[Air-L] Finding a graduate program

Jonathan Sterne jonathan.sterne at mcgill.ca
Mon May 26 05:52:05 PDT 2008

Hi All,

I'm interested to see the responses to Jasmine.  With all due respect to my
colleagues (and I don't think anyone was suggesting this exactly), I'd
caution students against simply applying on the basis of the subject a
program offers.

When my undergrads look for graduate programs (or when MA students look to
move to other PhD programs), the first question I ask them is what essays
and books they've read that have particularly shaped their thinking.  I then
suggest they get in touch with the authors and see if they are located in a
suitable program.  Of course, with professor movement being what it is these
days, it's risky to go to a program for one person only (indeed, it's not
bad to ask your potential supervisor if he or she plans to still be at the
same university when you graduate, even though there are no guarantees; if
it's an MA or MPhil, will the person be on sabbatical while you're there?)
but students will find clusters of people who are interesting and those
programs should be top choices.  It's also worth looking at the actual
courses offered and the subjects of student papers and theses (or
dissertations), and for doctoral programs, placement patterns.

I do, of course, have a standard set of programs I recommend and this
discussion has added to my knowledge, and there is a reverse process to
consider as well (find the program that looks interesting, see who's
teaching there, read their work and see if their approach is compatible with
what you want to do).  But we are entering an age of unprecedented promotion
and competition among graduate programs on an international level, and so
it's important to make sure that students entering the process for the first
time can distinguish between the promotional work a school does and the
education they are likely receive.  Not that anyone in the thread was doing
this, but more than once I've seen programs tell students they "support" an
area of study when all the faculty in it have left, or, conversely, that
they support an area of study where there are not yet courses or faculty
(ie, where they'd like to build if they can get the resources) or where they
mean something completely different from what the student means.


Jonathan Sterne
Associate Professor and Chair
Department of Art History and Communication Studies
McGill University

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