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I studied English/Philosophy as a BA and just finished my first year as an English MA student and I keep hearing my MA thesis topic is very comp lit or even comparative religion?  Its almost not English at all (very French-German Critical Theory instead).

I'm thinking of applying to those programs instead of English for my Phd because I really like the theory emphasis and have met a few comparative lit professors who do exactly what I would love to do and more of an openness to theoretical theology. 

But I don't know what to do. Is it worthwhile to apply to both English and Comp Lit phd programs this December? And if so, which programs? My thesis advisor is strongly pushing a comp lit or die narrative now but the only problem is my languages.... suck (however,  am addressing that right now but arabic is killing me). Alternatively, my favourite professor seems scared of Comp Lit and wants me to stick with English. 

I'm really confused and struggling because I'm getting completely different mixed singles. I'm really, really having a hard time, especially during COVID, and its really weighing down on me,
not sure what I want to do...and feeling like everyone wants me to go their direction. 

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11 hours ago, antigone_ said:

Alternatively, my favourite professor seems scared of Comp Lit and wants me to stick with English. 

I don't think that your professor's wrong to be wary of sending you to a comp lit program, since job prospects for comp lit phds are actually even more dire than those for english phds these days. Most comp lit students, or those who manage to stay in academia anyway, do eventually end up in either national/regional literature departments or interdisciplinary departments, seeing as there just aren't any jobs in so-called pure comp lit departments now. Granted, this might make comp lit sound like a more versatile option — and it is, given the immense flexibility of most programs — but you must remember that there are other students trained specifically in these national/regional literatures or interdisciplinary fields, who are also competing for the same jobs. In this sense, while you may be afforded more leeway to explore and integrate studies of other disciplines in a comp lit program, you'll ultimately have to do some extra work before proceeding on to the job market (e.g. to perhaps specialize in fields other than your own, and to repackage your interests as a "marketable niche"/something that speaks closer to common disciplinary conventions). 

11 hours ago, antigone_ said:

I keep hearing my MA thesis topic is very comp lit or even comparative religion?  Its almost not English at all (very French-German Critical Theory instead).

I'm thinking of applying to those programs instead of English for my Phd because I really like the theory emphasis and have met a few comparative lit professors who do exactly what I would love to do and more of an openness to theoretical theology. 

That being said, with phd applications in mind, it might still be more prudent for you to apply to comp lit/interdisciplinary programs if you intend to focus on continental/critical theory. Because the admissions process is already so competitive, and because "fit" is such an important criteria to adcomms (not to mention that it might, in the future, determine how supportive your department is of your research),  you don’t want to place yourself at a disadvantage by applying to places where your interests aren’t the norm. Of course, if you can find faculty members in english programs whose interests suit your own, then by all means go for it. In fact, what I'd suggest is that you consider and apply to a range of programs, including those outside of english/comp lit. 

Edited by cruel optimism
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Can you say more about your language skills and their relevance to your research? I think you'll have a hard time getting into a more traditional comp lit program without a solid grounding in two languages other than English that are both relevant to your research. There are some less traditional programs though, that you could have a shot at (Duke Literature, for instance, doesn't really prioritize language skills to the best of my knowledge).

Also the comp lit job market sucks worse than most other fields, and most comp lit PhDs end up getting jobs in a national language/literature department (if they get jobs at all). So one way or another, you're going to have to make yourself marketable to such departments.

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I just went through the last cycle as a theory-heavy comp lit applicant, and what I'll say is that language is less of an emphasis for certain departments, while others REALLY want you to know your languages/literatures and don't care much about theory. Many English departments are having an anti-theory moment right now and a more traditional Critical Theory WS might not go well in those places. Columbia is an exception, but still the theory they are into aren't the traditional kind. If you want to continue your MA work it might make more sense to seek out theory departments that are disguised as comp lit/interdisciplinary studies departments. Duke literature comes to mind (though they are very Marxist and have the most dreadful interviews), and so does Emory comp lit (which is very continental thought and has a minimal language requirement). Chicago's Social Thought also comes to mind, and I've heard good things about Stanford MTL. As others have mentioned, though, if you want to stay in academia after graduation, traditional theory isn't having a great moment right now--there's a good reason why many comp lit departments are moving toward a national literature direction.

