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English research paper?

I did my undergrad in a non-traditional, interdisciplinary program where I studied a hybrid of several different non-disciplines. I took five years off, and I am now in a more traditional English M.A. program. I am only now discovering that I don't always know how to work within the confines of the English discipline...in all my papers I seem to be doing *something* wrong, but no one will tell me exactly what, because I'm sure I was supposed to have learned it eight years ago.

So the question is...what exactly distinguishes the research element an English research paper? Is it enough to engage with scholarly articles and criticism on the subject, or do I have to directly address some aspect of the author's biography the way most of my fellow students seem to be doing? What percentage of the paper should be directly addressing the research? My professor seems to prefer pretty straightforward analysis, and the Marxist Formalist method that got me through undergrad hasn't really worked for him in the earlier papers I've written.

I would ask my professor, but I'm already afraid he thinks I'm sort of an idiot.

cross-posted to gradstudents

Free Amazon Prime for students

Amazon is currently giving free 1 year memberships to Amazon Prime (free 2 day shipping, $3.99 overnight shipping) to current students with a .edu email address: http://www.amazon.com/gp/student/signup/info I'm not sure how long they're offering this (it doesn't say on the site).

Just thought i'd give fellow students the heads up on this in case you haven't heard about it yet. This is going to save me a ton on shipping textbooks this year!

Non-Traditional Literary Studies

I am currently enrolled in a MA/PhD program and have applied to transfer. My area is fairly broad, grouped under what I would consider to be theoretical approaches to memory, space and the way in which spatial and narrative boundaries fortify social and communal structures.

While my research questions are literary in nature and my theoretical background is developed through literary theory, my writing sample that I submitted with my applications focuses not on literary texts but on these theoretical issues as they relate to an urban space, which I read as a text. I explain this in my SOP, but I am really worried that I weakened my application because my WS will place me outside the focus of an English department. My advisors here encouraged me to submit this piece, however I am really anxious about this and would really appreciate some feedback from this community (for those interested the paper was a reading of Hitler's Bunker as an uncanny space of memory, a "site unseen").
Hi guys - so, I just came across this website today where a English prof gives advice to prospective applicants to grad programs (sorry to some of you who are seeing this twice; I posted this on another forum as well).


Now, he says in there something I've never heard before: that those looking to go on to the English PhD should not get their MA from programs which only grant the MA because such programs are so inferior. I'm posting the paragraph below so you can see his reasoning. As for me - I'll come right out and say it - I'm applying to and had hoped to get into Villanova's English MA program - which is just such a program (they do not offer the PhD). I'd heard their Masters programs have very good reputations, and the department says they've sent a lot of their MA students to some top PhD programs. What do you guys think? I know this guy's a professor, but it sounds sort of hokey. His own program (Pitt) itself sounds a bit unusual - I've never heard of programs where the majority of their PhD students are students from their own MA program. Sigh, this process sucks. I'd love your thoughts: I've pasted in his paragraph below:

"There are over one hundred programs granting a doctoral degree in English and scads more that like Rutgers/Camden offer only an M.A, so the first question you face is whether to apply to programs offering only the M.A. Unless there is some compelling reason like location, applying to terminal M.A. programs if your ultimate ambition is a Ph.D. is probably unwise. Why? Graduate programs limited to an M.A. are often so limited because neither the local faculty nor the local library resources are deemed capable of supporting quality doctoral work. And even M.A. programs in pretty good institutions like Georgetown, Clark University, or VPI may leave their degree holders at a disadvantage when it comes to applying elsewhere for admission to doctoral programs, for most doctoral programs have an understandable tendency to protect their own M.A's in the application process. This means that the bar is set much higher for M.A. holders applying from outside than from inside. At Pitt the disparity has sometimes been grotesque, so it has been extraordinarily difficult for students applying from outside to gain admission to our doctoral program (which is now limited to ten fully funded students per year) since so many of the places were taken by our own M.A.'s, who in their prior years here were able to acquire faculty patrons. Indeed, many outside M.A.'s recently accepted feel pressured by funding rules essentially to retake their M.A. credits here. Terminating a so-so M.A. student who is favored by a couple of faculty and wishes to proceed to the Ph.D. once enrolled in an M.A./Ph.D. program is an awkward, painful and often highly politicized process, and many graduate departments like ours do not handle it very well. For many reasons (some of them humane and quite defensible) a foot in the door is hard to dislodge, and the result is that M.A.'s applying to doctoral programs from outside may be at a striking disadvantage."

Statement of Purpose

Hi guys,

Quick question: do you know of any good resources that provide helpful tips on (or quality samples of) statements of purpose for applications to English programs?

Also, do you know if this forum has info on this, and if so, around when/where I can find those threads?

Thank you!!!

