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NoNameGuy

Considering PhD. Need help answering some questions.

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Hi all. I know you're all in the middle of application season, so you probably don't want to think about the process any more than you need to. With that said, I'd appreciate any and all responses. I'm considering applying for a PhD in English sometime in the next few years, so I figured I'd seek some advice as I begin thinking about what preparations need to take place. First, a candidate profile:

 

Undergrad: B.A. in Philosophy and Asian Studies from very selective, top 50 private school. I graduated  summa cum laude  with departmental honors.

Graduate: M.A. in Philosophy and an M.S. in Secondary English Ed. My philosophy degree is from one of the best terminal M.A. programs in the US. I graduated with a 3.6. My English ed degree is from a (different) top 50 private school with an excellent School of Ed. I graduated with a 3.8.

 

I became disillusioned with philosophy as I was finishing my M.A. and, on the advice of a mentor, I decided to take some time off to teach before deciding whether I wanted to get my PhD. I've discovered a love of English literature and I'd really like to seek a PhD in the next few years. So, I'd like to ask a few questions.

 

First Question : How late is too late to apply for a PhD program? I'd like to teach for a few years and get financially settled a bit, but if that will age me out of the process, so to speak, I'd like to apply sooner.

Second Question: Assuming I have a few years, how can I best prepare for future applications? Try to publish? Engage in more graduate coursework? Any advice would be super helpful.

Third Question : How do you narrow your research interests in English? It was easy for me in philosophy, because I could just identify a problem and work on that, but I'm having difficulty doing that with English. I don't have interests that are unique to a particular period or location, and I'm trying to find a niche now so I can start working towards having a clearly defined project by the time I apply.

 

                           Some people/books/ideas that interest me:

1. Life in the Iron Mills (Rebecca Harding Davis)

2. Pretty much all of Emerson's essays

3. Thomas Hardy (especially Jude the Obscure)

4. American horror (esp. Thomas Ligotti)

5. Hemingway (esp. The Old Man and the Sea)

6. The Brontë Sisters

7. Literature that has an animal-rights angle (I adore Cavendish's "The Hunting of the Hare," for instance)

8. Melville (esp. Benito Cereno)

9. Any text with a pessimistic core, like McCarthy.

I'm sure there are others, but they're not coming to me right now.

 

Fourth Question : Related to the above. How do you find departments into which you'd fit? I'm not tuned into the academic world of English literature, so I have no idea what departments are best for what, and it's not like philosophy where I could just go look at the PGR or some other ranking website (at least, I haven't found anything like that yet. I'd love it if one existed). 

 

Thanks for slogging through this poorly organized wall of text. I appreciate any advice this community has to offer.

Edited by NoNameGuy

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Apologies for a non-reply to your questions, but I wanted to give a huge hurrah for a fellow Cavendish fan!! I wrote my undergrad thesis partly on Cavendish's Poems and Fancies, and she is an author I very much want to continue working on in grad school. "Hunting of the Hare" is absolutely fantastic, and (I think) engages with some Petrarchan tropes in a pretty singular way. I would encourage you to apply if only to add another Cavendish fan to the academic world!

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5 hours ago, NoNameGuy said:

First Question : How late is too late to apply for a PhD program? I'd like to teach for a few years and get financially settled a bit, but if that will age me out of the process, so to speak, I'd like to apply sooner.

Waiting shouldn't count against you too much with a couple of caveats. You will need to stay in contact with people who can write letters of recommendation for you. If they are unable to write convincing letters drawing on specific examples of your academic performance because it's been too long since you were in their classes, then that will hurt your application. In my experience it's not uncommon for people to enter a PhD program in their mid-30s. If you're significant;y older than that though, there is a possibility you will face some degree of ageism.

5 hours ago, NoNameGuy said:

 Second Question: Assuming I have a few years, how can I best prepare for future applications? Try to publish? Engage in more graduate coursework? Any advice would be super helpful.

