Paths towards a PhD
My career path following my Master's in Cultural Anthropology...the path to PhD.
-Caitlin McEvoy (graduated with an MA in Cultural Anthropology VT 2016, started PhD position in Sociology of Education VT 2018).
I knew that I wanted to pursue research from before I started the master's in cultural anthropology. Writing my master's thesis, though, was probably the hardest and most challenging project yet. I had no idea where to start or even how it would end. I had gathered the research, relishing the fieldwork portion of the project, and approached the writing process with a million ideas in my head. It took some time sifting through the data before I turned in my thesis, a couple of hiccups along the way, but I defended a semester late. I defended on the eve of my 26th birthday. Where to next though? I saw advertisements for many different PhD projects in Sweden and threw together messy proposals of all extreme subjects. I knew I wanted to go further in my studies, but did not know how to actualize it. Each proposal that spring had a different topic, different reference list, different research question, and different field. I didn't get called into any interviews. Feeling like a failure, I had to reevaluate what I had done wrong and what I could do better. I did what any good millennial does: I googled the people who had PhD positions at various universities and scoured over their LinkedIn profiles (logged out of course!). What did they have that I didn't?
The pathway to a PhD is not always direct. It's important to develop your skills and your potential network for the project you propose. For myself, I needed to work on my writing and expand my knowledge of theories and contemporary research. So, I decided to pursue a second master's thesis to have the opportunity to do another bout of fieldwork, this time in Cambodia. I had heard of traineeship programs that were government funded and began sending off applications to various development organizations at the beginning of my second master's in Holocaust and Genocide Studies. I needed to make sure this time around, I took advantage of every opportunity. It was in Cambodia, while I was working and collecting data for my second master thesis that I began to look for PhD positions again and apply. I broadened my field and my interests, looking beyond anthropology. I felt like I had a greater grasp on different branches of research disciplines. I began to widen the scope and apply for programs in migration studies, global studies, anthropology, sociology, environmental anthropology, and sociology of education. I got many rejections, but I was in a flow. I wrote back to some universities asking for notes which were incredibly helpful. I learned that my proposals needed to be more informant-focused rather than presenting wider social problems.
Overall, I felt more confident in my analytical and writing skills. More resilient. I began cranking out different proposals on nearly a weekly basis. In the spring of 2018, I was called to an interview, to my delight and shock, for a position in Sociology of Education at Uppsala University. The interview was overwhelming and nerve-wracking, but I got through it and was offered the position the following week.
Don't fret. Keep applying for positions that inspire you. Ask for feedback when you receive rejections. Until then, continue to write, work, read, and use your anthropological skill set to build your CV. Good luck!