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Old 03-24-08, 06:26 PM   #1
PDay
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Graduate School - English

Hey all.

I'm getting to that point in my life where I am going to have to make some very important decisions about my future. For those of you who may have gone to grad school I have a few questions:

what school did you go to?

did you have an assistantship, and if so, how hard was it to get it?

did you get a stipend for this assistantship?
health insurance?

what was your grade on the GRE, both math and english?

I am going to hopefully be writing a senior thesis in one of the upcoming semesters, and taking the GREs. Just wondering mainly about the assistantships though. I'm going for a grad degree in English, as the title states.
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Old 03-24-08, 07:55 PM   #2
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1. Texas A&M / Penn State

2. Yes, fellowships and assistantships were tough to come by.

3. Generous stipend and health insurance.

4. Your score should be no lower than 1400.

Your main job is to get into grad school then. Study for the GRE and take a bizillion practice tests because that score is worth its weight in gold primarily because it will help your application get read and allow your department to argue that you should be funded. You're also going to need an excellent writing sample to submit. GRE and writing sample along with the rest of the application process should be your #1 concern from here on out.

Senior theses are a distraction and usually are completed too late to really help you unless they are finished the summer before senior year. Decide what area you want to work in, write a sample in that area and then sell yourself to the schools that have strengths in that area. Your advisor can help you but it also a good idea to self-educate as much as possible. You can also email the director of graduate studies at any given school to ask all kinds of questions. It is their job to answer. Though it is probably a bit dated in some respects, I still recommend buying this book immediately:



Don't just apply to a couple of schools. If you are a strong applicant, it is not unreasonable to apply to 15 schools, especially in English. Give yourself a chance. I don't know how many times I've seen good students apply to 3-5 dream schools and just give up when they couldn't get in. You can use competing offers to negotiate for a better assistantship so spend some money up front.

Unless your family is wealthy, do not go to graduate school unless you get a liveable assistantship. Ph.D. programs should offer a five year contract. M.A. programs will offer you two years. Do not pay for an M.A. in English!

English departments are notorious for admitting a large number of terminal Master's students, giving them 1/4 assistantship, and then making them teach freshman composition. The carrot is that you may be admitted to the Ph.D. program--but only 2 out of say 20 are admitted. So basically they use you as slave labor, give you a useless M.A. and then spit out back out into the real world.

Rhetoric is exploding. Everyone that has a Ph.D. from a decent school with a focus in rhetoric is getting a job.

If you are a junior heading into your senior year next year, it is possible to put everything together if you start working on it now. In most cases I recommend that students take a year off after they graduate and apply in that year.
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Old 03-24-08, 08:08 PM   #3
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Thanks for the advice.

I have no idea what I would do if I did decide to take a year off.
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Old 03-24-08, 08:12 PM   #4
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what school did you go to? Texas

did you have an assistantship, and if so, how hard was it to get it? Yes, not terribly hard to get in the history department. It was much harder when I was in Latin American Studies

did you get a stipend for this assistantship? Yes, very good for the hours you work, not enough to raise a family on.

health insurance? Yes (thanks Union!)

what was your grade on the GRE, both math and english? I think I had a 1320, but my English was much higher than my math.

Many, if not most, departments won't offer positions to phd students in academic fields if they don't have funding of some kind for them. Masters and professional student usually don't get automatic funding. I would contact the graduate coordinator for the programs you are interested in. She will be able to give you all the information.

The best thing you can do in a field like English is identify tenured professors, preferably full professors, you want to work with. Begin a relationship with that person and make him or her want to work with you. Grad students need powerful faculty allies who will go to bat for them when it comes to admissions and funding. Once you are admitted, keep making faculty allies, avoid faculty enemies at all cost. That's the way the game is played.
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Old 03-24-08, 08:15 PM   #5
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How would I make a relationship with someone that is at another school?

I seriously doubt I will continue on to my Masters while here at Ole Miss.
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Old 03-24-08, 08:48 PM   #6
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How would I make a relationship with someone that is at another school?

I seriously doubt I will continue on to my Masters while here at Ole Miss.
You might start by asking if you can send them a paper you wrote for class on a topic they work on and ask for input/feedback. You might just send an email telling them that you are considering applying to their school and you would like to talk to them/have some questions/etc. Your professors at Old Miss should be able to give you some guidance on this.

