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Current English PhD students - Q&A

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13 minutes ago, eddyrynes said:

 How do you deal with feeling like an imposter/not good enough all the time?

If you weren't good enough to be there you wouldn't be there. Or do you think that the people on the committees of elite English departments lack reading comprehension skills? You didn't get in because they believed you were a fully finished scholar, if you were, you wouldn't need to be in a PhD program. You got in because they believed you had the potential to become a fully finished scholar.

Edited by jrockford27

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41 minutes ago, jrockford27 said:

If you weren't good enough to be there you wouldn't be there. Or do you think that the people on the committees of elite English departments lack reading comprehension skills? You didn't get in because they believed you were a fully finished scholar, if you were, you wouldn't need to be in a PhD program. You got in because they believed you had the potential to become a fully finished scholar.

Haha. Thanks 🤣🧡

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2 hours ago, jrockford27 said:

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.

I really appreciate your honesty and your detailed answer, and the advice to find a therapist. I will take that to heart. I think I'm the kind of person who wants to get a PhD even knowing all of this, especially since working about that many hours at my full time job had me missing graduate school and teaching experiences from my MA. I know the PhD will be more work, of course, but I'm hoping it will be a mostly positive journey despite the many challenges. What a wonderful note, too, about the support you received from your program. 

May I ask, what has been the best part of your experience? 

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3 hours ago, jrockford27 said:

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!  

I second all of this. There’s also the strange thing where it can become really difficult to give yourself boundaries, and consequently end up feeling like you should be working all the time, because there’s always something you could be doing. When I’m working nonstop, I feel guilty for neglecting my life (not spending enough time with friends/partner/working out/etc)— and then I feel guilty when I am doing those things instead of working. I don’t have the answer, but just putting it out there that you should be aware of this as soon as you can, and try to figure out how to mange this.

The work/life struggle really adds to what @jrockford27 is saying: it’s so easy to get into a hole where work becomes everything. And then, if that’s the place you’re at, it doesn’t take a lot to topple emotionally... if you aren’t doing anything besides working, and your work isn’t going perfectly, then what do you have?

Re: imposter syndrome… I think one thing that’s important to keep in mind is that, if you’re in an English PhD program, you’re there because you’ve been one of the best at doing this thing in the past (i.e. in undergrad, you were probably one of the best students in your English classes). In other words, the way you’ve learned to tell that you’re good at this is, in part, by comparison. In a PhD program, that won’t really work. Everyone is good at this! The best thing to do is to learn to find value in what you do that doesn’t come from comparison. If you think about this as a competition, you’ll feel awful all of the time (there’s always going to be someone that seems like they’re doing better than you, in some way).

All that being said, by and large, I’ve had a great time so far. Sometimes it’s crazy to think that my “work” is sitting around and talking about exciting ideas and books, and writing papers (all things I love— there is something to the parts we all idealize, really). I find a lot of joy and reward in watching myself grow as a thinker/writer/scholar. Despite all the bad things, there’s a lot of exciting parts, too.

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25 minutes ago, urbanfarmer said:

The best thing to do is to learn to find value in what you do that doesn’t come from comparison. If you think about this as a competition, you’ll feel awful all of the time (there’s always going to be someone that seems like they’re doing better than you, in some way). 

Taking this to heart, though easier said than done sometimes. Thank you for your response and reminder 🧡

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2 hours ago, Mayli said:

May I ask, what has been the best part of your experience? 

Teaching and flexibility. Research and writing are stressful.

Edited by jrockford27

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On 2/21/2019 at 10:15 AM, novum said:

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! 

Thanks @novum! This helps a lot. 

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35 minutes ago, kendalldinniene said:

How many hours a week do y’all (current phd students) spend on your work/program? How has that fluctuated over the years?

