Sunday, November 25, 2007

England, Part II

Back to England...

In my last post on this, I mentioned being accepted into UCL's MSc program in Cognitive and Decision Science. Perhaps I should back up a bit to explain how I even came to think of applying there.

Last spring, I applied for graduate study in the philosophy department at the University of Victoria, which is only about three hundred yards from my house. This was my thinking in doing so:

I have a BA in political science, specialization in political philosophy;

I want to study the mind/brain;

Studying the mind/brain is the province of psychology/cognitive (neuro)science;

There's no way I will be accepted directly into a psych or cog-sci graduate program with an undergraduate degree in political science;

But my political philosophy background would conceivably allow me to get into a philosophy MA program, where I could specialize in philosophy of mind;

And with an MA in philosophy of mind, I could conceivably get accepted into an MSc/PhD program in cognitive science;

Therefore, I get an MA in philosophy, specializing in philosophy of mind, at the University of Victoria, and then I apply to a cognitive science PhD program somewhere else: UC San Diego, Indiana, Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth, Rochester, or some university of lower status...who knows?

This seemed like a straightforward enough plan; after all, three years ago I applied for graduate study in philosophy at UVic and they accepted me at that time, so I didn't anticipate a problem now (I ended up not going then because it seemed like my music career was going to pick up again and I wanted to take advantage of those opportunities while I can).

So -

I emailed the (new) philosophy faculty graduate director and asked him if I could start in the fall. After speaking with the previous graduate director (who I had corresponded with three years earlier), he said that would be fine and asked me to send in my formal application, including a writing sample. In a follow-up email, I mentioned my BA in political science; imagine my surprise, after his initial informal acceptance and the fact that I was accepted formally three years ago, when the professor emailed me back and said he had not realized my BA was in poli-sci, and that this would pose a problem for my application. Hm.

Well, this surprised me a bit, but I felt my application was quite strong in other ways, and that ultimately, it would be clear we were a natural fit, and that I'd get in. My undergrad transcript showed A's in all of my political science/political philosophy classes, I am pretty sure that the recommendation letters from my political philosophy professors were quite glowing, my statement of purpose letter listed the many political philosophers whose works I had studied (Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, Nietzche, Machiavelli, etc.), and I explained in detail the philosophy of mind issues I was now interested in exploring, with specific references to various proposals (Fodor's, Dennett's, Nagel's, Chalmers's, etc.). In addition, my writing sample, from what I could judge, was pretty good. Certainly it was the best I could do - it discussed a contradiction in Hume's thought which had caused much philosophical mischief over the past 250 years. (The first half of that contradiction was Hume's suggestion, via his much-vaunted "problem of induction", that science ultimately could not be defended as rational. To make a long story short, I went on to show how this argument of Hume's had spawned philosophical monsters like the accounts of science given by Kuhn and Popper, and had even come to serve as an easy starting point for the legitimation of political ideology, magic, etc.). Anyway, I thought my paper was pretty good. So, I sent my whole application package in and waited to hear back.

And...the new graduate director declined my application. He cited the fact I'd only ever had one undergrad class taught by a member of the philosophy department (my political philosophy classes were taught through the political science department). I was curious to know what he'd thought about my writing sample. He said only that it "showed some potential". (After all that thinkin' and readin'..."some potential", I confess, was quite deflating). I got my paper out and read it, and re-read it (like some mourning mommy ape retrieving her dead baby after it's fallen off a cliff, holding and petting it - "oo - OO - OOO? - OOOO! - - -ooooooooooooooooooooooooo"), looking for what might make it average (and making sad ape noises :P)...but I confess, no matter how many times I read over it, it just seemed pretty damn good to me. Indeed, I had a hard time imagining sometimes that typical applicants to graduate study at UVic were turning in better stuff. And sometimes, I almost wondered if he'd even actually read it.

The director did inform me that they would permit me to study the following year (while paying full tuition, mind you, whereas other graduate students get departmental stipends) providing I took eight undergraduate classes in philosophy - which he had selected - and got A- or higher in all of them. I had a look over the classes; I was disappointed that none of them had anything to do with what I was most eager to study. And when I went to register, most of them were totally full and had waiting lists (though later I heard they would wedge me in). But overall - I'm not really sure how to describe it - there was something about the whole thing that seemed sort of deflating or off-putting.

This all happened in late July; and wouldn't you know, that it was only a week or two later that I left for England to meet up with my dad and my two oldest sons, where I'd spend a few days in London, after which we would all fly over to Hamburg to begin a romp through the heart of Deutschland, accompanied by a film crew, director, and translator, on a quest to find our lost ancestors (the televion show made from this trip will air shortly. I'll include details in my next post. And, oh yes, I guess I should say something about the trip, too!).

Next time,



pyscho girl said...

Thanks for sharing! I thinkyou should try to find and post your essay and let us all brag about it and tell you how wonderful it is.

on the bright side for me i won't be upset now if i'm not accepted at UTDallas after my briiliant essay. I included ifo about the jarvic heart guy and how all medical advances have a catlyst in misfortune. So, do I, that is one on my stonger premises. Though I did poorly when I tried to use John Locke to prove it is reasonable to believe in God, I find it is often better to iply than to show, it relies on the intelligence of the reader.

Anonymous said...

get a spell checker!

psycho girl said...

Thanks for sharing! I think you should try to find and post your essay and let us all brag about it and tell you how wonderful it is.

On the bright side for me I won't be upset now if i'm not accepted at UTDallas after my briiliant essay. I included info about the Jarvic Heart guy and how all medical advances have a catalyst in misfortune. So do I, that is one on my stonger premises.

Rascal Flatts time, excuse me... Blueberry poptarts are great! So is Neuroscience and the unlocking of the hypothalmus mysteries!or te role of most cranial nerves like the Olfactory. Antioxidants rule! forget phermones...

Alexander said...

You know, I still owe an Existentialist essay on your Action Man stories.

Does that mean that we're going to have to call you Dr. Bachman now?

Tal said...


Which words do you think were misspelled?


Alexander said...

I think anonymous was talking about psycho girl's comment

Anonymous said...

Hey Tal-

Hope all is going well with you. I must admit that I wish you were still posting at Eric's site. Your posts and responses were always spot-on and thoroughly engrossing to me. I was enthralled with your knowledge and learned so much from you. With the presidential election in the US coming up we keep getting people looking for information on a certain candidate who I pray (oops! lol) doesn't become president. Your knowledge and insight would be so helpful right now. I hope you come back soon or at least post periodically.

I look forward to reading your posts here as well. My best to you and your family.

Tal said...

Hi Anonymous

If by Eric's site you mean "Recovery from Mormonism", I appreciate your kind words, but I just don't really have the stomach for talking about Mormonism all that much anymore. I'm sure I'll post a few things on here about it, but it doesn't really come up anymore. Still, I probably would hang around the RFM board still if the administrators ditched a few of their strange policies and implemented standard HTML features like bold and italics. But as it is, it is quite frustrating. I think the terrible mental anguish which followed figuring out that everything I'd based my life on was a fraud triggered a kind of temporary hypergraphia, and I'm grateful that I could post on RFM during that time. But barring some bulletin board updating to post-1993 features, I'm not really feeling any pull...