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Grad School

StufStuf Registered User regular
edited April 2008 in Help / Advice Forum
Just a topic on people's opinion of grad school, what they've thought of it. I was recently presented with the option to go to Grad School from the head of the history department at my university. For the past few years I haven't been a stellar student - I was more concerned with girls and booze (and I've the GPA to show for my lack of enthusiasm). However, in this professor's seminar class I suppose I shined. Went out for a beer with this professor (and some of my classmates) and he told me he wants me to attend grad school. It's a nice way for my efforts to be received.

I suppose there are a few questions in this thread:
My GPA is low (not horrible, but low.). At this point in my education, trying to raise to anything above a 3.0 is pretty futile. But I've got the head of the history department's recommendation. Surely that would get me into a few good schools - my own for sure. But, I'd like a few more opinions on this.

Second: To those who have attended grad school, opinions? I suppose anything in history or social science-y would be of more help than other disciplines, but I'd like to hear from anyone with experience. Both how much was this enjoyable, good experience during the period, and how much it helped out in later life.

Also considering that if I attend grad school and don't hate it, I'll probably continue to phd.

Money isn't really an issue.

“There are... things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind.” -Fyodor Dostoevsky
Stuf on

Posts

  • MalkorMalkor Registered User regular
    edited April 2008
    Do you want to go? Could you start a carreer in the field of your choice as it stands? Also, could you put the work in needed not to waste your, and everyone else's time?

    Malkor on
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  • StufStuf Registered User regular
    edited April 2008
    Whether or not I want to go may be determined by what experience I expect. Which is part of this thread.

    Stuf on
    “There are... things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind.” -Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • LewishamLewisham Registered User regular
    edited April 2008
    Malkor wrote: »
    Do you want to go? Could you start a carreer in the field of your choice as it stands? Also, could you put the work in needed not to waste your, and everyone else's time?

    Once you have answered all these questions honestly, then you know everything you need to.

    I was able to answer the last two straight out of uni, but the first one took me two years before I really felt that the answer was yes.

    Lewisham on
  • StufStuf Registered User regular
    edited April 2008
    I suppose the crux of the matter, as it stands, is that I have a great deal of opportunity. There are numerous fields I can enter and be successful. I just want to know a bit more about grad school from those who have attended.
    What is it like? How individually-based is it? I know these sort of questions are going to differ based on institution, but more information is better than none.

    Stuf on
    “There are... things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind.” -Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • noir_bloodnoir_blood Registered User regular
    edited April 2008
    I been meaning to make a thread with a similar question, so I hope Stuf doesn't mind me piggybacking of his.

    Basically, I'm an English major, and are about a year away from finishing my major with a minor in teaching. I really enjoy school, not necessarily the grades, but just the learning, and all my lit teachers have pretty much told me I should move on to grad school, as they see good things in my future if they do.

    Thing is, I don't really know what grad school is for. My goals is to write for a living, but I realistically speaking, i know that can be hard, so I have always planned on teaching, High School probably as it's when you can start reading some more fun and involving texts. Also, how hard is it to pay for grad school? Its been slow going in getting my degree because I work full time, and tend to have to work my school schedule around my work schedule. I know that with grad school that's harder, but I'm wondring if I could juggle all my bills with just scholarship or TA money.

    noir_blood on
  • LewishamLewisham Registered User regular
    edited April 2008
    Stuf wrote: »
    Whether or not I want to go may be determined by what experience I expect. Which is part of this thread.

    It varies between subjects, between schools and departments, and even different topics of subjects inside departments. If you have a supervisor you like at a school you like in a field you like, then you will have a very different (and more enjoyable experience) than someone without any one of those things.

    I'm starting a CompSci PhD in the autumn, but there are certainly schools I wouldn't want to have been at, and fields of interest inside CS I want nothing to do with.

    You need to bring the boundary of "grad school" down to something much tighter. Once you have that, the easiest way to find the answers is to email grad students who are working in what you want to do. Many people will be glad that you care about what they're doing. They're likely to vent about work stress, but that doesn't necessarily mean they don't want to be there. Take negativity with a grain of salt.

