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In which field should I pursue my MA/PhD in?

ugrad2016ugrad2016 Registered User Posts: 37 Junior Member
edited July 17 in Graduate School
I am currently at Stony Brook University studying a double major in Sociology & Psychology with a minor in Society, Health & Medicine. I have been here for a number of years & am recently "going back" (though I am still a matriculated student - never graduated) to improve my GPA after a host of health complications sent my academic success partly out the window, so to speak.

My ultimate dream is to become a Professor, but here's where I'm unsure.. I don't know if I should become a professor of English or a professor of Social Work. English is most definitely my field of expertise, as I am a very strong English student. However, Social Work is a primary interest of mine as I love the concepts of it, and helping others. I'm really torn about what to do? I am NOT a strong Math student by any means, and seek to avoid this path at all costs. However, reading and writing are my forte.. I've been doing both easily since before the age of two. One question though.. Does one need to study a foreign language to obtain an MA or PhD in English?

I eventually want to attend an Ivy League institution as this has been a life long dream of mine. I also know graduates have a safer chance at becoming a professor if they graduate from an Ivy League institution. I am hopeful that once I take courses to improve my GPA, I can be admitted into a successful program.

Any advice??
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Replies to: In which field should I pursue my MA/PhD in?

  • juilletjuillet Super Moderator Posts: 11,579 Super Moderator
    OK, a few things here.

    First of all...I'm of the strong belief that if you don't know what you want to get a PhD in, getting one is not a great idea. A PhD (and becoming a professor) is largely a labor of love; you have to be really passionate about a specific field and want to dedicate your working life to research and scholarship in that area to successfully finish and work in the field. Generally people don't become professors because they decide they want to be professors, if that makes sense; they become professors because they love doing research/scholarship in a very specific field and being a professor gives you the most autonomy to pursue that however you want (at least in the humanities). Most professors also like teaching a certain extent.

    Getting a PhD in English isn't really just about reading and writing. If you are unsure of even what field you want to study, then likely there's no burning question or specific area that you are really dedicated to (think something like "19th century Caribbean women's literature" or "Latin American magic realism literature in translation" or "how African Americans in the early 20th century explored issues of race and culture in nonfiction").

    Second of all, you should know that the academic market is a very, very competitive market - and in English literature even more so. I think the current estimate is that only one in five people who actually get a humanities PhD (which is only about 50% of the people who begin one) will get a tenure-track job, and you need to be open to move anywhere in the country and potentially the world. It's not uncommon for one job posting to get 300+ applications, most of whom are qualified.

    Thirdly, if you want a PhD in English, you need to major in English or have the equivalent of an English major in undergrad. It's not impossible to switch, but you need to take the right prerequisite courses to do so - scholarship within a discipline usually has a specific approach and method that you learn by taking undergrad classes in the field.

    If you want to be a professor of social work, your majors are perfect for that. You will need some social work experience post college, though, as almost all social work faculty positions require applicants to have an MSW and 3 years' work experience as an actual social worker. Social work faculty members have their PhDs in all kinds of fields - social work, of course, but also often psychology, sociology, some other social science, etc. But you will need at least an MSW if not a PhD in social work and the experience. Being a social work professor is also about research, not direct client/human services care.

    And yes, PhD programs in English do usually require reading knowledge of 1-2 foreign languages by the time you reach your second or third year in the program. Many programs recommend or require that you come into the program with proficiency in one language already so that it's more likely you will acquire proficiency in two by the end of the third year. Here's what Columbia says, for example:
    Successful applicants will usually have achieved a good reading ability in at least one language beyond English. We accept in our program any languages that students can show will be relevant for their scholarly work: examples are Continental languages in which much theoretical and scholarly discussion is carried on (French, German, Spanish), classical languages that English-language writers often cite (Greek, Hebrew, Latin), the other literary languages of the British Isles (Irish, Welsh), and languages of major colonial and post-colonial populations closely engaged with England or the U.S. (Arabic, Hindi, Vietnamese, Zulu). Any language may be offered, so long as it bears a clear relevance to the candidate's prospective work.

    One last thing:
    I eventually want to attend an Ivy League institution as this has been a life long dream of mine. I also know graduates have a safer chance at becoming a professor if they graduate from an Ivy League institution.

