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politics 'n prose

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About politics 'n prose

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  • Application Season
    2020 Fall
  • Program
    English PhD

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  1. I’m also an MFA grad who applied successfully to PhDs: Two of my recommenders were fiction/nonfiction writers of moderate renown (definitely not household names) with MFAs, and my third recommender was an undergrad Lit professor who has a PhD but hasn’t worked with me in over 6 years (though we’ve stayed in touch, and he did hook me up with a summer teaching gig at my undergrad about four years ago). With the caveat that one of the schools I was accepted to was my MFA institution, so the adcom there was familiar with my two non-PhD’d recommenders, I don’t think it hurt me at all. (Also, I was rejected by the institution where one of my MFA-holding recommenders now teaches, so I put little stock in the importance of an institutional “in,” as it were.) I’ll also add that I had initially intended to use two recommenders from undergrad, but was advised by my MFA recommender to use an instructor who had worked with me more recently, even if it wasn’t in a Lit classroom. I’m not sure if that’s indicative of some actual and widespread bias against using undergrad profs when you could use grad profs instead, but it is the advice I received and chose to follow, and it worked out for me, so I figured I’d mention it. In short, though, if your recommenders can speak to your work ethic, collegiality, and intellectual curiosity, I think you’ll be golden—it shouldn’t matter what credentials they hold (or don’t hold), as long as they know your person and your work well enough to speak about it compellingly.
  2. Just to add a bit to this, @Treelike: first off, congrats on Cornell--that's a fantastic program! (I believe Cornell is also the only school that offers a dual MFA/PhD, but it's bonkers selective and I've never met an actual live human who was accepted to that track.) Second off, I graduated with my MFA in 2018, and I'm headed to an MA/PhD in English this fall; fellow GC-er @merry night wanderer also did an MFA prior to their PhD. At my MFA institution, there was a current PhD candidate who'd done an MFA first, and someone in the cohort one year ahead of me made the immediate transition from our school's MFA program to its PhD program upon completing the MFA. When I was applying to PhDs this time around, I did a deep dive on the "Current Students" listing at each of my potential schools; pretty much every program had at least one (and oftentimes more than one) MFA among its current PhD roster--it's definitely more common than you might think. In terms of prep work you can do during your MFA that might better-position you if you do wind up applying for PhDs down the road, I think you'll be well-served by really thinking about the ways in which your creative and critical work intersect with each other, complement each other, supplement each other, etc. Having the opportunity to take workshop and lit seminars side-by-side can help clarify things in that respect (for me, it was a narrative theory seminar in my second year that allowed things to click into place for me and made it clear that I ultimately wanted to pursue a PhD). I do think you may be in a uniquely supportive environment at Cornell, due to the aforementioned MFA/PhD dual degree: that suggests you'll be entering a program where it is taken as a given that creative writing and literary scholarship are not mutually exclusive.
  3. I obviously have a horse in this race because I'm headed to Penn State this fall and would love to have you in my cohort (middlebrow fiction, yes!), but for what it's worth, here's a breakdown of some of the relevant factors that led me to choose a school with a heavier teaching load (PSU) over one with a lighter teaching load (Ohio State): the stipend was higher, there were more opportunities for summer teaching, there was a guaranteed one-semester teaching release while dissertating, the resources for 20th/21st century American lit were stronger (so strong that they compelled me, a would-be narrative theorist, to turn down the school that's the epicenter for narrative studies in the U.S.), the program was longer and included a more-or-less guaranteed post-doc year (this was a plus for me, 6/7 years vs. 5, but I know that may not be the case for everyone), and the move to PA would be easier for me (and puts me much closer to family, which was a big deal to me). Also, full disclosure, because I already have a grad degree from OSU, I was certainly drawn a bit to the novelty of a different school and a different department (not so much that it was an ultimate determining factor, but enough to note here). Also, my understanding regarding the 2:1 teaching load at Penn State is that not everyone actually winds up teaching two courses in that odd semester; where possible, you can swap out some other, potentially less time-consuming service (tutoring, writing center work, etc.) for one of the two courses. Also, the fact that you're only teaching two courses for one semester out of every four seemed ultimately negligible to me (but I'm coming in with a decent chunk of teaching experience--and major burn-out from two years in the non-teaching sphere--and I'm (perhaps naively!) looking forward to diving in headfirst with teaching). All that said, two years with no teaching requirement to start is a big, big deal. Teaching is a big drain on your time, and two years without that obligation can really allow you to get your grounding, explore all your department has to offer, etc. (I do think there's equal value to having time off from teaching while dissertating--I had a fellowship in the final semester of my MFA program without which I probably wouldn't have completed my thesis--but it's possible such opportunities are available at WashU, too.) I also know WashU's placement record is great, and everyone I've encountered on Grad Cafe with a connection to the program has had only glowing things to say. I don't think you can go wrong here either way, and I'm wishing you all the best as you make your choice. If you want to talk any more about my choice to attend Penn State, don't hesitate to send me a message!
