F.A.Q.s-- Some questions commonly asked by prospective applicants to the PhD Program in Ethnomusicology at Columbia University (including a description of our curricular requirements).
Reading this page will help you decide if Columbia is the right graduate program in Ethnomusicology for you, and whether you would be a competitive applicant for our program. Please read this page closely before contacting the Program Chair (Prof. Aaron Fox with further inquiries. Most initial questions we receive about the program are addressed in detail below.
The comments on this page reflect our experience with the questions most often asked in initial inquiries about our program. This page is very detailed, but you should read it in its entirety if you are serious about applying to Columbia's graduate program in ethnomusicology. In addition to specific questions answered here, if you want a detailed description of the curriculum read the "About the Ph D Program" section. For department-wide requirements, view the Music Department's official "Handbook for Graduate Students in Musicology" (including Ethnomusicology and Music Theory).
After you have read this page carefully, feel free to contact Prof. Fox by email at firstname.lastname@example.org (please do not phone without an appointment) with further questions about the program.
Question: What is the relationship between the MA and the PhD components of your program? Do you have an MA-only option?
Answer: Columbia does NOT offer an MA-only track in any area of the Musicology graduate program. All students who apply are presumed to be seeking the PhD degree, and you should be SURE not to check the "MA" box on the online application forms.
Our students earn an MA degree, typically after three semesters of coursework capped by the completion of an ethnographic thesis, produced under close faculty supervision during our two-semester "field methods" course sequence taken during the first year. We require students to undertake an ethnographic project for the thesis, based somewhere in the New York area (for obvious reasons of accessibility and time management) as training for the process of designing and realizing a major dissertation project.
We do, on occasion, decide that a student is not best served by continuing past the MA stage of our program, and in such cases a student may end up leaving our program with what is called a "terminal” MA degree. Since the MA degree here requires, in addition to the thesis, the passing of 18 credits of coursework, and the passing of an exam in at least one language (typically, demonstrating reading ability in a European language relevant to research in Ethnomusicology, though there are other possibilities given particular research specializations), it is possible that all requirements for the MA degree will not be met until the end of the second year.
If you are not sure you want to pursue a PhD, it is probably inadvisable to apply to our program.
Question: What background in Western music history and theory is expected of applicants to your program?
Answer: According to the official Departmental requirements listed in the GSAS bulletin, we expect applicants to have a "strong background" in the history and theory of "Western music." However, in recent years our students have not always come to us from such a background. It is the opinion and experience of the Ethnomusicology faculty that a strong background in social thought, language study, area studies, and cross-cultural experience (acquired through travel, prior research, residence abroad, etc.) is also of significant (and equal) value for students anticipating careers as researchers and teachers in academic Ethnomusicology. We do not require applicants to have an undergraduate degree in music. Nor do we favor or disfavor students with undergraduate music degrees or performance backgrounds when we evaluate applicants to the Ethnomusicology PhD program.
We do generally expect (but again, do not require) our applicants to be musically experienced, whether in Western classical music or any other tradition, and it is generally quite helpful to be able to read music, and to know the broad outlines of Western art music history and the major theoretical concepts of music of the so-called "common practice" period in that history. These skills come in handy at various points in a graduate career at Columbia, and serve students well throughout a career in Ethnomusicology. They are, however, skills that can be acquired with an extra-curricular effort if they are not fully developed at the point a student applies to our program.
Historically, and currently, most of our students have been skilled musicians, but not all have been skilled in Western art music traditions. Many are jazz or popular musicians or have significant experience in a non-Western tradition upon entry. Most of our students use their musical skills extensively in their pursuit of the PhD degree, and all acquire additional musical skills while they are in our graduate program. And because many of our students spend part of their fellowship career teaching the department's "Music Humanities" core course, which presents a basic history of Western art music along with the key musical concepts that have developed in concert with that tradition, possessing relevant knowledge about Western art music is a valuable practical skill for students in our program and one you will be expected to develop if you do not have the relevant background at admission.
Nonetheless, not only do we look seriously at applications from students with backgrounds other than traditional undergraduate music degrees; we often find students with other backgrounds (anthropology, linguistics, area or ethnic studies, or political science degrees, for example), cross-cultural travel experiences, good command of more than one language, and strong musical skills acquired outside of an academic degree program to be strong candidates for our program. Indeed, we recommend potential applicants who do earn a BA in music make sure that such work includes, if possible, a substantial ethnomusicological component, and/or coursework in anthropology and other social science fields.
