Podcast: Tag team: Holly and Sheila discuss applying to graduate school

applying to graduate school

In today’s episode, Holly and I dive deep into the world of applying to graduate school. Whether you’re contemplating a Ph.D. or an academic-focused master’s program, these essential insights will empower you to craft a compelling application and embark on an enriching academic journey.

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TRANSCRIPT

Holly Schreiber: 

Very early on in the process, the planning work and the you know the visioning and the self knowledge, that’s what’s going to make the application process less painful.

Sheila Akbar: 

Welcome back, everybody. Hope you’ve had a great week. This week, I’m excited to welcome back my dear friend, Holly Schreiber, who has been featured on the podcast before, particularly around her coaching work with students with ADHD. Today, I asked her back to discuss with me and in sort of a different format, we’re trying something different here. I hope you like it, let me know what you think. But we’re just sort of chatting about what it takes to apply to graduate school. So we talk about how do you know if graduate school is right for you? Is it a Master’s? Is it a PhD? How do you go about finding the right programs? What about the personal statement? And who should you ask for letters of recommendation? What do you do about the GRE. So there’s a whole bunch of good stuff in this discussion. And for those of you who may be thinking about going to graduate school, or who have kids who might be thinking about going to graduate school, I am sure this will be a very helpful conversation for you to listen to. So take a listen. Today, I just wanted to share some information with you all about applying to graduate school. Holly is a longtime member of the Signet family here, and she’s actually really old friend of mine from graduate school, we did our PhDs together. And she has been a tenure track professor, she has SAT on graduate admissions committees, and has been helping students apply to programs like this for many, many years. So she’s a real really wonderful resource. And I’m glad to have her. Join us today. We’ll get through some basics here. The first thing we want to talk about is like, Why? Why grad school? Why are we doing this? Why are you going to do this to yourself. And you know, that may indicate grad school is a painful process. It can be for some people, and some people love it. And it brings them so much joy and helps them focus on exactly, you know, what their true sweet spot is, and all of their strings. So I think it’s really important to start with some reflection about why are you thinking about grad school? And what are your goals for after graduate school, I think one of the healthiest ways to think about a graduate program is that it is a training program for something else. A lot of people feel like, oh, I don’t know what I’m going to do. So I’m just going to go to grad school. And I think with how expensive grad school is and how taxing it can be. That’s never really a good reason to go to graduate school. I often tell people don’t go to grad school, because you hate everything else. You can’t figure out what you want to do do it because it’s like the last resort. The only way for you to achieve your goal is to go through a graduate program. I think that can be a useful heuristic. So think through those goals. Do you want to if you’re thinking about a PhD, do you want to be a professor or a primary investigator? As a scientist? Do you actually enjoy teaching? Do you like working with college aged or graduate school aged students? Do you like research and writing? Do you like public speaking, in other cases, you know, a Master’s program might give you some technical expertise or allow you to qualify for some sort of credential or licensure that will help you move ahead in your career or do something sort of new. So just get really clear on all of that. Kelly, what would you add to the conversation here?

Holly Schreiber: 

I think those are great points. And a sense that even if you’re not sure, and you’re researching programs, when you get to the stage of needing to write those personal statements, you’re going to have to have a story and a pitch. And the more genuine it is, and the more well thought out that is, the more successful applications will be. So I think that you know, like very early on in the process, the planning work and the you know, the visioning and the self knowledge, that’s what’s going to make the application process less painful to one. Absolutely, you should know it’s the right choice for you. But also understanding and being able to articulate why it’s the right choice, particularly for your career goals will be really essential. And that’s something Yeah, that is, you know, day one first conversation we have when we’re talking to people,

Sheila Akbar: 

talk to us about the differences between a Master’s and a PhD and how do you kind of figure out what’s better for you. So the

Holly Schreiber: 

