Back from UConn… and the Verdict is…

Am I ready to be a Husky?

Well, my visit was interesting.

I wish I could write a big old post raving and swooning about UConn, but I think I got an honest view of what it is like.

Lol… That sounds so bad. It wasn't bad, it was just honest. Kinda like that girl/guy you crushed on from a distance in high school then when you met in person you discovered was just a normal person like everyone else.

UConn is just a normal person like everyone else.

So… yes, I'm still going. Unless I get into Penn State and then I will go visit Penn, see that they are just normal like everyone else, and flip a coin. Just kidding. I would never decide something as important as a PhD by flipping a coin. I'll draw straws instead.

Ok, so the positives:

  • collegial environment – the students seem to get along well and support each other and I genuinely liked most of the students I met. The only two I did not really like are both leaving so no worries.
  • AWESOME stipend – much better than most places and I can even get pre-approved for a mortgage.
  • a variety of faculty – seems like each one has a specialty area so I can get a breadth of experience and dabble in concentrations which will make me more marketable down the road.
  • location – it's nice and rural, just like I like it.
  • campus – feels like an old-school college campus, lots of greystone and brick.
  • teaching – I could get as much teaching experience as I want which matters down the road during job search time
  • cutting edge faculty – a couple faculty members, young relatively recent hires, seem to be doing innovative

    research which I am very interested in

  • one "named" faculty – one person that I could tell is a kind of big name in his field, even wrote his own theory
  • popularity – communications is one of the biggest majors at UConn and they are hiring tons of adjunct faculty to meet the demand
  • huge incoming cohort – apparently there are 15 students coming in the fall cohort. That is double, triple, quadruple the size of other recent classes. I'm sure my future bff's are in that group.
  • type of learning – I asked one student how learning is measured in each class and he insinuated that there were a lot of papers, presentations, and participation/preparedness scores but not too many classes that had exams. [This is good.] I am much more of a synthesis, analysis, higher order thinker than a memorize things and spit them back out on an exam thinker.

The negatives:

  • no funding – the biggest bad news was learning that I am currently not funded. That means I would have to pay my way or get loans. The good news is the faculty chair really seemed to like me and all but promised she would try to fund me by the beginning of classes at best or end of fall semester at worst. She also sent emails to a bunch of other administrative units across UConn to see if they would hire me as a GA. Funding is the same, I just would not get the teaching experience right off the bat.
  • coasting – it seems some of the faculty have been resting on their tenured laurels and haven't been doing much research or contributing much to the PhD program
  • financial weirdness – a couple faculty hinted that there was some drama last year which led to an incoming PhD class of… zero. Couldn't exactly pin down what the problem was.
  • youth – ha ha – I'm so old – it appears the vast majority
    Ten

    of students come straight into the Master's program from undergrad or straight from another Master's to the PhD, so they are in their mid-20's. Ummm… I only saw one other student in my age vicinity, and he kindly and pointedly told me the age difference was fine and he did not feel like their weird Uncle Ted from the 60's. Whew.

  • no placement success – There have not been any students from the PhD program placed in faculty positions. They have all successfully been placed in corporate/industry jobs but placing students as faculty is where the program name spreads and gains in reputation.
  • Graduation rate – There is one student graduating this year. He say he started with four or five others who all left for one reason or another. He is actually trying to get a faculty position and has interviewed a few places, but no success yet.
  • dissertation worthy …really? – I sat in on a research group where the student who is graduating was presenting the research plan that will become the backbone for his dissertation. He designed two one-page newsletters that will each hopefully garner a different emotional response from the target audience. Really? What? THAT'S the research basis for a DISSERTATION? Hmmm…

Things that make me go Hmmmmmm…

  • personalities – the faculty for the most part encouraged me to get involved, welcomed me to join their projects, and talked about mentoring. But one student went out of his way to tell me he did not get mentoring the way he wanted. Hmmm…. Right now I am erring on the faculty side because that particular student seemed kind of bitter and intense.
  • quantitative focus – two faculty went out of their way to scare the poop out of me about the quantitative focus and hard core series of statistics classes. They must have reviewed my file and taken note of my GRE quantitative score. They did not need to work hard at scaring me, I was already nervous.
  • transformational time – several people talked about things changing for the better in the program starting with the huge 15 person incoming cohort. That's good, but change can be difficult sometimes and I do not have a good handle on the politics or "teams" involved with the forward movement.

