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mewantphd

HELP finding programs/professors that fit my interest!!

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I'm in the very early stages of applying for PhD programs, and am having difficulty finding programs and professors that align with my interest (which I have yet to solidify). I'm interested in exploring the literacy development of students with learning disabilities in inclusive co-taught learning environments. 

I initially tried to narrow down the schools to those that only have programs in special education, but I don't want to limit myself to that. Any recommendations on how I can be more productive in my search to find professors and programs that align with my research interest? Is my research interest not specific enough? I feel like I'm dedicating so much time on this, but not getting anywhere with my search. I read up on a bunch of professors, and just get overwhelmed in the end. 

Any advice would help!

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It might help to look at who authored a couple of your favorite papers. You can then see where (if) they teach. Also, if you look to the bibliography you will probably get a sense of who they are reading and those people might be possible candidates. I don't know enough about your field to offer and advice on if you are being specific enough, but I hope the last bit helps.

QM.

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I agree with @Quickmick that reviewing papers is likely the best way to find departments and professors that could be a good fit. Beyond that, and this may be obvious, but I'd look at literacy education programs to supplement whatever you find in special education departments. Also, just from my experience as a doctoral student, there seems to be more cross-departmental collaboration in education schools, so you may be able to gain research experience to cover the topic by working with multiple individuals in tangentially related areas. Similarly, when it comes to your dissertation, you may not find one specific professor that aligns perfectly with your topic, but you could still create a committee from across disciplines or areas to get a more complete perspective on the topic.

Also, don't get discouraged - I had similar issues finding programs when I was applying, but after narrowing my prospects I contacted a few departments and found professors that were willing to help me pursue my specific interests. 

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I just go from one school to another, and check professors one by one. Takes forever, but works. Following publication authors is good, too. Combined approach is even better. :)

How do you people contact professors? I mostly just send cold e-mails and wait. Is there a better approach?

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I'm also on the same boat, and it took me a long, long time to figure things out. I hope I might be of any help. And please correct me if I am wrong!

In general, it'll be easier for people who can talk to insiders-- professors or current graduate students in the said field. They know things that you cannot read from program pages and POI publications. They might also help you narrow down (or redirect) your research interests. So, try to reach out, starting from professors with whom you've taken classes before. 

Currently, I do not have access to any kind of mentorship. I'm trying to navigate my way out by doing the following things:

1. Build spread sheets: program fit & POI fit
I have a long list of schools/programs from US News ranking. I go by program to program and faculty after faculty. On my program fit sheet, I have information such as financial support, placement, resources, etc (anything you care about being in that department and living in that city). On my POI fit, I have faculty name, research interests, major publications, classes taught, recent graduate students and their dissertations, etc. I haven't finalized my list yet because getting to know one program and even one faculty does take time. 

PS. Sometimes you can find professors' blogs. They write about their research, their teaching and other personal things. Blogs give you a better sense of whether your research interests, opinions and values align with them.   

2. Try to narrow down
I majored in English during college and had considered applying to other fields/disciplines, such as Sociology, Cultural Anthropology, Ethnic Studies, etc. for my next degree. I dismissed some of the thoughts by learning them the hard way. I've already taken some would-be-interesting-and-related courses before and knew by heart that I would still prefer literary approach to study issues that concern me. I also considered Cultural Studies, Ethnic Studies and other closer fields once, but I crossed out these options because I found out that these departments are smaller and cannot afford financial coverage as strong as that of English departments. Also, I might have some disadvantages in the academic job market if I'm not from a traditional English department. I'll have to prove that I have solid knowledge and pedagogy skills to teach literature classes otherwise. (This depends on what you want to do after the degree. )  

Now I'm settled with the direction. Continue with my crazy spreadsheets. Less confusion.

3. Get familiar with the background knowledge
Then I browse through wiki, books, encyclopedia and journals to get a big picture of what has been done/said and what is going on right now. I found one useful advice from the book Clueless in the Academe: join the conversation (learn and know what scholars are doing now), rather than "interrupt whomever is speaking and launch into an unrelated discourse about whatever happens to be on their minds." Building on existing research is more realistic than thinking out some genius project from scratch. 

Reading these things keep me thinking, writing and revising my big questions: What do I want to study? How? Why? And why is it important? My everyday research reshapes these answers. 

4. Look into what you already had
With the new stuff that I've learned and background knowledge I've accumulated over time, it's clear to know where to go. I recognized that I've formed certain preferences-- questions I've always asked, arguments I tend to make, and theorists that I agree and disagree with.  Next, I'll look into course works I've done before and pick one that's the closest and strongest to rewrite. I still have several big questions and would-be research projects in mind, but I have to either piece them together or single one out for my SOP and WS. In this stage, I'll try to tailor my application materials to fit my dream programs instead.

Overall, it really takes a lot of time researching for fits, thinking about your research focus and writing for SOP and WS. Sometimes you'll have to be more patient and less anxious (well, I know it's hard not to). What I do is talk to friends (or just myself) about what interesting things I've read today and how they relate to my would-be research project. The most important thing is to track down on those thought transition moments (I keep quick log and build systematic spreadsheets). What's equally (or more) important is to reach out... I've sent two other emails to (a bit more distant) professors who could possibly help me and one more to follow up one professor who agreed to help but... well... hmm. Okay, I'll wait. I guess I'll keep fighting down my anxiety and helplessness until I can get some insider to talk to me or even have a glance at my SOP!

Let us all enjoy the pain we've wholeheartedly undertaken until it pays off someday. 
 

Edited by cloudyword
typo

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Thanks all for your suggestions!! I have taken @cloudyword's advice, and kind of created a document with potential schools, a few professors of interest per school, and a summary of their featured publications. 

I've now just been reading publications, and adding them to my document. It's a lot of work, and it takes a lot of time, but I guess that's how you do it! Lately, all I've been thinking about are PhD applications and the GRE. School resumes on Monday. AAAH!!

 

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I think the advice to read publications is the right advice, but, if you are new to an area, you may not be reading the *right* publications that are by authors really grounded in that area. I would suggest finding a handbook chapter that relates to what you are interested in. This would give you a nice overview of the field and cite work by those who are also immersed in that field.

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