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Back-Up Plans


psydd

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if i'm not admitted into a ph.d. program this time around, i have two really good options staring at me in the face:

1. i could start a master's program at my first choice institution out of all the ph.d. programs i applied to, and obviously work in my top POI's lab. this would allow me to transfer almost all of my master's credits over into that ph.d. program when the time comes. it should be a pretty painless transition in all respects.

2. i could take a year off, get more research and teaching experience as a post-undergrad/pre-grad student. i already have that type of stuff lined up for me if i opt out of jumping into a grad program this coming fall. i could also improve my GRE scores during this time, and undoubtedly be a really great ph.d. applicant for fall 2011.

i don't know if this decision seems like an easy one to any of you, but it's been tearing at me for a while. not to mention the fact that my two main faculty mentors have completely opposing opinions about it. one thinks i should do the master's, one thinks i should take the year off.

thoughts?

and what are YOUR back-up plans if you don't get into a ph.d. program this application season?

Edited by psydd
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To me, the masters sounds like the safer option if you really know you want to work with that POI. Alternately, taking a year off may improve your application, but you will have as much if not more competition next year if the economy doesn't rebound.. so although your application might be better..so might all the other applicants who didn't get in the year before. Personally, if I knew I could do the masters and transition, I would do that.

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I'd lean toward #2. For starters, it's cheaper and more time-effective than pursuing a terminal master's and then having to repeat all the work if you get admitted to a four-year Ph.D. program.

It's certainly my plan (mainly because I want to change my research focus anyway). I'd spend the intervening year improving my GRE scores, taking the subject test, finishing my current research project, and most importantly, taking a graduate stats class to demonstrate my proficiency in statistics.

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I guess first I would get ahold of the list of schools that the APA publishes with all the Ph.D. programs with vacancies and see if I would be a good fit for any of those programs. Other than that I would just start my masters at the school I am at right now (which I would rather never have to resort to.......)

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Everything I've heard (from faculty and others who are in the know) say that a master's option is not a good choice and seldom leads to "back door entry" into a doctoral program at the same school. Furthermore, the credits seldom transfer to another institution. They also told me it can put you at a disadvantage compared to experienced BA students, because faculty want to spend their resources on someone who can work with/for them more long term and train them in their methods. That said, this isn't always the case and it surely depends on the program (especially if it's your first choice POI). But considering the financial investment and other possible risks, I suggest option #2. And if I can offer my own little data point, it has been working out pretty well for me thus far (though time will tell for sure). Good luck!

That said, if I don't get in this year I'm probably going to continue this path for a second round and apply to some masters programs (such that your option #1 is my option #2). If that still doesn't work, I'm moving to a beach town in Florida to bartend at a cabana. wink.gif

Edited by jordy
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Often times, credits do not transfer from a Masters to PhD, even if at the same institution! Masters courses are very different than PhD courses...I would look into this before assuming you can apply the credits.

good luck.

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Often times, credits do not transfer from a Masters to PhD, even if at the same institution! Masters courses are very different than PhD courses...I would look into this before assuming you can apply the credits.

good luck.

I wouldn't say going the masters route is a bad option. I had to do it and a lot of the professoros I've spoken to would prefer someone with a masters degree because they are usually more polished and can come in and hit the ground running research. However, I am not sure that getting a masters at one institution increases your likelihood of acceptance to their doctoral program.

As for backup plans...if I don't get into a PhD program, I'm moving to Europe or to Vegas and try my hand at being a professional poker player :)

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I wouldn't say going the masters route is a bad option. I had to do it and a lot of the professoros I've spoken to would prefer someone with a masters degree because they are usually more polished and can come in and hit the ground running research. However, I am not sure that getting a masters at one institution increases your likelihood of acceptance to their doctoral program.

As for backup plans...if I don't get into a PhD program, I'm moving to Europe or to Vegas and try my hand at being a professional poker player :)

Yes, that is definitely the upside to having a masters, and it's not a bad option at all (my comment is just based on advice and information I've collected as one data point, YMMV). Neither is really a bad option, they just have different risks in terms of time/money/strategy, and it heavily depends on your situation and the institution/person you're interested in. Have you talked to faculty or the DGS at the program of interest to investigate how often people make it into that program from the masters level?

Edited by jordy
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I'd lean toward #2. For starters, it's cheaper and more time-effective than pursuing a terminal master's and then having to repeat all the work if you get admitted to a four-year Ph.D. program.

It's certainly my plan (mainly because I want to change my research focus anyway). I'd spend the intervening year improving my GRE scores, taking the subject test, finishing my current research project, and most importantly, taking a graduate stats class to demonstrate my proficiency in statistics.

what do you want to change your research focus to? werent you into asexuality? it seemed interesting haha

i would fin da cool lab to work in! finish 2 projects ihave on a the go & continue volutneering in those labs make my self a more useful human being & learn to cook read some books in my area of interest to beef up my SOP/ work on networking get some more ideas brainstorming

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I think I have decided to take some graduate stats courses and try to get a paid position in a lab (hopefully my advisor gets the grant and hires me on that). I'll probably also volunteer in another lab to get more experience and maybe do follow up studies on my thesis (depending on how the data work themselves out).

Running away to a beach in Mexico also seems like a good plan.

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  • 1 month later...

As the strong possibility of not being accepted stares me in the face I feel compelled to comment on this thread and see if anyone has any jewels of wisdom to bestow on me. This is my second round of applications to social PhD programs and I am feeling a bit befuddled about what my next move should be...

A little background on me: I completed a BA in psychology in 05 from a university that did not emphasize research. The strongest message I got about research was that it was one of the unfortunate things you were forced to do as a professor, not something anyone would voluntarily pursue. With that in mind I never volunteered for any of the few research teams that existed and graduated with literally NO knowledge of research.