Question: What is the place of "performance" in your program? I note that you don’t require graduate students to perform in ensembles or take lessons, or permit them to earn degree credit for doing so.
Answer: Historically, we have never been a performance-centered program in the sense of offering degree credit for playing in ensembles or taking lessons in non-Western music. That has changed in the last few years, as we have co-sponsored the addition of several unique ensembles – Bluegrass, Japanese Gagaku, Latin Music, Klezmer – to the Department’s Music Performance Program offering, and graduate students are welcome to join these groups, although credit earned thereby does not count toward the degree requirements directly.
For jazz musicians, there are also performance opportunities as part of our Jazz Performance Program, directed by Prof. Christopher Washburne. PhD students can also take ensemble courses offered at NYU through the inter-university doctoral consortium (NYU also typically offers one or two ensemble courses per semester).
But there's more to say about this subject. New York City offers one of the world's richest scenes for musical performance opportunities across a huge range of styles, genres, cultures, and traditions. Many of our students have, over the years, been deeply involved in performance activities in New York City. One can find a teacher for nearly any of the world's musical traditions here, and often this means teachers with deep and native connections to these traditions. All you have to do is get on the telephone or the subway to find a richer and more culturally embedded performance opportunity than could be offered by any university department or program. And most of our students have taken advantage of this fact to the hilt. It's harder than taking an ensemble course with a visiting artist to have to go out into the community and search out the musical experiences you crave, but it is ultimately more like what ethnomusicologists must learn to do as professionals, and much more fulfilling when you accomplish entry into the local worlds of musical performance that exist in every corner of this city (and that provide endless opportunities for MA and doctoral research). Such connections are easier to make because of the long history of our students' work in the New York City area, and because we bring local artists through regularly for lecture/demonstrations and performances through the Center for Ethnomusicology.
We consider performance, often, to be an inherent and important aspect of ethnomusicological research and scholarship (and several of our faculty members have written extensively about their own professional practice as performers), but we have a broad conception of what the value of developing and maintaining performance skills might be to any given project or any particular student. That said, our formal curricular offering is focused on training students in social theory and the social scientific study of music, the history and practice of the discipline of ethnomusicological research, and the pursuit of a high-level research-driven career in the discipline. Thus, our formal curriculum emphasizes research practice, intellectual history, and contemporary theoretical approaches to music as human activity. If your goal is to become a professional performer in a non-Western tradition (or a popular music tradition), this might not be the program for you unless you have similar goals for yourself as a scholar and the initiative to seek out your own performance opportunities.
Question: I notice that Columbia is exceptionally strong in Jazz Studies, and Jazz is my musical and /or intellectual focus. Should I apply through the Ethnomusicology program?
Answer: Columbia is indeed in a period of efflorescence in the area of Jazz Studies, thanks to the growth of the Center for Jazz Studies. Such Centers, at Columbia, do not have their own faculty or offer degrees. Faculty members associated with the Center are scattered across the departments of Music, English, History, and the Institute for African American Studies. Prof. Washburne (an Ethnomusicologist and professional trombonist who directs the Jazz Performance Program) is affiliated with the Jazz Studies Center. And Prof. John Szwed, an eminent scholar of American music, and now the Director of the Center for Jazz Studies, is also affiliated with the ethnomusicology faculty area.
In recent years, our ethnomusicology program has seen a remarkable number of applicants with a strong interest in Jazz, many of whom are exceptionally well qualified for graduate study, but who in many cases would be better advised to apply for graduate study in areas other than ethnomusicology. We want to make such applicants aware of the broad range of options for the serious study of Jazz at Columbia. Some have a specifically ethnomusicological interest -- broadly speaking, focused on sociological and cultural questions and ethnographic methods for addressing those questions or on Jazz as a global musical style and culture. Others have a more historical, archival, biographical, music-analytic, or performance- and composition-focused interest in Jazz, though most express some healthy blend of these interests. We are more likely to consider seriously candidates who can articulate a specific case for approaching Jazz through ethnomusicology (or ethnomusicology through Jazz!). In other words, an interest in Jazz does not automatically mean you should apply through our program for graduate study at Columbia. But we are an excellent place to study ethnomusicology with an emphasis on Jazz.
Question: I notice your faculty expertise is concentrated in the Americas, Europe, and the Pacific. What if I want to work in another part of the world? Do I need to work with a specialist in my area of interest?