Read, read, and read some more. If you can publish in a top journal in the field, then sure go for it. But it probably won't be worth your time to try publishing in a less regarded journal. If you're near a university with a graduate program, then auditing or taking classes as a postbac could certainly be useful (and also would allow you to have more recent letters of rec from professors in the field). You might also look and see if their are conferences nearby to which you can submit a proposal. Start thinking about your writing sample early. Most people spend countless hours polishing theirs, so take advantage of your longer time frame and get an early start. Once you have a draft, have as many people look at it as possible.

5 hours ago, NoNameGuy said:

 Third Question : How do you narrow your research interests in English? It was easy for me in philosophy, because I could just identify a problem and work on that, but I'm having difficulty doing that with English. I don't have interests that are unique to a particular period or location, and I'm trying to find a niche now so I can start working towards having a clearly defined project by the time I apply.

See above about reading. Once you have an idea of what sorts of literature you're interested in, start writing scholarship on that literature. That will give you an idea of what sort of research is currently being done. You're apt to find that some critical discussions interest you more than others. Focus on those. At a certain point, you will hopefully start to see areas where the scholarship seems insufficient on a certain point or theoretical perspectives from one discussion are being ignored in another discussion where they seem to be relevant. Pursuing those threads will help to define a project. (You don't necessarily need a fully defined project upon entering an American PhD program, but you will need to demonstrate to the admissions committee that you understand current critical discussions and can propose ways to engage with them fruitfully).

 

P.S. I'm also someone who has also transitioned from philosophy to literary studies. It can take some time getting used to the discourse, but the analytical tools from philosophy will certainly come in handy.

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5 hours ago, NoNameGuy said:

Hi all. I know you're all in the middle of application season, so you probably don't want to think about the process any more than you need to. With that said, I'd appreciate any and all responses. I'm considering applying for a PhD in English sometime in the next few years, so I figured I'd seek some advice as I begin thinking about what preparations need to take place. First, a candidate profile:

 

Undergrad: B.A. in Philosophy and Asian Studies from very selective, top 50 private school. I graduated  summa cum laude  with departmental honors.

Graduate: M.A. in Philosophy and an M.S. in Secondary English Ed. My philosophy degree is from one of the best terminal M.A. programs in the US. I graduated with a 3.6. My English ed degree is from a (different) top 50 private school with an excellent School of Ed. I graduated with a 3.8.

 

I became disillusioned with philosophy as I was finishing my M.A. and, on the advice of a mentor, I decided to take some time off to teach before deciding whether I wanted to get my PhD. I've discovered a love of English literature and I'd really like to seek a PhD in the next few years. So, I'd like to ask a few questions.

 

First Question : How late is too late to apply for a PhD program? I'd like to teach for a few years and get financially settled a bit, but if that will age me out of the process, so to speak, I'd like to apply sooner.

Second Question: Assuming I have a few years, how can I best prepare for future applications? Try to publish? Engage in more graduate coursework? Any advice would be super helpful.

Third Question : How do you narrow your research interests in English? It was easy for me in philosophy, because I could just identify a problem and work on that, but I'm having difficulty doing that with English. I don't have interests that are unique to a particular period or location, and I'm trying to find a niche now so I can start working towards having a clearly defined project by the time I apply.

 

                           Some people/books/ideas that interest me:

1. Life in the Iron Mills (Rebecca Harding Davis)

2. Pretty much all of Emerson's essays

3. Thomas Hardy (especially Jude the Obscure)

4. American horror (esp. Thomas Ligotti)

5. Hemingway (esp. The Old Man and the Sea)

6. The Brontë Sisters

7. Literature that has an animal-rights angle (I adore Cavendish's "The Hunting of the Hare," for instance)

8. Melville (esp. Benito Cereno)

9. Any text with a pessimistic core, like McCarthy.

I'm sure there are others, but they're not coming to me right now.

 

Fourth Question : Related to the above. How do you find departments into which you'd fit? I'm not tuned into the academic world of English literature, so I have no idea what departments are best for what, and it's not like philosophy where I could just go look at the PGR or some other ranking website (at least, I haven't found anything like that yet. I'd love it if one existed). 

