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Current English PhD students - Q&A

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Wondering if @emprof could give this thread a look and provide any insight regarding rankings and their impact on ac and non ac jobs.  Thanks in advance!

Edited by kendalldinniene

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45 minutes ago, Sethe said:

I think it’s also important to realize that perception of programs change over time. Chicago used to be number 10 and is now considered the top school. It’s made a lot of strides to improve its standing amongst the 12 percent of so that participate in those surveys. On the opposite end, Iowa used to be ranked 36 or so and new business moves have caused the university to suffer a bit. I think it’s also important to take a look at who its peers are around the same ranking and how well their placements have been recently. There is a huge drop from 40 to 50 in terms of recent placement. (Part of it might be where priorities lie though. Georgia and Nebraska are both great for creative writing and pour a lot of their resources into them. Both have great literary magazines. The University of Houston also has a great lit mag but I think placements for Lit majors suffer as a result. If your interests are interdisciplinary, I think it could even be advantageous to attend a school not only in the top 50 but one that has a strong undergrad ranking as well because you’ll never know who you might be interested in working with as well. It’s possible that there is overlap between an admissons and hiring commitee and as such, I think, it’s important to be regarded well in both categories. It’s possible that some professors could connect you with different people within the field.

I’d carefully examine all schools and see how where their grads are going. I looked up SMU quickly and struggled to find a placement rate but learned that the program was started in 2007. After some fumbling, I found that one of their students were placed at Strayer University which is an online for profit university. I found a few others that had instructor positions and a few interested in design research. A number of them had nothing listed which is concerning given the short history of the school’s program. 

I also looked up SMU and came up with a startlingly opposing view. Of the 20 PhD completions listed on the SMU website, there were 5 lecturer/ instructor placements, 5 assistant professor placements, 3 associate professor placements, 3 post-doc positions, 3 unknown, and the placement at Strayer that you cite. While I do not claim to know much about Strayer, I do know that it is not an 'online only' school. The enrollment ratio of online to campus students is about 60/40. The SMU graduate who was placed there was listed as an adjunct instructor for Strayer, and there could have been a myriad of reasons why this person chose to teach there. As far as the 'unknowns' go, a black space below a name does not necessarily indicate that the graduate has not been placed. It is much more likely that the person has not updated the school as to his or her current status. I did not see a single one that listed "design research" as you say. I also looked up some placement listings for some of the  'top schools,' and found that (at least for the ones that I saw) only include actual placements on their lists. A few of these are at private and public secondary schools, some are post-docs, and some are non-academic positions. Yes, the English PhD program does have a short history, but that can be an advantage in many ways. From what I have heard, the program is rigorous, selective, and fully funded. The department typically choose 6 of the 12 interviewees; however, this past year, they only chose 5. Anyway, I am a 'glass-half-full' kind of guy, so that is my take on SMU. And you do know that the methodology used for those rankings is completely skewed, right?

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48 minutes ago, Ironman1214 said:

The enrollment ratio of online to campus students is about 60/40. 

The tagline Streyer uses is “Accredited Online University”. A quick search reveals that us a for-profit institution and that it has 78 us campuses. 

 

48 minutes ago, Ironman1214 said:

The department typically choose 6 of the 12 interviewees; however, this past year, they only chose 5.

I think it’s important to note that it’s important to interpret data very carefully. It’s possible that the University only invited 12 students onto campus. It’s possible that they sent out their 6 invites and 6 waitlists and that some of their acceptances had offers elsewhere.  I think it’s dangerous to assume that this was the only acceptence that people had. As such, I think it’s also possible that only 5 people accepted their offer and others chose to go elsewhere. 

As for the design research, the full title is Digital Humanities Research Designer. Digital Humanities is huge right now so that naturally caught my attention especially because SMU doesn’t list it under faculty interests so I’m wondering how well supported that individual felt. 