Answer: That depends, in part, on you, and in part, on your area of interest, and in part, on what your goals are. We are a small program, with current strengths in the popular musics of the Americas and Europe, Native American and indigenous musics, European music and Lusophone musical cultures, Pacific and East Asian popular musics, Jazz, popular music, music and technology, music and language, music and policy, and social and critical theory. And we have a number of affiliated post-doctoral fellows and visiting scholars at any given time whose interests at diversity to our mix.
Our experience shows us that the conventional wisdom -- that you should be advised by a senior scholar who works "in your area" (i.e., an Africanist if you work in Zimbabwe, an Asianist if you work in Korea) -- is less obviously true these days than it used to be. Given the increasingly strongly interdisciplinary character of area studies in particular, and humanistic and social scientific research in general, you may be better advised to consider attending a program where the university itself is strong in your area. Columbia is especially strong in South and East Asian studies, and the Middle East, and even Central Asia (though our strengh there is principally oriented toward policy and economics via the Harriman institute). We are exceptionally strong in Jazz and African-American studies. We’re strong and getting stronger in Latin American studies, and we’re building new strengths in Native and Indigenous studies. We also have one of the best anthropology departments in the country.. Prospective ethnomusicologists should also consider the importance of working with faculty who are strong in their areas of theoretical focus, as well as geographical focus.
As a small program, we cannot offer specialists in every area of the world, or every theoretical framework. Instead, we pride ourselves on being a program that devotes serious attention to our students throughout their graduate careers, which we consider quite as important to the development of graduate students as matching faculty specializations to student projects. We have had recent PhDs or those working on dissertations now who have worked in China, Japan, Korea, West Africa, East Africa, Southern Europe and North Africa, the Republic of Georgia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Ukraine, Argentina, The Czech Republic, The United States (New Orleans, New York, Vermont, San Francisco, Arizona, North Carolina), Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Panama, Israel, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Chile, Berlin, and many other places. Almost all have received major grants for their work; most have gone on to tenure track jobs.
Question: Is a small program like yours right for me?
Answer: We are a small program, althouhg growing, with five primary faculty members involved in graduate advising and only around 20 graduate students in our program at any one time, a number of whom are in the field at any given time (meaning our resident grad student population is more like 15 at any given time). We like it that way; we think of our program as a tight-knit community with a shared purpose despite our diverse projects and a strong commitment to collaborative research and the idea of our program as an interdependent and holistic enterprise, where we are working together on developing big ideas that have comparative and generalizable implications that are accountable to problems, issues, and publics beyond the academy, even as we each pursue individual interests and projects.
We strive for a strong sense of community in the program and seek people who are looking to join a community in turn. You will interact constantly with the ethnomusicology area faculty and your fellow students at every stage of your program and in numerous contexts. We treat students as colleagues in training, and expect students to act toward each other as colleagues, and to show a collegial level of professional commitment to the program as well as to their own work. We seek to create a sense of community identity in our program, and we invest in that effort heavily, for example, by making the facilities and resources of the Center for Ethnomusicology available to all of our students, from the moment they enter the program. And while it is the nature of a doctoral program to change and evolve, especially in times of rapid social, economic, and technological change, we keep students as informed as possible about (and as involved as possible in) discussions about the program, its future, its goals, its problems, and its policies.
Question: How important are GREs (Graduate Record Exams) for admission and funding?
Answer: It must be said honestly: we have a very competitive admissions process. We see dozens of applications -- most from highly qualified applicants -- for 2 to 5 funded positions – we don’t admit students without funding them -- in our program each year. Therefore, everything counts. We care primarily about your score on the verbal GRE exam. At a minimum, you should earn around a 600 score on that exam if you are a native speaker of English. Lower scores raise red flags. Scores above 750 can be helpful. Scores between 600 and 750 are simply expected except in unusual cases where other qualifications are outstanding, or where a diagnosed and recognized disability explains a lower test score. If you do poorly, take a course, study a guide, and take it again. It's worth it.
Question: How important are letters of recommendation for admission and funding?
Answer: Very, if the writers can speak to your abilities as a scholar, researcher, or cross-cultural communicator. Letters from people who barely know you, or which strike a very general tone, are less useful than even slightly critical letters from mentors who have worked with you closely. Letters from people who are familiar with ethnomusicology are much more useful than letters from people who aren't.
Ask your referees to be honest about your scholarly potential, not just your personal qualities. Give them writing samples to evaluate and remind them what you did in their class. (And here's a friendly bit of advice from some busy professors: give your writers at least a month's notice before the deadline, supply them with stamped, addressed envelopes placed in larger envelopes or folders, mark deadlines clearly on the enclosing folder or envelope in large letters, and remind your writers about impending deadlines -- politely -- several days before the letters have to be mailed).