 

Thanks for slogging through this poorly organized wall of text. I appreciate any advice this community has to offer.

If you enjoy literature with an animal rights angle, you might try looking into critical animal studies or even the environmental humanities more broadly. 

I’d also add that it may be good to start with thinking about what interests you personally and see if those interests connect theoretically anywhere. I’ve always been engaged with animal advocacy so it made sense for me to end up in animal studies. I know others have had different experiences, but this seems like a pretty basic starting point. It also may help fight against becoming “burned out” later. 

Edited by Sav

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23 minutes ago, Sav said:

If you enjoy literature with an animal rights angle, you might try looking into critical animal studies or even the environmental humanities more broadly. 

I’d also add that it may be good to start with thinking about what interests you personally and see if those interests connect theoretically anywhere. I’ve always been engaged with animal advocacy so it made sense for me to end up in animal studies. I know others have had different experiences, but this seems like a pretty basic starting point. It also may help fight against becoming “burned out” later. 

Since you're researching in animal studies, are there any central texts that you can think of that I can start reading? I'm a vegan for moral reasons, so animals rights matter quite a bit to me.

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Thanks for all of the advice. Since you also switched from philosophy, maybe you can tell me if there's an equivalent of the PGR for English departments. I've been looking for ranking systems that place schools based on area of research, but I guess English folks aren't as obsessed with categorization (not a bad thing, but it makes the search harder).

 

EDIT: Cack. I haven't gotten used to posting yet. This was a response to Glasperlenspieler.

Edited by NoNameGuy

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9 hours ago, NoNameGuy said:

First Question : How late is too late to apply for a PhD program? I'd like to teach for a few years and get financially settled a bit, but if that will age me out of the process, so to speak, I'd like to apply sooner.

I'm heading right out of undergrad but I would definitely keep the expiration date of your GRE scores in mind. If I remember correctly, GRE test results are good for 5-6 years. Unless you're looking to retake them, I'd stay within that time frame.

9 hours ago, NoNameGuy said:

Second Question: Assuming I have a few years, how can I best prepare for future applications? Try to publish? Engage in more graduate coursework? Any advice would be super helpful.

I'd definitely recommend narrowing your research focus and working on your PS/WS. I've been told by my advisors in the past that the personal statement needs to read as your intellectual journey. For example, your swap from philosophy into English Lit needs to not only make sense to the committee, but it needs to have given you an edge and altered your research focus/ thinking in a way that is unique from other applicants. Your writing sample should also reflect the interests outlined in your personal statement. Depending on the evolution of your interests, you might need to research and write an entirely new paper (I did this over the course of a summer).

Hope this helps! :)

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12 hours ago, NoNameGuy said:

Since you're researching in animal studies, are there any central texts that you can think of that I can start reading? I'm a vegan for moral reasons, so animals rights matter quite a bit to me.

I've listed some books below. One thing that should be useful to you is that animal studies as a theory draws heavily from philosophy. Some of these are fiction and some of these are theoretical texts. You'll want to also research posthumanism, new materialism, and objected oriented ontology, as those fields intersect/stem from animal studies (among other disciplines). I also really enjoy the Knowing Animals podcast. 

Richard Adams, Plague Dogs

T.C. Boyle, When the Killing’s Done,

Sue Coe, Dead Meat

J. M Coetzee, The Lives of Animals 

J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace

Olaf Stapledon, Sirius

Derrida, “’Eating Well’ or the Calculation of the Subject” 

Levinas, “The Name of a Dog” 

Giles Deleuze, "Becoming Animal" (in a number of their writings but I *think" in Thousand Plateaus)

Derek Ryan, Animal Theory: A Critical Introduction

Jacques Derrida, The Animal That Therefore I Am

Giorgio Agamben, The Open: Man and Animal

Haraway, When Species Meet

Cary Wolfe, Animal Rites 

Mel Y. Chen, Animacies

Wolfe, What is Posthumanism?