  4. After a solid two months of agonizing, I am beyond thrilled to say that I've accepted my offer to the MA/PhD program at Penn State! If anyone else winds up PSU-bound, hit me up--I'd love a chance to get to know some of the incoming cohort since we weren't able to meet at the open house. Also, good luck (thoughts, prayers, the best of vibes) to those of you still deliberating--whichever way you go, hopefully there's some comfort to be found in the fact that there are only nine days left of this part.
  5. I feel like the standard line is "Don't go to a program that's not in the Top 20," which to me suggests there may be some appreciable difference between a school ranked 18 and one ranked 27, at least in terms of prestige, appearances, etc. I believe we are both considering the same 27th-ranked program, though, @karamazov, so my thoughts on this matter may not be perfectly unbiased. That said, in trying to decide between my two programs--one ranked 27, one ranked 30--I've taken rankings less into account than recent placements (in my case, quantity and quality of recent placements seems to correspond to ranking, though, so that may not be a useful metric for you).
  6. I agree that you may not want to go into further debt to get your MA considering your existing undergrad debt. I also don't think it's a big deal to take off a year (or more) between undergrad and grad school. I took a year off between my bachelor's and my MFA, and will have taken two years off between my MFA and my MA/PhD. Being in the so-called "real world" during those gap years only strengthened my resolve to get my grad degrees; they weren't always a picnic, but I don't regret the experience, which I believe has ultimately been a net positive. Over the past two years I've been able to work on the administrative side of higher ed and establish the beginnings of a non-teaching career, which is experience that will stay on my CV and may come in handy six or seven years down the road if I'm looking for an alt-ac career. On the other hand, to @Cryss's point above re: the long-term effects of the pandemic, I've heard from one DGS that there's a possibility that admissions will be even more competitive for the 2021-2022 academic year because there will likely be even fewer funded spots. I don't believe you should accept one of your partially funded offers for fear of being shut out next year, but conventional wisdom does say that an economic recession (which seems like a mild term for what's happening now, to be frank) tends to result in a flood of grad school applicants. By the same token, in a year you might be an even stronger candidate, if you take this time off to read more, revise/rewrite your strongest research papers, and put together a kick-ass personal statement. So playing the odds here might just be a wash. I feel like I'm talking out both sides of my mouth here, so here's the advice I'd give, if pressed: don't go into debt for a master's degree in the humanities. If you can find a way to work part-time during your MA to recoup some of the tuition costs, maybe that will be a viable solution for you, but part of the beauty of a fully-funded offer is that you can devote your full time and attention to your studies. So, yeah, I return to my original point: don't go into debt for a master's degree in the humanities.