Matching faculty interests

Hi everyone, 

I'm applying to English programs, and I wondered if I could ask for some advice.  My husband is a resident and will not finish his program until the summer of 2012 and so I'm limited in terms of where I can apply.  My dilemma is this: while there are some really excellent PhD programs around here, for me, honestly, looking through the research areas and interests of the faculty at these programs, I'm finding that I'm not terribly excited by what I see.  These programs have great reputations, but I'm just not finding anyone that fits my interest area very well.  

My question would be this: how important do you think it is to be in a PhD program where the faculty's interests are well aligned with your interests?  Is it enough to have one person, for instance, whose reserach you can sort of see yourself interested in?  I've heard that no matter how great the program, if you can't find someone who's really interested in your work, it can really ruin the experience.  And I've heard that when you write your personal statement, you need to sort of mention some of the faculty's interests and show how your interests fit, and if I were to do that in my situation, I'd be really stretching it, and I'm dreading the process. 

I've got three professors who're on track to write me letters to all these different programs, but I'm thinking now that it might not be worth it to apply to all these PhD programs, because even if I got in (which would be a long shot anyway, given how competitive these programs are), they might not be the best places for me anyway.  I'm thinking it'd be best to get my MA, beef up my application, and then apply out to programs where I'll be happy and when I won't be so bound geographically.  
Any wisdom you can offer would be most appreciated. 

Please disseminate the following call for art as widely as possible to artists, academic listservs, etc.
Many thanks!

(Call for Art):
How To Do Things with Words and Other Materials: Artist Books Show-and-Tell
As part of "Spanking and Poetry": A Conference on Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
Feb 25-26, 2010
The Graduate Center—City University of New York
New York, New York

Submit a .jpg attachment of your art as well as an artist statement of 300 words or less (including the dimensions of your piece as well as any display requirements) to sedgwickconference@gmail.com before November 15, 2009. Check http://sedgwickconference.wordpress.com/ for further information as the conference approaches.

During her time at The Graduate Center, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick taught three incarnations of How to Do Things with Words and Other Materials— "an experimental seminar/studio workshop," as she put it, "in which participants will think about and practice a variety of ways of combining written text with other visual media." Through a series of weekly assignments, Sedgwick and her students played with the materiality of the codex and the written word, showcasing their efforts in a public show-and-tell at semester’s end.

In hopes of extending Sedgwick’s interest in words and textiles, and as part of "Spanking and Poetry: A Conference on Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick," this show-and-tell will bring together a variety of artist books produced by Sedgwick, her students, and those inspired by her work. This call-for-art invites submissions that explore in some way the relations among language, materiality, and visuality. We welcome art by former participants in Sedgwick’s courses on the topic as well as those whose work draws on or intersects with hers.

Possible kinds of art may include but are in no way limited to:

Work with Rubber Stamps
Playing Cards
Experiments with Margins & Gutters
Altered Books
Experiments in Scale and/or Layers
Articulations & Dolls
Comic Books & Graphic Novels
Mail Art
Working Between 2 and 3 Dimensions
Conceptual Art

For further information, contact Allen Durgin at sedgwickconference@gmail.com.

(x-posted at callsforpapers.)
Please disseminate the following CFP as widely as possible.
Many thanks!

"Spanking and Poetry": A Conference on Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
English Students Association Conference, Feb 25-26, 2010
The Graduate Center
The City University of New York
New York, New York

Submit abstracts of 300 words or less to sedgwickconference@gmail.com before November 15, 2009. Check http://sedgwickconference.wordpress.com/ for further information as the conference approaches.

“When I was a child the two most rhythmic things that happened to me were spanking and poetry.” (Tendencies 182)

Eve Sedgwick lovingly, if none too gently, slapped open the sphincter-tight boundary rings of critical scholarship on the sexual and affective relations between bodies. This conference invites continued play with the tools she created for examination of “all the different surfaces that make a self for most of us, printed pages, ‘our’ ideas, institutional relations and activism, vibrations of a voice, the gaping abstractions and distractions of creativity, the weird holographic projections of our names and public personae, the visible and impressible extent of the parts of our bodies” (Tendencies 104-05). We welcome paper proposals on any aspect or application of her critical, literary, and artistic work, inviting scholars to broadly consider and reconsider Sedgwick’s intersections with and influences upon their fields. In the spirit of her own perversion of academic style, we particularly encourage proposals that expand the boundaries of the conventional conference paper through experimental or creative critical practices. We also seek papers engaging with Sedgwick’s pedagogical practices and proposals, as expressed in her written work or as performed in her classes at The Graduate Center or other institutions.

Topics may include but are in no way limited to
Aesthetics of the critical eye
Affect and the critical project
Beside the repressive hypothesis
Binary structures and Buddhist practice
The body in queer theory
Experimental critical writing
Identification and loss
Near-miss pedagogy
Non-Oedipal & postmodernist psychologies
Performativity and peri-performativity
Queer gods and goddesses
Queer theory and mortality
Reparative reading
Sedgwick and Ricoeur’s ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’
Shame and generic discipline
Textiles & fiber art

Contact sedgwickconference@gmail.com with any questions about the conference.

