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M.A. or PhD?


drm1217
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Hello all!

After graduating in May with a B.S. in geological sciences and a minor in linguistics, I've finally realized that I'd rather dedicate my life to sociolinguistic research. With a GPA of 3.51 (ahhh) and holes in my linguistics education (no Syntax course) I was wondering if my best chance would be to enroll in a terminal masters program and then apply to a PhD program. My ideal PhD programs would be NYU or Berkeley but I'm not naive enough to believe I have the chops to get in. 

However, I've always been under the impression that terminal masters programs are quasi-scams, as they're cash cows for universities. I'm considering applying to BU's MA program, but a friend recently told me that I should consider looking into less competitive PhD programs (do those even exist in linguistics?) and dropping out with a terminal masters. 

My question to you all is given my situation, what is my best course of action for 2018? Should I take courses at the Linguistic Institute this summer, or just pursue an M.A. (and if so, any suggestions?) Is it typically worth it to pursue degrees abroad? Tufts University didn't have a linguistics department so I'm a little lost in direction here. 

 

Thanks!

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What I can say is that sociolinguistics is one of the most competitive subfields in linguistics to get into nowadays (I was told this by several faculty). As you may have noticed, nearly ALL linguistics programs will have syntax and semantics faculty. And several at that. Only about half or a third of these departments have 1 socio faculty member. The best socio departments have at most 3 socio faculty. This means that applicants who are interested in socio all apply to the same few programs. This, taken together with the fact that departments receive more applications for sociolinguistics specializations than for any other specialization, makes admissions very difficult. 

That being said, there are several very good and funded MA programs with great socio faculty. NC State is one in the US, and many top linguistics programs in Canada have at least one socio faculty member and these all offer funding at the MA level, e.g., Toronto, McGill, York U, Ottawa. 

I believe there are several less prestigious PhD programs that have at least one socio faculty member, but I don't know if it would be advisable to attend there with the intention of dropping out after getting an MA. Although maybe other people would have different opinions about this. 

Feel free to PM if you want to talk more! I applied for socio PhD programs for fall 2017. 

Edited by 2017
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At a basic level, you need to decide if you want (or might want) a career in academia. If so, a good place to start is to look at recent hires in sociolinguistics and figure out where they got their degrees. I would imagine that there are some top programs that produce successful candidates in this field (my field is sufficiently removed that I wouldn't presume to tell you what those are). Once you have a better sense of those programs, the next step is to figure out their admissions criteria, by looking at current students, especially beginning ones. You may discover that you need to beef up your profile, and an MA is one good way of doing that. Attending the LSA summer institute and/or taking courses as a non-degree student at a local university could be others, along with finding research opportunities to help you gain some more experience outside of the classroom and also get better LORs. 

I don't know how I feel about applying for a mediocre program and dropping out with an MA. First off, it'll burn a bridge and might hurt your LORs. Second, not every program has an official MA on the way to a PhD and the funding might not be great, and those are things to watch out for. @2017 has suggested some good MA programs; in Canada, you could also look at UBC, Queens, maybe Concordia or UQAM (if you speak French). In the US, U of Minnesota, and maybe U of Michigan. There are also fine programs in Europe that you might go to, before returning to the US for a PhD. Those are all good routes to go in. 

Your main concern should be figuring out what (if anything) needs to be strengthened in your application to make you competitive for top programs (by looking at the profiles of recent accepted students, and talking to your professors), and then figuring out what you need to do to get yourself to that level. An MA may or may not be needed; there are other ways to gain extra experience. I would, as a start, probably try to go to the LSA summer institute. That's a good place to start getting to know top faculty. Once you have some sort of relationship with them, you could ask for a meeting to specifically discuss grad school admissions and their recommendations for what to do next. Then go from there, based on what you learn from your own research and the advice you get from others. 

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