Eno_R

Partially funded MA in Humanities: is it worth considering?

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Some background:

I received an offer from a mid-tier Canadian school for their MA program. I am an international student, which means higher tuition fees, so the way my funding package (in the form of TAships) works out is it basically covers only tuition and other random fees (health insurance, campus fees etc.), with maybe 1,000-2,000 CAD a year to spare, depending. No summer support unless I secure a part-time job or a research assistantship myself. It is a five-term program, so I'll only need to figure out one summer, between first and second year. There is potentially more money from external scholarships (e.g. Vanier Canada, OGS) but it is very competitive so no guarantee.

I heard very good things about the department: it is small, with individualized approach to graduate students, and there are multiple people who are pursuing research in my area of interest. Obviously, given it's an MA program, research fit is less of a concern, but it does mean good things for my MA thesis in terms of advisors and such. I can definitely see myself going there.

Before you ask why pursue MA degree at all: my eventual goal is to do a PhD, and I really need to boost my credentials. My undergrad is in another field, from an international institution no one knows or cares about, so I really need those relevant LORs and more research experience. A better writing sample wouldn't hurt, either. Also, I am excited about the prospect of moving to Canada as this is my opening to international job market if my PhD plan doesn't work out.

The big question:

Should I risk it? The cost of living is decent (1000$ a month on average), so I am looking at about 10,000 CAD a year in living expenses. I might be able to raise the money myself (from family and savings), but it is rather a lot to spend for a degree. So, this program is really financially feasible only if I manage to get one of those external scholarships once I'm there. I am not allowed to work for extra income (by default, my allotted 10 hours a week are eaten up by the TAship).

My other options so far are top-ranked unfunded MA in Europe (that'll cost me 25,000 euro/year), and one-year MA in UK (I'll find out about the scholarship outcome way too late, only in June/July).  I haven't heard back from two other places, so for now these are my choices.

I've been stewing over this for two weeks now, and desperately need a fresh perspective. Please help?

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For what it is worth, full tuition funding is rare for an MA in the US. I got 50% at UChicago, and that was the best that they gave. I ended up having to take out loans for the other 50% and living expenses. So, IMHO, it's not that bad of a deal. But ultimately only you can decide what you're able to accept and deal with. I also don't know if you are only considering Canadian schools and how that compares to other Canadian programs.

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Just now, rheya19 said:

For what it is worth, full tuition funding is rare for an MA in the US. I got 50% at UChicago, and that was the best that they gave. I ended up having to take out loans for the other 50% and living expenses. So, IMHO, it's not that bad of a deal. But ultimately only you can decide what you're able to accept and deal with. I also don't know if you are only considering Canadian schools and how that compares to other Canadian programs.

That's what makes this such a difficult decision: this much funding for an MA is definitely an attractive offer, I am just not sure if spending all of my savings and then some will pay off in the end. I have no idea what the department placement record for PhD programs in the US looks like, there is nothing available on the website. I do plan to ask the department about their placement record soon, though, just to have a general idea of what my options are after graduating.

As for you second question, I definitely want a US school for my PhD because that's where the relevant research is happening. In the interests of full disclosure, I have applied this cycle to three US MA/PhD programs, and was rejected by all of them. This degree gives me more chances in Canadian schools compared to US schools though, I know that much.

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1 minute ago, Eno_R said:

This degree gives me more chances in Canadian schools compared to US schools though, I know that much.

Not necessarily. It depends upon the faculty there as well and how well-known any of them are. A mid-tier school that gives you an MA and a LOR from a respected professor might be very helpful. Do you mind me asking what school it is?

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3 minutes ago, Eno_R said:

University of Western Ontario :)

Are there specific people there you want to work with? Could you look up their old or current students?  

I think you could also be really direct with your POI and say, "My goal is to eventually apply to such-and-such PhD programs. Have any of your other MA graduates done work like that after they left here?" They know that you aren't applying to grad school for no reason, and that you must have longer term ambitions or plans-- in fact, they are probably hoping that you do! I don't think any school wants students who are just there because they don't know what else to do. 

