Post Academic

Resources: Applying to Graduate School Site

When applying to graduate school, it’s easy to get disorganized. To maximize your chances, you may be applying to a million and one programs, and your advisor may or may not be helpful.

However, a University of Michigan grad student in Psychology has created a Web page that walks grad students through the application process step-by-step. You could print out the front page of this Web site and treat it like a checklist or even a substitute advisor.

Some of the best advice involves the personal statement. The Live Journal site “So you want to go to grad school?” often features students posting their personal statements and asking for feedback. Before you even think of drafting a personal statement, visit the Applying to Graduate School page on the subject, and it will save you a lot of trouble. Here’s a sample tip:

Remember, it’s called a “statement of purpose”, NOT a “personal statement.” This is not an essay about your emotional development. If something in your personal life is integral to your studies, then you should include it. However, most of the time, professors do not want to read about your personal life. The statement of purpose should read more like a professional document.

While we give plenty of advice for the “post-academic” phase, I’m sure plenty of “pre-academics” are visiting this site. If you’re one of them, bookmark this site now.

Applying to Graduate School

Science Grad Programs Start to Feel the Pinch

Here at Post Academic, I am guilty of a few assumptions, and one of those top assumptions is that grad students in the sciences have it better. Labs can get funding outside the university, and their skills and achievements are easier to quantify and monetize.

Well, I’m not entirely right based on a recent post over at Female Science Professor’s blog. FSP must be an amazing advisor because she worked hard to get a smart student into a physical sciences grad program that looked like the perfect fit. It would appear that this student did everything right and got in. And yet …

He applied and was accepted, he visited the department, and .. the financial offer was so inadequate that there might as well not even have been one. The student would have had to get a job and take out loans to make it through grad school (just as he had done as an undergrad), and no one should have to do that in the physical sciences.

FSP moved quickly and helped the student get into another group, so this student is covered. He’s lucky. Not all advisors would have been willing to help that much, nor would they have understood the financial issues.

No one should go into debt for grad school, unless that person is rich or they have a guaranteed job upon graduation. (And the contract for that job should be signed in blood.) The fact that students in the sciences are having difficulties with funding makes me wonder just how bad it is in the humanities. Anyone care to share what funding packages looked like in your departments, and how did they stack up compared to previous years?

What I Don’t Know [Female Science Professor]

Resources: LiveJournal’s “Applying to Grad School” Group

LiveJournal may not look like much, and it lets its users put in way too many distracting GIF animations, but don’t let the appearance fool you. It has some of the best communities on the Web, and one of them is the community “Applying to Grad School.” The group gives people a chance to vent, to get feedback on statements of purpose and get random tips about finding an apartment.

The fact that this group isn’t heavily moderated is a bonus, as many of the responses are candid, but not as harsh as what you might see in other online forums. A recent poster asked how to handle grad student anxiety, or the fear of being exposed as a fraud, and the comments in return would have bolstered anyone having doubts about his talent. Other questions are more straightforward, such as “Moving from Alaska to DC” and “Calling a program to see when they plan on sending decisions.”

The Grad Café also has similar forums, with equally helpful and supportive answers, but if you have a question and need it answered in a jiffy, consider posting it in both places to get as much advice as possible.

So You Want to Go to Grad School? [LiveJournal]

Fuzzy math: The odds of attending college to teaching there

Since we’re on a math kick these days, here’s an attempt to summarize what your odds are for becoming an academic, from the start of the process–getting into college–to a happy ending–getting a tenure-track position or a postdoc.  There are lots of numbers floating around out there, so we’ll try to gather the easier-to-find hard data on undergrad admissions and the more-difficult-to-guesstimate anecdotal numbers on grad school admissions and faculty job searches.  Since we’re English types, we’re just going to focus on our fields, tracing the odds our hypothetical know-it-all high school senior who just decided s/he wanted to become a lit professor faces from being accepted at a university to teaching at one.

