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About this blog

My Second Experiment in Personal Transformation...

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OK, I lied. I actually start TA orientation on August 6.

FINALLY!

What a long, strange journey this has been. First, the application season-that-wasn't. Then, the application season that ended in a fully-funded offer from a perfect-fit school. Followed almost immediately by the cancer diagnosis. Followed by the year of chemo and radiation. Followed (most thankfully) by remission.

And now, after a full decade of starts and stops, I'm finally doing this. I've given notice at the school I've been teaching at for the past decade. I'm registered for classes. I have my funding package. We're looking for a place to move into.

Somebody pinch me - surely this isn't my wildest dream, actually coming true at long last? :wub:

Now, the question is - shall I blog about my first year here? Do you want to read about that?

(This is cross-posted from my wordpress blog, which is my main posting spot: http://caridwen.wordpress.com/)

OK, here we go…. the #JustOneMore movement. It’s here. It’s time.

Time to let go of our fears and worries that we will never be enough or do enough.

Time to let go of that niggly feeling that we should/could/might/ought to be doing more.

Time to go from the intention to up the ante, to actually upping the ante.

Time to let go of the side of the pool and start swimming in the deep end (with floaties. Because I don’t want to be responsible for anyone’s drowning, even metaphorically).

Time to take the training wheels off the bike and go flying down the hill (wearing a helmet. Because again, I don’t want to be responsible for an ER visit to repair a bashed-in head, even metaphorically).

Time to Shine like the Top of the Eiffel Tower at Christmas/Yuletide. (Have you ever seen that? It’s pretty groovy.)

In short: It’s time to take the bull by the horns and do the rhumba until it rolls over in submission to your awesomeness.

OK, OK, enough, I’m fresh out of cliches.

So, here’s the deal: Today, starting now, I am initiating the #JustOneMore initiative.

It’s very simple. Deliciously simple. Arguably the simplest thing we can possibly do to take charge and feel like we are in control of our own destinies.

It’s just what it says: Each day, pick one thing you are doing or intend to do, and do just one more.

Let’s say, your New Year Resolution was to run for twenty minutes every day. Today, at the end of those twenty minutes, run just one more. Now, you’ve done twenty-one minutes! It doesn’t sound like much, does it? Well, on Sunday, I was running five-minute change-up intervals on the treadmill. At 25 minutes, when I planned to stop, I was at 2.2 miles and 223 calories burned. I did just one more set of five minutes, and I ended up at 3.1 and 305, respectively. That can really add up! 13.1 miles in sub-2 hours, here I come!

Or, maybe your goals are less lofty than running a half-marathon; let’s say you want to be able to do 10 pushups. Do as many as you think you can…and then just one more. Think how badass you are going to feel, you buff hottie, you! Boo ya!

Or, maybe your goal is to write 1,000 words a day. Break it down into 100-word increments. Now, write just one more. Ta-da! 1,100 words! Doesn’t seem like that much to you? Well, if you do it every day, at the end of the week that’s 700 extra words in your document, without even trying for it.

Maybe you have set a goal to finish reading that stack of books on your nightstand, or if you’re an academic, to get through a pile of articles. If you read just one more chapter/article/ even page, each night, that’s that much closer to your goal, that much quicker!

Grading papers? At the end of the session, tack on just one more.

Doing laundry? get just one more load into the washer before you call it a night.

Got a list of things to do? Tackle just one more before bed.

Answering emails? Answer just one more before you log off.

Hugging someone you love? Why not slip in just one more, while you’re at it. Ditto kisses. Ditto orgasms (oops, that one just slipped in there, sorry folks. Wait a minute, I’m not sorry at all. )

The possibilities are endless. Why, just the other night, I did just one more thing before bed: I sewed the back of my daughter’s stuffed dragon up. He’s been sitting on my couch in my study waiting for me to attend to his gaping wound for weeks. I didn’t have time to sit down and do the pile of mending he was added to, so I just didn’t do any of it. With #JustOneMore, I did that one, last thing and made her night. And then in doing that, it occurred to me that hey! That was actually pretty easy, and maybe, just maybe, I could go ahead and sew one thing each night and that pile would go away and stop scaring me. So, tonight before bed, I’m going to sew a pair of my husband’s pants, and maybe even another one for good measure! And if I keep this up, the mending pile will slowly but surely, disappear. One thing at a time.

Today, during a faculty meeting, I listened, contributed to the discussion, and graded just one more set of papers… which freed up extra time this evening for me to write. SCORE!

And this week, I submitted a proposal to write just one more essay for publication.

And it dawned on me, while I was developing all of this, that I pretty much already do this, all the time. I’m constantly pushing myself, in competition with myself. But we don’t have to go to extremes to do this. We can ALL do and be more, and thereby be more the person we are trying to be.

See, here’s the thing: we can ALL of us do JUST ONE MORE THING. It’s not that much. It’s just one thing. Even when we think we are going to drop from exhaustion, we can still do one more thing. One, small thing we have been meaning to do. And then that springboards and rolls over and turns into two things, and three things, and before you know it we are all tap-dancing around the kitchen while simultaneously cooking a three-course meal, folding the laundry, doing the dishes, working on our unpublished novels, checking emails, updating Facebook, checking the daughter’s Math homework, talking to our Mothers on the phone, AND doing isometrics to tone that tummy. Piece of cake. (After we’re done tap-dancing, because during would be a bit messy and over-complicate things).

SO, here’s the challenge: For the next 30 days, every day, I want YOU to #JustOneMore. Every day, identify and tackle ONE MORE THING. And make sure you come here and tell me about it, or blog it and link back to me so I know where to go to read it, or Tweet it to @mridleyelmes. And I will do it, too. And at the end of the 30 days, let’s see how we feel. I would be shocked if we were all of us anything less than delighted with what marvelously accomplished creatures we have become.

Anybody up for that shiny, happy feeling of, “I totally did that, I’m a rock star”? Let’s do it! Remember, it all starts with one, simple phrase:

#JustOneMore!

Spread the word! Let’s get a positive, optimistic, inspirational movement going!

Well, here we are. My cohort are finishing their first term as doctoral students, and I am finishing my treatment for breast cancer. And even though it sucks not to be frantically scrambling to get my term papers done, I have to say in the end, I may well have learned more from the cancer treatments than I might have learned in a semester of graduate school - and it's all material that will serve me well when I do enter, next fall.

First, I've learned This. Is. It. There's no time for moping, grousing, complaining, whining, moaning, bitching, or any other "ing". Do, or die. Not only in the literal sense, but in the metaphoric sense. Nobody is going to apply for me, do the research for me, write the SOP/personal statement/paper for me, revise the SOP/personal statement/paper for me, solicit feedback on a paper for me, submit a paper to a journal for me - it is My Job to make this happen, and even the best advisor in the world is only an advisor. If I want to be taken seriously, I have to take it seriously. This lesson, learned from the necessity of researching my cancer and then advocating for myself and managing my care as a patient at four different facilities with a slew of doctors who did NOT always have it together or know what was best for me, has led academically to my submitting and having accepted a chapter for a collection of essays on Chaucer's beasts coming out of Palgrave-Macmillan, a solicitation to submit an essay for a journal, another essay topic under consideration for a collection, a request to expand my role on an ongoing research project, and a request to chair a session at a conference.

(And, I applied for a Ford Fellowship this time around. Keep your fingers crossed for me, because cancer is a little expensive and we could really use the help.)

but the point is, I'm working as a scholar, right now. I'm not even actively enrolled in the program yet. But if I wait to do that, then I'm just cheating myself. So - I'm not "waiting until I start the formal program"....I'm doing the work because - I want to do the work. I have already started. I started the day I decided to pursue the doctorate. My department knows about what I'm doing because I am keeping them updated, and they heartily approve of my work towards professionalization as I wait to enter formally into the program next fall.

Second, I've learned how very humorous being human is. That's right - a corollary: If I want to be taken seriously, I have to take it seriously BUT, I can't take myself too seriously because that only leads to stress, anxiety and burnout. Not to mention, I'm not very nice when I'm feel pressured and upset. In the beginning, I fixated and obsessed over my diagnosis and over all the things I had to deal with and go through. I made myself sick and exhausted myself being upset about everything, and then I was snappish, distant, and completely self-absorbed. Once I loosened up and decided I was going to do this with humor and a positive attitude, the whole thing shifted. Everything was easier, and I was better at what I was doing, and able to do more. Today, at my second-to-last radiation treatment, one of the nurses broke down and said "I just don't know what I'm going to do come Monday. You are so inspirational and I just - you have handled this with so much grace and you are so strong and such a beautiful person inside and out. You have brought so much to us and to the other patients with your smile and humor." I blushed and fell all over myself embarrassed, but I know that in graduate school, the ability to laugh at myself, have a sense of humor, take the work seriously but be willing to be myself warts and all, is going to mean something to other people, going to inspire them and going to lead to better relationships.

Well - that's two things. There are more, but I am busy right now. I'll try to update as I think of things to write. But in the meantime, hopefully this will help some of you as you begin your doctoral journeys. don't WAIT until someone else tells you what and when to do the work, get in there and do it, and then refine your approach and the product thereof as the professors help train you into your role. Be yourself - you are more inspiring than you could ever imagine you would be to someone out there, even if you don't think you are because you're a ridiculous creature who can't walk, think and drink coffee without wearing the coffee and tripping (like me). Take your work seriously and do it because you love it, but do it well because it's important - but also, laugh whenever there's a reason to laugh - and if there is not a reason to laugh, find one. There will be more of this as I can present it. And, don't forget to check out my blog at http://caridwen.wordpress.com/ , which is updated much more frequently than this one.

OK, so, at this point I am going in for a re-excision for cleaner margins on Monday, and then have a CT and Bone scan the following Tuesday. THEN, the following Wednesday-Saturday - Kalamazoo! Thank god(dess)(e)(s) I get to do something completely academic for a few days...! I will likely begin chemo at the end of May - four rounds of Taxere and Cytoxin. Following that with 35 rounds of radiation and - bimbaddabing, hopefully the crap is gone for good. unfortunately, not soon enough to get me to my doctoral work sooner than 2012 Fall Term - but I remain VERY hopeful that I will get to that point still sane and ready to go!!

This whole thing just SUCKS. It sucks more than anything I have ever had to go through, not least of all because of everything else that happened during this application season. The universe really does have a sick, sick, twisted sense of humor. But in the end, as I told my husband, I WILL have my PhD, if I am gasping my final breaths on life support while finishing up my dissertation. I won't be deterred by cancer or anything else, I've gone through too much to get here.

I will try to get in here (this blog) periodically to update any interested parties, but I am likely to go long stretches between posties. I therefore recommend that if you want to follow this ordeal more closely, you frequent my "official" blog, http://caridwen.wordpress.com/ which is updated with much more regularity than this one at present.

Hang in there, and best of luck to those currently enrolled and those going in next fall - I'm mad with jealousy, but also very excited for you!!!

So, my doctor checked with the oncologist and they are both leaning towards doing a re-excision because they are not happy with the margins - they're clean, but not by much (millimeters, on two sides). My doctor in particular says she just doesn't have a good feeling about it, and while she is hoping she's wrong she'd rather be safe than sorry and know more definitively what the margins really are. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it sounds like I'm either going to lose a good-sized chunk or the whole shebang this time. Frankly, if I had had any inkling they would need to do any further surgery I'd have had both the damned things lopped off the first time around. And I'm gonna tell her: if you take one, take them both and be done with it. I'm a medievalist, not a Classicist; I have no intention of running about like Camilla the Amazon when I could just as easily be a modern-day Agatha of Sicily, which fits in much better with my research interests!

Le Big Sigh. This is turning out to be a bigger deal than I thought it was going to be, and I thought it sucked before. Don't see any way around the deferral at this point, but ye gods, that's a tough pill to swallow....I was kind of hoping for a get out of jail free card at some point in all of this, but it doesn't seem to be manifesting that way. :(

OK, Sportsfans, here's the stat update: Stage 1, 0 Nodes, 0 metastats. They did find DCIS, & there were cancer cells in some blood vessels in the tissue sample, so chemo it is. (Don't offer to buy me a wig, my Mommy has already stepped up on that one. And, of course, it will be Red. :D) It's an aggressive little bugger, but it's gone. Probability: 70% disease free in 5 years, 85% relative survival. Not so bad, eh?

So, given that I have the Big C and don't have a timeline or prognosis, and that it is so close to April 15, I decided that it would be unethical for me not to call the director of English Graduate Studies, tell her what is going on and that I can't say for sure what I will and will not be able to do, and give her the chance to offer my slot to someone who isn't dealing with the Unknown. It was definitely NOT an easy phone call to make, and NOT a phone call I would ever wish on anyone.

That said, when I told her my situation, she was so wonderful. First she was adamant that no, they were not taking back their offer. She said I can certainly defer for a year if I need to, and also that she is going to talk with some other people and find out if there is any other form of alternative funding available so I don't have to count on the TAship for the tuition waiver for the first year; I might be able to take classes and work in the writing lab instyead, then TA the following year, for example - she doesn't know, but she is going to explore options and get back to me. I felt so relieved to hear that this is not unusual, that they do make exceptions, and that there are precedents for this (See? Always ASK!) It would have been so much easier for her to just say "Well, thanks for the heads-up, appreciate you letting us know before April 15, apply again when you're clean". Instead, I was re-affirmed all over again a.) that I certainly chose the right program to work in and b.) I'm worth it.

SO...Cancer, yes. Cancellation of PhD - NO WAY! :D

I am a really, really lucky girl, all things considering. OK...off to sleep off the next round of Vicoden. :)

Post-op update at present is the best possible news for a cancer diagnosis - the lumpectomy went VERY well, they found NO visual signs of cancer in any of the lymph nodes or in the surrounding tissue, although the pathologist will have to confirm that. I will go in Thursday for those results and then we will talk radiation. Chemo is currently not on the table yet. I have Vicoden. We are Good To Go. Hang in there - we got this.

