I met with have been both brilliant and kind people. I don't mean to impart that they are not. My advisor doesn't appear to be leaving, and I hope they wouldn't have brought me on if they intended to jump ship soon. I just wanted some insight to if the students here saw this as a small or large obstacle in their own experiences.

Either way, I have committed and am excited to join the department. If the tensions are high enough to provoke an article, it seems excessive, but with the shifting dynamics it could become worse or (hopefully) ease off. We shall see.

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Penn person here. OP, it makes me sad to see you worrying! The article's not wrong, mostly, but Penn is a relatively happy place for grad students in my experience. Faculty drama doesn't really trickle down, definitely not in the way you're describing. If you're into the people you're coming here to work with, I wouldn't worry too much about the rest. Not going to post more, but PM me if you want to talk about it. Or, even better, follow up with the students you met at visiting day.

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