So, I feel good about the trip. I certainly scored BIG POINTS by showing up and taking things so seriously. Several faculty were flattered/impressed that I had read their journal articles and I feel relatively confident about getting funded through a TA in the department or a GA somewhere else on campus. The department chair was even helping me search for homes/condos for sale by the end of the second day!

I have no doubt it will be an interesting or even rocky ride at times. There was enough evidence that things are not all

roses and sunshine, but what is? I have lived enough lives and weathered enough storms to know what I can handle and how to handle different situations.

I also got the impression I could be very successful there if I wanted to. It seems like it is very possible for the students to coast their way through without much effort just to get credentialed. Both faculty and students confirmed that but both also said you get out of it what you put into it. My master's program was like that too. I set my own standards and worked hard to reach them. I definitely had classmates that did not work nearly as hard but still got the same diploma. I'm sure that will happen at UConn, but I am an intrinsically-motivated learner so I want to get out of it what matters to me and what will prepare me to be successful in the job search.

Similarly, but on the flip side, I got the impression that life can be balanced while in the program. (That is super important given my chronic fatigue like crap. I have become convinced the CF is mostly due to stress which I am hopefully going to completely shed by leaving this life behind and starting over next year.) I was worried I would be in the office or at home studying/working for 12-16 hours per day. I got the impression it will not be like that and that the faculty are balanced in their lives as well.

So… I'm still going and I'm going in with my eyes open.

I'll give Penn State a call this week to see where I stand before I get too far along. Otherwise, I'll go up to UConn again for a few days towards the end of May to really hammer in the house hunt. Yay!

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29 thoughts on “Back from UConn… and the Verdict is…

  1. Alright I admit I didn't read the whole thing. As an overview though I am surprised at the number. 1 student graduating. Help this is way to confusing for me. I thought there would be like at least 2,000. I must be crazy. So happy hunting I think. Money is always a problem. From birth on I do believe.

  2. If you look over even the negative points you wrote, you'll see that you followed with positive one to off-set them (for the most part).
    You weren't dazzled, but so what, you obviously see it as something you can work with for the most part. That "no funding" sounds hairy though.
    What, no pictures? Sketchings? At least a crayon drawing of the place?

  3. Hmmm, well, it's good to have a balanced view and understand the program's flaws before you go. Or at least I thought so when I chose my previous program – but then I left after two years despite the many luxuries the program offered. But if you have a strong idea of what you want to do (so you don't let the profs mold you into what they want you to do), it should work out better.All and all, it sounds promising. Good luck!

  4. Yay! I'm glad you're feeling postive about things. At one time in my life I was on a similar track as you, but I realized I just couldn't go beyond a Master's and I'm pretty certain that even after it was all said and done, I probably should have stopped at my B.A. Oh well! You seem like this is really your gig! I wish you the best!

  5. Lol… Yeah, I didn't explain that well. Too many things bouncing around in my head… Only one person graduating with a PhD in Communications this year. How many students make it through the dissertation and actually graduate is a sign of the health/success of the program. Only graduating one this year ain't too hot.

  6. Hmmm… well now, that is an interesting observation. I am trying very hard to see it as it REALLY is and not as I want it to be. So I could either really think things are ok despite concerns or I am trying to rationalize stuff. Hmmm…. Either is possible. I am in the top 5% of world-reknowned rationalizers.The no funding part is VERY worrisome. Could put me in substantial debt right off the bat. Egads.And can you believe I never even THOUGHT about my camera until I was in the car on the ride home. Sheesh. I did actually take a lot of boring pictures of the ever-increasing clouds on the way up there – I was following but never quite catching a bad storm – but I won't put everyone to sleep by posting those. I failed miserably as a photo journalist though.

