Reflections from a PhD Applicant

Holy guacamole, Batman, these have been a doozy of a couple of weeks! The classic sign that I'm sliding down the hill towards exhaustion is when I stop communicating and I hit that point about a week ago. Don't worry – it's nothing bad and nothing that I'm complaining about, just a LOT of life and stuff and happenings.

So… drumroll please… all my PhD applications are finally finished and officially in the mail. For all the stress this process has brought me, it was amazingly anticlimactic yesterday when I mailed the last two.

For those of you who are familiar with the Meyers-Briggs (MBTI) personality inventory, I am a significant "P" which stands for Perceiving. There are four pairs of preferences in the MBTI and they can help explain how and why you operate in the world. In my job at JMU I find them to be very helpful in understanding relationships/skills in the workplace and students' study, social, and work habits. None of the preferences or types are good or bad, they just show how you prefer to make choices, how you gather information, how you gain and expend energy, and how you choose to work/act/behave. If you want to learn more, just google it, it's everywhere. I found a page that does a pretty good job explaining the differences in the pairings, you can see it here.

I am an INTP (Introverted iNtuitive, Thinking, Perceiving) or INFP ((Introverted iNtuitive, Feeling, Perceiving). The T/F is borderline and switches based on the circumstances. The "I" has been getting stronger as I've gotten older. I'm a very strong NP.

Anyway, back to the PhD process and my preference for "P"…  P's tend to look at the world as big picture and live in the realm of ideas, brainstorming, and possibilities. Not so much on the "J" tendencies of planning, structure, and organization. Um, yeah… The only thing I can say about applying for PhD programs that is universally true no matter what discipline you are studying is that it requires extraordinary attention to detail, planning, and organization. Sigh…

Each program's application process is different. Some parts are online, some are on paper. Some require GRE's some don't. Some ask you to submit transcripts directly to them, some need to be sent to and submitted by you. Every personal statement requires its own spin. Some require two recommendations, some three, some four. Every deadline is different. Specific pieces get sent to different offices at each school – program of study versus graduate school. So many details to track. So many I's to dot and T's to cross. As a poor little "P" all I can say is Aaaaarrrrgggghhhhhhhhh!

There were many many times I went back over something I thought I had finished only to find yet another piece I forgot or step I skipped. I even forgot to order transcripts from one school that I took one class at over one summer 22 years ago. That mistake could feasibly cut me out of the running for one program I applied to because I missed the application deadline by one day waiting for the final transcript to arrive in the mail. Sheesh.

Well, I am very pleased to say that I finally… I think… have everything done.

Mind you, I started this process back in October when I took a week of vacation to focus solely on the organization and planning process for applying. That week I worked a minimum of 8 hours every single day and got a pretty good jump on things, but it still required many many more hours evenings and weekends in October and November to get things wrapped up.

I imagine there are still things I will need to re-submit or details I forgot. Of course there are. But I'm pretty sure 90% of everything is done. So now begins the waiting. I expect I should know by March which ones I got into and can then focus on the decision process.
So, can I get a Woot Woot? Yippee yahooey and three cheers.

Schools & programs  I have applied to:

Carnegie Mellon – Human Computer Interaction
Cornell – Information Science
Indiana Bloomington – Informatics/Human Computer Interaction
Penn State – Media Studies
Quinnipiac (Master's) – Interactive Communications
UConn – New Communication Technology
UMCP – Human Computer Interaction

Any of my neighbors have experience with any of these schools? I'll take any and all advice, feedback, words of wisdom, or "wish I had knowns".

The question I get asked most often is which one is my favorite. I can honestly say I will be happy to go any of these. I actually narrowed the list down from about 20 to this final 7, so all of these are strong programs at schools I would like to attend, with research streams I was excited by.

I included the Master's program at Quinnipiac because it is a program I found really interesting that kept popping back into my brain. I can be somewhat impulsive and so I have learned when it comes to buying things that if I'm still thinking about whatever it was two weeks later that it's a safe bet to buy. Quinnipiac was the same thing – even though it's not a PhD program I kept thinking about it so I feel good about keeping it on the list. It would give me the training to move into a practitioner role in the information science/design/communication/technology world. The PhD programs will give me the foundation to move more into the faculty/researcher roles.

All I need is one "Yes" and I'm on my way. Right now, I'm ok with the waiting. I'm not counting any chickens because from what I understand the decision-making process for PhD acceptances is very unpredictable. So hopefully one of these schools will look at my background and think I'd be a good fit for their program. Ideally I will be able to choose between 2-3. Positive energy, positive energy, positive energy….

Big smiles.

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5 thoughts on “Reflections from a PhD Applicant

  1. Best of luck! Not sure what it's like in the US, but everyone I know in Australia who is doing a PhD says that the application was the toughest part of the whole ordeal. The thesis is a doddle by comparison! So you've got the most painful part out of the way now. I'm sure you'll get in to one of the universities you applied to. Good luck and keep us posted!

  2. I've heard that too and here's hoping it's true! I've also heard it's sometimes complicated on purpose to see who pays attention to detail and perseveres. But, being on the admissions committee for a master's program, there's a lot of stuff we don't have any control over. We have to do it the way the university or grad school directs. So, who knows? I have to admit there was one program I took off the list because they required SO MUCH MORE than everyone else I thought it was ridiculous. Most of the personal statements I wrote were a very short 300-700 words – it's hard to be so succinct when talking about your past experience, future goals, and every dream you've ever had (ha ha). But, on the flip side, this particular school was asking for 5 separate statements on very specific topics. All I can say is "buh bye".

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