In Episode 61 of the CSUSB Advising Podcast, Matt Markin chats with Dr. Jeremy Murray about the M.A. in History! What is the admissions process? What could make this degree a good fit for you? Find out in this episode!
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Welcome to another episode of the CSUSB advising podcast. My name is Matt Markin, an academic advisor here at Cal State San Bernardino. And on today's episode, we're learning all about the Master of Arts in History. And we welcome today's guest, Dr. Jeremy Murray. Dr. Murray. Welcome.
Thank you, Matt. It's a delight to be here.
And before we jump into our questions regarding the MA in history, let's learn a little bit about you. Can you talk about yourself and your background and higher ed?
Yeah, I'm from, from New York, from upstate New York. And I went to SUNY Albany as an undergrad, State University of New York at Albany. And I think that that school did well to prepare me for Cal State and its mission. The state schools in New York are similar in a lot of ways to what we have here in California now. I was not a history major. I was an East Asian Studies major as an undergrad. But history quickly became my favorite there, I spent a year in China as a junior, and that directed me toward Chinese history. And I had really wonderful advisors there, Jim Harget, and then to Columbia for my MA. And again, I had great, great faculty there, Eugenia Lien, Madeline Zellen. And then came out here to Southern California to UCSD, UC San Diego for my PhD in history. And again, had really wonderful mentors and advisors, Joseph, and Paul. And that I think, that having those really wonderful teachers, wonderful advisors, and instructors really made me want to do what they did. And that that got me got me doing this, watching them doing their their writing and their scholarship, but also, they were all really remarkably committed to their students enriching the lives and broadening the horizons of their students. And so that that really wanted me that led me to want to want to be want to do what they did.
And so at Cal State San Bernardino, we have the MA in history, how would you describe that to students?
The MA is a two year program. It's a very rigorous course of study, it's going to deepen the student's understanding of how history has been done in the past, and how historians are doing it today, as a scholarly practice, I think that's an important distinction. In their first year, students are going to join, join the conversation, join the discourse of how history is done, at the highest levels of historical scholarship. And then they're going to move on in their second year to do their own work their own. And that could be a thesis could be a project, it could be a portfolio, most students opt for the thesis option, which is a kind of traditional option. And in any one of these three, the thesis, the project or the portfolio, they're going to produce original works of historical scholarship. And they're ultimately going to publish their work on scholar works, many of them are going to publish their work and venues like the student journal as well.
And so before we talk about, let's say, the admission process with it, maybe kind of going off of what you were just discussing right now, you know, we have the MA in history, there's the BA in history, you know, you're talking about the thesis portfolio, can you talk more about like, other things students might be learning in their classes and maybe tie that into if a student might be like, well, what's the difference between the BA and the MA?
Oh, yeah. Well, I think in terms of the difference between undergrad and graduate level courses, is the most obvious thing is that they're their depth of understanding of the content, what's actually going on. And, and just mastery of content that they might one day have to teach, but they're also going to enrich, deepen their understanding of, of how we know what we know, in history. So the study of history and sort of make an object of the study of history. Sometimes we call that epistemology or systems of knowledge. But not to get too too far into the weeds on this, this is the this is crucial for historians to to understand how we know what we know, this is this is a very deep level of critical thinking. It's a crucial skill for for anyone to learn if they're getting ready to join a sort of top level scholarly conversation or discourse. They're critically examining sources. They're looking at trends in the writing of history. How, how the time in which a work of history is produced, can inform that work of history as much as the time that it's about and that goes for us today as well. And this is I think, in my view, this is why I really liked the program this this is very exciting. We understand the cultural landscapes, the political social landscapes that we inhabit today. And that we sometimes take for granted. And in this way, it becomes easier for us to discern historians intent, but really any author's intent when we learn to read a source in that way. And that can include, you know, a Superbowl commercial, or a series work of scholarship and really anything in between, we get a sense of how to how to read that source and how to understand that source and put it into context in a really, really rich way. Understanding the long history and a culture that gets that work in front of us, undergrads start to do this. But at the graduate level, these skills are strengthened and enriched. And, and deepened in a in a in a much greater way. So that they're prepared maybe to teach it, or to deploy that that kind of methodology in their own scholarship, or both.
