Archive for the ‘preparing for grad school’ Category

the moleskine podcast #3: interview with dr. ecks

June 26, 2009

This is the third episode of The Moleskine Podcast, which  features interviews with students and staff about graduate school in the United Kingdom. In this podcast, I will interview my former anthropology professor Stefan Ecks about the MSc. in Anthropology of Health and Illness, admissions, applications, and life after graduation.

secksStefan Ecks is the Director of the MSc. Programme in Anthropology of Health and Illness and a Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh.

He received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the London School of Economics in 2003. During his doctorate, Dr. Ecks conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Calcutta, India on notions of body, health, and healing.

From 2001 to 2004, he taught at the South Asia Institute at the University of Heidelberg where he established a medical anthropology programme.

At present, Dr. Ecks’ research interests encompass the theory and history of anthropology, medical anthropology, mental health in South Asia, the anthropology of pharmaceuticals, science studies, and popular Hinduism.


This podcast was recorded using a Zoom H2 and edited in Reaper. Thanks to Andrew Spitz at { sound + design } for the editing assistance and warg at Soundsnap for the beginning and ending loop “warg elizabethtown.”

And of course, big thank you to Stefan Ecks for letting me pick his brain.


Listen on your ipod, subscribe to The Moleskine Podcast!


american universities: no longer need-blind?

March 31, 2009


The New York Times recently published an article on how the economic recession has made it easier for wealthier applicants to get into university.

“In the bid for a fat envelope this year, it may help, more than usual, to have a fat wallet. Facing fallen endowments and needier students, many colleges are looking more favorably on wealthier applicants as they make their admissions decisions this year.”

This recent trend in admissions makes me wonder if I would have been accepted to the universities I applied to for undergraduate in 2003. At that time, my dad was unemployed and my mom was a Headstart teacher. I applied to about eight private liberal arts colleges, knowing that admissions was need-blind and financial aid was based almost purely on need. I was accepted to all eight universities and received full funding from all the schools, except for my top choice: New York University. They expected me to pay $20,000 worth of tuition out of pocket.

Nevertheless, this was my dream school, so I decided to defer a year to think about it, apply to more schools, and study abroad in Panama. I ultimately decided to attend  a university in my hometown: University of Washington. At the time, it didn’t seem like the most glamorous option, but as a state resident and with scholarships, it was practically free.

I received a fantastic education at the University of Washington and am really happy ended up here, but sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I went to school in New York.

I think students should be able to attend the university of their choice, regardless of cost. However, with the current state of the economy, this seems even less plausible than when I applied for undergraduate. According to NYT, “[T]he inevitable result is that needier students will be shifted down to the less expensive and less prestigious institutions.”

However, this does not mean they can’t get a good education. My experience is a case in point.

Photo by Flickr user phxpma (busy for a while)

the end of the semester, the beginning of essays

March 29, 2009

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, everything seemed to happen all at once: my dissertation proposal, the last week of my job, the end of the semester, and of course, my birthday. It’s been a stressful week, but I survived.

I still have lot of work to do, but fortunately, my job at the Student Association has pretty much wrapped up, so my focus will be purely academic. I have a couple of essays due around the end of April. For The Practice of Cultural Studies course, I will write a 4,000-word essay on street art and the body. I will look at how JR, a French street artist, creates billboard-size images of eyes and faces to capture the experience of everyday people. I am still looking for a theoretical framework, but will probably draw from theories on physiognomy, please let me know if you have any reading suggestions.

For The City and Its Others course, I will probably write about representations of urban slums and their influence on urban theory and development. I am still brainstorming for this essay and may change my topic completely. This essay is supposed to be a visual-textual essay composed of 3,000 words and images with detailed captions. I have never written an essay with photographs or on urban studies, so it will be interesting to see how this new format will influence the way I think through and write about my ideas.

This may not seem like a lot of work for a graduate-level course, but in the UK, you are expected to do a great deal of self-study. As a masters student, you are supposed to read and conduct independent research for your dissertation throughout the entire year. I am a huge advocate of independent study and enjoy researching on my own, however, I prefer having more coursework. It not only helps me stay focused and interested, but also, offers more opportunities for feedback and self-improvement.

