Friday, May 20, 2011

My Meeting at Vanderbilt

Some of you know that I've been looking to go back to graduate school (but for history this time) and last week I took my first crucial step in this process by meeting up with Dr. Thomas Schwartz at Vanderbilt University. Vanderbilt is one of my top choices but being one of the southern "Ivy League" schools it is very difficult to get into (of 300 applicants last year only 8 were accepted into the Phd program), particularly for me since my undergraduate work was not in history. I've known that this is the biggest barrier that I'm going to face even though the programs I'm looking into don't require an applicant to have a BA in history in order to be considered for acceptance. But as Dr. Schwartz pointed out when it comes to getting into Phd programs having a solid background in history in your undergraduate work is usually a must because of how competitive these programs are.

Moreover, because there is a strong possibility that I could be deployed again within the next few years, Dr. Schwartz noted that even though by law they would have to hold my place in the program they are not required to pause my funding. In other words, I would lose a year of funding. And so because of these factors Dr. Schwartz suggested that the best approach might be to restrict my applications to terminal masters degree programs because requirements for admission aren't as strict, and I can of course gain significant experience in history with a MA which will then help me considerably when I later apply for Phd programs.

But besides advising me tactically about graduate school we discussed some of his work, especially concerning his work on Lyndon Johnson's foreign policy towards Europe (he published a book on the topic entitled Lyndon B. Johnson and Europe: In the Shadow of Vietnam) and his upcoming intellectual biography of Henry Kissinger, a topic of which I am very interested. I was delighted to learn that we share very similar views about Kissinger's role during the Vietnam War. In fact at the end of our meeting he gave me a copy of an essay about Kissinger that he had published in the British diplomatic history journal Diplomacy and Statecraft.

As much as I wanted to learn about Dr. Schwartz' past, present, and future scholarly activities he was just as eager to hear about my experiences in Afghanistan; specifically he wanted to gauge my views, i.e. a soldier's views, about the war there and my feelings about US policy in the region. And it was during my rant about how I had qualms about calling the conflict in Afghanistan a war since by traditional definitions the war came to a conclusion with the toppling of the Taliban (because that was the official, stated objective of the war) that Dr. Schwartz made a good point about the celebrations surrounding the death of Bin Laden (I had complained that some characteristics of the celebrations were silly and excessive) which was that since WWII and the signing of the official surrender of the Japanese empire on the U.S.S. Missouri Americans haven't had that kind of clear symbol of victory to produce such elation. The killing of Bin Laden has been the nearest thing to this which is why the reaction has been so strong, even farcical in some areas (the singing of 'nah, nah, nah, nah....hey, hey...goodbye' comes to mind).

Anyways, the meeting went well and was very beneficial. I will continue to update on here from time to time my progress in attempting to get back into graduate school.

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