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Where do I even begin? Fall 2012


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I got my English BA from UC Berkeley in 2009, with coursework heavily focused on Anglo-Saxon to late medieval British literature. I was a transfer student - I began at UC Santa Cruz, transferred to a community college, then completed 5 semesters at Cal.

I've got so many loose ends to tie up I don't even know where or how to begin my search for Fall 2012 degree programs!

The hanging threads:

1) I received an Incomplete-lapsed-to-F grade in one of my English courses. My professor didn't get the paperwork in before the Incomplete lapsed. I have been trying to work with her remotely -- I live in the Bay Area still, but I work a Monday through Friday 9-to-5 desk job -- with limited success. She only seems to get every other of my emails, and her response rate is very slow even when they do get through. This is not incongruous with my experience with her during the school year, but it is admittedly frustrating when attempting to straighten out a grade from spring 2008! In our email communications, she had expressed interest in working with me on this. My most recent 'contact' with her involved making it to her office after-hours and leaving an envelope full of directions, appropriate paperwork, and copies of coursework for her review. I've heard nothing since, and I confirmed with the Registrar that the grade is still Incomplete-lapsed-to-F. I found out via the department website that she's currently on leave. What now?!

2) The aforementioned professor is one of my best potential sources for an LoR. To be honest, I feel confident in the potential reviews from 2 of my professors, and reservedly content with 2 others. In other words, I can't afford not to have this professor write on my behalf. Assuming I can find a way to contact her, is there any etiquette-friendly way to approach her about this while she's on leave?

3) I have been out of school since spring 2009, working this desk job which has nothing whatsoever to do with my field. It's not a long time, I know, but I've done absolutely nothing in my field since leaving school. Is this something I should remedy somehow (I envision summer courses), or is it only expected? In other words, need I be doing something concrete, outside of applications, to bolster my appeal?

4) I'm uncertain whether my application will be strong enough to apply straight to the PhD, or if I should instead consider obtaining an MA first. My GPA is somewhere in the 3.2-3.5 range, on the higher end of that range in English, and the GRE is ~700V/550Q. No Lit GRE score as of yet. I have a strong candidate for a writing sample - my final paper from a graduate course with Professor O'Brien O'Keeffe. My SoP is a sweet nothing at the moment, but I have a very clear path of intent for my scholarship and this should translate (with plenty of editing and rewriting applied, naturally) and is corroborated by the writing sample. My hesitation is re: my GPA, my lack of experience in the field outside coursework, and having been a transfer student. Any thoughts?

I know everyone's in the thick of the dreadful waiting phase, and I wish you all the best of luck! I hope maybe taking a look at my profile will distract you a little. :)

I've been an outsider looking in on this process for several years now, and I think I'm certifiable to want to join you all on this road given everything I've seen. Nevertheless, here I am.

Any feedback is greatly appreciated!

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I got my English BA from UC Berkeley in 2009, with coursework heavily focused on Anglo-Saxon to late medieval British literature. I was a transfer student - I began at UC Santa Cruz, transferred to a community college, then completed 5 semesters at Cal.

I've got so many loose ends to tie up I don't even know where or how to begin my search for Fall 2012 degree programs!

The hanging threads:

1) I received an Incomplete-lapsed-to-F grade in one of my English courses. My professor didn't get the paperwork in before the Incomplete lapsed. I have been trying to work with her remotely -- I live in the Bay Area still, but I work a Monday through Friday 9-to-5 desk job -- with limited success. She only seems to get every other of my emails, and her response rate is very slow even when they do get through. This is not incongruous with my experience with her during the school year, but it is admittedly frustrating when attempting to straighten out a grade from spring 2008! In our email communications, she had expressed interest in working with me on this. My most recent 'contact' with her involved making it to her office after-hours and leaving an envelope full of directions, appropriate paperwork, and copies of coursework for her review. I've heard nothing since, and I confirmed with the Registrar that the grade is still Incomplete-lapsed-to-F. I found out via the department website that she's currently on leave. What now?!

2) The aforementioned professor is one of my best potential sources for an LoR. To be honest, I feel confident in the potential reviews from 2 of my professors, and reservedly content with 2 others. In other words, I can't afford not to have this professor write on my behalf. Assuming I can find a way to contact her, is there any etiquette-friendly way to approach her about this while she's on leave?

3) I have been out of school since spring 2009, working this desk job which has nothing whatsoever to do with my field. It's not a long time, I know, but I've done absolutely nothing in my field since leaving school. Is this something I should remedy somehow (I envision summer courses), or is it only expected? In other words, need I be doing something concrete, outside of applications, to bolster my appeal?

4) I'm uncertain whether my application will be strong enough to apply straight to the PhD, or if I should instead consider obtaining an MA first. My GPA is somewhere in the 3.2-3.5 range, on the higher end of that range in English, and the GRE is ~700V/550Q. No Lit GRE score as of yet. I have a strong candidate for a writing sample - my final paper from a graduate course with Professor O'Brien O'Keeffe. My SoP is a sweet nothing at the moment, but I have a very clear path of intent for my scholarship and this should translate (with plenty of editing and rewriting applied, naturally) and is corroborated by the writing sample. My hesitation is re: my GPA, my lack of experience in the field outside coursework, and having been a transfer student. Any thoughts?