See if one of your professors now knows the person/people you are interested in working with and can put you in contact.
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Old 03-24-08, 08:56 PM   #7
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Grad school is definitely a big step in your life. After I graduated from Northwestern with an undergrad in biomedical engineering, I started to work for one of the departments at NU as well. After a year of this, I realized that I really was getting mentally dull without mental stimulation. However, I did know that I did not want to go back to school full time, so instead I opted for an evening program (Masters in Medical Informatics).

What school did you go to? Northwestern
Did you have an assistantship, and if so, how hard was it to get it? Yes. I ended up TA'ing a lot of the intro classes. It was not too difficult to get as the program was still relatively new.
Did you get a stipend for this assistantship? A straight 1000$ per class per quarter. Since I work full time for NU as well, I got nice educational assistances up to 8000 a year.
Health insurance? Yes, through work.
What was your grade on the GRE, both math and english? 710 on Math, 760 on English, 6 on the writing. I would assume that since you are going for English, they will look more carefully at your English and writing sections.

I ended up taking a GRE prep class. It was a lot of money, and when I look back on it, it was just a way to make myself study the obligatory number of hours per week. (didn't want to waste that 700$+ that I paid for the class). Honestly, get some practice books, do the practice exams online since they will mimic what a computer based progressive test will be like, and go from there. The only hint I would have is that since it IS computer adaptive, make sure you take your time on the first few questions of each section. If you get those right, it'll boost your score significantly. If you get them wrong, you'll be "dumbed" down in those first few questions and it'll be impossible to make up the difference.
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Old 03-24-08, 09:06 PM   #8
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Unless your family is wealthy, do not go to graduate school unless you get a liveable assistantship. Ph.D. programs should offer a five year contract. M.A. programs will offer you two years. Do not pay for an M.A. in English!

English departments are notorious for admitting a large number of terminal Master's students, giving them 1/4 assistantship, and then making them teach freshman composition. The carrot is that you may be admitted to the Ph.D. program--but only 2 out of say 20 are admitted. So basically they use you as slave labor, give you a useless M.A. and then spit out back out into the real world.
You will not get a more sound piece of advice than this.

Do not go to graduate school without the full boat locked in. You can rack up $100K in life crushing debt faster than you'd ever guess. And if you're not getting full tuition plus stipend, don't kid yourself that some advisor is going to promote you internally or externally. It's hard enough for them to help the students they've already picked out for full support without reaching out to the great unwashed.
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Old 03-24-08, 09:27 PM   #9
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Thank you all for the advice, it certainly does help.

The above post about the senior thesis is very valuable, in that that thesis is not valuable at all. I do not have anything currently in my arsenal to send to a grad program, but I suppose I will have to write something substantial this summer.

I'm gonna try and take a GRE class this summer as well.
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Old 03-24-08, 09:32 PM   #10
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You will not get a more sound piece of advice than this.

Do not go to graduate school without the full boat locked in. You can rack up $100K in life crushing debt faster than you'd ever guess. And if you're not getting full tuition plus stipend, don't kid yourself that some advisor is going to promote you internally or externally. It's hard enough for them to help the students they've already picked out for full support without reaching out to the great unwashed.
Exactly.

One of my talented students turned down an assistantship and decided to pay for an M.A. at a slightly better school. Why? Because it would allow her to be close to her fiance. Because she was an honors undergrad, she was convinced that all the professors would fall in love with her and magically find her an assistantship. I nearly got down on my knees and begged her not do this, but she had her mind made up.

At any rate, now she's $40,000 in debt on top of her undergrad loans. She will graduate with an M.A. in English and no chance for a Ph.D unless she transfers which, in grad school, means starting from scratch. Her fiance also broke up with her anyway. All I could say was, "I told you so."

If you're going to go to school, get your ducks in a row and commit yourself 110% but also know when you've been beaten.
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Old 03-24-08, 10:02 PM   #11
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Exactly.