One of my biggest criticisms of the British graduate education system, especially at the University of Edinburgh, is the lack of feedback. For example, last semester I wrote two 4,000-word essays and received about one paragraph of feedback for each essay that I wrote. While I received feedback informally through meetings and class presentations, the two paragraphs were the only concrete pieces of assessment I received. There is a lot you can pack in one paragraph, but I think it would be more effective and helpful if we had a greater number of assignments in order to receive more feedback on how to improve our writing, research skills, and ideas.

the moleskine podcast #2: the cultural studies perspective

March 1, 2009

This is the second installment of the moleskine podcast series. Just to remind you, for this series, I’ll be interviewing students, professors, and advisers to give you an insider’s perspective on admissions, research, accommodations, and much more!


Bethany, me, and Muriel recording in my kitchen.

For this podcast, I interviewed two of my friends Bethany Johnson and Muriel Lovo who are also in the Cultural Studies MSc. Programme at the University of Edinburgh. Bethany graduated with a bachelor of arts in English and Humanities from the University of Louisville in Kentucky, USA and. Muriel received a bachelor’s degree in Arts and Filmmaking at the University of Arts and Social Sciences in Santiago, Chile.

In this podcast, Bethany and Muriel will be talking about applications, Cultural Studies, scholarships, and life after graduation.

Resources mentioned in this podcast: The Mary Churchill Humphrey Centenary Memorial Scholarship

You can also check out my first podcast with my American friends Ben and Julie who are also studying at the UK.

the process

Making this podcast was a bit easier than making the first one, but it still had its challenges. Recording can be especially difficult if you have never been on a podcast before or are with a couple of girlfriends. Muriel, Bethany, and I spent several times re-recording the introduction because we couldn’t stop laughing. It was a great fun, but next time, I’ll start the recorder before the interview starts and just transition naturally from casual conversation to interview.

I recorded the moleskine podcast #2 on my boyfriend Andrew’s macbook pro and used Audacity to edit the majority of this podcast. However, I think I might try a different editing program, like Reaper or SPEAR, because Audacity isn’t the most intuitive or user-friendly program. I actually ended up doing the final stage of editing through Nuendo, a digital audio workstation. Most professional sound design is made through Nuendo or Pro Tools.


This is a screen shot of Audacity


This is a screen shot of Nuendo

Through Nuendo, I was easily able to cross-fade, compress, and equalize (EQ) the sound. These processes are essential to producing high quality sound. Because of the nature of a live interview, I had to cut and paste certain sections  in order to tighten the podcast. Since sound is a time-based medium, you always have to be aware of how you’re moving sections around. This is why you have to cross-fade in order smoothly transition from one section to another. Finally, in order to improve the volume and quality of the podcast, you have to compress and EQ the sound.

An important lesson I learned while editing this podcast is saving incrementally as different files. I had saved incrementally, but under the same file. In other words, I selected “save” instead of “save as”. This simple error cost me about 45 minutes of editing time. Not too bad in the grand scheme of things, but still annoying.

thank you

Big thank yous to Bethany and Muriel for letting me pick their brains.

Special thanks to Andrew, check out his blog { sound + design } for tons of geektacular sound stuff!

Thanks to warg from Soundsnap, a user-driven sound effects library, for the cheesy, but fun loop warg elizabethtown.


the moleskine podcast #1: insights from an american couple

January 9, 2009

I just finished my first podcast, with the help of my wonderful sound-savvy boyfriend Andrew. I hope to do a moleskine podcast series featuring interviews on grad school in the UK with students, professors, and admissions officers. Let me know if there’s a perspective you’d like represented.


I conducted my first podcast interview with my friends Ben and Julie, an American couple who are also attending graduate school in the UK. They are veterans of the British higher education system, having completed their undergraduate at Newbold College in Berkshire, England. Ben and Julie graduated in 2003 and 2004 and taught English in South Korea for four years (we all met in Seoul!). They moved back to the UK in September and are currently in living in Leeds. Julie is getting a taught masters in Development Studies and Education at Leeds University and Ben is getting a taught masters in Peace Studies at Bradford University.

Big thanks to Ben and Julie for serving as my podcast guinea pigs!

This was my first podcast, so there are more than a few editing blunders, but overall, I am satisfied. I created this podcast on my macbook through Audacity, a free, open-source sound program for basic recording and editing.


A screen shot of a zoomed-in waveform of Audacity

I also downloaded a cafeteria ambient track by user thedapperdan from The Free Sound Project, a user-driven website that allows you to download sounds for free! Unfortunately, wordpress doesn’t let you upload audio unless you upgrade your account (one of the few setbacks of this blog hosting site), but I was able to host my podcast through Andrew’s website {sound + design} and zSHARE, a free file-sharing program. I heart free and open source.


