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Greetings~

I'm in a one year masters program, which I felt didn't give me enough time to prepare a successful PhD app [making a writing sample, getting letters of recommendation, really articulating what I want from a PhD program or faculty advisor, etc].  I will be taking a gap year before applying for PhDs in American Lit.  I'll be staying in the same city, Pittsburgh, which has plenty of opportunities for English MAs.  I'm not too worried about finding the best work for me, but I'm curious-- what are others doing for a gap year?  If you did take a gap year, what did you do that made it successful?  How did you balance work and preparation for applications?  Were you very worried about finding something closely related to your field of study, or is Starbucks just fine?  What do you think are the biggest differences between a gap year immediately after undergrad and gap years that are between graduate degrees?

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Hi there! Congratulations on your decision on a gap year. Obviously, different strokes for different folks, but I am just so glad I took time out before applying to PhD programs. I have actually been out for about three years. When most everyone in my master's program was applying for PhD programs, I felt very uncertain about that decision--and also very overwhelmed at the thought of applying to schools while also scrambling to write a thesis and do coursework and teach two full classes. My son had a school he was happy in and my husband had a job, so we decided to stay here. 

I was lucky to get a research assistantship that helped with part of the summer after graduation, but I did feel the need to scramble and get whatever job as quickly as possible. I was disappointed at how few teaching gigs I found, and knew I wanted to do something at least vaguely related to my degree, so I scoured the staff job postings for my university and the nearby colleges. I had sooo many misses, but ended up landing a job as a secretary in the office for academic affairs at my university. It was pretty tedious and frustrating, but I gained a hell of a lot of insight into the inner workings of a large state school. I left pretty quickly after getting a job as an editor for one of the university's research institutions. 

All the while, I found myself longing for academic life. I missed being around people who cared as much as I do about literature and writing and "the life of the mind." I also discovered how much office life bothers me--the rigidity of the office structure drives me crazy. My time as an editor had a huge role in motivating me to apply to PhD programs. Not only because I was working with faculty and wishing I could be generating more of my own work instead of editing theirs, but also because I started seeing some real connections between my academic interests and conversations taking place in the field I'm currently in. That helped me to narrow my scope of focus in a way that I am really excited about and that I think paid off in my applications. 

Balancing a full time job and applying to grad school, not to mention having two kids, was incredibly challenging but definitely doable. I spent a lot of my lunch breaks reading/writing, and would work until I couldn't keep my eyes open most nights after the kids were in bed. It was painful, but I guess I survived. My work performance wasn't great, but oh well. 

Overall, I'm very happy I took this time out from academic life. I have an assurance that I lacked before about my fit for academia and about the satisfaction it can provide me compared to other career choices. I also think that holding professional jobs as a non-student has given me a maturity that I didn't have before--another quality I think showed in my applications and I am sure will pay off as a doctoral student and, later, as a job candidate. 

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I also did a one year master's program, which I graduated from last June. Because it was only a year, I did decide (at the recommendation of all the faculty I spoke with) to take at least one gap year, and apply to programs in Fall 2017 while working. I am very, very happy that I made the decision to do so. I think that even just taking time off of school while working and completing applications helped clear up for me exactly what I wanted out of a PhD program. 

In terms of work, I did a few different things during my gap year. My program offered summer internships, so I ended up doing an internship in the archives department of a public research library in Chicago (only to find out that I actually really don't like working in archives!). After that summer internship ended, I landed a position as an adjunct instructor teaching beginning English composition at a university in Chicago. That's still my primary work, although with the pathetic adjunct salary that they pay us, I've had other part-time jobs like dog walking. I think it's definitely helpful to try and find something close to your field of study when you're looking for work, if for no other reason than that it will probably be more enjoyable. But I also don't think that having a job somewhere like Starbucks would reflect negatively on your application. I found that having a teaching job, even if it was teaching just one class part-time, really helped my application, but it's not the be-all-end-all if you don't do something like that.

Unfortunately I found it difficult to balance work and applications, which is not necessarily something that can be avoided. My biggest piece of advice would be to start writing your application early. I typically tried to spend about 30 minutes after work during the week focusing on applications, and then I would block off bigger chunks of time during the weekend. It was tough, but it's manageable! 

