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Chomposition

Trying to figure out if an MA in English Composition and Rhetoric would be a good fit for me...

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I graduated in 2015 with a bachelor's in public relations, a minor in peace studies and three credits from a minor in English. Since then I've worked at a newspaper and now a college academic department doing PR-type work, but neither feel like my true "calling."

I'm considering going to grad school now. I had written off anything in English for a long time because I assumed it was all about literature, until I found that there are programs specifically in composition. A little about how this could or could not fit in for me:

  • + Worked in my university's writing center for a year as a tutor/paper tune-upper and liked it. I only left to do a campus job in public relations since it was directly related to my major.
  • - I don't have a love for literature that seems typical with an English major. I haven't been a huge reader of novels since I was a kid, and while I like learning and reading about different topics, I don't read a lot for recreation. When I do it's usually nonfiction (not biographies, but social science kind of stuff) or narrative nonfiction.
  • + I enjoyed my first-year seminar and advanced college English courses and could see myself being involved in or teaching those, but I have no teaching experience whatsoever.
  • - Even though the program would obviously focus on composition, I'm concerned that I also disliked both of my literature survey classes in college when I started as an English major. Maybe it was my professor, maybe it was some of the material, but I just didn't enjoy reading Frankenstein and then writing a literary critique on it.
  • - I'm also concerned about the rhetoric part. I've taken and did fine in a classical rhetoric course and a rhetorical criticism course (communication department for these), but never felt I fully understand the theories and why all these philosophers from Aristotle to Foucault were so important.
  • + I think I could find a lot of composition-related topics that interest me. A few a jotted down were first-year composition, developing writing in other majors, writing centers and programs, plain language, conversational narrative, etc.
  • ? I'm a trained journalist and I don't use the Oxford comma.

If I could jump ahead with a degree and my pick of jobs, I could see myself teaching composition, working in a writing center, being an administrator in a nonprofit, writing grants or going into student affairs and working in academic advising or some other area.

This is sort of long-winded, but how did you all know this is what you wanted to do, and do you think my description sounds like a good fit for a rhet/comp program? I'd have to quit my job probably because getting a TA position is important. I don't know if it's fine to do an MA first or if it's advised to go straight into a PhD. The rhet/comp program PhD at my university requires a master's degree first.

 

My first post here and thank you all who can lend your advice. Edit: Any recommended book on composition for someone broadly interested in the subject and graduate study?

Edited by Chomposition
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Hi! I'm going to speak as a total novice and based solely on my experiences, but I'll try to address some of your concerns:

2 hours ago, Chomposition said:

- I don't have a love for literature that seems typical with an English major.

2 hours ago, Chomposition said:

- Even though the program would obviously focus on composition, I'm concerned that I also disliked both of my literature survey classes in college when I started as an English major. Maybe it was my professor, maybe it was some of the material, but I just didn't enjoy reading Frankenstein and then writing a literary critique on it.

The way I'm interpreting this is that you don't read what's considered "literature" often, but you do enjoy reading. If you said, "I don't enjoy reading anything, period," grad school may not be the route to take, but depending on the rhet/comp programs you pick, you may not have to dabble in capital-L Literature very much. I avoided Literature-heavy programs when applying myself because I dig rhet/comp and am not so good at the literary criticism stuff.

2 hours ago, Chomposition said:

+ I enjoyed my first-year seminar and advanced college English courses and could see myself being involved in or teaching those, but I have no teaching experience whatsoever.

Unless you were a secondary school educator before your MA, I think it would be out-of-the-ordinary to have teaching experience. Plus, don't discount your Writing Center experience!

2 hours ago, Chomposition said:

- I'm also concerned about the rhetoric part. I've taken and did fine in a classical rhetoric course and a rhetorical criticism course (communication department for these), but never felt I fully understand the theories and why all these philosophers from Aristotle to Foucault were so important.

I'm saying this after speaking to two MA programs on campus visits: very few undergrads have any rhet/comp classes before they enter graduate school. I was very open and said I'd had maybe 3 or 4, with almost none of the classical philosophers and no Foucault, and I was told that was a lot. Multiple professors have expressed to me that they had no idea what rhetoric was until they were already in their PhD for it. Plus, that's what your masters is for. A lot of people on this forum point out that your masters is a time to get to know the literature better, and that's absolutely the case for rhetoric.

