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Geography MA, maybe?


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Hey all,

I'm currently embroiled in the applications process and wanted to see if anybody here could give me some insight. I'm applying to MA programs, possibly on the way to an eventual PhD (a number of years out of my undergraduate, where I studied an unrelated field) and was initially mostly looking at environmental studies/environmental humanities programs. My interests are wide-ranging but center around food systems and agricultural land use and I focused on interdisciplinary programs where I could work in a few different departments to hone my research. Interested in a sort of cross-section of environmental history, human geography, environmental sociology, Marxist theory, indigenous studies, political ecology. 

It's recently occurred to me that I might find a lot of this in a subject-specific MA, most likely a geography department strong in human-environment interaction and human geography. Any recs out there for master's programs that would fit the bill, or other interdisciplinary or social science programs that I might have overlooked? Thanks a bundle. 

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You're right that your interests are wide reaching, and that  a geography program will "most likely" suit those interests; coincidentally, there are several factors that make your vague interests difficult to match with what is an inherently vague discipline...

First, you haven't mentioned any schools, therefore I would not be able to preclude any possible recommendations. I am pretty familiar with the geography programs at most if not all U.S universities from being encamped in the same process as you. This information would be useful in helping to determine locational tendencies which could then parlay into an expanded list of schools that may offer similar preferences.

Second, you haven't mentioned your limitations, whether they be geographical,  financial,  or if you're only open to masters programs in geography that also have the option for a phd (this is not to say they are terminal--rather you'd be readied through the masters to subsequently apply to Phd program). Your resources, along with other indispensable aspects of life (family, friends, job etc), will help determine the best fit for you as well. 

Third,  since you have not mentioned specific programs, it is not clear whether or not you've reached out to faculty at any of your prospective schools. This is a MUST for graduate programs in geography regardless of the degree being pursued. I can tell you from experience that this is unforgivingly crucial, you need to have a fairly concentrated research agenda because you need an advisor whose interests overlap with yours. This means you need to research department faculty, read some of their publications, and then identify your top choice schools based on the advisor, not the brand name of the school. If you're from a top 5 school like myself, this can initially be very difficult to confront; however once you begin seeking out advisors it should become clear to you that your want is to study with a particular person in in a particular department and thus disregarding brand names becomes palatable (at least to you, maybe not your snobby materialist friends).  If you have yet to do this, I can promise you'll need some guidance, for it can be a minefield of first impressions across a range of media.

Fourth, do not throw around general jargon as if it is an "interest."  For instance, I like to qualify myself as a Marxist-Feminist in conversation, my thought processes include the influence of such, but it isn't clear what I really mean is it? Ok really I'm a fringe marxist who, knowing that most don't know who the hell Kropotkin is, resigns myself within limitations to escape further confusion.  This is why your "wide-ranging" interests can be a hindrance, even in a wide-ranging discipline.

So I ask, what is your question? What do you want to dedicate the next ten years of your life reading and writing about? How is it original compared to results on google? Frankly, being trained as an undergraduate geographer, I'm confident that question exists in all the vagary of your interests. Your need is a clear, concise, original, and clever research topic that addresses each of them. As you enter the program and begin to learn more and more and more,  it is very likely your original proposal will change.  Until then,  the proposal you make now offers some comfort to admissions about your maturity and by extension your ability to lock into what you proclaim to be so passionate about. All the knowledge in the world means nothing without synthesis and clarity. 

PS. I don't mean to come off as aggressive or impatient, so pardon my verbiage if I've done so.  I'm actually very open to discussion while being of any help to you moving forward. I drank the geography kool aid; it is never my intetion to lead curious minds away from the perspectives I find so fascinating.  So please feel free to counter...

Edited by NewClearGeographic
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