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I recently realized a program was not a good fit for me (not an English MA program) because I didn't like their answers to my questions about mentorship. While I realize I may have been spoiled at my undergrad institution (a mid-sized state college of mostly undergrads, so undergrads get most of the attention, especially if you care a little bit about learning), I wasn't sure anyone in this program would get to know me well enough to actually be invested in my success.

But, then, I've heard that's a concern with a lot of Masters programs. Does anyone have stories to assuage my worries? What type of mentoring should I be expecting from these programs in general? If you just want to tell nice stories about your mentors that's cool too. Thank you in advance!

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What did you not like about their answers? I know in my MA we don’t have assigned mentors/advisors; I have two professors I often turn to: one who would be my advisor if that’s how it worked when I have questions about her/“my” field, and another one with whom I feel more comfortable on a human level. 

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@Yanaka I asked about mentorship style, and the example I was given was a professor answering a question a RA had about the literature. (It also just sounded like the professors didn't engage with the research assistants very much.)

And unassigned mentors/advisors are wonderful too! I'm glad to hear you have some.

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1 hour ago, marisawhy said:

I recently realized a program was not a good fit for me (not an English MA program) because I didn't like their answers to my questions about mentorship. While I realize I may have been spoiled at my undergrad institution (a mid-sized state college of mostly undergrads, so undergrads get most of the attention, especially if you care a little bit about learning), I wasn't sure anyone in this program would get to know me well enough to actually be invested in my success.

But, then, I've heard that's a concern with a lot of Masters programs. Does anyone have stories to assuage my worries? What type of mentoring should I be expecting from these programs in general? If you just want to tell nice stories about your mentors that's cool too. Thank you in advance!

I think it's typical for MA programs, particularly those with a thesis component, to feel somewhat rushed. Because you are more than likely going to be moving on to another institution, and since your prospective mentors have a billion other time commitments and probably several other grad students, yeah, you're likely not their first priority. I really don't think that should be too much of a concern. Your using the time in an MA program to sharpen your skills, broaden you reading, and see through to completion an extended and concentrated intellectual project. All that being said, a thesis isn't a diss, and no one expects it be an original contribution to the field. It doesn't require the kind of mentor/faculty attention that a diss necessarily does. 

If you want to get the most out of  the faculty members you choose to work with, there are a few things you can do. Obviously, you're going to want to take some classes with faculty you're interested in. But also try to narrow your interests as quickly as possible and make every assignment / term paper / writing situation something that works toward your larger project. As an example, imagine you take two classes with your thesis advisor during your MA.  You write two papers that become chapters of your thesis or at least significantly develop some kind of idea crucial to your thesis. The faculty member obviously reads and responds to these for the class, but will also read them again and in their various iterations while you're assembling and drafting your thesis. They will be privy to the flow of your ideas and changes in your writing, and all told will probably end up reading your work four or five times before you are ready to defend.

Also, if there's a faculty member you like and can work with that is new to the tenure track, that would also be ideal if you want extra attention. This is what I did, and while my advisor was involved with several theses / diss', they were only directing mine.  

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I had a real hit-and-miss MA experience, so I actually asked a pretty similar question to this a little while ago. I got some really great advice in that thread that might be relevant to you, so I'm linking to it here. Hope it helps!

 

Edited by Melvillage_Idiot
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6 minutes ago, Melvillage_Idiot said:

I had a real hit-and-miss MA experience, so I actually asked a pretty similar question to this a little while ago. I got some really great advice in that thread that might be relevant to you, so I'm linking to it here. Hope it helps!

 

I definitely tried to make sure I wasn't repeat-posting, but I must have missed this. Thank you, it does help!

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I would also emphasize the natural rushed-ness of an MA. It's only two years. It goes by so quickly! 

I also think how the department is structured matters. The institution I attend only has the MA program, so there are no doctoral students who would take up valuable faculty time. There may be departments that have both MA and PhD programs and give enough support to all, but I believe attending a program where the faculty were fully devoted to the MA program made all the difference for my study.

