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Interested in applying for the Fall 2022 Application Cycle, but which degree?

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Hello, everyone.

I feel a bit frazzled, and I was wondering if I could seek your advice once more. I have received such incredible feedback from the forum users here. It's just been so nice having other people to talk to that are in my shoes.

I am a high school English teacher and adjunct professor. I do love my jobs, but I want to further my education. I actually got an acceptance letter to a university for a PhD in English. It was supposed to be partially funded, but I just received word this morning that I will actually be receiving no funding. They had to cut funding due to Covid. :( Of course, I don't want to attend if it's not going to be funded, so I rejected the offer.

I've been thinking a lot about what other users have told me about academia and the job market. I know getting a tenured job as a professor is a long-shot, but I still wish to further my education. I spoke to my supervisor of humanities at my school, as well as my professor at NYU, and they both said that perhaps I should think about getting my doctorate in English Education. Perhaps it will help me better service my high school and college students. 

I just feel so confused. I'm a little down in the dumps as well because of what happened with my funding offer, and I actually might not have a high school teaching job in September since my department is making cuts due to Covid. 

If it helps, here are my main goals: 

1. I would like to become more knowledgeable in literature, since my MA was in interdisciplinary humanities.

2. I want to research and make significant contributions to academia.

3. I don't mind teaching high school now, but in the future, when I'm older, I would like the chance to move up. 

What degree should I pursue? Please help me out. Thanks in advance.

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English Education degrees tend to be focused on administration issues, curriculum development, etc.  It's never really based on literature.

I'm wary of your phrasing that you want to "move up" when you are older.  That's not how the job market works.  The older you get, the LESS likely you are to find a job in higher ed as anything other than an adjunct or MAYBE a lecturer.


If I can be perfectly frank, having read several of your other threads, it doesn't seem as if you know WHY you want a PhD.  You know that you want one, but the reasoning is always a bit slippery, and you seem to actively resist committing to the degree (all the talk about online/part time PhDs earlier).


As such, my suggestion would be this:  Put doctoral work out of your head for a year or two.  During that time, apply to NEH programs for educators (see link for several examples).  These institutes would let you learn more about literature, interact with college faculty, and offer an opportunity to learn more about the entire process.  At that point, hopefully you would be in a better position to take the plunge one way or the other.  That's the best advice I can offer, actually--don't make a decision until you know 100 percent that you can commit 100 percent to whatever choice you make.  Back in 2008, I did one of these NEH institutes, and it made it SO clear to me that grad school was where I needed to be.  One of the other participants in that same NEH institute (now a good friend--which is another reason these are awesome) had an equally powerful reaction but for him, it fueled his passion for HS teaching even more.  




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This is a tough decision you're trying to make, and I'm sorry to hear about all the covid-related uncertainty in your professional life right now--that certainly doesn't make things easier. Just wanted to emphasize a couple things to give you some perspective on what you've identified as your main goals:

1) You can totally become "more knowledgeable in literature" outside of the academy. @Tybalt made a great suggestion with the NEH program, which seems like an excellent way to critically engage with literature separate from a graduate school environment. Good reading and scholarly thinking can happen in a lot of different settings, and if this was your only goal I would dissuade you from a graduate degree, which comes with all sorts of extra responsibilities that do not necessarily expand your knowledge of literature. Your location says you're in New York, which I'm taking to mean NYC--I'm confident there are a plethora of non-graduate school options for intellectual engagement that you would find exciting and fulfilling within a short distance of your home.

2) I think this is actually the goal that is the least clear. Are you just attracted to the activity of researching? Or do you have specific research interests that you want to pursue? Do you want to make "significant contributions" for the prestige, success, renown, etc.? Or is there something specific you feel you can bring to the discipline that needs to be considered? If you do have some more specific questions and ideas, it's possible that a graduate program in literature would be the best place to pursue those. However, if you are more generally interested in the practice of scholarship, I'm not sure a PhD program would be all that helpful. Like I said, there are a lot of extra responsibilities that you'll be expected to carry out in a PhD program that aren't just reading, thinking, and writing, and without a somewhat focused interest to pull you through, I'd be concerned that you'd struggle to stay motivated and engaged with things that are not significant contributions to academia, but are still an unavoidable part of a PhD program. You might have a different experience with an MA English program, and getting an MA would probably help you to find more focused interests (assuming, of course, that you don't already have them!). As currently stated, I do think that if this goal is really important to you, it would be best to pursue in an English MA.

3) As @Tybalt indicates, this is actually the most compelling case for not committing to the whole PhD process. When I was starting the process of applying to PhD programs, my undergraduate professors would not write my letters of recommendation until they felt sure I was fully aware that the traditional tenure-track position was the least likely outcome of a PhD. They wanted to make sure that I was applying to grad school not because I wanted to be an English professor, but because I was genuinely interested in and committed to the actual work required to complete a PhD program. Unfortunately, a PhD is by no means a ticket to teaching at the college level, and if you do love teaching, I'd encourage you to look for ways to further improve your teaching abilities that do not take 5-7 years, pay really poorly, and include a grueling application process. For this particular goal, I just don't think it's worth all the hassle (to put it kinda flippantly) of a PhD.

Hopefully, there's something in here that can give you a little more clarity about what you're actually looking to get out of furthering your education. I want to repeat that you can absolutely continue to think and learn about literature in really smart way without being in a PhD program, and just because a professor won't be grading your work, doesn't mean it's not valid and valuable! I'll also just add that, as I believe others have indicated on previous threads, a PhD is a big commitment, and you need to be willing to fully commit to it. If you start a PhD program with one foot in and one foot out, both your graduate work and teaching work will suffer, and you won't get the best of either experience. Sorry for all this writing--I do hope there's something in here that's helpful to you, and I hope you can avoid too much covid-related upheaval. Best of luck!

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Hi, everyone!

Apologies for the delay. It's been a hectic few days! :P I am so grateful for your help. To be honest, I think I will put the PhD on the back burner for now. In the meantime, I will focus my attention on becoming a stronger educator. I actually am thinking of getting a certificate in helping students with learning disabilities. :) Thank you so much for being so kind and patient with me! I am truly in great appreciation. 

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