PhD, we sort of started that as an example. So that’s a research degree. Many people are drawn to it, I think, because of the rigor of it because of the prestige at the highest degree that you could get in a field for research areas. But I think it’s really important to understand that it is training you to be contributing to a field of knowledge by creating new knowledge. So it’s not always the as preparation for certain careers, and you may have interests or you may want to collaborate with people doing research, but what you’ll want to really think through is whether you want to be that person who’s doing it, who’s in the nitty gritty, creating that or supervising others who are doing that work. If not, there’s lots of other options. And also, if you want to teach at the college level, if that’s the terminal degree in the field, meaning the highest one, you can get that, yes, you may need a PhD. So if your goal is to mostly teach, but you want to be at that level, then the PhD would be necessary. If not, there are other fields so MFA, maybe the terminal degree in them or other professional degree that you could still teach in, that might be a better option for many people. Additionally, if it’s to advance your career, a Master’s or another specialized degree that’s focused on that field may be a better choice. Usually Master’s, they can be focused on these career goals and training in specific areas, or they can be a stepping stone to a PhD. So if you feel that you may eventually want to pursue a PhD in research, but you don’t feel like you’d be able to put together an application that’s strong enough to meet your goals. A Master’s may be a good option for in between, because it allows you to get back into the classroom and be able to have recommendations and experience from that build writing samples, that sort of thing. And sometimes, you know, you can get into perhaps a slightly more prestigious Master’s program, which would then be a stepping stone to the PhD later. So the goals is one thing to really think about with that. The other, of course, is the time commitment. Master’s can range from one year to three years, if it’s an MFA, or another sort of, you know, very professional terminal degree program. The PhD, you couldn’t do one in I’d say, five years, some people say it’s a four, and then it yawns on to just, you know, years and years and years. So that’s something to really think through of what it means if you can, researching the programs and the discipline that you’re interested in and seeing what the average rate of degree completion is, that can be very eye opening in the field, Sheila and I got our degrees in, I think 10 years was the average. But it’s important, right? If you’re putting a career on pause to continue this or if you’re going to have other constraints, just be aware that a Master’s would get you back back out there much faster. And finally, with a finances, often PhD programs are funded, not terribly well, right. With research assistantships and teaching it would be, you know, not not a ton of money, but you wouldn’t be paying for it. Master’s programs, there is some funding available, but largely those are moneymakers for schools, you are usually paying for those. So that may be a major difference as well, if you’re not sure, and you’re interested in the research track, some people go straight to PhD to save time, a little like it’s a straight shot, and they’re more likely to get funding for those years.

Sheila Akbar: 

All right, so this is the general process really for a PhD. And the Master is just sort of like a simpler version of this. So first, you want to kind of develop your research interests at the PhD level, this is going to be pretty specific. We’ll talk about this in a little bit more detail. The Master’s level, it doesn’t have to be super, super specific, like I have this one question that I have to answer with primary research. But you do sort of need to be able to articulate why this program, why this subject, so you kind of kind of need to think through that. And then even at the Master’s level, I find it very useful to really understand who is teaching in different places. So if you have an understanding of what you want to study, go figure out who is studying that, or who’s teaching about that. And then those are the programs you’re really gonna want to target. You’ll finalize your program last through a bunch of research, collect all the requirements, every school requires something slightly different. There is no such thing as the common app for grad school. So it’s a different application portal for every single school sometimes for like different degrees within the same school. So you’ve got to get organized. If the GRE is required to leave to study for it, take it, you’ll need to write a statement of purpose. Some schools also ask for additional essays like a personal history, you’ll need to submit a CV we’ll talk about that request letters of recommendations. Some places ask for a writing sample or a research proposal. You may be writing that from scratch or looking at something from several years ago, I’m trying to make sure it’s really representing your writing skills and communication skills now, and then in some cases, you may need to apply for funding whether that’s through the school or from an outside sort of funding source. The typical calendar of all of this is the deadlines are in December for admission in the following fall. So if you wanted to apply December of 2023, you would be starting fall of 2024. So you are kind of planning About nine months ahead, and I would say the average client that we work with on this process is spending three to four months preparing their applications. And if they have to do the GRE, they’re going to add three months to that timeline. So now we kind of have our framework what we need to get through and when we need to do it. All right, developing a research topic, actually, I think Holly I’m going to ask you to talk about this one.