2 hours ago, Chomposition said:

If I could jump ahead with a degree and my pick of jobs, I could see myself teaching composition, working in a writing center, being an administrator in a nonprofit, writing grants or going into student affairs and working in academic advising or some other area.

These are all careers that rhetoric MAs would prepare you for!

2 hours ago, Chomposition said:

I don't know if it's fine to do an MA first or if it's advised to go straight into a PhD.

In my personal search, Rhet/Comp is a bit odd in that a lot of the PhDs ask for an MA first. However, my search was not by any means comprehensive. I'd also like to point out that the possible careers you list seem like they could gel well with an MA alone. There are rhet/comp MAs that prepare you for other futures if you decide to not pursue PhD work. ?

2 hours ago, Chomposition said:

Edit: Any recommended book on composition for someone broadly interested in the subject and graduate study?

I'm not sure about books (I am also working on my own pre-grad school reading list), but someone on another thread mentioned finding the major journals of the field and just reading articles from the last ten or so years to see what's happening in the scholarship. I hope that helps!

Let me know if I can help any further!

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Hi! Thanks for responding and helping me work through this big decision.

1 hour ago, marisawhy said:

The way I'm interpreting this is that you don't read what's considered "literature" often, but you do enjoy reading. If you said, "I don't enjoy reading anything, period," grad school may not be the route to take, but depending on the rhet/comp programs you pick, you may not have to dabble in capital-L Literature very much. I avoided Literature-heavy programs when applying myself because I dig rhet/comp and am not so good at the literary criticism stuff.

This is spot-on and a great way of putting it for me. I do enjoy reading and learning, whether that be online forums, articles, news, listening to NPR, watching documentaries, etc. I do enjoy fiction, but rather than books these days I appreciate a strong narrative in movies or video games, which often require a lot of reading anyway. Capital-L Literature is exactly it the term I needed. I like books fine, I can discuss ideas and narrative and I can enjoy that, but I never enjoyed going meta with literature in a scholarly way.

1 hour ago, marisawhy said:

Unless you were a secondary school educator before your MA, I think it would be out-of-the-ordinary to have teaching experience. Plus, don't discount your Writing Center experience!

This is true. I guess I already feel a bit of an imposter syndrome where I assume everyone in grad school already has relevant experience and expertise, despite how paradoxical that sounds.

1 hour ago, marisawhy said:

I'm saying this after speaking to two MA programs on campus visits: very few undergrads have any rhet/comp classes before they enter graduate school. I was very open and said I'd had maybe 3 or 4, with almost none of the classical philosophers and no Foucault, and I was told that was a lot. Multiple professors have expressed to me that they had no idea what rhetoric was until they were already in their PhD for it. Plus, that's what your masters is for. A lot of people on this forum point out that your masters is a time to get to know the literature better, and that's absolutely the case for rhetoric.

This is great to know! I'm sure it varies by school, but it sounds like you get eased into the subjects rather than being treated like you are already familiar with all the subjects. I know I'll have to take a course or two on rhetoric, and I'm not opposed to that, but it's just not my interest, but who knows, it could change!

1 hour ago, marisawhy said:

These are all careers that rhetoric MAs would prepare you for!

Can I ask what you are hoping to do after your MA?

1 hour ago, marisawhy said:

In my personal search, Rhet/Comp is a bit odd in that a lot of the PhDs ask for an MA first. However, my search was not by any means comprehensive. I'd also like to point out that the possible careers you list seem like they could gel well with an MA alone. There are rhet/comp MAs that prepare you for other futures if you decide to not pursue PhD work. ?

I'm not sure about books (I am also working on my own pre-grad school reading list), but someone on another thread mentioned finding the major journals of the field and just reading articles from the last ten or so years to see what's happening in the scholarship. I hope that helps!

I've heard that a lot of programs (particularly in hard sciences, I think) have straight-to-PhD programs that are recommended over a master's, but as you said I also noticed the programs I'm looking at require a master's before the rhet/comp PhD. Looking up journals is a great idea.

Have you had to take the GRE? I'm a little worried about that because a big long test I have to pay for sounds awful, and I know the math will be miserable, but I think it's required for the rhet comp program at the university where I work. Did you study a lot?

Will you be getting any funding or assistantship to go? Being out of college for three years, it's terrifying that I would have to quit my job and subsist off an assistantship, but for my goals I think it would be very important for me to get a teaching assistantship or possible assistantships with the writing center and other related areas.

It looks like you'll be going to school in the fall, so congrats and good luck! Hopefully you get some time over the summer to relax and prep for the next two years.