I think different universities have different strengths that they do very well at. I think it is up to the applicant to consider which schools they’d like to be placed at and have them look at recent hires. Look at what they’ve done on their CV and consider how they can play to their strengths to maximize their strengths. I don’t think rankings should play a role anywhere but some universities think otherwise. But I don’t think it’s as much the university as it is the access to know what certain universities are looking for. There isn’t a single university that would allow you to be considered equally for all jobs because the way you build your CV will differ. I think it’s also time we stop looking at high school and community colleges as backup. Both require a dedication to teaching which may be hard to do if you’re focused on research. 

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1 hour ago, kendalldinniene said:

Wondering if @emprof could give this thread a look and provide any insight regarding rankings and their impact on ac and non ac jobs.  Thanks in advance!

I agree that a healthy dose of skepticism about US News & World Report rankings is crucial. Even at the undergraduate level, those rankings reflect a lot of factors that are basically irrelevant to the student experience. (E.g., "selectivity," which universities manipulate by soliciting lots of applications from students who don't really have a good chance of getting in.) At the graduate level, they're even more absurd. As others have observed, some departments are especially strong in particular fields, and might be a top choice for, say, early American, but not have adequate faculty to advise and place students focusing on Romanticism. I also second the idea that it's wise to look at placement records for the schools you are considering--and to inquire about placement in your specific field, as well as the department as a whole. Public and popular perceptions of a department's "quality" change at a glacial pace compared to how quickly a department can achieve new prominence and importance in a specific subfield. Two hires in, say, Af-Am can turn an department into a powerhouse for graduate training in that subfield overnight. 

That said, reputation--understood with more subtlety and nuance than US News brings to bear--matters, at least for academic jobs. To be competitive for tenure-line jobs at reputable research universities or liberal arts colleges, you need to have a committee of scholars with national reputations in the field, and a record of having trained scholar who have gone on to professional success. 

Because the surge in alt-ac careers is fairly recent (and because I've never applied for or had an alt-ac career!), I, along with a lot of my colleagues, am poorly qualified to opine about what matters for those jobs. I do have one student who was hired mid-program to work for a state humanities council, and is now returning to finish the degree (not required for the job, but for his own sense of accomplishment and fulfillment)--but I don't know what exactly in his profile made him stand out for that job. 

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How much are institutional and mentor support necessary for students’ publications? Should I be asking departments how they support/incentivize/expect publications during the PhD years? I am very committed to publishing as much as possible. In fact, one of the things that draws me to SMU is their summer writing program in NM focused on polishing work for publication.

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4 hours ago, Sethe said:

The tagline Streyer uses is “Accredited Online University”. A quick search reveals that us a for-profit institution and that it has 78 us campuses. 

 

I think it’s important to note that it’s important to interpret data very carefully. It’s possible that the University only invited 12 students onto campus. It’s possible that they sent out their 6 invites and 6 waitlists and that some of their acceptances had offers elsewhere.  I think it’s dangerous to assume that this was the only acceptence that people had. As such, I think it’s also possible that only 5 people accepted their offer and others chose to go elsewhere. 

As for the design research, the full title is Digital Humanities Research Designer. Digital Humanities is huge right now so that naturally caught my attention especially because SMU doesn’t list it under faculty interests so I’m wondering how well supported that individual felt. 

I think different universities have different strengths that they do very well at. I think it is up to the applicant to consider which schools they’d like to be placed at and have them look at recent hires. Look at what they’ve done on their CV and consider how they can play to their strengths to maximize their strengths. I don’t think rankings should play a role anywhere but some universities think otherwise. But I don’t think it’s as much the university as it is the access to know what certain universities are looking for. There isn’t a single university that would allow you to be considered equally for all jobs because the way you build your CV will differ. I think it’s also time we stop looking at high school and community colleges as backup. Both require a dedication to teaching which may be hard to do if you’re focused on research. 