Also, just 'cause I was feeling feisty and oh! so badass, so, I made my sister (drove down to be with me since DH had to work) take me to the local coffee shop for a grande soy latte, we swung by to pick up the girls from daycare, and then we all headed over to the local specialty cafe for gelato prior to coming home. Just to let the cancer know who it was trying to screw with. :P Now I will be good and go lie down, because it actually does hurt like a mother...<_<

Unfortunately, we got home too late to gt a hold of anyone at UNC-G, but I left a message on Dr. Dowd's phone to call me at her convenience. I just don't want to email this one, it seems bad form.

Unfortunately, the results have come back positive for infiltrating ductal carcinoma. It's the most common type of cancer. I'm going in for a lumpectomy in the morning and won't know stage or anything more until the end of the week. I'm still hopeful that we caught it early enough that it has not had a chance to spread, and so should you be, also.

I have pulled my paper for the International Medieval Congress, which clearly I am not going to get done in time at this point. I still plan to go to the conference and to preside over my session.

I am not even thinking about the doctoral program until I have a clearer and more firm prognosis.

Hang on - just when you thought things were winding down, this blog's about to get a lot more interesting. Let's all hope for a happy ending.

Just when you thought you had covered all unforeseeable circumstances....

This morning I was minding my own business in the shower and....oh. Well, that's odd. Oh. No, yep, that's what it feels like.

I went upstairs to DH and let him know that things could get really ugly, really quickly.

I called the doctor's office and left a message. I managed to get an 11:00 a.m. appointment for an exam. She found what I found. I then had a Monday afternoon appointment scheduled for a mammogram.

The hospital just called and said to come in today instead, so now I have a 1:30 p.m.. appointment for a diagnostic mammogram. And a family history of the stuff.

Wish me luck. In the realm of fair versus unfair, this could be the single most spectacularly unfair moment imaginable: Just when all of your dreams come true, the Universe turns around and yells "Psych!"

It's like when I was in high school getting bullied, only so much worse. Just...let's all hope it's benign. Because REALLY? After everything, REALLY?

Don't worry, though - if the Universe seriously thinks this is going to stop me from getting that PhD - after everything else I have dealt with on my way to this degree - well, I'm as stubborn and bull-headed as they come. It'll have to drop me in my tracks, if it's to stop me finishing what I have now begun.

I'll keep you posted. But hey - at least your day, whether you were accepted or denied, was better than mine. :blink:

Continued from Part One. We are now at draft five:

Draft FIVE:

The day I graduated from Longwood University’s master’s program in English, I should have been celebrating the long-awaited, long-worked for completion of my formal education. Instead, roughly an hour before commencement exercises began in Farmville, Virginia, I was standing before a crowd of medievalists, delivering a paper outlining my thesis findings at the International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo. Michigan.

That weekend in 2009, I became the first in my family on either side to earn an advanced degree. Far from satisfying my curiosity as regards medieval literature and culture, this degree has only sent me on a maddening quest to toe the line between the life of the mind I crave and the life I chose before I ever knew it existed. It is an untenable situation, and I find now that although I did not take a straight path towards becoming a professor, this is exactly what I have spent the past decade seeking to become. Therefore, I am requesting admission to your doctoral program in English, with a focus on medieval literature and secondary areas of interest in early modern and nineteenth/twentieth century medievalism, in order to receive the proper training and professionalization necessary for the life I have already in many ways been trying to live.

I bring with me a wealth of preparation for this training, beginning with thirteen years of teaching in a variety of academic settings: at the middle school, high school and college levels, in needs-challenged and advanced/AP courses, in urban and rural districts, and on public and private school campuses. Because of this I am confident in my ability to teach to a wide variety of student backgrounds and abilities. I feel I would be a great resource for other TAs newer to teaching than I am. In return, I could benefit enormously from watching and talking with instructors at the university level, testing and refining my skills to become an even more capable professional educator, one well-prepared for university-level instruction.

I am state-certified to teach both French and English, and earned a perfect score and ETS certificate of distinction on the Praxis II subject test in English. In my capacity as a state teacher, I followed an already-established curriculum aligned with the Virginia Standards of Learning. In my current position at a private boarding school, I have written my entire curriculum, developing three programs of study from their inception. Originally hired to teach French, there were not enough language students to justify this as a full-time position, so I was offered the chance to teach other subjects. I chose Art History and English, influenced by the interdisciplinary work I did at American University during a year of master-level study. They needed a Latin course; I revisited the work I did in the language as an undergraduate and re-taught myself Latin. The research I did preparing to teach these new classes was both brutal, because I had so little formal training, and exhilarating, because I was doing the kind of work I had always wanted to do. My students in all three areas of study have gone on to earn scores of 4 and 5 on the AP examination. Because of the success of my students on these exams and at the college level, I am confident in my ability to design and implement effective curriculum, and to approach this work from a variety of methods, including chronological and thematic survey, comparative approaches to literature, and the subject- or author- specific seminar. As a doctoral student training to become a professor, I would welcome the opportunity to try to expand and refine some of my courses for students at the college level, and to learn from experienced professors what the reading and work load in such classes should look like.

Because I teach at a year-round school, my current workload is formidable: six, separate courses a term, five terms a year. I completed my master’s program while juggling this full-time schedule and a young family as well, earning a 4.0 GPA. I believe that this demonstrates that I am well-prepared for the challenges of balancing teaching as a TA and the completion of my own studies.

I have publications and extensive conference participation to my credit. In addition to an article in the Virginia English Bulletin based on my innovative approach to teaching classic literature at the high school level, I also have forthcoming in the MLA Approaches to Teaching Tolkien volume a chapter on my teaching of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings as part of an epic literature course, as well as a number of entries in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Medieval Pilgrimage and Encyclopedia of Medieval Chronicle and the Facts on File Companion to Pre-1600 British Poetry, Companion to Literary Romanticism, and General Themes in Literature. I have presented papers at major conferences in my proposed field, including the Medieval Academy of America Graduate Student conference, the conference of the Southeastern Medieval Association, and the International Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo. I have also organized sessions in my areas of interest, and this year will further be presiding over my first panel. All of my publications and conference papers have derived from the teaching and research I have done in and for my classes, and I believe that this is the best approach to a life of scholarship: when teaching, research, writing and publication all rely upon and are influenced, inspired and drawn one from the other. As a doctoral student, I will learn how to refine my research and writing skills even more, honing my scholarship to truly professional academic quality.

While my teaching, research and publication background is diverse and can appear at first glance erratic, in actuality it renders me extremely prepared for doctoral level work in my particular areas of interest. My language skills lend themselves well to comparative reading and research, and my particularly strong background in French and more recent work in Latin are all but prerequisite in the study of literature in England from the 11th through the 15th centuries, or post-Conquest to Middle English, which is the area in which I intend to concentrate most fully. Further, my work in Art History recommends me as a particularly strong candidate for doctoral study in medieval literatures, where manuscript studies and the marriage of print and visual media as text are the norm rather than the exception. Because of my long-standing fascination with Arthuriana, or the Matter of Britain, I have naturally branched out into the study of epic and romance and folklore in general, medieval chronicles including the Historia Regum Britanniae and the Prose Brut, early modern studies, most specifically Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and the nineteenth and twentieth centuries via the Romantics and Moderns, who themselves were highly influenced by medieval and early modern models; in the twentieth century, I have worked with medievalism through C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain chronicles, highly modeled on the Welsh Mabinogion, itself counted among Arthurian texts. My work with Tolkien led me to my interests in the Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse Icelandic traditions, while all of these traditions lend themselves to the study of the overarching themes of violence, chivalry and courtliness, magic, and identity, including gender studies, which comprise the majority of my teaching and scholarship. As an applicant to your program, I believe that my sound preparation in such a wide array of genres and eras recommends me as a student who can handle training in multiple and diverse literary traditions. As a doctoral student, my primary goal will be to learn how to refine my interests into a manageable – and marketable – program of research.

At present, I am engrossed in two ongoing projects, which I hope to continue to work on at the doctoral level. The first is an expansion and revision of my graduate thesis on the role of medieval writers as nation-builders exploiting specific fictional characters and character traits intentionally to bring people(s) once on the margins to the center of a nation as its kith and kin. Focusing on the figure of King Arthur, this work currently centers around Geoffrey of Monmouth, Layamon, and Thomas Malory, and I am hoping to expand it to include other chronicles and romances such as the Prose Brut and the Alliterative Morte Arthure. This project would benefit enormously from the input of professors familiar with the Arthurian literary tradition, but also with professors working in chronicle and romance traditions and with the themes of identity, postcolonialism, and nationalism.

My second ongoing project is a challenging of the dual Eve/Mary construction often employed in analyzing women in medieval texts with a view incorporating the central-to-the-tale, yet marginalized-by-society mystic or monstrous female. The publication of Sarah Miller’s and Dana Oswald’s monographs among others assures that this subject will continue to be revisited as important to our understanding of the medieval world view; I am currently working on it as it relates to Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene. This project requires the support and suggestions of both medieval and early modern scholars working in gender and feminist studies and in female saints and mystics and the monstrous.

I envision as a possible subject for my doctoral dissertation a comparative examination of the presence and function of feasts in select Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, Celtic and/or Middle English texts produced in England from post-Conquest through the 15th century. I am interested in the way in which feasts appear to serve different functions dependent upon where they are held (indoor/outdoor and mortal/immortal planes), where they occur in the narrative (at the beginning, they catalyze the action; in the middle they serve as a pause in the action and an opportunity for regrouping or reconfiguring the figures involved, and at the end, they serve as the dénouement), and who is holding them (secular, holy, or immortal figures, or outlaws or nobles). I am fascinated by the differences between feasts held by men, which seem to be a display of wealth and power and generally are of a celebratory nature either for religious or political commemoration, and those held by women, which seem to be a display of wealth and power, usually in order to seduce, and the fact that this seems to remain true regardless of whether the text is fictional or historical in nature. My particular background lends itself well to this project, and I know it to be a highly under-represented area of study at present. This project could be ably supported by a medievalist specializing in Middle English romance and professors working in hagiography, historical chronicle, gender and postcolonial studies.

I am aware that my final undergraduate GPA is lower than admissions committees generally like to see. Aside from its being thirteen years old and superseded by outstanding work at the master’s level since then, this reflects neither my work ethic nor my academic ability. I transferred two years in with a 3.3 GPA. I worked full time and commuted 40 minutes each way daily to offset the costs of transferring programs. My job at a Colonial Williamsburg tavern entailed a simple scheduling policy for students at the College: we submitted our course schedules at the beginning of the term, and the headwaiter scheduled us for every full shift during which we were not in class. Between that and the commute, I physically did not have the time to get the reading and research done. In light of this, I ask that my application be given particular consideration as regards everything I have done since that point, which I believe recommends me as a student of clear passion and potential, and one well-prepared for the challenges of doctoral-level work and a career as a university professor.

From the first, I consciously set out to become a teacher, and to be the best, most skilled and most knowledgeable teacher I could be. Over time, this has unconsciously shaped my career along a path I never could have foreseen thirteen years ago. I chose to be a secondary school teacher before I ever saw what academia could truly be for me. Because of the force of my desire to know, to teach and research and to write about what I teach and research, I have become a strange hybrid – a secondary school teacher performing the tasks of a college professor. I have already begun in many ways to live the life of a professor, but I feel that I began in medias res. It is time to take a step back and return to the beginning, and to receive proper advanced training for the life I have begun to live, and I sincerely hope that you will afford me that opportunity.

And here's the meat of this post, folks: Actual professorial commentary on this draft(I changed colors for each comment to distinguish them from one another):

Prof 1:

try not to be too sentimental/sappy, okay? You would be amazed at some of the students you will be competing with who will mainly just be showing off their erudition and theory expertise, earned at the best schools in the country, in the most elitist ways imaginable [and yet, for some reviewing faculty, this is effective]. Obviously that can be tiring to admissions committees, too, and it would be good to humanize your statement--just don't go overboard on the *personal* narrative details or even mention desires for "life of the mind"--some evil faculty will think that's silly [even though, let's face it, it's the truth of why we do this]. Be "real" but practice some reserve, too, okay?

I'm not sure I would mention details as specific as having taken the Praxis II subject test in English: will anyone know what that is outside of public school teaching in Virginia? Letting them know you have varied foreign language skills/experience--GREAT--but they don't need these nitty-gritty details.

I'd be careful of your description of your second ongoing project as a challenge to the supposedly predominant "dual Eve/Mary construction often employed in analyzing women in medieval texts with a view incorporating the central-to-the-tale, yet marginalized-by-society mystic or monstrous female" as those who work in medieval women's studies, gender/sexuality studies, etc. may find this an overly narrow description of their field and even find it off-putting and perhaps a bit too smug.

While it's clear that you're a much more mature and advanced applicant than others who will be competing for similar spots in the programs to which you are applying, I would tone down a bit the section on what you envision as your doctoral research--it's way too detailed for someone who has not yet started a program somewhere and it's bit too much of "counting all of one's chickens before they hatch." Established scholars sometimes have the same problem when they are asked what they are working on and and they start talking about their 3 or 4 book projects and you wonder how they could even find the time to do one of those. I'm sure you want to be impressive, but you need to be careful not to look as if you are being hyperbolic--also, the idea is that you would be accepted into a program where you would meet scholars who would help you to conceptualize and execute a doctoral project--not that it would already be outlined before you got there. Even if you believe that's what you're going to do, I would really aim to make that sound much more open-ended and not-yet-fully-formed. Speak of your doctoral pursuits as areas you want to research further, not as a diss. prospectus you've already formed, if that makes sense.