And let's say a student is interested in applying for the MA in history, a lot of times we get questions in terms of like, do I need to have a certain bachelor's degree? Do I have to take certain classes before apply? And do I need letters recommendation? What's the admissions process like?
Yeah, this is it's, it's laid out nicely on the on the website and the main, the main requirements are going to be getting transcripts. And I believe that can be unofficial transcripts, letters of recommendation. And when I say on official transcripts, that that is your your college University's undergraduate transcript, but it doesn't necessarily need to be sealed in its transmission, you can scan them yourself, I believe, is what unofficial means. And they're going to be three letters of recommendation. Two should come from former faculty, one can come from a non academic source, they're going to need a writing sample that can be on on any any field of history. Or a related topic, I'll talk about that in just a second and a personal statement. And the due date, I believe, is going to be February 1 in the coming year. It's always early in spring, so that we have time to not only accept and notify students, but that so that they have time to apply for Office of Graduate Studies, OGS scholarships that are often due in March. So if they get their applications in, if they get their acceptance letters in time, they have time also to apply for those scholarships. So that's why we moved our date earlier. And the personal statement that students write should should give a sense of what subfields of history they're interested in, what are they most interested in, in doing, maybe even what faculty members they're most interested in working with. And hopefully, that would follow on a conversation with a faculty member, where they reach out in advance and say, I'm interested in coming into the MA program, planning to advise a plan to ask you to be my advisor, etc. And then they can put that into their personal statement, I spoke with Professor so and so about possibly working, you know, working with them, the more detail that goes into a personal statement, specifically about your scholarship, we want to learn about you. But we also want to learn about what kind of scholarship you're interested in. And if you can do that, then that that's going to go a long way to showing us whether you're a good fit for the department and the MA program, particularly and that that's a key word, I think, for graduate school applications, that may be a little different from undergrad applications. And that is are you a good fit for this this program, because we've had really wonderful students who were not a fit, they were not a good fit, because they wanted to study a subject that we just didn't cover in our department. Our faculty didn't cover and so that was that that can happen. And I think that's important that students do a little bit of preliminary research or lot on the departments that they're interested in applying to. So that in the personal statement, they can be as clear as possible. About a related field study I said, there, we have had several students who come in as, for example, anthropology, or political science or sociology or literature, undergrads, you don't have to have been a history undergrad. Again, I wasn't. I was an East Asian Studies major. So you need to demonstrate some kind of ability in history or related field. And the 3.0 is going to be the GPA minimum. And obviously, you know, hitting your marks and all those other application materials is going to be important.
Yeah, you were mentioning the letters of recommendation and preferably, I think you said to from faculty. So one of the, you know, a lot we talk with our students, especially if they are interested in going on after their undergrad, let's say for a master's program. And you know, we say, get to know your faculty. And I know for some students, that can be a scary thing and nerve racking. And any advice you have for students of how to connect better with faculty, especially if they might be wanting to ask that faculty member for possible letter of recommendation?
Yeah, and this is something I remember being struck by, at, this is a big similarity between SUNY Albany and Cal State San Bernardino where you have a lot of first generation college attendees and college graduates. And that is that sort of intimidation factor. And it's unfortunate and, and I hope, I hope more and more students will get more and more comfortable with showing up at their faculties office hours, and that's, that's a big, that's a big thing. In in any any faculties office hours, that's what we're there for the kind of students who are interested in, in going deeper on a subject and maybe studying it beyond the grad the undergraduate level, and taking it to, you know, take taking it up to to graduate studies, maybe asking for, for letters of recommendation down the road. And that kind of thing is, is important, that kind of connection, so that the the faculty knows the students, well, the students know the faculty. And when it comes time for writing those letters, it's a, it's it's an obvious yes. You know, we know the student, they've gone above and beyond in their work in the classroom, but they've also talked to us about their interest beyond the classroom. And that makes it really easy for us to say, Yeah, of course, and we can do it quickly. Another thing about, so you get to know your faculty, you, you go to their office hours, you talk with them in those, those formats. But then you also when it does come time to ask for the letter of recommendation, this is important, make sure of course, you give some some people say three weeks, I think two weeks is plenty of time for the for the letter. And if you in your initial request for the letter, or after the faculty has agreed to write the letter, you can then provide some more information, for example, you will receive an automated link and it's due by this date. This is the format that it needs to be in. And these are the subjects that you need to talk about. Or if if you don't mind, can you emphasize these these subjects, etc. So that's, that's, I think, an important thing that's going to help facilitate the process making it making it easy as as possible. Yeah, so So that's, that's really important. Getting into the office hours. Getting to know your faculty and getting your faculty to know you, I think is important there as well.