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clearly, much has already been said on these forums about how you might have to (re)position yourself in the job market should you choose to pursue a more theory-heavy comp lit/interdisciplinary studies track. but if you need some guiding questions to help you structure your plans as you proceed — as an phd applicant, student, and future job candidate — i think the supplemental section that stanford MTL requires of its applicants could be a good exercise to undertake, if only to help you figure out how you might align/"market" your interests in accordance to more traditional disciplinary conventions:

 281524265_Screenshot2020-05-26at4_42_45PM.thumb.png.d3d17d29a602021e0d97a19195c91403.png

 

5 hours ago, EM51413 said:

they are very Marxist and have the most dreadful interviews

and yes, do be prepared for interviews, especially if you're applying to (comp) lit departments!! if i'm not mistaken, some of the programs more focused on national languages/literatures will conduct a portion of their interviews in the applicants' non-english language(s) of choice — just to verify their language skills — so you might want to avoid those if you know your languages aren't up to par. then again, these are usually the more traditional programs, so you may not even be considering them in the first place.
also, yes, i can confirm that duke lit's interviews are often quite intimidating, and i count myself lucky that i only had to suffer through one round of such uh... intense grilling this year (the department sometimes conducts another round of interviews on campus). but pretty much everyone is subject to the same sort of questioning anyway, and the panel really just wants to help you dissect/refine/reconsider the scope/implications of your work, so it's not such a horrific experience if you treat it like a conference q&a. 

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  • 3 months later...
On 5/26/2020 at 4:23 AM, EM51413 said:

I just went through the last cycle as a theory-heavy comp lit applicant, and what I'll say is that language is less of an emphasis for certain departments, while others REALLY want you to know your languages/literatures and don't care much about theory. Many English departments are having an anti-theory moment right now and a more traditional Critical Theory WS might not go well in those places. Columbia is an exception, but still the theory they are into aren't the traditional kind. If you want to continue your MA work it might make more sense to seek out theory departments that are disguised as comp lit/interdisciplinary studies departments. Duke literature comes to mind (though they are very Marxist and have the most dreadful interviews), and so does Emory comp lit (which is very continental thought and has a minimal language requirement). Chicago's Social Thought also comes to mind, and I've heard good things about Stanford MTL. As others have mentioned, though, if you want to stay in academia after graduation, traditional theory isn't having a great moment right now--there's a good reason why many comp lit departments are moving toward a national literature direction.

@EM51413 would you mind listing a few more top-ranking colleges according to whether they focus more on language/literature or theory? or perhaps more easily/importantly... how does one figure out the historical and current leanings of each department? department website, faculty research, current grad student theses, ... are there other ways of truly uncovering the nature / flavour of a department?

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On 9/18/2020 at 2:50 PM, lilting said:

how does one figure out the historical and current leanings of each department? department website, faculty research, current grad student theses, ... are there other ways of truly uncovering the nature / flavour of a department?

Some departments might have a historical reputation but have undergone radical changes (the most obvious is Yale Comp Lit), so the current leaning is more relevant. Some departments (I won't name any specific ones) also have internal splits when it comes to methodology, so there might not be a unified stance on whether/which theory is favored.

One of the best ways to gauge things is to ask a current graduate student for the syllabus of the first year PhD proseminar (there usually is one) as well as current graduate course listings. You can get a good idea of what kind of research they're trying to get their students to do, and do with that info what you will.

Faculty research is a tough one because you need to figure out which faculty's research is most exemplary of the department, and sometimes seniority isn't a good indicator. Some (potentially very influential) scholars have been in their department for forever and their departments let them do their own thing even though the rest of the faculty have moved on, and in this case they're unlikely to recruit students who want to study with those senior faculty. See instead who's the most active (teaching, publishing, advising). Also note that academic rockstars are generally (but not always) suboptimal advisors...

Current grad student thesis is an okay indicator, but I've also met many grad students who figured out their interests late into the program and realized that their departments aren't the best for their interests, which means their theses aren't good reflections of the programs' strengths or preferences.

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