    Ditch this. The Ivy League is an athletic conference, and while it's true that some of the top English programs in the country (and social work) are at Ivy League universities, they are ALSO at other places - both private and public. You want to go to the best program for you and your research interests, not by some arbitrary collection of schools. There are many top English programs that can make it easier to become a professor, not just in the Ivy League.
  • ugrad2016ugrad2016 Registered User Posts: 37 Junior Member
    @juillet

    First off, thank you for your thorough and well articulated reply - this is exactly the kind of response I was seeking.

    Minutes after I posted, I pretty much neglected the fleeting idea of pursing a PhD in English/Literature. Yes, as you had mentioned, my background is strongly in the field of Social Sciences, which is a necessary foundation for an expertise in one's field. Now I know obtaining one's PhD & moreover, becoming a professor requires a burning passion in a field, which I have full understanding of & know I do maintain.

    I am currently studying at SBU (as mentioned above) to improve my overall GPA to gain admission into a well respected & renowned MSW program. My dreams are both SBU (as I do love the institution) and Columbia, which has long been my dream school. Had I not gotten sick years ago, which directly (and negatively) impacted my academic performance, I have full confidence I could have been there today. Furthermore, had I been accepted, I know I would have been there today. Not to dwell on past misfortunes - just to give a slight background to eliminate confusion for you!

    I LOVE to teach, learn, and excel in academics. I love the career profile of a Professor & am extremely intrigued by its nature. My fear was that, based on information I've read, I gathered it was not a favorable career to seek out. Your proclaminations seriously match all of the harrowing accounts i've read of "Don't become a professor" or "Why you shouldn't become a professor" I can't say these facts don't scare me slightly (wouldn't it scare anyone who wants job security? and who doesn't want job security??), however; they don't completely make me stray from the path either. I'm kind of rebellious in the only sense that "if you tell me I can't, i'll show you I can" cliché.

    Are these job prospects a collective one about all college professors, or are some fields more promising than others? In my research I've also come across the comfort that Social Work/Welfare professors have a projected job growth larger than most. I am very interested in the field of social work, however, I don't want to be worked to the bone in THAT field & be making a couple thousand more annually than I am now. Being an educator, there is far more benefit & I would be much happier as an exhausted Professor than a Social Worker. And as far as specific interests in its subfields, I do maintain these as well. My illness had left me unable to engage in any research in my academic career thus far, but i'm seeking to fill in these cracks in these coming years as a continuing undergraduate. My primary interest is how illness, especially in children, impacts (both on a positive and negative spectrum) many aspects of one's life. I express interest in other areas of social welfare, but this is just to name one.

    Finally, I understand one's persuasion to look elsewhere & that an institution being of Ivy merit doesn't mean it's the best choice for one's life. I do have other institutions as back up when my MSW & eventually PhD applications surmount. Columbia is just my dream choice, and I'd be there in a heartbeat if awarded the opportunity!
  • ugrad2016ugrad2016 Registered User Posts: 37 Junior Member
    edited July 17
    Interestingly enough, I have heard Columbia's acceptance rate for an MSW degree is pretty high, can anybody clarify? This makes me increasingly happy as it is my absolute dream school. I know the only downside is that people come out of it knee deep in debt.. but, I plan on obtaining my PhD afterward, so my debt certainly isn't going to end there regardless.

    Does anyone have experience on obtaining acceptance to Columbia's MSW program? What is something you'd say they really value/look for on an application? Thanks! :)
  • BackNSchool83BackNSchool83 Registered User Posts: 456 Member
    edited July 18
    MSW might be a good way of making progress toward a PhD, but you can work with an MSW and eventually apply for a license if you choose to bail on the PhD or study something else in the long run If you would rather stay in academia you can gain field experience and after a few years apply for a PhD, or just apply at the end of your MSW. Depending on the research you involve yourself in you could see what options are there for a PhD in psychology or a PsyD. Maybe consider a PhD in psychology if that interests you. Ivy League is often super expensive, and you aren't going to make a fortune with an MSW right out the gate, or ever really, at least not till you are licensed. I'm applying for MSW programs now and am aiming at one big name institution and several good regional universities, but that's just me. I know for psychology PhD programs there are more schools and larger cohorts you can join whereas social work PhDs are more rare I think, likely more competitive, and I'm guessing but I could see those reserved for people who already have some experience.
  • ugrad2016ugrad2016 Registered User Posts: 37 Junior Member
    edited July 18
    @BackNSchool83

    Thanks for the response.