Still not seeing that tagline, but that is not really the point, is it? And the university did--and does--invite 12 students each year for a campus visit. I did not make any assumptions whatsoever that anyone chosen for the program had only that acceptance, but admittedly, I did not word my statement regarding the 5 new students this year properly. I had intended only to call attention to the usual size of the cohort. However, I think that by the same standard, perhaps "research design" would have aligned better with "Digital Humanities Research Designer." SMU hired one professor that specializes in digital humanities this past semester, although her name is not yet listed on the "Faculty by Area of Interest" page, and the school is in the process of hiring another digital humanities professor. And as far as your statement that it is "time we stop looking at high school and community colleges as backup," it is certainly true that both of these types of positions typically entail a considerable teaching load which would at the very least make research more difficult, if not impossible. However, the current job market does not appear to have the availability of the jobs most of us want when we graduate. The plain truth is that people need to eat, pay rent, etc., and holding out for the perfect job (if that even exists) is not always possible, ergo the high school and cc jobs. Some academics have other considerations as well--children, elderly/ill/ disabled parents, or other factors that restrict their job searches. Adjuncting is even worse. Sadly, many adjuncts much work at several different schools in order to barely survive. And more and more graduates are taking international or non-academic positions. Until the job market changes (and I do think there will be some positive changes relatively soon--we are due for it if you look at historical trends), future graduates need to learn to keep their options open and to consider (or ever prepare for) a wider range of work within the academy. 

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Hi all,

I am a jaded 6th year PhD student, currently sitting on the Grad Studies Committee at a decent university, here to answer all your questions and crush your dreams, lol. But seriously, I will try to watch this thread and answer questions if you've got 'em. (Haven't been on this forum since 2013 and can't believe my computer remembered my login.)

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3 minutes ago, bfat said:

Hi all,

I am a jaded 6th year PhD student, currently sitting on the Grad Studies Committee at a decent university, here to answer all your questions and crush your dreams, lol. But seriously, I will try to watch this thread and answer questions if you've got 'em. (Haven't been on this forum since 2013 and can't believe my computer remembered my login.)

These questions are addressed in general to all current PhD students

(1) What are some things you wish you would've asked during your visit(s)? (2) What do you suggest entering students should do to better prepare for their first year? (3) Additionally, what would you have done differently, if anything at all, in the years leading to qualifying exams and dissertation writing years? 

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18 minutes ago, bfat said:

Hi all,

I am a jaded 6th year PhD student, currently sitting on the Grad Studies Committee at a decent university, here to answer all your questions and crush your dreams, lol. But seriously, I will try to watch this thread and answer questions if you've got 'em. (Haven't been on this forum since 2013 and can't believe my computer remembered my login.)

I'd love to hear from you your thoughts on publishing and presenting at conferences. When should a new PhD student be accomplishing these? How many times throughout the PhD is 'good' or 'expected'?

Wow this is worded horribly, I hope it makes sense. I'm but a mere graphic designer.

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17 minutes ago, lyonel_ said:

These questions are addressed in general to all current PhD students

(1) What are some things you wish you would've asked during your visit(s)? (2) What do you suggest entering students should do to better prepare for their first year? (3) Additionally, what would you have done differently, if anything at all, in the years leading to qualifying exams and dissertation writing years? 

Hey there. Good questions.

1. If you are at a campus visit, the school is trying to woo you. They are probably not going to answer the "hard" (but important) questions that will actually be helpful, like "Is this department toxic?" or "Will I receive the full support I need here?" Grad students may be more open about this kind of thing than professors, so I would just try to talk to as many grad students as you can during your visit who work in similar areas to you, and try to get a sense of both the opportunities and challenges that those students have faced. Ask where they are now in the program, what's been the hardest thing for them so far, and what kind of supports they've had to manage those difficulties.

2. In preparing for your first year, I would suggest, more than anything: read stuff that you like! It will be a while before you have a chance to do this again, and reading widely in the genre or period that you really love will actually help you later down the line. Start a book journal. Write 1 or 2 pages of quick notes on each thing you read. Think about questions like, "How could I write about this?" and "How could I teach this?" When it comes time to actually develop a project, or even develop a syllabus, you're going to want to go back to those things you love and find exciting. Also, get an ipod. A little one (the nano? not the tiniest one, but the small one with the screen). Download audiobooks of works you want to read but don't think you have time for, and put them on there. Listen as you walk the dog, do laundry, drive, etc. They will save your life and keep you sane. Audible, LibraVox, and AudioBookBay. They're your friends. (Ask me how I survived a course on the Victorian novel while teaching, doing an RA-ship, and raising a 3 year old, lol.)