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22 hours ago, Sandra Kruse said:

Greetings~

I'm in a one year masters program, which I felt didn't give me enough time to prepare a successful PhD app [making a writing sample, getting letters of recommendation, really articulating what I want from a PhD program or faculty advisor, etc].  I will be taking a gap year before applying for PhDs in American Lit.  I'll be staying in the same city, Pittsburgh, which has plenty of opportunities for English MAs.  I'm not too worried about finding the best work for me, but I'm curious-- what are others doing for a gap year?  If you did take a gap year, what did you do that made it successful?  How did you balance work and preparation for applications?  Were you very worried about finding something closely related to your field of study, or is Starbucks just fine?  What do you think are the biggest differences between a gap year immediately after undergrad and gap years that are between graduate degrees?

I didn't take any purposeful gap years (I applied for three rounds and this is my first positive response round). I did a two year MA program, so I was in a bit of a similar boat. In my gap years, I worked (and am working) as a Visiting Lecturer in the English Dept. where I got my BA, teaching both literature and composition courses. After this spring, I will have taught 11 courses on my own. So much teaching experience has really helped me decide what I want to focus on and the kind of program that would be a good fit for me (a program that emphasizes both pedagogy and research).

While teaching I have been working on my own research, submitting articles to journals for possible publication, and attending conferences, as well as a summer institute.

My biggest piece of advice would be to make sure you take time for your own research/academic pursuits - this has been easier for me to do, I believe, since my "gap years" have still be spent in an academic environment.

In this gap year/gap years, be sure to attend conferences and/or institutes and make connections with faculty, even if those faculty do not teach at any programs you are applying to. Two of my POIs are faculty I met and worked with while at a summer institute, and I believe their letters of rec helped me in this application round.

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4 minutes ago, LibraryLivingJT said:

I didn't take any purposeful gap years (I applied for three rounds and this is my first positive response round). I did a two year MA program, so I was in a bit of a similar boat. In my gap years, I worked (and am working) as a Visiting Lecturer in the English Dept. where I got my BA, teaching both literature and composition courses. After this spring, I will have taught 11 courses on my own. So much teaching experience has really helped me decide what I want to focus on and the kind of program that would be a good fit for me (a program that emphasizes both pedagogy and research).

While teaching I have been working on my own research, submitting articles to journals for possible publication, and attending conferences, as well as a summer institute.

My biggest piece of advice would be to make sure you take time for your own research/academic pursuits - this has been easier for me to do, I believe, since my "gap years" have still be spent in an academic environment.

In this gap year/gap years, be sure to attend conferences and/or institutes and make connections with faculty, even if those faculty do not teach at any programs you are applying to. Two of my POIs are faculty I met and worked with while at a summer institute, and I believe their letters of rec helped me in this application round.

However, in these gap years, I was still applying to PhD programs.

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I'm currently on a gap year right now! I did NOT want to take a break but was shut out last year. 

I was lucky to find two great part-time jobs in very different fields (I work at my university's library and as a nanny) and it has been nice to be in a semi-academic setting while still getting a break. I didn't think I needed a break, but I did!

The best thing I've done on my gap year is treat it as a break. I did go to an international conference last summer, but aside from that I've tried to distance myself. It's so easy to get tunnel vision in academia, and I think that -- especially if you've had a really frantic past few years, as I had -- it's good to step back and realize that there's a ton of life outside of the university. Not only has this been good for my mental health, but it made facing the uncertainty of grad school admissions much easier. When I was rejected last year I was DEVASTATED and thought my life was over. This February was still tough and my first few rejections still sucked, but I also knew that I'd be okay if I didn't get in. 

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My husband has been out of his BA for close to two years now. He took a job as a Background Investigator, which is not directly related to English, but it requires a lot of report writing and interviewing, which I think is great for interpersonal and organizational skill building. However, the main reason he took the job was for flexibility. Having a job that he could set aside at the end of the day and not worry about, mold to his schedule, work from home, and make pretty decent money was fantastic for giving him time to focus on his writing and applications. He's published two book reviews and a short story in this time, written countless stories, worked on his novel, read a ton, and refined his research interests. I don't think a job has to necessarily be something closely related to your field of study. It can be, but ideally you should pursue something that gives you the time and freedom to get PhD apps done!