    That said, this thread will be over once DrFrylock gets here. He knows pretty much fucking everything there is to know about it (he's a real doctor, you know).

    Lewisham on
  • StufStuf Registered User regular
    edited April 2008
    Thanks Lewis, that seems like good advice. I'll be sure to look into what grad students we have around here.

    You're probably right, in that the experiences are going to be vastly different from each person. Still, I'd like to know those experiences (in a general sense).

    I suppose tightening my definition of grad school - by which I assume you mean institution - requires a bit more elaboration on my first question - how much is this professor's recommendation worth? He is the head of the history department here, and this is a good school. How much would that offset my low GPA in another institution? (guesses, I suppose)

    Stuf on
    “There are... things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind.” -Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • JoschuaESQJoschuaESQ Registered User regular
    edited April 2008
    With your GPA being below the number for Threedom and freedom, (3.0) I'm betting he could get you into your school's grad program if it has one, and if you look at the stats -which schools give a shit about- see what schools take your GPA in. I am not one to judge, nor am i trying to; I only got a 3.01 in college.

    If it does have one, and he is the head of the department, good things abound if he enjoys your presence. You will have to wtfpwn the GRE for, I guess history in order to offset the GPA, the letter will help, but since he suggested it, I would go to him when you know he has time and talk more about the specifics. He has a better idea of where he can help you get in than any of us do. One thing I regret most about undergrad was not approaching my professors enough. Don't be scared of them. I suppose law school has removed any fear I may have had at all of positions of authority, but I recommend it nonetheless.

    Further, some goal setting is in order as well, and this can be the platform for it. What do you want to do with yourself? Will this degree increase your payscale in said field? If so, how much does it offset the cost of the graduate program itself? You will be getting loans, I doubt a scholarship will be applicable at first.
    Are you ready to work? You can open up many opportunities in a graduate program if you're ready to give up on most other random crap that is going on - hanging out, drinking, playing games etc. - and you run with papers and trying to get published. -- If that's what you're going for.

    God I just wrote a book, I apologize. I know I am echoing others, but it is hard not to.

    JoschuaESQ on
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  • LewishamLewisham Registered User regular
    edited April 2008
    Stuf wrote: »
    I suppose tightening my definition of grad school - by which I assume you mean institution - requires a bit more elaboration on my first question - how much is this professor's recommendation worth? He is the head of the history department here, and this is a good school. How much would that offset my low GPA in another institution? (guesses, I suppose)

    No, institution was really not what I meant: what do you want to do? I'm no historian, but I guess you can divide the subject into time periods or methodologies. What are you going to spend the next 2 (for Masters) or 5 (for PhD) years of your life researching? Which part of history did you enjoy best? Once you know this, you can find institutions and people that are interested in the same things you are.

    From what I have read, the Letters of Recommendation hold the greatest sway over your application, but only if those reviewing your application have heard of the person who wrote it. If they don't know who they are, they won't really care what they have to say. It would probably be a good idea to get one letter from your head of department, and one letter from the most famous/well-connected person in your department, and then one from the professor you mentioned in the OP.

    The Letters of Recommendation can gloss over a poor GPA by showing that you have demonstrable research potential (doing well in the GRE is also helpful for this proof). I read of a school that just wrote "DWIC" on letters that just said "Did Well In Class", but didn't mention anything about research: these letters were useless. The GPA already said they did well in class, but that isn't even what they're looking for. They are looking for people who can do research, and those people are not necessarily ones with a high GPA.

    One thing you'll need to consider: in your OP, you said that you had a "lack of enthusiasm". Is that because you were busy with booze and girls (which is perfectly normal), or because you didn't care about the subject all that much? If you are not passionate about it, you will not get very far in grad school.

    Lewisham on
  • CraigopogoCraigopogo Registered User regular
    edited April 2008
    I'm in the closing months of doing my MA in English, so I'll try to just keep this about my experience. If you're not sure about it don't do it, and if you do decide to go, I'd strongly suggest doing a two year degree instead of a one year. There's no time for reflection or enjoyment, really, in a one year program. Everything happens very quickly, and you need to keep on top of a lot of things all at once or you're in for a rough time.

