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Posts Tagged ‘Grad School’

Looking for an academic job or a place in grad school?

October 10th, 2011 | Jonathan Gray

While I slack off from writing real posts, instead I thought I’d give a wholly narcissistic shout out to some of my earlier posts. If you or someone you know is on the academic job market in media and cultural studies, this time last year I wrote a multi-part series with some advice, and some great folk contributed their own advice in the comments too, so be sure to read them. Earlier this year, I also wrote a three part series on applying to grad school, and once again some great minds chipped in down in the comments, so read those too.

The academic job market pieces, and links:

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As for the series on getting into grad schools:

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Applying to Grad Schools in Media Studies, Part 3: How Do You Get In?

August 3rd, 2011 | Jonathan Gray

One of the most important things to realize about grad admissions is that most programs don’t so much reject candidates as they accept other ones. In other words, the point isn’t merely to make it past some arbitrary line of acceptability, beyond which the program thinks you’re good enough. The point is that the program has to want you and you specifically. Related to this point, you should also realize that resources are usually limited: some programs take only those they can fund, yet even those that take more have limitations set by class sizes, available professors, etc. Thus, decisions are bound to be highly competitive. For example, Media and Cultural Studies at UW received over 130 applications each of the last two years, but accepted seven (5%) and four (3%) students each year respectively.

Your job, therefore, is not simply to be good enough – you need to fit the program, and you need to submit materials that will make the program truly want you. Take heart, though, because this also means that a “rejection” from a school is likely more a sign of them wanting other people that year than it is a rejection of you. So many factors can go into these decisions: perhaps the program is lop-sided in one way and is making a concerted effort to tackle that this year; perhaps you’re applying to work with profs who already have too many grad students; perhaps they simply have less spots this year; or perhaps you look great and the committee realizes this, but they also realize that you’d be better served by others (certainly, each year, we don’t accept numerous people who I fully expect to be producing brilliant work in the years to come, and I’m sure that I’ll be reading and greatly admiring work by those who we “rejected”). Read more…

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Applying to Grad Schools in Media Studies, Part 2: Where Should You Go?

July 25th, 2011 | Jonathan Gray

There are too many universities with grad programs. Some have no clue what they’re doing, other than making money. But here’s the thing you need to know: it is very hard to get a good job with a PhD from a second or third tier program (unless, of course, your supervisor is the acknowledged expert, and is regarded as a first tier program in and of herself or himself). Competition for academic jobs is such that even lower end universities can and do limit their search for job candidates to those educated at the better institutions. So make sure that you ask around about the good programs. I’m not going to list them here, since I’d undoubtedly miss a few and get flak for it, but also they vary according to what you want to do: I’d highly recommend one school for one topic, and warn you to run for the hills rather than go there for another topic.

Indeed, as much as US News and World Report rankings and such may have you thinking about good schools, make sure you look into which are the good programs. Some great name schools have really awful programs in certain areas, or no program. Meanwhile, though I’m struggling to think of a great program in a bad school, many similarly-ranked schools will differ massively in the quality of their programs. Ask the professors whose work you find most like your own, or at least who know what your work is best, where they’d recommend. Look at the scholars who you’re quoting and reading and admiring and find out both where they’re teaching and where they did their PhDs (though remember that some of the older profs may’ve been with a program in a different era). Read the course offerings and see if they speak to you. Find out what current grad students are researching, and see if that scares you off or excites you. Don’t bother with published rankings, since most are deeply flawed and limited (case in point: the National Research Council’s recent rankings of Communications programs in the US applied their social sciences rubric to several humanities-based programs, meaning that books that would have counted as 6 articles for those in the humanities counted as a single article for the programs in question, and other lunacies).

Most of all, think about who you’d like to work with. When I look at the applications to UW’s Media and Cultural Studies program, unless I think that a student would benefit from working with my colleagues and I, I will never pursue the application any further. Sadly, many applicants know simply that they want a PhD, but haven’t stopped to think that any given program will consist in large part of a small group of faculty, their courses, and the peers in the grad program there. Not only does this usually kill their chances of getting in – as I’ll discuss in the next post – but more to the point, it means they’d be miserable if accepted. You want and need advisors who will help you get where you want to go, not ones who are constantly talking about X when you don’t really give a damn about X.

The above paragraph may set an intimidatingly high bar to clear for some. So let me be clear that a good program will realize that not everyone who applies to their program has their ideas set in stone. Especially if you don’t already have an MA, and are applying straight out of your undergrad, you may still be fairly new to the field. You may have a very wide set of interests, which may make it extremely hard to work out who you want to work with. That’s all fine. What you don’t want, though, is to be applying somewhere where you’re already not a fit.

What other considerations should you take into account? Below I’ll consider the American picture first, then talk about the UK separately, since there are some important differences (I’m only discussing these two countries’ PhD programs, since I really only know these two countries’ PhD programs). Read more…

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Applying to Grad Schools in Media Studies, Part 1

July 22nd, 2011 | Jonathan Gray

Last year when I was publishing my series on looking for academic jobs, I got some email requests from Masters students who were looking for PhD programs to expand the series to encompass that issue too. At the time, I wanted to go through another year of decisions for our own grad program at UW, so that I could make some notes on the whole process while it was happening. I’ve now done so and am ready to comply with those requests. So, if you know someone who wants to go to grad school in media and cultural studies, feel free to pass this on to them.

A key warning first, though: these are simply my suggestions and thoughts. They may not apply to other grad programs in media and cultural studies. They will almost definitely not apply, at least in total, to a lot of grad programs outside the field of media and cultural studies. And even if you’re applying to the Media and Cultural Studies program at University of Wisconsin, Madison, I’m not the only one who makes decisions, and I’m not speaking here for my colleagues, so please don’t see this as a How to Get Into Wisconsin document.

And a key request: I would love if some other practicing academics would chip in with their own two cents. Similarly, prospective candidates should feel free to fire questions my way (though please only send the generic ones via the blog. I won’t address personal issues and cases in this public venue).

I’ve broken the advice into three posts:

(1) Should you even go to grad school?

(2) Where should you go?

(3) How do you get in?

These aren’t strictly chronological, as you’ll find that some of my suggestions in the second post are directed towards those with several offers in hand, and hence to those who have already aced the third topic. But it’s a way to avoid a 6500 word blog post! Let’s start with the first one … Read more…

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