And of course, you know, we realized as we get the career question, so maybe what some of your graduates within the MA in history, can you share what they've gone on to do utilizing the master's degree?
Yeah, this is, this is great. I mean, we hear a lot about STEM and, and I think that's great, obviously, and crucial. But but history and humanities and social sciences are also very much in demand for for a lot of lot of different jobs. And as students quickly learned so much of what they they learned vocationally professionally often happens, right, you know, right after they graduate, and they or during their undergrad in, in sort of pair of professional settings, like internships and that kind of thing. So I think in terms of our MA program, we've had students go on to do a number of things, they bring their extremely strong verbal and written communication skills to a number of different different different occupations. And also, you know, extremely good leadership roles and sort of responsible citizen, kind of awareness. I think that it's really important. A lot of our MA students, a fair number of our MA students are interested in teaching at the community college level, or returning to teach History and Social Sciences at the seven to 12 grade level. And doing so because they have the MA with at a higher pay rate. So that's that's appealing as well. We've had some students who are already teaching at the seven to 12 grade level and come in for our MA program. One thing our MA program offers is many of our classes could be scheduled for people who are working nine to five or you know, eight to three or something like that. and they can come in and work those, they can work their, their, their regular teaching job or another job during the day. And they can come into our not all of our seminars or evening seminars, but our core seminars are so, so working teachers where people are interested in teaching at the community college or seven to 12 level both, we also have students who are eager to go on to the PhD level PhD programs, and then teach at a four year institution post secondary. And we've had, I think, four or five students who've gone on to do that already. And that's a large proportion, we only have an average of about 10 per cohort. And they've gone on to PhD programs around the around the country, a few here close to home at UCR, one off the coast of UC Santa Barbara, one in Mississippi. And so that's, that's another another thing that the MA can be a launchpad for in you can get a sense of whether history study at the graduate level is right for you. And if it is, and if you really hit the ground running and you love it, then you know, in your, the beginning of your second year, you can be applying to PhD programs as well. And as with our undergrads, and I think Professor Jones spoke with you about this, there's also a very strong interest in public and oral history and museum work and sort of vocational aspect of history that way. And that's a large part thanks to our really remarkable faculty that can cover those very specific skills to to prepare people for museum work, prepare people for work in state and national parks and historic sites, as interpreters and in other capacities, so those those kinds of things are really great. Our MA program, like our BA program can can prepare students for that, at a at a more advanced level, they can also choose to go into law school, where their their communication skills written and research skills are going to be served them very well. Also, working as editors in the publishing industry, there are lots of other kinds of kinds of jobs that you can you can enter because your, your your leadership, your organizational, your communication skills, are all very, very strong based on your work as a history major,
And let's say a student's interested in, in possibly applying for the MA in history, maybe they're on the on the fence of applying, if they're deciding between a couple degree programs, or whether they want to go on to do a master's degree. Any advice for that student with helping them decide whether to go ahead and apply for the MA in history or, or not?
