MAPSS Campus Day 2012

So the MAPSS Campus Day for prospective/accepted MAPSS students is next week. For anyone who may be attending, you may or may not be aware that current students (like myself) can take you out to dinner while you’re here, and the department will pay for it (up to a certain point, of course). I’ve had many people contact me with questions about the MAPSS program, and especially the psychology aspect of it. If anyone is planning on attending, I will be there greeting prospective students. If you would like to ask me any further questions, or go out to dinner to talk about what the MAPSS program is like for psych students (or for anyone), I’d be happy to, just email me:

Hope to see you there!


My MAPSS Experience (Continued)

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 🙂

My MAPSS Experience (So Far)

So I’ve noticed that many of the people visiting my blog are searching “uchicago mapss” into google, or something similar. This makes sense since the MAPSS program is in the midst of sending out acceptance letters for the 2012-2013 academic year. I remember when I was admitted that it was hard to find useful information online from former/current MAPSS students about their experience in the program. Since I’m in the middle of some serious work on my thesis (and it’s 1:30am), my summary of my MAPSS experience will be short (although in the future I’m sure I will be giving a much more thorough review of my experience). If my comments don’t address a particular question or concern you have about the MAPSS program, please don’t hesitate to email me with any questions you have (

Anyway, I can genuinely say that my experience in MAPSS has been positive. By far my favorite thing about MAPSS is the fact that it is not a weed-out program. Many masters programs are simply ways for the PhD programs to select their favorite grads, and so everyone in the program is constantly trying to one-up each other in a bid to be the most appealing to the PhD acceptance committee at that University. MAPSS is completely opposed to that type of program. In MAPSS, the program’s staff is dedicated to helping you achieve whatever goals you set for yourself! The MAPSS program is a completely separate department, with its own support staff and several faculty. If you want to move on and apply for your PhD, they can provide some exceptional advice as to how to go about that process. However, if your goal is to graduate and find a job in the private sector or government, and you have no ambitions of continuing in academia, they are just as helpful! They have one full-time staff member who’s whole job is career counseling for the MAPSS students (and he’s very helpful).

In the program you will take 9 classes, and you will have free reign to choose 8 of them from practically any course taught in the graduate school. The classes at UChicago are phenomenal, and are very intense. Speaking of intense… you will have to write a masters thesis in order to graduate. And yes, of course it’s a huge stress. But I can tell you that I’m enjoying writing mine. You can write your thesis on basically anything you want, as long as you can find a faculty member who will advise you.

I certainly don’t regret my decision to come to MAPSS. Yes it’s pretty expensive, but the degree is worth it. It’s a perfect stepping stone into a PhD program if you can succeed in MAPSS, and regardless of where you are or what jobs you are looking at, having the University of Chicago on your resume is a big boon. Yea there are some things that are certainly annoying about the school, but those are more about UChicago in general, not something specific to MAPSS. But those little annoyances by no means outweigh the great education I’m getting and the great time I’m having.

I know this is a really, really short blurb about my overall experience, so please feel free to email me with questions 🙂

So How’s My Life at The University of Chicago So Far?

Pretty Good!

…I probably should be more specific! UChicago is great, and I’m having a good time here. Yes it’s very busy, and yes it’s stressful, but I’m enjoying it! I’ll just give a general update on what I’m up to:

My Classes: My classes are going great! UChicago’s quarter system means my classes are only 10 week long, instead of 15 weeks under a semester system, so they’re very fast and very intense. I’m taking a Statistics of Research course, an Interview Methods course, and a course titled Language, Culture, and Thought. Stats is great! I haven’t taken a math course since Intro to Stats my freshman year of undergrad, but this Stats course is excellent. The teacher is a great lecturer and very enthusiastic. My Language, Culture, and Thought class is also superb. While I have no background in linguistics, I do know my psychology (“thought”), and last quarter I did a good amount of work in anthropology (“culture”). The professor is absolutely brilliant, and his lectures are engaging and informative. While I’ll probably never study linguistics seriously, either from a psych or anthro perspective, the insight I’ve gained from this class will be very helpful throughout all of my studies. My third class is Interview Methods. The professor is also great, and I took a class with him last quarter so I’ve gotten to know him well. He’s made me much more enthusiatic about qualitative methods, and I’m very excited about performing interviews. I’ve always wanted to sell myself as a mixed-methods researcher, and this class is solidifying that goal. This class will also be producing the main body of my thesis….and speaking of my Masters Thesis….