I know everyone's in the thick of the dreadful waiting phase, and I wish you all the best of luck! I hope maybe taking a look at my profile will distract you a little. :)

I've been an outsider looking in on this process for several years now, and I think I'm certifiable to want to join you all on this road given everything I've seen. Nevertheless, here I am.

Any feedback is greatly appreciated!

Hello fellow Cal Bear! I also graduated from Berkeley's English dept. in 2009 :) The general wisdom seems to be that it is the SOP and writing sample that really get you into PhD programs. Having experience outside the field isn't necessary and GRE scores tend to not matter that much. I think if you have a great writing sample and can come up with a good list of programs to shoot for (keeping in mind that the process is very competitive and subjective, so you really want to base your list on where you fit with the research going on there), it is definitely worth applying.

And I feel your pain with the incomplete- Berkeley bureaucracy is the absolute worst. Have you tried talking to the department directly about getting the prof's on leave contact info or perhaps an L&S counselor that can help you mediate this? Best of luck!

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Here are my thoughts:

01. Contact the department and see what can be done, as well as the registrar's office. Let them know you have been emailing with little success and you are anticipating applying for graduate school and need the grade fixed. If the professor is on a leave, someone else should be able to help in some way. You will need to contact the school. I totally get the working 9-5 and not being able to do a lot during the day. Most offices open at 8 though, so see if you can get up a little early. If necessary, take a day off of work to go to the school to get things under control. I wouldn't recommend taking time off until you actually pinpoint what needs to be done - to see if that is even a necessary step.

02. Sometimes professor's read emails when on a leave. You could always ask her about that. However, she might be back from her leave in the fall. Find out how long she will be on leave to find out if it is even necessary to reach out to someone else. Keep in mind though, since she is slow to respond, to give her ample time. Open up all your apps right when the schools allow access and go ahead and send her the email alert for the recommendation, pending she agrees to write the LOR.

03. Many people go into the workforce after undergrad and then realize they want to go back to MA or PhD programs. I took 2.5 years off, worked in corporate America, and realized - NO MA'AM, NOT FOR ME! I found that about half of the people in my MA program have the same story. I do not think this will negatively impact your applications. A lot ask for work history - so it will show you haven't just been being lazy since graduation. You could also find a way to incorporate this into your SOP - but definitely do not spend too much time on it in the SOP - you will want to focus more on what you want to do as far as research goals.

04. I would probably recommend doing the MA track first. Or applying to a MA to PhD program. Most PhD programs want a 3.5 GPA or higher. It is possible to get in with lower GPA's of course, but you want to give yourself the best advantage. With only having a BA, it would probably be smart to enter to a MA program to gain the additional research experience as well as an opportunity to boost your GPA in the meantime. This is only my opinion, but I had a 3.1 coming out of my BA program and didn't feel as though I would have been a strong candidate with that GPA for a PhD program. I now have a 3.9 - and according to other posts on this board from responses people have gotten, your undergrad GPA will still be looked at, but I'm hoping the MA will help. Maybe you would want to consider a few PhD programs and MA programs. You can always contact schools to get a better perspective of what the idividual program wants. Some PhD programs indicate that if you do not have a MA then you will need to apply to MA first, others don't care and will accept BA into PhD program. It is very variable. Keep in mind there will always be applicants with BA's and MA's that have high GPA's in both. GPA is of course only a portion of the application - possible that as long as you meet the minimum criteria you will move to the next phase of review process.

So that's my input. Right, wrong...not sure. Just the advise that I can give based off of my experience, advice from professors, and advice from peers (on this board and in other MA programs). It's a lot to consider, but you will figure it out :)

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hopefulwoolfian: Go Bears! :D

I've seen the insistence that the SoP/writing sample are what make an application, but I'm afraid to believe it!

I also wonder if my specialty is a mitigating factor. Medieval literature seems to focus heavily on accomplishment with languages, particularly Latin, and though I have a decent start it's nothing to write home about. I'm aiming to take UToronto's MA Latin exam in the fall to prove I'm still up-to-date and that I've learned enough to be useful, but other than that I'm bone dry on ideas that don't break the bank.

I'm working on my list as we speak, and it's actually comprised of faculty members, not schools. I figure if I can read the scholarship and find the people whose work interests me most/is in line with what I want to work on, I can find the schools I want to go to and work from there. If that makes sense?

Berkeley bureaucracy has been a thorn in my side since I was first admitted and it's looking like it's embedded itself there. ;) I haven't tried working with the department directly yet, no, nor L&S. I was unsure if there was some unspoken agreement that leave is sacred, and I didn't want to step on any toes. That'll be my next stop, then!