Hi all, I wanted to chime in on the working hours. I'm a long time lurker and decided to create a new account for privacy reasons. I'm currently doing my Ph.D. in English and managing the amount of work is definitely a challenge. I think I also felt some betrayal since the tone that my offer letter took seemed to imply that there would be "minor" work to do outside of teaching, which really was a code for extra administrative duties that were required of me on top of teaching, grading and holding office hours. For those with offers, I suggest you ask some tough questions to the graduate students currently there. I was not able to go to the visiting days so I emailed a few, but the responses were of course, somewhat tempered by my own rainbow-colored optimism and the fact that most people who volunteered to show the new graduate students around and answer questions are somewhat satisfied or are probably afraid to tell the truth. Some institutions may have labor unions and those seem helpful, but only in the sense of boosting morale. It is only compounded by the fact that some professors are probably not willing to help with the grading at all, despite the fact that the amount of work they require is way above the contracted hours. It is almost impossible to keep the university accountable for the number of hours they make us work since a lot of it is independent work you do at home. The funny thing is, they keep us accountable for things that benefit the department, but they themselves do not mandate us keeping track of our own hours since that means they'll actually have to cut the amount of work we do. The general vibe here is, "Be more efficient with your time. Here's a book to help with efficiency." It is SO helpful, as you can imagine. And not to mention the events and volunteer work we are pressured to do... But despite it all, I was able to get all A's in my classes which really doesn't say a whole lot about my competence since I am reusing what I know instead of learning new research avenues as I'm supposed to be doing in grad school. Despite the time restrictions, I have managed to find time to apply for another round this year with a new writing sample I wrote last semester and a better-defined statement of purpose. Desperation is the mother of innovation, though not having a single weekend off since last August is another method. Top schools give you time; money matters less as long as my basic needs are met than the amount of time you have to do what you're there to do. That is why I apply again this year, although this time, I'm very much aware that I might be headed to a place that has even less accountability and more work. I'd like to hear from other grad students too if their experiences differ. 

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13 hours ago, kendalldinniene said:

How many hours a week do y’all (current phd students) spend on your work/program? How has that fluctuated over the years?

I would say a solid 40... and that's fairly constant. I also work an outside service industry job, which makes my total work load about 60hrs/week (but we don't get summer stipends, so this is pretty necessary to be able to get through those months off, for me!)

I have a friend in a top-five program that literally clocks 9-5 hours M-F (except for answering emails, or in the case of big deadlines-- but their stipend is much more generous than mine, so they don't have to worry about making it through the summer). I tend to be more flexible, and take time off in the middle of the day, or whenever, to accommodate the random other things I'm expected to do that might be in the evenings (talks, seminars, department events, etc.). Because I realize how easy it is to never stop working, I try to draw myself pretty strict boundaries whenever I can, about stopping work or taking a day off when I'm feeling burnt out. 

It is a challenge to manage, but definitely doable. My department is very kind and understanding, and (almost) all of the faculty do their best to help you manage your teaching load, and they try to be considerate with reading load during coursework and set realistic deadlines for whatever comes next. Aside from one professor who is infamously awful to TA for, everyone else is also generous and reasonable there. They all realize that we're overworked and underpaid, and wish that they could do more for us!

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14 hours ago, kendalldinniene said:

How many hours a week do y’all (current phd students) spend on your work/program? How has that fluctuated over the years?

Our program is 'front loaded,' meaning that we do a lot of our coursework up front. My first year, I took 4 classes each semester, with no teaching. In addition to the 12 hours in class each week, I would say that I worked anywhere from 2 to 4 hours each weekday and pretty much morning till night each weekend. Our program is fully funded with a generous stipend, so no worries about holding an outside job. The work load is somewhat reduced this semester, but I am also starting to prepare for QEs, so it is still a bit intense. Grad school is definitely NOT for the faint of heart, but I can unequivocally say that it is the best thing I have ever done!

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On 2/22/2019 at 7:34 AM, eddyrynes said:

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

So, this is from a master's, not a PhD, but a friend at Oxford passed on what her mom had told her when we were all starting our program, and it helped me a lot:

"If you are convinced you've somehow made it this far by tricking people into thinking you're capable, then you must be incredibly good at fooling people and there's no reason that will stop now."

