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Top anthropology PhD program but no professors in the sub-field?


Paula34

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Hello, 

So I have been admitted into a top PhD program in anthropology at one of these northeastern ivy league schools that I never thought I would actually get in to. The program seems great, the funding is amazing but there are no professors really related to my topic (in the broad sense). They are some professors related to my secondary field of interest (environmental anthropology) and to the region I want to work, which is what my potential advisor's research is on but my main field of research is not represented. 

The other schools I got into have professors more linked to my topic but are not top programs (and sometimes with less good funding), so I don't know if the main criteria should be to have professors in the department linked to one's field of study. 

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I think others here will have more to say on the subject, but I simply wanted to ask if you're inquired about any foreseeable faculty changes in the upcoming year that you might not be aware of. If you can find this out, you might receive an answer you want to hear. It's worth finding out, just in case.

Do you have the option of collaborating with a second person in another department who might have the specialty you are seeking and having a secondary advisor for your thesis?

Edited by thelionking
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I think that a school's pedigree should always come second to your interests.  If there's a school with a PI who is a better fit for you, you should choose it regardless of the school's ranking or name.  That being said, if that school's funding isn't so good, you might also reconsider and go with the school with better funding (which the ivy school seems to have).

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I would definitely ask if they're considering adding a faculty member who specializes in your subfield. Given everything that schools have told me concerning my application, I'm not entirely sure if they would have even admitted you if they felt that they couldn't work with you on your research. I got that rejection at least six times already.

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On 3/5/2017 at 6:17 AM, Paula34 said:

Hello, 

So I have been admitted into a top PhD program in anthropology at one of these northeastern ivy league schools that I never thought I would actually get in to. The program seems great, the funding is amazing but there are no professors really related to my topic (in the broad sense). They are some professors related to my secondary field of interest (environmental anthropology) and to the region I want to work, which is what my potential advisor's research is on but my main field of research is not represented. 

The other schools I got into have professors more linked to my topic but are not top programs (and sometimes with less good funding), so I don't know if the main criteria should be to have professors in the department linked to one's field of study. 

I think I would just go. Ultimately, your project is going to change at least a couple times before you actually do it. If it's a great program, it's going to have great resources, and you can read for your interests in relation to what you're taking, and sort of shape it that way. Especially if the funding is also great. You never want to worry about money in grad school and you can always reach out to and corroborate with professors at other universities who do work you want to do.

Edited by Aplomb.Élan
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Hmmm... this is a tough one. If there isn't anyone who understands or works in your intended subfield and/or theoretical approach, then it's going to be much tougher on you to write a strong proposal, get the funding to do your research, etc. If it were me, I'd go to the place that's a better fit for my research, even if that means leaving a few thousand dollars on the table (this is actually what I did for my PhD).

As far as the funding, are you considering straight dollar amounts or comparing these to the cost of living? Many of the Ivy League schools are in places with crazy costs of living such that a funding offer of $5-7K less elsewhere might actually result in you having more money in your bank account after paying your bills each month. It's definitely something worth considering. (There are lots of cost of living calculators online that can help you figure this out.)

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What do you want to do, and what is the track record of these departments in getting people to that place?

It's my understanding that anthropology is pretty competitive when it comes to TT academic positions, so if that's your goal then it helps to go to a program with a good reputation. That doesn't mean Ivy League prestige; it just means a program where students consistently get postdocs and academic positions that are similar to what you want to get. So ask and see what the placement looks like from the programs you're comparing. Do students at the other schools you got into get postdocs and eventually TT jobs? Where do they go after graduation?

The other thing to consider is how closely related (or not) the other professors' work is in the northeastern Ivy to yours, vs. the other schools - and whether the distance is something you can live with. For example, I studied HIV and substance abuse in gay and bisexual men in graduate school. I'd be willing to go to a program with professors who studied HIV and substance abuse in another population, or even more broadly studied sexual risk behavior in another population. I could've made that work and got that mentorship in proposals and grants that rising_star referred to. But if the closest professors were doing research in, like, obesity and cancer research and there was no one doing anything that touched HIV or drug abuse or sexual risk - that wouldn't have been a good fit for me, and I would've been unhappy.

So how much "distance" from your original interests can you live with?

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  • 11 months later...

Bump! I'm in a somewhat similar position for an anthropology PhD, except I've only been admitted to one PhD program and got a consolation admit to an MA program with 2/3 tuition scholarship.

The PhD program I've been admitted to is a *fantastic* fit for what I want to do, and I've been told my faculty at my undergrad that the program is top in my sub-field in anthropology (medical anthropology) in terms of faculty strength (lots of famous faculty). However their job placement rate for prestigious R1 tenure-track and post-doc jobs isn't that good. Faculty from my undergrad have told me that R1 job prospects are determined by who you work with and the quality of your dissertation, not the name of the institution. But I don't know if I should go to this PhD program, or do the one-year Master's and reapply for Fall 2019 admission with a reworked research proposal that's a better fit for the schools I re-apply to?

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I would think it would also depend on what specifically you're interested in your field, because you might be able to research your interests within the context of other interests.  For example, I have no interest in healthcare communication...BUT I could study computer-mediated communication (my interest) within the context of healthcare.

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46 minutes ago, MandarinOtter said:

The PhD program I've been admitted to is a *fantastic* fit for what I want to do, and I've been told my faculty at my undergrad that the program is top in my sub-field in anthropology (medical anthropology) in terms of faculty strength (lots of famous faculty). However their job placement rate for prestigious R1 tenure-track and post-doc jobs isn't that good. 

Are you looking at the overall placement or the placement for those focusing on medical anthropology? Also, are you sure you only want a prestigious R1 TT job or postdoc?

FWIW, you'll likely produce stronger research and make better connections in your subfield if you're at the top program in that subfield. When I was deciding between programs, I worked with the top person in my subfield because I knew that doing so would best position me in that subfield for future opportunities. It worked out for me.

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5 minutes ago, rising_star said:

Are you looking at the overall placement or the placement for those focusing on medical anthropology? Also, are you sure you only want a prestigious R1 TT job or postdoc?

FWIW, you'll likely produce stronger research and make better connections in your subfield if you're at the top program in that subfield. When I was deciding between programs, I worked with the top person in my subfield because I knew that doing so would best position me in that subfield for future opportunities. It worked out for me.

I was looking at overall placement, but because of the program's strengths quite a few of the PhD recipients do medical anthropology. And I should add that this anthropology program added three super-famous medical anthropology faculty in 2017 (and that's three of the five star faculty I'm interested in working with), so perhaps historical placements aren't indicative of future placements in this case. Hopefully!!

And a prestigious R1 TT job or postdoc is definitely the dream, but I have been told not to matriculate without a backup plan. My backup plans are to either try to get a position at a liberal arts college or go into industry and do "cultural competency" work for medical organizations.

And I should clarify that this program is *one of* the strongest programs for medical anthropology, not *the* single strongest program (not quite sure what that would even be). But I see your point, going somewhere with a lot of famous faculty in the subfield will offer me better connections and research opportunities than going to a school with a bigger name but not as many exciting faculty for my subfield.

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