Holly Schreiber: 

All right. So this is something that will depend on the type of program you’re applying to. There’s a difference we said, Master’s versus PhD. But honestly, the difference is whether there will be a large research component, some Master’s programs will have a final thesis or project or are sort of, you know, you’re assigned to an advisor who will supervise your specific area of interest. So if that’s the case, you’re going to need to propose something. If it’s not, if you were basically just completing coursework and just in a general cohort, then it’s less important that you have your own individual specific research topic, because you don’t have coursework carved out to do that. But many, many programs will have this. So what you want to do is, think about what your original contribution would be, you’re not wedded to this completely. If you’re going for a PhD, you want to have it specific enough that they show that you know, what dissertation would entail, or a Master’s thesis, that you can conceptualize a research project and that you have the training to follow through with it. Also, that you will be matched with the appropriate advisor. That’s one of the big reasons why you do this, hopefully, honestly, like your your idea would be refined while you’re there, you’d have a whole committee guiding your thinking you would use the resources there. So this is really just a way of saying, you know, this is what I would like to do, given the assets at this program helped me make it work. So kind of where you go from there is coming up with something that is timely, that contributes to knowledge in the field, that utilizes resources that are available at that university, and has some sort of significance, broadly speaking. So as we have this kind of broken down here, understanding what it is you want to investigate, you may start with a topic, but you want to get narrow, narrow, narrow enough that you can foresee a project or doable project coming out of it. You do want to talk about them, like eventually, in your proposal, talk a little bit about why you care about this. And that’s to show motivation. All of these programs are difficult. And when admissions committees look at these things, they want to know that a student is going to make it through and they’re going to put in the effort. And if they know that you have a real motivation for doing it. And it’s believable and compelling, that is really going to convince them that you’re going to succeed in the program. So you should you know, like talk personally about it, but also should globally. It’s like why why does this matter? You know, why should the world care about it. And finally, you’re also there to contribute. So for many fields and the fields that have been listed here, the student may be working in a lab or contributing to someone else’s research under grant. So you likely are, you know, the or the student in question would be admitted to pick it back in some ways, you’d be getting an education, but the institution would be gaining someone who’s contributing. So that is really important. And something showing an awareness of that can really help build out this research topic.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, and I’ll add that that’s something that can help you narrow your research topic. Like if you know, we get calls like this all the time, oh, I’ve lived in the Boston area my entire life, I don’t want to leave. So I’m only looking at programs within Boston. But this is the thing I want to study and the thing that this person wants to study, no university within, you know, 50 miles of Boston has a specialist in that thing. And I’m like, alright, well, one of these things has to give, right? Either you expand your radius, or you change your topic. And really, those places that are going to be the ones you’re most likely to be admitted to are the ones where those things match, right, where the thing you want to to investigate is something that they are already investing in, by having faculty members who work on that topic are on the periphery of that topic, or they have special research centers that are really dedicated to those kinds of questions that you want to answer. That’s a way that you can sort of read what the university cares about. And if you can align yourself in your topic with those things, that’s only going to be helpful in convincing the university you would be a contributing member of their student body. Alright, I also want to just know actually, Holly, this was something that you gifted to me when I was writing my PhD proposals, right. So I’d already been admitted and spent, you know, however many years doing my coursework, and I was writing my dissertation proposal, and I had so much trouble framing the project. And you told me Well, you could build on someone else’s ideas and complicate it. You could argue against somebody you could would expand something, you could take this kind of theory that’s already been applied to this idea and apply it to a different idea or a different time period, we worked on literature, time period, different culture, different history. And that was so valuable for me, it’s not always coming up with a brand new idea that no one has ever thought about, right? Because honestly, we live in a pretty sophisticated world, we’re probably somebody’s thought about whatever idea you have, right. But just because somebody has done something in that area doesn’t mean they’ve exhausted the knowledge that can come out of investigating it further. So you can think about different ways to relate to the existing body of work. Once you start understanding what’s already been done, who was working on this? What are the historical conversation around this, like, I studied Persian literature, there was a lot that was written in the 1800s, about this stuff, and then nothing for a very long time, right. So clearly, those people who are writing the 1800s, a little bit out of date, with you know, how we think about literature today with the advent of sort of modern critical theory, and nobody had been able to, or nobody had tried to apply that to this body of literature that I was really interested in. So for me, that was like just an open road. And it wasn’t so much I want to do my PhD on love poetry, it was I want to use, I have these critical models that have been used on Shakespeare for many, many years. And I want to apply them to the poets that I was interested in coming out of the Persian Empire. As I was indicating, you kind of you want to know who is teaching where before you get hung up on our program. So this is sort of the opposite of what a lot of people do with the college process, where they think about, okay, I want to go to this brand name school. And then I’ll figure out what I’m going to do within that or figure out how to make myself a fit for that university, really, at the graduate level brand doesn’t matter so much, you can find some rankings out there of Master’s and PhD programs, but nobody really agrees on a methodology for that they don’t have the college level either, which is another thing that we spend a lot of time educating people about, but particularly for doing a PhD, you want to think about who is a potential adviser for you and your research topic. So I always recommend starting with a Google search, or a search of an academic journal database, like JSTOR, EBSCO. If your student is in a college and academic institution, right now, they have access to this through the library systems, you can get access through public library systems as well. Maybe even some of your employers have access to these things, but just search for the topic pretty broadly, and see what’s been published recently, and read those articles, really digest them, try to understand them. And that’s a good check. Also a good gut check, like, Can you handle reading academic literature, because you’re gonna have to do a lot of fat? So read it, digest it, think about what do you like about the way this person approached this topic? Or what don’t you like about it, and those people that you feel like, Oh, I really liked this, this is interesting, this is related to what I want to do, find out where those people are, and then research the programs through which they teach. And then those will probably be the programs you end up applying to, of course, there’s more research to do once you do this initial identification. And then I also recommend that students contact, the potential advisors that they have identified, some schools will be very explicit, and they’ll say do not contact in those cases do not contact, I would say the vast majority of schools don’t have restrictions against that. And so you can email a professor and say, Hey, I read this paper of yours, I was really interested, I’ve been doing some work on this thing, I would love to have a zoom coffee with you and talk more about your work. And it’s not so much I’m applying and I want you to help me, it’s more like I want to approach you as a colleague and a mentor in this field that I am dedicating myself to. And then the rest of that stuff will happen. Right. But I think it’s very valuable because this person is is sort of the analog of a boss in your graduate program. And I’m sure you all know what it’s like to have a great boss, and what it’s like to not have a great boss. And when so much of your future is riding on the support that you get from your advisor, you really want to make sure this is a person that you can work with, that you feel, share some of your values that you think is going to be supportive of your work because it can make or break your experience of a graduate program. Holly, what would you say about that?