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18 hours ago, anonphd1234 said:

minor" work to do outside of teaching, which really was a code for extra administrative duties that were required of me on top of teaching, grading and holding office hours.

Could you elaborate on what the administrative duties include?

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14 minutes ago, sugilite said:

Could you elaborate on what the administrative duties include?

It could involve anything from photocopying, running some errands for the professor, and compiling articles/books/research for the professor. I think some people help coordinate events which is paid but is another thing we need to get done to get the stipend we were promised in the admissions offer. Some students don't do any work and still get that amount, while others are given a full workload for those allotted hours. 

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3 hours ago, anonphd1234 said:

It could involve anything from photocopying, running some errands for the professor, and compiling articles/books/research for the professor. I think some people help coordinate events which is paid but is another thing we need to get done to get the stipend we were promised in the admissions offer. Some students don't do any work and still get that amount, while others are given a full workload for those allotted hours. 

I really appreciate the elaboration, and will be sure to ask about this on my visits. Thanks for the heads up. I hope you're able to find a place with better working conditions this cycle. 

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8 hours ago, jillcicle said:

So, this is from a master's, not a PhD, but a friend at Oxford passed on what her mom had told her when we were all starting our program, and it helped me a lot:

"If you are convinced you've somehow made it this far by tricking people into thinking you're capable, then you must be incredibly good at fooling people and there's no reason that will stop now."

LOL! I love that! 🤣🤣🤣

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I have an additional question for current students--how do taxes end up working out for you? We hired a tax preparer this year (since in 2018 husband had two jobs and started grad school, we moved states, and I started a business and became a remote employee for my employer back in our old state). It seems like our tax preparer was a bit unfamiliar with the whole grad-student-stipends-are-taxable-income thing and I don't see any mention of it on our return we are currently reviewing. Do you end up owing a lot? I am very concerned for both 2018 and coming years. I was once an AmeriCorps VISTA and the fact that taxes aren't taken out of your paycheck becomes awful with the amount you end up owing during tax season. I fear that this situation is going to be similar.

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6 minutes ago, punctilious said:

I have an additional question for current students--how do taxes end up working out for you? We hired a tax preparer this year (since in 2018 husband had two jobs and started grad school, we moved states, and I started a business and became a remote employee for my employer back in our old state). It seems like our tax preparer was a bit unfamiliar with the whole grad-student-stipends-are-taxable-income thing and I don't see any mention of it on our return we are currently reviewing. Do you end up owing a lot? I am very concerned for both 2018 and coming years. I was once an AmeriCorps VISTA and the fact that taxes aren't taken out of your paycheck becomes awful with the amount you end up owing during tax season. I fear that this situation is going to be similar.

Schools don’t take your taxes out? Ugh. So as a grad student are you expected to file quarterlies? 

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Just now, trytostay said:

Schools don’t take your taxes out? Ugh. So as a grad student are you expected to file quarterlies? 

I can only speak for Harvard, but nope, no taxes are taken out. In fact, they didn't even give us any sort of tax document, all we have are the "pay stubs." Frankly, I have no idea right now, but it's looking like quarterly will be the best option if we don't want to absolutely hate our lives next year!

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1 minute ago, punctilious said:

I can only speak for Harvard, but nope, no taxes are taken out. In fact, they didn't even give us any sort of tax document, all we have are the "pay stubs." Frankly, I have no idea right now, but it's looking like quarterly will be the best option if we don't want to absolutely hate our lives next year!

If I remember correctly, Fellowships and Teaching are seen in different ways by the university. When your husband starts TAing/Teaching, they might tax his stipend since he'll be seen as an employee. I think he'd still be exempt from FICA taxes though but I'm not 100 percent certain.

Including the summer stipend: I think Harvard's total amount comes to around $33,120?

