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Reality Check: MAs

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On 4/24/2017 at 8:11 PM, striped said:

Well, the overarching gist of my initial post asked a couple of specific questions in the vein of "do funded MAs exist" (as I had not found any, and people I spoke to in person didn't provide a lot of info on MAs in general) and asking for opinions on who should be pursuing a PhD (after all, I feel pretty disheartened), as well as if anyone had thoughts about the cycle I discussed. The conversation sort of evolved into asking about specific programs, and I didn't make my interests clear. I am interested in aesthetics, media, technology, on-demand service culture, social media, and modernity. 

Thanks for all insights given, everyone! Personal experience is always the best teacher, and I appreciate you guys telling me about your PhD journeys. 


Hey Striped,

Not sure if this is helpful at this point, but I figured I'd shoot you a message anyway.

I'm a PhD student at UChicago. You had some questions about the MAPSS program, so here is what I've observed firsthand: MAPSS is kind of a crapshoot. It's a cash cow, I believe, in the sense that it's a very, very big program and students aren't offered a lot of guidance. A lot of the professors are at the top of their field, or are under a tremendous amount of pressure to move to the top of their field. They are busy with their own research, and they also have their PhD students whom they advise. This means that there is a lot of competition among MAPSS students to stand out. The program is INTENSE. I've heard many students complain about not being able to find a thesis advisor easily. That said, if you are willing and able to put in the work, MAPSS can be a fantastic opportunity. Basically, if you find a professor to work with, and the professor values your work, provides you with research opportunities and/or guidance, and is willing to write you a letter of recommendation at the end of the year when you're applying to PhD programs, you have yourself the golden ticket. You are also required to write a thesis, which provides you with a solid writing sample for your PhD apps. And you'll learn a lot and glean a lot of insight into what a PhD program will be like. But you've got to want it. The program is rough. A lot of people in the SS PhD programs had MA degrees coming into the programs, but not all. As far as I can tell, those who didn't have an MA had significant research experience. 

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  • 4 months later...

I didn't apply to MA programs because I've always been told that they're not funded. But at Berkeley when I was rejected for PhD, I was asked if I wanted to do an MA program with full funding (TA position that pays tuition/most fees, and the rest of my non-resident tuition covered). I have to pay $700 in fees every semester, except the department paid these in my first semester when I said I was not able to. It's almost free for 2 years as long as I can keep finding TA jobs, which is tricky, but not that difficult. 

So, you have to ignore this truth that MA programs are not funded. Funding in academia is dismal, but it is always changing! Grants come into departments, individual professors find funding, all sorts of things. My advice is to apply to a ton of MA programs and see what happens. 

Berkeley's MA program is folklore (which is perhaps not quite how it sounds; you can focus on contemporary issues, looking at themes like narrative, myth, ritual, etc.). 

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So, now that I have finished my MA, figured I'd weigh in.


I am down to 9k in student loans after taking out 5k my first year and 12k my second year (to help pay off the first loan and consolidate my debt). HOWEVER, my debt would have been much lower because my first year I worked as a student researcher (helped me pay off that first loan quite a bit) and my second year I was hired as a TA by a different department (paid my tuition, fees, and a monthly stipend). I was hired as the TA right before the school year started so I had already taken out the 12k loan. Had I known I had the position earlier, I would have never gotten that loan and would be down to 1-3k in debt right now. So, in essence, even in a non-funded program, it is possible to find jobs that either reduce your debt or get rid of it completely.


I loved my MA program. I was able to research what I wanted (online philanthropic communities with emphasis on Twitch, Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter) and made connections I would never have made without my professors. I have been able to present my research to Nissan, various professionals in user and ethnographic research, and have upcoming presentations at a large company and a non-profit. I believe my experience in my MA program has made me a stronger candidate this PhD round (and has certainly strengthened my LoRs since I've worked much closer with professors during my time as a graduate than as an undergrad). 

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