Holly Schreiber: 

I would agree with so much of that and especially for PhD work as well like the PhD advisor, that is a relationship for your life like it is, you know, very, very important. I say especially in the humanities, in a sense because when in many other fields you it is more like an employer You’re working and providing through the lab, they’re using your research their name or phone, your publications, all of those things. Often in humanities, it’s more like a give and take almost actually maybe more familial in some ways, right? Like they’re, they’re not getting credit as much for the what they’re doing and supervising. And that can lend itself to all sorts of weirdness if it’s not a good relationship. So I definitely agree like taking that seriously. And setting aside ideas of prestige, sometimes in favor of who is going to be an advisor that’s on your side, that is making sure that they have your values at heart as well. And so, yeah, we’ve all seen examples of that advisor, relationships, you and I. And so I definitely encourage that, for some programs if you’re applying, and it’s not. And this is something that’s like talking, sometimes they’ll have grad students available to talk to, like, hey, chat with a current grad student about the program. Sometimes that can be a treasure trove, I wouldn’t try to start gossiping or like, you know, jump right in, I’m just like, Oh, who’s most terrible advisor. But they can tell you how important that advisor in advising structure is to your success in the program, if it’s a Master’s, if it’s a PhD, that’s a given that, that that’s intensely important relationship. But some Master’s it’s less of a deal. Some people move between advisors without any sort of thing, it’s more of a staffing thing. And then in that case, you would look at more of the curriculum and coursework. And there might be other things that drive your decision, you should still try to have a mentor that’s going to help guide you in the career later. So I still think the advice holds in going someplace that has, you know, someone who’s amazing in the field, who can, you can seek out for mentorship, even if that isn’t formally structured in the same way.

Sheila Akbar: 