Other than all of that, I think what you have here is excellent, especially your last two paragraphs. I hope this helps. And good luck!

Reader 2:

This version is 100% better than the first one you showed me. You have very effectively showcased both your teaching background and research and publishing experience. These are things that no wunderkind 22 year old can boast of, and will recommend you highly.

I only quibble with a couple of word choices. At one point you say that your work to date may appear "erratic." I would expunge that clause. No one expects someone coming off of an MA to have a razor sharp focus on a particular project, and most medievalists must of necessity be dabblers in diverse fields because of the nature of our sources. So I wouldn't describe your work with a word with such negative connotations when people probably won't read your productivity to date as such.

Second, I wouldn't call your situation "maddening." It's an innocent enough word, but there are enough genuinely unstable people in academe that it might send out the wrong signals to an application committee. To be on the safe side, I would tone that part down a notch.

But on the whole I would say it's an excellent application and just about as close to perfect as you're going to get. I'm afraid that from this point forward all you will be able to do is put your fate in the hands of others, and wait.

Prof 3:

A) That seems a LONG letter.

> B) The research needs to be put up front, and made the main focus.

> C) Emphasize your strengths, don't dwell so much on weaknesses.

> D) I'd moderate throughout your claims to be like a prof -- I think that this makes you sound (as I know you not to be) like someone who will refuse to see the hierarchy between grad student and advisor, and therefore not listen to advice, etc. We've all had returning students who are often the best ones we get, but some, close to us in age or older than we are, having already run their own shows, etc., can be unwilling to accept that in THIS area, we have good advice to give, and this can set up a problematic dynamic. Remember, you are not applying to be a colleague, but a student. Some of this reads as if you are applying for a teaching job, not a PhD program.

>

> I hope that doesn't make me sound like a total jerk. I am not saying what I think, but what I think others will think on reading your letter. I know you, so I don't worry about these sorts of things, but they don't, and this letter is all they will have to go on, so the tone is important. You don't need to be groveling, or anything, but some of this sound ahead of itself.

AND, that brings us to the final draft that went out (forgive the underlining, I have no idea why it did that but I can't make it go away):

The day I graduated from X University’s master’s program in English, I should have been celebrating the long-worked for completion of my formal education. Instead, roughly an hour before commencement exercises began in This City, I was standing before a roomful of scholars, delivering a paper outlining my thesis findings at the International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Rather than concluding my formal education, I was embarking on a new and exhilarating path of scholarship.

That weekend in 2009, I became the first in my family on either side to earn an advanced degree. Far from satisfying my curiosity as regards medieval literature and culture, this achievement has led me on a futile quest to toe the line between the life of the mind I crave and the “real life” I chose before I ever knew it existed. Therefore, I am requesting admission to your doctoral program in English, with a focus on medieval literature and secondary areas of interest in early modern and nineteenth and twentieth century medievalism, in order to receive the proper training and professionalization necessary for the life that in many ways I am already striving to live.

I am engrossed in two ongoing projects and a third line of enquiry which I hope to continue work on at the doctoral level and beyond. The first of these is an expansion of my graduate thesis on the role of medieval writers as nation-builders exploiting specific characters and character traits intentionally to bring people(s) once on the margins to the center of a nation as its kith and kin. Currently centering around the figure of King Arthur as he appears in the writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth, Layamon, and Thomas Malory, I plan to incorporate further works such as the Prose Brut and the Alliterative Morte Arthure into this study. This project would benefit enormously from the input of professors familiar with the Arthurian literary canon, and also professors working more generally in chronicle and romance traditions and with theories of identity, postcolonialism, and nationalism.

My second ongoing project considers the cultural importance of the central-to-the-tale, yet marginalized-by-society mystic or monstrous female in medieval and early modern texts. The publication of Sarah Miller’s and Dana Oswald’s monographs among others assures that this subject will continue to be revisited as important to our understanding of the medieval world view; I am currently working on it as it relates to Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene[1]. This project requires the support and suggestions of both medieval and early modern scholars working in gender studies, in identity and theories of the Other, and in female saints and mystics.

A third area of interest for me is the presence and function of feasts in Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, Celtic and Middle English texts. I am interested in how feasts in medieval texts appear to serve different functions dependent upon where they are held (indoor/outdoor and mortal /immortal planes), where they occur in the narrative, and who is holding them (secular, holy, or immortal figures; outlaws or nobles). I also wonder about their rhetorical purpose - how much feast descriptions are intended merely to persuade between characters, and how much, if at all, they are intended to persuade between author and reader. I am fascinated by the differences between feasts held by men, which are a display of wealth and power, occasionally are an attempt at assimilation (seduction) of a desirable figure or group of figures into a court or company for collective gain, and generally are of a celebratory nature either for religious or political commemoration, and those held by women, which are a display of wealth and power, seem always to be an attempt at seduction of a desirable individual, and misappropriate state funds for personal gain, and the fact that this appears to remain true whether the text is fictional or historical in nature. Such a study could help to shed light on questions of power, identity, gender, and the importance of material culture to England as they are inscribed in these textual feasts. This work would be ably supported by medievalists specializing in Middle English romance and the insular literatures of Britain, and professors working in hagiography, historical chronicle, gender and postcolonial studies, and rhetoric, especially as concerns theories of food.

I bring a wealth of experience recommending me as particularly suited to doctoral training, beginning with thirteen years of teaching in a variety of academic settings: at the middle school, high school and college levels, in special needs and advanced/AP courses, in urban and rural districts, and on public and private school campuses. Because of this, I am confident in my ability to communicate to students with widely disparate backgrounds. As a two-year fellow of the National Writing Project, I have also been trained to teach writing instruction to other teachers, and the teaching of writing skills is a particular strength of mine. In this capacity I could be a great resource for other English TAs newer to teaching than I am. In return, I would benefit enormously from watching and talking with university-level instructors, testing and refining my skills to become a professional educator well-prepared to teach at the college level.

I am state-certified to teach both French and English. In my capacity as a state teacher, I followed an already-established curriculum aligned with the My State Standards of Learning. In my current position at a private school, I have written my entire curriculum, developing three programs of study from their inception. Originally hired to teach French, there were not enough language students to justify this as a full-time position, so I was offered the chance to teach other subjects. I chose Art History and English, influenced by the interdisciplinary work I did at W University during a year of master-level study. They needed a Latin course; I revisited my undergraduate notes and re-taught myself Latin, which I since have used for my scholarly work on medieval texts. My students in French, English and Art History have gone on to earn scores of 4 and 5 on the AP examination. I am confident in my ability to design and implement effective curriculum, and to approach this work from a variety of methods, including chronological and thematic survey, comparative textual approaches, and the subject- or author- specific seminar. As a doctoral student I would welcome the opportunity to try to restructure some of my courses for college students. I am especially eager to learn from experienced professors the differences between secondary and post-secondary instructional design and implementation.

I publish and speak in my field regularly. In addition to an article in the Virginia English Bulletin based on my innovative approach to teaching classic literature at the high school level, I also have forthcoming in the MLA Approaches to Teaching Tolkien volume a chapter on teaching Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, as well as signed articles in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Medieval PilgrimageEncyclopedia of Medieval Chronicle and the Facts on File Companion to Pre-1600 British Poetry, Companion to Literary Romanticism, and General Themes in Literature. I have presented papers at major conferences in my proposed field, including the Medieval Academy of America Graduate Student conference, the conference of the Southeastern Medieval Association and the International Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo. I have also organized sessions and this year will be a panel moderator. My publications and conference activity derive from the research and writing I have done in and for my classes, and I believe that this is the best approach to a life of scholarship: when research, teaching, writing and publication all are influenced, inspired and drawn one from the other. As a doctoral student, I will learn to refine my research and writing skills, honing them to an exceptional academic quality.

I have prepared carefully for advanced work in my areas of interest. My language skills lend themselves well to comparative reading and research, and my especially strong background in French and more recent work in Latin are all but prerequisite in the study of English literature from the eleventh through the fifteenth centuries, the post-Conquest to Middle English era in which I intend to specialize. Further, my work in Art History recommends me as a particularly strong candidate for doctoral study in medieval literature, where manuscript studies and the marriage of text and visual media and even substitution of visual media as text are the norm, rather than the exception. My long-standing fascination with the Matter of Britain has branched into the study of epic, romance, mythology and folklore in general, medieval chronicles, early modern texts (particularly Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene), the nineteenth century Gothic and Romantic movements, and the works of Moderns such as T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf , themselves highly influenced by medieval and early modern models; I have worked with twentieth century medievalism through the works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and through Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain chronicles, which are modeled on the Welsh Mabinogion. This, in turn, led me to read widely in Celtic literatures. My work with Tolkien also led to my interests in the Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse Icelandic traditions. All of these reading and research paths have contributed to the thematic studies in violence, kingship and outlawry, chivalry and courtliness, magic, monstrosity, identity, and gender studies, which comprise the majority of my scholarship and teaching. As an applicant to your program, my experience with such a broad range of genres and eras qualifies me as a student able to handle training in multiple and diverse literary traditions. As a doctoral student, my primary goal will be to refine my interests into a manageable – and marketable – program of research. With academic hiring as it currently stands, when I go on the job market as a medievalist, I will be expected to have a stated specialization and to bring an “and also” factor to the table. My background supports perfectly that need, and with further training in languages and the help of my advisors in selecting a set of courses and reading lists designed to strengthen and underscore my preparation in the sub-specialty areas of early modern literature and nineteenth and twentieth century medievalism, I believe I will be poised as a uniquely qualified and marketable candidate.

I am aware that my final undergraduate GPA is lower than admissions committees generally like to see. Aside from its being thirteen years old and superseded by my 4.0 at the master’s level, this reflects neither my work ethic nor my academic ability. I transferred two years in with a 3.3 GPA. I worked full time and commuted 40 minutes each way daily to offset the costs of transferring programs. My job at a Famous Tourist City tavern entailed a simple scheduling policy for students at the College: we submitted our course schedules at the beginning of the term, and the headwaiter scheduled us for every full shift during which we were not in class. Between that and the commute, I physically did not have the time to get the reading and research done; my strong work ethic broached no dropping of courses or asking for extensions. However, I learned from the mistakes I made overextending myself as an undergraduate how to balance work and life and what my limits are, and I believe that everything I have done since then recommends me as a student of clear passion and potential, one well-prepared for the challenges of doctoral-level work and a subsequent career as a college professor.

From the first, I consciously set out to become the most skilled and most knowledgeable teacher I could be. Over time, this has unconsciously shaped my career along a path I never could have foreseen thirteen years ago. I chose to be a secondary school teacher before I knew what academia truly could be for me. Because of the force of my desire to know, to research and teach and to write and dialogue about what I research and teach, I have become a strange hybrid – a secondary school teacher performing many of the functions of a college professor. While I have already begun in many ways to live the life of a professional academic, I feel that I began it too much in medias res. It is time to take a step backward in order to move forward with the proper advanced training for the life I am striving to live. I sincerely hope that you will afford me that opportunity.

[1] Sarah Alison Miller, Medieval Monstrosity and the Female Body, Routledge, 2010; Dana Oswald, Monsters, Gender and Sexuality in Medieval English Literature, Boydell and Brewer, 2010.

And there it is. With a little shift in language here and there, and the flip-flopping of the research and teaching statements, this is the document that got me the fully-funded admissions offer, as well as a number of individual emails from professors in the department telling me how impressed they were with this statement. It's long, but it's specific, scholarly, professional AND personal and, most importantly, it's mine, and one no one else could have written it.

I did apply to schools that did not have a limit for how long the SOP could be, and my final statement was two and a half pages long. BUT, I think you can see that in fact, if I cut anything else out of it it would not have been an adequate expression of who I am, where I am, how I got there and where I am going. I think it is also CLEAR that a statement of purpose takes a lot of hard work and effort. Mine went through six full drafts, three of them commented on and critiqued by three or more professors, before I wrote one I could live with and that I thought really said what I needed and wanted to say.

I hope this is helpful to those who are in the application process still, and that it gives you some ideas and insight into the process of writing an effective statement of purpose. Please do just remember that stealing another person's ideas without his or her permission or knowledge is verboten in academia, and that I am posting this for you to consult and learn from, not to cut and paste from. Also remember this is ONE successful statement of purpose, out of hundreds if not thousands, all of which are different. This is not THE example of a successful statement, it is just A statement that was successful. :)

OK, here it is, FINALLY...the Statement of Purpose post. The one in which I go through and share all of my versions of this thing so you can see the good, the bad and the ugly. We'll begin with the one I sent last year, with the school details removed, and I will render the statements in blue to discern them from commentary and such. I am including both my own insights and reflections on my statements, and also professors' comments when I have them available. I'm not including everything, because there's not enough room or time for EVERYthing. But this should give you an idea of the thinking and reflection that went into this document.

Version 1.0 :

As a teacher and master – level student of medieval literature, I have developed a strong research agenda and a number of goals for myself that at this juncture can only be realized through continued training and research at the doctoral level. The English program at X University is my first choice because my research into the matter has persuaded me that this department offers the excellence, flexibility, and hands-on approach I need and crave in my work. (I read a book on how to write admissions essays, can't you tell? Look at that nice, pat introduction format! Ewww...)