After being out of school for a couple years I decided I missed school and I would like to go back (just for the sake of going really). So I applied to a MA program in Psychological Science from the same university where I completed my BA. In the masters program I was exposed to research (still not much; no big research teams, exciting projects, passionate researchers...). I was only just beginning to develop an interest in conducting research when I was asked to select my thesis topic. I tossed around a couple ideas with my advisors and they expressed interest in a project exploring attitudes about using midwives. So that became my thesis topic (I still didn't really know what I wanted to study and this idea seemed as good as any). Right around the time I was getting my IRB approval I realized that soon I would be graduating again (in about a year) and I would be out of school again. At this point I realized I really wanted to pursue a career in research so I began exploring journal articles and research areas within social Psyc (at this point I had identified Social as my primary area of interest). Quickly I discovered the literature related to prejudice, intergroup bias, discrimination, etc. and felt instant resonation. While collecting data for my thesis I began studying for the GRE, pouring over the prejudice/intergroup relations literature, and preparing PhD applications.

I applied to 14 universities and I was placed on the waiting list at Penn State and DePaul University (for fall 09) but ultimately was not accepted. After recovering from the disappointment I decided to move in search of research experience. I applied to dozens of jobs assisting with research all over the country and even offered to volunteer at many universities but did not receive any offers. Finally I spoke with a couple faculty members at a small liberal arts college with a research focus who offered me a position (volunteer) assisting with research. Over the past 6-8 months I have assisted on 2 research teams and developed two independent projects (1 experimental study and 1 meta-analysis) while working part time to pay the bills. I also picked up a part time faculty position lecturing at the university with my MA.

So once again I applied to 15 universities this time around (about half of the same and half programs I did not previously apply to) for the fall of '10. I completed phone interviews with 3 universities and 1 in person interview. But now I have been wait listed at 4 universities, denied from 3, and I am losing hope about the rest (I have read posts from others who have been accepted to those programs, leading me to believe they are just lagging on sending out the rejections).

So now my question is what can I do to improve my chances for next season? What should I do with the next year?

Other info: my graduate GPA was around 3.9 and my undergrad GPA was similar (3.8 approx). My GRE scores could use some improvement (1170), I was concerned I would not significantly improve my score so I did not retake them previously. At this point after two failed application seasons, I am thinking retaking the GRE is a must. I have not worked in a social lab that specifically studies prejudice as I have had a hard time getting my foot in the door anywhere (even to volunteer) although I am figuring this is another must, I am just not sure how to do it. I also think my history appears to be be misguided/lack focus as most Psychology PhD hopefuls only complete masters degrees if they are denied from PhD programs and thus already have a specific research focus before beginning a MA program. My time out of school and the discrepancy between my thesis research and my present research interests seems to trouble the academic crowd. Not sure what I can do about this though...

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Alli,

I still have hope that you'll be admitted into a Ph.D. program (mainly because some of your stats are better than mine, and I would still like to have some hope for myself haha). With that said, I honestly have no idea why you haven't been accepted anywhere yet; even last year. Your credentials seem more than decent to me. But I might just be naive. Maybe you're applying to really competitive programs?

In terms of deciding between a master's program and taking a year off: I've heard that a master's is really only going to help you if you end up conducting a significant thesis. My new question is, if I know that I can still do research at my current undergrad institution during my potential year off (faculty project + my own independent project), would taking the year off then be the much better option using that logic?

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Alli,

I still have hope that you'll be admitted into a Ph.D. program (mainly because some of your stats are better than mine, and I would still like to have some hope for myself haha). With that said, I honestly have no idea why you haven't been accepted anywhere yet; even last year. Your credentials seem more than decent to me. But I might just be naive. Maybe you're applying to really competitive programs?

In terms of deciding between a master's program and taking a year off: I've heard that a master's is really only going to help you if you end up conducting a significant thesis. My new question is, if I know that I can still do research at my current undergrad institution during my potential year off (faculty project + my own independent project), would taking the year off then be the much better option using that logic?

I suspect there is some variation among sub disciplines but within social psychology I have observed (and been told explicitly) that having a masters may count against you. Many universities/professors prefer students who have not yet been trained and more of a blank slate in terms of your approach to research. On the other hand a couple POIs have told me they prefer students with masters degrees as they are generally older, more mature, more aware of what they want/are getting themselves into, etc. In your case I would lean toward continuing your research at your undergrad university for another year. Does the faculty member you mentioned working with publish very often? Is there a possibility you could get publications out of the research?

The important question is: where would you get the best research training/experience/publications? Compare the publications, research interests, etc. of potential advisors (including the faculty advisor at your undergrad institution). If there is one advisor you think could provide better training or publication possibilities, that university is probably the best option for you.

I don't think you are any more likely to have a significant publishable thesis than a significant publishable independent project, so I don't see that as a benefit of completing a masters program. Plus if just assist with research at your undergrad university you will save yourself time and money. Most PhD programs will only count a couple of graduate classes from a terminal masters program (if that) so you will have to complete another masters once you get accepted to a PhD program. And very few masters programs fund their students so you will be tacking on two years of debt (I worked full time while completing my MA and I still had to take out $14K in loans) if you go the MA route.

Are you still waiting to hear back from any PhD programs this year?

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There is a pretty good chance that my undergraduate advisor and I could put together some research that is publishable. Her own project is currently a revise/resubmit, which she invited me to work on for her. And in terms of my own project(s), she's told me that some of my ideas (assuming my hypotheses prove to be supported) are definitely publishable. So I'm leaning toward that at this point. It'll save me money, and will be insanely convenient considering I also work at my undergrad institution.

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