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Welcome to academia, the land of disillusion

Just poking in to say I can't imagine how enormously frustrating and sad this is for the fall 2020 applicants. If it's any consolation (not that there needs to be consolation) I think what programs ch

I wonder if it might be helpful to make a collectively edit-able spreadsheet, and then put that in a thread we can pin at the top of the forum...thoughts?

Hi everyone - I am new to gradcafe. I am considering applying this fall straight out of undergrad (I am currently a senior), but I've had a lot of misgivings about the whole procedure, so I thought I should try reaching out to other people going through roughly the same thing. I come from a fairly highly ranked albeit not widely known liberal arts college in NY and I have a GPA of around 3.9. I am taking an Independent Study course this semester to work on my honors thesis on Shelley, part of which I intend to send as my WS. The thing is, I literally spent the entire summer researching my topic (I read nearly all of the major critical studies that have been written on Shelley), studying for the GREs (in vain, it mostly seems, since most of the universities to which I intend to apply have suspended the requirement altogether), as well as researching Romanticists that could be potentially interested in working with someone like me. 

As a result, I only began writing my actual thesis this month, and I have already written 11 pages. I have a fairly good idea of what I want to write, but I've been getting easily distracted because I'm feeling increasingly demoralized. I am a strong writer and researcher, but I am just not sure whether my topic will appeal to most scholars out there. I am not super interested (only in terms of academics) in things like gender, coterie/reading culture, ecocriticism, queer etc., which by and large seem to be the norm nowadays in Romanticism studies. My thesis adopts a fairly traditional (I think?) approach of contextualizing Shelley within a wider intellectual milieu of European Romanticism, setting up a theoretical framework which discusses how Shelley's aesthetics converges with that of two other German Romantic thinkers, and then applying that framework to two/three (not sure yet) of his poems through close reading. I believe that this is (hopefully) a legitimate topic, but I am not sure how "popular" it would be nowadays among Romanticists. I have found a few Romanticists who are interested in philosophy and intersections between British and German Romanticism, but they seem to be an exception. I tried reaching out to two of them: one responded positively by saying that he would be happy to work with me were I to be admitted; the other one was extremely polite as well but said he is not as interested in Romanticism as he was in the past. This was a bit of a bummer, since I will be heavily relying on his work in my thesis, and his overall approach is very close to mine. I have also emailed two other professors who have written on Romanticism but whose interests do not match mine all that much - they haven't answered though (it's been almost a week now). I think I should hereafter refrain from emailing professors lest I annoy anyone or give the wrong impression (e.g. flattering them).

I guess this is a pretty long outline, but I would really appreciate it if someone else applying this year who is interested in Romanticism (or 19th cent. British lit, for that matter) shared their experience. Do you think my thesis, based on the above brief description, would be intriguing to academics nowadays? How important is it for applicants to closely "fit" professors' interests working in the same field as them? As I said, I've been having a lot of misgivings, and that is the reason I'm also applying to MAs (mostly in the UK). Thanks in advance.

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Just now, JaneLWH said:

My thesis adopts a fairly traditional (I think?) approach of contextualizing Shelley within a wider intellectual milieu of European Romanticism, setting up a theoretical framework which discusses how Shelley's aesthetics converges with that of two other German Romantic thinkers, and then applying that framework to two/three (not sure yet) of his poems through close reading. I believe that this is (hopefully) a legitimate topic, but I am not sure how "popular" it would be nowadays among Romanticists. I have found a few Romanticists who are interested in philosophy and intersections between British and German Romanticism, but they seem to be an exception.

How's your German? You might find more Germanists interested in this sort of a project than people in English departments. Alternatively, you might look at grad programs in English departments in Germany (typically taught in English) where the profs are more likely to have a solid background in German philosophy/literary history.

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Glasperlenspieler:

My German is not highly advanced. The thing is, my topic is not comparative, strictly speaking. I am just employing two German theorists to discuss a British writer. In fact, at first I was interested in Shelley's ideas about language and how these manifest themselves in his poetry, but while doing research I realized a lot has already been written about this. I then discovered there have been critics who have invoked German Romantics to discuss British Romanticism, so I thought of doing the same. The focus is strictly Shelley, not a discussion of parallel ideas. Still, I am somewhat worried about the topic. I am seriously considering postponing my applications till next year, or maybe just applying to MA programs this year. Besides, four universities I was interested in will not be accepting applications this year. I am thinking that if I can get into a good MA program I will have the chance to better flesh out my topic and be readier to apply for a PhD. I don't know...