My Thesis: My thesis topic has gone all over the place! Originally when I came to UChicago, I wanted to study political psychology. However, when I found out that the main political psychologist here was on leave all year I wavered in my commitment to political psychology. Then once I took seriously the possibility that I may leave MAPSS and not pursue a PhD, I wanted to make sure that the skill set I gained at UChicago would be useful outside of academia. So on that possibility I shifted focus from political psychology to education research. During my studies in education in the first quarter, the most interesting topic for me was gender differences, and how those are reproduced in the classroom.  I ended up writing most of my first quarter papers on gender and education. This led me to start planning a thesis that was centered around this topic. I knew that there would be no way for me to study children in the time I had, so I decided to study teachers. I had already decided that my Interview Methods class was going to produce the main part of my thesis, so I thought I would interview teachers to study how their attitudes regarding gender affected how they taught children. However, I quickly realized that this would be a difficult topic to study. A) Getting a hold a teachers was not going to be easy, and convincing them to be interviewed would be even harder. Teachers often feel like they’re being accused of something when being asked about their attitudes regarding gender, and getting good data from these interviews would be tough; B) I work in a psych lab that studies teachers, and after investigating, there was no way I could attach my thesis work to the projects already being run in the lab; C) There was absolutely not way I would be able to get into a classroom and actually observe teachers teaching in the amount of time I had; D) There has already been a plethora of research performed on teachers and gender affects in the classroom, and I would have a hard time saying something novel. With all these factors considered, I decided early in my Interview Methods course that I needed to change topics, and fast! So I asked myself, where can I still study this relationship between gender attitudes and interactions with children while being able to say something novel and interesting? It didn’t take me long to think of something: Gay/Lesbian parents! This is an area that still has a lot of research that needs to be performed, and it would be much easier to find and talk to these parents then it would be to talk to teachers.

So over the last few weeks I’ve refined my thesis topic around this new area of research, and my research question for my thesis is as follows: How is the meaning of gender among same-sex couples reflected in their experience of raising children? My method for this research is that of the qualitative, in-depth interview. Looking back I’m amazed that this ended up being my topic. My background is in experimental psychology and political science. So this is not only a unfamiliar method, it’s also a unfamiliar topic! To add on to that, there’s pretty much nobody at UChicago that studies gender issues and the LGBTQ community, so I’m also having a hell of a time finding an advisor. But all that aside, I’m very enthusiastic about this thesis. Mainly this will be my way of proving to PhD acceptance committees that I can do qualitative methods on top of the quantitative methods I already know (and am utilizing in my psych lab). Whether I want to study gender for my PhD is still a question I’m considering. I’m sure I’ll be writing more about my thesis as I get closer to completing it.

Lab Work: So I’m working in Sian Beilock’s Human Performance Lab at UChicago. It’s a cognitive psych lab, and right now the project I’m working on is a huge study of math anxiety among teachers and 1st-2nd grade students. It’s funded by a large federal grant, and the eventual goal is to figure out ways in which we can lower teachers/students math anxiety, thereby allowing them to perform better in math and math related activities. I’ve been doing a whole lot of data collection, including testing kids and teachers, and data entry. I absolutely love working in the lab! The people who work in it are great, I’m getting a lot of good research experience, and I enjoy contributing to the lab’s mission! It also allows me to continue working on my quantitative, experimental psychologists skills while I polish my anthropology boots for my thesis. I am hoping that I can continue working with the lab over the summer, and if I stay in Chicago for the following year while I apply to PhD programs, perhaps I will be lucky enough to work there all next year?

International House: So I live at the International House at the University of Chicago. Let it be said that I plan on writing a “full review” of my experience at the International House soon, that way any prospective students who stumble upon my blog can get my full opinion of the International House. So to keep it simple for the moment, living in the International House has been fun. The social environment is what really makes it worth it. Especially what makes it great for me is that there are several other MAPSS students who live here as well, so we often get together and study. While there are certainly draw backs to living at the I-House, of which I will discuss in a future review, overall it’s suiting me well enough.

