Careers: How to choose which school?

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This question came in as a comment to an older blog entry:

How do you choose which school to apply to? I've heard conflicting advice (choose the school based on the faculty member you want to work with [be willing to take Michigan over Harvard], go for the name [Yale over Berkeley, for example], etc, etc)

Posted by: mac at May 31, 2005 3:09 AM

I thought I'd repost the response as a separate entry as it might get otherwise missed and some applicants have been asking me similar questions recently. It's been slightly edited.

My Response

In my opinion, there are three critical things that contribute to happiness in graduate school: your thesis advisor, your financial offer, and the department climate.

Whether you like it or not, your thesis advisor will have a tremendous amount of control over your project, grant opportunities, teaching schedule, and future employment potential. Even more than working with a leader in the field, you want to work with someone who knows how to properly mentor graduate students, who will give you the freedom to explore while also providing guidance when necessary. Junior faculty are often more enthusiastic and friendly, but you need to weigh this against their mobility and lesser ability to support you when it comes to grants and employment letters.

The financial package you receive will determine how much time you are spending teaching or waitressing and how much you will be spending on your own research and coursework. Inspect the offer letter closely -- many times at large universities, your stipend is based on TAships, which can eat up a lot of your time. You want some teaching experience out of graduate school, but there's nothing to be gained if you spend all 8 years in the classroom.

The climate of the department is hard to quantify but there are graduate schools where professors do not talk to each other. Others encourage their grad students to compete with each other for grants. I believe it's essential to visit the schools you are interested in before you commit yourself to eight years. Try to stay overnight at the homes of some grad students and ask them if they're happy. If you can't visit the campus, go to the American Anthropology Annual Meeting in November and try to track down some current or former grad students there.

That all being said, you don't know which schools will accept you so you may need to cast your net fairly wide in the application process. But as you apply to schools, take the opportunity to try to understand the local culture of the department. Visit the web page and look at the faculty interests and course offerings.

If you're a student of color or other underrepresented minority, many schools will fly you in after you've been accepted (but before you've rendered your decision) in order to woo you. By all means take advantage of this opportunity. It's also a good reason to clearly indicate minority status when you apply.

[Read other articles on Careers in Anthropology on]

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Karen Nakamura published on August 28, 2006 7:49 PM.

Careers: Doctoral programs in Deaf Studies and Disability Studies within Anthropology was the previous entry in this blog.

Careers: Disability History Association and recent dissertations on disability is the next entry in this blog.

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