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cruel optimism

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  • Application Season
    2020 Fall
  • Program
    Literature PhD

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  1. I don't suppose it'll be an issue if you simply extract your strongest analyses from your thesis for your writing sample, though you might have to include an additional paragraph (or a few lines) at the start of the document to contextualise your excerpt. (This is just for readers to situate/follow your argument.) However, seeing as you still have months till your first application deadlines, why not rework your thesis into a 15-20 page writing sample? Can you condense your arguments? And are there analyses that could be extraneous? If you're still in a BA/MA program at the moment, then you could perhaps even work with your supervisor or your mentors to turn your thesis into something publishable? (Journal articles are usually the same length as writing sample length requirements anyway, and they also tend to be the "standard" for which grad applicants strive.)
  2. Yikes. I haven't even asked about the additional fees, since I don't think I'd like to start my program remotely. I'll have to clarify if a semester-long deferral's still possible though, because I might've received conflicting messages from my program and my school. (There are so many updates and changes to policies that it's so hard to keep up!! 😭) Anyway, solidarity to all other international students currently facing the same dilemmas. We'll get through this... hopefully unscathed. ✊😩
  3. These are the options that my school's offering too β€” remote learning with no stipend, or a deferral until Spring/Fall '21 based on what my program sees fit. I'm gravitating towards the latter seeing as I'm not particularly keen on the online format (not to mention that the 12 hour time difference between my country and Durham entails that I'll have to take classes late into the night), but should I take up that option, I'd also be slightly dismayed about having to postpone my studies. I don't suppose there's a good way out of our current situation though, given the panoply of dilemmas that everyone's facing now. I suppose we'll just have to make the best of our circumstances now. πŸ˜•
  4. all interviews scheduled through july 19 are cancelled at my local embassy (sg), but i suspect that they'll soon also start to cancel other appointments through to the end of the month (or even next month).
  5. seconding all the suggestions that you might want to look into English programs instead (especially if you intend to work primarily with Anglophone texts), because not only do traditional comp lit programs require that you're fluent in a number of non-english languages, they might also presume a certain level of knowledge of national literatures. (but of course, if this is something in which you're interested, and if you already have/know you can acquire a sufficient background in it, then go ahead and apply wherever you see fit.) about this, you might want to consider writing a final-year thesis, if that's not already a compulsory component of your undergrad program, since the experience of doing independent research will almost certainly help you refine/whittle down your interests (not to mention that it's a good way of coming up with preliminary material for your writing samples anyway). other than that, just read around, figure out where your favourite academics work, research those programs (what sort of work is being done there β€” and in which sub-fields? who are they hiring? where are they headed next?), and find a way to make your work speak to them.
  6. while i've been able to make an appointment for late june, i've also been told by the consulate that "we do not yet have a fixed date for when visa services will resume. We will make a decision on the status of appointments from June 29 to July 2 no later than June 15." this means that appointments currently scheduled can be cancelled at any time, should the consulate find that it is still unable to resume regular operations by then. (i've also been advised by my department and the intl student services at my school to consider a deferral.)
  7. That's what I figured. I checked the current requirements for expedited appointments (for my country) again, and thus far, only medical emergencies and urgent humanitarian concerns are permissible reasons for such requests. I guess we'll just have to wait for the consulates to reopen after all.
  8. Aren't routine nonimmigrant visa services suspended in embassies/consulates worldwide? Or so I was led to believe by my local consulate. I might still have a chance at arranging for an expedited appointment in my country, but it seems like such appointments are currently reserved for "emergencies" that no longer include travel for studies. In any case, you might want to check if the Belfast/London consulates offer such an option so you might be able to get around the current suspension of visa services.
  9. Since my university fedex-ed my I-20 to me, the document reached me within a week after I'd sent them the necessary passport/visa documents. Perhaps you might want to check with your uni's visa/international students services department to see if they're missing any documents from you, or if they sent you your I-20 via regular mail services (which will undoubtedly take longer).
  10. as fall semester approaches and everyone begins to plan for their relocation, are any international students still stuck in a limbo and considering a deferment like myself? if so, how are you managing things? (i'm feeling rather stressed at the moment, being pressed to make concrete decisions about visa applications/accommodation/etc with everything still up in the air.)
  11. i haven't heard of any of such rumblings in relation to english/literature departments yet, but i know β€” and it has been announced β€” that princeton's sociology department will not be accepting any applications for the 2021 cycle. apparently β€” though this still hasn't been confirmed β€” nyu history intends on doing the same, so i'm guessing that it's only time that several other humanities/social sciences departments might follow suit. (to be clear, i'm not sure if most departments will take such drastic measures, however, but i don't also want to give anyone false assurance. given that most universities are currently in the process of finalizing their budgets for the coming fiscal year, i suppose that we'll just have to wait a few more months to hear more definitively about individual departments' admissions plans for 2021.)