Question: What should I submit as a “writing sample”?
Answer: We look at writing samples, obviously, to see if you can write fluently and clearly in English. But we also read them to see if you can think critically through research questions - which means, for us, that you can think about music or sound in social analytic terms. Therefore, do not send us a harmonic analysis of a Haydn string quartet, even if it's well written, unless you don't have anything that deals with music in a social context, as a symbolic practice, as a meaningful human activity, as a political expression, etc. (Not that you couldn't extend an harmonic analysis of a Haydn string quartet in such directions – we’d be happy to see that!) And don't just print out a paper you wrote two years ago. Edit the writing samples you submit, and update them. Give us your best. The writing samples you submit are extremely important – maybe the most important part of your application. Length is less important than quality and the choice of an ethnomusicological topic. A shorter essay (or two short pieces) demonstrating fluency in social thought will help you more than a 50-page research paper on a topic unrelated to ethnomusicology or social thought. We will accept two shorter (approx. 1000 word) writing samples, as do other areas of the Music Department, but for ethnomusicology we PREFER one substantial sample, (15+ page complete research paper, a chapter from a thesis, etc.). Please contact the area committee chair if you have questions about what to submit.
Question: What should I say in my personal statement?
Answer: The biggest mistake people make is over-doing the "personal" part (and this is good advice for applicants to graduate school in general!). Telling us how much you love all music, or how you always wanted to be a professor, or how you discovered Ethnomusicology, etc., should comprise only a small portion of your statement. The best applications address the applicant’s goals as a scholar, her/his ideas for potential research projects, and her/his developing specific interests in particular musics, cultures, and theoretical issues.
Make your statement sound professional; you are applying to a professional school. Avoid extended autobiographical anecdotes. We don't need to know very much about your extra-curricular activities unless they are arguably qualifications for graduate study in ethnomusicology. Put them on a resumé or CV. Use the personal statement to tell us what you find intellectually compelling about music as a human activity, how you have developed your thinking about that interest or problem, and how you see that development as best served by being in graduate school here, in this program (another big mistake applicants often make is using the same exact statement for every program – always try to speak specifically to the reasons you’re attracted to the particular program you’re applying for). Yes, we do want a sense of you as a person, of course. But we need to have a sense of your potential as a scholar.
Question: Should I visit Columbia if I am serious about wanting to join the program?
Answer: If you can afford the time and money, a visit to our program is an excellent idea. A visit is definitely not required, however, and a visit is not an "interview." If you cannot visit, and there are questions you would like to ask that are not answered here, phone calls with faculty members can be arranged by email. Whether you are visiting or arranging a phone conversation, please send a brief academic resume (by email, to the area committee chairperson) in advance (degrees earned, schools attended, relevant courses and grades, major research projects, languages learned, travel experience, musical background, etc.). In-person and phone meetings are short (30 minutes at the most). It's a shame to waste the time filling in the basic facts about your experience. Be prepared, especially, to talk about your research interests and why Columbia appeals to you specifically. Visiting prospective students can usually sit in on our graduate seminars (check the course schedule and plan accordingly) and meet with faculty and students, as well as get a feel for the place in general. Be sure to let us know you're coming, and to clear the dates with us.
Write to each faculty member individually to make appointments for meetings and for permission to attend her/his class, please. But begin by sending an email ONLY (do not call) to the area committee chairperson (Prof. Fox for 2012-13) for general coordination of a visit. But also be sure to write to other faculty members to make individual appointments and always write to the individual instructor in advance to obtain permission to sit in on any class (because this is not always permitted or possible). Be aware that there are sometimes several students visiting at any given time during the fall, and that our time is limited for meetings. The earlier in the Fall semester you can let us know you're planning to visit, the better. Please do not write during the summer since faculty are usually away. On short notice, we may be so busy we can’t make more appointments, or some or all of the faculty or students may be away at a meeting (check the dates of the Society for Ethnomusicology and American Anthropological Association annual meetings and be sure to avoid those dates for visits). If you can attend either the SEM or AAA meetings (highly recommended for prospective PhD students -- you can go hear papers by the students and faculty of various programs and learn a lot!), we are sometimes available for brief meetings with applicants if you give advance notice.
Question: What makes the ideal candidate for your program?
