So a few days ago I gave a quick summary of my experience in the MAPSS Program at the University of Chicago. I invited people to ask further questions, and that’s what I got! In the comments on the post I was asked some more specific questions, and I want to address those here.
Question 1: How close are you with your Preceptor? Are they really as helpful as the program makes it seem?
My preceptor is very helpful. He is great for helping me navigate my way around the university. He had great advice about what classes to take, how to prepare and oriente myself towards looking like a good PhD candidate, and was very helpful with my thesis. Your preceptor is basically your general advisor, and all preceptors are either PhD students or an Instructor with their PhD. You will have an “advisor” for your thesis, but your preceptor is the one who signs the paper that approves your course choices, and signs off on your thesis proposal. You will be spending a lot of time with your preceptor during the first half of the program. The first quarter you will be taking the “Perspectives” Class that all MAPSS students have to take, and every week during the first quarter your preceptor group (which are grouped by discipline, so psych, or history, or sociology etc…) will meet to go over the material discussed in class. Then during the first half of the second quarter you will meet weekly with your preceptor group for your Thesis Workshop, where you and all the students in your group will vet each other’s thesis ideas. My preceptor is great, but to say we’re “close” would be a stretch. Not because I don’t like him or we don’t get along, but simply because the preceptors are very busy, and don’t have a lot of time outside of their jobs to interact with you. Like I said, they’re advisors. And one thing about UChicago that I had to learn was that “advisors” here are not the same as they were in my undergrad. I went to small, liberal arts school where I would pop into my advisor’s office randomly and we would shoot the shit and just chat. We would go out for coffee, and talk as much about classwork as we would about our favorite music. This is just simply not the culture at UChicago, and that is true for pretty much every professors and advisors you will have. People are just really busy, and while my preceptor and thesis advisor are extremely helpful, they don’t have the time to dedicate to more social and personal interactions with me. That being said, I am becoming very well aquatinted with a few faculty members as the year progresses, and I could see that developing into a more personal relationship, but in general, you shouldn’t expect that from any faculty. But I don’t want to make it seem like people are distant or aloof, they’re very nice and helpful from my experience. I also want to mention, out of fairness, that I know some people who are not very satisfied with their preceptors. But in general, I’ve heard very positive things from my friends about their preceptors, and I have only positive things to say about mine. The key to your preceptor is just using them. If you never talk to them or seek them out, you wont find them very helpful. If you meet with them consistently and have specific questions or concerns, they are extremely helpful.
Question 2: Word is that the program is very “sink or swim” and that MAPSS students don’t get enough support. Is this true?
I’m curious where you heard that, but I’d unequivocally say no. Like I said before, this isn’t a weed out program where they’re just concerned with finding a few good students and ditching the rest. They have many programs and workshops for professional development (for example), and you have several people in the program you can talk to. You always have your preceptor to go to, plus the staff in the program, and you have the director of the program, who will always be honest and forthright with you. I know some people who dropped out of the program, but I can say that those people seemed like pretty dysfunctional human beings, not to pass too much judgement. I never once felt like I was being abandoned in the program, I always was able to find the feedback and advice I needed.
Question 3: Are the classes you take actually part of the regular graduate courses?
Yes, all the classes you will be taking are regular graduate courses, and in almost all your classes you’ll have other PhD students. Even if there isn’t (there were some classes I had which only had MAPSS students, just by coincidence) all those classes are still open to the PhD students. Be aware that there is a chance that there will be undergrads in some of your classes, but that a UChicago thing, they sometimes let undergrads into graduate classes. And yes those courses are hard, especially when trying to do a thesis on top of them. But yes, I am able to keep up.
Question 4: I also heard that some professors aren’t very friendly or sympathetic to MAPSS students. Is this true?
Not really. There are professors who are not very helpful, but that’s not because of prejudice towards MAPSS, that’s just general laziness. You will come across professors who are not helpful, who wont respond to emails, who will stand you up at their office hours etc, but that’s not a uniquely MAPSS student experience. Many professors are just not very good professors. This is a Tier 1 Research University, and just because you’re a good researcher doesn’t mean you’re a helpful, responsive and available professor. That being said, I find that professors are very help towards MAPSS students. MAPSS students have been around for a long time, and almost all professors know that MAPSS students have limited time to get their stuff done. I can’t think of one instance where I got discriminatory treatment from a professor because I was a MAPSS student.
Question 5: Is the degree as respected as UC makes it seem?
That’s hard for me to say. I know that many MAPSS students come out and get great jobs, and get into stellar PhD programs. I haven’t started applying to jobs/PhD programs yet, so I can’t directly attest to the professional perception of the degree. Don’t be mistaken, it’s a “Social Science” research degree, so you’re (probably) not going to be getting a bank job with this degree. But if you’re applying to research jobs and jobs where academic degrees are valued, I have no reason to believe this degree isn’t highly regarded. The University of Chicago is also one of the highest ranked schools in the world, so just the name will certainly go a long way. And besides how people percieve the degree, I would never describe the education I’m getting as second rate.
I’m happy to continue answering questions people have about MAPSS. I know that many prospective MAPSS students may be reading this, and I encourage you to ask away 🙂