 

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30 minutes ago, Chomposition said:

Can I ask what you are hoping to do after your MA?

I'm actually planning to go into a PhD, but I hear wonderful things from people graduating with rhet/comp MAs because they chose the right program. If you want to be a grant writer, run a Writing Center, advise, or even just teach lower-level composition classes, an MA alone works!

35 minutes ago, Chomposition said:

I've heard that a lot of programs (particularly in hard sciences, I think) have straight-to-PhD programs that are recommended over a master's, but as you said I also noticed the programs I'm looking at require a master's before the rhet/comp PhD.

I understand the worry--two of my roommates are going into scientific PhDs and have actually said a Masters would have hurt their chances. I've not heard of that at all from my conversations with other rhet/comp people. For my MA, my school doesn't offer a PhD and works really hard on good PhD placements (and their recent ones were enough to impress me), so it seems having my MA will not hurt my chances later on.

37 minutes ago, Chomposition said:

Have you had to take the GRE? I'm a little worried about that because a big long test I have to pay for sounds awful, and I know the math will be miserable, but I think it's required for the rhet comp program at the university where I work. Did you study a lot?

I did take the GRE, though there were some schools I applied to who didn't require it or didn't want to see it altogether. I got an... okay verbal score(?) (English programs will not care about your quantitative score anyway) after studying for about three months. No MA programs I looked at had score requirements or even a general "this is our median score" number listed for your GRE, though I've seen a handful of PhD programs that do. Again, there are really good programs that don't want your GRE score, or even recommend you send it.

43 minutes ago, Chomposition said:

Will you be getting any funding or assistantship to go? Being out of college for three years, it's terrifying that I would have to quit my job and subsist off an assistantship, but for my goals I think it would be very important for me to get a teaching assistantship or possible assistantships with the writing center and other related areas.

I will! Oregon State only admits students they can fund through some form of GTA. In their case, funding could come from a mix of teaching freshman comp with writing center work or some other composition teaching work. Other schools will admit more and only fund a few. My impression is that you definitely want some form of assistantship in your MA if you're considering a PhD, even if it means being a little broke for two years. I've also found no resistance when asking programs if I could speak to current grad students, and they almost expect you to ask what living off the stipend is like.

Are you only considering the MA program at your university, or looking elsewhere?

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4 hours ago, marisawhy said:

Are you only considering the MA program at your university, or looking elsewhere?

Probably yes. They do also have a PhD in rhet/comp but I’m not sure how distinctive it is from the MA. I actually could take classes part time for free as an employee, but a program like this warrants a full-time commitment because of the assistantship. Anyway, I have a significant other with a job and we live together, so there’s probably no room or money to uproot our lives and move. I’d probably be banking on getting accepted and funded at this school. It’s a mid-size state school that probably doesn’t have a prestigious English program, but i think it would have the resources, support and opportunities I need to get by.

 

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On 5/8/2018 at 2:12 PM, Chomposition said:

This is spot-on and a great way of putting it for me. I do enjoy reading and learning, whether that be online forums, articles, news, listening to NPR, watching documentaries, etc. I do enjoy fiction, but rather than books these days I appreciate a strong narrative in movies or video games, which often require a lot of reading anyway. Capital-L Literature is exactly it the term I needed. I like books fine, I can discuss ideas and narrative and I can enjoy that, but I never enjoyed going meta with literature in a scholarly way.

Not to try to pull you away from rhet/comp, but most Lit programs aren't really "Capital-L Literature" anymore. I just finished my M.A. in Literature and spent the majority of the time looking at genre fiction, comics, film, and TV. My area exam was on weird speculative film and every paper I've presented at conferences on the University's dime has been looking at film, comics, or TV.  Even with the British renaissance and medieval lit requirement I had to meet, there was the option of taking non-canon focused classes (i.e. my renaissance credit was satisfied by a History of Children's Literature Course where I just had to focus my big term paper on a work from the renaissance). I think what you are worried about encountering in a non-rhet/comp degree (reading the canon) is not really all that common anymore.

On 5/8/2018 at 9:50 AM, Chomposition said:

narrative nonfiction

There are folks in Lit departments that literally only work with narrative nonfiction.