Answer: We see a lot of strong applicants every year – many more than we can admit and fund. There's no single objective criterion – or group of objective criteria -- for what makes one strong applicant preferable to another. There is no "best candidate." There are, however, many excellent candidates, and more than we have funded positions for. We make our admission and funding decisions based on a complex calculus, considering which of many highly qualified candidates will make up the best class as a group, spreading the potential advising load among our faculty members, and lastly, considering how strongly an applicant wants to be at Columbia and is served well by being here. If you really, really, really want to come to Columbia, and you think you are a strong candidate, let us know in no uncertain terms how strongly you are drawn to our program and why.
Question: I already have an MA degree. Will I have to repeat the MA requirements and thesis in your program?
Answer: Skipping our MA thesis requirement is only rarely possible. If you have earned an MA in ethnomusicology or another field where you have completed a substantial, fieldwork-based thesis equivalent to the theses done in our program, and where you have completed foundational coursework similar to ours, you may qualify for "Advanced Standing," and be exempt from the MA requirements in our program. In most cases, even students who have completed MAs culminating in substantial ethnographic theses may still be advised to take some of the courses required for our MA, although if they are granted Advanced Standing, they are exempted from the 18 credits required for the MA degree, and may move directly into fulfilling the 24 credits beyond the MA required for the PhD (some of which would then be fulfilled by courses normally taken by students pursuing the MA, such as our Proseminars I and II, or our Field Methods I and II seminars).
Decisions on Advanced Standing status are only rendered final once a student has entered the program in every case. Students granted Advanced Standing are offered four (rather than five) years of guaranteed fellowship support, and are usually eligible for (though not guaranteed) a fifth additional year, just as students who enter without Advanced Standing are often eligible for (though not guaranteed) a sixth year of support in addition to their five years of guaranteed support. The reason for the reduced amount of support in cases of Advanced Standing is, obviously, that in such cases a student generally needs less time to complete requirements for doctoral candidacy.
Question: What about the fellowships? How much teaching is involved?
Answer: Students on fellowship, whether admitted for the MA-PhD combination or with Advanced Standing, have no duties in the first year of their appointment. After the first year, students on fellowship are expected to take on a variety of duties within the Department during the 2d, 3d, and 4th years they are Columbia fellowship support. The final year of assured support is also an unencumbered "dissertation fellowship."
A majority of our students spend at least two, and often more, years teaching the core curriculum course known (still) as "Masterpieces of Western Music," or colloquially as "Music Hum." In the second year of fellowship support, most students serve as teaching assistants under the guidance of more advanced instructors. After completing this year of assistantship, students on fellowship are then eligible to become instructors with their own sections of the course (and assistants of their own). Despite the name of this course, it is possible for ethnomusicologists to teach the course with a significantly ethnomusicological approach, and models for doing so have been developed over the years by ethnomusicology students and faculty. Most of our students have benefited from teaching this course, and in fact, have excelled at it. Our students also teach as both assistants and instructors in our two courses in Asian Music Humanities.
Most of our students earn major external (or sometimes Columbia-internal) competitive research grants to support their field research in the 4th, 5th, and/or 6th years in the program. Many also win major dissertation writing grants. Such grants can be taken in place of GSAS (the Columbia Graduate School) fellowship support, in which case fellowship support is deferred (thus your "fifth" unencumbered year of assured dissertation writing support can be taken in your 6th year, or even your 7th year, if you fund year 4 or years 4 and 5 with external grants, as many of our students have in fact done). Alternately, GSAS incentivizes seeking external support by offering generous "top-up" provisions that can bring the value of an external grant to well above the value of a standard fellowship if the grant is taken as substitutional funding for a year of GSAS support. We place a strong emphasis on effective grant-writing in our program; you should anticipate the likelihood of being able to fully fund 6 or even 7 years of study for the PhD. Students have completed our program in 5 years; most take 6 or 7.
We also have assistantships available in some of the jazz and popular music courses offered by members of the Ethnomusicology faculty. In addition, the Center for Ethnomusicology employs one student on fellowship, generally for a one-year term, as the assistant to the Director. The student-published journal, Current Musicology, also employs two students on fellowship as Editor and Assistant Editor (and one of these is often an ethnomusicology student). Ethnomusicology students are often teaching assistants in other courses taught by the ethnomusicology faculty as well.