Game: Unlike the majority of students who spend their saturday nights either A) getting drunk, or B) writing papers, I spend my saturday nights playing table-top RPGs with some friends. Yes it is super nerdy to spend every saturday night of graduate school playing what is essentially Dungeons & Dragons (I’m actually playing GURPS, for those who know what that is), but I find that this is a much better, and healthier, way to relax and be social then partying. I love my game! I have four dedicated players, and every saturday night we get together, order food, drink some beers and play some GURPS. The setting we are playing in is a unique setting I’ve created, which allows me a lot of creative freedom. I’m preparing a players’ handbook for my game, and as of now it’s over 20 pages, single space, and no where near completion! RPGs are going to be my life-long hobby, and I hope to carry this setting on with me no matter where I go and who I’m playing with. My game, and Game Mastering advice, is certainly something I will be writing about in the near future.

So overall I’m having a great time in Chicago! I’ll be writing more about it in the near future. Also, I can see that much of the traffic I get on this blog is for my music posts, so I’ll be sure to write some more on that topic!

My First 48 Hours in Chicago

As you may or may not know, I will be attending the University of Chicago this Fall for their Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences (MAPSS). While classes at UChicago do not begin until mid-September, I felt that it would be a good idea to head out there early to get to know the city. I flew into Chicago the evening of August 2nd, and I moved into the International House at the University of Chicago, where I will be living for the duration of my one-year program.

I had the fortune (and misfortune) of arriving at the end of a heat wave. So while August 3rd was a “cool” 88 degrees, the 2nd had a heat index of 107 when I arrive. This made a Mainer like myself, accustomed to summers in the mid-70s, very uncomfortable. However, I feel like arriving in such extreme heat made the next day (in the high 80s), and today (in the low 80s) feel much more comfortable, where as they may not have been if I hadn’t experienced the heat. So while I would still call Chicago “hot,” I feel like my trial by fire (pun intended) has habituated me to the higher temperatures.

The International House was a good choice in terms of a place to live. It’s cheap, safe, and exposes me to many new and interesting people and cultures. The I-House is designed to be half American/half international students. Unfortunately for me (and I was aware of this before I moved), because I arrived in August, there are not many people in the I-House. Once classes start in September, the I-House will be bustling, but now it’s pretty quiet. Also, most of the people staying here right now are international students who are part of an “english-first” program that sends large groups of student around the country (or just the area, I’m not really sure). What I am sure of however is that they’ve all know each other for a few months, and they’re only here for a few weeks, both of which are factors working against my hope of getting to know people and making new friends. Nonetheless I have meet several very nice people, including some student attending UChicago next year, so I am not without human contact. Either way I was expecting this first month to be spend in relative solitude.

I spent most of yesterday exploring Hyde Park, the neighborhood that UChicago resides in. I found where all the markets are, along with many different stores. Most notable to me was a record store on 53rd Street, Hyde Park Records, that seems to stock only band that I like. About half of the store is vinyls, and their CD collection is mostly indie and underground music, much of it from Chicago bands. The store owner, Jay, and I quickly found that we have a similar taste in music, and I think I will be frequenting Hyde Park Records more often. In my travels I also had to purchase all the supplies I needed. Not only did I spend $140 on food, I also needed to buy several supplies. So overall it was an expensive day, and I probably walk a total of 30 blocks, but it was a very productive day.

Overall Chicago, and the UChicago campus, are awesome. My neighborhood is generally safe, there are plenty of resources in the community, public transportation is excellent, and there are many community events to attend. For example, last night I attended a free salsa dancing class! Over the next few days/weeks, I still need to finish some paperwork to gets my loans finalized, and I want to explore more. I want to go check out Lake Michigan, and I want to go uptown to find some of the hobby stores.

Overall I’ve had a great time so far, and over the next month I’ll have a lot of free time, so you’ll probably hear more from me soon 🙂

PS: If you feel so inclined, I always love receiving mail. Below is my address, feel free to mail me postcards, money, food, lottery tickets, cigarettes, blowup dolls, pipe bombs etc….

Jeff Lees
International House at UChicago
1414 East 59th St. #750
Chicago, IL 60637-2916