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Hey all! I'm looking for as much help as possible this application season (not accepted last season), so I'm giving in and making one of these posts. As a word at the start, I hope this doesn't come off as bragging. I didn't get in last season and that hurt, so I really want to do everything I can to improve my app this time around. Thanks so much for your help!


Education: MA Applied Anthropology as of August 2017 with a 3.97/4.0 GPA from San Jose State University. I also received my BA Anthropology, minor Humanities (3.7 GPA) in May 2012 from the same school.

GRE: 164 Verbal/156 Quantitative/ 5.5 Analytical with no plans to retake right now

Presentations: 1 presentation at a conference called "Perspectives on Evil and Human Wickedness" in 2014, 2 presentations at SWAA 2016, 3 at SWAA 2017, 1 to Nissan Research Center of Silicon Valley 2016, 1 to city officials in 2016, 1 at a school anthropology event in 2016, 1 on Geek & Sundry's Twitch channel in 2017, 1 upcoming at Mozilla in 2017, 4 on my own Twitch channel (related to my grad research), and still making plans for 1 to Braven (nonprofit org).

Publications: None in anthro journals as of yet. Two online publications related to my graduate research (a toolkit and the final 154 page report), Microsoft has also requested a copy of my graduate report for their archives, SWAA 2016 Conference Proceedings (upcoming), other various online publications of papers and reports, and I'm a freelance writer for a few websites so I have probably over 50 articles between Nerdy but Flirty, Geek & Sundry, and Zombie Orpheus Entertainment. I intend to submit articles to a couple anthro journals and write a blog for a decently known anthro blog, but I'm not sure that these will be submitted in time to list them on my apps.

Research Projects: 1 on parking in partnership with Nissan, 1 on women/GamerGate/the online workforce/cyberharassment laws, 1 on community leadership in conjunction with CommUniverCity, 1 on households and stuff in conjunction with the French Ministry of Transportation, and my graduate research on an online philanthropic community in conjunction with Geek & Sundry and HyperRPG.  

Related Work Experience: I spent my first year of my MA as a student researcher on a project for CommUniverCity (collaborative program between my school, the city, and the local communities). The next year I was a TA and have strong references from my supervisor, the classes professors, and associated staff (it's a class taught as a collaboration between the school and a nonprofit org).

Current Research Interests: I am most inspired when researching new and digital technology and its impact on communities and culture. From my work researching cyberharassment lawsuits as well as observing the last US presidential race, I have become interested in the intersection of law, politics, and social media platforms. I would like my project to analyze the role of Twitter and other social media platforms in the 2020 presidential election. I would like to compare how these social media platforms are used by politicians in the race, especially as compared with how it was previously utilized (built on the observation that Trump's use of Twitter has been credited as a huge help to his win, but his continued misuse of Twitter may contribute to his downfall-there are a few news citations for this).

LoRs: I intend to ask my same people from last application season for anth (my advisor/graduate chair, the tenure track prof who was my boss on the community leadership project, and the graduate program coordinator from my department who also taught two of my courses). I am curious if it would be worthwhile to change out one of these for the department chair (taught one of my final courses and seems to have a very good opinion of me). For comm, I intend to switch one of these for my 3rd committee member who is a comm professor.


I am applying to anthropology and communications programs and am currently narrowing down my list (about to email profs and more extensively research campus and department culture for each program). I think my SoP was the weakest element of my last app, so I'm starting fresh there. Overall, I think I'm a strong applicant based on basic stats, but I'd love any advice you think might help (either areas to try and make stronger or focusing only on my SoP going forward, for example).


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  • 1 month later...

At the end of the day, I feel like programs admit people based on (1) fit (mostly personality, faculty that they think would work well), (2) if they see your vision (letter of intent), and (3) if they believe you are experienced and knowledgeable enough to pull it all off (research projects, LoRs, work experience). All of the other stuff is always great to have but seems lost in the process because if you're coming into a PhD it is assumed you aren't already a professional academic.

So my advice would simply be to make sure you really fit in with a place, or if you don't, make sure you can propose a plan as to how you would. My department has zero people that do exactly what I do, but my university offers plenty of resources through other departments, programs, etc. that I am utilizing to tailor a degree to my interests. When you research your programs look at other tangential programs that can strengthen your research and make you more interdisciplinary. They want to see that you can think outside the box!

