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Academic Guidance Academic Guidance - Academic guidance for those pursuing a college degree... what college? Grad school? PhD help?

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Old October 11th, 2016, 02:27 AM   #1

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Applying for an MA: How certain should I seem about my thesis argument?

Hello all,
I'm currently applying for an MA in Ancient History, and I was wondering how sure I should seem about the argument I'll make in my thesis? At the moment I've got "Based on my current state of knowledge, I expect to argue that the course of Rome's wars against the Germanic invaders of the fourth and fifth centuries is incompatible with the theory that the Late Roman army was larger than that of the Principate," but one of my friends I showed it to says that this might make me look dogmatic, and I should change it to something along the lines of "I will study the course of Rome's wars against the Germanic invaders, and whether this is compatible with the theory that the Late Roman army was larger than that of the Principate." Is he right, or would it be better to look like I've already thought about what my conclusion's likely to be?
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Old October 11th, 2016, 03:02 AM   #2

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I don't know how is the "atmosphere" at the institution You're applying (because that counts a bit in how Your argument is perceived: some could take it as dogmatic some could take it as a convictions forged trough thorough research).

But I would say the two variants really depends on You.

Are You convinced Your theory is right and can You demonstrate it with data ? If yes, the initial argument is the one.

If it's a question of interpretation, of point of view, if You launch a new theory, a new vision, but it's not 99% proof, well, it would be the second variant.

And btw, it isn't an advice, it's what I would do
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Old October 11th, 2016, 06:02 AM   #3

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I wasn't that specific for my PhD application, and I think you want to keep it a little more open. Also, fill it up with names: if I were reviewing applicants and this topic came to my attention, I'd want to see some indication of where, why, and what exactly you agree/disagree with Hugh Elton on this topic, how you plan to use the Notitia Dignitatum, and maybe what you think of Michael Whitby's work on the eastern army in the 5/6th century. Treadgold needs to be in there, too. Try to keep it a little open-ended, though: you don't want to make it look like you've already completely made up your mind, or that you've already done all the research.

That said, this advice is mainly for the Anglosphere. I have no idea what they might want in continental Europe. I never made any MA applications in the UK, so I can't really offer specific advice on that.
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Old October 11th, 2016, 06:10 AM   #4

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State your argument, then present the evidence to support it. Itīs that simple.
The intro you quoted seems very good. But leave out the line "Based on my current state of knowledge," because it is defensive and seems indecisive.

The other approach is to research your teacher and pander to their quirks.
I wish you lots of luck.
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Old October 14th, 2016, 04:26 AM   #5
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Don't come across as too sure about the answers at this point. The point of the MA is for you to research a hypothesis. You aren't expected to come up with your conclusions until your research is complete.

Your application should frame the question you are seeking to address and let the University know that you have read around your subject. What they want to see at at this stage is evidence that you are serious-minded, know your materials, can express yourself clearly and have a clear idea of the scope of your thesis.

Most academic historians pale at the thought of grand narratives or deterministic, single-explanation 'revelations'. They love nuance, circumspection and as much objectivity as you can muster. Crashing in at the start saying that you already have the answers is not therefore the best plan.

You might also make it clear that you are not a crank. For example, early medieval historians at reputable universities are very wary of any postgrad student who wants to write about the 'real' Arthur. I'd imagine that Romanists are on the lookout for avid gamers who want to write a thesis which is the academic equivalent of Call of Duty. As such, it would help to be able to show in your pitch that you propose to fit your thesis into the wider framework of contemporary politics and society.

Last edited by Peter Graham; October 14th, 2016 at 04:31 AM.
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Old October 14th, 2016, 04:33 PM   #6

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Actually, by the time a student is starting post graduate work, they are supposed to know Academic protocols, and be able to conduct their research and writing in acceptable academic terms. The last thing you want is to leave an impression that you lack confidence in yourself, or ability to objectively follow the trail of research crumbs where ever they may lead. I think having a really well thought out hypothesis, and the methodology you mean to follow is of primary importance. To do that, you have to write clear, active sentences, with very few modifiers. As an attachment you might want to provide a list of works already consulted, and a list of those elements that require much more attention. Bottom line, a good hypothesis and intended methodology that is well written and in accord with academic standards and protocols, is what works most often.
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Old October 16th, 2016, 06:08 AM   #7

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Interesting question, one I was wondering too
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Old October 21st, 2016, 01:25 PM   #8

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I was told to tailor my statement somewhat to the research interests of the professors I was applying to study with, then draw it back into line with what I actually wanted to do after I was accepted onto the program. No use submitting such a statement if the university in question doesn't have any professors with knowledge of the Roman army or the Germanic Wars etc; they would be more likely to accept students they know they could supervise well.

However, I do know people who were very vague with their statements, pretty much just providing a research area they wanted to work in, but they were international students with buckets of cash

For my own upcoming applications, I intend to simply show that I've identified an issue I would like to resolve/explore and then discuss how I might go about doing that. The phrase 'no plan ever survives contact with the enemy' is kind of apt; theses change over time as you research more and more, and you often end up answering a very different question to what you might have originally intended to. Your study might get expanded or narrowed, of the focus might shift to other aspects of the larger problem. One of my professors told me that writing a thesis isn't like knitting a jumper, where you start off with the shape in mind and continually add to it bit by bit without ever going back to change anything; but instead more like a sculpture, where you slowly mould it into a shape, slowly adding and removing as necessary until you end up with something you're happy with.
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Old October 24th, 2016, 04:59 AM   #9

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Cool, thanks for the advice, people.
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Old October 31st, 2016, 08:03 PM   #10

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Are you doing your program or trying to get in?
Alas, my academic level is Bacehlor's degree, but my failures can tell.
You need a clear focus in your study and your thesis.
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