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Puurple

For English Literature Applicants: How to define your research interests?

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Hey all,

This is something I am thinking deeply about. When I go to write my SoP / Personal Statement / document requiring me to specify my graduate school plans, I am having a semi-rough time putting into words what my research plan is. First off, I don't think I have a one-hundred percent idea of how my interests will evolve, but I have a base of different points to choose from. For application purposes, and to be a good candidate, how broad or narrow should I make my proposal?

Is it simply enough to indicate in my sample that I want to work in a certain area, and have a few goals to achieve through its study? Or should I have a focused, specific, and very direct choice of century and style? I would like to study Literature, for instance, that spans both the 19th, 20th, and 21st century of America and is more based upon theme, rather than time-period. Is this just as acceptable? Or am I lowering my overall application quality by lacking in specificity? Did some people "wing-it," or propose something that they knew they may not stick with if admitted? What is the resolution to this conundrum--should I just put out there what I want to do, even if it is very broad?

Im an English PhD applicant by the way.

Thank you.

 

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From my understanding of it, the statement of purpose serves as sort of a litmus test for an application committee to be able to determine if you can actually talk the talk. By this, I mean that it's important to be able to identify yourself as a scholar in how you would fit into a department as well as your scholarship in how a department could influence it. I'm also an applicant, and I wrote my current SoP with an emphasis on specific research goals in how they build upon my master's thesis. For reference, I'm interested in ecocriticism in 20th century American lit.

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8 hours ago, Hasspurple said:

Hey all,

This is something I am thinking deeply about. When I go to write my SoP / Personal Statement / document requiring me to specify my graduate school plans, I am having a semi-rough time putting into words what my research plan is. First off, I don't think I have a one-hundred percent idea of how my interests will evolve, but I have a base of different points to choose from. For application purposes, and to be a good candidate, how broad or narrow should I make my proposal?

Is it simply enough to indicate in my sample that I want to work in a certain area, and have a few goals to achieve through its study? Or should I have a focused, specific, and very direct choice of century and style? I would like to study Literature, for instance, that spans both the 19th, 20th, and 21st century of America and is more based upon theme, rather than time-period. Is this just as acceptable? Or am I lowering my overall application quality by lacking in specificity? Did some people "wing-it," or propose something that they knew they may not stick with if admitted? What is the resolution to this conundrum--should I just put out there what I want to do, even if it is very broad?

Im an English PhD applicant by the way.

Thank you.

 

I've emailed a few faculty members who have all encouraged me to be able to articulate which period I'm interested in, which approach I'm interested in, and what a few different future projects in this area might look like. You absolutely do not need to (and probably should not) have a research proposal for your dissertation lined up at this point; what's more important is that you are able to express a genuine interest in and commitment to (based on your past work) the period you've chosen.

My advice to you would be to choose 19th, 20th, or 21st-century American literature to talk about in your statement of purpose. You may well be able to write an eventual dissertation project that spans these periods, but departments are very much organized into centuries and they tend to group applicants into those centuries when evaluating applications, selecting one or two people from each period. Departments expect your interests to change as you take classes for the first couple years, so you are in no way held to the area you propose in your statement of purpose. Don't flat out lie, of course – they'll be able to spot this – but try to refine your interests to one period as best you can in your statement.

Edited by Indecisive Poet

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This is a very pressing question for me as well. I have a hunch about where my ultimate interests will land, but I'm not sure if articulating it is wise - in part because I feel it is presumptuous, knowing how far I have to go to really be well-read in these fields. 

What I do have is a defined time period (Romanticism), a set of theoretical and methodological approaches (aesthetics, philosophy, and cognitive studies/affect theory), and a life experience trajectory - essentially, I'm a fiction writer, and my interest in how symbols/universals/reference points are "constructed" within texts relates to my interest in analogies and metaphor/metonymy - and in the allegorical genre, though the major Romantics ostensibly swore it off for the most part. Where I'm struggling is with the last part - again, it feels so tentative knowing that I have many shelves' worth of dense theory to read before I'm fully up to date and can really join the conversation. 

My solution right now - though I'm certainly open to advice - is that I will frame my interests as questions, and sketch out a diss/project in an open-ended manner. 

Regarding time periods, I have a lot of sympathy for the thematic approach but the advice I receive is relentlessly to choose a time period. It's just how things are categorized within departments, and later you can expand your work to include other time periods. I know I plan to do so.

Edited by merry night wanderer

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7 hours ago, merry night wanderer said:

This is a very pressing question for me as well. I have a hunch about where my ultimate interests will land, but I'm not sure if articulating it is wise - in part because I feel it is presumptuous, knowing how far I have to go to really be well-read in these fields. 

What I do have is a defined time period (Romanticism), a set of theoretical and methodological approaches (aesthetics, philosophy, and cognitive studies/affect theory), and a life experience trajectory - essentially, I'm a fiction writer, and my interest in how symbols/universals/reference points are "constructed" within texts relates to my interest in analogies and metaphor/metonymy - and in the allegorical genre, though the major Romantics ostensibly swore it off for the most part. Where I'm struggling is with the last part - again, it feels so tentative knowing that I have many shelves' worth of dense theory to read before I'm fully up to date and can really join the conversation. 

My solution right now - though I'm certainly open to advice - is that I will frame my interests as questions, and sketch out a diss/project in an open-ended manner. 

Regarding time periods, I have a lot of sympathy for the thematic approach but the advice I receive is relentlessly to choose a time period. It's just how things are categorized within departments, and later you can expand your work to include other time periods. I know I plan to do so.

I'm doing applications now, and have decided to pick a topic that interests me and is definable within my designated field of English. I agree with you, and quite frankly I am open to all sorts of ideas in the long run if I become a grad student.

But, I am deciding to take a more definitive stand within my SOPs, and this includes specifying to the extent that admissions can see that I have a focus. I am trying to do it the best I can. I am not qualified in particular, but would say to you that open-ended questions can be just as good as anything else in my own opinion. I personally figure that all applicants have to compete and so forth, and who truly knows what a program is looking for. Go with what you think is right for you.

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