Friday, 28 September 2012

How much clearer can I be?

We have to explain our graduate admissions process to a lot of people, so we (I) developed a FAQ for it. I tried to be as clear and complete as I could. So sometimes I get weird feedback from (potential) applicants that makes me think either I've left something out, or they've completely lost their minds.

Frinstance. We have a requirement in our applications process that the applicant suggest a potential supervisor. The purpose of this, as we explain, is to provide the applicant with the opportunity to review our research specialties and find an advisor with the relevant expertise.

The real reason we do this is so that the passionate individual who wants to develop teaching materials for teachings Anatolian Hittite to speakers of Vedic Sanskrit has the opportunity to realize that a) none of us do anything relate to language teaching and still less to materials development, and b) none of us do anything with Anatolian Hittite or Vedic Sanskrit. If that's what you want to do, more power to you, but we can't help you with it.

By the way, this does not deter the (usually Chinese) applicants who don't even mention word language, let alone Linguistics, nor even any particular language in their applications (which cost them $100 to submit, plus whatever it costs them to get whatever documents they need, and whatever they have to do or pay to get permission to study outside the country), who instead want 'devote their lives to the profession of teaching' but aren't actually interested in doing any research. Luckily these people rarely suggest a potential supervisor.

So anyway, in the last couple of years, our requirement that they suggest a potential supervisor has gotten construed as a requirement that they secure a supervisor before submitting their application. Exactly how they make that leap mystifies me, and frankly I don't think it indicates a skilled critical reader.

But let's say I require you to secure an advisor before applying (I learned recently that Education does this, but whatever). The response seems to be to send a vague email to everyone in the department, begging to be considered as a student. Occasionally, but rarely, with a vague statement of their own research interests, and usually without any useful acknowledgment of the receiver's interests. Sometimes this is obviously a 'let's send the same message to everybody' (often without bothering to conceal that you're sending simultaneously to multiple addresses).

Now let me ask you this, since if you're reading this blog you are obviously a person of high intellectual standing. If you wanted to find an advisor, what sort of message would you send? Would it be ...

"I would like to apply to your university. please be my advisor. "

... or ...

"I would like to do research on X, and I believe you would be a good advisor for this because of your interests in Y. "

Guess what we usually get.

So what I'm getting at is that if you are applying to graduate school*, you are applying to develop as a scholar and to contribute something to a field.  If you just want a degree, I'm sure you can send $3000 to any number of on-line, for-profit universities that will be happy to sell you one. But don't waste an actual scholar's time with your absence of initiative or ambition.

*Even if you are applying to professional school or for a certificate in something specifically job related, you're still applying to study *something* *with* someone.  Hopefully someone whose reputation for doing whatever they do means that you will inherit some of their wisdom.

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