17 March 2008

Probably should have followed up on that, in retrospect

I applied to three grad schools: Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Columbia. The past few months have been a long wait.

One of the professors I had asked for a letter of recommendation had had problems submitting it to the two non-Chicago schools I applied to. He said he'd contacted the schools about it, but then I never heard anything back from him after that. (This was two months ago -- shortly after the application deadline for Columbia, which had the latest deadlines.) Since he didn't tell me he was still having problems, I figured that he must have gotten it worked out.

I haven't heard from Columbia yet, so this evening I checked online to see when I might expect to hear back from them. It turns out they have a "Track your application" thing that I'd not taken advantage of. According to it, as of February 5th they had not received a third letter of recommendation. Whoops. Guess it didn't get worked out. I can guess what I am going to hear from Columbia, since I did not actually complete my application there.

This may or may not be why I heard back from Pitt so quickly; their site doesn't have a way to tell if all my application stuff showed up for them or not. If it didn't, this would explain why they told me "Sorry, this application is not a winner" after only a few weeks. It is also possible that only Columbia had a problem with the application, or that the problem is merely on their website, and my application was just weak enough that I got cut in the first round.

Oh, if you've been wondering why I suddenly stopped blogging: I heard back from Pitt a few weeks ago, and have spent the intervening time feeling sorry for myself. Not the most productive reaction. I've read a lot of comics in the past few weeks.

I've reread about a third of "Cerebus" for instance. "Mothers & Daughters" has grown on me; it's an obvious mess in a lot of ways, but I think the messiness works. In the infamous issue 186, the last issue of "Reads", Victor Davis is paranoid about overpopulation and extols the virtues of the Creative Light Of Art, and associates all of this with flat-out crazy talk about women as "voids" that suck out the "light" of men etc. etc. (anyone who has heard of "Cerebus" should know the issue I'm talking about). But earlier in "Reads", Suenteus Po had made a snide remark about overpopulation to Cirin ("Why won't you admit that in an overpopulated world, the greatest self-indulgence is childbirth?"), and Suenteus Po's ideal life is "Sit alone in my apartment and play chess with myself until I die of old age, aiming merely to harm neither myself or another" -- this is not a paradigm of artistry. Quoth Po: "It is self-indulgence. UNPRODUCTIVE self-indulgence. I admit that. Freely." In fact, of the four comic-style characters in "Reads", only Astoria aims to produce anything creative -- she is going to go build the house/garden she's always dreamed about, a lovely little bit of architecture. Astoria, of course, is a woman, while Po is male. And these sorts of tensions run through the entire book -- basically, I think Dave is good enough at making comics that his crazy opinions aren't allowed to stand in his own comic. (And this is itself something quite interesting, considering all the stuff about self-publishing -- even with no one restricting what he can say, Dave can't "say what he wants to say"; his own art undermines what he takes to be his points. And this is something Victor Davis is aware of -- for Victor Davis (and for Dave), Cerebus and Estarcion are "real" in the same sense anything is, even "more real than today's headlines". And this is further undermined by the fact that Victor Davis, the creator of "Cerebus", is just a character in Dave's book -- which is further undermined by the fact that Dave is a character, too! And Victor Reid, who exists only in Estarcion and is not the creator of "Cerebus", is also Dave -- "Reid" is his mother's maiden name, and "Victor" is his middle name. Victor Reid is Victor Davis (Dave Sim) if Victor Davis (Dave Sim) hadn't gone into self-publishing, and he is also just a character in the book who writes about Cirinism & Kevilism and produces schlocky "reads" to pay the bills while he forever postpones what he really wanted to write about -- and this rejection of what he really wanted to create is simultaneously a rejection of the woman in his life. I get a kick out of this sort of thing.)

So, since philosophy has reminded me of impending doom come the fall, I have avoided reading much of it, and so have not been blogging. Instead I've read a few thousand pages of a funnybook about a cartoon aardvark who kills people with a sword. Also Oscar Wilde dies in it; I like that bit a lot. It's well-done. And there are some funny jokes, and the lettering is the best ever.

