As I've mentioned elsewhere, I've recently accepted a generous offer from the Anthropology Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The offer includes a three-year teaching assistantship which includes a stipend, tuition, and health insurance. After the first three years I should be able to either renew the assistantship or find outside funding. As a way of recapping the process and providing some hopefully helpful hints to other graduate applicants, this post will navigate the absurdly smooth path I took to graduate school.
I'll take you back to May 2010, I had just returned from Bolivia and was preparing to begin writing my thesis. I poured over my notes, re-read some favorite texts, and read some new writings that I thought useful. I was fresh from the field and at a point of research that's both scaring and exciting - I didn't know where the thesis would go, or how it would come together, but I was interested to find out. At this point I was quite interested in applying to some PhD programs, I'd been looking at this option since entering school at Wageningen, but had recently gotten a little more serious about it. Amanda suggested I contact a few professors about applying to their programs and I took her advise (after only about eight months of marriage I knew that Amanda usually knows what she's talking about). The programs and professors that I would contact, however, weren't as obvious as you'd think. Most of the papers I had used till then were European and late in their career. I knew a few American professors who would be interesting to work with and contacted them, for the rest I went through an exentsive search of faculty members in most of the well-known anthropology departments. I also scanned journals for interesting articles and followed up with them. When I had five or ten interesting options I contacted them, explaining my research, my research interests, and my intention to apply to their program.
Most professors I contacted replied favorably, some said they would look for my application, others suggesting I contact fellow faculty-members, and others explained that they were no longer taking students, but suggested other options. One even surprised me by inviting me to present at a conference in August. This invitation gave me a great chance to meet faculty at the department, add a presentation to my list of publications, and to test my ideas on a incredible group of anthropologists. Looking back, I'm sure that this presentation made my application successful. So with some prospects in hand I finished my thesis over the summer and prepared for the conference in August.
After finishing my studies at Wageningen and presenting my thesis at the conference in August, I began my online application to five schools. The main focus of this was the personal statement in which I described my previous research, proposed new research, and explained why I should be a student at their department. I also organized three letters of recommendation and re-contacted the professors who I'd planned on working with. I also took the GRE exam in November, a requirement for all applications, and did surprisingly well considering my level of preparation.
All applications were due in December, after submitting them all, I contacted other faculty in each department to inform them of my application. In mid-January I received an email from my supervisor at UNC, with a cc to the three other faculty members who I expected to work with. The letter was short and sweet, but stated that I was accepted with funding. Then again in February I received separate e-mails from the director of the anthropology graduate program and the director of the graduate school, saying much of the same things. I then accepted the offer online and am now waiting for more information. Looking back, the most important thing I did was to contact professors who shared my interests, this not only made my name known, but opened up an opportunity and improved my own confidence in the application.
Looking ahead, I'll spend the next two years taking classes and performing my TA duties within the department, I will probably travel next summer to do some preliminary research at my research site, which, may not necessarily be Bolivia. I will use my previous research as a backup, and explore other research options over the next year. I will surely focus on the same topics, local performances of identity and the market and the local imbeddedness of markets. My third year will be courses and some writing, and then the next four or five years will be spent doing research, writing my dissertation, presenting my research, and doing some teaching.
As I've said before, I'm super excited about this position and really can't believe I've been offered it. I'm looking forward to beginning this August and hope to host a few of you in our new apartment there.