Phase 1, Getting into college: We know that the admissions stats vary a lot based on different demographic factors, such as race, sex, family connections, and geography (especially if you’re attending an in-state public school or you happen to be the best student from Wyoming that all the Ivies want to admit so that they can say they have a student from all 50 states).  But let’s say our hypothetical student spreads around her/his applications, from the H-Y-P-S (Harvard-Yale-Princeton-Stanford; too bad there’s also not a E school before the S of Stanford!) pie-in-the-sky tier to some liberal arts schools to good state universities to “safety schools.”  Here are some of the odds for 2010 admissions, compiled in almost real-time by the NY Times:

Harvard: 6.92% acceptance rate

Yale: 7.50%

Princeton: 8.18%

Stanford: 7.18%

The numbers for the H-Y-P-(E)-S are slightly more exclusive than their closest private counterparts, with almost all Ivies hovering around 10%, give or take a few percentage points.

More stats below the fold…


What to look for: Perspectives for prospectives’ campus visits

Prospective grad students get to be jetsetters this time of year, visiting programs all around the country that have accepted them.  Congratulations to them–you really deserve to be wined-and-dined a bit, after all the hard work and anxiety of the last few months!  With the benefit of hindsight and experience (both as the woo-ed and the woo-ers), we wanted to provide a few (hopefully) helpful pieces of unsolicited advice on what to look out for when you prospectives are trying to make sense of your visits, since the whole process can be wearying and daunting.

Please jump in with any questions, prospectives!  And, for those of us on the other side, feel free to offer more unsolicited advice–as well as any funny stories you have, in the comments section below.

1. Don’t feel intimidated: There are a bunch of scary and scary smart people you’ll be meeting in the few but very action-packed days of your campus visit, from (obviously) the faculty to the grad students to your fellow prospectives.  You’ll naturally be in awe of the faculty, particularly the big names who probably got you to apply to the school in the first place, and you’ll probably stay that way through a good part of grad school.  But you’ll also come to realize that they’re living, breathing people behind the voluminous CVs, important books, and glamour-shot dept website JPEGs.  The sooner you come to this realization, the easier your grad school future will be, since these are the folks you’ll be taking your classes with and asking for advice.


On Re-Applying to Graduate School Programs

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionNow that you’ve dusted yourself off after receiving a rejection to grad school, you have two choices: 1) Abandon the plan and go on another career track altogether or 2) Re-apply. Before you re-apply, remember the statistics Arnold offered regarding getting a tenure-track job in the humanities. If you get into a grad school program, it will get tougher. But, there’s no arguing with passion, and becoming a professor of the humanities is a dream you cannot deny, here’s how to apply again.

Tighten your research focus. Despite super scores and references, you may not have gotten in because your research aspirations were vague. What field interests you the most? Is there a subject on which you might want to write a dissertation? Do you want to pursue the implications of your Honors thesis? Make a commitment, and tell the search committee exactly what you can do at their school.


Caroline passed along some information on, which is definitely a helpful all-in-one resource for propsective grad students–and a site where career academics could easily web-browse their time away during their office hours.  Basically a combination of the Academic Jobs Wiki and the WRK4US listserv for those just starting grad school or looking into it as a possibility, it’s a one-stop site that combines blogs, archived discussion threads, and the “Results Search” board, which compiles grad school admissions decisions uploaded by the site’s members.  According to home page, the database includes news of 85,358 decisions–and counting!  While the decisions aren’t categorized and sorted by discipline like the Academic Jobs Wiki is, the database is searchable by keywords.

And overall, the online experience of is probably more complete than a wiki or an email listserv, since the site is very well done and so easy and intuitive to navigate.  I definitely wish I had this, oh, 13 years ago when I was applying to Ph.D. programs, although I’m sure it would’ve been frustrating to constantly refresh the “Results Search” using my dial-up connection.  It just goes to show that next generation of students are probably a lot more tech savvy, and that (their future) teachers have a lot to learn from the (prospective) students.

The Grad Cafe

Call for contributors: How are admissions and job search decisions made?

Since we’re on the topic, is there someone out there reading this blog who is privy to admissions and job search decisions and would be able to explain how the process works?  We don’t want any personal details and would be happy to cite you anonymously (obviously), but it would be nice to understand how decisions are made from the deciders’ side of the equation.  Email us at postacademic .blog[at] gmail [dot] com if you’re interested in spilling the beans!