Good luck :) 

Edited by boneflower
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On your research interests: one challenge for social scientists (or maybe just for us anthropologists) is trying to analyze events as they are happening. Last semester, I wrote a paper about an ongoing election in the city where I work. It was very difficult to analyze the whole unfolding of the central controversy in my paper when the semester ended before the election did! So when you say you want to focus on the 2020 election: that means you can't really gather your most useful data for several years. I get that people are speculating about the election already, but its most consequential twists and turns aren't going to start for a while yet. (Starting keeping data now sounds like it will probably be valuable for you! I would guess that different parts of your data from 2017 are going to appear consequential in hindsight than seem important now, so I'm not convinced how valuable an analysis you'll be able to create of your [valuable] data until more of the election process has occurred.) What are you going to write about for your papers during coursework? I would suggest you be careful not to frame your project too narrowly around 2020: personally, I would suggest that you consider also looking at the role of Twitter in sooner elections: governors' races? the 2018 midterms? etc. or that you look at the very predictivity that's focused on 2020.. My instincts are methodologically conservative (in the non-political sense)—not that I actually use conservative methodology, but that I tend to be wary of new methods until I have investigated them especially thoroughly—but when I hear you say "Trump's misuse of Twitter....may contribute to his downfall," I wonder how useful that kind of speculation is in anthropology research. Can we predict the future that well? Is it analytically valuable to try? On the other hand, people are absolutely speculating and predicting what's going to happen—especially Trump's downfall, impeachment, etc.—all the time. Rather than trying to add to this genre, would it be interesting for you to analyze this rampant discourse of prediction itself? All your questions sound interesting and I am sure there are lots of productive avenues you could take your research down, but I am concerned that too heavy an analytical focus on "the 2020 election" in your SOP might produce poor results.*

*I may be displaying an ideological bias in this post, because I am part of the current wave of community activism that says there's too much focus on the presidency, so we should do more more in local statehouses, on city councils, etc. I bet you are likely to encounter people with this political reflex in your graduate career again, so it's useful to think about how you might frame a nationally-focused project to people like me who are inclined to promote a focus on more "local" stuff.

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I completely agree with the idea of fit. Otherwise, why would we be accepted by some programs and rejected by others, if all things are equal? I purposefully chose programs that were equal or similar in rankings and in the same region of the country based on my own wish list. I was about 50/50 in acceptance and rejection. The universities that rejected me may have had different focuses in their literature program that I could not see when applying. I did not query any of the rejecting universities about reasoning behind their decision, as I was accepted into a program that I love. In the long run, those are the programs where you will flourish and do your best work. 

If fit then becomes the final factor in a committee's choice of who to admit or reject, and since we never know who is on a committee, the way we word our research desires in the SOP can make or break our acceptance to a program. I'm not suggesting you change your mind about what you want to do in research, but rephrasing your ideas to discuss them from a stance of the recent past and its effect on the present, rather than a speculative future, could get you farther with the committee. You will still be pursuing your ideas, because you can only analyze the effects of events on the present as they happen anyway. You must first be admitted to a program in order to pursue any of your research ideas. 

Anyway, these are my thoughts about fit.

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Thanks everyone for the replies. It's been a while since I made this post so a few things have changed. Although I can see your point, @hats in my original post I was alluding to a comparative project. 2020 may seem far away, but all of the programs I am looking at are 2-3 years of coursework followed by a couple years for research and dissertation. So, if I start in Fall 2018, I'll actually need to have IRB approval within 1.5 years for my project. Although it's the 2020 race, campaigning starts early and I expect I'll either need to start research in 2019 or will need to include archived tweets in my analysis to examine the period prior to IRB approval. I already plan to incorporate archived tweets for previous campaigns anyways. The quote you have pulled is not my own speculation, but speculation from other researchers of politics as well as journalists.

@cowgirlsdontcry I may not have been clear in my original post, but I intend for this project to have a past/present/future trajectory. As in, I plan to study campaigning in the past (especially social media use), social media use in the present (which will be 2020 by that time), and what the future implications could be, dependent on my findings and insights. 

@boneflower I definitely agree that fit is the most important factor and sort of made this post assuming good fit (I should have made this clear). As an update, I am down to 7 programs, all in Communications, and all with good fit. I've actually spoken over the phone with professors at 3 schools, have a fourth scheduled, and had a long email exchange with the director at a fifth. I have explained my research interests and background at length with these individuals and they have said they think I would fit in well in their programs. The sixth program doesn't really encourage emailing profs beforehand and I only recently emailed the seventh (due to outside factors) so I'm still waiting to hear back there.

