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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?


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 30th, 2008 09:31 pm (UTC)
What I didn't say--but am beginning to realize I should have said--is that I wanted to participate in the discourse of scholarship, among those who have made scholarship their lives' work. In my very first week, I've been awed so often by the queer and wonderful interlock of ideas; I've been seized with that old yearning to find the joining-places and the fissures, to articulate these half-perceived ideas of my own even when I know that I'll be perceived as overreaching or underinformed. I want to have my ideas flung back at me, to be told why they're insufficient and by that interaction to become a more sufficient thinker. Researching on one's own can produce information, but I want to produce conversation.

That's why I really went to grad school. That's why I really wanted to be an academic. I wanted to be immersed in a discourse, forced out of intellectual isolation, and transformed by the experience.

... you probably shouldn't phrase it quite like that, even if you agree. ^_^;;
Aug. 30th, 2008 09:39 pm (UTC)
Well, maybe this comes from more than a decade of contributing to online forums, I thought making meaningful insights to the scholarly community was such an obvious point that it didn't need to be said.
Aug. 30th, 2008 09:45 pm (UTC)
*shrug* Suppose that's case in point, really. I fling out my idea, it gets shot down, I learn to become a less idealistic and obvious thinker.

Edit to clarify: your case, in your point. Didn't prove a bloody word of what I said.

Edited at 2008-08-30 10:03 pm (UTC)
Sep. 1st, 2008 10:45 pm (UTC)
It is obvious, but remember that you need to show the grad schools that you do know this. While you might take it for granted, many other applicants will not, and you'll need to distinguish yourself from those :)
Aug. 31st, 2008 04:34 am (UTC)
I actually think this is a great thing to emphasize. Scholarship isn't about "loving the literature and wanting to teach it" but about contributing to a discourse, as you say. What I love about research is being able to participate in that discourse, and, hopefully, contribute to it.
Aug. 31st, 2008 01:46 am (UTC)
You're not the only one with trouble in this are, my friend. Why do we want PhD's? Because we love literature and want to teach it and contribute to the field. What is every single other applicant going to say? That they love literature and want to teach it and contribute to the field. Perhaps we can make our sop's stand out by saying we hate reading but like a challenge.
Aug. 31st, 2008 01:47 am (UTC)
*this area*... not are. I hate writing, too.
Sep. 1st, 2008 10:46 pm (UTC)
I like writing...I just hate spelling and grammar :P
Aug. 31st, 2008 03:59 am (UTC)
Just discuss your research interests.
Aug. 31st, 2008 04:04 am (UTC)
Access to better libraries, advanced training, tutelage of specific professors or programs, etc. An "opportunity" that you want to seize, or something.

Really, for me, it was just, "I don't feel like doing something else. I like this, I want to do more of it. Give me more manuscripts, plzkthx."

Or, I would have answered that question with something like, "I have a passion for textual history, linguistics, oral theory, and paleography; a PhD program is the best place to expand upon these interests and extend them into further areas."

And then I would have got on to talking about my research interests and avoided any more gushing that would bore the readers and me.
Aug. 31st, 2008 05:34 am (UTC)
I think one of the problems is that, while graduate apps may ask "why do you want to pursue a higher degree," the question that the professors in the in the English department, who will be the ones to actually read your app. and forward it to the graduate school for a stamp of approval, want to see answered might more accurately be phrased more like:

"what are the motivating factors (coursework/projects/authors/texts/experiences) that led you to this particular field and set of topics and questions, how do you think our department and the resources (human and material) will aid you in pursing them, and how you think you will then contribute to your subfield, and by extension, the field as a whole." Any teaching experience you've had would also be applicable to this question.

Answering in this way doesn't SEEM to be answering the "why do you want to pursue a higher degree" question from an applicants perspective, because they are thinking of the larger life decisions involved. However, the profs who are making the decisions are far more interested in some version of the above. Demonstrate passion through a detailed and engaging description of your work, what led you to it, and how you think it fits into the fields of your choice, and you won't need to declare it.

"I wanted to be immersed in a discourse, forced out of intellectual isolation, and transformed by the experience." -- This would have been my real answer, and I think my SOP may have actually given some version of it, but if I were reading apps. today I would find this answer something that most applicants would say and not much to differentiate one from the pack (although much less cliche than the "I love reading/writing/etc," as well an indicator that the student actually had an idea what goes on in graduate school). Then again, I had very little idea of what was going on when I applied to graduate school and did just fine. It wouldn't hurt to incorporate something like this into an answer to the above.

Edited at 2008-08-31 05:36 am (UTC)
Sep. 1st, 2008 10:47 pm (UTC)
well said. The next time that this comes up, I'm going to toss them a link to this comment.
Sep. 1st, 2008 10:44 pm (UTC)
That is a tough question. I danced around it, and seemed to have fared reasonably well. I reworded the question to answer, "why English rather than philosophy" (On paper, I'm a stronger philosophy student, and my area of interest is right in between the two, probably leaning towards the latter). I spent most of my SoP discussing my research interests...rather than explaining why I'm interested in this, I tried to describe my interests in a way that conveyed my enthusiasm.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )