How to Get a Doctorate in History

A doctorate is the highest degree one can attain in the study of history, and is the prerequisite for teaching and doing research at the university level. Often earned in 5 to 8 years and requiring the completion of a book-length dissertation, a PhD in history is not easy to finish. As is the case with other humanities professions, the job market for doctors of history is not good: after years of dedicated study, many graduates find it hard to secure a tenure-track position. Before embarking on a PhD in history, make sure that you have the time, passion, and skills needed to see it through.

Steps

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    Study history at the undergraduate level.
    • Because of its particular research methods and the broad background needed, the study of history must begin in college. It is very difficult to get into doctoral programs without having been a history major.
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    Conduct independent undergraduate research.
    • Doctoral programs require previous research experience. Contact your undergraduate history department to learn about independent research opportunities, which may include independent study for credit or work with a professor on a larger project.
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    Develop an area of interest.
    • The study of history is divided into many subfields, which may be geographical (American, Near Eastern, Indian), chronological (early twentieth-century, Renaissance, ancient), or topical (military, cultural, gender). Take several courses and conduct research in a specific area.
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    Consult undergraduate faculty about appropriate doctoral programs.
    • The best graduate history department for you cannot be determined by rankings or admissions numbers. The most important criteria are relevant faculty and research resources, as determined by your area of interest and skill level.
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    Contact faculty at doctoral programs.
    • At least a few months before submitting your application, you should email or phone professors at several graduate history departments and discuss your interests with them. This will help you to gauge whether you would fit into the department.
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    Speak with graduate students at several doctoral programs.
    • Current students provide valuable insights that professors can't or won't provide, such as information about average time to complete the PhD in history, real costs, faculty-student relationships, and standard of living.
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    Apply to 5 to 7 doctoral programs.
    • In your applications, emphasize your academic preparation, especially your area of interest and your independent research. You will also need to include letters of recommendation from undergraduate professors.
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    Choose the best doctoral program based on faculty and cost.
    • Ideally, your graduate studies will be fully funded, including a living stipend. However, you may have to balance financial considerations against which program will give you the best preparation for the job market. Again, faculty and current students are the best guide.
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    Focus on coursework in your first 2 to 3 years.
    • In preparation for your dissertation research, gain a deeper knowledge of your area of interest.
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    Choose a thesis adviser by the end of your second year.
    • In addition to being an invaluable research resource, your advisor will also be key in helping you secure employment after graduation. A good personal relationship is essential. Again, consult fellow students for advice on specific faculty.
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    Conduct dissertation research.
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    Write a book-length dissertation.
    • The dissertation is the centerpiece of a PhD in history. It will determine your future job prospects and will establish you as an expert in a certain field.
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    Graduate with a PhD.

Tips

  • The American Historical Association provides a list of all doctoral programs in history. Keep in mind that your undergraduate faculty can give you the best guidance about which program is right for you.

Article Info

Categories: College and University Study Techniques | History