 

This, again, is not to push you towards a Lit degree. In a Rhet/comp MA with IA/TA duties, you'll likely share an office with Lit folks and might even be assigned during your first year to work in a big Sophomore Literature survey course with a lead professor. Further, the MA is meant to train you to work in English departments teaching rhet/comp as a lecturer OR prepare you to go on to a PhD designed to do the same as a professor (with a research obligation attached). This doesn't mean you have to take any lit classes or physically to teach lit classes in the future, but it does mean that in all likelihood your boss (i.e. the Dean of an English department) will be a lit person (and likely a "Capital-L Literature" person). Even if you decided to focus on the goal of running Writing Centers, most of those centers are part of English departments and their Directors doubling as English profs/lecturers. What I'm getting at is that you might look at getting to know what the Lit folks you'll spend the rest of your life working with are actually interested in; I think you'll be surprised that a lot of us are into the same things you are.

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10 hours ago, CulturalCriminal said:

Not to try to pull you away from rhet/comp, but most Lit programs aren't really "Capital-L Literature" anymore. I just finished my M.A. in Literature and spent the majority of the time looking at genre fiction, comics, film, and TV. My area exam was on weird speculative film and every paper I've presented at conferences on the University's dime has been looking at film, comics, or TV.  Even with the British renaissance and medieval lit requirement I had to meet, there was the option of taking non-canon focused classes (i.e. my renaissance credit was satisfied by a History of Children's Literature Course where I just had to focus my big term paper on a work from the renaissance). I think what you are worried about encountering in a non-rhet/comp degree (reading the canon) is not really all that common anymore.

This is good to know, thanks. I went to a small university and generally got the impression that English focuses on Literature, so if you wanted to study film, TV and other media, communication would be the better department. I've now seen other colleges that had film studies in the English department, but for my university, the few media studies courses were in communication.

What does reading the canon mean in this case? My guess is that it's reading all the "significant" literary works over the last several hundred years? So like anything from Shakespeare to Huckleberry Finn to 1984.

10 hours ago, CulturalCriminal said:

This, again, is not to push you towards a Lit degree. In a Rhet/comp MA with IA/TA duties, you'll likely share an office with Lit folks and might even be assigned during your first year to work in a big Sophomore Literature survey course with a lead professor. Further, the MA is meant to train you to work in English departments teaching rhet/comp as a lecturer OR prepare you to go on to a PhD designed to do the same as a professor (with a research obligation attached). This doesn't mean you have to take any lit classes or physically to teach lit classes in the future, but it does mean that in all likelihood your boss (i.e. the Dean of an English department) will be a lit person (and likely a "Capital-L Literature" person). Even if you decided to focus on the goal of running Writing Centers, most of those centers are part of English departments and their Directors doubling as English profs/lecturers. What I'm getting at is that you might look at getting to know what the Lit folks you'll spend the rest of your life working with are actually interested in; I think you'll be surprised that a lot of us are into the same things you are.

This is probably accurate. I'm pretty sure the university I work at has their English department headed by a fiction writer, and my alma mater was headed by a British literature specialist. I don't think my alma mater actually had any faculty with degrees in rhet/comp (though again, small school).

It's great to know that there's a lot of English folks out there that enjoy media studies! For me, I could find that interesting but from what I've researched I am genuinely interested in composition, so if I go to grad school for English that's definitely going to be my concentration, but maybe there might be room for a lit course along the way.

Your profile says attending for Fall 2018. Are you going for a PhD now?

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Hi! I'm finishing my MA in comp/right this semester, and will be continuing on for the PhD at my school. I also have a BA in comp/rhet, so I can't really speak to anything capital-L since my education thus far has not dealt with it. But from my time in my MA program, here's my take:

I feel like an MA in comp/rhet is what you make it. Comp/rhet is an interdisciplinary field by nature, as it feels social sciencey as well something that belongs in the humanities. It straddles both. In my program, people typically continue onto the PhD/writing positions in education afterwards, and there's a big focus on pedagogy. Comp/rhet is often seen as a practical field where theories and research projects have a "so what" related back to teaching and our everyday practices. I've caught myself really entrenched in this, and expecting this of other disciplines. 

That said, you also can learn skills that will serve you well in a variety of situations, depending on your program. If it's digital-focused, for example, you can learn some cool web design or programming or other stuff. There was a digital comp grad seminar offered at my school this semester where students learned how to use different kinds of programs (yes-- also embedded in "here's how your students and your teaching could benefit from them" :)

What is your end goal? Time in an MA program can help you figure that out, too. Like you, I worked at a writing center during undergrad, and I fell in love with helping writers work through their writing and achieve their goals. I felt fulfilled in a way I never had before, and when I taught my first class, I still liked it and realized that a PhD was the only path I wanted to take. Sounds so cheesy and romantic, but you just "know" sometimes. 