One of my talented students turned down an assistantship and decided to pay for an M.A. at a slightly better school. Why? Because it would allow her to be close to her fiance. Because she was an honors undergrad, she was convinced that all the professors would fall in love with her and magically find her an assistantship. I nearly got down on my knees and begged her not do this, but she had her mind made up.

At any rate, now she's $40,000 in debt on top of her undergrad loans. She will graduate with an M.A. in English and no chance for a Ph.D unless she transfers which, in grad school, means starting from scratch. Her fiance also broke up with her anyway. All I could say was, "I told you so."

If you're going to go to school, get your ducks in a row and commit yourself 110% but also know when you've been beaten.
So what you're saying is, I need to go straight into a PhD program right out of undergrad? Or are you saying, get the full assistantship, and the PhD offer will follow?
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Old 03-25-08, 01:09 AM   #12
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Because admissions were so competitive, I couldn't get into Penn State from my undergraduate institution. I did my M.A. at Texas A&M which then helped me to get into Penn State. At that time A&M didn't have a Ph.D. program so the assistantships and fellowships went to M.A. students and the faculty focused on placing their M.A. students in Ph.D. programs. It cost me an extra two years but graduating from a Big 10 school is better than graduating from a third-tier university.

The point, however, is that both degrees were/are paid for by the institutions.
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Old 03-25-08, 10:47 AM   #13
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Ok guys, one more final question.

Should I apply for the PhD program outright? I think that is what you all are saying.
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Old 03-25-08, 09:31 PM   #14
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Yeah, if they shoot you down they might offer you a slot for the M.A.
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Old 03-25-08, 11:18 PM   #15
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Here's a question for you. Why do you want a Ph.D.?

I'm not saying don't get one - just suggesting a little introspection is worth it.

I got my doctorate in one of the sciences, and sometimes I think I did it because I didn't know what I wanted to do. In the end everything worked out fine. But while I was ascertaining the difference between my sphincter and a hole in the ground, I at least had full tuition, a decent stipend and no teaching obligation (I taught anyway because I enjoyed it).

Beyond the support/Ph.D question, there's getting a job. The MLA conference is a pretty desperate affair. Of the three dozen or so extremely bright Ph.D.s I went to school with and really hung out with - three have academic jobs and only one is in the humanities.

I hate to be a total downer on the whole Ph.D. / English thing, but it's basically like planning on being a rock star. Very few make it, making involves a lot of serendipity and a lot of very talented people don't ever come close.
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Old 03-26-08, 09:24 AM   #16
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Well you see, I have had profs tell me the same thing. I am a very hard-working individual and I believe that I will make it all the way. I don't want to be stuck teaching high school, and sure as hell don't want to be a librarian or something of that nature.

Aside from what I DO NOT want to do, I genuinely have an interest in doing this. I believe that I would fit in well in the academic world, and want to give it a shot. Hey, if I can get paid while doing it - why not? I don't really lose anything, and with some of the advise here and some of my own research, I am not going to grad school unless I get paid for it.

Thanks for the warning though.
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Old 03-26-08, 02:53 PM   #17
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Warning: Beware your English degree.

I am in a similar situation I guess. I am a novelist but so far my novels have only sold enough copies to pay off my student loan, still not really making it.. I delivered pizza for a year now I'm an IP Legal Assistant. No one wants English majors unless you are a teacher, so do not plan on finding a job with just a BA... And actually I see no difference in having an English Masters either.. I'm not even compensated for my degree at my current job, I make the same amount as those who only have GED's.
English degree = teacher, apparently. Sucks for those of us who just love literature and writing. Maybe someday I'll sell enough books...
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Old 03-26-08, 02:58 PM   #18
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Kid - do you think your English degree improved your writing?
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Old 04-02-08, 09:43 AM   #19
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Kid - do you think your English degree improved your writing?
Short answer: Probably. It definitely helped me understand where I am coming from and where I am going as a novelist in the history of the world.

However, it is the Critic's place to put writers in historical context, not the writer's job. The degree introduced me to a dozen different styles and let me understand what I was doing, rather than just doing it naturally.

So yes, my degree made me a better writer. Then again, practice practice and more practice has made me an even better writer. Now I'm a published novelist - the next step is making a serious income off of it. Right now, the best I have done is paid off all of my college loans.
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