Prospective graduate students (UW)

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Cmbox notice.png Benjamin Mako Hill maintains this page. Please do not change the message of the material on this page. Please do be bold and fix errors or other issues. I made this page a wiki precisely so you could edit it!


The University of Washington Department of Communication has an absolutely wonderful PhD program. When I was considering graduate school, I very nearly went here myself. The good news for me is that — because there is an unwritten rule that universities should not hire their own students — I now get to teach here.

My "lab" is called the Community Data Science Collective and it's a lab that is split between Northwestern University School of Communication and the University of Washington Department of Communication. We have about about a dozen faculty, post-doc, and graduate student members and we're always looking to add more. You should consider joining us!

What I'm looking for in students[edit]

I am looking for students with a technical background (e.g., programming, statistics, and/or mathematics) and an interest and experience in free software, free culture, or other peer production communities online. I would like to work with students interested in studying peer production communities to understand how and why they work. If you contribute to a wiki, a remixing community, or a free software project, if you use GNU/Linux, if you enjoy programming (even if it's a means to solving problems you do care about), and if you want to become a social scientist, please consider applying to our department and let me know you've applied.

It's OK if you're not an expert in all this stuff yet or if you don't know a lot of statistics. After all, learning these tools is a big part of why you're going to graduate school. I had not taken a math class since high school when I started in graduate school. I learned a lot while I was there and I'm still working on it. What's important is that you show me (and the admissions committee) that you're interested and able to learn.

Personally, I'm much less concerned with things like grades and test scores than I am with a proven ability to build things, to ask interesting questions, to write working code, to craft solid prose, and to make the world a better place. Of course, admission to our department is not entirely up to me and things like grades and test scores certainly help your case.

Applying to UW[edit]

If you have not already, you should check out the following information about applying to the UW Communication program:

Our department is wide and interdisciplinary and accepts a wide variety of students with interests in doing work that spans the humanities and social sciences.

Please keep in mind that I do not serve on the graduate admissions committee. This means that I will not be reading applications from the general pool or be making the first cut through applicants. It also means that I will not be making the final decisions on who gets admitted.

That said, I always give feedback on applicants to the admissions committee! I typically have grant funding to fund RAs. So although I don't make decisions, my opinion matters and I can influence the process—sometimes quite a lot!

The admission committee always asks me two questions:

  1. What I do think about the student relative to other applicants?
  2. Am I a likely (a) advisor/chair or (b) committee member?

The key thing for students to realize when reaching out to potential faculty like me is that my opinion in terms of the first question only matters if the the answer to questions 2(a), and to a lesser extend, 2(b) is strongly affirmative.

Typically, I am only asked to weigh in on students who the admissions committee has decided are likely to work with me. This means my opinion is only valued strongly if the applicants proposed research agenda involves studies of mediated communication and/or online communities or who's methodological toolbox includes quantitative data science or programming.

As I mentioned, some of my influence at the admissions stage stems from my ability to fund RAs. Being able to work as an RA for one of my funded projects helps your chances of being admitted to our program enormously But again, you will only be at an advantage if you can convince the committee (and me!) that you will interested and able to do the kinds of work that are described in the grants my lab has received.

Asking questions[edit]

If you have questions about the department or the admissions process you should check the material on the admission website, look carefully through FAQ, and contact the admissions staff who will be more helpful and more responsive than I am.

If you have questions about my research or about working with me, you can email me directly at makohill@uw.edu. If I don't know you, you should introduce yourself by describing your interests, qualifications and the reason you think these are a match for my research interests and methodologies. If you don't know my research interests and methods, you should look through my academic page — maybe even read a couple papers — and try to make sure it really is a good match.

Please keep in mind that I am often busy and not always awesome at email. As a result, it might take me some time to respond to prospective students. If it's been more than a week or two, feel free to ping me again.

Meetings (prospective UW graduate students)[edit]

Many university faculty have blanket rules against meeting with prospective doctoral students. I personally met with both my masters and PhD advisors before I was admitted to their programs, so I will always consider meeting with prospective PhD students if time permits. If you are familiar with my work and you think you really are very likely to work with me, please get in touch with me.

Of course, there are hundreds of students interested in pursuing their PhD at UW Communication every year, so it is simply not possible for the faculty to meet with every interested student. That said, I'm happy to meet with prospective students whose interests and background match what I'm looking for.

This means that either of following things should be true:

  • You are interested in graduate school because you want to study peer production and the production of online public goods like free culture and free software.
  • You are interested in graduate school because you want to do quantitative data science on online communities and plan to use programming, statistics, and mathematics as the core of your research program.

If the above does not apply, this doesn't mean I don't want to work with you. It just means I'm extremely unlikely to be able to impact your application to the department. If one of my colleagues at UW has referred you to talk to me, that's also good enough because it means that that they might ask for my opinion when the admissions committee makes final decisions later.

Meetings (admitted UW graduate students)[edit]

If you have been admitted to the UW Communication Department, I'd love to talk with you!

If you don't fulfill the criteria I listed above, that means I very likely did not participate in the review of your application. However, it does not mean I will not work with you at some point in the future, teach classes that you might take, or help you try to develop and frame your research as a graduate student at UW.

And of course, If you've been admitted to other good programs, I would also love to try to convince you to come to UW. I love UW and I love Seattle and I would love to tell you why.