(x-posted at callsforpapers.)

Length of PhD application writing samples

Hi guys,

With applications for English PhD programs, when they say they want a 20-25 page writing sample, they mean 20-25 double-spaced pages, right?  I was assuming that the whole time, but then just had the urge to confirm with all of you...


Back again: English applicant

Hey all! So I'm back again (used to frequent this comm when I applied year before last). Finishing second year of English MA this year and applying to PhD programs this applicant season. My question to any of you who may know/be interested: Schools with strong focuses in queer theory and sexuality studies? I do queer space and rural space, especially as it relates to both American Indian studies and Appalachian studies. I'm really looking for queer theory/sexuality-strong programs in general, in English, American studies, gender/women's studies, or any other such interdisciplinary field. Suggestions of schools to look up would be excellent. Here's my preliminary list thus far (all English unless indicated):

University of Minnesota
University of Washington
University of Indiana (both English and Gender studies)
Illinois Urbana-Champaign
NYU American studies
University of Arizona

I feel like I kind of don't know where to look - most of these schools have been recommended by advisors, but I'd like to apply to around 15. I don't know much at all about finding women's studies and gender studies programs either, which may be where to look but it's out of my field and I don't really know who to ask... Help?


x-posted at applyingtograd

A theory minded work-in-progress blog...

...for anyone who's interested!  This is Roki/Sam, posting under the name of my new production blog.  As some of you guys know, I've entered my masters thesis term.  We're required to do a written report or commentary along with our practical animation projects, and I've secured permission to do mine as a blog.  I'm trying to look at theory/criticism at the same time as discussing my creative process and exploring what it means to be doing those two things (creating and criticizing) hand-in-hand.  I've just put up my first entry, with at least four more "official" posts to go.  I know it's not strictly related, but I figured some of you guys might be interested :-)

Dictionaries for Translation Exams

Hi all,
Forgive me if this question has been asked and answered before, but I just started a French for Reading course today (!) and in addition to some (at this point, mercifully simple) homework, I've been tasked with buying a French-to-English dictionary. When I take the exam in the fall, I'll be able to use two dictionaries. Does anyone have any recommendations? Are there any dictionaries that you've found more helpful than others? I want to avoid spending a ton of money, but, well, I want to have a dictionary that has lots of words in it--especially words likely to pop up on French-to-English translation exams.

I'm also wondering if anyone has any recommendations for good Hebrew-to-English dictionaries, but I suspect more people will be familiar with French dictionaries than with Hebrew ones.

Thanks--I hope everyone is having a fantastic summer!

Good Thank-you Gift?

I'm trying to find a good thank-you gift for my former English professor who is going away to grad school, so I thought I'd ask you English grad students for some advice. =)

He was so generous with his time in helping me last quarter. I was the only who received an A in his class, and I could not have gotten it without his help. Anyway, at the end of the quarter, I gave him a box of chocolates and a thank-you card. He seemed kind of touched since, honestly, most of his students think he's mean, and he realizes this (he told us this). However, he was like, my favorite prof.

My main reason for finding him a gift is because he offered to write me three letters of recommendations personalized to the schools to which I'm applying; most profs write only one and make copies. Plus, he's leaving my 2-year school for graduate school in Digital Literacies and Literature in Texas, and I want my gift to be one conveying this: good bye, good luck, and thank you.

What gift would be good? Should I get something that would complement his going away to grad school? If so, what? If not, what should I get?

Oh, and he is very sarcastic, cynical, and rational.

Thank you for your time.
If any of you are going to be in Southern California within the next two weeks, the UC Riverside English Dept. is sponsoring a talk entitled, "The Queer Space of China" by David Eng, professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. The program is free to the public. The date and time are listed above, and here's the link to the rest of the information:


Also, here's the link to Eng's bio on the Penn English site:


I'm probably attending this, so let me know if any of you may be, too.

X-posted in a few places

Zizek: a saucy interviewee

I thought I'd go ahead and share this very short interview that the Guardian conducted with Zizek. It's extraordinarily amusing, but a very quick read, which is a perfect combination at this time in the semester, if you ask me.

Here's an excerpt:
"What makes you depressed?
Seeing stupid people happy."

Hey folks!
Anyone else attending the PCA.ACA conference in New Orleans this week? If so, let's organize an event. We can grab dinner or bar hop a bit. I grew up there and know the city well, so come hang out with a (transplanted) local. Feel free to PM me or comment in this thread if you'd like to meet up.

X-posted a lot

On the subject of languages...

I need to polish up my French.
I have a basic understanding of grammar, and a very basic vocabulary level. Any suggestions on texts I could use for self-guided study?
I'd also appreciate some input on beginner's German.


