I also advise my own grad students. I advise them on how to approach projects. I tell them when they're in trouble. I advise them to learn more languages. If they are Ph.D.-bound, I advise them what programs to apply to to suit their own interests and career aspirations. Sometimes they even listen to me.
But in these situations, I actually know what's going on. What am I, a random pseudonymous blogger, to do with a perfectly polite but oddly specific request like this?
Dear Notorious, I’ve read some of your posts in your blog where I also found your email address. I’m interested in studying medieval history with focus on [X] history. Unfortunately, I couldn’t found any faculty in [city redacted to protect anonymity] that has such a program. I’ll be grateful for your advice about universities in [city] that have dedicated programs in this area. Any hint will be helpful. Thanks in advance!I do give out advice on the blog now and then, but only when I damn well feel like it, and usually it's utterly unsolicited. But I can't figure out why the correspondent in this case would think I'd know the answer to his or her question. I do have areas of expertise that I'm more than happy to pronounce on, and sometimes at great length. Sadly, no one ever asks me about the best bike routes around town in Grit City,** or the best way to cook tofu without it falling apart in the pan,*** or how to deal with curly hair.**** These are things I know a great deal about.
Which is all to say that, as usual, I don't have an actual answer. Fortunately, what the correspondent actually asked for was a "hint," and I have three of those:
- I have no way of knowing. I don't live in your city; have never even set foot there, except for its airport. Your best bet is to talk with your current professors (assuming that they and you live in or near to your target city). They will have a better idea about the strengths and weaknesses of nearby programs. Listen to what they say.
- If your university experience is not current or recent, there are other options. When I was applying to grad programs, I went to the local university library, started with authors who had written books in my geographic subspecialty, found out where they were teaching, and then leafed through the microfiche catalogs for their institutions. That's still possible now, except steps 2 & 3 can be done on a computer. How great is that? Alternatively, you could pull up the web pages for all the history departments in the major universities in City X (a large city, granted, but surely there can't be more than 8-10, right?) and browse through them.
- But why city X? Must you stay there? Do you have a spouse or family member or some other reason why you can't possibly leave, or is it a matter of geographic preference? City X, I've heard, is very nice, sure. But if your geographic limitations are based on preference, rather than actual necessity, you need to reexamine your priorities, especially if you're looking at graduate programs and beyond. I left my beloved Puddletown to go to grad school in a place that I considered the end of the earth (for the record, I ended up loving it, though only after two years of resenting it for not being Puddletown), then got a job here in Grit City, in a part of the country that I never, ever thought I'd live in (again, a lovely surprise). Control over location is an early thing we have to give up. I'm not saying it's right -- I miss Puddletown still, 15 years later. But that's the way it is. There may indeed be programs in your area of interest in city X. Putting my hints 1 & 2 into practice will tell. But give this last bit some thought, too.
**1st & 6th streets are both good, and if you have to ride in heavy traffic, get out into the middle of the lane and claim your spot on the pavement so people don't try to squeeze around you.
***Slice and gently and evenly but firmly press by hand between many layers of paper towels -- twice -- before cubing and cooking.
****Deva "One Condition," and dump the shampoo. UPDATE: people seem more interested in this than in the actual post (which is fine), so check out the comments for ideas, if you care.