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Up front caveat: Coming at this from a different field. 

It sounds from your original post that you definitely have enough background and experience to be able to put together a strong application. Your GPA is great; your GRE is okay, but as long as it's above whatever threshold is required, I don't think it should cause you any trouble. I don't think that the fact that you don't have publications at this stage should be a problem -- you have some presentations under your belt and some plans for writing them up. As long as you can tell a coherent story about how these projects come together, what they've taught you, and how they inform you current/future plans, I think you're good. 

Others have covered the issue of fit, so I'm not going to repeat that. I'll make two points: the first is about the SOP; you want to make sure that you tell a cohesive story and that your past projects fit into the narrative. As an outsider, I had a hard time seeing the common thread in the projects you described above. I also think it's important not to dwell too much on who you were working for and more on what the project was about; what the outcomes were; if relevant, what actions were taken because of it; what your precise role was; and what you learned from it. It's better to go into detail and have a strong description of 1-2 projects plus a brief mention of other projects than have a brief list of 3-4 without much detail. The goal is to show that you can talk about the research coherently and that you understand it, and that you've learned and grown from doing it. I want to know how it informed your thinking and influenced your interests. I am somewhat less interested in the official source of funding or if a famous person was a collaborator, for example. 

Somewhat related, it sounds like you could have strong LORs stemming from these experiences, but I wasn't entirely sure if that is actually the case. You should get letters from people who can write precisely about those things I asked about above -- what was your role in the project? how did you contribute? what kind of team member were you? can you give good talks? come up with interesting ideas? collaborate? what kind of graduate student would you be? getting a letter from someone who taught you in a couple of classes is less effective than getting a letter from someone who supervised you on these projects you describe.

On a related note, I also assume that one of these projects might contribute what will become your writing sample; that, too, is worth spending some time thinking about. If you're submitting something that's the result of joint work, you want to be *very* careful to make it clear what your contribution was, and also have a LOR writer discuss it explicitly to back up your claim of what precisely you contributed. A much safer choice is another paper/project, if one exists, that's the result of sole work. Either way, it's important to have a LOR writer address your contributions to any joint projects, else the adcom can't really know how to assess your own intellectual work and separate it from the group's. This, again, is why I stressed the importance of you giving details about the work you did in your SOP; it's one way for the adcom to at least see what you have taken from it and can articulate as part of your interests. 

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Hey @fuzzylogician ! Thanks for the reply. :) 

In the SoP I have focused on my independent research (the online workforce and the online community projects) as it is a more direct line between those projects and my intended research. I've left the other projects to my CV (including presentations and publications I've done related to those projects). If you'd be willing, I can send you the current draft of one of my SoPs.

The projects I've conducted were with two professors (technically three, but the households and stuff project was a while back and that prof is retired now). One of those was also my adviser, who taught two of my MA courses, and has agreed to write letters for me. The other taught one of my MA courses and I'm hoping to hear back from them next week. My third LoR is coming from the graduate program coordinator (taught two of my MA courses and is aware of my research and contributions to the program). I've provided a doc to my writers with a description of each program, the relevant faculty, my level of communication with the program, deadlines, and, of course, my intended research.  

Many of the programs to which I'm applying require the writing sample be all or part of my MA thesis, so my intent is to use that for each app (also solving the issue of collaborative work).

My SoPs are a max of 1k words (except for one which is 500) and I'm having trouble discussing all of my contributions, my intended research, and my fit in the program (relevant faculty, facilities, and how I benefit the program) in that space. Would it make sense to add a short explanation of my contribution to each project on the CV (right now it just says whether I was a student researcher, independent scholar, principal investigator, etc)?

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@GreenEyedTrombonist Aha, I thought you were still applying to half anthro and half communications. My advice may not be as relevant as I thought! It seems like you've figured out that your project is not a great fit for anthropology (for finicky but real methodological reasons: you could do exactly your project, but I think you'd have to frame it differently). It sounds like communications is a good fit for the way you want to do your research! Good luck.

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Thanks @hats ! Yeah, I didn't receive replies to this when I first posted it so I didn't think to update it once I finalized the switch. When I was speaking with faculty from anthro programs, the number 1 response I got was, "Have you looked into our Comm program" so that made it pretty obvious I should stick with Comm apps, haha. Meanwhile, almost all of the Comm faculty who have gotten back to me have given detailed information, spoken with me over several emails, or asked to speak about the program and my fit more over the phone. I'm hoping this bodes well once my apps are in. :)

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