I'm sure this has been answered somewhere on WGI or here but does anyone have any suggestions for learning latin on one's own?

quarter vs semester

I will hopefully be entering grad school in the fall and was hoping you guys could share your views on the quarter system vs the semester system - pros, cons of whatever your program is, etc.



So I just needed to commiserate with some folks who have experienced these same frustrations!

On Jan 20th, I sent a packet of materials for an outside fellowship. I'd spent a month gathering these materials: official GRE scores, official transcripts (from four colleges!) plus unofficial copies, which requires requesting two transcripts so one can remain sealed, three sealed letters of rec, and six essay-type pages for the application. It STILL hasn't arrived where it's supposed to be. The deadline is TOMORROW. I thought sending it on the 20th would be plenty of time - so it looks like the packet is LOST. So today I was running around like crazy, asking my recommenders (in different states!) to re-send letters directly to the organization, requesting transcripts through crazy online clearing houses, etc. etc. It's pretty much been a nightmare. If I'd waited to the last minute to do this all, I'd be okay with it - but I'd sent all this stuff in 10 days ago, and the stupid post office lost it. It probably slipped behind a desk or got bundled wrong in the shipping process. Needless to say, I'm stressed out and not happy. And I'm embarassed to ask my professors to re-send letters, because I don't want them to think I'm disorganized, you know? I figured you all would understand 1. the need for this fellowship money! (Possibly $3,000-$7,500!) 2. the feeling of everything being out of your hands and 3. frustration with organizations (USPS, ETS...) that don't seem to care one bit about your "important" materials! No good. Okay, venting over. I'm going to have some wine now ;)
so here's a super-subjective question that i looked around to find the answer to, to no avail. maybe this group could take a stab at it.

i was wondering if there was a consensus on a "ten best" list for living american critical theorists. regardless of focus or stance or area of interest. or if we are living in such a factionalized critical epoch that no such list is possible.

i would love to hear your thoughts on this, & any lists you may have seen or generated.

Hopefully not too far OT

Hi all. I'm actually a graduate student in English Literature and I'm in the process of writing my thesis on the persistence of the fairy tale princess as a cultural icon and how new media is changing her.

I have a questionnaire posted here: princess_thesis
that is the cornerstone of my independent research. I need as many responses as I can get before January 19th.

I'm hopeful that community members might consider responding to the questionnaire (via comments or you can email me your response - details on the community) and also sharing the link with anyone/everyone they can think of.

Fairy tales still play such an important part in cultural life and I'd love to have responses from all corners I can reach. Thank you

Jan. 9th, 2009

Hello, does anyone know or have a SOP example I could look at? I have been writing (and re-writing) my SOP dozens of  times and am drawing a blank as to what I should write about. I have several stores and reasons as to why I would like to teach literature but am unsure if they are cohesive. Anyone have any suggestions or examples?


1/16th of the way done...

Hey all - I just sent in my last seminar paper for the semester, so I am officially done with my first semester of my PhD! I think that this makes me legitimate. And according to my school which has my graduation year posted as 2016 on my university ID card, (I know, hopefully it will be earlier than that!!) I am 1/16th done. Have you all finished yet? I'm guessing by the relative quiet on the board recently everyone's been concentrating on finishing seminar papers, but let's celebrate once we each finish!
Is anyone else going to the PCA/ACA National Conference this year in New Orleans? I just found out that I'm going to be on a panel in the Asian Popular Culture area.


To follow up on our previous posts of most overused/abused phrases....

Most of us, I suspect (I hope!) are writing seminar papers right about now. What word or phrase do you find yourself using far too frequently?

For me, it's "thus." It showed up 27 times in a 15-page paper. That's....wrong. Simply wrong.

"Explore" also shows up....3 times in one paragraph. *headdesk* Maybe this is a sign that I need to stop repeating myself...

Happy turkey day!

What are you guys doing for Thanksgiving? Going anywhere? Visiting relatives? Making apologies for not visiting relatives?

And more importantly...what are you cooking / eating?

I'm not hosting this year, so the cooking is quite tame. I'm making banana bread, but adding pecans, chocolate chips, white pepper, and nutmeg to the basic recipe. If I need further motivation to procrastinate, I might also make a cranberry-orange sauce. (delicious on turkey sandwiches).

I'm hoping for lots of leftovers. I have 2 insane weeks left in this quarter, and since I doubt that'll be time to cook, I intend to live off of leftovers... (anyone know of creative ways to use up turkey?)