Great. Alright, let’s move on the statement of purpose. This is something I really enjoy doing with students, especially when I don’t quite understand their field. Because having to explain it to a layman really makes you think hard about what is this? Why am I doing this? Why do you why does this matter to you person who is not in my field. And when committees are reviewing applications, there is a mix of people within the field reading these applications and administrators and random students and other you know, secretaries and things like that, that read these materials. So it’s important that you can communicate to both specialists and non specialists with very clear, concise language. And I always say to treat this like an investment proposal, because especially at the PhD level, they are offering you hundreds of 1000s of dollars of funding that they would otherwise collect in intuition. So they are quite literally investing in you and investing in this idea. When you think about the stakes that way, I think it helps people be a lot more clear about why this idea why me why this institution? So some of these things we’ve already talked about, right? What is the research topic? What is the project that you want to accomplish through this program? Why should they invest in this work? And then that is a combination of like, why does the world care? Why is this an important contribution to the field? Why should that program specifically care about this topic? Right? What have they done that’s in line with this or that makes you feel they would be interested in funding this work? And then the other question on the other side of this is not so much about the idea, but about the person? Why should they invest in you to do it? So it comes back to that question of motivation that Molly was talking about earlier, but also your prior experience, your skills, your knowledge? What is it that you have already done that makes you confident, you can complete this PhD program that you can complete this project, right. So if we’re thinking in the analogy of the investment proposal, we’ve all heard great business ideas from really terrible people are people that were like, well, you will not be able to get this done. Right. And that’s the impression you do not want to give off in your statement, you really want to make sure you have a compelling idea that they’re excited about and excited to fund and that you show that you are the right person for the job, right to carry that idea out. And then you have to also think about, well, what’s the institution’s commitment to this idea? Why is this the place that you should do this program? Is it because they have these three faculty members that are already doing this kind of work? And you think your experience and perspective can help move that agenda forward? Do they have a specific lab that is working on this or do they have access to a particular collection? So Holly and I went to Indiana University for a PhD and they sort of famously have a collection of Sylvia Plath. So you know, if you want to be a scholar of Sylvia Plath, this is the place to go, right? It’s Indiana University of all places. The reason I went to Indiana University is because one of the sort of foremost scholars of Arabic poetry and her husband who is also a scholar of Arabic Poetry were there. And the person who ended up being my direct advisor was one of the foremost scholars of Persian literature. And having those two deep strengths in one place is really rare, you’re doing something as obscure as you know, 16th century Persian love poetry, right? So I was able to make a very clear argument of you’ve invested in these people, you’ve built this program, and you need someone to move it forward. And I’m that person because of xy and z. So these are the four questions I usually use to guide my students through writing the statement of purpose, it does not suggest a particular structure to the essay, right, you could have a different outline, as long as it’s hitting these points, you’re communicating what you need to communicate to the graduate committee. And then you also want to think about the story. Right? You want to help them picture you as a colleague, as a student in their program. So what are those personal stories that you want to tell that are relevant to these questions, to really demonstrate that to them. And as I mentioned, when we were going through the timeline, some schools ask for a personal history, separate from the statement of purpose. So the statement of purpose ends up being like a very academic, you know, here’s what I want to do and why. And here’s my experience with that. And then the personal history is literally like the history of you growing up in your education. In some cases, like the University of California system requires us, it’s because the state has a mandate to, you know, help citizens of the state also help people who have traditionally not had access to these sorts of education opportunities. So they want to hear about that in your background. And so there may be a separate place on the application for that. Holly, anything to add?

Holly Schreiber: 

Yeah, I think this is great. And I think that for brainstorming, again, knowing that, like when you write the essay, what’s easier to to brainstorm and get out, it’s not necessarily the most effective organization. So some people will write chronologically of like, first this happened that I became interested in this, then I was here, especially if you’re doing a career transition, you want to get all of it out there. But generally, the structure is the you know, you’ll have maybe sort of intro statement of who you are very short. But then the research question is, that’s an important part, or the the proposal that you have, that’s going to drive the entire application essay. So for the statement of purpose, so then I find it and then everything else sort of goes to support and elaborate on that. So it’s important to kind of keep in mind, but don’t get too hung up on that as you’re brainstorming and writing. Because sometimes we don’t write that much about ourselves. So it may take a while of really kind of exploring the space for you to be able to say, what it is you want to do and why you’re so qualified to do it. And that’s okay, if it’s hard to do it. Many people aren’t comfortable bragging about themselves, or they may not see all the connections. But just know that that’s why it usually takes so long to prepare these is because you do have to kind of go through it and think and reflect and often have other people write and, you know, read it, sorry, don’t read it. But like you tell you how amazing you are or why they think you’d be great at this. So give yourself space to do that.

Sheila Akbar: 

Right, so we often talk in terms of resumes, when we’re applying for jobs, even for college, they ask for a resume in many cases. But for academic programs, you really want to have a CV in most cases, Holly, I’ll turn it back to you to tell us what’s the difference?