For the purposes of this example, we're going to act as if the individual were single and they had no previous jobs.

The first $9,525 would be taxed at 10 percent. This would equate to $952.50.
Anything from $9,526 to $38,700 would be taxed at 12 percent. $33,120 - $9,525= $23,595
$23,595 * .12= 2,831 + 952.50= $3,783.50
$3,783.50/ 4 = $945.88 per quarter. Missed quarterly payments can be made up the following quarter.
However, the above would assume a flat rate with no exemptions or deductions.

In 2018, the standard deduction for single filers is $12,000. Let's see how this impacts a few things.

A standard deduction of $12,000 would make your taxable income $21,120,
The first $9,525 would be taxed at 10 percent. This would equate to $952.50.
Anything from $9,526 to $38,700 would be taxed at 12 percent. $21,120 - $9,525= 11,595
$11,595*.12=1391.4+952.50= $2,342.90
2343.9/4 = $585.98 per quarter. Missed quarterly payments can be made up the following quarter.

The above is not tax advice and one should always consult a lawyer in cases like these. These numbers could be slightly higher or lower depending on maritial status, filing status, deductions taken and previous employment within the year.

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I'm just paid as a university employee, so my taxes are already taken out and I file a regular W-2. I'd assume this is probably because I teach for my stipend, and it's not considered a fellowship? 

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1 minute ago, urbanfarmer said:

I'm just paid as a university employee, so my taxes are already taken out and I file a regular W-2. I'd assume this is probably because I teach for my stipend, and it's not considered a fellowship? 

Probably, yes? At Harvard, you don't start teaching until the third year, so hopefully by then he'll actually receive a W2. It is very frustrating to not have any taxes taken out.

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8 minutes ago, Warelin said:

If I remember correctly, Fellowships and Teaching are seen in different ways by the university. When your husband starts TAing/Teaching, they might tax his stipend since he'll be seen as an employee. I think he'd still be exempt from FICA taxes though but I'm not 100 percent certain.

Including the summer stipend: I think Harvard's total amount comes to around $33,120?

For the purposes of this example, we're going to act as if the individual were single and they had no previous jobs.

The first $9,525 would be taxed at 10 percent. This would equate to $952.50.
Anything from $9,526 to $38,700 would be taxed at 12 percent. $33,120 - $9,525= $23,595
$23,595 * .12= 2,831 + 952.50= $3,783.50
$3,783.50/ 4 = $945.88 per quarter. Missed quarterly payments can be made up the following quarter.
However, the above would assume a flat rate with no exemptions or deductions.

In 2018, the standard deduction for single filers is $12,000. Let's see how this impacts a few things.

A standard deduction of $12,000 would make your taxable income $21,120,
The first $9,525 would be taxed at 10 percent. This would equate to $952.50.
Anything from $9,526 to $38,700 would be taxed at 12 percent. $21,120 - $9,525= 11,595
$11,595*.12=1391.4+952.50= $2,342.90
2343.9/4 = $585.98 per quarter. Missed quarterly payments can be made up the following quarter.

The above is not tax advice and one should always consult a lawyer in cases like these. These numbers could be slightly higher or lower depending on maritial status, filing status, deductions taken and previous employment within the year.

His stipend I believe is increasing by 3% for the next academic year, and I believe it was something more like $34k or $35k already, but this is helpful to try to conceptualize. He seems very frustrated by the idea of having to do estimated quarterly taxes, and that our tax preparer seemed to ignore the stipend situation. There needs to be more education on this by the universities, and more support for the students.

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4 minutes ago, urbanfarmer said:

I'm just paid as a university employee, so my taxes are already taken out and I file a regular W-2. I'd assume this is probably because I teach for my stipend, and it's not considered a fellowship? 

I think that sounds correct. You're doing service in exchange for income and as such, the university sees you as an employee and has to tax you as such. Fellowships are not considered wages by the IRS and hence do not create an employer-employee relationship. They do, however, create a payroll record.

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