I need to find a small, portable device that has storage space and the ability to display PDF files on a nifty little screen.  I'm tired of lugging my laptop everywhere when all I want to do is read some articles and take a few notes here and there.  Printing is out of the question, and, before anyone suggests it, I cannot afford one of those Kindle deals from Amazon.  Any suggestions?

i submitted an abstract to this undergraduate conference months ago, and forgot about it when i didn't hear back from them in the week they said they would take to respond with a yes or no answer. i check my email today and i find the schedule for the conference in it, and myself and my un-revised paper on it. i was wondering if any of you good folks had any articles that they liked on my topic, to give me some direction in doubling the length of my paper. here's the abstract::

I am working with _The Two Gentlemen of Verona_ as it portrays the channeling of procreative desire into self-replicating patterns of symbolic service. I intend on interrogating this method of social indoctrination as it bears on the twin bodies of the characters, their bodies-as-organic-entities and their bodies-as-social-constructs. The tension between the needs of the organic body and the demands of the virtual body provides the spring upon which the action in this play moves.

i already make use of elizabeth rivlin's article "mimetic service in TGV" (2005). if anyone has any suggestions about other articles to look at, i am open to it. from what i can tell, there are angles from a queer studies perspective (the twin bodies), from cultural materialism/new historicist perspective (the way desire is contained by/subverts social structures)...

i am running out of time to chase down these angles for a paper that i have already been graded on. any help would be much much appreciated!


Sorry to pose a pre-grad question to the group but I'm working on my statement of purpose and was wondering how specific everyone here got about their research interests. I have pretty specific interests but am worried about pidgeonholing myself. Any words of wisdom?

Reading speed...

Hello everyone. Since it seems that a good majority of you are actually current English grad students, I thought I’d get your take on this. How many of you consider yourselves slow readers, and how does that affect you?


I’ve always been a slow reader; sometimes it takes me so long to concentrate and absorb what I’m reading that I’ve even wondered if I should get checked out for ADHD. But really, I’ve generally managed. I did terribly in college as far as reading for class went: I feel like I never finished reading everything that was assigned. But, I read what I had to, and I felt like much of my failure to get all the reading done was because of bad time management and bad prioritization. In any case, I felt I was ok and was sure I’d do better in grad school with my time and priorities. I wasn’t too worried, until last weekend, when I took the GRE subject test in literature. 


I don’t know my score yet obviously, but I really think I bombed it completely and utterly. For one thing, I felt like I was completely taken aback by the content of the test – it was SO much harder than any of the practice tests, and the prep materials I used seemed completely off. (The practice tests gave the impression that there were going to be a lot of quick and easy ID questions but actually, most of the test involved a longish passage accompanied by four-six reading comp questions. Also, the actual content was very different from what the test prep materials indicated. But all this is another topic for another forum, I guess). The real issue is, I couldn’t believe how much trouble I had with the time constraints. This is so embarrassing, but I think I left between 20-30 questions blank. The last 45 minutes or so, when I realized how behind I was, I started freaking out and could hardly focus.   Ironically, before the test, I felt like the reading comp questions were my forte and what I really needed to study for was the ID questions given my lousy memory w/ names, titles, etc. I’ve never had problems with reading comp, and I truly feel that if I’d had the time I needed, I could have done fine. It wasn’t a matter of not being able to understand what I read – it was that I didn’t have the time to read the passages as I needed to.   Which got me to thinking, maybe it’s not enough that you’re a careful and insightful reader. To succeed in grad school and thereafter, maybe you need to be a fast reader too? Or at least, not a slow reader? This is so depressing. I know that the Lit GRE test isn’t the end-all and be-all but I was flabbergasted at how much I struggled with it, and now I’m in this little existential crisis– wondering if I can really go through with this. 


So I wonder, what’s your take? Your honest opinion would be much appreciated.  Or, if you have some advice about how to improve reading speed, that too would be very appreciated.  :(  Thanks so much.

Taking notes...

I'm curious (or nosy?): how do you take notes for your classes? What's the norm at your program? any suggestions, for those of us who can't read our own handwriting?

I'm deeply fascinated by what seems to be program-centric differences. At SUNY Buffalo, it seems that everyone-and-their-mother had a recorder. I once sat in on a comp lit course and counted NINE recorders propped up around the table.   At my own unnamed, Ugg-wearing, palm-tree-infested program, most students seem to go with the old-fashioned method of pen-and-paper...with a few of us typing (slightly guiltily) on our laptops.

Personally, I've yet to figure out a method that works well for me. As an undergrad, our seminar classes only had final papers (if we had tests, they were a joke, existant only to fulfill university requirements)...so my notes were essentially a space to jolt down "interesting ideas" or try out thoughts before I jump into the discussion. In classes with actual tests, my professor provided meticulous outlines from which I can structure his class comments. Here, I have seminar classes which (mysteriously to me) entail some sort of test at the end...but I'm unsure what sort of information I'm supposed to be gathering in preparation for it.

I also have an awful habit of taking the wrong notebooks to class (or forgetting my notebooks altogether, which is why I prefer the laptop)...and end up writing my notes on random sheet of (borrowed) paper, or the back of class handouts.