3. There's really not much I would have done differently. My general advice to new admits is: trust hesitatingly until you get a sense of the department dynamic; know your limits as a human and respect them; stay curious; stick with the people who make you feel good about what you do, but listen to criticism and try to understand where it's coming from. Academia is weird. It's full of personal politics that manifest institutionally, and institutional politics that manifest personally. It takes a while to figure out the lay of the land.

I hope this was helpful, and not too jaded. 😂

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41 minutes ago, punctilious said:

I'd love to hear from you your thoughts on publishing and presenting at conferences. When should a new PhD student be accomplishing these? How many times throughout the PhD is 'good' or 'expected'?

Wow this is worded horribly, I hope it makes sense. I'm but a mere graphic designer.

Hey there! These are great questions, and ones whose answers would probably differ depending on who you ask. I would say that you definitely want to present at at least one conference by the end of your second year, and aim to work up a seminar paper for publication after that second year as well. Many of the regional MLA conferences (and ACLA) have abstract deadlines at the end of September. By that point, you should have a sense of what your seminar papers will look like--let your work do double duty, and propose one of your seminar paper topics for a conference. Get that first conference out of the way, because it's probably going to suck, and regional conferences are great for grad students figuring things out. If you can present once in each year early on, that's great.

By years 3 and 4, you should probably have worked up an article and sent it around, hopefully to have it published. You can also do one or two (no more!) book reviews or notes. These don't count for much, but they're good to see on a CV, as long as there are other things on there. 

In your last 2 years, you should have found your "niche" conferences. For me, that's SLSA (Society for Literature, Science and the Arts), and a few other genre-specific conferences. You should also try to chair/organize at least one panel at one of these conferences. Ideally, you should have at least one in-print publication (not under review or forthcoming) by the time you're done, although some wacky overachievers will have 3-4. We hate those people. I went to MLA for the first time this year, and I'd say save that for the year you're on the job market. It's huge, expensive, and kind of depressing. You'll make much better connections at the small conferences where you can actually meet and chat with your academic heroes 😍

Just don't do what I did and squeeze 6 research presentations/conferences into 4 months while also trying to finish your dissertation and go on the job market. It's not smart, kids. Don't do it. 

Edited by bfat

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2 hours ago, bfat said:

Victorian novel while teaching, doing an RA-ship, and raising a 3 year old, lol.

Thank so much for all your knowledge, @bfat!

As a parent, my biggest concern about starting a PhD program is how to balance life with my kids. 

Do you have any suggestions or thoughts on this? :)

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thanks to everyone so far for your incredibly helpful answers!

as an international student, it's unlikely i'm going to be able to attend the visit days - michigan have offered pretty generous travel reimbursement but it still doesn't quite cover what i would need, and getting the dates off work is tricky. i know that it's less expected of international applicants to attend these visits so i guess my question is - how else do i get a 'feel' for the programme/school/course? is it okay to email the DGS and ask to maybe set up a skype, or ask to speak with current grad students, and are these things helpful in getting a sense of the school without physically being there? what else would you recommend doing to learn as much as possible about the school's environment? my issue is that there are other dates that i could visit (although i would only get one day in michigan as it would be added on to a holiday i'm already taking in america around that time) but is it worth going for such a short time/without the actual visiting events on?

sorry that this is a very long-winded way of asking probably quite a simple question, but i'd appreciate any thoughts on the matter - especially from any students who were international applicants, or didn't get the chance to visit their school before accepting :^) 

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15 hours ago, LurkersGonnaLurk said:

Thank so much for all your knowledge, @bfat!

As a parent, my biggest concern about starting a PhD program is how to balance life with my kids. 