Wolfe, ed. Zoontologies

Akira Lipitz, The Electric Animal 

Peter Singer, Animal Liberation

Carol J. Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat

Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights

Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka, Zoopolis 

Chris Philo, “Animals, Geography, and the City: Inclusions and Exclusions”

Anat Pik, Creaturely Poetics

Gary Francione, Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach 

Colin Dayan, The Law is a White Dog 

Lindgren Johnson, Race Matters, Animal Matters: Fugitive Humanism in African America

Bénédicte Boisseron, Afro-Dog: Blackness and the Animal Question 

Neel Ahuja, Bioinsecurities: Disease Interventions, Empire, and the Government of Species 

There's plenty more so if you like any of these and want additional recommendations, or decide to go in a particular direction, just message me. Also, one thing that made sense to me when picking my literary time period (I do 19-20c American lit) was when a professor said that she enjoyed all literature but she wrote her best work and enjoyed writing about early American texts. So, just see what you feel drawn to with literary analysis and that should help you narrow down an area. :) 

Edited by Sav

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I also want to point towards Sunaura Taylor's Beasts of Burden: Animal and Disability Liberation. It's great.

The Deleuze & Guattari full chapter name is "Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, becoming-Imperceptible" & is indeed from A Thousand Plateaus!

& if you like them, @NoNameGuy, you might like Brian Massumi's What Animals Teach Us About Politics which is really Deleuzian.

I think having studied philosophy is a huge asset for you! There's a lot of synergy between the two fields -- While in an "English" program, my focus is on philosophy or "theory" more often than not.

OH, and Alexis Shotwell's Against Purity has a few chapters on animals, and talks about veganism in a way I find compelling!

Edited by madandmoonly

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20 hours ago, NoNameGuy said:

Fourth Question : Related to the above. How do you find departments into which you'd fit? I'm not tuned into the academic world of English literature, so I have no idea what departments are best for what, and it's not like philosophy where I could just go look at the PGR or some other ranking website (at least, I haven't found anything like that yet. I'd love it if one existed). 

Seeing as no one has answered your last question yet, here's my best advice: Use the US News rankings as a starting point to find well-regarded programs (the actual significance of these rankings is very much up for debate, especially as so much varies by specialty). If you start to feel drawn towards specific periods, I believe you'll be able to find rankings based on period with a quick google search as well. Start going through these programs' faculty to see who fits your interest and start reading their published work. It's very possible that reading currently published work in areas that intrigue you will help solidify and focus your own interests, and also help you get up to speed with the jargon of the field. Once you have found someone who's work in some way relates to the kind of work you would like to do, take a closer look at the program: do they only have one faculty member in the area you are interested in? Do they have current grad students with broadly similar interests to yours? Or, does it seem like they already have a glut of people doing what you would like to do? If teaching is important to you, check and see if they actively support pedagogical development, and see what their job placements look like. The most helpful part of this "finding a fit" process will probably be all the reading of current scholarship; as others have mentioned, nothing will get you up to speed like reading reading reading. Best of luck!

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I was pretty much in your exact situation.  I completed an MA in philosophy, and I just couldn't come up with a compelling project for a PhD.  I damn sure did apply, but I can see why there wasn't a school who cared to pick up my project.  After completing my MA, I taught for an education nonprofit before becoming adjunct faculty at a number of colleges in my area.  While I was adjuncting, I decided to work on an MA in literature.  Honestly, it was worth it.  I put together a much more compelling thesis project, and my interests changed over the time I studied in the program.  For this application cycle, I have one acceptance, one expenses-paid visit/interview in about two weeks, and one rejection.  I'm still waiting to hear from about five schools.  While part of me thinks I would have had much more success with apps if I had started with literature, I would have to think that my two MAs and adjuncting experience will aid me on the real job market, especially at community colleges and teaching colleges.  