Holly Schreiber: 

Yep. So a resume is I mean, you’re all familiar with it. But what distinguishes it really is the descriptive material, that you’ll have the dates and the job titles. But you know, you spend all that time crafting those perfect action verbs and your accomplishments and like what you actually did, unfortunately, the CV wipes away a lot of that it tracks this information in a completely different way, which is essentially a laundry list of everything you’ve done relevant to academia, over the entirety of your career. So if you look up like a established professor, their CV would be, could be 30 pages long. It just keeps growing. The idea of being you know, selective and concise is not is not what it’s about, which you know, can can be a shock if you spent all this work crafting your perfect resume. But in choosing to translate your work to a CV, what you would be showing to admissions committees is that you understand the conventions of academia, you understand what parts of your experience that you have translates into the things that academia values. So I do recommend it to people who are applying to a PhD, or to an academia oriented Master’s track where people will then leapfrog into the PhD a little after. So the things that you’ll you’ll want to do then is sort of break away from the description. You can leave some of it in there. I think sometimes I’ll let people do a bit of a hybrid because their work experience may need a little explanation for academic audiences. But what you essentially do is extract All the things that you’ve done from, you know, regardless of what position you were in, who was paying you to do what, regardless, if it seems like it’s duplicated elsewhere, you’ll have a category for everything you’ve published, if it’s related, and then you, you know, you’d mark whether it’s peer reviewed, and there’s a whole hierarchy of things, any presentations that you’ve done that are remotely related. You know, if you did a presentation every three weeks for whatever job, you would list every single one separately, and it would be a line on your CV. So it takes a lot of going through and poring through what you’ve been doing day to day in your work, to see what fits those categories. Additionally, the categories are pretty flexible, there’s certain ones that you have to have, you know, publications if you have them, research experience, honors, grants education right at the top, but otherwise, you can craft some of the categories to make some of your work and contributions visible in a way that you don’t have as much flexibility with resume. So I would say if you’re going looking for a professional oriented Master’s program, you may not need to do that. Because the resume may be you know, the people, if people reading it are working professionals a resume, they may be where they’re more comfortable anyway. So you might send it just a maybe longer version of a resume, you wouldn’t go excessively long or anything. But that would work. The CV is when you’d want to be really speaking to other academics.

Sheila Akbar: 

Wherever you’re coming from, you want to highlight those transferable skills, and highlight them wherever you can, in your Statement of Purpose on your CV is, as Holly was just describing in your letters of recommendation, and you’re going to have to reflect on what are those transferable skills? We’ve talked to a lot of people who think, Oh, they’re not going to want me because I’ve spent seven years as a project manager in this, you know, biotech company, and haven’t been doing science. And I’m always like, Are you crazy, they’re gonna love that. You’ve got all of these organizational skills, you’re seeing these sort of trends, you’re managing people, you really understand what this industry is about, and therefore can automatically have a good sense of what matters, what kind of contributions matter and what has practical applications. Sometimes you need someone else to help you see those strengths. And to help you see what skills would be very useful. Holly, you gave me a list of these skills earlier, you want to jump in and share some of them.

Holly Schreiber: 

Yeah, some of my favorites. I love working with people that are going back after having a successful career. If you’ve mentored anybody, that is something that is incredibly valued in academia, project management, dealing with deadlines, it may seem silly, but if your recommender says this person never misses a deadline, that’s like golden, any sort of public speaking, that’s amazing. grantsmanship. If you have experience writing grants or applying for them, that that’s amazing, because that’s less that they have to train you to do, once you get there. And that’s something that’s highly valued, then, you know, strong writing skills, which they’ll be able to see in various points of view, what else was on the list,

Sheila Akbar: 

I think those are the highlights, for sure. There are a lot of different things that we do on a day to day basis that we don’t think of as skills, when you start to think of them that way, then you can start to see your own strengths, right? The GRE is often not required. Now, there are definitely some schools that require it. If it is required, I recommend you take a free practice tests on gre.org There are three of them are there. And then depending on how you do, you could either self study with a book could take a course or you could get yourself a tutor. And so if this is something that you’re you think you have to tackle or your student has to tackle feel free to set up a call with me I can talk you through it, I can even point you to the to the free test and help you analyze the results. Oh, letters, but you talk about this finale.