Do you have any suggestions or thoughts on this? :)

Oh boy. I do. I will say: the struggle is real, and there have been many days that I have daydreamed about being the young, single, just-post-undergrad person who could sleep until 10 and then leisurely walk to the library to work all day. There is none of that when your kid comes into your room at 6 a.m. and tells you she just barfed (as happened to me this morning). However, you will have an enormous advantage, which is that emotionally and priorities-wise, you will have your shit together like 100x more than most of your cohort. You know how to be a person and manage responsibilities. You'll know better where your limitations are and when to step back. In many ways, it is much harder to do the PhD with kids (and I only have 1), but as far as long-term goals and success, you may be ahead of the game and more focused. But it's possible. You can do it!

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So I'm in the home stretch of my sixth year so I'm now pretty much a greybeard by this board's standards, so take this as hoary wisdom or as the ramblings of a cranky old man.

Has your PhD so far been what you expected it to be?

Yes and no. Yes in the sense that I feel like I'm experiencing the freedom to pursue intellectual ideas and really living the sort of life I imagined it would be, with the kind of flexibility of life and freedom of mind I expected. No in the sense that I didn't expect that the stress and pressure to make something out of that life would break me multiple times. Also "no" in the sense that I didn't expect that service would take up so much of my time.


What are you impressions of your program?

My impression of my program is very positive. I think it is a program that is very supportive, with administration and faculty who are exceptionally invested in my success. My relationship with my colleagues is collegial at worst, there is little competition and little drama (at least that I'm involved in/aware of).


Has anything about your program surprised you?

This is a bit repetitive of the first answer, but what surprised me most was the expectation of service in my department (on committees, attending and planning events, etc.). In my program it is very frowned upon to retreat from department life. I think ultimately this is a good thing that has improved my life and been mostly rewarding. 


How are you feeling in general about your experience?

I would certainly do it again, but as I wind down my first year on the job market I know there are things I would do differently. Going in I had the pollyanna idea that many share: "Well, I know the job prospects are bleak but if I don't get a job the worst that's happened is that I've spent 5-7 years living the life of the mind and doing interesting intellectual work." That's a load of horse shit for so many reasons. I probably can't convince any of you prospective applicants of this so you'll just have to venture in and find out for yourself. The experience of doing a PhD is so emotionally taxing that by the end of your 5-7 years you'll have a hard time feeling like anything other than a TT job for your reward is a failure. While you probably already have heard (and will hear over and over again) that the market is bad, the experience of it is actually the one thing about grad school that is actually way worse than people say it is. Nevertheless, stories and thinkpieces abound about post PhD careers beyond the tenure track, an idea I'll certainly embrace after another failed search or two if it comes to that.


Have you found your research interests changing?

Definitely! Yet I can still trace a lineage, however distant, back to my SOP. I think my SOP is like a distant great uncle once removed of my dissertation, or something like that.


Are there any hardships you've faced that you want to share?

I came into grad school with depression and anxiety issues and grad school, beginning with the application process, amplified them by orders of magnitude. Seek therapy early. Find a therapist whose office is near campus and who treats a lot of academics. You may find that not all therapists really "get" the lifestyle. If your school has good health insurance, I'd recommend seeing a therapist even before things get bad, because they will get bad.


How about any successes you'd like to celebrate?

Thanks to being collegial and a good department citizen, I basically had a publication opportunity that is only a little bit outside my core interest area fall directly into my lap. Show good will and engagement and (most) others will show it back to you.

Edited by jrockford27

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38 minutes ago, jrockford27 said:

I would certainly do it again, but as I wind down my first year on the job market I know there are things I would do differently. Going in I had the pollyanna idea that many share: "Well, I know the job prospects are bleak but if I don't get a job the worst that's happened is that I've spent 5-7 years living the life of the mind and doing interesting intellectual work." That's a load of horse shit for so many reasons. I probably can't convince any of you prospective applicants of this so you'll just have to venture in and find out for yourself. The experience of doing a PhD is so emotionally taxing that by the end of your 5-7 years you'll have a hard time feeling like anything other than a TT job for your reward is a failure. While you probably already have heard (and will hear over and over again) that the market is bad, the experience of it is actually the one thing about grad school that is actually way worse than people say it is. Nevertheless, stories and thinkpieces abound about post PhD careers beyond the tenure track, an idea I'll certainly embrace after another failed search or two if it comes to that.