At this point in my career, my primary interests in terms of coursework lie in language acquisition, working with manuscripts and paleography, and further strengthening of my knowledge of historic and chronicle texts from the 11th through the 15th centuries. I have done substantial work in the poetic tradition in the medieval era, and will continue to study and build on that knowledge, but I have had little formal training in the historical texts. I feel that a good medievalist should absolutely acquire familiarity with and proficiency in that area. I have not yet had the opportunity to do manuscript studies formally, and this is an area in which I am keen to immerse myself. Although I am fluent in French (modern and medieval), am proficient in Middle English, and have a working knowledge of Spanish and Latin, I have only done preliminary work in Old English, and for a medievalist interested in spending the next thirty or forty years working in the British and Anglo-Norman tradition, I would be utterly derelict in not also seeking to master Old Irish and Middle Welsh, at least. X University has a strong history of excellence in each of these subjects, particularly under the auspices of Professors Y and Z, two scholars with whom I am eager to work. Furthermore, X University’s collection of manuscript facsimiles, although not large, is a strong selection from a well-varied tradition, including Old Irish, and would therefore permit me to develop my skills in paleography. I have been in contact with Professor Z, who assures me that he incorporates such study into his advanced language seminars. (This paragraph was actually singled out as being impressive by the university that rejected me...)

My research agenda aligns itself with current interests in the field of medieval studies. As primary concerns, I focus on the overarching concepts of memory and identity (personal and national) in medieval literature. My secondary lines of investigation lie in the realms of the supernatural (alchemy, magic, monsters, and the like), provenance and fate, and courtliness and chivalry. I have a strongly interdisciplinary approach to these subjects, grounded in literature, Art History, and History, as well as hagiography, philosophy and psychology. The option of incorporating a minor in medieval studies into my PhD work in English is therefore of great interest to me. Additionally, the availability of various internal and external resources for medieval studies, such as (medieval study group 1) and (medieval study group 2), would augment my course of study and provide a network of like-minded scholars with whom to corroborate, even if the actual number of medieval – oriented students in the department itself is small. (Again, this is fine.)

Most of my work to date (in the form of coursework undertaken, courses taught, conference papers given and articles written) has been in the fields of Renaissance and Romantic literature, medievalism, Old Norse Icelandic literature, Middle English and Anglo-Norman literature, and in particular in the field of Arthuriana. I intend fully to continue my work in this field, both because it is my “first love” and also because it is still an important field with a lot of research yet to be done, particularly in terms of textual analogs, transmission, and variations in Arthurian stories from England and France. Although I am aware (to my great personal sorrow) that Professor W is retiring and will not be taking on any more graduate students, still his Emeritus status at X University renders him available for independent consultation and, perhaps, as a reader for future article drafts, if he were of a mind so to occupy himself. At the very least, his tradition of excellence in Arthurian studies has deeply influenced my own thinking on the subject, particularly as regards the textual transmission of the Matter of Britain, and it would be an honor to have the chance to speak with him in any small way during my time there. (Look! Look! I can name-drop! sheeeeesh.)

Although I have not yet fully developed a dissertation topic, I do know that I am most committed to writing about Celtic and Anglo-Norman traditions in British literature, in some combination of the subjects outlined above in my research agenda. I am, however, more than willing to adapt my ideas to meet the realities of the department in terms of available advisors and dissertation committee members in my subject field. (Have a specific area and topic in mind, even if you change it later. This is far too broad and general in scope.

I have taught French (AP language and literature, as well as general courses), advanced literature, and AP Art History for the past ten years. I have also been a TA for French courses at the college level. In my current position at This School, a private boarding school, I have developed, written and implemented all of my courses from scratch. As such, I have had extensive experience in curriculum design, teaching writing skills and critical analysis of literature. As a prospective doctoral student and future professor, I am as interested in being in the classroom as I am in conducting my research. For me, teaching is a seamless weaving together of all three elements – academic work, instruction, and research - and I am most happy, productive, and effective when I am able to apply my research findings and what I have learned from working with my professors in my courses. I believe that my teaching is not the typical high school teaching (certainly, my students tell me so!) and that it approaches the level of first and second year undergraduate coursework in terms of level of scholarship and difficulty. The teaching assistantship opportunity available at X University is therefore of great interest and importance to me.(Leave out the self-congratulatory back-patting and stick to the facts of the work you have done.)

Furthermore, as the head of the grant writing committee for (Community Theatre Company) organization, I have written successful grants for our theatrical productions, obtaining almost five thousand dollars from the State Commission for the Arts and ten thousand dollars in local government challenge grants last year alone. I am eager to apply this skill to grant writing for academic purposes, in particular with regards to travel and research grants related to my dissertation work. This will in turn enable me to use the abilities and skills in language and paleography I intend to acquire at X University in a hands-on fashion that will, hopefully, contribute in some way to the overall research in my field. (Whatever, they didn't need this information and it is clearly a thinly-veiled attempt to impress and to gain entrance because I could be a money-getter. Maybe this would be a great addition to a sciences SOP, but it could sooo have been left out of my statement for all the good it did me.)

Having been in contact with a number of current X Universityl doctoral candidates in medieval literature, I have been impressed not only with their willingness to answer my (sometimes numerous!) questions, but also with the degree of respect and enthusiasm they accord the program. All praise the expertise and approachability of the professors, the small size and advanced scholarship of the courses, and the encouragement they have received in terms of branching out to complete further coursework in interdisciplinary medieval subjects in order to procure a solid foundation in the whole period. Their descriptions of coursework and of their dissertation experiences lead me to believe that X University fosters independence in scholarship within its doctoral students and allows them a great deal of freedom, without relinquishing mentorship. This is exactly the sort of system I prefer and that I feel is best suited to my own temperament – collaborative and flexible, but maintaining personal responsibility and an independent research agenda that supports, but is not subsumed by, those of my professors and department.(OK, telling them you've contacted current students is fine, but don't then go about using the students' praise as part of your SOP.)

Finally, I feel it is important that the admissions committee know that I am fully aware that my field is one in which obtaining tenure-track positions is highly competitive, and that a large number of PhD candidates in medieval literature do not obtain such employment for many years. The Medieval Academy of America’s PhD registration project makes the situation clear: in 1996, the last set of data entered, of the 64 PhDs awarded in English, only 20 gained tenure-track positions, and 14 held untenured positions; the others worked as adjuncts or at community colleges, or sought positions outside of academia. I am entirely up to the task of seeking out a professorship and am eager to work at the university level. This is not, however, a crucial element of my completion of the PhD. What is most important to me is that I develop my skills as a researcher, writer, and teacher, that I become more expert in the subject matter, and that I cultivate my scholarship in the form of articles, book chapters, book reviews, books, and conference papers. A PhD in medieval literature will afford me the credentials required for a life of scholarship, which is my primary interest. Obviously, I believe that a PhD from X University will render me a very competitive candidate, but I am not unrealistic about the realities of the field. Although a professorship is the ideal, if my scholarship continues at the high school level, manifests itself in community college or adjunct positions, or results in a tenure-track position, I will still consider my work a success. (Do you, or do you not, want to be a college professor? If you don't, lie. If you do, don't tell them it's OK if you don't become one. It's fine to be realistic but they don't need you to tell them the statistics. They are living the statistics)

Because the X University doctoral program in English so closely aligns with my research interests, academic needs, and “wish list” of resources and opportunities, I believe that this is the ideal placement for me. I have a lot to offer in terms of energy, enthusiasm, abilities and skills, and X University has much to offer me in the way of channeling those energies, harnessing that enthusiasm, and building upon and refining those skills in a challenging and supportive program. (Oooh, lookie! A nice little formatted, summary conclusion. I read textbooks on admissions essay writing, see?)

That's the one I sent, changing the names and available study programs in my field, to all five of my schools last year. Yes, it is long, but none of them had a word count limit, and none of them told me my statement was too long. The greatest flaws listed were a.) no specifics about my training/coursework b.) no specifics about my teaching, c.) no emphasis on my publications and d.) too much material not immediately relevant to my admissions candidacy.

SO, this year I decided to do it differently. Here's my first draft.....

Not All Who Wander Are Lost:

Sometimes They’re Just Temporarily Delayed

In a battered, brown spiral notebook with only a handful of pages remaining between the covers, my nascent love affair with the Arthurian tradition is documented in pictures I drew and labeled as an eight-year old: “Arthur”, “Gwinivere” (sp), “Lancilot” (sp), “Gawain”, “Camelot”. This was my first “book”, “published” in 1982. In 2010, I completed my master’s degree in English, with a focus on medieval literature. Although my work is substantially more academic in nature now than it was in my childhood, my passion for the legends of King Arthur has never waned; in fact, it has grown to encompass medieval literature generally, with an emphasis on aspects related to the tales of Arthur and his knights - chivalry, courtliness, violence, the supernatural and magical, theories of identity/Other, grail and quest narratives, the medieval romance and alliterative traditions, and the blurring of boundaries between history and fiction. These are subjects and themes I hope to research and write about at the doctoral level. (Awww, isn't that cute? NEXT. Don't start with an anecdote from your childhood unless it is absolutely directly relevant to your admissions candidacy. Like, you had your arm chopped off when you were ten and you have now perfected the ability to re-attach severed body parts in a state-of-the-art technology you have developed. I exaggerate, but not by much - personalizing doesn't mean getting personal, and adcomms don't want to read this drivel.)

If a week has gone by in my life during which I have not read a text that originated in the Middle Ages, looked at a medieval image, or researched some aspect of medieval culture or history for a class or for my personal edification, I cannot recall that week - nor would I want to. Although I am teased by family and acquaintance alike for my unusual obsession with All Things Medieval, I have never found another subject that engages me more. I have taken many detours along the way towards a PhD, but those detours ultimately have prepared me for advanced research and scholarship. (Again, personalizing doesn't mean getting sentimentally personal. Let it go. Focus on why you are an awesome candidate - you can tell these stories at the first mixer.)

I spent my undergraduate years trying to become my family’s idea of who I should be, earning a degree in French and secondary teaching certification – the “practical” choice – rather than a double major in French and English with a minor in medieval studies – my initial reason for transferring to B from A. I was so overwhelmed with meeting the new general education requirements that, even taking extra courses, there wasn’t room in my schedule for my original goals. At my parents’ urging and with the clock ticking, I cut my losses, declaring only the French major and subsequently obtaining a position teaching high school French. I love teaching, as evidenced in the 4.0 GPA I earned during my student teaching semester, my outstanding scores on the Praxis exams, and that I was chosen as one of three TAs in the French department my senior year. But I hated the monotony of grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation exercises. Two years into teaching high school French, I knew I had made a huge mistake - one I would regret if I didn’t take steps to at least try to rectify it.(Here I was trying to explain why I took "the long route" to going for he PhD, but again, I'm over-sharing.)

It never occurred to me that I could completely change the path I had set out on; I was married and had bills to pay, and had no example in my life of someone who thought of work as more than “just a job”. But I did think I could at least teach college-level French classes, so I applied to C University’s graduate program in French. Although I had a 2.66 GPA as an undergraduate (I took overloads each term and worked at a (famous tourist town) tavern where the scheduling policy was for the headwaiter to demand our course schedules, then schedule us for any shift during which we were not in class, leading to my not having the time to complete coursework and research thoroughly), my letters of recommendation, together with my writing sample, convinced the admissions committee that I could succeed. I enrolled in 2000 with the goal of focusing on interdisciplinary medieval and Renaissance studies – a sort of “do-over” of my original dream. Although I was working full-time, I had learned hands-on as an undergraduate how to maximize the time I did have available for study and writing, and my grades were strong. Unfortunately, my marriage was not. The strain of trying to afford housing in Big City as a single woman, coupled with the stress of divorce proceedings, forced me to leave the city and by consequence the program at the end of the year, one class and a thesis shy of that degree. It broke my heart. But one thing it did prove to me was that if I were given the chance, I could do advanced work. I left with a 3.56 GPA- much higher than my undergraduate one had been, earned under much more difficult circumstances. (Here I was trying to explain why I took "the long route" to going for the PhD, but again, I'm over-sharing. REALLY oversharing.)

After two years of teaching French, Spanish and English in Another Location, I obtained a position with a newly-founded private school where I wrote the curriculum for my classes, developing the program from its inception. It was this experience that showed me that my own research interests, my curriculum, and my teaching could and should be seamlessly interwoven into a program; this was when everything finally “clicked” for me as an academic. Originally hired to teach French, there were not enough language students to justify this as a full-time position, so I was offered the chance to teach other subjects. I chose Art History and English, influenced by the interdisciplinary work I did at American. These classes were popular with the students, and I absolutely loved teaching them. When one of the full-time English teachers left, I was offered that position. At that point, I was brave enough to do what I should have done much sooner – I returned to graduate school for English. With a new marriage and child, as well as my job and student loan debt, we could not relocate, so I applied to the closest program, X University. I had to take two courses to prove I could handle graduate-level work because my undergraduate GPA was so low; my higher and more recent graduate-level GPA was not factored into the decision. I took the classes, earned As, and enrolled in the program. Now six months past the five-year deadline for credit transfer, I was required to eschew my AU credits entirely and earn the full 30 required at Longwood. I honestly didn’t care – I had to do this. I was obsessed with the work, with the research and writing. (An early reader for this draft said this was the only paragraph about my past worth salvaging, if I took out all the family stuff. I agree with him.)

At X University, I had the very good fortune to meet and work with two professors who have forever altered my views. Dr. M, who taught my English teaching methods course, was the first person in my life to openly question why I had not embarked on a career towards being a college professor from the beginning; his encouragement led me to my first conference presentation and subsequent academic publication. It was a passionate and highly-skilled medievalist, Dr. N, whose courses were an absolute epiphany for me – this is what I was born to do, should always have been doing, and intend always to be doing. The work I did in her classes brought me back full-circle to a path I never really left in the first place. Whereas before I loved medieval studies, now I engaged it, making demands on myself I never imagined possible; handling the news of my father’s diagnosis of cancer as I immersed myself in Chaucer, pushing through the birth of my second daughter at the same time as I completed paper revisions for the Women in Medieval Literature course, negotiating traveling the hour to and from campus and our nursing schedule to take Violence in Medieval Texts, and finally, juggling a full-time teaching job (six classes a term, five, nine-week terms a year), two children, and the completion of my graduate thesis. I graduated with no incompletes, a 4.0 GPA, and presented my thesis findings at the International Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo on the day of my graduation…one week after my father’s untimely death, and in his honor. (Trying to "pay it forward" - but they don't want to see your SOP clogged with praise for former professors. Also, a thinly veiled attempt at tugging adcomm heartstrings....don't do that.)