December 11, 2008

Even though tuition is usually cheaper in the UK than in the States, it is still expensive and most British universities offer limited financial  aid. Scholarships are a great way to defray the cost of tuition, as well as bolster your cv. Below, I have outlined the different kinds of scholarships you can apply for to study in the UK.

US Scholarships for UK Study

These scholarships offer full rides, but are extremely competitive to get and the applications are lengthy and time-consuming. Be realistic, only apply if you surpass the qualifications and have enough time to seriously dedicate yourself to the application.

Marshall Scholarship

“Marshall Scholarships are available to finance young US citizens of high ability to study in the UK. The scholarships are tenable for two academic years (22 months) and cover tuition fees, living allowance and some study expenses, fares to and from the US and, where applicable, a contribution toward the support of a dependent spouse. Up to 40 scholarships are awarded annually.”

-Taken from the University of Edinburgh’s Scholarship website.

Fulbright Scholarship

“The Fulbright Commission offers approximately 20 traditional scholarships to US graduate students in any subject wishing to study in the UK. The scholarships aim to promote mutual understanding between the United States and the UK. They cover tuition fees and 10 months’ maintenance sufficient to cover housing, travel, food and other living expenses.”

-Taken from the University of Edinburgh Scholarship website.

Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholarship

“One of the largest and most competitive scholarship programs in the US, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Graduate Scholarship provides awards of up to $50,000 per year for up to six years of study to deserving low-income college seniors and recent college graduates (who graduated within the past five years).”

-Taken from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholarship website.

UK Scholarships for International Students

Chevening Scholarship

The Chevening Scholarship Scheme, funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), targets the future generation of leaders, decision-makers and opinion-formers early in their careers. Globally, approximately 1,000 new scholarships are awarded each year. The scholarships may cover all or part of the total study costs.

-Taken from University of Edinburgh Scholarship website.

UK 9/11 Scholarship

“The United Kingdom 9/11 Scholarships Fund provides awards for study in higher or further education in the United Kingdom to children or dependents of victims of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.”

-Taken from the British Council website.

Overseas Research Students Award Scheme (ORSAS)

Unfortunately, this scholarship has already been phased out in England and Wales and may be phased out in Scotland and Northern Island. Probably due to the dwindling economy. Check the website for details.

“ORSAS awards offer international postgraduate students the opportunity to carry out a broad range of research at well-established UK academic institutions of worldwide recognition. ORSAS award holders make a valuable contribution, not only to the British research base, but also to economic, scientific, educational and other aspects of life in their own country. “

-Taken from the ORSAS website.

International Student Scholarships

Most British universities offer scholarships specifically for international students, check your university’s scholarship website to see what’s offered.

Departmental Scholarships

Also, check to see if you university offers departmental or subject specific scholarships

General Advice

Contact your undergraduate and prospective grad universities’ scholarship office to inquire about scholarships that fit your specific interests and profile. You’d be surprised by the types of scholarships there are.

If you want to apply to a scholarship, plan accordingly. Read the requirements carefully. Give yourself enough time to fill out the application, write essays, collect recommendations, and PROOFREAD. Also, get your university’s scholarship adviser, a professor, or a friend to help you in the process.

If you have received a scholarship or grant before, contact your sponsors to see if they might be willing to re-new your award for grad school. Remember you are most likely to receive funding from people who have funded you in the past.

Additional Resources

British Council

University of Washington Grants and Information Funding Service

why edinburgh?

December 5, 2008


Old College, University of Edinburgh

Photo by flickr user Simon Bradshaw

One of the reasons why I decided to apply to graduate school in the UK is because my field Cultural Studies started here. Another reason is that I wanted to work in Europe and figured the easiest way to do that would be to study here. If you graduate from a British university, you may work in the UK without a work permit for up to two years under the Post Study Work Programme.

After numerous conversations with professors and hours of online research, I decided to apply to four master programmes: Cultural Studies MA at the University of London — Goldsmiths, Media and Cultural Studies MA at Lancaster University, Critical and Cultural Theory MA at Cardiff University, and Cultural Studies MSc at the University of Edinburgh.

