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School of Oriental and African Studies

Information of interest to SOAS MA and PhD applicants

Just a heads-up on this, in case anyone's thinking of applying for a SOAS research degree. I want to share my personal experience. Perhaps it doesn't apply to all SOAS masters or research degrees - who knows. But I suspect it might.

Yesterday I 'attended' a SOAS webinar on how to apply to a SOAS PhD programme. I did this because I had applied for one unsuccessfully, about 5 years ago, and was interested in where I went wrong, and what I could do to make amends.

The long and short of it is, I did a masters at SOAS which I completed in 2012. I then applied for a PhD in a subject directly related to that masters programme, but this was rejected. What was, perhaps, interesting, is that no real reasons were given for the rejection. I asked for feedback and all I got (and this was back in 2013) was: "I can't remember your application, but whatever it was, it wasn't exceptional". That was all! I felt a bit annoyed about this, as it was a waste of a considerable effort in making out my application, in exchange for just this one sentence by way of explanation. I pushed and pressed for more feedback, but the department closed ranks and I got nowhere. It even got to the point of me complaining formally about the lack of feedback and dismissive responses I was getting. This was, of course, filed away in the waste paper basket. And remember, you can't simply try again and reuse your references for a subsequent PhD application at SOAS. You have to get fresh references every single time. This is how they discourage applicants they don't really want, with the appearance/veneer of a fair and open process.

A SOAS PhD application is an endeavour! You have to submit a research proposal of about 2000 words, plus a bibliography, plus a personal statement, plus 2 academic references, etc. For all the stars to line up, tyour referees shouldn't include your proposed PhD supervisor, and you should have your funding arrangements already in place before submitting your application. All of the instructions are on the SOAS website. Easy, right? Wrong..

Basically, you won't get on to a SOAS PhD programme unless you've made informal arrangements in advance with a SOAS tutor. You get them to agree on the PhD programme first! I had not. This was a mistake on my part. Don't just follow the instructions on the SOAS website because they just describe the formalities (i.e. they are BS)! You have to befriend a tutor first, and get your SOAS PhD dissertation agreed upon, before you make any moves. Some (such as myself) would call this process blatant nepotism, but you're free to believe what you like. I'm just describing what happened to me, as it's no mean feat getting (SOAS) references and all the stars to line up for a PhD application. SOAS staff are, generally, unresponsive to requests for research degree references. This is because, having made up the degrees at masters level, they don't respect them. That's right, what I'm saying is, you can get a good SOAS masters and the people who supervised or taught you on your course couldn't even be arsed to respond to, let alone provide, you with a reference... That's because lots of SOAS masters courses are just money-grabs and aren't respected by the SOAS tutors, lecturers and professors who teach them. So DON'T take a SOAS MA if your intention is to later take a SOAS PhD, unless you have had the 'nod' from your prospective PhD well in advance!

I mention this because the SOAS webinar for prospective SOAS PhDs that I attended seemed overtly obfuscatory and even dishonest on the real nature of the SOAS application process. I had not only taken a SOAS MA but other SOAS (certificate) courses in anticipation of a proposed PhD thesis. However, they rejected my application without explanation, even though my qualifications were SOAS qualifications, back in 2012. This is something to bear in mind.

Just as an example, according to the website, a SOAS PhD takes 4 years. One mate of mine did his over 12 years (yes, 12 years), and was supervised by a "retired" SOAS lecturer over that time. Those rules on the SOAS website are just for show - in reality, nepotism rules, and they do as they please. Just don't be a naive fool like I was and apply for a SOAS PhD as a home student from a working class background naively following their website. You've got to be earmarked or you're stuffed.
(edited 5 years ago)
Very true!
School of Oriental and African Studies

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