>Tales from the PhD Hunt

>I am currently feeling a tad overwhelmed. Engaging myself in the search for the perfect PhD program is simultaneously frustrating and rewarding, especially when I have altered my list of schools and my expectations so drastically in the course of my search.
I started out looking both at LIS and History departments, and while I still think there are some exciting and wonderful History programs out there, I feel like I would be restricting myself too much to solely focus on that. I love my history research and plan on continuing it, but I love how LIS embraces new technologies and is open to new ideas. I feel like in History, I would find myself having to justify why I’m so passionate about our open access journal or why I feel like resources and information should be shared, not privileged. Of course every History department isn’t going to be like that, but I have yet to find a discipline that is as broad and interesting as LIS! Everywhere I am applying has faculty members who do research across many disciplines, and I would get a chance to explore new fields and ideas while honing the skills and interests I already have.


I am saving myself a lot of stress right now by keeping my options open and not picking a ‘top school’ (or even doing much in the way of ranking my choices). In some people’s cases, there’s a program that fits perfectly with all of their interests and desires and if so, great! You have a top choice. I have a wide range of interests, and want to work with the faculty at all of these schools, so I have the luxury of knowing that I will be happy and productive wherever I end up–the last time I applied to PhD programs was for Psychology in 2006, it was so stressful, especially because I focused more on figuring out which schools were ‘better’ and lost sight of looking at how my interests and experiences could mesh with a program (or not).
I’m sure I’ll keep refining my goals and interests throughout the process (that’s part of the fun!) but I feel like LIS has already taught me so much, and it has so much more to teach me. My colleagues are passionate and engaged, and I can’t wait to spend time learning the ropes in a new department!

This isn’t my first time applying for grad schools, so I’ve definitely gleaned some practical advice from the process (I might update this depending on how well it all goes!):
1. Complete any and all applications within 5 years of taking the GRE. Remember how horrible that test was? Don’t re-take it if it can be avoided.
2. Start applications early. Everyone says it, and it’s true! You probably *can* get away with applying at the last minute, but you have more of a chance to polish your applications and to control your stress levels. Here’s my current strategy (which may or may not be ideal):
-This spring/early summer I talked to my recommenders to make sure they would be willing to write letters for me. Currently, I’m making ‘packets’ for each of them that include instructions for each school along with any forms/etc. and stamped envelopes (most schools do online letters now, but some offer the option of mailing them in, which your recommenders might prefer).
-Come September, when the applications officially ‘open,’ I will go ahead and cough up the sizable sum for transcripts/GRE scores/etc. Just because I don’t want to think about them!
-September 12 is my next conference talk, after which I can focus on writing statements of purpose and such. I’m hoping that I can recycle the same one, more or less, for each school.
-I make a point of adding to my CV as publications are accepted/conference talks approved/etc. so that all I have to do before submitting it with my applications is to give it a quick look over (to take a look, go here and click on ‘CV’).
For those who have already gone through this process and are pursuing the PhD, I would love to hear your thoughts/advice! If you have anything to share either about the application process, or about the PhD experience once you’ve arrived in the department, let me know!

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “>Tales from the PhD Hunt

  1. >Here's a great book that was recommended to me by one of my favorite professors in the deptartment, its incredibally helpful, http://www.amazon.com/Getting-What-You-Came-Students/dp/0374524777. Check it out.Good luck on apps, feel free to pass me anything you want edited or proofed. I'm happy to help and excited to hear about where you decide to apply. Check out UNC if you haven't already :-)Hope all is well in IC, miss you xxxooo

  2. >Hey lady, I miss you too! That looks like a great book–I'll have to check it out! I'm sure I'll be sending things your way, especially my application materials for UNC 😉

  3. >OK, I'm going to offer some advice, though it's based entirely on UK experience and probably irrelevant. (UK PhDs are based entirely on a research thesis – there's no taught element, apart from, sometimes, a few practical skills, such as IT or palaeography. We therefore tend not to talk about PhD 'programs', or even 'programmes'. I have no idea what the GRE is, and frankly don't want to know.)So. Tip 1. Before you go any further, think about what sort of scholar you are. Do you prefer working alone or collaborating with and sharing your work-in-progress with others? Are you an 'ideas' person, who likes constructing abstract arguments and theories, or a 'details' person, who prefers digging out factual empirical evidence (and letting the conclusions form themselves)? You're going to be spending several years working on this PhD – you want to do it in an environment that's sympathetic and supportive to your type of scholarship.Tip 2. Don't necessarily go for the famous and prestigious institution over the minor and obscure: choose the place that's right for you. Out here in the big wide world, a PhD is a PhD, and it doesn't matter too much where you got it. It is, of course, true that the bigger/more prestigious institutions may offer more in the way of facilities and networking opportunities, but even that's not necessarily true. If you're a bona fide grad student, you can almost certainly (maybe with a bit of negotation) get, say, library privileges in other university libraries, or admission to other institutions' seminars, if that's what you need.Tip 3. What does matter, far more than the choice of institution per se, is the question of the staff/faculty – and in particular the person who will be the advisor/supervisor for your research. It's incredibly important that these people are on the same wavelength as you. So do check out their publications. If they're a bit too narrow for your tastes, or too broad, or too abstract, or too jargon-ridden, or too nitpicking, maybe you should look elsewhere. But if you read a paper, and you think 'Wow, I wish I'd written that!', then maybe that's somewhere to aim for. I can't emphasise this strongly enough: what look at this stage like minor differences of outlook and approach can broaden into great gulfs of misunderstanding and frustration further down the line, and I've known people to drop off the PhD ladder entirely because of them.As I say, possibly not relevant at all, but good luck in your search.

  4. >Thanks Dr. Harris–this is a big help. I've knocked some of the more prestigious (Ivy League) programs I was looking at in History for the reasons you were talking about, but I definitely need to spend a lot more time with faculty publications and with comparing research methodologies. I think I've been lax in attending to how important those differences are, so it's a great help to get your insight!

  5. >After some more digging this week, I want to add a bit more to Dr. Harris' comments, which really got me thinking about doing more in-depth research into my compatibility with the programs I like. I know there are people doing research that I'm really interested in at all these places, but it hit home even more this week why checking the compatibility of methods is so important.The reason? Funding! I have applied for GAships in my department for the last 2 years, each time one has opened, and have not gotten one. This is not a criticism of my department, but rather an indication that my interests do not align with professors' work as well as some other students. Thankfully I have a part time job driving buses, so not getting a GAship is not a desperate situation, but it is a very powerful reminder to make sure I go to a place where my work is very much on par with what's already going on in the department!

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