If you decide to apply to literature programs, you'll likely have to explain why you've made the transition from philosophy to literature, briefly.  They don't really care about what you've achieved in philosophy.  They care about your potential to study literature.  Also, don't bother sending a packet of three letters from philosophy professors.  You need some people in literature to speak for you.  I added a supplemental fourth letter to many of my application packets just to show I didn't fuck up my philosophy MA.  However, it's not really an important part of my dossier.  Schools will not always accept a fourth letter, and the word of a literary scholar is more valuable than that of philosopher for a literature application. 

Age can hurt.  Schools who have a reputation of taking people directly from undergrad will not have much interest in you if you apply when you're thirty.  There are exceptions to this rule, and I don't really like that it exists because I see value in someone who sticks it out and proves she can balance researching and teaching.  However, it is a reality, and it likely produced by the hiring market.  Some schools want that fresh PhD for an entry-level professorship who is only about thirty.  For that reason, schools will aim for a younger cohort.  The flipside of that is that an older applicant with more teaching experience might actually do better on the job market, especially at teaching colleges.  The rejoinder here is that someone who starts a PhD at thirty might end up ABD because of the salary sacrifice, but there are tons of ABDs anyway.   

 

Now that I think about all of this, I really wonder what's up with the job market for PhDs.  We always say, "it's terrible," or, "don't bother going to anything other than a top-ten school."  Well, a top-ten school might want someone from a top-ten program, but there are a lot of different colleges out there.  I've heard stories about fancy PhDs from Harvard and Columbia who don't know how to handle an interview at a teaching college, asking for TAs and such.  Their applications were thrown right in the trash.  This just goes to show you that showing a hiring committee that you can work with a variety of students has a place somewhere.  I've had profs from top-ten schools and profs from schools ranked around one-hundred on US News and World report.  Some teaching colleges will have tenured jobs, and others will only offer more limited contracts.  I believe in PhDs deserving full-time work, but the tenure or bust ultimatum is unsustainable. 

 

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5 hours ago, MetaphysicalDrama said:

I was pretty much in your exact situation.  I completed an MA in philosophy, and I just couldn't come up with a compelling project for a PhD.  I damn sure did apply, but I can see why there wasn't a school who cared to pick up my project.  After completing my MA, I taught for an education nonprofit before becoming adjunct faculty at a number of colleges in my area.  While I was adjuncting, I decided to work on an MA in literature.  Honestly, it was worth it.  I put together a much more compelling thesis project, and my interests changed over the time I studied in the program.  For this application cycle, I have one acceptance, one expenses-paid visit/interview in about two weeks, and one rejection.  I'm still waiting to hear from about five schools.  While part of me thinks I would have had much more success with apps if I had started with literature, I would have to think that my two MAs and adjuncting experience will aid me on the real job market, especially at community colleges and teaching colleges.  

If you decide to apply to literature programs, you'll likely have to explain why you've made the transition from philosophy to literature, briefly.  They don't really care about what you've achieved in philosophy.  They care about your potential to study literature.  Also, don't bother sending a packet of three letters from philosophy professors.  You need some people in literature to speak for you.  I added a supplemental fourth letter to many of my application packets just to show I didn't fuck up my philosophy MA.  However, it's not really an important part of my dossier.  Schools will not always accept a fourth letter, and the word of a literary scholar is more valuable than that of philosopher for a literature application. 

Age can hurt.  Schools who have a reputation of taking people directly from undergrad will not have much interest in you if you apply when you're thirty.  There are exceptions to this rule, and I don't really like that it exists because I see value in someone who sticks it out and proves she can balance researching and teaching.  However, it is a reality, and it likely produced by the hiring market.  Some schools want that fresh PhD for an entry-level professorship who is only about thirty.  For that reason, schools will aim for a younger cohort.  The flipside of that is that an older applicant with more teaching experience might actually do better on the job market, especially at teaching colleges.  The rejoinder here is that someone who starts a PhD at thirty might end up ABD because of the salary sacrifice, but there are tons of ABDs anyway.   