  7. I’m deciding between a school ranked 27 and a school ranked 30, and it’s pretty brutal. With numbers that close, I’m inclined to just remove “school ranking” from my decision-making process, but it’s still there in the back of my mind. Since ranking isn’t necessarily as much of a dealbreaker in my situation, I’m trying to evaluate programs based on a few other big-ticket factors: stipend amount (keeping in mind relative cost of living), teaching load, years of support, opportunities for summer/additional funding, and recent PhD placements. I’m also comparing past and future grad seminars to see which school’s catalog most intrigues me. I’m also taking into account the tenor of the interactions I’ve had with the DGS, the program admin, and faculty to get a sense of the overall “feel” of each program. I was able to visit one of my schools in-person but definitely won’t have a chance to visit the other, so that’s making things a bit lopsided, unfortunately...
  8. Thank you so. much. for the info on Penn State, @WanYesOnly! I grew up in small-town Pennsylvania, so I'm not too turned off by State College location-wise (it's not necessarily ideal, but I can probably make it work), and the rest of what you're saying sounds quite promising to me. (I'm currently leaning heavily toward Penn State for a variety of idiosyncratic reasons, and if my talks with faculty/students go well during the virtual campus visit, I think that'll be the thing that finally tips the scales in its favor.) As for Ohio State: I did my MFA there as well, so I'm very familiar with Columbus, and it's a great city. I've been told it's not a "city" in most meaningful senses of the word by folks from NYC, Denver, Boston, etc.--rather, that it's a college campus they had to build a town around--but I respectfully disagree. Yes, it's a small city, but it has a lot of cool and distinct neighborhoods, great food, great indie bookstores (a great literary community in general, really)--you'll never want for anything to do outside of class. Rents are climbing and areas are gentrifying, but the overall cost of living is still reasonably low. That said, public transportation is...dodgy; there's a city-wide bus system, but it doesn't hit every part of the city (and there are some problematic attitudes re: race and class that seem to inform which places get bus service and which ones don't). Most parts of Columbus are bikeable, a decent number are walkable, but a lot of people (too many people, really, for a city of its size) have cars and do a lot of driving. I had a car when I lived in Columbus, but I hated having to drive anywhere from Old North (a bit north of campus) to German Village (a fair deal south of campus)--so, basically the entire "city" proper--because there were just too many people on the road. The university itself has a lot of fantastic resources--a top-notch library, extensive collections and archives on just about everything under the sun--and the English faculty and grad students are smart, passionate, and refreshingly down-to-earth and unpretentious (as a whole). Interdisciplinary study is very much encouraged, so you'd definitely have a chance to broaden your research horizons. Ohio as a state is becoming more and more conservative, though--and Columbus as a city is not without its issues, particularly regarding policing, though overall I'd call it a pretty liberal place--so while the university is absolutely a crown jewel of the state and very well-funded, it's important to note that the political winds are trending in a more, uh, rightwardly direction, if that's something that would factor into your decision. Hope this helps--feel free to shoot me a PM with any other questions!
  9. Thanks, @tinymica--I think I'll take you up on that once I can get some cogent thoughts down! I didn't have a chance to visit the school where I ultimately enrolled for my MFA because I was literally accepted off the waitlist on April 14 and had a day to decide, and it turned out perfectly fine. (That said, I was accepted to the school whose program itself was my top choice of places I'd been accepted/waitlisted, which certainly made the decision easier.) You can get a decent enough sense of what a place is like through some online sleuthing (lots of cities and towns--not to mention colleges and universities--have pretty active subreddits that can be a good source of intel (and occasional horror)), and if you also have the benefit of speaking to current students and faculty, that's certainly a bonus. To your larger question, though, location is definitely a contributing factor to how successful you'll be in your program. If you have particular concerns about the place(s) where you've been accepted--that is, both the physical locale and the overall campus climate--I'd write them down and be sure to ask specific questions when your virtual visit rolls around to glean as much information as you can. Good luck!