Also keep in mind that part of your adviser's responsibility is to help you get to the next level, whatever that may be.

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43 minutes ago, rheya19 said:

Are there specific people there you want to work with? Could you look up their old or current students?  

I think you could also be really direct with your POI and say, "My goal is to eventually apply to such-and-such PhD programs. Have any of your other MA graduates done work like that after they left here?" They know that you aren't applying to grad school for no reason, and that you must have longer term ambitions or plans-- in fact, they are probably hoping that you do! I don't think any school wants students who are just there because they don't know what else to do. 

Also keep in mind that part of your adviser's responsibility is to help you get to the next level, whatever that may be.

There is one professor I would love to work with. I mentioned her in my SoP, but I didn't make contact before applying. She directs a research lab at Western, and her work is well-cited. (I assume that's one of the indicators for how respected someone is in the field? I am still very new to this whole thing.) Would it be acceptable to email her at this point and say: "I am so-and-so, very interested in your research, could you tell me more about the program, your research lab, and future career prospects/placement?"

In a very round-about way, through past thesis titles I found two former MA students that she supervised; one of them currently works at Western as a graduate research assistant. I am thinking about emailing them as well, to get more info from a student's perspective, and also ask about potential avenues for additional funding.

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31 minutes ago, Eno_R said:

There is one professor I would love to work with. I mentioned her in my SoP, but I didn't make contact before applying. She directs a research lab at Western, and her work is well-cited. (I assume that's one of the indicators for how respected someone is in the field? I am still very new to this whole thing.) Would it be acceptable to email her at this point and say: "I am so-and-so, very interested in your research, could you tell me more about the program, your research lab, and future career prospects/placement?"

I'd encourage you to reach out and not only correspond but ask for a Skype conversation. That will give you a much better sense of how you would get along with this potential advisor. If you're going to spend that much money on a degree, you should at least know that you'll get the kind of advising and support you need. When you email to ask for this meeting, you could also ask to be put in touch with some of her current advisees. I'd then reach out to them and again ask to chat on Skype. People are much more forthcoming when you speak to them in person and there is no record of what they said; especially if there is something negative to be said, most people would not want to write it down and send it to someone they hardly know. Either way, you should definitely have some contact with every person who is a potential advisor; since you want to get a PhD, presumably there should be three people writing you LORs, or maybe two + one from your undergrad. Talk to everyone you might want to work with. You're an admitted student now; they will want to recruit you and should make an effort to connect with you.

(Note: I'm saying this irrespective of the question of doing unfunded degrees in the Humanities, which I am generally against. But in some cases it may be unavoidable, and regardless you should make smart decisions based on all the information you can gather.)

Edited by fuzzylogician

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Just now, fuzzylogician said:

I'd encourage you to reach out and not only correspond but ask for a Skype conversation. That will give you a much better sense of how you would get along with this potential advisor. If you're going to spend that much money on a degree, you should at least know that you'll get the kind of advising and support you need. When you email to ask for this meeting, you could also ask to be put in touch with some of her current advisees. I'd then reach out to them and again ask to chat on Skype. People are much more forthcoming when you speak to them in person and there is no record of what they said; especially if there is something negative to be said, most people would not want to write it down and send it to someone they hardly know. Either way, you should definitely have some contact with every person who is a potential advisor; since you want to get a PhD, presumably there should be three people writing you LORs, or maybe two + one from your undergrad. Talk to everyone you might want to work with. You're an admitted student now; they will want to recruit you and should make an effort to connect with you.

(Note: I'm saying this irrespective of the question of doing unfunded degrees in the Humanities, which I am generally against. But in some cases it may be unavoidable, and regardless you should make smart decisions based on all the information you can gather.)

@fuzzylogician thank you for your advice, Skype conversation sounds like an excellent idea! Are there any particular questions I should be asking, beyond the basics? Now that I have some admits, all of a sudden I feel very unprepared.

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I replied to a very similar question in another thread recently. Here is the thread; there are some very good suggestions from other posters on what you might want to ask. You don't need to ask all these things, obviously. Mainly, your goal is to have a conversation and get a sense for how you and your potential advisor get along. 

 

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