These fellowship/assistantship/instructorship duties can be time-consuming, though they are often fulfilling and always career-enhancing experiences (and at least one year of teaching experience is required for the PhD). Students should be mindful that as their academic focus intensifies, their fellowship duties increase at the same time, meaning that even as a graduate student with full funding, you will experience a taste of the life of a professional academic -- too much to do, and not enough time. It's not for everyone, and requires real skill in time management, work discipline, and the integration of one's diverse activities.
Question: What if I am admitted but not offered a fellowship?
Answer: All PhD and DMA students in Music are admitted with full funding for no fewer than four years (with Advanced Standing) or five years (without Advanced Standing). We do not make unfunded offers of admission to our doctoral programs.
Question: So if you offer 5 years or more of funding, should I apply for outside fellowships and scholarships even if I expect to be competitive for a fellowship offer at Columbia (or any other university)?
Answer: Absolutely yes. Such grants as the Javits Fellowship, the Mellon Fellowship, and the Ford Minority Doctoral Fellowship are extremely competitive and prestigious. If you win one, you will almost certainly be offered matching fellowship support at most of the programs to which you apply (though there is no guarantee of that) that can be taken in addition to the outside support, meaning that you could be supported for seven years or sometimes even more, or take some of the support as funding for field research, etc. In addition, earning such a prestigious fellowship is quite likely to be career-enhancing if you complete the PhD.
Question: I am a member of a recognized minority group. What are Columbia's policies pertaining to graduate admission and funding for minority students? What sources of funding are available for minority students?
Answer: You should visit the website of the GSAS' Office of Minority Affairs at: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/gsas/sub/pstudents/oma/welcome/index.html OMA will provide specific information on CU policies on admission and funding opportunities for minority students, and other important resources. At a program level, we strive to admit the most promising students -- those we believe will have a strong shot at a professional scholarly career, irrespective of background or heritage. But we also strive to create strong cohorts of students with diverse interests and backgrounds, and we consider the cultural, linguistic, national, gender, class, and ethnic diversity of our student body as a factor in our thinking about admission and fellowship decisions, just as we do when we search for new faculty colleagues. We are proud of the diversity of our student body, reflecting a commitment that extends back to the origins of our program, which has a proud record of producing minority and women PhD graduates.
We encourage talented minority, international, veteran, and disabled students to apply, and to approach us directly (contact the area committee chair, and be assured that the conversation will be held in confidence if you so desire) if they have special concerns about the admission process that are not addressed directly by the Office of Minority Affairs at GSAS. Our commitment to diversity reflects a specifically academic consideration as well, since our discipline makes cultural diversity a central object of inquiry. Therefore, a diverse community adds to the academic excellence of our program for all of our students and faculty. Diversity is integral to our intellectual projects here.
Question: Are there specific considerations relevant for international students?
Answer: Our admission and fellowship offers have no citizenship requirements. International students on fellowship are eligible for specific student visas through the United States Department of State. We have always had a significant number of international students in our program, and many of those students have gone on to distinguished careers in the United States and in their native countries. The international character of our program (students and faculty) is a point of pride, but also one source of our program's quality, since the field of ethnomusicology is so profoundly an international discipline, and becoming more so every year.The main consideration relevant to international students is English-language fluency. Columbia University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences places specific requirements on all applicants who are not native speakers of English, detailed at: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/gsas/pages/pstudents/admissions/information/international.html The primary consideration for us in evaluating international students, other than the considerations that apply to all applicants, concerns the ability of such students to write and speak English with exceptional fluency.
Question: So what exactly IS your curriculum? What courses do I have to take? What exams? On what schedule? See the link to Ph D Program in the Center for Ethnomusicology Website and the link to the Musicology handbook at the top of this page for additional information.)
Answer: Our curriculum is constantly under discussion and in recent years we have revised it substantially; that will continue. Indeed, the entire Department of Music is about to undergo an intensive review that will focus on both graduate and undergraduate curricula across the Department.
In general, we are moving toward a more flexible model of "required" coursework, as are many other programs, while still maintaining a very rigorous and fixed set of core courses for graduate students.
FOR A DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF OUR PROGRAM SEE "ABOUT THE PHD PROGRAM" ON THE CENTER FOR ETHNOMUSICOLOGY WEBSITE
Question: Where do Columbia PhDs work?