Thanks for this. That "the worst that's happened..." quote is exactly what I've been telling myself, and hearing the outcome of such a thought process was enlightening. I'm definitely going to be asking about the job market at visits. 

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On 2/19/2019 at 3:27 PM, bfat said:

Start a book journal. Write 1 or 2 pages of quick notes on each thing you read. Think about questions like, "How could I write about this?" and "How could I teach this?" When it comes time to actually develop a project, or even develop a syllabus, you're going to want to go back to those things you love and find exciting. Also, get an ipod. A little one (the nano? not the tiniest one, but the small one with the screen). Download audiobooks of works you want to read but don't think you have time for, and put them on there.

@bfat this is super helpful, and I just ordered a book journal!

Also, I have a vision condition and could not have done my MA without audiobooks. My local library also used Libby/Overdrive and I paid nothing for these. I highly recommend checking with them!

@jrockford27, did you do an MA before your PhD? I'm wondering how that might influence the expectations of graduate school and placement. Thank you for sharing, I think the end-of-the-journey perspective is super helpful. Good luck!

Also, is anyone looking at creative writing PhDs or know much about the process for them? I'm not finding much on any board, as there aren't really that many (I think around 30-40?). I would LOVE if someone could speak to this experience! 🖌️✏️

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36 minutes ago, Mayli said:

Also, I have a vision condition and could not have done my MA without audiobooks. My local library also used Libby/Overdrive and I paid nothing for these. I highly recommend checking with them!

Just FYI there's a few people in my program that have found programs that will read PDFs to you-- and there are scanning mechanisms that will recognize words if you're trying to make a PDF out of a book. So they listen to almost everything while they're reading (I think they put the speed up, but whatever works for you). Anyways, if you're an auditory learner/have vision problems/whatever... just thought I'd put that out there! 

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12 hours ago, bfat said:

Oh boy. I do. I will say: the struggle is real, and there have been many days that I have daydreamed about being the young, single, just-post-undergrad person who could sleep until 10 and then leisurely walk to the library to work all day. There is none of that when your kid comes into your room at 6 a.m. and tells you she just barfed (as happened to me this morning). However, you will have an enormous advantage, which is that emotionally and priorities-wise, you will have your shit together like 100x more than most of your cohort. You know how to be a person and manage responsibilities. You'll know better where your limitations are and when to step back. In many ways, it is much harder to do the PhD with kids (and I only have 1), but as far as long-term goals and success, you may be ahead of the game and more focused. But it's possible. You can do it!

Thanks, @bfat for taking the time! I’ve been enjoying reading your responses to all of the questions, as well as, the other students sharing wisdom! We appreciate y’all!

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This is maybe too specific a situation, but were any of y'all moving away from home for the first time when you entered grad school? I've been lucky enough to attend an undergraduate institution that's not 5 miles from where I was raised. It's where all my family/friends live. I would really like to stay within the state, but, for various reasons, it's looking like that might be difficult. I guess I'm just worried that, if I move cross country, the homesickness (coupled with the stress of grad school) will bring on a meltdown. (Not to mention I'd be moving from the West Coast to the East Coast, and I hate the cold). Have any current grad students been in this situation? How did you cope?

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10 hours ago, ChunkyMonkey said:

This is maybe too specific a situation, but were any of y'all moving away from home for the first time when you entered grad school? I've been lucky enough to attend an undergraduate institution that's not 5 miles from where I was raised. It's where all my family/friends live. I would really like to stay within the state, but, for various reasons, it's looking like that might be difficult. I guess I'm just worried that, if I move cross country, the homesickness (coupled with the stress of grad school) will bring on a meltdown. (Not to mention I'd be moving from the West Coast to the East Coast, and I hate the cold). Have any current grad students been in this situation? How did you cope?

