Why This is Here: Thoughts on MAPH & the “Maphmatically Yours” Experiment – Part 1

I’m proud to say that unlike that other Voice, readers of Maphmatically Your’s ‘voice’ have never once been menaced by the possibility that Christina’s breast was about to pop out of her dress during a particularly animated post.  You’re welcome.

A long, long time–almost nine months–ago I wrote the first posts at Maphmatically Yours including a two part “Prologue” explaining how I came to be studying at the University of Chicago and a somewhat provisional piece called “Maphmatics: Cost/Benefit Analysis” that focusing on question of the MAPH program’s value.  Those earliest posts were my first attempts to identify and fill a void in the literature available about UChicago’s highest profile, secret program.  The goal was, first and foremost, to establish myself as a voice–hopefully sufficiently “normal” to allow folks to relate–and second, to use that voice to answer the questions that I, myself, wanted most to know about MAPH in the days and months leading up to the program.

While the fantastically “hedgy” caveat “your mileage may vary” has frequently been attached to various opinions and anecdotes I’ve shared over the MAPH program’s ups and downs, I do still consider my experience to be fairly representative of the stresses, successes, and overall educational contributions of the program.  However, I would caution future MAPHers that my experience of securing a job, in my field, at the institution that I most wanted to teach is not and should not be considered the norm in any sense.  I owe my job to three years of building relationships with the people of that institution and their willingness to go well above and beyond the call of duty to get me a position.  I have been blessed with gifts ways above and beyond anything that the MAPH program might have to bestow upon its students.  But that being said, the program does do its dead-level-best to connect students with internships, externships, community and city college professorships, and at least a handful opportunities to vie for professional positions.

So, looking back at my “Prologue” and ‘Analysis, how do I feel about MAPH & Me now?

1) Yeah, people are rarely the candidates they think they are and I was a horrendous risk for any Ph.D. program.  While my research goals might have seemed very specific and nuanced when I wrote them–from the perspective of a undergraduate with only three years of philosophy courses under my belt–in reality they were terrifically broad and undeveloped.  Looking back, from the perspective of an admin board, I’m not even sure if I could have been matched with the doctoral adviser based on the information provided in my proposal.

Coming out on the other end of the MAPH I have a very tightly packaged research proposal for a future Ph.D. candidacy with some great letters of recommendation and a very solid transcript from a top-tier school.  My writing sample sets the stage for the work I propose to do and provides a framework for considering who might best help me write my thesis.

2) Look, it is still almost impossibly difficult to get into a top school’s PhD program and I’m not sure that I’d expect it to become easier anytime soon.  That being said, I’ve learned that in most schools GPA, test scores, and even writing samples are far less significant to who gets a Ph.D. spot than letters of recommendation laser-focused research proposals.  The combination of a letter testifying that you can do the work and a proposal that outlines a very specific set of work you want to do come together powerfully for schools concerned about students taking nine years to get their degree or ultimately dropping out with a Masters as their time for completion runs out.  UChicago is one of the rarer schools that focuses on a student’s writing sample and tries to scoop up the best and the brightest–even when they are still a bit raw and unfocused.

3) I was both right and wrong when I said that U of C’s MAPH program felt like a supportive environment for its Masters students.  The reality is that the program itself–the MAPH Core, the MAPH staff, and the mechanisms therein are very supportive, but that support is meant to shift from the shoulders of the staff to those of your thesis adviser.  As such, some are better than others at being both available and helpful in the latter two-thirds of the course.  I’ve found that many professors are strapped for time and getting help and support is a complex and time-consuming dance of cancelled office visits, ignored emails, and harried moments in the hallways between classes.  Some are amazing and do amazing things with their students, others are simply too busy to take anything like an active interest in their students work.

4) Yeah, MAPH students get what they pay for at least in as much as they are determined  fight for it.  The question of whether the MAPH program is a “piggy bank” program designed to fund Ph.D. candidates is already a non-starter.  Everything that any student pays the institution for could be construed as funding anything that the institution gives toward anything else.  The real question is whether MAPH students receive the education that they pay for.  All things considered, it seems to me that many MAPH students will find that getting their money’s worth necessitates going to lengths to secure the attention and support of faculty and administration far beyond those they pursued in their undergraduate days–at least after the one-third mark of the program.

So, as the “voice” of Maphmatically Yours I’ve had to set myself straight once or twice–and I still have a bit more of that to do before I wrap this blog up.

Tomorrow, thoughts on the blog experiment itself.

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One comment on “Why This is Here: Thoughts on MAPH & the “Maphmatically Yours” Experiment – Part 1

  1. Excellent post, sir. Nicely summarized. Love the narrative of the nine months, and eager to see tomorrow’s post.

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