Academic Facebook?

I've just heard of http://www.academia.edu/, and I was wondering if any of you are on this site or know enough about it to provide an opinion. I just glanced through it, so I don't really have an opinion yet, but I was wondering what you guys think of it. Also, is this a *really* new thing? Or am I just painfully uninformed about online trends?


Staying healthy, active, fed.

Another non-school related post from me.  How is everyone holding up?  I thought it might be fun to exchange ideas on how to stay healthy--be it trips to the gym, bike rides, or eating healthy meals while on a tight budget and short time.  Anyone have any good suggestions/solutions/recipes to share?  I know that for most of us, time and money are of the essence, so I'm always looking for ideas to get in good meals and exercise while on the go.
So I'm working through the application process, thinking I know what I want to study, where I want to apply, life I love you all is groovy, la la la, when all of a sudden self-doubt strikes.

As an undergrad, my area of emphasis is medieval lit. Specifically, I'm interested in English lit of the High Middle Ages, but in the past couple of years I've been working increasingly with medieval German stuff. Right now, I'm working on an honors thesis which is part lit/cultural analysis and part translation project, on some really fascinating German poetry of the 13th and 14th centuries. My medievalist tendencies are interdisciplinary (like most/all medievalists), and gender/sexuality studies and cultural/religious history are important for me, too. But I'm totally an English major, and I love literature; I want to spend my life studying and writing about and teaching literature. That's where my soul-wringing comes in.

My question is, what to do when your interdisciplinary interests are pulling you in different directions? I'm pulling out my hair trying to figure out whether I should be applying to English programs or to medieval/interdisciplinary programs. If my primary area of interest and expertise (the study and translation of medieval German poetry) isn't even in English, do I really belong in an English grad program?

Has anyone else faced this problem? Have you got any advice for me?

crazy or an insider truth?

I'm new to this place and you guys seem like a really awesome resource for feedback on this kind of stuff, and I’m hoping for your help, if you’d be so kind.

It’s been a few years since I’ve graduated from college, and I’ve made the decision to go to grad school in English Literature. Now, I’ve been going back and forth between starting with an MA and if all works out well, moving onto a PhD program. I have, however, gotten conflicting advice from different sources. Some are saying go for it. Others are saying I should apply directly to a PhD program and forgo the MA option. I did see some posts in the past that referred to similar questions, and they were very helpful.

But what I want to ask about is your take on something peculiar I heard recently from someone who recommended that I forgo the MA. Most people advise forgoing the MA for pretty obvious reasons – my background might be enough and with the majority of MA programs unfunded, it may be a waste of time and money. That is pretty logical and straightforward. Now, here’s where I’m confused – there was one person who told me recently that an MA may hurt my chances at getting into a top PhD program. That sounded a bit crazy to me that it could hurt, but this person offered the following reasoning.

It’d be helpful first to briefly tell you my background, because his reasoning had to do with all this specifically: I went to an ivy league and did well as far as GPA goes, able to pull off the A’s in my classes, etc. However, I was pretty unfocused in college. I graduated an English lit major, but I really don’t see myself as being a competitive candidate at this point: I didn’t write a thesis and when I pull out my old papers, even if they have the A or A- grade, they look pretty pitiful to me on the whole, and they’re certainly not critical, researched papers that show academic promise. They're more well-done close-reading papers. I didn’t build relationships with professors and I don’t think I could get genuinely strong recs. I don’t have very good proficiency in a foreign language – just one college year in a couple romance languages and high school Spanish. Finally, I don’t have a good enough grasp of the various areas in the field to know how I could effectively focus my interests and research, which at this point are scandalously and ridiculously broad.

(If you’re wondering why college was the way it was - long story short, I got pretty disillusioned with the field in college and just gave up on the whole thing, then met a new prof my senior year who opened my eyes per se, and I graduated thinking oh crap what did I do with my college years. I wandered around the last few years, testing out the different careers/fields out there, and I’ve found alas, this really seems to be it.) Now, what I hoped an MA would do is help address all of the above places I feel insecure, and just serve a sort of final confirmation to me that I do have what it takes to do graduate work and succeed. I’m considering applying to an English MA program somewhere local. The tuition won’t be so bad, and the faculty isn’t so bad, but it’s no ivy league, and its program doesn’t have the reputation that a top institution might have. But still, my thinking is – I can grow through this program, prove myself, and be in good position to move forward.

But this one person advises me that if I do my MA there, when I apply out to PhD’s, I might get burned by people on admissions committees that may think I “took a step down,” and I did that MA because it was the best I could do. Secondly, she says that academic departments generally like their PhD students coming in “pure,” untainted, you might say, by other departments, or something of that nature.