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@bpilgrim89 I was just about to say what you said! I was told before entering my master's program that attending a university that didn't have a PhD program in my field meant that professors likely had more time and resources to support master's students and I think that certainly held true for my experiences. In a program where the highest degree being offered is a master's they are more likely to be able to fully fund their students and provide outside resources such as money for conferences.

Of course, I don't think this is entirely universal because my partner, @Melvillage_Idiot, did struggle a bit with finding solid mentorship at times in his department at our master's institution. But I am sure he definitely got some opportunities in that department that he likely wouldn't have gotten in a similar program that also offered PhDs.

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 2/21/2018 at 8:37 AM, marisawhy said:

I recently realized a program was not a good fit for me (not an English MA program) because I didn't like their answers to my questions about mentorship. While I realize I may have been spoiled at my undergrad institution (a mid-sized state college of mostly undergrads, so undergrads get most of the attention, especially if you care a little bit about learning), I wasn't sure anyone in this program would get to know me well enough to actually be invested in my success.

But, then, I've heard that's a concern with a lot of Masters programs. Does anyone have stories to assuage my worries? What type of mentoring should I be expecting from these programs in general? If you just want to tell nice stories about your mentors that's cool too. Thank you in advance!

I totally understand your position!  My undergraduate mentorship was honestly amazing.  I had official and unofficial advisors in multiple departments.  Because it was a smaller state school, the focus really was put on undergrads.  The MA program I am currently in is also small.  The faculty are great!  But it's still a step back from the kinds of close relationships I'm used to.  One part is definitely that it's only one year.  But even so I have a hard time imagining that I could replicate the kind of mentor/mentee relationships of my past if I were to continue here for my PhD.  It's not something that I ever could have guessed until I got here.

To be completely honest, it's important to have female faculty members who are familiar with the kind of work I do, who know the same scholars I want to know, and can really "be in my corner" as I go through my PhD.  I don't need someone to hold my hand, I'm pretty independent, but I do want someone who is going to be there for me.  Graduate school is such a mess of professional and emotional stress that it's important, to me, to have someone that can help guide both parts of that experience.  

And some people just expect the rough and tough mentality of grad school.  I won't be lonely that way.  But it's hard to cut to the chase with a program to get at what they believe about mentorship.  I'm still not sure what my strategy is going to be.  Luckily, all my mentors from undergrad are still in touch with me and I can lean on them from across the country. 

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My MA mentor was incredible. We also weren't assigned mentors, but I took a class with this instructor. I asked them if they needed a TA that same semester, and they didn't but took me on anyway. Because of that, I was able to work with them often and they helped me every step of the way. 

Mentoring is very individualistic. Sometimes you'll have a standoff-ish mentor (as I did in my undergrad) and other times you'll have a mentor you speak to two to three times a week. It's all about the personality of the mentor. Mentors often develop over time because you're interested in the same field, but if not, just try to make yourself known by attending departmental meetings and events. At some point, they have to get to know you because you're attending everything they go to.

Thankfully, in my Ph.D. program, we are actually assigned three mentors that we meet with every semester, and they just make sure you're doing ok and help you with whatever you may need in order to excel in the program. 

 

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The nice thing about MAs that don't have a PhD in their department is that, even if you are assigned some gen.eric advisor who you don't gel with, quite a few of the professors you might gel with are open to you essentially making them an unofficial/designated mentor.  This is not always the case; I've given up on getting the prof most aligned with my interests to take an interest in guiding me. Despite this, there are two specific profs at my MA that aren't my designated advisor nor the head of my committee, yet it is pretty common that I get the sit-down chat with them once a week. Though both of these profs work in the same general area I'm interested (20th C. Americanist OR Film & TV studies), we depart pretty significantly once you zero in. Yet, these profs are super supportive of my work, are the first to agree to write a letter, and always are willing to offer advise with my teaching. While I am itching to jump into a PhD next year, I'm sad that this is the last semester I'll have access to these folks.

 

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