how to tread water while i wait for grad school
January 31, 2018 3:42 PM   Subscribe

I'm not eligible for PhD studentships in the UK because I don't meet the residency requirements yet. I'll be able to meet those requirements in about three and a half years. What should I do with all this time to stay competitive AND to stay patient and mindful with my current situation?

I want to apply for PhD studentships but I've got to wait a few years. I am a US citizen living in the UK. I'm here on a spouse visa. I have to wait a few years because I'm not eligible for funding oportunities until I've got no limits on my rights to stay and I've met the residency requirements.

I have a BA in a bunch of vaguely-related political economy programs. (Omnia extares!) I also have an MA in Social Work from a UK university. I worry that the MA isn't that compelling because it's a professional qualification. I'm a pretty competent academic writer. My dissertation received a mark of 80 (UK grading system). However, this work was literature-based and it didn't provide me with much quantitative research training. Nonetheless, my supervisor did say she would be glad to talk me through making it publishable.

I'm interested in Human Rights or Social Work courses because I'm highly interested in exploring the possibilities for social work intervention in one particularly under-researched area. (i'd rather not get too specific.)

My worry is that I'll waste the time I've got doing things that won't make my application stronger. I think I'm probably already at a disadvantage because I've got a professional MA, rather than a more academic MA. I also don't want to be so invested in the future that I forget to stay present and grateful for where I'm currently at. I have an excellent, loving and respectful relationship with my partner. We've got beautiful pets, a lovely flat and time to walk in the countryside during the weekend. My job as a low-level manager in a non-profit is low-paying and the organisation is a bit of a mess (high staff turnover, lots of drama). It's not my dream job, but I enjoy it on most days and I am learning a lot about project planning. Most importantly, it pays the bills.

So, what could I be doing with the next few years to strengthen my application to studentships while not losing sight of the present?

Things I'm Already Doing:
-finding opportunities to complete grant applications for work (grantwriting is a skill!)
-studying for the GRE in case I don't want to stay in the UK and decide to apply to schools back in the US
-applying for jobs in a less dysfunctional workplace while appreciating the learning opportunities in my current job
-friendships, volunteer work, music lessons, day trips to the seaside or to the dales, a regular exercise routine
posted by quadrant seasons to Education (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, do I wish I'd had three years of professionalization--really, in any area that involves writing and allows self-management--before tackling a PhD in the social sciences / humanities. I suspect you have a lot of bases covered. Given your MA, you probably have some of this covered too, but I think in terms of making an application stronger one thing to consider honing is your cognitive map of the discipline: who studied with whom, which schools have specialists in which subfields, what recent dissertations are coming out of those programs and who is supervising what, is there a major conference you could attend, what journals are worth looking at regularly, and that kind of thing. That's a kind of awareness that can pretty much always be sharpened, and I think your application in the end should demonstrate that you're applying to a particular program because you know well what's going on there and how it fits with your research interests.
posted by Wobbuffet at 5:28 PM on January 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Is there a reason you're not taking your supervisor up on publishing your Master's work? I'm in the sciences, but man, publishing is hard and an additional skillset to writing, and I wish I'd started working on it earlier. And a journal article would mitigate what you see as your overly "professional" MA topic.

And to add on to what Wobbuffet says, hone your awareness of what happens to PhD students after graduation. Look at job postings for places you might want to work post-PhD. Are there skills you need to get now or in grad school that are important to employment?
posted by momus_window at 6:41 PM on January 31, 2018

My experience was that after getting my BA, I spent two years in the US Army thanks to the Vietnam War and the draft. Immediately after getting out of the Army, I landed in a PhD program at an Ivy League university. I found I was not only out of practice, buy my cohort included foreign students who arrived with a stronger background (post B.A. courses) than I had. I was behind from day one, and never got the doctorate. Probably I never would have, but these things didn't help.

So my advice is keep your head in the game. Use the time to keep learning about the appropriate subject matter. It's a good time to explore the breadth of your subject to see what you like best and are best at. In my subject (mathematics) you can buy/borrow a textbook for most any subject at an upperclass (Jr/Sr) level and work your way through with self-study (reading, doing the problems). This approach can help build a foundation in the quantitative areas where you feel weak.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:38 AM on February 1, 2018

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