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My gap years also happened because I got shut out when I initially applied for PhD programs. As soon as it started looking like it wasn't happening that season, I started applying for other opportunities. I ended up being offered a teaching position at a French university, where I've been for the last two years. I teach oral English skills -- not exactly my area, but I've gotten more teaching experience, and I get to live in France. Before I'd definitely decided to reapply, I was doing a lot of reading, and even published part of my M.A. thesis. I think taking the time off after finishing my M.A. was necessary: the distance from academia (as a student) helped solidify my desire to do a PhD as well as really figure out what my research interests even are. 

FWIW I also took a year between my B.A. and M.A. and I feel like that year was pretty useless in terms of preparing for grad school. I think that was probably because a.) I was taking for granted that I'd be returning to my alma mater and b.) I was 22. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Another involuntary gap year here! :P 

First of all, I think it's a good step to assess what you need personally (health-wise) after your Masters.  I did my Masters in NYC and I'm from a small, ocean and nature oriented town on the West Coast, so I spent 2 years being increasingly overwhelmed and depressed by the city.  I needed to go back home for awhile, and I think the year back in a place I'm comfortable has been invaluable.

But I also honed in on things I thought were lacking in my applications.  I decided I could scrounge up a better GRE score and that I needed more strength on other languages (I decided to pursue English too late in undergrad to have room to learn an applicable language, and there was no credit room in my strictly scheduled grad program).  Over the spring/summer of last year, I looked into online language classes and language classes at local universities I'd be allowed to take as a concurrent enrollment/post-grad student.  Luckily, I live right by a fairly prestigious university that has a program for non-enrolled students, where for just a fraction of regular tuition, you can take whatever classes you want, and get a transcript and official grade for them (YAY!) but not an actual degree (I have two, so that's fine LOL).  I wound up taking a Latin class and Ancient Greek class, and I'll have completed a full year in each before starting my PhD in the fall.  If a local university isn't an option for you and this is something you're interested in, there are online classes some unis let you take too! UT Austin comes to mind. (And it doesn't just have to be language classes.)

In retrospect, doing up a new writing sample might have been a good idea, but I find it sososoooo difficult to write them when I'm not in a class, talking with peers and professors about the texts, getting corrections and feedback, so I decided that whatever I wrote wouldn't be as good as what I already had.  I reaaallllllyyyy wished I'd pursued some conferences or something though :/

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I took a deliberate gap year after my MA for a couple reasons. For one, my partner wasn't done with her MS yet, so as a couple we weren't ready to move yet, but on another level, I wanted real teaching experience. I'd had some as a TA, but always under the supervision of a faculty member and never as instructor of record. My MA institution hired me as an adjunct and gave me a pretty decent courseload (3 classes last semester, 4 this), and that's been a great experience. My graduate coordinator here really hammered it in that taking a year to teach would look really good on my PhD application as well, so there's that CV-boosting benefit as well.

Also, though, taking a gap year has been great for my sanity. I got pretty burned out at the end of my program, so not being responsible for a reading list that summer was fantastic.

I'll echo some of the responses here that the life-application balance can be difficult. I managed to get through last semester and application season without much difficulty (take a few minutes every day to work on documents, and you'll be fine), but this semester's been tougher. Visiting and conferring with my potential programs is my highest priority right now, but I also don't want that to completely eclipse my responsibilities as a teacher. Striking that balance has been really difficult; I feel like my Literature classes have gone okay, but I do worry that I've done my Composition students a disservice.

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On 3/7/2018 at 1:40 PM, Sandra Kruse said:

Greetings~

I'm in a one year masters program, which I felt didn't give me enough time to prepare a successful PhD app [making a writing sample, getting letters of recommendation, really articulating what I want from a PhD program or faculty advisor, etc].  I will be taking a gap year before applying for PhDs in American Lit.  I'll be staying in the same city, Pittsburgh, which has plenty of opportunities for English MAs.  I'm not too worried about finding the best work for me, but I'm curious-- what are others doing for a gap year?  If you did take a gap year, what did you do that made it successful?  How did you balance work and preparation for applications?  Were you very worried about finding something closely related to your field of study, or is Starbucks just fine?  What do you think are the biggest differences between a gap year immediately after undergrad and gap years that are between graduate degrees?

I was unanimously rejected from almost 10 universities last year. So I took a gap year with the full intention of making it the “best gap year ever.” I had a volunteer position with Americorps Vista and was determined to travel and improve my spanish speaking skills.

