(Closed) Question for the PhD’s amongst us

posted 10 years ago in College
Post # 3
1276 posts
Bumble bee
  • Wedding: August 2009

My PhD is in a technical field, so there are some differences.  But one piece of advice that I think applies across the board is to focus more on the specific expertise of the department your applying to than the prestige of the institution.  If they don’t focus on the areas your interested in, regardless of how big the school’s name is it’s going to be difficult (I know someone with a history PhD who ended up transferring out of his big name institution for this very reason). 

All that said, the resources available in your program will definitely impact your experience (and they tend to scale with the prestige). I suspect this is more true in the humanities.  For technical PhD’s there is an expectation that your department will find a way to fund you throughout, but I think its quite different in the humanties.  Talk to current students (especially later stage ones) about what funding opportunities are available.  my understanding is that its common to get funding as a fellowship for the first 4-5 years but that people are often left to float after that (I think avg. time to degree in history is something like 8 years, but I don’t know for sure…something to ask each program).

Anyway, good luck applying!  You can PM me if you have more questions.  As i said the application process is a bit different in the sciences, but I think there many similarities as well.

Post # 4
53 posts
Worker bee
  • Wedding: May 2018 - The Homestead, Hot Springs, Virginia


Similar to fizicsGirl, my degree is technical, too. So there are some basic differences.  

I received a terminal master’s degree before going on to get the PhD (in different but related areas: psychology and applied statistics). I wasn’t sure that I wanted a PhD…and certainly didn’t know that it would be in applied statistics!

So my one bit of advice would be go the terminal master’s route if you want some flexibility, but know that it might cost you an extra year or some credits when you start your PhD program (if they don’t accept all your masters work). You might want to find a program (that, of course, has a great reputation in your specialty area) but has both a terminal and PhD program, so you a) can easily transfer your masters credit over to your doctoral work and b) have a better chance of getting into the doctoral program going the master’s route at that particular school first (if you’re successful in the program).

Good luck to you…keep us updated!


Post # 5
236 posts
Helper bee
  • Wedding: June 2009

I have an MA and am in the later stages of obtaining my PhD in the humanities. I went into a PhD program straight out of college and just picked up an MA along the way. It has saved me both time and money (as mentioned by Perfume)

I think both fizicsgirl is dead on about the funding and finding the right institution that fits your needs. Also, I think it is important to think about what you want to do with your degree. Do you want to teach? if so, in what departments? do you want to do research? social/community work? this will help you find the university that is right for you. On that note, it is important to think about which faculty you would like to work with at your potential schools. If your program doesn’t have faculty members who do the type of work you are interested in, you could feel like you are kind of alone in your research. Which could suck.

Hope this helps. If you have any other questions. Feel free to PM me!

Post # 6
1276 posts
Bumble bee
  • Wedding: August 2009

I can’t more vehemently second <span class=”Apple-style-span” style=”font-weight: bold”>pancy’s advice to think about how you want to use your PhD afterward.  Now getting a PhD is a long and life-changing process, so your ideas will change.  But definitely keep checking in with yourself about it.  And if you have ideas (even wisps of ones) talk to people who have pursued those careers and find out how you can help yourself learn more or bolster your CV (internships, seminars, etc).  I think so many people enter their PhD’s without knowing what they want on the other side, and it makes the final stages very, very stressful.  And if you know going in that you want to do something non-traditional with your degree (in physics, doing anything other than pursuing tenure track faculty jobs is non-traditional), then make sure that at the very least your advisor is on board.  If that’s not possible, make sure to find a mentor who is.  The best advice I ever got was to create a family of mentors, so to speak.  They might all be mentors in different areas, but a group of more senior, experienced people to seek advice from.  Like marriage, your beginning a long journey and you’ll undoubtedly encoutner many challenges…but can also be very rewarding:)

Post # 7
1048 posts
Bumble bee
  • Wedding: September 2009 - City Hall

My degree is in an education-related field. I’m in the middle of my doctorate right now. The biggest surprise for me was all the RESEARCH I’ve had to do. It’s something I really need to get better at, and it’s definitely life changing in terms of ideas and beliefs.

My masters was NOTHING compared to this – just classes and tests and a big project at the end. This next step is definitely a much bigger commitment. 

Post # 8
350 posts
Helper bee
  • Wedding: July 2009

Habibi, this was posted a while ago, but I just noticed it and thought I’d reply.  I’m in the final stages of getting a PhD in history. 

1.  I’ll third the advice fizicsgirl and pancy gave — knowing what you want to do with your degree is a must!  I’ve found that most of the people who dropped out of my program were the ones who weren’t quite sure why they were there in the first place, who went to graduate school because they couldn’t think of anything else to do.  Since you’ve been out 5 years in the "real world", I doubt this is you — students who’ve taken time off usually have a clearer perspective (and I say that as someone who went straight through from undergrad) — but I thought I’d throw that out there. 

2.  The key to a great graduate experience is a great advisor, one who not only knows a lot about your academic areas of interest, but is supportive and someone you have a good working relationship with.   When you’re surfing websites, make lists of professors whose work interests or inspires you, and make a point of talking to these people (via e-mail, or in person if you can) to see if you click.  Another piece of advice: talk to graduate students who are currently studying under your potential advisor to get the real scoop on what it’s like to work with him/her.

3.   Try to choose a program where there are at least 2 professors you could see yourself working with.  That way, if one of them leaves for another school, you will still have an advisor!

4.  I’m not sure if this applies to you, but if your eventual goal is a tenure-track faculty job, ask a lot of questions about recent placement rates for the programs you’re interested in.  The competition for academic positions in history is stiff, and some departments are better than others at helping their graduates find jobs. 

I hope that helped!  Feel free to PM me if you have other questions.  A book I found useful is Donald Asher’s Graduate Admissions Essays: http://www.donaldasher.com/books.php?pid=gaa.book .  

Post # 10
2434 posts
Buzzing bee
  • Wedding: September 2008

I wouldn’t recommend a terminal master’s.  Most PhD programs grant you a Master’s somewhere along the way (after your thesis proposal or generals/qualifiying exam).  The reason being that most Master’s programs you have to pay tuition for while most PhD programs (particularly at top tier schools) will pay you a stipend and cover your tuition in return for you teaching or being a research assistant or something like that.

I too have my PhD in a technical field (molecular Biology) and my program didn’t offer a terminal Master’s (common among the top tier schools I applied to).  However, they don’t OWN you.  I had several friends realize that a PhD wasn’t for them and they left with their Master’s degree after 2 years- and didn’t have to pay tuition.

So I would say- if you think you might want a PhD, just start in a doctoral program.  You can ask the school or students something like "How many people don’t finish their Doctorate?  What happens if they don’t finish or leave early?" and they can say they left with a Master’s.  (Just be careful not to make it seem like that’s your plan- they don’t like that!).

I made my choice based on the research opportunities at the schools and the locations of the schools (I wanted to be near to NYC and my family).

Good Luck.

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