Answer: Recent graduates have taken teaching positions or in departments of music, anthropology, and other disciplines at such institutions as Connecticut College, The University of Oklahoma, The University of Chicago, Sarah Lawrence College, Tulane University, The University of Richmond, Pittsburgh University, Ewha Women’s University (Korea), The University of Hawai'i, The Ohio State University, Tulane University, The University of Toronto, Reed College, The University of Pittsburgh, The University of California/Santa Barbara, and others. Several have also won postdoctoral fellowships in recent years – including fellowships at Yale, Kenton, Oxford, Leiden, Cambridge, Harvard, New York University, Toronto, U Pennsylvania, and in several cases here at Columbia. Many of our students have taught as replacement and adjunct faculty at a number of universities while finishing the PhD as well. Some of our graduates also work in non-academic settings, or combine part-time teaching with non-academic careers in music, policy, and research.
We have an excellent placement record, certainly one of the best records in the discipine over the past decade (also true of our department in general). In fact, in recent years our placement rate approaches 90 percent, with the exceptions mostly among those who have freely chosen career paths outside of the academy. We take placement extremely seriously, and your marketability as a job candidate will be a consideration in your advising at every level from day one in the program. We emphasize publishing and conference presentation as components of graduate education, and have exceptional records in these areas (along with our extraordinary record for external grant support, which is related). In most years, our students are represented in disproportionately large numbers at the national conferences of both the SEM and the AAA, and frequently attend other major national and international meetings. In any given year, our students publish numerous articles. You will be supported and advised in these areas of professional development (for example the Center for Ethnomusicology provides conference travel support over and above that offered by the Graduate School to all GSAS PhD students). Our strong placement record provides a tradition of success that feeds back into successive cohorts of students, and extends to our strong emphasis on preparing students to compete on job markets beyond ethnomusicology and departments of music, something at which our students also excel. In an increasingly interdisciplinary academic universe, we believe students who train in ethnomusicology can find many new disciplinary contexts in which to forge careers outside of the field of music proper, and that they must be able to compete in those contexts (as is also true of our approach to grantsmanship, which is closely related).
The current academic job market is fiercely competitive and challenging and above all changing fairly rapidly in some fundamental ways that no one can quite predict on a timeline relevant to the career trajectory of a student entering a PhD program now. We are acutely aware of that and strive to make our students as competitive as possible for academic careers, including anticipating new ways of pursuing such careers. On the other hand, we tend to find that strong students who do original and compelling research projects for their dissertation work almost always do find good jobs that lead to healthy careers within a few years of earning the PhD if not immediately upon earning it; the field of academic ethnomusicology is expanding and has had a fairly robust job market in recent years, perhaps the best (if still smallest) such market among the music subdisciplines -- in our view that has even been true through the recent economic downturn. Do great (and hard) work, have a good attitude, pursue the professional opportunities available to you as a graduate student, and find your own voice, and we're pretty sure you’ll get a good job at the other end.
In Conclusion: Matching Your Goals to Our Goals
Our primary goal is to get you through our program with a strong foundation in the history, theory and methods of ethnomusicological research, social thought, and professional academic practice, and with an exceptionally strong dissertation and a solid professional profile to show for your efforts. We want your experience here to be personally enriching and equally a source of enrichment for our program itself, both for the fellow students in your cohort and for those ahead of and behind you in the program, and for the faculty. We hope to provide a stimulating and collegial environment in which students can realize the potential we detect in them when we make an offer of admission. We want you to complete the program in a timely manner, and to be a strong candidate upon completion of the program for a post-doctoral fellowship or a tenure-track job at a research university or college. If these aren't your goals for yourself over the next few, this is probably not the program for you.
Earning a PhD is hard work, undertaken in the prime years of one's life, and it entails economic and personal sacrifices commensurate with the potential rewards of a successful career in the field for which it is a qualification. Earning a PhD, even with fellowship support, entails significant opportunity costs relative to the time it takes to complete the degree -- for example, the years spent living in relative poverty while your college classmates are advancing in more lucrative professions, and the difficulties of starting a family, entering a marriage (not knowing where you will end up working, a problem compounded for marriages between graduate students, which are quite common), or following a whim to move or travel. The job market in academia is extremely tough and competitive. The unemployment and underemployment rates are high and this is a risky career choice compared to other professions. Ironically, the best careers often fall to those who enter the profession with little consideration of such matters, and a single-minded devotion to their own project, and to the field. That’s the kind of student we’re looking for.
Finally, you must understand that graduate school is a stressful experience, even for the strongest students; even after you enter the profession you will spend years living up to the expectations and standards other people set for your work and your conduct. Living in New York City, it should be mentioned, is also stressful for many people, even those of us who find it unbelievably stimulating. You should factor these issues into your thinking about your goals and about whether Columbia is the place to pursue them. We want you to be healthy and happy as well as successful and productive. If our program's goals match your personal goals, we welcome your inquiry and your application.
