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harpyemma

Limbo year, what to do?

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Hey all,

I may be jumping the gun, but nonetheless i am being realistic, particularly given one of my LORs has been incommunicado since October and has been on sick leave since late Nov, hence has not submitted, and my replacement LOR only submitted for three schools, even two of my applications incomplete.

So, i'm assuming i'm looking at five rejections... and i know i need to work on how to improve my chances for next year.

Here's me:

I did my BA (English) in the UK at one of the best places for English in the country, but it's not really known worldwide. I also did a year abroad at a very well-known and highly-regarded liberal arts college in the US. I graduated with First Class Honours.

I'm currently doing my MA (English and American Studies) at the second most highly-ranked postgrad English programme in the UK (different institution). However, it's not Oxbridge, and to be honest i don't think it's too well-known outside of the UK. It looks like i'll graduate with a Distinction (the system, for those not familiar, works on a Fail, Pass, Merit, Distinction basis).

I scored highly on my BA dissertation (looking at sadomasochism and feminist psychoanalysis) and will be doing an MA thesis, though the topic is as yet undecided...

My GRE scores are 720V 670Q 5.0AW.

My subject test is... abysmal: 36%ile. I don't especially want to take it again, because i'm still clingy to the vain hope that adcomms will recognise that the focus of my degree(s) has not been on the canon, and the test is pretty crap anyway. I know i probably ought to take it again, though.

I don't have any journal publications, but i've had a few articles published in my UG uni paper, and i'm in the process of submitting a couple of papers to vaguely "scholarly" magazines. I'm tempted to try for journals... but wary.

I have reading knowledge of French and Spanish, but nothing to prove this fact--only my testimony. Is it worth getting formal qualifications? Are there any internationally-recognised qualifications that would work? My writing is abysmal, but my comprehension is good.

My teaching finishes in May/June but i don't submit my thesis till the beginning of Sept.. What i'm trying to figure out is what to do between June (or Sept) and beyond, at least until apps are due in Dec/Jan. I want to improve my profile--temping as a bank clerk is unlikely to cut it. Any ideas (in a recession!)?

Oh, i should add, my research interests are fairly directed, but scattered--gender, sexuality, identity, disability studies, critical theory (esp. psychoanalysis), C20/21 poetry and the novel as regards all of the former interests.

Oh, and i'm looking at: UC Berkeley (Rhetoric); Stanford (MTL); UPenn, Chicago, Duke, Vanderbilt, maybe Toronto; Manchester, Cambridge, maybe York 

Any advice would be gratefully received!

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What to do in your off year . . . hang out with me after I get rejected? We'd drink tequila and eat ice cream, mostly . . .

Seriously though, read some Norton Anthologies to study up on the Subject (it'll increase chances of funding) and start conferencing seems like the best advice. And don't get down if you don't get in, it's a process and a shitty economy. Lots of brilliant people do not get in their first time out (several of my professors).

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I second the Norton thing, but also check out some other anthology series-- the subject test might like Norton, but variety of influences/sources won't hurt in your other stuff.

Overall I'd say:

-Read up on general English Lit Subject Test stuff

-Nose around your areas of interest, get more familiar with names, seminal works, important theories

-Make a list of books you "should read," but make sure to get around to some fun ones too

-Take a few months off, and then get an early start on next round-- watch the unis, keep your ear to the tracks for shifts in faculty, funding etc

-Work, or otherwise occupy your time in a manner conducive to money-gathering

-Remember that there is life outside of grad school, and there is a lot to be learned and gained outside of a department-- in some cases it's stuff that people who go straight from one degree to another will *not* get when they have "skipped over" some of that real world experience.

- Go into the next round ready to rally, knowing that you've had ample time to work on SOPS, writing samples, ideas, and your views on life/literature/everything.

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On 1/25/2011 at 3:38 PM, harpyemma said:

 UPenn, Chicago,

Those are all the toughest places to get into. Would you be willing to diversify your portfolio a bit? As in, apply to some places that are top 50 but not top 20? Definitely go for 'fit' rather than the prestige of the institution (sometimes the two may coincide, but sometimes not), and try to demonstrate your fit with the program in your SOP and writing sample. As others have suggested, it might be a good idea to re-take the Lit GRE. I studied primarily using the Princeton Review book and the Vade Mecum and Hapax Legomena websites, and I ended up with a pretty high score despite not having an undergrad major in English, so it can definitely be done even if your focus has not been on the canon. And maybe start the whole process early so that if a LOR writer does go missing, at least you'll have time to replace them. Conference presentations also look really good on a CV, and conferences are not hard to get into -- you can just use the papers you've written for your classes and/or your thesis chapters for conferencing. Good luck! :)