    I have thought of using my MSW & obtaining my license in the event I'd choose not to purse my PhD. Though quite honestly, I don't see this happening for a number of reasons.. I don't want Social Work as a career, and long years of schooling is quite the opposite of daunting to me.. but it's always in my nature to conjure a back-up plan should things change.

    I have also seriously been in consideration of obtaining a PhD in Psychology or Sociology down the line, but these programs are highly competitive & I believe that I teach almost any social science course so long as I'm armed with a PhD in a social science field. Do I stand correct here? Can anyone clarify? I know I would be exempt from some courses, such as Statistics for Psych or Soc, but trust me.. that's the last course I'd ever want to lecture, and i'm the last individual you'd want to receive a math lesson from.
    I also am NOT a strong math student & know PhD in Psych will be met with some more math courses down the road, which i'm trying to avoid knowing my abilities. Social Work is not mathematically involved.

    I'm not sure where you gathered the knowledge that Social Work programs are more competitive? Or was this just a presumption of yours? They certainly (from my research experience, and I've done far too much) are not based off of what i've read/heard. The acceptance rate for an MSW at Stony Brook (where I now am an attending undergraduate) is near 50/50.. however, the Psych one-year masters program is merely a 10% acceptance rate. Someone I knew with a glowing transcript, and research experience applied three times before being accepted. I don't nearly compete with his records.

    I know Ivies are painfully expensive, but the end goal of assuming full professorship (and teaching at an Ivy League institution eventually) would far outweigh (and out-pay) any of my debt.

    Does anyone on this forum have experience attending Columbia University? I'd really like to receive some personal statements, especially if you went the social science route for graduate degrees.
  • juilletjuillet Super Moderator Posts: 11,579 Super Moderator
    edited July 18
    Are these job prospects a collective one about all college professors, or are some fields more promising than others?

    In general becoming a college professor is difficult, but some fields are more promising than others. Professional fields generally speaking tend to be, since on average it's harder to attract folks who hold PhDs in professional fields into the professoriate (they can make more money working outside of academia). However, this pay gap isn't necessarily true in social work - social work professors probably get paid more than they would in the field, unless they are taking director positions or something - so I'd wager that field is somewhere in the middle. Not as bad as the humanities, but not the same as accounting or nursing.

    As a matter of fact, if you are interested in society and health and how illness impacts other aspects of life, you might even consider getting a PhD in nursing and becoming a nursing professor. There are FAR more open positions in that field, and the time to degree probably wouldn't be that much longer if at all (you could get an accelerated BSN and then go straight into a PhD program, which altogether would probably take about 6-7 years. The MSW + PhD in social work would take at least 7 years, and that's not including the 3 years of work experience you need. The flip side is that you need prerequisites for nursing and getting into ABSN programs can be difficult.)
    Interestingly enough, I have heard Columbia's acceptance rate for an MSW degree is pretty high, can anybody clarify?

    Many top professional programs in the helping professions actually aren't all that competitive to get into. Columbia's MSW program is a bit of a cash cow - not that it's not high-quality (it is!) or that the students aren't great (they are - a few of my friends got their MSWs from Columbia). That just means that the tuition is, I believe, a revenue-generator for the university and there are few scholarships or other non-repayable awards. You're expected to finance the majority of the program with loans.

    That's one of the reasons I say don't get too attached to one school. It would make far more sense, IMO, to go to Hunter's very good Silver School of Social Work for your MSW, pay FAR less money, and perhaps pursue Columbia for the PhD.
    I know Ivies are painfully expensive, but the end goal of assuming full professorship (and teaching at an Ivy League institution eventually) would far outweigh (and out-pay) any of my debt.

    No, it wouldn't. A Columbia MSW would cost you over $120K. The average assistant professor is paid less than $60,000 a year. Borrowing the full cost of attendance at Columbia SSW, and then becoming a professor, would burden you with crushing debt that would be very difficult for you to repay. Even Columbia professors don't get paid that much until pretty far into their career.
    I have also seriously been in consideration of obtaining a PhD in Psychology or Sociology down the line, but these programs are highly competitive & I believe that I teach almost any social science course so long as I'm armed with a PhD in a social science field. Do I stand correct here?