But I allowed myself time during the MA to feel it out. I knew by the end of my first year, and I faced some hurdles last semester and seriously questioned my decisions. But then it turned around this semester, and I'm again excited and eager to continue on. 

Best of luck! 

Edited by klader

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10 hours ago, klader said:

I feel like an MA in comp/rhet is what you make it. Comp/rhet is an interdisciplinary field by nature, as it feels social sciencey as well something that belongs in the humanities. It straddles both. In my program, people typically continue onto the PhD/writing positions in education afterwards, and there's a big focus on pedagogy. Comp/rhet is often seen as a practical field where theories and research projects have a "so what" related back to teaching and our everyday practices. I've caught myself really entrenched in this, and expecting this of other disciplines. 

That said, you also can learn skills that will serve you well in a variety of situations, depending on your program. If it's digital-focused, for example, you can learn some cool web design or programming or other stuff. There was a digital comp grad seminar offered at my school this semester where students learned how to use different kinds of programs (yes-- also embedded in "here's how your students and your teaching could benefit from them" :)

What is your end goal? Time in an MA program can help you figure that out, too. Like you, I worked at a writing center during undergrad, and I fell in love with helping writers work through their writing and achieve their goals. I felt fulfilled in a way I never had before, and when I taught my first class, I still liked it and realized that a PhD was the only path I wanted to take. Sounds so cheesy and romantic, but you just "know" sometimes. 

But I allowed myself time during the MA to feel it out. I knew by the end of my first year, and I faced some hurdles last semester and seriously questioned my decisions. But then it turned around this semester, and I'm again excited and eager to continue on. 

Best of luck! 

Thanks! A lot of what you said appeals to me. I like the idea of blending the humanities with social science practices and I especially like rhet/comp being a practical field. When I started out as an English major my freshman year of college, I quickly realized I didn't find much fulfillment (or understanding) in analyzing the literature we had to read. I then switched to journalism and then to public relations (both in the comm department) because I found it more practical. Now I'm realizing I'm fine working in PR/marketing, but I'm not passionate about it to the extent I would want to study it more or pursue a degree in it.

My "beginning" goal would be to get accepted into the rhet/comp MA program at the university I work at, which I couldn't attend until fall 2019 because the next batch of assistantships are decided spring 2019. I would want/need a teaching assistantship to cover tuition and provide a stipend, and give me experience teaching first-year comp (kind of scary to me, being a teacher!).

My end goal includes these career options: Teach at a community college, work in a writing center, get a job in student affairs (most positions seem to require a master's), continue on for a PhD (it seems rhet comp programs usually require an MA first) or, if all else fails, get a job in nonprofit communications. Any of these sound viable to me at this point. I had previously considered applying for a master's in student affairs, but realized you don't usually need a master's in student affairs for the related jobs, just a master's degree at all. I find rhet comp more flexible with more potential as a degree, and probably more interesting for me at this point.

Good luck in your future PhD program! Are there any books you might recommend to introduce me to the field/profession? Maybe a "so what" book if you will, or something that discusses the relationship between rhetoric and composition.

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4 hours ago, B_0415 said:

Question bouncing off of this one: what's the difference between a rhetoric and composition English MA, and can you get one if you already hold an MA in English? I'm thinking about doing an interdisciplinary program for a joint MA in philosophy and rhetoric/comp lit and curious as to whether I'm eligible for the latter. 

I’m confused. Are asking what the difference is between a rhet/comp MA vs a Lit/Eng MA? 

If you have an MA in Literature or English (not focused on rhet/comp), then you certainly could get an MA in rhet/comp. I had a friend who immediately started an MARC right after finishing the MA Lit. That said, he decided not to finish the MARC.

It sounds like by the end of all of this you’ll have 3 MAs. While having two is certainly not odd (I noticed many of the folks my uni brought out for final stage prof hirings this year had managed to snag an MA in Lit+ Mphil or MFA),  it seems like a PhD with designated emphasizes (or their equivalent) would be a better way of exploring one or both of these interests. 

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On 5/11/2018 at 8:48 AM, Chomposition said:

Your profile says attending for Fall 2018. Are you going for a PhD now?

Was behind on the update. Just finished my MA and am reapplying more broadly for PhD after failing to get into the couple of exciting local programs for fall 2018. 

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