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I'm applying to my MA institution to teach Freshman composition full-time (which I have been doing part-time during my stay here), and that will at least keep me within the academy. In addition to that, I plan on going to as many conferences as possible and hoping to get another reputable publication before the next application round deadline. Considering your areas of interest, how committed to English programs are you? Duke's Literature program is stellar and Brown's Modern Media and Culture program equally so. There are a lot of inter-disciplinary programs out there (including Cultural Studies programs) that obviously do not require the English subject test and would seemingly be able to facilitate your areas of interest--especially if you're centrally invested in theory and cultural practice. Good luck to you next time around!

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Those are all the toughest places to get into. Would you be willing to diversify your portfolio a bit? As in, apply to some places that are top 50 but not top 20? Definitely go for 'fit' rather than the prestige of the institution (sometimes the two may coincide, but sometimes not), and try to demonstrate your fit with the program in your SOP and writing sample. As others have suggested, it might be a good idea to re-take the Lit GRE. I studied primarily using the Princeton Review book and the Vade Mecum and Hapax Legomena websites, and I ended up with a pretty high score despite not having an undergrad major in English, so it can definitely be done even if your focus has not been on the canon. And maybe start the whole process early so that if a LOR writer does go missing, at least you'll have time to replace them. Conference presentations also look really good on a CV, and conferences are not hard to get into -- you can just use the papers you've written for your classes and/or your thesis chapters for conferencing. Good luck! :)

Ditto the websites recommended above. That's all I really used to study, plus I skimmed through the Norton Anthology of English Lit. It opened up a lot more schools on my list that I could apply to.

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First of all, sorry you didn't have any success with this year's applications, but glad to see that your'e looking forward to next year's round!

Those are all the toughest places to get into. Would you be willing to diversify your portfolio a bit? As in, apply to some places that are top 50 but not top 20? Definitely go for 'fit' rather than the prestige of the institution (sometimes the two may coincide, but sometimes not), and try to demonstrate your fit with the program in your SOP and writing sample.

I can't echo this enough. I have to admit my eyes bugged a bit looking at your list. :) Really great schools—also, really hard to get into! To give yourself a better chance at an acceptance, I'd suggest you spread your application pool evenly along three tiers (almost all of those schools are Tier I). Ditto on going for "fit." Sure it'd be awesome to be at Harvard, but you might find that it's equally awesome to be at a program that is doing exactly the kind of work you want to do and begs you to come work with them!

One of my mentors told me, unequivocally, that the way you get into a PhD program is to demonstrate fit with the department. Why do you need to do your PhD at X school? Why is X school the best possible place for you to be doing your research? These are the questions that adcom will have after reading a strong application, and if your SOP answers them, then by george, you're in!

It sounds like you have a fairly strong background. You did well as an undergrad, you're doing well as a master's student, you're doing a thesis (which you can really play up—PhD programs love to see an MA student already familiar with that process), and you have some teaching experience and some identifiable research interests to articulate. I'm sure that if you find some programs that are a really great fit and diversify your application pool, you'll have some acceptances in hand next year.

Conference presentations also look really good on a CV, and conferences are not hard to get into -- you can just use the papers you've written for your classes and/or your thesis chapters for conferencing.

Ditto, ditto, ditto! Do you have any presentations on your CV yet? If not, you NEED to do this. The chair of my department once told one of my friends, when he asked about the importance of presenting at conferences as a master's student, that "you may as well not bother applying to PhDs" if you don't have any presentations. Presentations are also a good goal to pursue before trying for publication. The feedback you get at a conference can also help shape a stronger project.

Conferences seem really frightening at first, but they're such a great experience. (I sometimes even use CFPs as an endgoal, as a way of finding a focus or idea for a seminar paper.) Papers needn't be long, either—in fact, you'll want no more than 8 pages worth of material in order to keep within your allotted timeframe.

Edited by runonsentence

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Conferences seem really frightening at first, but they're such a great experience. (I sometimes even use CFPs as an endgoal, as a way of finding a focus or idea for a seminar paper.) Papers needn't be long, either—in fact, you'll want no more than 8 pages worth of material in order to keep within your allotted timeframe.

I just wanted to add on to this that I also LOVE conferences. Even if you don't get any useful feedback, the act of cutting a paper/chapter down to presentation length is a really good way to figure out what is/is not important in your argument. Cutting a paper/chapter down for a conference is a great way to start the revision process.

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