My thesis deals with the concept of Arthur as a fictional representation of British identity: I argue that, as the character of Arthur changes and shifts with each successive text, so do the texts therefore demonstrate how the concept of British national identity has shifted and developed. This argument is grounded in myth theory and ideas of the collective unconscious and authorial intent. Such socio-historical textual analysis appeals to me greatly as a scholar, and I hope in particular to develop my skills in this area at the graduate level.

Because my primary focus has been in Arthuriana, my academic interests span literary periods from medieval through modern, and geographic regions from Europe to America. I have also expanded my research interests to hagiography and women’s studies. My interest in women’s studies led to my currently ongoing work with the Female Biography Project, for which I am researching a number of medieval and Renaissance figures. My language training enabled me to learn Latin, which I am using in conjunction with my knowledge of French and Middle English to transliterate and translate the MS Harley 2253, a project born of my desire to see if I can do it, to see what will result of these efforts in terms of rendering that manuscript more available to non-specialists, and to engage actively in translation theory and practice. In a wonderful turn of Fate, the work I have done in French and in Art History is absolutely correlative to my interests in Anglo-Norman and Middle English literature and manuscript culture. This is why, in the end, I think I have not been lost, and my time away from academia has not been in vain; rather, I was acquiring interdisciplinary skills and knowledge directly relatable and usable in a doctoral program; skills I did not have a decade ago.

The courses I develop and teach are deeply informed by my research interests; recent offerings include Bad Boys in British Lit, which focuses on outlaws and the differences and similarities between outlaw narratives and Arthurian texts, and the Other in Shakespeare, focusing on identity and postcolonial theories, as well as Harry Potter and the Art of the Allusion, which is an introductory research methods course designed to help my students understand how authors use allusions to deepen their narratives. I am also interested in working on developing a current project on the function of feasts in literature, and expanding ideas I have been working through concerning monstrous versus miraculous female identities in hagiographic and secular texts. These are the types of projects I intend to focus on as a doctoral student and as a university professor.(This, and the paragraph above it, are really the only good aspects of this document.)

A medievalist from the age of eight, I have come to realize how all-encompassing my passion truly is, and that I am not only able to complete advanced coursework, but that I crave the challenges of pushing the limits in terms of what I can do as a scholar. I have always been excited by the medieval world; now I am ready to extend my knowledge and abilities through training at the doctoral level. (Blah blah blah, yes, you know how to write a conclusion.)

OK, so clearly, I had some emotional angst following the first go-around that needed to be handled. So, now that we have THAT out of our system, we can go about the business of constructing an ACTUAL SOP, as opposed to our emotional outburst.... Next draft (#3):

Recent scholarship in medieval studies seems to follow three primary trajectories: attempts to “prove” the “truth” of the period by sifting through new material and material already covered and re-covered by scholars, or New Historicism; “re-vision” of the era through the application of modern principles such as gender/queer theory, Marxist theory, and deconstructionism; and comparison work between “real” medieval texts and modern versions thereof, including film studies and visual/artistic media. But the scholars I most admire, and the type of medievalist I wish to become, are the ones who sit with and engage each text on its own terms. Rather than adhering to any single theoretical movement or research trend, I prefer to work in interdisciplinary fashion, utilizing a variety of approaches to look at a text or group of texts for what is there, and for what is not there[1], seeking to reconstruct an understanding of the past based on the work of those who recorded it. (Look! I do, too, know what is going on in my field! I know the critical trends. I'm a Real Scholar! Look at me!)

As a graduate student in medieval literature, I focused much of my time on questions of gender, delivering papers challenging the established Eve/Mary construction often employed in discussion of women in medieval texts with a view that includes the central-to-the-tale, yet marginalized-by-society mystic or monstrous female in all of her variations at the Medieval Conference at UVA-Wise and the Vagantes conference. This has since become a popular topic at other conferences (most recently, two panels on the monstrous female are scheduled by the Society for Feminist Scholarship at Kalamazoo 2011), and the publication of Sarah Miller’s monograph on the subject[2] among others assures it will continue to be revisited as important in understanding the medieval world view. I am currently working on this subject as it relates to Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and this is one of four ongoing projects I hope to continue at the doctoral level and beyond. Because of the number of faculty members working in Early Modern English literature, including Dr. X and Dr. Y in particular as regards Spenserian studies, and Dr.Z's work in gender studies, I feel this project would be ably supported at University X. (Watch me name-drop. Just watch me. There's not a candidate out there who knows more about your department than I do. And I'm trendy with my scholarship! Check out my knowledge of gender studies in medieval lit!)

A second focus I wish to engage more specifically and in greater depth is the issue of the Marian cult, and the implicit presence of the divine feminine in the medieval view of God. I am interested in exploring the margins of medieval Christianity, where it intersects and overlaps with older, pagan traditions, and how the feminine is both exalted and subverted within the Christian tradition; Mary, for example, being a goddess figure in all but name; hagiographic and mystical texts focusing on issues of gender: Julian of Norwich’s idea of Jesus the Mother is a starting point for me in this. My ideas in this area could benefit from the work of Dr. W in medieval gender studies, while her focus in French material in particular could aid with other of my projects as outlined below.

A third focus of my work, comprising my thesis, has been the role of writers as nation-builders, exploiting specific fictional characters and character traits intentionally to bring people(s) once on the margins to the center of a nation as its kith and kin. This is the most theoretically-driven thinking and writing I have done, focusing on myth theory and especially on Jungian ideas of the collective unconscious and of alchemy. My research on Arthur as such a figure has yielded compelling results, supporting the idea that medieval writers approached the matter in a psychological fashion through textual analysis and comparison between the Anglo-Norman and Middle English versions of the Matter of Britain. I intend to expand this to include similar work in the Matter of France, making use of my training in French as well as my Latin and Old English/Middle English skills. Such research could prove a stepping-stone to larger questions of international affairs and diplomacy, as modern cultural mores are based within these early constructions of national identities; Benedict Anderson has demonstrated aptly the fictional nature of “national identity”, but he begins with early modern Europe. If I can show through my study of medieval figures specifically how earlier writers crafted “national identity” as a fictional construction and highlight the underlying human qualities of such figures and texts, then perhaps my work can help suggest a more open, human dialogue between nations. Faculty members focusing on more contemporary literary and cultural traditions and identity theories, such as Dr. A, Dr. B, and Dr. C, could help me align my work more closely with the current dialogue in transatlantic and global ideologies.

My fascination with identity naturally leads me to questions of “Us versus Them” and therefore to questions of marginalized groups and the figure of the Other. The work of scholars such as Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Valerie Flint in monster culture, Thomas Ohlgren, Stephen Knight, and John Scattergood in outlaw narratives and Michelle Sweeney and Richard Kiekhefer on magic and the supernatural, has informed and guided my thinking on these topics. I have worked specifically with outlaw narratives in Middle English, especially comparison of Robin Hood narratives to Arthurian[3], issues of victim agency in Old Norse Icelandic, Welsh and Celtic and Middle English texts, and the monster as Other in Arthurian texts, specifically as regards the monster of Mont-St. Michel and his various linguistic shifts and metamorphoses from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Latin text through the Anglo-Norman one of Wace and, finally, to Layamon’s Old English text. I thoroughly enjoyed tracing the cultural shifts of the monster from one language tradition to the next, and I would love to continue and improve upon this type of work at the doctoral level; Dr. J and Dr. K’s linguistic knowledge would be of enormous benefit for my training. Dr. L's work on ethnicity, race and witchcraft could positively impact my work with concepts of the Other.

Ultimately, while my interests as a scholar are diverse, the one clear pattern of thought underlying all of my research and academic interests is the idea of exploring and probing the margins of what is known. To seek to understand aspects of the medieval world not typically defined, explored, or engaged, to try to work from the outside in through a variety of academic approaches, engaging texts and the writers who authored them on their terms, rather than on my own, are my goals as a scholar and teacher. ( I read that graduate admissions essay again...) <br clear="all">

[1] I credit this comment to Dr. Elaine Treharne, whose work presents an excellent example of this type of scholarship, and whose presentation on this matter at the International Medieval Congress, 2010 resonated deeply with my own feelings concerning how to approach and engage a medieval text.

[2] Sarah Alison Miller, Medieval Monstrosity and the Female Body, Routledge, 2010.

[3] What I call the “Matter of England” in comparison to the “Matter of Britain”; a concept I would like to attempt to expand and disseminate.

Footnotes:? REALLY? It's an SOP, not a paper... My readers at this point wanted to see more specifics. What am I going to DO as a doctoral student? What do I want to write my dissertation on?

Draft FOUR: (with professor's commentary from one of my readers)

As a Master’s-level student, I focused much of my time on questions of gender, delivering papers at the Medieval Conference at UVA-Wise and the Vagantes conference challenging the established Eve/Mary construction often employed in analysis of women in medieval texts with a view that includes the central-to-the-tale, yet marginalized-by-society mystic or monstrous female. This has since become a popular topic at other conferences (most recently, two panels on the monstrous female are scheduled by the Society for Feminist Scholarship at Kalamazoo 2011), and the publication of Sarah Miller’s and Dana Oswald’s monographs on the subject among others assures it will continue to be revisited as important to our understanding of the medieval world view. I am currently working on this subject as it relates to Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, one of four ongoing projects I hope to continue at the doctoral level and beyond. (Starts too abruptly. Needs intro. “I am writing to apply for the X program in Y’s department of Z.” Seems a bit cute for a formal letter. I’d suggest a more direct description, eg. “mystic or monstrous female characters that are marginginalized by society but remain central to the narrative,” or something.)

A second focus I wish to engage in greater depth is the issue of the Marian cult, and the implicit presence of the divine feminine in the medieval view of God. I am interested in exploring the margins of medieval Christianity, where it intersects and overlaps with older, pagan traditions, and how the feminine is both exalted and subverted within the Christian tradition; Mary, for example, being a goddess figure in all but name; hagiographic and mystical texts focusing on issues of gender: Julian of Norwich’s idea of Jesus the Mother is a starting point for me in this.

“Pagan” is a Christian term mean as criticism of non-Judeo-Christian-Islamic groups. I always recommend polytheistic instead. I know that modern neo-pagans like the term, but still....No offense, but this all sounds a bit earth-goddess-hippie-ish, rather than academic.)

A third focus in my work, comprising my thesis, has been the role of medieval writers as nation-builders exploiting specific fictional characters and character traits intentionally to bring people(s) once on the margins to the center of a nation as its kith and kin. (Good.) This is the most theoretically-driven thinking and writing I have done, focusing on myth theory and especially on Jungian ideas of the collective unconscious and of alchemy to probe the possible psychological undertones of such authorial choices. My research on King Arthur supports the idea that medieval writers approached this figure in a psychological fashion through textual comparisons of Latin, Anglo-Norman and Middle English versions of the Matter of Britain. I intend to expand this to include similar work in the Matter of France, making use of my training in French as well as my Latin and Old English/Middle English skills. Modern cultural mores are based within these early constructions of national identities, and as Benedict Anderson has aptly demonstrated, “national identity” is a fictional construct; but Anderson asserts that this practice begins with early modern Europe. If I can show specifically how earlier writers crafted “national identity”, and highlight the underlying human qualities of such figures and texts, then perhaps my work can help broaden our understanding of some of the complexities inherent in international relations as a result of these long-held, artificial identity constructions.

(A few thoughts: I like the sound of this, but it is a bit risky, if you mean it the way it sounds to me. Do you mean that you hope your medieval studies work would be beneficial to modern international dialogues? If so, I think this is GOOD, but many readers will react strongly against this desire for contemporary relevance. Now, you might not want to work with someone who would, but this might really limit your choices. Also, by the way, aren’t ALL aspects of ID constructs?)

My fascination with identity naturally leads me to issues of alterity and the presence and purpose of marginalized groups and the figure of the Other in medieval texts. The work of scholars such as Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Valerie Flint in monster culture, Thomas Ohlgren, Stephen Knight, and John Scattergood in outlaw narratives and Michelle Sweeney and Richard Kiekhefer on magic and the supernatural, has guided my thinking on these topics. I have worked specifically with outlaw narratives in Middle English, especially comparison of Robin Hood narratives to Arthurian , issues of victim agency in Old Norse Icelandic, Welsh and Celtic and Middle English texts, and the monster as Other in Arthurian texts, specifically as regards the giant of Mont-St. Michel and his various linguistic transformations from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Latin text through the Anglo-Norman one of Wace and, finally, to Layamon’s Old English text. This type of textual comparative work in particular is of great interest to me.