But I digress.

I applied to three grad schools: Chicago, Columbia, and Pitt. I suspect I only managed to get my application completed for Chicago, but I only realized that this evening. (I can't recall if the third Chicago letter actually got submitted, or if Chicago just needed one fewer letters than the other schools.)

So, everything's riding on Chicago.

I got the letter this afternoon: I was not accepted into the philosophy PhD program. Frowntown.

I did, however, get accepted into this. Which I didn't apply to; my application was referred to them without my knowledge. I didn't know this program existed until today.

The "Master of Arts Program in the Humanities" is designed for interdisciplinary studies. Given how scattershot my undergraduate transcript must look, I am not surprised that I got referred to this. It's a one-year MA program composed of nine courses: A required core "Introduction to Interpretive Theory" course which is an "Introduction to Theory"-type thing, a colloquium/master's thesis, and then seven other classes. The seven classes can be anything at Chicago; there would appear to be no reason not to take seven philosophy courses, but if I see a random theology or economics course that just looks too great to pass up, I can jump on it. And then after Ive had a Theory class and seven other courses of some sort and written a 25-35 page thesis, I get an MA.

Now, a humanities MA is, from everything I have heard from anyone ever, totally and utterly worthless. But, this gives me a year to make myself into a more competitive PhD candidate, and lets me go to the University of Chicago for a year. Beats temp work.

I'll almost certainly have a "down" year before I start PhD work (since most of the MAPH work, including the thesis which is pretty much a lock for use as a "writing sample", won't have happened by the time PhD applications are due in December). But if it weren't for the MAPH thing, I would have a "down" year anyway -- and I'd be applying for PhD programs next year with nothing more to show for it than I have now. (I'd pick up some work experience and would have plenty of time to get a better writing sample written by my lonesome. Not thrilled with those prospects.) So, the "down" year is effectively a given -- a sunk cost. And so there's no reason to fret about it; this is simply how things have worked out. No use crying over spilt milk and all that. And now I'll have a year of graduate-student playtime to make sure that I wouldn't really prefer to go back to law school, or try seminary, or live under a highway and beg for food.

Good enough. I am satisfied with this, considering I expected to get into Nothing Whatsoever and be cast utterly adrift in short order. I like school. More school, hooray!

The required "core" course is a capital-'T' Theory course. Freud, Lacan, Marx, Althusser, Zizek, "Mr. Lisa Goes To Washington", etc. This is not what I expected to be doing in my graduate program. But what the hey; I've ended up wasting God-knows-how-many hours on Zizek already, it will not kill me to take a class in the stuff. (Or if it does kill me then this solves my application problems. Win-win.) I suppose this is penance for CLEPping out of my undergraduate Composition courses.

In a sense I am of course disappointed that I didn't make it into any PhD programs, but then I never thought I deserved to get into any of them. (And this not just in the good Kantian "I do not deserve to be happy because I am less than perfectly virtuous" sense, but in the "I really feel underqualified for these programs" sense.) So, I got what I thought I deserved, and I also got into a master's program which I had never heard of, but which looks primed to make me more attractive to graduate schools the next time 'round. Hard to be too upset about that.


N. N. said...

Sorry to hear about the PhD programs (I'd been curious, but I certainly wasn't going to ask). I've been there, so I know how disappointing it is. Fortunately, once you get your doctorate, you get to go through the whole experience again when you apply for jobs.

I think the MA program at Chicago is a heck of a silver lining. As you say, you can take philosophy courses, get to know Conant and Co., and hopefully increase your chances of getting into their PhD program (or someone else's). That, and you get to eat Gino's and attend the Wittgenstein Workshop (I'm envious). That beats the hell out of the alternative.

J said...