    No, unfortunately. Generally people teach within their discipline. So a psychology department looking to hire a new assistant professor would want people with a PhD in psychology; a sociology department wanting a new assistant professor would want people with a PhD in sociology; and there are so many people with those qualifications looking for jobs in those fields (especially at the elite institutions) that they would not really need to look at anyone with a social work PhD. I got my PhD from Columbia in psychology; we hired several people while I was there; and we never hired anyone who didn't have a PhD in psychology or neuroscience. Take a look at the faculty lists of people at top universities in psychology and sociology departments and you will see that they almost universally have PhDs in psychology (maybe neuroscience) or sociology.

    It's possible, years down the line, that you might teach a class that is cross-listed in the psych or soc department depending on the content.

    Also, do be aware that professors at Ivy League universities ideally don't do much teaching. Elite R1 universities expect their professors to primarily do research, and most professors at these universities do as much as they can to pare down their teaching loads to one or two classes a year so they can spend more time doing research. Promotions and tenure - basically all of the rewards in your career at universities like this - are based on research, not teaching. This is especially true in a field like social work, which is mostly taught only at the graduate level. A social work professor at a place like Columbia is not going to be lecturing undergraduates like the experience you have now. It's very different.

    You also shouldn't take on any debt for your PhD; PhDs are generally funded.
    Does anyone on this forum have experience attending Columbia University?

    I went to Columbia; I received my PhD in psychology and public health from there in 2014. But the personal statement structure is not going to be specific to Columbia. Essentially, you want to discuss

    1) Why you want an MSW
    2) What experiences you've had that prepare you for the work - academic, extracurricular, work experience, internships, volunteering, research etc.
    3) What specifically motivates you to apply to the program at X University (and it has to be more than "X has always been my dream school". It has to be about the resources and special programs the university offers, or research in the department, or something
    4) Briefly, your career goals with the MSW
  • ugrad2016ugrad2016 Registered User Posts: 37 Junior Member
    @juillet

    Thanks so much for the detailed information - I'm working on constructing an adequate response for you now, as I still have some questions.

    But I just had to say.. Wow - you've obtained your PhD in Psychology from Columbia?! Talk about star-struck over here - haha. Would you mind terribly at all if I picked your brain a bit? That's seriously my life's dream & goal. I hope you wouldn't mind - that's something to be really proud of, which I'm sure you are!
  • ugrad2016ugrad2016 Registered User Posts: 37 Junior Member
    @juillet

    This is knowledge I thought to be true considering the pay for Social Work professors/those who work in academia compared to those practicing as an "actual" Social Worker. I have zero interest in pursuing that career full time and/or for the rest of my life considering the pay is so low & the work load intensive. This isn't to say I wouldn't be willing to gain necessary experience as a spring board into my future career.

    Regarding the subject of Nursing, which I am very well-versed on, I really do not envision myself in such a field. While I have a PROFOUND interest in medicine (part of the reason I even attended SBU to begin with) I know I couldn't mentally,or physically for that matter, succeed as a nurse. I feel I'd need nursing experience through direct patient care before I could deliver a lecture regarding it's aspects, and that's not something I yearn to do. I am familiar with the ABSN programs & Stony Brook has a phemenonal one, but it's not for me. Also, my primary interests surround mental suffering moreso than physical.

    I am not too familiar with Hunter at all - thanks, I'll do my research.

    I am currently pursuing a double major in Sociology & Psychology with a minor in Health, Medicine & Society. I have extensive Psych knowledge (more than my other major) & this is my "first love" in academia. I plan on expanding my knowledge in the field through research now, so that after I obtain my MSW, I may still obtain my PhD in Psychology should I so desire if I experience a change of heart years down the line.

    I know your last degree carries the most weight & matters most, so would it be in my best interest to be in pursuit of an Ivy PhD as opposed to MSW? I will still apply to Columbia & being honest, if I got in I would be sending my acceptance that same day. It's not the only school I am considering though, just my number one.

    I had no idea one may not pay for their PhD though, if this is what you are saying? Is it completely funded on the occasion it is? And how so is it funded? Research-based grants? I would have thought those figures would only cover the cost of the actual research, but I can't imagine how else it could be funded? The school itself?