These four areas of study together comprise a foundation for what I envision as my doctoral dissertation: a comparative examination of the presence and function of feasts in select Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, Celtic and Middle English texts produced in England from post-Conquest through the 15th century, broken down into thematic chapters: Holy Feasts (Middle English hagiographic texts) and Unholy Feasts (those featuring monstrous or demonic individuals), Fairy Feasts (Celtic/Romance texts), Historical feasts (Latin, Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman chronicles) and Courtly Feasts (romances). My argument is that feasts serve different functions dependent upon where they are held (indoor/outdoor and mortal/immortal planes), where they occur in the narrative (at the beginning, they catalyze the action; in the middle they serve as a pause in the action and an opportunity for regrouping or reconfiguring the figures involved, and at the end, they serve as the dénouement), and who is holding them. In particular, I am interested in the differences between feasts held by men, which are a display of wealth and power and generally are of a celebratory nature either for religious or political commemoration, and those held by women, which are a display of wealth and power, usually in order to seduce, and the fact that this seems to remain true regardless of whether the text is fictional or historical in nature.) This project as envisioned ties together my interests in gender issues, questions of nation and identity, and alterity through the literary, linguistic, and socio-cultural analysis of a wide cross-section of texts. I believe no such study has yet been produced, and that such work could contribute much to our ideas as to what a medieval text can and cannot tell us through its depiction of medieval life.

The project sounds great. I wonder about this level of specificity. When I was applying, I didn’t yet have an MA – went in right after my BA – so I didn’t haven anything like this level of specificity in my letter. I think it is likely to be, on the whole, appealing, though I wonder if some readers might like to see a bit more provisional language, since they will probably want to see themselves as having some role in shaping your project. The one thing that I would worry about, were I a potential advisor, is this sounds like a very broad range of materials to bring together in one thesis – could be as many as 5 primary source languages required (do you already read OE, ME, OF, Latin, and Celtic?), and all the attendant cultural issues for all of these periods. I would suggest, were I your advisor, to narrow the focus. For the letter, what I’d suggest instead is making the language more provisional. "I am considering," and things like that. One more concern. If you are applying to someone who isn't yet a monster person (I totally turned my advisor to the dark side, and she's now working on monsters, too), the fairy feasts just might sound too ren-faire-y.

Ultimately, while my interests as a scholar are diverse, the one clear pattern of thought underlying all of my research and academic interests is the idea of epistemology. To seek to understand aspects of the medieval world not typically defined, explored, or engaged, to try to work from the outside in through a variety of academic approaches, engaging texts and the writers who authored them on their terms, rather than on my own, are my goals as a scholar and academic.

(I’m sorry, I just don’t get this paragraph. We are all, I suppose, interested in epistemology as scholars, overtly or otherwise. But what does this have to do, in particular, with your foci on outsiders and outside approaches (and I don’t really see an outsider’s take, represented here, though maybe I am missing something?). Further, what things that you are describing are “not typ. defined, explored,” etc? Of course, there is much left to be done and said with this sort of material, but gender history is huge, and even monsters are a growing, legit field – hell, we’ll have an Ashgate Research Companion on Monsters and the Monstrous in about a year. So I think that you might be better shifting from the “filling a gaping lacuna in scholarship” approach (which is a pretty common one) to an “investigating a vital aspect,” or some such other approach.

And, another critique from a second reader:

You've certainly taken the right approach, constructing a narrative of your intellectual trajectory and indicating where you see yourself going in the future. I would merely suggest three modifications that would show off your positive qualities to best advantage. First, I think it is crucial to add a sentence or two to the start that would give your readers some critical contextual information about you and your life, and some directions about where your essay is going. At the moment it feels like you are starting in medias res, and it takes a couple of paragraphs to realize why you started where you did. Part of the reason for that confusion is your opening phrase "As a Master's level student." A reader's natural response (or at least this reader's natural response) is to wonder "What happened to undergrad?" Now here's the thing: I know that the X University admissions director torpedoed your application last year based on your undergrad performance-- which was completely unfair, not to mention stupid-- and so you may be reticent to mention your undergraduate years, especially since they don't relate to your current intellectual formation. But you really have to do so, because their absence merely calls attention to them. So what to do about this dilemma? I think a couple of biographical lines would help, of how after some years away from school you felt a deep yearning to satisfy a curiosity about medieval literature and culture, one that brought you to the MA program at Y. And then another line about how graduate school did not sate your desires, but merely whetted your appetite, leading to your delivering papers at conferences, joining professional organizations, etc.-- and then you can transition smoothly into what you have already written. Those sentences would not only answer the question about what happened to your undergrad years, but it would also tell them something interesting about you, and make you a more compelling person. And that would be my second critique of the application. I've been your Facebook friend for about a year and a half now, and in that time have learned that you are a very interesting person with a good sense of humor, a strong work ethic, and a number of talents-- and none of those aspects of your persona are coming across in your application. Remember that your application is not just going to sell them a dissertation, it's going to sell them a student and a complete person. So a bit more of you should go into this. Why haven't you mentioned your vast teaching experience, for instance? The fact that you have proven your ability to teach, which is half the job of any college professor, is in fact a major selling point for you. Now you may be thinking "Okay, V, fine-- but where am I supposed to put all of this? There's no room!" In answer, I would say that you should really cut down some of the details of your research, which is my third critique. There are actually three good reasons for this. First, as your text betrays, you are a bit concerned about seeming like you are going in several directions at once. I would agree. I would pick the subject that matters most to you, which I assume would be the research you plan to do on feasting, and talk about that to the exclusion of other things. You should certainly mention that you have pursued research and delivered papers in other areas, but there's no need to engage in a criticial discussion of them, as it merely takes away the reader's attention from your current research. Second, remember that the majority of the people on the admissions committee will be non-medievalists, who will ultimately defer to their colleagues in the field, but who wouldn't mind reading an application that makes sense to them. At the moment the application contains a lot of information that will go right over their heads, so breaking things down would be helpful. Thirdly-- and I think this is very important-- you sound like you know exactly what you plan to write in your dissertation, and that is definitely not something most advisors want to hear. They certainly want a student who is competent and knowledgeable, but they also want to have an intellectual relationship with someone whom they can shape to some degree. At the moment your application sounds so self-confident about the direction and structure of your dissertation that it might actually be an unattractive proposition to a potential advisor. I would suggest dropping the chapter headings and instead simply say what aspects of food and feasting you wish to explore. That would surely be enough to pique a potential advisor's curiosity without detracting in any way from your application. In conclusion, I will say this. You have a lot going for you. You are certainly much more knowledgeable about your field and have much more academic experience than I did when I applied to doctoral programs. I would merely suggest that you tell a little bit more about you and life experiences, and scale back the research a bit, because doing so would provide some balance to your application and let the admissions committee see the varied aspects of your brilliance.

So now, the primary criticism is that my dissertation topic is TOO SPECIFIC and I'm not focusing ENOUGH on my training and preparation for doctoral work. Why didn't I focus on my teaching and what I am bringing that no twenty-year old could bring to a program? Gah! lol What do they WANT from me? BOY, am I glad I have outside readers to help me through this. Drafts Five through the end in the next post.......this one got too long!

So...I got news on my funding package. And SUCH news on funding. I am just sitting on Cloud 9 here. After an application year in which I couldn't get a parking ticket validated, to be so generously treated is just....it's amazing. I've gone from Zero to Hero in a year, apparently. Oh, the programs that rejected me last year have again rejected me this year - or at least I think they have, one is still out but I'm not holding my breath. Besides which, I doubt very much anything they would offer me would compare to the offer I have been presented with. Which is (drum-roll, please.....):

NOT a TA ship (1:1 load the first year, 1:2 load the next three years) with my choice of time slots to teach in.

NOT a full, out-of-state tuition waiver good for four years.

NOT a teaching stipend of $14,000, going to $18,500 after the first two years.

NOT health insurance coverage.

and NOT a university-wide excellence fellowship nomination.

But.....

ALL OF THE ABOVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :blink::o:D:lol:

I kid you not. Pinch me, because I am absolutely dreaming over here. It looks too good to be true - but I double- and triple - checked on the whole thing, and this is no mistake or exaggeration - it's my fully - funded plus some package. Because finally, I found a department that wants me as badly as I want to be there. So, this is what it's really like! Wow. Just...wow.

It took me about a minute to sign that Letter of Intent. I'm officially a doctoral student!

As promised, I WILL post my statement of purpose drafts and final edition, with commentary, when I get the chance. And I am happy to answer any questions I can about this process...after two years, I think I do have something to offer by way of insight into what it takes (and how much of this is really just Right Time, Right Place). :)

(OK, I stole my title from Inafuturelife. :P But, it's TRUE!)

I received a letter from the Director of Graduate Studies at UNC-Greensboro on Saturday. In a small envelope that DH handed to me with a chagrined look. It certainly LOOKED like it was going to contain a form rejection letter...!

Split second response: "Well, SHIT. And I thought it was such a great fit for me."

Opened the envelope - and let me tell you, the suspense was amazing. It started out like the form rejection letter: "Your application to the Graduate School has been reviewed with careful attention given to the credentials you submitted."

I mean - heLLOOOO! Does that not sound like what they write just before they hit you with, "Unfortunately, we are unable to offer you admission to our program at this time"?

But....it WASN'T!! Instead, the next sentence said:

"I am pleased to inform you that you have been granted admission to the Doctor of Philosophy degree program in English."

That's as far as I got, I'm afraid...!:D (I did read the rest later once I had gotten my mind wrapped around the whole thing! Just information about registering, and so forth.)

No mention of funding, but since the letter came straight from the graduate school and not the department I guess I'll hear about that later on.

I am utterly elated, and so glad to be able to say that YES, you CAN overcome deficiencies in your application and come back form a rejection season to achieve admissions success!!

On Cloud 9.

I will post the promised discussion of SOP soon. :)

As the rejections start piling up amidst the earlier acceptances in the Humanities programs on the results board, I am tempted to sing "bum..bum...bump...Another one bites the dust!" in terms of my own applications, but I don't even have that satisfaction. I have still heard nothing at all, and apparently am unlikely to hear anything at all for a while, yet. The U.S. Southlands just don't seem all that pressed to get in there and make decisions. On my more insane, conspiracy-theory days, I imagine they are waiting for the West Coast and Mid State regions to finish up and fax them their lists of accepted students; then they'll pull those applications so they don't have to waste time on apps that they will definitely not see enrolling in their programs, and the rest of us will find out 'round about June or so. I know that's crazy, but it makes sense in a crazy sort of way....!

And, this is what we are reduced to.......making up crazy theories in our heads to explain away the sense of deep foreboding we feel. Tsk, tsk. My former advisor's response to the silence was, "Hey, that's good news! Acceptances take longer than rejections." I didn't have the heart to tell her no one has heard anything from any of my programs, I'm pretty sure that silence isn't golden in this case, just a procrastinating of the inevitable. Don't get me wrong - I am still hopeful, I am! I'm just also....well, NOT hopeful. I think that only makes sense to people who have BTDT when it comes to second-time around applications.

I am delighted for a Gradcafe and Facebook friend of mine whose SOP and writing sample I helped polish, polish, polish - she just got one of those coveted Wisconsin spots. YAY!!!! ( Is it weird to be so delighted and thrilled for her and at the same time so down for myself?) Still - I'm so glad for her!!!

On the plus side, at least we have had a week and a half with nothing horrible going down chez Casa Chaos....just sayin', I am definitely counting my blessings anywhere I can get them! Since we have rehearsals every night through Thursday, and opening night Friday, DH and I celebrated Valentine's Day this past Saturday. Sunday was tech rehearsal. You would think, between working during the day, parenting in the afternoons, rehearsing at night, and grading papers and answering emails in the mornings, plus research and writing on weekend hours at present, I would not have any time, at all, to obsess over any of this "silly grad school stuff". Really, I shouldn't have the time or energy to obsess over grad school stuff. So, why am I still obsessing over grad school stuff?!

Le big sigh. Hey, my youngest DD gets her cast off Thursday, that should be fun...! And I'm preparing to buy my ticket for Kalamazoo, and I'm getting great positive kudos for the work I'm doing with the Female Biography Project, and I have finally started WRITING for my 'Zoo presentation. Things are looking up!

Where is my acceptance, already?! :rolleyes:

I wish the English professors would stop grading papers and get back to admissions decisions.....! :blink:

So, we're in the second week of February, and those of us in the humanities are still pretty much sitting tight and hoping, and wishing, and praying....and hearing

*cricket*

*cricket*

SIGH. MLA was in January this year, and I know there are a few other conferences going on now as well, which coupled with the weather has probably served to push everything back a bit. But man, does knowing that not make the waiting any easier!

You would think, at my age, and given the many great things I have already gotten to experience as an academic, I would be less anxiety-riddled. But, you would be wrong. I'm as keyed up as anyone right now.

Luckily, I'll be busy all week with play rehearsals every night, which helps keep me away from the computer for at least a few hours! And, thankfully, things seem to have died down as far as crappy events go - and it's a very good thing, too, because it was almost at one horrible, terrible, no-good thing per day for a while there! I'll take uneventful over that any time!

But...I'd sure like to know where I stand. :(

Good thing DH and I have ordered a brewing kit to make some Northern English brown ale, because we are going to need it for the big-ass Pity Party we are going to throw, hopefully in mid-March. The past week has NOT been good Chez Us, and I guess this is the Universe's way of keeping me so busy I can't obsess too much over grad school admissions? My car now has a completely unnecessarily-installed new alternator and a necessary new belt, (because the old one burst two days after they "fixed" the issue by installing a new alternator). I am now walking about with pneumonia, and my youngest DD is walking around with a cast on her arm; I spent all day last Monday at the auto repair place, all day Tuesday at work scrounging for a ride home because the car had to go BACK to the garage, all day Thursday waiting for it to be 3:15 p.m. so I could go to the doctor, all day Friday in bed because he told me I could either go to bed, or to the hospital, and all day Saturday in the ER and waiting for DD #2's elbow operation to be over - she fell off the bunk bed and broke it in two places (having been expressly forbidden from climbing to her sister's top bunk in the first place). I was drugged-up on Tylenol with codeine when it happened, and DH is not a morning person. Three weeks in a cast for a three year old.... Oy, vey.