Now, as for this person – she’s clearly an accomplished person – she’s got a BA, a law degree and an MA in philosophy all from top ivy leagues and she has an impressive career in journalism as a literary critic. But, the way I came into contact with this person was through this sort of silly Masters in liberal arts kind of program – glorified continuing ed, basically. This person, though she has another full-time job, is the “professor” for this course on Philosophy/Literature I’m taking this semester (my work is paying for it and I thought it sounded interesting – though I've been sadly wrong on that front). Also, this person is an adjunct prof in philosophy at another school around here.

We came upon all this when we got to chatting recently. At first, what she said scared me a bit, but I got to thinking that it sounds a bit fishy. This person’s not REALLY in the academic world, and even if she were, it’s philosophy, not English. She’s a literary critic for a newspaper, but academically, she’s not in the field field. Further, she’s your classic ivy league junkie – which is fine and great, but not if there’s a chance it gave her a set of blinders and false assumptions about this sort of stuff.

Sigh. What do you guys think? Is this person well-meaning but just really off? It seems unlikely since she seems fairly familiar with the academic world and does have a pretty impressive background. Or does she have a point? Can it be true? You do well in the your MA program, prove yourself totally capable, focused and intelligent and the work you propose to take up in a PhD is promising and interesting to the faculty looking at your application. Could you then really get screwed over by the kind of scenario above, where departments think you’re “tainted,” and have taken a step down, blablabla?

Or, here’s a simple question that might tackle it: are any of you out there living proof against her theory? I'm thinking so and hoping so.  I just don't think I could cut it applying to a top PhD program right now. Thank you and apologies for this blabbering email. 


Seeking sources

I'm looking for sources for some work I'm doing on American war literature, and I wanted to see if anyone knew of any particularly good sources focusing on trauma theory.  Any suggestions?  I'm not having much luck with databases, so if you know of any particular writer/theorist/scholar that would be relevant, I'd appreciate the help!

*Edit* I'm doing a project on Civil War era literature.  Whitman's "Drum Taps" is one of the primary texts I'm utilizing.  I'm looking for any other relevant suggestions for other primary texts, as well as theory/criticism based material.
Thanks for the answers given thus far!

French recommendations

I will be *gulp* taking my translation exam in November...which is scarily enough, only a few weeks away. While I've been working through French for Reading all summer, and have most of my grammatical forms down (damn subjuctif imparfait!), I definitely need to practice. Another member of my cohort and I are planning to meet once a week to study together. Rather then memorizing verb charts or vocabulary (though we'll both be doing that on our own), we're hoping to...err...actually begin to translate.

We want to pick a widely translated text: something from "modern" french rather than, say, ancient french (or whatever the ango-saxon equivalent might be!). We're also hoping that there are several good translations out there, so we can compare it with our own...efforts. I'm also hoping for a text with a wide variety of verb forms...the prof who'll be grading the exams warned me that he selects his text specifically on that criteria. Understand: neither of us are adept, and we're both incredibly slow....but it's a start.

On the test, I'll be given a choice between criticism and fiction (and I've been advised to pick the criticism, since the fiction is full of idioms that might be difficult to remember). 2 hours, a page, and a dictionary. (I was recommend this one)

What texts (either theory, or fiction, or both) would you recommend?
And please also recommend corresponding English translations. We're hoping for some points of comparison.


On a different note, is anyone else feeling grumpy about how much they're spending on purchasing books? I checked out whatever was available in the library, used and abused the ILL system, scoured the internet, and still ended up spending over $500. And the best part? I'm on the quarter system, so I'll be doing this thrice a year. Joyous. There isn't even a halfway decent used bookstore in the area, so the hit to my wallet isn't cushioned by a trip to a cool bookstore.


On the other hand...

I liked the post a while ago about academic bêtes noires. I have difficulty with over-determined words or phrases, like 'over-determined',  or 'reify'. But also improper uses of 'radical' and its cognates piss me right off.

So I was interested to ask - what academic words do you find consistently useful or illuminating? What terms do you find often help you to cut through a text in a way that you find constructive?

I have been thinking about this: my fetishes at the moment are to wonder what the author's anxieties and repressions are, and what their investments or agendas are. I think that the words I overuse the most at the moment in class are accordingly 'anxiety', 'concern', 'agenda'. The flip side of imagining myself in this probing psychoanalytic role is that I also want to 'interrogate' texts, or 'put pressure' on words or phrases to see if they reveal what an author has tried to conceal. I suppose I do this because it can show what the writer thinks the weaknesses in their own argument are.

Anyone else?
1. Why do so many grad students (and profs?) sign with "cheers" or "best"? Is there some sort of academic casual-email-lingo that I missed?

2. Why are spouses/boy-girlfriends called partners? I do understand that it's a commitment and gender-neutral term...but it also evokes a business transaction!

Anyone got answers? or interesting speculations? Anyone with other questions that you feel are too trivial or "dumb" to ask your adviser?