    I came here with the intention of going on to do a PhD, and I've had that aspiration crushed out of me. All four of us in the English MA program have, actually. I've come to realize that if I were to continue on this path I'd spend about half my time writing articles that nobody cares about, and that don't contribute anything of value, except allowing me to get or keep a job. If you love doing research and writing papers, go for it. If you don't you should be aware that it's a major part of the job, whether you enjoy doing it or not. In my experience it's isolating work, as well. Nobody really cares what I'm doing my thesis on, because everyone is busy with their own stuff, so if you flourish when you're working alone, go for it. A lot of this depends on where you go, of course, maybe my school just happens to suck. As I mentioned though, the entire English grad class is not going on to do PhDs, despite that being the original plan for all of us, so I don't think I'm the lone crank in the department.

    I don't think I regret doing this, but if I had it to do over I would have went to a different school. Make sure you know the place you're going, talk to the current grad students there if you can, and find out/decide who your advisor will be as soon as you can and start to get to know them too. Having someone encouraging you is nice, but if that's all that's pushing you towards going to grad school I'd seriously reconsider it, it's too much of a pain in the ass to do it half-hearted.

    Craigopogo on
  • LewishamLewisham Registered User regular
    edited April 2008
    Craigopogo wrote: »
    If you love doing research and writing papers, go for it. If you don't you should be aware that it's a major part of the job, whether you enjoy doing it or not.

    Pretty much: if you don't want to do research, you shouldn't be there. Many professors I know dislike the article writing aspect, but love the fact that they can come in each day and research whatever they want to. It's the demonstrable published results that's the tedious bit :)
    Craigopogo wrote:
    Having someone encouraging you is nice, but if that's all that's pushing you towards going to grad school I'd seriously reconsider it, it's too much of a pain in the ass to do it half-hearted.

    Also remember that schools get lots of sweet money from grad students, so they will naturally encourage people to join them. I had a professor from one of my old institutions telling me how I should go there, how much I'd enjoy it, yadayadayada, but I told him they weren't doing anything in my proposed field of research. He essentially said "don't mind that, you'll be fine". Which is when I knew he was not exactly looking out for my best interests.

    Lewisham on
  • JoschuaESQJoschuaESQ Registered User regular
    edited April 2008
    Schools being a business kills schools.

    JoschuaESQ on
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  • CrumbBumCrumbBum Registered User regular
    edited April 2008
    The most important things when picking a graduate school are 1) Professors working on things you are interested in 2) Your cohort and 3) Funding. You need to aim towards getting funding, especially if you are even considering the PhD. I just started a PhD in sociology, and the major thing I took from my master's that lead to the school I picked for my PhD was the number of professors in my field of interest, and how they fostered graduate student interaction. It cannot be overstated that the people in your cohort (and in front and behind you) will be your social support, and also provide information about professors, work, ect. As far as your grades are concerned, getting a good score (1300+) on the GRE almost wipes that out. It is also possible, if your professor recommends it, for you to address your GPA in your statement of purpose. If you are 3.0 or higher, I wouldn't worry about it. The main thing for your grades is showing improvement and good grades in your field of study. Graduate school is not a sprint either, it is a marathon, and the sooner you except that the better off you will be. So, when you make your decision on which school to attend do your best to visit them. Meet the faculty/current graduate students, and get a feel for how these professors work with you individually. One of the major differences going from undergrad to grad is that you will have a lot more one on one interaction with your professors, and getting to know them better will be paramount towards your ability to get a PhD. From the graduate students, find out if they socialize together, share notes, experience, anything because these people will be the ones you will see most often unless the department is a ghost town. Also, don't tell anyone but us that money is not an issue. You want funding, trust me.

    CrumbBum on
  • Pants ManPants Man Registered User regular
    edited April 2008
    you seem pretty blasé about this whole thing, which i don't know is a great sign.

    where i'm coming from is that i got a BA in history with a 3.3 gpa, and then went to grad school to get my master's of education. my advice to you is to ask yourself how much you like what you're doing, because in grad school they're going to want you to bust ass for the department and for your subject matter.

    essentially, grad school can be a tough, tough slog. i work at least twice as hard as i ever did during undergrad, and two things have gotten me through it: 1, i love what i'm doing, and 2, i love the people in my program. if i had come into this not giving a shit, or just doing it because it was a random opportunity that someone threw at me, i'd have quit months ago.

    i guess my advice is this: if you're going to do it, do it for the right reasons. grad school will kick your ass, but can be incredibly rewarding if it's doing something you love. if it isn't and you don't have the drive to put the necessary effort in that it requires, don't bother. the department won't need or want you, the other grad students will probably not be too pleased with you, and you probably won't get anything out of it either.