This week, I have run-throughs for the play I'm in pretty much every evening after work, and I'm already beginning the week behind in grading because I didn't get a lot done over the weekend (and I'm pretty sure the students would prefer I NOT grade their papers while on a narcotic). I am also working on a few research projects that somehow keep getting pushed to the back burner. I feel like I'm losing my mind, and just cannot WAIT for January to be over. I am HATING this month, and frankly, 2011 overall isn't on the top of my favorites list so far, either.

I am realizing now, what a charmed life I have led up until now.

And the worst part about it all, is that I am STILL obsessing over whether or not I am going to get a bid this year. :wacko: I think there should be a rule that if an applicant can demonstrate that s/he has been through a series of particularly traumatic events over the past fifty days, then s/he should get an admit based solely on the fact that if s/he isn't insane after all of that, then s/he will definitely be able to survive grad school stress. :P THEN I'd be sure to get in. As it stands - waiting is even harder, because so much crap has gone down that if some good news doesn't come my way soon, I think I'll have to curl into the fetal position, suck my thumb, and beg for Mother!! :o

Inafuturelife wrote recently, in his blog, that he is going insane now during waiting season. I feel very much as if I am, also! I have noticed a very disconcerting trend in my life - which is that, no matter what I am doing, the idea of not getting an admit again this year is always there. It's like a bruise...it doesn't exactly hurt, unless you are directly pushing on it or bump into something again - but you are always acutely aware of its presence. It's not something you are dwelling on actively, but you can't stop paying attention to it, either. It's an energy-sapping, subconscious obsession. Is that even normal, or is that the response of a second-time around applicant?

I am taking St. John's Wort, exercising and eating as well as I can, and trying not to dwell - but I also am having a hard time struggling with my emotions over all of this. I'm not 21, 22, 23. I didn't "get it" when I was young enough to be able to just bounce back from a rejection. I am closer to 40 than 30, and every year is a very acutely felt loss as regards my further training in academia. The stakes are higher now than they were when I was younger, because I just don't have as many chances. This is a result of my own choices, in large part, and I do accept that; further, I can assure you that I wouldn't trade my beautiful children for any degree in the world (although if I had it to do over again I could certainly skip the wasted years trying to make an abusive first marriage work without blinking an eye). If I don't get into a doctoral program, after all I have done to turn things around, then I know, in a clinical, cerebral fashion, that it isn't really about my ability. But that doesn't make it easier, to also know that "if only I had......"

What do you have to do, to be considered for a second chance when you clearly possess the talent, drive and ambition to succeed, but you didn't "follow the rules", and your name's not Robert Downey Jr. or Lindsey Lohan? Can a regular, hard-working American get a second shot at her dream? On my good days, I think , "Of COURSE!!! Of COURSE I will get a chance! Look at everything I have done to turn myself into an excellent applicant." On my bad days....well, I admit, sometimes, I just cry.

Well, it might be a bit late for my applications - alas! - but I seem to have hit a stride in terms of my research and writing for publication, and I am so excited!!!

My abstract on Chaucer's birds was accepted for a proposed edited collection of essays being fielded by Boydell and Brewer, which is the preeminent publishing company for medieval studies. The other contributors include really significant scholars, like Karl Tobias Steel and Lorraine Stock - and this is therefore a HUGE deal for me. (Better get cracking on that-there research!! :blink:)

BUT, even MORE exciting (to me, as an Arthurian scholar) - the article I wrote on alchemical imagery, and which I used as my writing sample, just passed the first round of reviews for Arthuriana, the International Journal of Arthurian Studies.

I was not going to send the information on the Chaucer publication to the grad programs I applied to - but I think, given the fact that this is my writing sample for two of the three programs to which I applied, I might just HAVE to send the fact that that article is under consideration for publication in. I mean- that's kind a big, right?

I'm so excited about this. I just had to share. I had to tell someone who might care as much as I do about things like this!!

So, today I hit the roof and emailed Corporate my blog post.

Less than 30 minutes later, I got the response email: "Where are you?"

About an hour after that, I got a call from the local president who wants to schedule a meeting at my earliest convenience.

My husband emails me to demand what I said to corporate because now the local guy is all pissed off with him and yelling at him and we're probably not going to get our deal.

I emailed him back: WHAT deal? Corporate had a big problem with what was going on. Clearly, I was right and this is ending badly.

I got home to find the heat ON (surprise). I will never know if that is because of my email or if it was just the way things fell into place. Frankly, I don't CARE anymore. BUT, the motor is sputtering loudly enough you can hear it outside. Is that normal? No, it isn't. Our motor is water logged from the first bursting. But...you know, after we ridiculed them and all, they didn't feel comfortable working with it.

Ummmm...I wasn't ridiculing you, that's called criticism, and you TOTALLY deserved it!

BUT - long and short of it is, they DID get it up and running, albeit four days after the promised day and two hundred over the high end of the original quote. And we'll meet this fellow face to face and talk it out. And then - we will have learned a MAJOR lesson.

GET A HOME WARRANTY. IT'S NOT COVERED IN INSURANCE.

I am grateful to the company for the fact that for the first time in 17 days, I can't see my breath in the house.

This is reposted from my regular blog. It's not really about graduate school, but I think everyone should know about it, because wow, are we getting taken for a ride and wow, is it going to drastically impact everything my family does for the next five years. We were buried in debt before because of student loans and credit card debt associated with grad school expenses for my MA. Now, we'll be lucky if we don't end up belly up, and all it took was one crappy situation. Read on...

I am sure you will be shocked to read, that we are still sans functioning boiler at Casa Chaos. Here’s a brief timeline to catch us all up to speed:

Tuesday, December 28. It snowed yesterday. We have oil delivered. The furnace is still not on late afternoon. DH goes downstairs and finds the boiler burst in on itself, the glass pressure gauge melted like a Dali clock.

Wednesday, December 29. We realize that the boiler burst sometime Monday, before the oil was delivered. We call insurance company, and the woman yells at me that we have to get it fixed because if the pipes freeze and burst it’s on us to handle it financially. We call the company listed on the boiler. No response. No response. No response. We call the local branch of a national repair and servicing company, and they promise to have someone out at 8:00 a.m. Thursday morning. We go to bed cold, but hopeful this will all be resolved by the end of tomorrow. We leave the pipes dripping in every faucet to prevent pipes bursting.

Thursday, December 30. Repair fellow comes. Lovely man, he was even worried about tracking oil through my house going back and forth to get various implements and tools necessary for the diagnosis. I assure him that if he can, indeed, salvage part or all of the thing, I don’t mind a bit of oil tracking. He informs us that the boiler is kaput, but that we can retroactively fit a warranty to it and take care of it. Space heaters in three rooms become our constant friends. we fear the electricity and water bills that are bound to result from this.

Friday, December 31. Nothing. Nada, zip, zilch, no response to phonecalls. At about 4 p.m., the repair service people called and told us they couldn’t get a hold of the boiler warranty folks, but hang tight, they’d figure this out. Space heaters continue, as do dripping faucets. We resign ourselves to a cold weekend, with hopes that all will, in fact, be well.

Monday, January 3. Nothing, from no one. Update phonecall reveals nobody could get a hold of the boiler company to deal with the warranty issue.

Tuesday, January 4. Same thing. We contemplate trying a different approach, but the warranty issue looms large. We cannot afford to replace without it. We cling to hope.

Wednesday, January 5 – a flurry of phonecalls back and forth reveal that the repair service folks are (apparently) utterly fed up with the boiler company, which is impossible to reach. We threaten to take our business elsewhere. They assure us the paperwork is going through. We can see our breath in the house. This will continue throughout the rest of the ordeal. We are living in two rooms, with space heaters. I don’t want to discuss how cold the bathroom is for showers and using the toilet – especially for the three of us who are female and therefore have to sit every time.

Thursday, January 6 – the paperwork does go through. We are told to expect shipping and installation information plus a quote tomorrow. There is a light at the end of the tunnel….? Still seeing our breath indoors. The girls are refusing to take a bath, and who can blame them??? Space heaters and faucets have now been running continuously for a week. We are dreading the bills.

Friday, January 7 – they expect the thing to be in town and ready to install on Monday! The quote: “$1200 to $2000 at the high end, probably less”. We sort of rejoice – I mean, we can’t afford that, but it’s so much better than a completely new boiler would end up being….We resign ourselves to being cold for one more weekend – one more. I tell the girls they don’t have to take baths for the weekend, because we expect it to be warmer on Monday! The pipes and space heaters continue to run incessantly….

Monday, January 10. Four men show up at our house first thing in the morning. Hurrah! The cavalry has arrived! I’m so excited about coming home to a warm house I am practically glowing. I get home from work, and the old boiler is gone. There’s oil tracked all over my floor. There’s no one there. No note, no phone message, nothing. Just a gaping empty space where the old boiler was. I can see my breath indoors, still. I call the company, and get their answering service; they’re gone for the day. I call DH, and he says they are going to bring the new one and install it on Tuesday. I reply, somewhat cynically, “That’s what they said about today.” The girls are made to take baths tonight like it or not. We might be freezing and heatless, but we will not be filthy pigs. I’ll clean the oil on my floors up after they’re done installing. We can do this….one more day, right? We can do this.

Tuesday, January 11. We end up staying home to handle the furnace thingy and because it snows and ices over on Monday evening, so the schools are closed. It is below 40 degrees in the house for the third consecutive day. The guys are here the entire work day. No one talks to us. DH goes out and asks them how it’s going; everything appears to be according to plan. They leave to get some part they need. They come back. They do some more whatever-the-hell- they’re doing. Then they say that a part they need has to be ordered. Gone for the day. They have, however, told DH that something they have done or need to do is going to cost an extra $500.00, and then something-or-other else is going to be about a hundred extra, bringing us to about $2200…he reluctantly agrees. What are we going to do? They have us between a rock and a hard place; we HAVE to get this fixed, we have young children, it’s the middle of winter. OK, fine. ONE MORE DAY. I can do this. I feel like I’m on an emotional roller coaster. I’m not going to bother cleaning the oil up off of the floor, firstly because it is too cold to be in the kitchen and secondly because they’re likely just going to track it up again tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 12…AKA today – they came, they saw, they hemmed and hawed and said the part they needed somehow didn’t get ordered. And oh, by the way, the quote has gone up somewhat. Like, to $4200.00. Double the original price quote, with absolutely nothing to show for it. DH hits the roof (FINALLY) and wants to know how in the hell they have come up with that number, and why we did not hear anything like that until NOW. They think they may have made a mistake. Frankly, I think we’re the one who have made the mistake. They assure us that the thing will be ready to go tomorrow. DH wants to know where the part is. They hem and haw, something about two locations about 40 minutes from here. He says which one? He’ll drive there himself and get the damned part if it means we can have it installed today. They hem and haw and no one answers the question. Clearly, they didn’t order the part. Cue oldest daughter’s sore throat and “I don’t feel good.” GEEEeeeeee, I wonder why she’s sick? Could it be because we have had no heat, save space heaters, for two weeks? I curse my decision to make them take baths; I probably did this. Add doctor bill to the pile. Water is still dripping in all faucets to prevent burst pipes. Space heaters running all day, every day. We are drowning in the expenses that are piling up, and frankly, all I can think right now is “GROSS INCOMPETENCE!” And also, “I’m not paying you people $4200 ANYTHING.” And also, “I thought Hell was supposed to be Hot!” Clearly, I was wrong…we’re in Hell, and it’s weighing in at something under 40 degrees, which is as far as our thermostat registers low temperatures.

Utterly fed up, I called Corporate this afternoon. The woman on the other end, located in sunny Houston, TX, is appropriately horrified that it has taken this long and that we have been without heat through these storms. She is so appalled that she spends extra time making sure she is giving me the correct regional director to talk to. I call…voice mail. That about sums up our entire experience with this whole situation.

The regional director calls me back AFTER the time I specified I would be at work and available to talk (convenient, yeah?) He then calls my husband as directed. He is putting our situation through to the regional president of the company.

Who…has not called us yet.

Failure to deliver product in timely fashion: check. Failure to properly install in timely fashion: check. Emotional trauma: check. Financial hit: check. Loss of income due to being here to oversee the progress: check. Extortion/ threats to go way over the quote without prior consultation: check. Resulting illness in family member due to incompetence: check.

Seriously…you can’t make this stuff up. But I swear to you, Oh Reader(s), that if this is not resolved to our satisfaction financially and also emotionally, I WILL disclose the name of the national company whose local branch has been this incompetent, so you never, ever have to go through this sort of thing for yourself. If we were renters, we could sue our landlord for this. I’m not sure we can sue this company for it, but I am sure as hell certain that we can get the word out that their customer service is crap and their business practices are suspect.

So…ball’s in their court. Why do I have the distinct feeling you are going to find out what company this is in the end? Probably because the only reliable aspect of their work on this project, has been their incompetence.

Oh – and for anyone who care, today’s random medieval fact is that January 12, 1492 is the birthday of Italian writer Andreas Alicatus. Never heard of him? That’s OK, neither have I.

ETA: The company called and said the total will now be $3900. My husband demanded to know how that went up from $2000 at the high end, to $2200 total, to $3900, in the space of 24 hours. The answer? Because he had to spend a couple of hours on the phone getting the warranty redone. That, by the way, happened BEFORE the quote yesterday. All of the extra things he stated as reasons for the price hike, happened prior to the “final” quoted price of $2200 last night. There is no discernible reason for it to have gone up, other than that we have become their cash cow on this. And also, the regional president called and said he is sorry, but the higher price is probably correct. I intend to demand that the price quoted be honored, whether they like it or not. On the invoice for this company, in bold print, it says: “We Will Consult You Every Step Of The Way So You Will Never Be Surprised.”

