“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…” (from Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities)
That well-know beginning to Dickens’s novel could almost describe the Ph.D. application process. We are excited to have an incredible number of applicants, but we’re a bit overwhelmed at reviewing them all. It is a time where we see some very smart applicants we wish to recruit, but the pool also reveals several clearly not ready for doctoral study. It is a season of light as we prepare to welcome highly regarded admits for a campus recruitment event, but also a season of darkness as we near time to make painful rejections. It is a time of hope for the future cohort of doctoral students, but also one of despair about the difficult process of making these decisions.
For those applicants wondering what is going on (and for current faculty/students who are also curious), I’d like to provide an update on our process here. We have been reviewing files most of this month. We have made several decisions and extended admission to a few very strong students whose records and fit made them clear admits. We are also pleased that 20 of those students are coming to an invitational recruitment event here on campus this coming week. There is another set of students who we have already or are about to admit—but because they’ve already been to campus previously, or are international students unable to make it to the recruitment event, we were not able to invite them out to our limited recruitment event.
Decisions about other types of applicants take longer. There is a third set of students that are the most difficult to evaluate—they are potentially worth admitting but it is unclear if we have faculty willing to supervise them or if the fit is strong enough (and in some cases, language concerns need to be explored). A fourth set are those that might be worth admission but only if we get a surprisingly small number of our other admits to come here—so we waitlist these students while waiting to see what happens. Finally, there are the clear rejects—mostly because there isn’t a strong fit but sometimes also because the faculty member(s) that person might work with has already decided to admit other stronger students and thus cannot commit to supervising even more students (but even that determination can take a while and entering these rejections is a slow process given that we also have to document why we reject each applicant).
Funding is a slightly different story. We have made several funding offers, but not all we are going to make. Unfortunately, we are not able to fund everyone we admit and we are the type of program where multiple unfunded students join those who are funded. Over the next month, I anticipate making a few more offers based on decisions about final assistantships/fellowships, offers of teaching to part-time lecturers, and grant funding needs. We will also hear about some university fellowships/awards—and if an incoming student gets one of those it frees up an assistantship for someone else. As we approach April 15, it is always possible that some of our applicants to whom we’ve made funding offers will decide to go elsewhere—again freeing up an assistantship. I suspect our funding picture will not fully sort itself out until those first two weeks of April.
So, this period can be the best of times (for those admitted, recruited, and perhaps even funded) and the worst of times (for those awaiting decisions, rejected, and not funded) for the applicants as well. All I can ask is that everyone be patient while all this sorts itself out. We are going to do all we financially can to bring the best students to our program with support. And, I can confidently say that we work hard to make quality admissions decisions with the information we have. Doing that helps us to feel each year as though we’ve done our best job of admissions and recruitment, allowing us to resonate with the closing line of Dickens’s classic:
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done…”
The Director has left the Deck.