I was accepted to all four, but chose to study at the University of Edinburgh due to a number of factors:

1) I was interested in working with the Cultural Studies Programme Director Dr. Ella Chmielewska to explore graffiti, visual culture, memory, and the city (my interests have somewhat evolved since then)…

2) Edinburgh was the only university that offered me a research master’s. I applied for the taught MSc, but was offered the MSc by Research due to the focus and specificity of my research interests. The MSc by Research is more independent and research-driven than the taught MSc. I accepted my offer of admission at Edinburgh with the intent of pursuing the MSc by Research, but I ultimately decided to do the taught MSc because my research interests changed considerably after my accident.

3) Edinburgh offered the most international student scholarships, I was fortunate to receive the International Master’s Scholarship.

4) I emailed current students at all four universities. All of the students seemed happy and satisfied with their programmes, but the students at  Edinburgh gave the most honest and convincing answers.

5) While the University of Edinburgh may not be the best university to pursue Cultural Studies, it seemed like the best overall fit. The university has an excellent academic reputation and is located in one of the most beautiful, livable cities in the world. While Edinburgh may not be as bustling and cosmopolitan as London, it is still culturally rich and international. It is also significantly more affordable and seemed like a city I could live in for a long time.

6) My boyfriend Andrew was the final push. The University of Edinburgh was the only school he applied to in the UK. We wanted to stay together and live in the same city, so we both chose to study at Edinburgh.

Overall, I am happy with my choice. There are things about the university I dislike, but no school is perfect. Do as much as research as you can before you apply and commit to a school, but remember any grad programme is what you make of it.

going off to uni for less?

December 4, 2008


George Square, University of Edinburgh

Photo by flickr user yellow book ltd

The New York Times recently published an article entitled “Going Off to College for Less (Passport Required)” on the recent trend of Americans attending university abroad. This article focused on American undergraduates studying in the UK, specifically at St. Andrews and the University of Edinburgh. While I agree with some of the points brought up in this article, it oversimplifies the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing a degree abroad.

According to NYT writer Tamar Lewin, tuition at a university in the UK is cheaper than a top private university in the States.This may be true, but you also have to consider the fluctuating exchange rate, visas, cost of living and travel, financial aid, scholarships, job opportunities, and many other financial factors.

If you plan to return to the States after you complete your education, keep in mind it may be much more difficult to get a job. You probably won’t have the same advantage of alumni networks. This doesn’t mean you can’t find a good internship or job after you graduate, but you may have to work harder.

The article basically said that attending a university abroad, like St. Andrews, is an attractive alternative for Americans who can’t get into ivy leagues. While this may be true for some, there are many students who choose to study in the UK over the States because of the specialized programs of studies and international experience. This article also implied that Americans are able to get into prestigious British universities because they pay international fees, which are usually twice as much as UK/EU fees. This may be a valid claim, but it doesn’t mean that the Americans who are accepted aren’t qualified to get in.

As mentioned above, one of the reasons why Americans decide to pursue their undergraduate in the UK is because of the “specialized courses of studies”, which allow students to focus on their specific fields of interest and by-pass subjects unrelated to their interests. This system works well for undergraduates who have a strong grasp of what they want to study, but may not work for those who have no idea what they’re interested in studying.

Many Americans in the article discussed the value of international experience. However, being abroad does not necessarily mean you will have a more “international” experience. I have met Americans abroad who spend most of  their time with other Americans at global coffee-shop and restaurant chains.

Personally, I think my experience at the University of Washington in Seattle was just as diverse and international as my experience has been at the University of Edinburgh. University is international as you make it out to be.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge proponent of travel and study abroad, having lived on three different continents in the past five years. I just think people should be more critical about why they are choosing to pursue their degree abroad.

Cost, prestige, specialization, and international experience are all valid reasons, but your decision should go beyond this, especially if you are applying to graduate school. Your focus should be on the specific school,  program, and faculty, rather than the country.

In the next entry, I will discuss why and how I chose to study at the University of Edinburgh.

uk postgraduate degrees explained

November 16, 2008

The British Council offers a wealth of information on the various postgraduate degrees and courses (which  means both class and programme in British English) available in the United Kingdom. They explain the British postgraduate education system in a very clear, succinct manner and allow you to easily search for courses based on your interests.

Master’s Degrees

UK universities award two basic types of master’s degrees: the taught master’s and the research master’s.