Holly Schreiber: 

Yep. So what actually are important in academia, in part, like, especially in PhD things, because reputation matters, in some cases. So everybody knows everyone else do you have a letter from from someone that you that you’ve studied with or from coursework, and people can check in and learn about your character, it makes a big difference. So I would say, especially if you’re coming back after a break, you need at least one academic reference, preferably two or more. But it can be hard. So I think that knowing, you know, reaching out to somebody, if you’ve kept up the relationship from like the last coursework that you’ve done, or someone who supervised work that you’ve done academically, that’s a great option. If there’s nothing that’s popping up, you may consider taking a course in the meantime, to just see how you feel about it. I worked with someone who took some Harvard Extension courses while deciding to apply for the PhD. And she got into the amazing list of programs. It was it was wonderful, but that was partly, you know, kind of like the slow build towards her application. And she was able to get fine recommendations through that. Right like there. You know, it wasn’t the top professor in the field that was teaching that course but it was an academic recommendation that could speak to her coursework. Also, then so much of the many of your experience have been in the in the workforce. I How to Prepare non academic writers really important. You may have letter writers that can recommend and say amazing things about you. But it would help them to know what academic committees think are amazing. So coaching is important. Generally, these letters of recommendations are one or two pages, there is a lot in there. And you can find resources to sort of just like, you know, open the door to them and be like, Okay, this is what sort of expected or what the standard is, let me know if I can help. You can provide a resume or CV personal statement, I really recommend providing the personal statement to help them understand what they’re recommending you for. And you can also highlight perhaps, like hate, these are the qualities or like parts of the work that I’ve done that I really think would reflect well, or be relevant to this area of study, as we said that there are certain transferable skills that from an academic mindset, really, it’s like, oh my goodness, mentorship, experience, teaching, experience any of these things, you can tell people that that’s something that is really going to help you. So I do recommend people just sort of check in as kindly as they can and offer to provide resources. Sometimes, especially for business, I found it’s a standard that people ask you to write your own letter of recommendation, and they will edit and send it that can be very hard. Sympathy is with you. I mean, that’s not not ethical necessarily. But if you’re in that position, talking to other people sort of outsourcing it in some ways of just like, what would what do other people kind of say about me to craft sort of an outline or a document. But I wouldn’t be totally surprised if that’s the like response that you get. And it’s one that’s difficult, but you want to definitely make it look like you didn’t write it yourself, like don’t use exactly the teaching language that’s in your personal statement.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, that does happen a lot. And it’s very disconcerting for students. I’ve seen professors do it as well. And most of the time they have, you know, one of their assistants write it. And so what I found to be the most helpful to highlight are those, you know, this project that I did for you, or this thing that we collaborated closely on and remind them what that is, but maybe just in bullet points, so that they are forced to actually turn that into a sentence of their own, just, you know, trick them back into writing the recommendation themselves. This is a lot of information. And honestly, we’re really just kind of scratching the surface. So I know there’s a lot of overwhelm and and sort of that impostor syndrome starts to rear up a little bit. Friends, as you can probably tell, there was so much more that Holly and I could have talked about applying to grad school is a very nuanced process. Depending on what kind of program you’re applying to, and what your educational and work history has been up to that point, your process might look very different from someone else, you may struggle with one part of this that somebody else doesn’t, and you’re gonna fly through some parts of this that other people are going to find challenging. So I do think it’s a really good idea to have some help on this. And it doesn’t mean you have to pay a consultant though, you know, we’re happy to help if that’s what you’re looking for. But it’s really good practice to actually find mentors in your most recent academic institution, to help you think through this process and to learn what to do next. Because number one guidance is going to be helpful. Number two, they may be able to support your application in ways that you didn’t expect. And number three, it’s great practice to speak with somebody who is an academic, as a colleague and a mentor, because that’s what grad school is all about. So don’t be afraid of asking for help your career office in your academic institution may also be able to help but talk to those professors that you really connected with and ask them their thoughts on you applying to grad school and see how they can help you. Okay, hope this was helpful. You know, I’ve been talking for a couple of episodes now about this free community that I started on circle, the link will be in the show notes, I hope that you can join us. There are sections on standardized testing, on college admissions and on graduate admissions, and this material is very, very valuable. So it’s totally free to join, go to howtogetintocollege.circle.com or check the link in the show notes. And please join us over there and hopefully that will help you through this very challenging, but rewarding process. Thanks, everybody. We’ll see you next week.

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