Yeah, I think that that question of fit, that we were talking about before is really important. At the graduate level, it's in at the undergrad level, there's this sense of, you know, I want to go to the best school possible, or I want to go to the most affordable school possible, or, you know, I want to go to the school with a great you know, division one basketball team or you know, whatever it is, at the graduate level, what's very, very important is that the program is a good fit for you. And in history, what that means is that the time, or the the era, or the region that you're most interested in studying is covered either directly or maybe indirectly by faculty that are that are in our current tenure track where tenured faculty, so assistant associate or full professor, somebody their covers, might not, they might not cover exactly what you're interested in. But if you have any question about that, of course, as we said, you can reach out to them, you can ask them, you can say, hey, you know, is this is this something that, that I could write a thesis on with your guidance. And they'll be very, very frank about that, it may be something really exciting, like, for me, I do modern China, but I'm very excited about doing pre modern China, and we're very excited about doing China 2000 years ago, I also can do modern Japan or modern Korea advising a student on on a subject like that. And that might not be immediately apparent from my faculty profile. So if a student were potentially interested in that, I hope that they would reach out and in the same way, you know, we have people who cover who cover Europe or Latin America or or Africa in different regions, and in different times, and a student would want to reach out to that faculty member if their interest is in there is in their their sort of wheelhouse. So I think another thing and we mentioned before, and I just want to emphasize again, because it's so important is to go to the office hours a faculty that you might be interested in working with and talk to them. You And that goes for undergrad programs goes for grad programs close for maybe an advanced class that you're not sure you want to take. So all those, all those sorts of things are really important. And if you're on the fence, if you're thinking, you know, maybe this is for me, maybe this isn't for me, that's the, that's the key thing that's going to help. And we faculty are really excited about that kind of advising, you know, whether it's whether it's pitching our own department, or being really honest about about the fact that, that this, this is not necessarily a fit. And for students who are also on the fence in terms of a topic and they're not sure. Also be aware that that talking to a faculty member who studies a related topic, may get you excited about another subfield or another era. And you can study that directly or in a comparative way, which I also think is exciting. And I have a student now, studying the Gilded era of us is the Gilded Age of US history in the 1990s and early 2000s in China. So that's, that's an exciting thing to do as well. So however, that however, that works, again, the sort of bottom line is, make sure you're getting to faculty office hours talking to faculty members, and finding out whether it's a, whether it's a good fit for you or not.
That's definitely great advice. Do you think there's any misconceptions that students might have, let's say about the MA in history, or just even history in general?
I think about history in general, and I used to teach World History, I like to get back to teaching and I love doing the sort of song and dance for for, for history and getting students excited about history. One of the most important things I say, there is that doing good history at the, at the undergrad, or the graduate level, is not about loving history, and like loving every era, and every region of history. That sounds that sounds exhausting. To just love all I love all history. I like you know, sort of being a history buff and saying, Okay, I know a couple of cool little little things about everything. And that's fun. That's a sort of, you know, a parlor trick where you can sort of, you can know, some some neat trivia, and help your friends on on pub night, you know, pub trivia night. But history is, history isn't isn't just you know, we have these these great resources that we can quickly look up facts, you know, in the same way, that that being a sort of human calculator is not what math is about, right? Historians don't need to be encyclopedias, they don't need to need to memorize this, it's okay to be more or less interested and expert in different regions and different periods. And actually, that's necessary, you know, that's the only way you're going to really go in depth on any of these, these, these periods or these, these regions. It's good to have that broad understanding that broad awareness. It's good to know how different eras fit together, how different sort of macro regions connect to each other. But you are going to bring your priorities and your preferences to this. Now, of course, the flip side of that, of that is that you have to identify what those are, what are the regions that really get you excited, what are the areas, maybe the individuals, maybe the modes, maybe the themes, maybe the sort of broader topics that gets you most interested. And that can be in a comparative sense, but but that's going to win live in our classrooms, if you are able to bring that kind of energy, that kind of that kind of discipline, you're ready to go in depth on a subject. And so if you can do that, then then that's going to, that's going to bring a lot of excitement. So that's the first thing that history isn't just about loving all, all history. And the second thing, I think that that's a bit of a misconception about history, historical studies, scholarly study, is that history study, and I assume this is this is the same in many other disciplines. It can be a very social and a very collaborative experience. But that it can be a very social experience. There are obviously going to be stages of the research and the writing and the editing that are just you and your books, you and your your your computer, you and your notebooks. They're going to be some stages of the work that are like that, obviously. But I think what students maybe don't realize and maybe don't make the most of all the time, are that there are lots of opportunities to work with a very supportive cohort, very supportive crew. I learned this at UCSD when I was a PhD student there and working with other PhD students who really put each other through through their paces and really made sure that their work was was was honest and rigorous and really call each other out when we would, you know, make outrageous claims or, or, or just reproduce the work of another scholar or something like that, but in a way that was really collegial and was really, really also affectionate and productive and constructive. And I've also so I saw that as a graduate student, but I also saw it just in the last three years, especially with the last three cohorts of the of the MA students. And it's been really exciting to watch that collaborative effort. And sometimes they're sharing in their triumphs, some of them will get a publication or get a book review published or get a job at a museum or, or get into a PhD program, or they'll work together on a on a long form piece or review for the journal for history in the making. Student journal which welcomes MA student work by the way, and they'll also share in their their their sort of difficulties and the tribulations when they have to read a very, very difficult texts, and they'll all be sort of having a really hard time getting through it. And they'll say, Okay, let's you know, let's have a meeting and in in a COVID, that was an online Zoom meeting or WhatsApp text thread that they would set up or they would use Slack or something like that, just to just to sort of get their, you know, to vent a little bit about a really difficult post structuralist text that they had to read and was very, very difficult to understand. And so that that that support is something I think that students going into history or scholarship of any kind, maybe don't realize is going to, it's going to be there waiting for them if they look for it. And that is really exciting. I think in terms of the potential for the scholarship.