The taught master’s consists of coursework and a dissertation. It typically takes one year to complete, unlike its US counterpart, which takes two years. Educators have determined the two systems to be roughly equivalent, as the UK system is more specialized and condensed than the US one.

Taught programs are usually divided into three terms. As a student, you will likely take courses for the first two terms and then spend the third (normally the summer months) researching and writing a dissertation of about 10,000 words. If you are on a technological or vocational program, a practical project may replace the dissertation.

In most cases, assessment in taught programs is made on the strength of the final project and other work submitted earlier in the year, though a number of programs also require a formal written examination.

The taught master’s degrees are usually Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (MSc.) -Melissa

The research master’s, as the name implies, is research-based. It contains much independent work and little – if any – taught coursework. This master’s normally takes two years to complete, but, again, is roughly equivalent to the US M.A.

While many research master’s students continue on to a doctoral program, the degree can stand alone and offers a compromise between the classroom emphasis of the taught master’s and research focus of the doctoral level.

To earn a research master’s, you will need to produce a thesis – usually between 30,000 and 40,000 words – under the supervision of a tutor.

If you want to pursue this degree, you should have a clear idea of the subject you want to study and the background knowledge to begin advanced research.

The research master’s degrees are typically Master of Philosophy (MPhil.) or MSc. by Research. -Melissa

Doctoral Degrees

Typically, students can complete a Ph.D. (called a DPhil at a few universities) in three or four years. It is fairly common for a student to start on a research master’s degree and then proceed to the university’s Ph.D. program, with time spent on the master’s degree counting towards Ph.D. requirements.

The traditional British Ph.D. has less coursework and more independent research than its US counterpart. Increasingly, though, Ph.D.s in the UK include a taught research training component in the first year.

To earn a Ph.D., you will need to produce a thesis – 70,000 and 100,000 words – under the supervision of a tutor. As with the research master’s, when applying for a Ph.D. you should have strong background knowledge in the subject you want to study and a clear idea of what you want to research.

UK academics have recently launched the New Route Ph.D., which is a four-year program. New Route students undertake advanced independent research, but have more opportunities to take taught courses and study across disciplines than do traditional doctoral students. The program, offered at 34 universities, aims to prepare students for careers not just in academia but also in other public and private sector fields.

grad school to-do list and timeline

November 15, 2008

Another fabulous grad school worksheet from Christina. Some of the info, such as the tips on the GREs, will not apply to UK applicants.

By creating a to-do list and a time line, you don’t have to carry all of the weight of the application process; you are only responsible for doing one thing at a time.  Once you have completed one task in the time frame you have created, you can move on to the next item on your list.  This makes applying to graduate school “do-able.”  As my brother often told me when I was applying to graduate school, “This is part of the process.  The graduate programs want to know that you can handle pressure and jump through the various hoops.”  In other words, if it were easy to get into graduate school, everybody would be doing it.  But, you aren’t everybody—so let’s get started.

Graduate School Applications To-Do List:

* Look into various programs by researching universities on-line, at the bookstore, or with a professor/ other graduate students
* Keep a record of application requirements for each university
* Narrow your list down to 6-10 of your top choices
* Look into your exam books or courses such as Princeton Review/Kaplan in preparation for the LSAT, GRE, MCAT, GMAT, etc.
* Take the exam
* Request GRE scores to graduate schools
* Order applications
* Begin writing your statement of purpose—be creative, specific and concise.  Say what you did, what you are doing, and what you will be doing in graduate school and further into the future
* Find 1-2 people who are willing to help you in the writing process (or, if there are other people who are also applying to graduate school, set up a peer review group)
* Ask for final comments from 2-3 people
* Request Letters of Recommendation
* Complete packets for professors (including stamped envelopes, a timeline, your SOP—even if it is not the final version—and a very detailed letter explaining how you feel you are a good “fit” for the various programs)
* Request transcripts from all schools you attended (community college, 2-year and 4-year programs)
* Find 3 works you feel best demonstrate your writing for the required writing samples
* Begin editing your work (this is important, though if you are crunched for time, your SOP is more important)
* Complete applications (or do on-line)
* Contact PhD programs—specific professors who you feel might be interested in working with you—and send them your statement of purpose
* If you are serious about a specific university or you have the financial funds to do so, visit the department and set up meetings with various professors
* Mail in applications with checks (please note that applying to graduate schools is expensive—plan ahead)
* Pat yourself on the back—you did it!