The average RN tends to be smarter--and more useful, intellectually and socially speaking--than a Philo-PHD. The Periodic table puts Kant to shame. Get that nursing cert, S-Dania! See see puede.

h suspect even WVOQuine thought along those lines (note his consistent use of examples from the natural sciences, even when discussing "logic").

Duck said...

So you're going to Chicago then? Awesome. I look forward to your eventual reports on Wittgenstein workshops. Say hi to Currence (if he's still there; he may be a senior, I don't know). That core course looks wild. Good thing you've already tangled with the Sage of Ljubljana. I think I might blow a gasket if I had to take that.

You can still try to avoid a "down" year, right? You don't have to submit your Master's thing. Just write something brilliant over the summer.

BTW, when I applied to Pitt, I heard back right away. I imagine they took one look at my app and had a good laugh.

Daniel Lindquist said...

"You can still try to avoid a "down" year, right? You don't have to submit your Master's thing. Just write something brilliant over the summer."
Yeah, if I write something I really like before December 15th, I'll probably donate another $60 to Chicago at least. The autumn quarter would be finished by that point, though I'm sure I wouldn't have gotten back any grades yet. The FAQ on the website makes it clear that they strongly advise against trying to apply to other programs while completing the MAPH, but of course if I feel convinced it's worth a shot then I'll go ahead and try again anyway.

A "down" year actually might not be the worst thing for me; I really wanted to take a year off before law school just to figure out what I wanted to do after undergrad. (It turned out that instead I'm taking a semester off, and have a few thousand dollars of debt from my law school adventure.) I can stay on my parents' health insurance policy so long as I'm not out of school for nine months or more, which is why I didn't take a year off last fall. (I can't remember if I've mentioned that I'm a type-one insulin-dependent diabetic. That gets expensive quickly.)

I'm still young, too; if I spend the next year at Chicago, have a "down" year, and then start grad school the following fall, I'll be 24. Even if the classes I take next year end up counting for nothing towards the PhD program's requirements, I'd still have a few years to finish my dissertation before I hit 30.

Currence said...

Whoa, cool (about the MAPH program, sorry to hear about the PhD programs).

I love that Baz Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet is required for that course.

Re: a "down" year. Yeah, all the professors here advise taking a down year (at least for undergrads), and one reason is that Chicago starts later (by a month or so, maybe?) than other schools, and the quarter system means you get less exposure to professors (tho, more professors, of course) and less time to work on a decent writing sample, before apps for grad school are due.

J said...
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Daniel Lindquist said...

Yeah, I am used to starting on Labor Day; Chicago is pretty close to a full month after that. The MAPH program has an orientation-type thing that starts two weeks before normal classes, and I'll still be going to school at least a week later than I ever have.

(Yes, on Labor Day. That is one of the fun things about going to a private university -- wonky holidays. One year the fall semester began on Labor Day, and the spring semester began on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. On the other hand, we always got the Monday after Easter off, which is nice.)

Rick Danko said...

For what its worth, I've always been impressed by your philosophical acumen and range of interests. With a year under your belt at chicago and a polished writing sample, you can bet that programs will be knocking your door down the next time around.

btw, why only pitt, columbia, and chicago? Did you think about any other places?

Daniel Lindquist said...

"btw, why only pitt, columbia, and chicago? Did you think about any other places?"

I recall looking at Berkeley and Stanford briefly, but I just don't want to live in California. I was looking for schools which had good placement records and which would let me keep focusing on Davidson/Kant/Hegel/Wittgenstein. That eliminated a lot of schools pretty quickly.

I didn't apply to any "safe" schools -- any schools I was confident I could get into -- on the theory that if I wasn't going to go to a top-tier program, I'd be happier going back to law school. (And then either trying to get into a philosophy program later, or just playing with this stuff as a hobby while doing normal lawyer-type work.)

Also, thanks for the compliments.

Update on MAPH: It turns out the scholarship I was offered (which is the highest mentioned on the MAPH website) is only offered to about 20 students each year. a winnar is me~

J said...
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