Re: Master application

Daniel D Scripture (
29 Sep 1995 05:40:35 GMT

I'd like to add a little bit to this excellent advice:

In article <449qkm$3ik$> Mark Fagan <71640.2463@CompuServe.COM> writes:
>While I did my MA in the States, I came back to Canada for my PhD
>course work. The main centres for physical anthropology (though I
>may be out of date) are U of Toronto and Calgary.
>More important than where, though, is WHO. You should check the
>literature and find a professor who is doing what you want to do.
>If at all possible, try to meet them (either at a conference, open
>house, or by appointment) and certainly correspond with them. Let
>them know you are interested and get them interested in you. You
>will only be accepted into a program in a professor wants to take
>you on as a student.
Yes. Picking a graduate school is completely different from picking
an undergraduate institution. Although the process is not completely
visible to you the applicant, fundamentally what happens is someone
says something like "George ought to be able to take this person on,
don't you think (to the rest of the admissions committee)? And George
says, when queried,
"Yeah, they look pretty good, and I need someone else in my lab,
because I had two people finish this year." If George doesn't need
you, and he's the only one doing the kind of work you want to do, you
may very well not get in to that school. GPA's, GRE's, etc., matter,
but matching you with a professor matters the most. The standard
measures are minimum qualifications. People whom some professor
wants are picked from that group, by and large.

I would also add that it is a good idea to take very seriously the
advice of your undergraduate faculty who are going to write your
recommendation letters. Ask them whom they think you ought to work
with, and whom they know where. Remember that any particular academic
specialty is really a very small world, where everyone is marginally
aware of everyone else who works in the area, and knows a lot of them
personally. Lots of faculty recommend their better students to
faculty elsewhere whom they went to grad school with, or whom they
know from conferences and so forth. An academic specialty in most
disciplines actually operates like a small town. Hence, networking

This situation may appear to be unfair, or to invite unfairness in many ways,
and sometimes is.
But on the other hand, the relationship between a graduate student and
his or her major professor is close and often very prolonged--as much
as ten or fifteen years, in some cases in some disciplines. Lots of
folks can't even stay married that long. Personal knowledge gained
through your connection to the network (your undergraduate faculty)
matters, therefore. From the professor's point of view, it helps
_greatly_ if you are recommended by someone whom they know well, or
fairly well.

>Secondly, look for a program with a wide range of experiences
>available. You need a broad outlook in anthropology and so a small
>department can be a drawback. Funding for grants, opportunities to
>TA, etc. are all plusses.
Although I basically agree with the above, I would add that it is also
an advantage for a grad student to be someone whom some professor is
very glad to have as his or her student. This advantage needs to be
weighed against the size and breadth of the school in question. If
someone really wants you, the rather hard life of a grad student is
improved significantly.

>If you can afford it, don't overlook American schools. They have
>very good programs and are at the leading edge of most sciences. I
>attended the field school run by Northwestern University in
>Kampsville, Illinois, under Dr. Jane Buikstra. I got excellent
>practical training in osteology, archaology and lab work.

Although things are getting tighter always, it seems, in the UC System,
at least, grad students actually pay non-Californian fees only
for the first year _usually_. I don't represent my University in this
statement, incidently. However, if your department wants you, they
will find a way for you to afford it, one way or another. That does
not mean that you will live well. Grad students have poverty-level
incomes. It is part of the price, traditionally.

Dan Scripture
UC Santa Cruz