    Finally, doing research doesn't scare/bore/present as a daunting task to me. I enjoy research, especially in regards to social sciences. I can work independently better than anyone I know or have ever met, work easily without constant supervision & always want to be learning. Part of the reason I want to become a professor is because I LOVE to learn and I don't want to stop doing it. I do love teaching too, though & would love to deliver academic lectures - be it at the undergraduate, graduate or professional level. Would it be more sensible that I pursue a PhD in Psychology then? Are you telling me most SW professors hardly teach?
  • boneh3adboneh3ad Registered User Posts: 7,094 Senior Member
    I have this real feeling that you shouldn't be aiming for a professorship yet if you don't even know which field you want for your PhD. You are putting the cart before the horse.
  • ugrad2016ugrad2016 Registered User Posts: 37 Junior Member
    @boneh3ad

    ^ You should probably read the series of questions & their responses in their entirety before commenting.

    The question posted as the headline for this post is irrelevant now.

    Thanks for your concern though.
  • juilletjuillet Super Moderator Posts: 11,579 Super Moderator
    Hey @ugrad2016, I wouldn't mind if you picked my brain at all. Happy to share. I do want to clarify, though, that I got my PhD in social psychology (and public health) from the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences at Columbia, which does not have a clinical or counseling concentration. If you want clinical psych from Columbia, you have to get it from Teachers College, which is a different school and experience.
    This is knowledge I thought to be true considering the pay for Social Work professors/those who work in academia compared to those practicing as an "actual" Social Worker.

    Nope, social work PhDs by and large teach in social work schools/departments, and they teach classes in social work. If you have zero interest in pursuing a social work career full-time, then I wouldn't necessarily recommend pursuing academia in that field either, because work experience is valued at the faculty level. But that's not my field so I would definitely talk more to some other social work faculty first. (Several of my friends have PhDs in social work, but most of them went to social services or to do research in industry/the public sector rather than became a professor).
    I am not too familiar with Hunter at all - thanks, I'll do my research.

    It's excellent!
    I know your last degree carries the most weight & matters most, so would it be in my best interest to be in pursuit of an Ivy PhD as opposed to MSW?...I had no idea one may not pay for their PhD though, if this is what you are saying? Is it completely funded on the occasion it is? And how so is it funded? Research-based grants? I would have thought those figures would only cover the cost of the actual research, but I can't imagine how else it could be funded? The school itself?

    Financially speaking, probably.

    Good PhDs in most fields are "fully funded". That means the cost of your tuition, fees, and health insurance are covered and generally speaking you get a stipend of anywhere from $20K to $35K a year so you can pay your living expenses. My stipend at Columbia was around $32K, which is on the higher end - but it's also expensive to live in New York. It's funded through research grants, university and school funds, and teaching assistantships. What you have to do varies - at most programs, you get the funding through a combination of research and teaching. You'll work in your PI's lab for "20" hours a week and then you'll also probably serve as a TA for some hours a week.

    Hiring research assistants (meaning their salaries) IS part of the costs of actual research. Fun fact: For most federal research grants, the biggest chunk of the money is actually paying the salaries of all the people who do the research. That's actually how most elite R1 professors get paid!

    Now, in many professional fields - including clinical psych and probably social work - there are some mediocre programs that only give partial or no funding. Stay away from those programs. A program that really wants you will fully fund you during your time there.

    With that said, economically speaking it is often in a person's best interest to get a master's degree more inexpensively, particularly if you want to go into academia (which doesn't pay extremely well).

    That said, if your goal is a PhD in clinical psych...you don't really need an MSW first.

  • ugrad2016ugrad2016 Registered User Posts: 37 Junior Member
    @juillet
    Hello! Thanks so much for being so willing to answer my questions. As a prospective student, this means a lot to me & offers me valuable first-hand knowledge I really couldn't get anywhere else.

    I apologize if I miscommunicated my true interests here, but my primary interest IS Psych, not Social Work, and definitely Psych in the social sector as you said you've studied. I only considered obtaining my MSW in lieu of my Masters in Psych because of the lesser degree of competition as far as enrollment goes. I'm not sure about other schools, but at SBU (my current institution) the acceptance rate for the one year MA in Psych is around 10%... That's awfully shallow.

    My tentative plan was to obtain my MSW in Social Work, then my PhD in Psych.. & since I'm interested in Social Psychology, I felt the two fields would compliment each other to some degree.