But after a month into the Vista program, i realized that the program wasn’t for me. I was not in a good place mentally and emotionally while the small living stipend only stressed me out even more so. I moved back home. I thought I could easily get a job with my newly earned degree but after countless interviews the only job I could find was at Verizon Wireless and the pay wasn’t worth the commute. My parents own a restaurant and after watching me struggle with grad school rejections, employment rejections, and dropping my volunteer program they made me move back in for good and take over the restaurant. I still wasn’t in a good place emotionally so they were very adamant about just working at the restaurant and not worry about anything else. So I’ve spent this year as a cook, server, manager, janitor etc. I don’t even get paid. The point Im trying to get at is that my gap year was the most unremarkable year I’ve ever had. I served pasta and fried chicken while working my way through Spanish children’s books.

But I still think this year was incredibly successful. The break from school helped me realize how badly I wanted my PhD and career. It gave me time to reflect on what I wanted to do and put a lot of things in perspective. It was successful b/c I got to take a breather before jumping back into academia. The difference in my application was night and day. I’m fact, 4 of the schools that rejected me last year, admitted me for the upcoming fall semester. 

As for balancing work and application perpetration : you’d be suprised how much time you have when you’re not in school. A “regular” job/life leaves you with lots of down time, so use that time to figure out your interests, both academically and recreationally. Read some books, watch some Netflix, go to the gym!. If you have some schools in mind, find your people of interest, and read some of thier work. If you are still enrolled in a university, download or print thier research from academic journals while you still have access to it and a reliable library. Then take the next few months to read through it. I read the research of at least 3 ppl of interest for each school. For 10 schools, thats 30 people and multiple papers each! But i also used thier research to narrow my own research interests and form my own ideas. (I’m want to study American modernism and African Americans lit.) I also kept in contact with my advisor and sent him drafts of my statement and writing sample. I did all that and regularly worked on Spanish acquisition. My 9-5 job gave me lots of time to do so. So don’t worry too much about time. BUT make a plan early. You have lots of time but that time needs to be organized. Give yourself deadlines and stick to them. Make a budget too. The application season will be here again sooner than you think so you don’t have long to get everything as perfect as possible! So take a few weeks of down time and then get organized.

Use your gap year to relax. You deserve it! And good luck next year!

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Anyone who's taken/is thinking of taking a gap year have any tips on what sorts of jobs to apply to with an MA in English? And/or tips on submitting strong applications? I would love to teach and am looking at mostly independent high schools – some universities as well, though a part-time position isn't going to pay the rent so that route is unlikely. I am also looking at publishing, office jobs related to literature, film, etc. All of the above seem tricky because of either a lack of teaching experience or a lack of working experience given that I've spent all my time thus far in school.

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@Indecisive Poet I graduated with my MA in 2016 and have been teaching at a technical college since! I got hired as an adjunct which was good experience, but of course I had to keep my restaurant job at the time to pay the bills. I got lucky because after a couple semesters of adjuncting, a full-time spot opened up and the tech college hired me on. Though I don't want to teach at this level forever (hence why I applied to PhD programs this year), it has affirmed my desire to teach, and having a stable salary and benefits is a huge plus. I think community and technical colleges often get overlooked when English MAs are looking for jobs (though I know there may not be a whole lot of open positions out there). Good luck! 

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14 hours ago, CatBowl said:

@Indecisive Poet I graduated with my MA in 2016 and have been teaching at a technical college since! I got hired as an adjunct which was good experience, but of course I had to keep my restaurant job at the time to pay the bills. I got lucky because after a couple semesters of adjuncting, a full-time spot opened up and the tech college hired me on. Though I don't want to teach at this level forever (hence why I applied to PhD programs this year), it has affirmed my desire to teach, and having a stable salary and benefits is a huge plus. I think community and technical colleges often get overlooked when English MAs are looking for jobs (though I know there may not be a whole lot of open positions out there). Good luck! 

Great point and thanks for sharing your experience! I forgot to mention that I am also looking at community colleges. Here's hoping for something full time, but I'm not above part-time adjunct/part-time restaurant (this is essentially what I did during my undergrad–MA gap year, though with adjuncting replaced by tutoring writing). It was tough juggling the two jobs and I'd really like the stability of something full time, but we'll see what happens...

Edited by Indecisive Poet

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@Indecisive Poet Oh good! I'm glad to hear that. I did something similar in between undergrad and my MA too. The experience of part-time teaching is frustrating but was definitely rewarding for me. I'll keep my fingers crossed that you find something full-time! 

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