  7. Ha ha! I read that. Wow… I'm not sure a day trip could get much more boring than that. It's the kind of thing your parents would make you do while on family vacations. Yikes!I once touched a real live rattlesnake with my shoe. Stupid, I know. But a good story!I recommend using "the runs" as an excuse. You can't be away from the john for more than 30 minutes and who is going to dispute you? Do the really want to check?

  8. Welp, I'm definitely going unless I get into one of the other schools (which I doubt will happen). I liked it, I liked the people, I liked the faculty, I liked the area, I like the research opportunities. Pretty much I liked it but am aware and taking note of a few concerns. Whew!

  9. Yeah, I hear that. It is concerning. I'm 99% sure I would stick it out but you never know for sure for sure. I think the faculty is trying to change things, and that's one of the biggest goals – graduate more PhD's and get some into faculty positions. I guess if I get there and there are significant problems I am not aware of right now, I can always (hopefully) switch to a new program too.

  10. Yeah, it's not for everyone. I was so burned out after my bachelor's I waited five years before getting my master's. It's now been 11 years since then… At this rate I'll be in school when I'm old and gray.What were you studying? Why do you think you should have stopped after your BA?

  11. It was their own broader research agenda, really, which is understandable. It wasn't like the horror stories I've heard where the profs basically force the grad students to be their research assistants. If I had had a firmer idea of what I wanted to do, I don't think it would have been a problem. But until then, I had always molded myself to what I thought others wanted me to be. I ended up leaving because I decided that the entire field was wrong for me. I don't think any department would have been the right department.But you're going in with very clear ideas of who you are and what your goals are, so I don't think that would be a problem for you.I might go back for a PhD later (not to the same field – I'm thinking of history rather than anthropology now), but that's probably many years away!

  12. Well…in 5 years down the road, it will be better to be 5 years older and have an advance degree than just 5 years older. It is nice you have your eyes wide open about the program etc than stumbling thru the unknown. I know you will do fine.

  13. Okay I am with you now. I think. lol Best of luck, hope the money comes together. So hard in life with too much dept. School loans have haunted so many of my friends and we are hitting are older years and they still have school debt. Ouch.

  14. Wow… tough crowd. Even gypsys didn't work? Yikes. Well, maybe they need some actual physical evidence. Next time put a piece of an alka seltzer in your mouth then start yelling at people and dropping to the ground repeatedly. Foaming mouth might convince them. If not, you could try locking yourself in a closed room with angry bees and letting them sting you. Try to keep them to visible places though. It will also really help if you're allergic because that will make the welts really big and puss-y. Big oozy red welts might get you out of an art museum or two. If that doesn't work, I suggest locking yourself in a freezer for, oh, six hours or so and coloring your tongue with a black sharpie and telling them you're dead. How can they argue with that?

  15. Yeah… I've heard that's the case a lot. Part of me is ok with that for the first year or two because my research interests are way too broad right now. Plus, I really want to publish articles & present at conferences a few times before I graduate, so if that means riding coat-tails, I'll buckle my seat belt and hold on!There are also a lot of research projects/streams already underway that sound really fun and exciting. I'm staying hopeful, but we'll see. I've heard similar stories to yours too many times to poo-poo it away. Time will tell.What do you want to do with a history PhD? Faculty?

  16. Yes. Ouch and ouch and ouch. I worked my ass off to pay back my undergrad and master's loans as fast as possible. I have worked and planned to go into this degree debt-free and stay debt-free. I'm still hoping for that! We'll see.

  17. Hmmm, good question (I love the PHD comics). But seriously, I would probably only use it as an opportunity to research. I hope to practice Traditional Chinese Medicine, and after I've practiced for a while, get a PhD so I can be an expert in some aspect of its history.

  18. Better to have an honest pic and still like it than to have a crash-dive honeymoon is over kind of thing mid-term.Welcome to New England, Stevie!

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