    Now - onto my series of questions!! How rigorous did you feel the course material was at Columbia? Did you obtain both your Masters & PhD at this institution? I've speculated (and please do correct me if I am incorrect!!) that individuals who obtain PhD's at more reputable institutions tend to be better selected to become Professors at elite universities, no? I would calculate that this is due to exposure of more advanced, cutting-edge research panels, as well as respectable and highly published faculty. I know this is why SBU is a difficult school to be admitted to, and becomes more selective with its admissions in higher/professional education. I would (ideally) love to attend Columbia for at LEAST one of my professional degrees.. I just don't want to make the "wrong" decision, though I know I am the only one who can make my decisions for me. Just venting here!
    Would you advise against obtaining my Masters at Columbia? I am not sure if you received both degrees at the institution. I worry about how it would "look" to academia if I had my MSW & was looking to gain acceptance into a Psych PhD program.. I know higher education (esp. Ivies) like consistency, focus and a driven goal, whereas being "all over the place" i.e. with two different (though not opposite) degrees might translate into uncertainty about my goals/future/career, etc.
    I DO have back-up in the event my dreams don't pan out, as we know they often don't. I could obtain my MSW (if this isn't a poor choice) at SBU, and my PhD at Columbia. Other institutions I would highly consider for my PhD (if I obtain my Masters at Columbia) would be UNC Chapel Hill, UPenn, Harvard (we can dream, right? ;))

    Ideally, though, Columbia would be my number one. How much research experience did you enter your program with? Is the acceptance rate "low", do you know? Most importantly.. Are you currently a professor or working in academia?

    I would assume based on your comments about stipends that you lived in NYC during your education. I live on Long Island (50 minute drive into Manhattan (on a good day, that is, lol)) and was planning on commuting to campus. I am going to visit their website to see if they have any "campus visits," which I am confident that they do.
  • juilletjuillet Super Moderator Posts: 11,579 Super Moderator
    Now - onto my series of questions!! How rigorous did you feel the course material was at Columbia?

    Pretty rigorous. Coursework in graduate school is different than undergrad - there aren't a lot of assignments to complete; it's mostly about reading and absorbing material, discussing it in class, and then you write a paper or two. The coursework wasn't very difficult per se, but there was a lot to absorb all at the same time. As I mentioned, I was also in a joint program with public health. So I completed all of the same requirements as the psychology PhD students, but I ALSO completed the public health PhD requirements simultaneously. My courseload was much heavier than your average psych student.

    Actually, given your interests, you may be interested in the PhD program I completed - Sociomedical Sciences.
    Did you obtain both your Masters & PhD at this institution?

    Yes, I earned a non-terminal MA on my way to the PhD. You get it after you complete your coursework and write a short paper. I did not get a separate terminal master's degree; I entered the PhD program straight after undergrad.

    ("Terminal master's" means a program that is intended to end at the master's degree. "Non-terminal master's" just means an MA that you earn during a PhD program.)
    I've speculated (and please do correct me if I am incorrect!!) that individuals who obtain PhD's at more reputable institutions tend to be better selected to become Professors at elite universities, no?

    Yes, this is true. It's true for a variety of reasons - some of the ones you've mentioned, some other ones, too. But generally speaking in most fields, the more elite/well-ranked/better-reputed your program is the better your chances of faculty positions. Mind you, this isn't institution per se but more about [/i]program[/i], although there is a strong correlation. But for example, Rutgers has one of the top philosophy programs in the country, even though it's usually not considered elite.
    Would you advise against obtaining my Masters at Columbia? I am not sure if you received both degrees at the institution.

    I would advise against borrowing the full cost of attendance for a master's at Columbia IF you know your end goal is a PhD an an academic job. (And in general, actually, with the exception of fields where you can be expected to make a lot of money - MBAs, for example.)

    Columbia GSAS does not have a terminal master's in psychology. Teachers College does have a terminal master's program in clinical psychology but I wouldn't necessarily recommend that.
    I worry about how it would "look" to academia if I had my MSW & was looking to gain acceptance into a Psych PhD program.. I know higher education (esp. Ivies) like consistency, focus and a driven goal, whereas being "all over the place" i.e. with two different (though not opposite) degrees might translate into uncertainty about my goals/future/career, etc.

    If you tell a cohesive story about it, it can make sense. However, Columbia's GSAS - the psych department I graduated from - doesn't have a clinical or counseling psychology PhD program, so I do agree it'd look strange to get an MSW first if your goal is a research career outside of social work. To get into a research PhD program, your time would actually be much better spent working as a research assistant or lab coordinator in someone's lab or at an organization that conducts research (like a think tank).