 

Now that I think about all of this, I really wonder what's up with the job market for PhDs.  We always say, "it's terrible," or, "don't bother going to anything other than a top-ten school."  Well, a top-ten school might want someone from a top-ten program, but there are a lot of different colleges out there.  I've heard stories about fancy PhDs from Harvard and Columbia who don't know how to handle an interview at a teaching college, asking for TAs and such.  Their applications were thrown right in the trash.  This just goes to show you that showing a hiring committee that you can work with a variety of students has a place somewhere.  I've had profs from top-ten schools and profs from schools ranked around one-hundred on US News and World report.  Some teaching colleges will have tenured jobs, and others will only offer more limited contracts.  I believe in PhDs deserving full-time work, but the tenure or bust ultimatum is unsustainable. 

 

Well said!

I did wonder about my age being a factor in the admissions process. I think if it did that really sucks because if programs want diversity of experience, experience working in the real world and supporting yourself while juggling school and other priorities should have value (not saying younger folks don’t have this experience too, a lot of them do, but likely not with the same industries, etc.) Plus, I know for a fact my age has been helpful to me in my lit classes. A nice mix of experiences, including ages, should always be desirable, IMO. 

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38 minutes ago, kendalldinniene said:

I did wonder about my age being a factor in the admissions process. I think if it did that really sucks because if programs want diversity of experience, experience working in the real world and supporting yourself while juggling school and other priorities should have value (not saying younger folks don’t have this experience too, a lot of them do, but likely not with the same industries, etc.) Plus, I know for a fact my age has been helpful to me in my lit classes. A nice mix of experiences, including ages, should always be desirable, IMO. 

From what I gather, late-20's and early-30's really doesn't seem to be that uncommon. Granted I'm somewhat out of the loop of the American academic norms (as an international), but still, I noticed many people with a couple of MAs and/or other experiences among the graduate students listed on the programs I applied to, so these people are likely not in their early 20s (barring any Doogie Howsers). It's true that some programs prefer people straight from undergrad, but I would venture that this isn't necessarily due to age; considering that the time-difference between post-BA and post-MA can be as short as one year, age doesn't seem to me the determining factor here.

In any case, I think that you're right that being a bit older can also be a positive thing. If I self-reflect, I can honestly say that I'm much more prepared for and certain of this path now than I would have been a few years ago. Embrace your self-perceived anachronism! Revel in your ability to partake in Buzzfeed's incessant solipsistic mockery of gen-z (e.g. https://www.buzzfeed.com/daves4/millennial-versus-gen-z). 

Edited by beardedlady

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43 minutes ago, beardedlady said:

From what I gather, late-20's and early-30's really doesn't seem to be that uncommon. Granted I'm somewhat out of the loop of the American academic norms (as an international), but still, I noticed many people with a couple of MAs and/or other experiences among the graduate students listed on the programs I applied to, so these people are likely not in their early 20s (barring any Doogie Howsers). It's true that some programs prefer people straight from undergrad, but I would venture that this isn't necessarily due to age; considering that the time-difference between post-BA and post-MA can be as short as one year, age doesn't seem to me the determining factor here.

In any case, I think that you're right that being a bit older can also be a positive thing. If I self-reflect, I can honestly say that I'm much more prepared for and certain of this path now than I would have been a few years ago. Embrace your self-perceived anachronism! Revel in your ability to partake in Buzzfeed's incessant solipsistic mockery of gen-z (e.g. https://www.buzzfeed.com/daves4/millennial-versus-gen-z). 

🤣🤣🤣 thank you! Also pound sign *NSYNC for life!!!

Edited by kendalldinniene

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10 minutes ago, kendalldinniene said:

🤣🤣🤣 thank you! Also pound sign *NSYNC for life!!!

I was a Backstreet Boys girl. This is the end of the road for us, I fear. 

😋

Edited by beardedlady
Edit: also, sorry for hijacking this post with tomfoolery!

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18 minutes ago, beardedlady said:

I was a Backstreet Boys girl. This is the end of the road for us, I fear. 

😋

Haha! The most legit of rivalries us millennials ever know.

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