I haven't been in your exact situation but I did go to undergrad in the same West Coast state fairly close to where I was raised and pretty much all of my friends/family from the first 22 years of my life are still back on the West Coast. I was terrified of moving to the Midwest and experiencing seasons for the first time and being away from everyone I knew and loved and to be very frank, my first semester of grad school was awful. My grades were fine but I cried all the time, constantly wondered if I'd made a mistake, was terrified of speaking up in class, felt like I was missing out when all my friends back home would hang out, and missed Thanksgiving with my family for the first time ever. It was your standard impostor syndrome mixed up with homesickness. What helped me was being proactive about my mental health; as soon as I first started to feel like I was on the verge of a breakdown, I signed myself up for therapy sessions at the university health services. I reached out to grad students in my program and hung out with folks a lot to be able to feel like I was building my own network and home away from everything I knew. I got an on-campus job to be able to meet other folks outside of graduate school and to make myself feel like I had other stuff going on in my life besides academia. 

Now I'm about a year and a half into my PhD program and I am genuinely very satisfied with my life. Of course, I still have crippling fear and doubts about the state of the job market but when I look back and assess everything, my quality of life is good. All this to say, yes adjusting to moving far away from everyone will be really tough at first. It will probably not be immediately fantastic as soon as you get there but I encourage you to just keep putting yourself out there and trying to meet new people and build a community, in and out of academia. Take advantage of sunny winter days whenever you can and try to get outside even when it's cold — sometimes just taking a walk and looking at all the pretty snow puts things in perspective for me. Being far away has also made me value and appreciate my relationships back home a lot more; whenever I visit, I really try to make the most of it and let people know I appreciate them and just try to spend as much quality time with folks as possible. Now, I am glad I moved because I've grown a lot and I feel proud that I've managed to build a good life here for myself. Good luck with your decision making process! 

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On 2/20/2019 at 4:11 PM, Mayli said:

 

@jrockford27, did you do an MA before your PhD? I'm wondering how that might influence the expectations of graduate school and placement. Thank you for sharing, I think the end-of-the-journey perspective is super helpful. Good luck!✏️

I did not have an MA, but I was a non-traditional undergrad (I got my BA when I was 27) and didn't start my PhD until I was 29. I would say that my age is more likely to have something to do with my opinion than the degree I had. Depending on how the market shakes out for my wife and I, I'll finish at age 35 or 36, which didn't seem old at the time I started, but certainly does now!

I can't imagine an MA having made much difference in my opinion though. Even if you have an MA you still need to somehow convince yourself that spending 5-7 years of your life (or even longer) doing exceptionally difficult work for very little pay with bleak career prospects on the other side is somehow a good idea. In most programs my perception is that an MA will shave maybe a year off that at best, in some programs it wont shave off any time at all.

I imagine there are a number of different ways to convince yourself of this that don't actually involve creating beautiful illusions for yourself, but if you're capable of manifesting them you're a stronger soul than I was going in. 

That said, I never want to be the person who says, "don't go to grad school, it sucks... but it was good enough for me." There's a lot to like about doing a PhD. If it strikes you that you should do it, go ahead and give it a go! But I think the low pay, grueling work, lack of consistent affirmation, and uncertain prospects get to everyone eventually (unless, perhaps, one is independently wealthy or else doesn't have to deal with financial anxieties). There is a certain amount of depression and anxiety that become endemic to the experience of PhD work, and the worst part is that some people wear this fatigue like a badge of honor, like "oh, I drink eight cups of coffee a day" or "look at me, I clocked 60 hours of work last week!" and joke about these things, some of the most problematic aspects of the whole academic apparatus!  My first two or three years, people used to tell visiting prospective students: "Don't listen to jrockford, he never complains about anything or anyone." Seriously, my colleagues used to make fun of me for being so upbeat! I don't think they'd say that now! This is why I say "find a therapist early, before there are even any problems." It's not a joke, I'm deadly serious.

All this, and I still can't say enough about how supportive, responsive, and helpful my committee and my program are. I can only imagine how bad it is for the many grad students out there for whom this isn't true. This system absolutely sucks, and it's probably going to get worse before it gets better.

 

Edited by jrockford27

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How competitive/cutthroat are some of these top programs? How do you deal with feeling like an imposter/not good enough all the time?

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