    I do want to take this opportunity to point out, though, that given your specific research interests Columbia's psychology department actually doesn't sound like a great fit for you. In the psychology department there actually aren't that many professors studying issues of health - it's a very traditional psychology department where they do more traditional psychological experiments in the lab. Take a look at the faculty members and their research interests to see where you could potentially fit.

    Now, the joint program I mentioned does seem like a really excellent fit for your research interests particularly.

  • juilletjuillet Super Moderator Posts: 11,579 Super Moderator
    How much research experience did you enter your program with?

    I started doing research in the second semester of my sophomore year of college. So when I applied to grad school, I had two full years of research experience, and when I entered, I had 2.5 years.
    Is the acceptance rate "low", do you know?

    Yes, it is. Admission to the program is very competitive. I don't know what the exact percentage is. I do know that the average GPA for admission is a 3.7 and the range of GRE scores was a 640-750 verbal and 600-800 quantitative (that's roughly around a 162-169 verbal and a 148-170 quantitative, although I will say anecdotally that they recommend students have at least a 155 on each section of the new GRE). Anecdotally, my classmates typically had at least 2 years' worth of research experience, and I'd say somewhere around 40-50% had worked as research assistants or lab coordinators between undergrad and grad school for 1-3 years. A few had master's degrees but most did not, and when they did they were usually in psychology or neuroscience.
    Most importantly.. Are you currently a professor or working in academia?

    Nope! The long story short is that I did not intend to be a professor when I first entered my PhD program. During the program, I started to consider the idea of working in academia, and so I did a postdoc to test out the waters. Turned out I was right all along and my personality and work style is not well-suited for academic life. So instead I went to the dark side and I work as a full-time researcher at Microsoft (I'll tell you more about job if you PM me, if you want). I love my job and I'm glad I did not become a professor, although I do miss teaching.
  • ugrad2016ugrad2016 Registered User Posts: 37 Junior Member
    @juillet
    I'll definitely PM you, thank you for allowing me to do so! I appreciate your cooperation & willingness to answer all of my questions.

    I am definitely going to look into Columbia's GSAS Psych program - I hadn't even heard of it before! My primary interests actually are not clinical, so it sounds like a much better fit. The only time I could envision myself adhering to a clinical approach would be if I were to become a Psychiatrist, which would require Med school. In my wildest dreams? Ive considered it, but my health suggests otherwise, and I am intelligent enough to know I might not make it through MD curriculum. Plus, the sociobehavioral component of Psychology has always had my heart. I'm also a Sociology major, so that's a subfield wherein I can weave the material of the two fluidly.

    To be quite transparent with you, I had only flirted with the idea of pursuing a terminal Masters prior to the PhD program to better equip myself with experience and knowledge, LoRs, connections that might shed light on my slightly dampened record. You see, I am attending an additional four - five semesters of undergraduate education to improve my overall GPA & odds at obtaining acceptance into some of these programs I desire to attend. I had gotten sick during my first year at my current institution (SBU) and while I most definitely should have taken a leave of absence, the fact is that I didn't & my grades suffered. My school has a petition wherein you can appeal to have a semester removed from your transcript entirely, which I am striving to do considering two of my lowest grades come from this semester & it was the term I was also the sickest. I have discovered the root of my medical issues, and seek to move on now. I am not using any of this as excuse, or to cloth the fact that I should have XYZ - it is just to explain my current position in academia. I didn't want to come across as someone who so wants their PhD, but isn't willing to dive right in without a terminal Masters first. I'd love & so much so desire to pursue the former. I just need to ensure I stand a chance.

    How long was the joint program you were in at Columbia year-wise?

    I am more than okay with the academic routine of a graduate career. Though I am an undergraduate, I have taken a 500 level graduate course with a reputable Psychology distinguished research professor & flourished with an A without much effort. This included my own research proposal on the Psychology concerning infancy & attachment. I'm sure you're familiar with psychiatrist John Bowlby? The professor who mentored me was a close colleague of his prior to his death several years ago. (Yes, my professor was/is quite old). Anyway, in saying this, I know I am capable. I can work with unorchestrated assistance, without the aid of homework to train my brain, and am able to retreat home & "re-teach" myself the material with ease. I am also quite stellar at writing, and could author any proposal surrounding any theory.

    I will be sure to PM you, though.
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