    Pants Man on
    "okay byron, my grandma has a right to be happy, so i give you my blessing. just... don't get her pregnant. i don't need another mom."
  • McVikingMcViking Registered User regular
    edited April 2008
    I've been slogging along (off and on) toward a PhD in the humanities for, um... six years now. I say off and on because I entered as a Master's student, finished that, started on the PhD, and then got into other stuff instead. There's lots that's different between undergrad and graduate study. A few highlights: As an undergrad, you usually take a bunch of classes to fill different distributions. So you're juggling calculus, english lit, and psych all at the same time. In a PhD program in history, you're probably going to be taking nothing but history classes. And you're probably going to be taking them with most of the same people (i.e., the other people who entered the program the same year as you). For most of the people in my graduate program, that means that all of their friends are other grad students in the same department. They take classes with these people. They share an office with these people. If they go out for beers on Friday, they go out for beers with these people, and they talk about their classes and their research. So if you're really into history, great -- you get to talk about nothing but history for 5 or 6 six years of your life, both in and out of class. Graduate programs are usually not going to expand your experience of the world; they're designed to narrow your experience of the world and give you a great deal of depth into a smaller range of things. If you're cool with spending a lot of time with people who are experts in 18th century French artillery and not much else, then this is the place for you.

    It wasn't for me, so I bailed with a year of coursework left. Not so much because the graduate school experience was a bad one, but because I felt like I was becoming too narrow as a human being. (Anyone want to chat about Wittgenstein, Logical Positivism and Scientific Realism? Yeah, me neither.) More than that, the post-graduate world in the humanities narrows you even further. If you do a PhD, I assume that means you'd be looking at academic positions. (There really isn't much other reason to do it.) That's a crazy-competitive world. Are you prepared to accept a two-year position at Hinterland University, then another two-year position at a teaching college in the middle of Iowa, and then finally an permanent assistant professor position at the one school in the country that offers you the job? Unless you're a superstar, that's the grind.

    A final word: as you look at programs, by all means, talk to the grad students. But more importantly, ask the department to give you the list of alumni and their current positions. A program that gives you full funding for five years but never places anyone in decent teaching jobs at the end of the grind isn't what you're looking for.

    McViking on
  • Andrew_JayAndrew_Jay Registered User regular
    edited April 2008
    Stuf wrote: »
    I suppose tightening my definition of grad school - by which I assume you mean institution - requires a bit more elaboration on my first question - how much is this professor's recommendation worth? He is the head of the history department here, and this is a good school. How much would that offset my low GPA in another institution? (guesses, I suppose)
    I might be able to help, having also gone to school in Canada (I assume you're going to school here currently and plan to stay?).

    First, I would venture (but can't guarantee) that his recommendation will help a lot. I've found that the Canadian academic community is relatively tight-knit and there's a good chance you'll run into other people who know this professor as you go through the application process, and his personal support will go a little further than you might think.

    Also in terms of being accepted somewhere, I also highly doubt you'll ever need to do the GRE - none of the four schools I applied to required it. My understanding is that that is a U.S. thing, or maybe for science programs. Not history departments.

    As for whether you'll like it or not, keep in mind that it'll only be a year (which goes by too quickly), two at most, for an M.A. program. Money wise, I did political science at the University of Toronto which would be one of the more expensive places you can go, and the program cost about $7,000 for the year. Jump at any opportunities you have to work as a teaching assistant because it'll help you decide if the PhD and teaching is something you want to do.

