Sign in to follow this  
robulousrebus

Advice? Writing sample from unusual academic background

Recommended Posts

Hi all!

Just registered here, so I"ll introduce myself. My name is Molly and I'm hoping to apply for general linguistics PhD programs this coming fall, 2017.

I graduated from Williams in 2014 and did a sort of "create-your-own" major within the liberal arts curriculum. Williams lost its linguistics department right before I matriculated, so I ended up combining classes in cogsci, computer science, English lit, philosophy, German and Arabic to approximate a linguistics major. It was somewhat of a survey of theories of language across disciplines. I was able to take one introductory ling class at Williams (and actually became the TA for it) and then took a few masters-level ling classes when I studied abroad in Dublin. My GPA hovers around a 3.5, but is higher in junior/senior year and within my major.

Now I'm hoping to study theoretical/generative linguistics, syntax, psycholinguistics and rhetoric. I've been aware for a while that I'll probably have to be ready to defend my readiness for a PhD given this self-designed major. This I plan to accomplish by preparing a killer statement of purpose and writing sample. My main concern is the writing sample. Coming from a liberal arts background, especially with no linguistics department, I had very little opportunity to do any serious research. My best papers from undergrad are theoretical explorations from English/philosophy, and don't have solid research underpinnings. I have a few linguistics papers from my time abroad, but they're nowhere near the quality of my papers done at my home school. I feel overwhelmed at the prospect of attempting a linguistics research paper on my own. Given my background, do you think it will be important for me to demonstrate my ability to do research by writing a new paper, or do you think it would be OK to rework a more theoretical paper I did in undergrad?

 

Thanks so much!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Linguistics majors aren't all that common, so coming from an institution that didn't have one and having to fashion yourself a create-your-own degree won't be that unusual. There are certainly ways of spinning that as a positive in your SOP and having that reflect well on your in letters. The real question is: how do you know you want to study "theoretical/generative linguistics, syntax, psycholinguistics and rhetoric"? Here is why I ask: the latter is quite distinct from the former and is not something most programs would be equipped to support*. Of the former three, one is the main field and two are subfields, so that reads a little bit confused, too. Those, I think, are the kinds of questions that might make an adcom worry, and should also make you worry: do you really actually know that this is what you want to do, and are you ready? But of course I'm reading all that off one post, so it's entirely possible that you have no problem articulating your interests to an adcom's satisfaction! 

As for the writing sample, it's a bit hard to know without seeing the actual papers or at least knowing a bit more about the topics and content, but in most cases I wouldn't recommend writing a new paper from scratch without the proper support. Again, it's not all that uncommon for students to submit writing samples from related fields. The main question will be if someone on the adcom could reasonably read it and evaluate your research skills based on it. If so, such a (reworked) paper would be fine. 

* some linguistics programs sit within English departments so I imagine that might be an option, but the kinds of questions and research in theoretical linguistics and in rhetoric are still quite distinct.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As far as the fields I mentioned being distinct, yes - it's hard to quickly and succinctly describe what it is what I want to do, but my hope is to do work that bridges disciplines. Essentially, in a few more words, I want to do work on theories of grammar and generative syntax, and ultimately use these models to better understand the psychological function of what we consider to be "effective", "persuasive" and even "aesthetic" language from a structural standpoint. Happy to explain this further, but hopefully that clarified a bit.

Thank you for the comforting advice re: writing samples, as I was quite worried about that. I'm thinking that if I rework it well enough I will end up using one of my English papers.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It sounds like you might also be interested in discourse analysis if you're interested in "persuasive" and "aesthetic" language. You might look at Georgetown and Michigan. 

Also, thought I would mention that the founder of Williams' Ling Department moved to my undergrad department and was actually my thesis advisor! It's a small ling world. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Molly Moran said:

As far as the fields I mentioned being distinct, yes - it's hard to quickly and succinctly describe what it is what I want to do, but my hope is to do work that bridges disciplines. Essentially, in a few more words, I want to do work on theories of grammar and generative syntax, and ultimately use these models to better understand the psychological function of what we consider to be "effective", "persuasive" and even "aesthetic" language from a structural standpoint. Happy to explain this further, but hopefully that clarified a bit.

Thank you for the comforting advice re: writing samples, as I was quite worried about that. I'm thinking that if I rework it well enough I will end up using one of my English papers.

Possibly UC davis, UCSB, and UCSD are places that can support your interests. So, if possible, do take a look at their programs.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, 2017 said:

It sounds like you might also be interested in discourse analysis if you're interested in "persuasive" and "aesthetic" language. You might look at Georgetown and Michigan. 

Also, thought I would mention that the founder of Williams' Ling Department moved to my undergrad department and was actually my thesis advisor! It's a small ling world. 

Nate Sanders? Small world, indeed! :D I wish I'd been able to work with him, but from everything I've heard, he's fantastic.

And historicallinguist, thank you for the suggestion! I haven't looked into Daivs yet but absolutely will now and have been interested in the other two.

Edited by Molly Moran

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
27 minutes ago, historicallinguist said:

Possibly UC davis, UCSB, and UCSD are places that can support your interests. 

None of those are places I would recommend for syntax. So I suppose it depends on what your interests are. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

Sign in to follow this