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2 hours ago, JaneLWH said:

I guess this is a pretty long outline, but I would really appreciate it if someone else applying this year who is interested in Romanticism (or 19th cent. British lit, for that matter) shared their experience. Do you think my thesis, based on the above brief description, would be intriguing to academics nowadays? How important is it for applicants to closely "fit" professors' interests working in the same field as them? As I said, I've been having a lot of misgivings, and that is the reason I'm also applying to MAs (mostly in the UK). Thanks in advance.

I'm also applying for Romanticism + graduated with my MA this year. My interests are prose fiction and women writers, two understudied aspects of Romanticism, so I'm in a similar situation of struggling with the question of fit for my PhD applications. For my MA, I applied to schools with faculty who worked in Romanticism broadly + faculty who worked on religion and literature, which worked out because my search was limited by needing funding + wanting to stay on the East Coast. 

Fit (imo) is much less important at the MA level, especially since an MA thesis is a much smaller commitment than a doctoral disseration. From my own experience, the MA is a time to be broadly exposed to various fields, develop your reading and writing skills, and refine your research interests - rather than have the opportunity to intensely focus on your personal interest. A number of my classmates came in with one interest in one field and left with a different one. I think finding professors who work in your general areas and not get too caught up in making sure interests align exactly. You might look for professors who work with literature and philosophy in 18/19c, for example, even if they might not consider themselves Romanticists. You might also look for general Romanticists, even if they don't focus on philosophy or P Shelley. Also! Ask your professors (especially the professor advising your thesis, if they're a Romanticist) if they have recommendations on programs that might align with your research interests - they probably have a good idea of who works on what, where.

I don't know if this is helpful, and this advice is tailored for applying to the MA vs. PhD + in the US (I have no insight into the UK, sorry). I would, however, absolutely recommend doing an MA before the PhD - I grew so much as a scholar during my MA. Feel free to shoot me a PM if you want to commiserate about applying as a Romanticist / ask about my experiences in my MA / whatever. 

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4 hours ago, JaneLWH said:

As I said, I've been having a lot of misgivings, and that is the reason I'm also applying to MAs (mostly in the UK).

I don't know if you have already considered this, but I would strongly consider applying to Villanova's MA. We have two Romanticists in our department (Joe Drury, who mostly focuses on science/technology, sexuality, and the Gothic, and Evan Radcliffe, who focuses on politics (especially the French Revolution), revolutions, and philosophy), and both of them are wonderful. While neither of them are a perfect fit for you, I think studying with either/both of them could be beneficial to your project. There's also a few other profs who work with 18th/19th century British, Irish, and European lit, directly or indirectly. Echoing @sarahchristine, the MA is a great time to both expand upon your context and refine your particular interests. 

And, Villanova historically funds many of their English MA students, which is uncommon for MAs in the humanities. If Villanova doesn't seem interesting to you, here's a link to a spreadsheet listing funded English MAs in the US: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1XZ7ejtJETaRH7ufh2O1S21HOeTTy9EYgi7Z5vUHCRLI/edit#gid=0

Hope this is helpful. Feel free to PM if you have any questions about Villanova, or going right from undergrad into an MA program. 

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Just poking in to say I can't imagine how enormously frustrating and sad this is for the fall 2020 applicants. If it's any consolation (not that there needs to be consolation) I think what programs choose to do this season (whether they pause and why, how true or false words about closing admissions 'to support current graduate students' end up being) will be really ... telling. Telling for what it would like to be in that program, telling for the longevity of the humanities PhD, telling for the profession ...

There is also really no harm in taking a year out and working, if that would be possible. (Though I guess it's sort of like weighing up the choice to defer this year: there's no guarantee it will be better next year.) I worked for 2 years before applying and 1. professors mention my previous job all the time so clearly it's some kind of positive? 2. I really think the step back and gaining perspective was necessary, at least for me personally. Some go straight through (undergrad to PhD or UG, masters, PhD) and it works great for them, but I won't lie, most of the time, it really shows when someone has never been out of school as an adult before. (Sorry if that's a controversial view, don't mean to offend anyone—I just really genuinely think it can make you a better scholar and writer to step out of the academy for a minute, even if this year it may not be by choice for a lot of people.) Hang in there!

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1 hour ago, meghan_sparkle said:

I really think the step back and gaining perspective was necessary, at least for me personally. Some go straight through (undergrad to PhD or UG, masters, PhD) and it works great for them, but I won't lie, most of the time, it really shows when someone has never been out of school as an adult before.

I second this.

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