Addendum: Program Policies and Standards:
Honor Code: All work completed toward the MA, MPhil, and PhD degrees in the Ethnomusicology program is governed by a strict honor code, as is all non-degree scholarly work done while a student in our program (conference papers, publications, etc.). Students are trusted to maintain the highest standards of ethical scholarly conduct at all times and in all contexts. Plagiarism, of any kind, and any other form of academic dishonesty, is grounds for immediate and permanent dismissal from the program.
Standards of Conduct: Students are expected to behave professionally and respectfully in all interactions with fellow students, colleagues, and faculty members. They are expected to attend seminars and classes with few absences, and to participate in program and departmental events (talks, performances, etc.) as regularly as possible. Students are responsible for maintaining communication with faculty advisers on a regular basis, and for meeting all other requirements specified by the Department and GSAS. Students must file official annual GSAS annual progress reports beginning in year 2 or risk losing funding for the following academic year. Students are expected to be quickly responsive to faculty inquiries by email unless in the field and out of electronic communication range and to remain in regular contact with us even when in not in residence. Research conduct must also be governed both by the formal standards of Columbia's Institutional Review Board (no field research may proceed without IRB approval) and by the more implicit standards of field research ethics we emphasize in our program and described in the ethics statements of the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Ethnomusicology. Students in our program represent the program, the Department, and Columbia University in all professional settings, and should conduct themselves accordingly.
Course Incompletes: In addition to enforcing GSAS and departmental standards for the completion of all coursework in a timely manner (i.e., no incomplete may stand for more than one year without permanently converting to an "F"), as a program policy we do not permit students in ethnomusicology to maintain any incompletes in any courses beyond a single semester. No student may have more than two incompletes at any time, under penalty of being placed on academic probation.
Grades: The ethnomusicology area now uses Letter Grades for course evaluation in all courses. However, in graduate school, grades work a little differently than in an undergraduate program. A grade of “C” in any course constitutes a serious sign of concern and may lead to probationary status and more than one "C" may constitute grounds for termination in the program; a large number of “B” grades in ethnomusicology courses is also evidence of slow or insufficient progress. Mostly, you should be earning "A" grades in graduate seminars.
Evaluations and Advising: All pre-candidacy students are be advised on course selection and other such matters at the beginning of each semester by a quorum of the Area Committee. Students in candidacy must meet with a faculty advising committee at least once per year unless fieldwork makes this impossible. Written evaluations are issued for major work in the program, such as the MA thesis and exams, and of course for most seminar work. Faculty members are always available to advise individual students on their program and progress and students are expected to reach out to faculty members in a timely manner if they have concerns or face difficulties.
Deadlines: The MA thesis, the exams, and the dissertation proposal must be completed on the schedule delineated on the "About the PhD Program" web page unless another accommodation is approved by the committee for significant reasons (health, pregnancy, family crises, military service, etc.). Students in PhD candidacy are also expected to maintain steady progress and submit significant written work (generally comprising at least a draft chapter of the dissertation) in each semester during which they are registered unless they are in the field.
Failure to meet the deadlines imposed by the program (and the Graduate School) is grounds for termination in the program.
Termination in the Program: In very rare instances, the Ethnomusicology Area Committee may decide a student should be asked to leave the program, usually with a terminal MA degree; sometimes at a later date, for example if major GSAS deadlines are not met, or if a student fails any two exams. (You are permitted to re-take one exam; a different exam may also be re-taken, but solely at the Area Committee’s discretion. Failing any single exam twice necessitates termination in the program.) Going beyond the 7th year without completing the dissertation entails an automatic probationary status; going beyond the 9th year entails likely termination unless there is a strong and justifiable reason for the delay. Failure to submit dissertation-related work to your adviser and/or committee members in each semester you are registered and once you have completed primary fieldwork is also grounds for termination. Academic dishonesty or serious interpersonal misconduct also constitute grounds for termination.
You will always be advised about your academic progress in a timely manner. Termination decisions are never taken lightly or hastily, and may be appealed to GSAS via a grievance process.The Ethnomusicology Area Committee, made up of all faculty members currently teaching in the Ethnomusicology area, reserves the right to assess and determine academic progress and standing for all students in the program, except where such matters are rightfully overseen by the Department, the Graduate School, or the University. Where any of our policies appear to conflict with those of these superseding entities, the rules of these entities apply.