Subject GRE Dates

I neglected to register for the Subject test over the summer, and owing to an apartment issue, completely forgot about registering until now. The wonderful GRE website informs me that the late registration date for the test in October has now passed. I think (?) this means that I now have to take the one in November. HOWEVER, the test scores for the Nov. test will not be received by schools until Dec. 19th, which is past Stanford's deadline. Is Stanford out? (I know, I know, I should have registered. I'm in my final year of a BA program, so all of this was a bit spur of the moment). Can I somehow, some way register for the October test?


The Banned List

circumfession  and I were discussing overused words in academia that we think should go on the "banned list."  This came up while I was doing my reading, and noticed that the word "ineluctable" has appeared in nearly every article I read for class this week.  Circumfession has rightfully proposed "problematize" to go on this list also.

So, what goes on the banned list?  I thought we might as well have some fun while we agonize over all the reading and suggest which words/theories/concepts you are now fed up with and officially want to banish to the 9th circle of hell.




Is anyone else submitting to conferences with a September 15th deadline? (want to commiserate?). Three snuck up on me yesterday.  I'm obviously a long, rambly writer, so putting anything into 250 words is rather terrifying.

And as a nitpicky side question...when you're asked for your "affiliation"...how much do you list?

School and program (Almighty University, English department)
School, program, and current status (Almighty University, English department, first year ph.d student)
School, program, and any named fellowships (Almighty University, English department, recipient of the kick-ass endowed fellowship in bear wrestling literature?)

I've seen it done all three ways at the conferences that I've attended, so I'm thoroughly confused.


"Introduction to Graduate Studies"

So I'm guessing that most grad programs have a compulsory component, the, Intro to Grad Studies course. Do you have one? What's its format? How do you feel it functions as a critical primer and an introduction to your fellow grad students? Is it pitched too low or too high? ( I have strong feelings about this, am witholding to see if anyone else bites.)
I am registered to take the Lit GRE on October 18. I have been sort of studying, but am realizing that October is not that far away and I need to get to it! Cracking the Lit GRE is in the mail to me right now.

I found this study guide:  . It says to take one week to study each of the 16 time periods that it covers. I don't have that much time, obviously. Is it realistic that I can study for this in 6 weeks? My term hasn't started yet and I'm not working, so I have plenty of free time. The courses I have taken are: Early and Later British Surveys, Early and Later American Surveys, Paradise Lost, The Divine Comedy, New Testament, Old Testament, Several Renaissance/Early Modern (including courses on Shakespeare, Marlowe, Ren Drama, and a seminar on the Sonnets), Medieval, Modern American Novel, 18th Century British Novel, Victorian British Novel, and a general poetry survey, I think that's all. I have read parts of Canterbury Tales but it was a very long time ago.

Does anyone have any suggestions on what I should focus on? I took one of the practice exams in my prep book and...didn't do that well. I had something like 70% right, without any particular weak period.

I also found this reading list: www.geocities.com/Athens/Troy/5187/gre.html Was that helpful to anyone else?

I'm freaking out!! I'm applying to PhD programs, by the way. I still need to take the regular GRE, and haven't written my SOP yet. At least I have a very good writing sample, and will have great letters. But still. Freaking out. Any advice would be well appreciated.

Hey, does anyone know if it's ok to mention professors from other departments than the one you're applying to in an application? I'm applying to English programs with a specialist area of 20th century theatre and Bakhtinian theory and was wondering if it's worth mentioning Bakhtinian scholars from the Slavic Studies faculty at the same university (particularly if the english department seems to be proud of its interdisciplinary approach - Northwestern, Chicago etc...)?
Kello brought up this (very valid, I think) question in this post, and I thought that I'd drag it out to the spotlight before we're so deeply engulfed in schoolwork that we forget about it altogether:

"Another thing I think would be really great is something that was mentioned as an original goal of this project, way back when: reflections on the application process and what you feel you did right, and what you would do differently, given the chance."

So...there you have it...what WOULD you have done differently, now that you know all the helpful things you learned through the process (that you probaby would have loved to know before you applied?)


Jesus, what AM I doing here, anyway?

So I'm looking over the applications to a bunch of graduate schools, and not surprisingly, a lot of them are asking why I want to pursue a higher degree. Here I was, thinking it was all about loving the literature and wanting to teach it, and here they are, suggesting that those two concepts are trite and overplayed...even if they're true.

Aside from teaching with the only subject I felt totally comfortable with and doing research into varying senses of humor in Victorian Culture, I can't think of much to justify why I should go for a PhD, but then again, I doubt I'm going to rock the world like Briggs or Altick. The thing is, if I wanted to do research, I don't need to be a PhD to do it, just someone who loves doing the research, which makes me wonder exactly why I'm wanting to do this in the first place.

That being said, what did you guys list as reasons for wanting to earn your degrees?


English Obsessed

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