Yesterday’s post left off with the (less than baffling) cliffhanger question: Would I enroll in the MAPH despite the costs and the less than perfect fit or would I strengthen my Vita and try again in a year? The answer (obviously) was to enroll in MAPH so the question becomes: “Why?”
1) People are rarely the candidates they think they are. I’d worked my butt off–and with the help of several professors and admin surrogates–crafted a polished research proposal. However, that did not necessitate that the line of inquiry I was proposing was interesting to anyone else. What might have felt like a tight, well-honed proposal from my perspective could very well have felt rickety and unfocused from the perspective of someone in the field with years and years of work on the subject. So, if U of C thought I needed a year to focus and regroup in a top-flight Masters program, one can’t dismiss the opinion a priori.
2) It has never been more difficult to get into a top school’s PhD program than it is right now. Several of my undergraduate professors commented that last year many unfunded chairs and departments of Philosophy were being scaled back dramatically or even eliminated as independent elements. That kind of financial crush has to affect the number of positions available for PhD candidates. The result is that–as good as my credentials seemed when compared to my cornfield peers–I was not on the level of the PhD candidates that did get into Ivy or Ivy Plus schools–many of whom already had multiple Masters degrees from other great schools.
3) U of C’s MAPH program felt like a supportive environment for its Masters students. I had been warned by one of my old Professors that sometimes a school’s MA students and PhD students are placed in adversarial positions. That is, as in his alma mater’s case, the Masters students did the same work as the Doctors candidates, but paid for the privilege, and were considered second-class citizens by faculty and administration. Chicago went out of its way to suggest that this is not the case in their program. Time will tell, but for the time being, I’m buying it.
4) University of Chicago IS the University of Chicago. As the presenters at MAPH visit days were quick to point out, this doesn’t mean that a U of C diploma is a guarantee of an appointment to a plum PhD program later, it is still an excellent chance to sharpen yourself against some of the best minds in academia. Also, and this might seem cheap, how many potential employers and programs really care about the specifics of a particular program? Aren’t they going to make the same leap I did when I read the acceptance letter and read “Masters of Humanities: Philosophy” as Masters of Philosophy? If I take the same courses as the first year PhD folks I will ultimately have the equivalent of that non-existent MA of Philosophy anyway and have the freedom to take any other classes that interest me.
So, I turned in my letter of acceptance before the visit days ended, before rush hour in Chicago, and–regretfully–before a chance to have a class with Jean-Luc Marion.