  10. According to the Council of Graduate Schools, which is the organization responsible for the April 15th resolution: CGS’s position is that the April 15 deadline should continue to remain in effect for 2020. Because signatory institutions and programs may be affected differently by COVID-19, and may adjust their admissions and funding decision timelines accordingly, we believe that it is not feasible for the community to agree to a different deadline this year. I feel like the exact reasons being cited for why they're not adjusting the deadline are actually compelling reasons to adjust the deadline, but whatever. It does seem that individual schools have discretion when it comes to pushing back their own deadlines, but if there's no formal agreement among all signatories to the April 15th resolution, then that's not particularly helpful, I don't think. (More info is available here, but it's none too promising. 😕 ) Edit to add: Helpful conversation re: the April 15th deadline is also happening over in the 2020 Applicants thread, beginning here.
  11. Just got the ol' cancellation email from Penn State, but it sounds like they're going to try putting together a virtual campus visit for the same days that had originally been scheduled. Any newly-minted veterans of a virtual campus visit, I'd be curious to hear what your experience was like. (Oh, and if there are any current or former Penn State students 'round these parts, I'd so appreciate any info you can share on the program, the campus, and the surrounding area.)
  12. Penn State MA/PhD admit here: When I spoke to the assistant DGS, she made a point of saying they like to let admitted students know as early as possible to give them ample time to make a decision, which suggests to me that all first-round acceptances have gone out and now they’re just waiting to see who says yes and who says no before they dip into their (potentially secret?) waitlist. Sorry I don’t have more concrete information to share, but good luck! On the subject of Penn State: I believe they’re on spring break this week, but I’m dreading the inevitable open house cancelation email come next Monday. Fortunately I live within easy driving distance of the school and could still probably swing a more informal visit, but I’m having a tough time deciding between Ohio State (which I’ve already visited) and Penn State, and am/was really hoping for PSU’s open house to be a clarifying experience. Alas... (I know I’m fortunate to live within a visitable distance to my school—I’m so sorry to those of you who are dealing with canceled visits and travel dilemmas. Hopefully you can find some sort of substitute, like a virtual visit, to aid in making your decision, though of course that’s no substitute for an in-person, curated visit. Sending you all an abundance of good vibes!)
  13. Resurrecting this thread for 2020 to see if anyone can offer some intel on State College and the surrounding area. I’m seriously considering an MA/PhD offer from the English program at Penn State, but one of my major concerns is finding housing that’s affordable on a stipend of about $22K over nine months (or about $25K over twelve months if I’m offered summer teaching). I’ll be moving with my partner and our large, dopey, lovable dog—so we’re hoping to rent a single-family home, townhouse, or duplex with some semblance of a yard. (We’ll also be a two-income household eventually, but are planning on my partner potentially being unemployed for the first few months if he can’t secure a job ahead of our move in August). It looks like we’ll be priced out of most of the rentals in State College, but Bellefonte seems promising. So, anyone have an experience living in Bellefonte and attending Penn State? I have a car, so I’m not worried about having to drive to campus...unless the parking situation is super terrible? Can anyone shed some light on that? (I did some research on PSU’s website but couldn’t determine if the school only issues as many parking permits as there are parking spaces, or if it will be a daily struggle to find a spot.) Also, what’s the public transportation like from Bellefonte to campus? And are there any rental sites or companies I should know about (for good or bad)? I’ve mostly been using Craigslist and Trulia, which seem relatively representative of what available housing is out there, but would appreciate any other recommendations from those who are wiser than I. (Oh, and the typical disclaimers about Penn State being rural AF need not apply to me: I grew up in a pretty rural part of eastern PA, so I’m familiar with the usual small-town pitfalls. I’m also butting up against 30, so I don’t mind a slower-paced lifestyle. That said, any additional insight on State College, Bellefonte, and/or Penn State itself is greatly appreciated!)
  14. Fiiinnnaaalllyyy got that sweet, sweet UNC rejection. App season is officially over for me: now, decision time!
  15. Oof, UNC, please just put me out of my misery. I'm trying to set myself seriously to the task of deciding between my two definite offers, but UNC is a program that would be a game-changer for me if I were waitlisted or accepted, so this radio silence is severely bummin' me out.
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