And I guess connected to the support, my last question is, you know, let's say a student is in the MA in history, so as a grad student, is there anything like your department would be able to offer for student?
Yeah, and I hope we can share the links to the, to the history in the making journal, there's a website through our department. And there's also the scholar works page where it gets published. So it gets published on our history department website. But then we also have a history, we also have a scholar works version of it. And I liked that, that latter one, because when students get their work published on scholar works, they, they can go on there and see the journal in PDF form, but divided by table of contents. So you can download a PDF of the article that that you've written, or that you've edited, or that you've co written, and you pull it down, and it has a covered cover sheet, just like an article would from JSTOR, Project news or something like that. So it looks very, very professional. And it's really neat to use as a, as a writing sample, if you want to go on to a PhD program, or for your portfolio, if you want to teach at any level or anything like that. So the history journalism is a really, really great opportunity for students to, to get their work out there. But then also to go through the editing and publishing process that is so enriching. And it's going to give them a lot of wareness of, of the field of history scholarship, but also editing and publishing in general. And it's going to make really great connections, the kinds of networks, kind of undergraduate networks that serve students so well, after graduation, in terms of awareness of job openings, and training and all that kind of stuff. There's also on that note, there's also the History Club, and phi alpha theta, and it's not a it's not a social Greek society, that's the history honor society. And it's linked to history clubs. And it's also linked to the to the journal actually the competition for the journal, which the students which are the student editors and authors regularly win was a national competition through the file for data honor society. So history in the making is, is sponsored by our local chapter, about Alpha Delta, new chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, that history Honor Society, so students can join that, currently that the advising role rotates, but currently here in 2023, Mark Robinson and Michael Karp are the advisors, which is nice. Professor Karp is out in Palm Desert. And Professor Robinson is here and on the in the San Bernardino campus. We do have several scholarships offered through through our department. And there are also some really great scholarship opportunities offered through the Office of Graduate Studies. And those can be those can be applied for by incoming students and in your first and second years. So a lot of a lot of support there. And then finally, our MA students also if they're interested in getting in the classroom in any any form they can get into the supplemental instruction program. That's a program that James Graham is has been leading on are on our campus for a number of years. And that's a really, really great, sort of a paraprofessional type of work that students can do. focusing not on the course content but on, on study habits on on editing and, and writing and that kind of thing. Sometimes it bleeds into course content a little bit. And then there's also isa work instructional student assistant work, it's it's sometimes involves grading and other clerical type of work as a kind of teaching assistant. So those those sort of things are very good for for the resume also very good for the experience of working with a with a faculty member seeing behind the behind the scenes a little bit, what goes into teaching an effective class and administering an effective class. So yeah, there are a lot of those, those kind of things. The last thing is not the last thing is probably a lot more. But the last thing I can think of right now is internships. We do very well placing students with internships. And a lot of them lead to really long careers with with various partner organizations, museums, and local state national government entities. We have a student who just headed out to the Fowler Museum at UCLA to take a permanent position there in their artifacts. So there's lots that are faculty do lots of outreach to neighboring institutions and to and to to scholarship and club and that kind of opportunities here on a campus again, sometimes students need to take the initiative to to find those to find those kinds of entities and those kind of organizations, but when they do, they'll find that very, very rewarding.
Well, I definitely appreciate your time being on for this podcast episode, a lot of useful information. We'll definitely include those links in our show notes as well, for listeners to check out the documentary. Thank you so much again for being part of this episode.
Thank you, Matt. It was really a pleasure.
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