    What McViking said about the specialisation is quite true. It can also be quite intimidating going into a program when you're surrounded by a number of people who know exactly what they want to be doing when you may not (I didn't). That said, in the M.A. program I still got a chance to do lots of different stuff - depends on how it is structured. The program was more focused on course work and we had a slightly less involved research project rather than a full-fledged thesis. I would imagine that a greater research focus will demand more specialisation. So yeah, find out how the schools run their programs, because these days there appears to be a great deal of diversity.

    Anyway, hope some of that helps.

    Andrew_Jay on
  • StudioAudienceStudioAudience Registered User regular
    edited April 2008
    Malkor wrote: »
    Do you want to go? Could you start a carreer in the field of your choice as it stands? Also, could you put the work in needed not to waste your, and everyone else's time?

    How would he go about deciding whether he wanted to go or not? Would it just be one of those things that just dawns on you one day? I'm in a similar position, and have no idea what the answer to this question is for myself.

    StudioAudience on
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  • LewishamLewisham Registered User regular
    edited April 2008
    Malkor wrote: »
    Do you want to go? Could you start a carreer in the field of your choice as it stands? Also, could you put the work in needed not to waste your, and everyone else's time?

    How would he go about deciding whether he wanted to go or not? Would it just be one of those things that just dawns on you one day? I'm in a similar position, and have no idea what the answer to this question is for myself.

    Decide what you want to research -> Find influential people in that field, people that fire you up with what they're researching -> Look at the universities they are at -> Apply to the ones in places you like, or by academic reputation

    This is how I did it. The hard part is deciding what you want to research. I worked it out by reading around all sorts of fields, finding which things turned me on.

    Lewisham on
  • ReitenReiten Registered User regular
    edited April 2008
    For history, you need to ask yourself the following questions:
    1) Do I enjoy doing research?
    2) Do I enjoy teaching (or do I think I will)?

    If you can't answer yes (or probably yes) to either of those questions, then you will be restricting your job opportunities immensely.

    What sorts of topics and fields are you interested in? There are a billion and one people doing the US (and for Canada, I'd imagine Canada) and modern Europe. The competition for jobs in those fields is brutal.

    Your GPA will really hurt your opportunities at some schools. The recommendation from a tenured/senior faculty will help a lot, but the fact that he's a department head won't matter that much. Do you have other history faculty willing to write you a very strong letter? Apps typically take more than one letter. If he says you do great work and another faculty says you were a slacker, they'll cancel themselves out. Since your GPA isn't good, you'd better prepare really well for the GRE. Great scores will help you out. Also, what are your grades in your history classes? If those are all good, you can point that out in your letter. If it's only this class, then talk about how the professor and class really sparked your interest, now you love it, etc. etc.

    Does your department have a graduate program? Would you be interested in it and would they be willing to take you (some departments don't like to take their own undergraduates into their graduate program)?

    Talk to this professor about your situation. Explain it.

    Also, you might be able to do a terminal masters somewhere, do really well there and then transfer somewhere else (and better) for a PhD.

    Reiten on
  • Sharp10rSharp10r Registered User regular
    edited April 2008
    My experience in grad school is probably a lot different than most disciplines but shares the most in common with historical disciplines. Grad school is a lot of reading, as in a metric ton. The research part of Grad School is huge (so picking one with a good library for your field is a good idea, though not a deal-breaker if they don't have a good one). I wouldn't trade my grad school work for anything though. It really has expanded my horizons, clarified my thinking, and given me a much richer perspective than I would have had otherwise. As always YMMV, but I love it.

    Sharp10r on
  • NisslNissl Registered User regular
    edited April 2008
    I'm in the 5th year of a science Ph.D., but I know several people doing history or related Ph.D.'s.

    The only career a history Ph.D. really targets you towards is academia, so make sure that's what you want to do. (The only other reason to do a Ph.D. is if you want to spend the next 5 years doing nothing but studying history, then have to compete with new college grads for an entry-level job when you're ~27.) Also, there are too many Ph.D.'s produced for the number of positions being created, so you had better be confident in your ability to compete. If you want some control over where you wind up you had better be very good. In my school history Ph.D.'s take a modest classload, read a ton, teach almost every quarter, and spend the last two-ish years writing a thesis. They don't really make enough money to make ends meet, so some wind up with moderate student loans or doing something like bartending a couple of days a week.

    Nissl on
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