Frankly, we passed “surprised” about a week ago, and damned sure did so after Monday. We’re fucking FLOORED.

(mine, not yours, I think).

Soooooo....here we are. All sitting around waiting anxiously. Most of us have submitted our applications, except for those who have that January 15 deadline. We can check our application statuses fifty times a day if we like, although there's likely to be no change between now and late February or early March. The science and medical and some of the social sciences applicants are starting to get interviews with their POIs. We English folk, however, are resigned to waiting, waiting, waiting.....

Here on the East coast, we are getting slammed with snow, ice, and all sorts of awful weather patterns. And since December 27, my family and I have been without heat, as our boiler burst. We own the home - there's no one to call for this one. After a lengthy and tearful and at times even rageful discussion with my insurance company, I found that we are liable the entire cost of replacement because they only handle damage associated with broken appliances, not the boiler, itself. We called a repair company. They came out and told us yes, the boiler is completely bust. No, we don't have a warranty. Yes, they can probably get us one. When all is said and done, we will have to come up with an undisclosed sum of cash, something between $1200 and $3000.00. We have now been without heat, relying on two space-heaters to keep two young children and two adults warm, for the past two and a half weeks. The repair folks came out and took the boiler yesterday. They've been here all day today putting the new one in, but they just drove off. It's currently <40 degrees in the house, and apparently they are done for the day. No heat again tonight. It's supposed to dip into the low twenties. Even with my space heater, my fingers are cold, my toes are cold, my brain is numb...

Oh, yeah. And I can't wait to get the electric bill for running these space heaters 24-7 for two weeks. Or the water bill for leaving all the taps dripping constantly for two weeks to prevent the pipes from bursting.

This is doing absolutely nothing to make waiting for results any easier. In fact, between obsessing over the heat (or lack thereof) situation in our home, and obsessing over grad school admissions results, and now obsessing over paying for both, I'm having a really hard time focusing on anything else - like, my job, or the research I'm supposed to be doing.

On the other hand, after the past two weeks, I feel very highly qualified to talk about living conditions in January in Western Europe during the medieval period...

Hope this makes some other folks feel better as they await their results, hopefully in better climate conditions than we are currently experiencing. :(

Over the past few days, I have come afresh to the realization that applying to graduate school really is one big, crazy mind game. Oh, I came to this realization last year, also - but I see it with much more vivid clarity this year - probably because last year, I had no reason to think I would not get in, whereas this year, I have no reason to think I will. (Oh, the difference a year makes!) This is a long, drawn out, and incredibly stressful process - I don't think I realized just how sustained the stress of applying is until yesterday, when my GRE subject test scores came in.

Because- I actually did really f*ck*ng well. REALLY f*ck*ng well. I only missed 18 questions. After all of that, after sitting there freaking out and thinking "My God(dess)(e)(s), I am so much dumber than I thought I was, how could I be doing so badly on this?" for three hours, in the end, I was doing really well, and it was just running out of time that did me in (I worked to the end of the time and left 64 blank, mostly the really long reading comprehension passages attached to 6 or 7 questions apiece). It turns out, if I had gotten to and answered correctly one more question, I would have made the next percentile section; 8 more questions, and I'd have hit the 90th percentile. EIGHT questions made the difference between my 82nd(practically 84th) percent and the 90th percentile. So, I left that room in November thinking I was doomed, and now - well, shit if I know where I stand - 82nd percentile, whatever the f*ck that means. Missing 18 questions, whatever that means. How closely do adcomms look at those statistics? Do they look at it and go, "Well, she got 144 question right and only 18 wrong, and left 64 blank, so maybe she just ran out of time"? Or does that not even factor in(which I suspect to be the case)? Still - I'm ten points away from Harvard's preferred score, and did better than 82% of the 10,000 people who sat that exam this year. That. Is. Not. Shabby. Particularly when we consider that, in the end, if I had worked a bit faster instead of so carefully, I would definitely have hit that 90th percentile. Particularly when none of the study aids prepped us for that much reading comprehension and passage analysis, when there were so few identification questions...in other words, when the test I took wasn't the one I studied for. When we consider that, and weigh it against my results, I think it's pretty awesome, really.

At any rate, my test results form opened up Pandora's Box of fear, anxiety and stress again, and I realized with crystal clarity that I have been riding this particular emotional roller coaster since last May, when I first sent out queries to my professors for a second round of recommendations. Since last May, when I began working further towards improving my application however I could. Then the summer, during which I studied whenever I could for the subject test and reconstructed my statement of purpose about eight or nine times (If I am successful in applying, I will post all versions of the SOP beginning with the one I sent in last application round and going through the one I finally settled on sending in this go-round, with commentary, as a guide for others...if not, then you don't want to read them! lol)

The, there's the business of the applications, themselves, beginning in October and going through December 15, my first deadline - the components, the Applyyourself technical issues, the money we've all forked over for test scores and transcripts and application fees. Now, waiting, waiting, waiting to hear whether or not the mailed-in elements have even made it to the program. Deadlines in December and January.

Based on the results charts, if I am offered a place in any of the three programs to which I have applied, I should hear back with acceptances, if there are any, by the end of February, or beginning of March at the latest; if I am on the wait list, I will not know anything until April at one of them. But when all is said and done, I have spent almost a year stressing over this process; counting the last cycle as well, during which I stressed over things but not nearly to this degree, I have spent over 18 months freaking out about applying to graduate school.

I figure, at this point, I am so well-primed for the mental challenges of graduate school that they would be foolish not to take me. This is one chick who will SO not be cracking under pressure or suffering a nervous breakdown! I am about as well-prepared for the mind games portion of graduate school as I think I am capable of being. But in the end, I think I would prefer to spend that time and energy obsessing over my work, and that's my goal for the new year: focus on the work and let the admissions process take care of itself. We don't have any control over it from this point on - why belabor the issue now? So - I'm off to research (at least for today!) And I hope everyone finds the degree of sanity I was able to delve out of that examination report yesterday. Which is that: We ARE that good, we ARE that deserving, and if the adcomms don't choose us, it's not because we suck. :P (Easy to say, when I'm still hopeful of being chosen. We'll see how it goes when February/March/April rolls around.)

Here's a problem just about everyone is facing these days, with so many applications being handled through the online, Applyyourself platforms: How do you make sure your application is complete, including mailed-in components, once you have submitted a completed online application?

Last year, I suffered through many, many fits of pique trying to ascertain whether or not my transcripts, GRE scores, and the like were received. Not helpful, is that some programs ask for you to upload your unofficial transcript / GRE reports and then also send in your official transcripts and reports. Some programs don't want you to send in the official transcripts unless you are offered admission. Some programs will consider your application even if the official transcripts/scores haven't yet made it in. All programs require the official GRE scores. Some programs want everything in and done by the deadline no ifs, ands, or buts. Others will make exceptions for later submissions of transcripts and GRE scores, as long as things are postmarked by the deadline. Some programs are of the "deadlines, schmeadlines" variety...as long as it gets into your file sometime before you matriculate, you're fine.

Most programs want your SOP, CV, and writing sample uploaded directly to the apply yourself application form. There are a few, especially in English, that still require you to mail the writing sample in. If you are applying for a TAship, then you may have extra recommendations and/or teaching statements either to upload or to mail in, usually to a separate email account that sends you an automated response telling you not to email that account with questions about your application or whether or not anything has been received or is still outstanding.

The only things you can be certain of, once you click "submit" and pay your application fee, are a.) that they have whatever you typed and/or uploaded into the application form and b.) that when your letters of recommendation are uploaded, that switches over automatically from "notified" to "submitted". Anything else - transcripts, GRE scores, mailed-in anything - and it's up to you, the applicant, to determine whether or not the department has received it.

Which is great...but what if the department is not responding to your requests for information as to the status of your application?

Let me preface, by stating that all three of the programs to which I am applying this year use the online application and recommendation forms.

Once you submit your application (which I did) you are allowed to monitor, but not to change anything. However, it states very clearly: "Please note that it is the applicant's responsibility to ensure that all required materials arrive at the admissions office by the deadline". It also states very clearly, "Please note that your application status may remain "incomplete" even if all materials have been received".

Which, I'm sure, has many people pulling their hair out in frustration, as I have also noticed (and perhaps you have, as well) that the departments are not doing a very good job of responding to email queries as to the status of our applications. Well, at least, this is true in my case.

At one of my programs, I emailed asking to know whether or not all mailed-in documents had arrived. The reply came about five days later: "To check the status of your application, please log into your account on the Apply yourself website."

Which says: "Please note that your application status may remain "incomplete" even if all materials have been received", and which, when I hit the "check your application" button, tells me my GRE/GMAT scores have not been received (they were mailed out by ETS on December 3 and have been marked "received" at the other two programs to which I have applied...) "Dear University: I checked the apply yourself site and it says that the document I asked about specifically in my last email to you has not been received, yet that same document has been received at other departments to which I have applied, so do you have the damned thing or not???" I thought, but did not type and send....

At the second program, I emailed to ask about the status of my application as regards those portions that are not uploaded into the apply yourself, online forms, and was told that due to the number of applicants they don't check applications to verify if they are complete; that's the applicant's responsibility. (Do they want me to fly to their campus, come intothe graduate admissions office, and check my application for them...?)

At the third program, I emailed them the day I submitted my application concerning my transcripts (which arrive under different last names, because of marital status changes). Last year, this department had me filed in three different folders because of the transcript differences, so I thought "Hey, this year I will be proactive and let them know to expect this." I emailed and let them know about the schools and names the transcripts would be arriving under. I received a reply that "Once your application is received, please resend this information about your transcripts and we will make sure they all get into your folder". My application is received. I re-sent the information. Guess which program currently has all of my transcripts listed as "not received"?

It's so frustrating - Based on past experiences and the desire to be a good, smooth, easy applicant, I'm doing everything I can do to streamline things on my end; but ultimately, even though it is my responsibility to make sure my applications are complete, that's damned-near impossible to do when I can't get anyone to actually take the time to work with me to ensure this is the case. So, here is what I could and did do:

1. sent my writing sample via US Postal Service priority mail, so I had delivery confirmation. If they say they don't have it, I can point out that it was, in fact, delivered at 11:57 a.m. on December 6, 2010. (I do NOT recommend requiring a signature, because what if no one is there to sign for it? You could easily end up with a really delayed delivery; they're likely not shluffing to the post office to sign for your letter.)

2. started a new, separate file in my email account specifically devoted to each program to which I have applied, and kept my emails to and from those programs saved in the appropriate folder. If my missing transcripts don't show up soon, I am going to re-send that first email to the graduate admissions director, along with the check numbers and date on which they were cashed from the institutions that sent the transcripts (November 15, 2010 and November 17, 2010) - those transcripts are there, in that office, somewhere. If there's anything missing from my application at any of the programs, I can verify that I did what I could to see if they were complete, and who replied (or didn't) and when, to those queries.

3. went into my ETS / GRE account and printed out a copy of the record of scores sent and to where, when (December 11, 2010 mailing date) - those scores should be received no later than today (which is a deadline at one of my programs, but since the scores are reported unofficially on my online application this is OK one way or the other). If they're missing, then I can alert the department(s) as to when they were sent.

All I am sure of, right now, is that I have submitted my applications, paid my fees, requested my transcripts and GRE scores; that my writing sample was delivered to the program that wanted it mailed in, and that my recommendations have all been submitted. And also, that my transcripts are marked not received at one of my programs, my GRE scores not received at another program, and I have nothing to report good, bad or ugly on the third program because no one has responded to my email.

Today, I am going to place a phone call to all three admissions offices and I am going to make a note of those calls, what I asked(have the mailed-in components of my application arrived yet? What, if anything, is still missing?), and the responses. In other words - I am going to have done everything I can do, on my end, to make sure my application is complete.

I highly recommend, to anyone who like me is concerned about this process, that rather than relying on email or correspondence of any kind, you call the admissions folks. If they have you on the phone, it's not as easy to neglect to respond to you, and in the end, the peace of mind will be totally worth it. I debated whether or not this was neurotic or whether or not I am being hysterical or overly-concerned about it - but then I decided if they are going to tell me it is my responsibility to make sure they have received everything, and I am not actually physically there going through my file to make sure they have received everything, then this is not being OCD, it is being responsible. :P

So, alongside many of my Compatriots in Hell (AKA, fellow applicants to English programs this go-round) I just called in and forked over $12.00 to ETS to hear an automated woman's voice tell me my Subject Test score. Turns out, it's neither good, bad, nor ugly:

640/ 82nd percentile.

Well, hell. I mean, what does that really tell adcomms? I don't completely suck; it validates the rest of my application by underscoring that I am actually a solid candidate. But it's not a great score, either, it doesn't scream : "You do! You want this person! Snap her up immediately with a fellowship or regret it forever!" No, I got - a respectable score. An above-average score.

I don't know how to react, to be honest. If we were a week post-exam, when I was still totally freaked out by that horrible thing and my memory of taking it and my utter fear I was sinking into sub-600 territory and there wasn't a damned thing I could do about it, I would totally break open a bottle of triple-brewed in oak barrels IPA and celebrate, 9 a.m. or no 9 a.m. But now it's been a full month, and I can't help but wonder: could I have hit that magical 650? Ten more points...could I have done that?

Probably. But I'm not taking the test again to find out, that's for damned sure. So...640. Better than 82% of the people who are currently considering applying to graduate programs in English. I mean...that's not terrible, right? That's pretty damned good, actually, considering - right?

I honestly don't even know. All I know is, that score is being reported as we speak, and if that final letter of recommendation just makes it in early next week, all I have left now is to wait and see, just like everyone else. Maybe that IPA isn't amiss right now, after all.