  12. clearly, much has already been said on these forums about how you might have to (re)position yourself in the job market should you choose to pursue a more theory-heavy comp lit/interdisciplinary studies track. but if you need some guiding questions to help you structure your plans as you proceed β€” as an phd applicant, student, and future job candidate β€” i think the supplemental section that stanford MTL requires of its applicants could be a good exercise to undertake, if only to help you figure out how you might align/"market" your interests in accordance to more traditional disciplinary conventions: and yes, do be prepared for interviews, especially if you're applying to (comp) lit departments!! if i'm not mistaken, some of the programs more focused on national languages/literatures will conduct a portion of their interviews in the applicants' non-english language(s) of choice β€” just to verify their language skills β€” so you might want to avoid those if you know your languages aren't up to par. then again, these are usually the more traditional programs, so you may not even be considering them in the first place. also, yes, i can confirm that duke lit's interviews are often quite intimidating, and i count myself lucky that i only had to suffer through one round of such uh... intense grilling this year (the department sometimes conducts another round of interviews on campus). but pretty much everyone is subject to the same sort of questioning anyway, and the panel really just wants to help you dissect/refine/reconsider the scope/implications of your work, so it's not such a horrific experience if you treat it like a conference q&a.
  13. I don't think that your professor's wrong to be wary of sending you to a comp lit program, since job prospects for comp lit phds are actually even more dire than those for english phds these days. Most comp lit students, or those who manage to stay in academia anyway, do eventually end up in either national/regional literature departments or interdisciplinary departments, seeing as there just aren't any jobs in so-called pure comp lit departments now. Granted, this might make comp lit sound like a more versatile option β€” and it is, given the immense flexibility of most programs β€” but you must remember that there are other students trained specifically in these national/regional literatures or interdisciplinary fields, who are also competing for the same jobs. In this sense, while you may be afforded more leeway to explore and integrate studies of other disciplines in a comp lit program, you'll ultimately have to do some extra work before proceeding on to the job market (e.g. to perhaps specialize in fields other than your own, and to repackage your interests as a "marketable niche"/something that speaks closer to common disciplinary conventions). That being said, with phd applications in mind, it might still be more prudent for you to apply to comp lit/interdisciplinary programs if you intend to focus on continental/critical theory. Because the admissions process is already so competitive, and because "fit" is such an important criteria to adcomms (not to mention that it might, in the future, determine how supportive your department is of your research), you don’t want to place yourself at a disadvantage by applying to places where your interests aren’t the norm. Of course, if you can find faculty members in english programs whose interests suit your own, then by all means go for it. In fact, what I'd suggest is that you consider and apply to a range of programs, including those outside of english/comp lit.
  14. i'm caught somewhere between the two β€” between feeling like i should be reading/writing more to catch up with everyone else and thinking that i'm way behind in preparing for a future-relocation-that-might-not-happen (not this year anyway). i just wish the latter could be settled as quickly as possible, so i can focus on the former instead. but i doubt that's happening any time soon.
  15. I've heard from several adcomm members at various schools (not the one I'll be attending though) that they tend not to place so much weight on LORs since these testimonials are so often uniformly complimentary β€” after all, students wouldn't request an LOR from someone whom we don't think will write us a strong letter. Besides, as professors who write plenty of these letters themselves, they understand not just how tedious the process can be, but also the predilection for some faculty members to turn in standard, form letters replete with empty praise (in which case, the shortcomings of these letters don't really reflect on the applicants themselves). For this reason, the only LORs that adcomms usually take note of, at least in early rounds of selection anyway, are those that are overwhelmingly negative or positive, because these are the ones that mark the applicant as either a red-flag or someone to watch. Beyond that, unless your letter writer's name holds such credibility (i.e. they've studied/worked/are friends with/taught someone on the adcomm, or they're just that renowned in their fields but they're also not known for dishing out compliments), and unless the strength of their letter is consistent with your SOP/WS, I don't think this particular component of your application holds that much weight in the final admissions decision. Don’t worry too much about it. With all that said, you might want to play it safer by having two PhD-holders write your LORs instead of one, seeing as places like Duke still "prefer to have academic references representing your major field." Specifically, Duke (English, not Lit though) states quite explicitly that "The Graduate School requires at least two letters from specialists in your field of study (for this purpose, that means English professors). One of these letters in your field should be from someone who knows your work well, and one (if possible the same letter) from someone who works in the historical field, or on the same main focus of interest, that you are claiming as a special interest in your application. If possible, avoid requesting all your letters from part-time, untenured, or emeritus professors, as letters from tenured scholars (or equivalent) actively engaged in mid- to senior career generally carry the most weight. If there is more than one professor outside the field of English who you'd like to write for you, then consider submitting four letters rather than the minimum three. The same would apply if you're currently working in a job related to your future career (say, teaching or publishing) and would like to submit a letter from your boss in addition to your academic letters." To be clear, I don't know if this is a hard and fast rule, and I'm not sure if you'll be applying to Duke at all, but the "at least two strong, academic references" thing seems to also be the general, unspoken consensus amongst most GC-ers β€” with some exceptions, of course. I'm also not sure who your potential letter writers are and what sort of critical work they do (they may not do academic research, but do they engage rigorously with academic texts/perspectives/trends in their work?), so it remains quite uncertain how their recommendations might be viewed by adcomms. My best advice will probably be to contact the grad admissions assistant or the DGS of the programs to which you're applying to ask about their LOR requirements.
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