Thanks for your advice. :)

lolopixie:

01. The main office really doesn't care - it's between me and the prof because it's a value issue rather than a technical one. She simply hasn't filed the replacement grade. I'm definitely going to follow a schedule similar to what you outline re: getting in contact with the office. My issue is less the time the office is open (gratefully, my job is flexible about start times) and more how long it takes once I get there; I've never had a visit last anything less than an hour, and that's without considering getting there and back. All the same, your advice is sound. Thanks!

02. Yes, yes and yes. Agreed! I don't know how long her leave is, either, so I may be concerned over nothing. Still, I'd like to give her AMPLE ample time to consider the LoR and the transcript fixing, so I'm a bit frenzied over the not knowing. Easy remedy - just ask.

03. This agrees with my instincts; thank you!

04. This also agrees with my instincts and the research I have done. American PhDs (the combined MA/PhD vs. the UK's MA then PhD) seem to muddy the waters with requirements and everyone is just so cagey about what they're looking for! I am doing research as I come across POI, so I suspect I'll answer the "will I, or won't I?" question of application myself in the end, but I am still curious about others' insights. So, again, thank you!

For what it's worth, I was considering doing an MA in Medieval Studies (particularly at UToronto) or Medieval Literature and then using that to bridge over to an English PhD. I don't think that's unusual in my field, getting an MA in the interdisciplinary and then moving to the "pure" subject, but I don't know all that much about the academic trajectory. My main hesitation about pursuing the MA independently is the common one: funding it.

--

Thank you both for your input!

Edited by saecla vincere
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As you wisely observed, this is a hideous time for many of us who have just gone through this process. It might be a good idea to bump your post again in a few weeks as most of us will be a little more out of the fog at that point and will be able to focus specifically on your situation. Although you might run into posts that denounce Grad Cafe as more of a source of confusion than anything, coming here early on will no doubt give you a leg up in relation to what to expect, and you'll quickly learn what you can take from the forums and what you can leave behind.

I could probably write a book about this process -- just on the stuff that I wish people had told me ahead of time. But my nerves are shot right now though, so I doubt I'd be of much use at this point. I might suggest that, if time and finances allow, you plan on spending Feb - April of 2012 getting and staying as drunk as possible.

One thing that I would say right off the bat, partially because I think I could have done a better job myself, is research the programs and the professors like crazy. Several of my apps didn't go much further than a few hours of browsing the website, surveying the kind of academics at the school, and getting a general sense of what the department is all about. As a result my tailoring wasn't as strong as it might have been, and as I've already been hit with a few rejections, I can look at them and think that the add comm's probably did a good job as somebody out there did more research as was more committed to that particular program. However, there were two or three where I really did the research work and pinpointed specifically why those places would be best for me. Consequently, I think this enthusiasm will be evident in my submissions, more-so than the ones that just got the brief overview.

This is a consuming and draining process. Make sure you are allowing yourself a considerable amount of time, and maybe set yourself a completion deadline of early Nov so you have some breathing space before the apps are actually due.

Good luck! You'll find a lot of wisdom and experience here!

TB

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truckbasket: Very sage advice. Thank you!

Researching departments is definitely something I'm spending my time on. My goal is to have a decent SoP draft ready to hand my potential LoR writers in September, and in order to do that I really need to know what my "P" is!

Thanks for the advice. Hang in there! I hope you're able to take your own advice re: spending Feb - April in the booze; anything to keep time moving. ;)

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Very glad to see this thread, as I will also be applying for the fall of '12.

truckbasket:

I really want to read that book! About the program research, what, specifically, should we look into beyond the faculty profiles and major faculty publications? I understand you guys are occupied with your own impending application results, and can post this question in its own thread (with other general advice-y questions for us noobs) later in the spring if you prefer.

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One thing that I would say right off the bat, partially because I think I could have done a better job myself, is research the programs and the professors like crazy. Several of my apps didn't go much further than a few hours of browsing the website, surveying the kind of academics at the school, and getting a general sense of what the department is all about. As a result my tailoring wasn't as strong as it might have been, and as I've already been hit with a few rejections, I can look at them and think that the add comm's probably did a good job as somebody out there did more research as was more committed to that particular program. However, there were two or three where I really did the research work and pinpointed specifically why those places would be best for me. Consequently, I think this enthusiasm will be evident in my submissions, more-so than the ones that just got the brief overview.

Google Books and/or Amazon's "preview" feature (or your university library, I suppose) are wonderful tools for this. So is Google Scholar, even if all you get are titles and/or abstracts -- that's more than the faculty webpage will offer, and often more than a CV will, if you're lucky enough to find one. I narrowed my list of schools and POIs based on CVs and descriptions of interests on faculty pages, and then skimmed their actual publications and took notes before I wrote each statement. It's not that you have to fully read each article or book -- I mostly just skimmed introductions and conclusions of books (depended on what was available), maybe doing the same with a particularly relevant chapter; and since I no longer have access to JSTOR, I wasn't able to burn too much time on articles.

If there are other fields that also deal with some of your interests, investigate their departments, too; see what type of official/unofficial cooperation among students and professors there might be.

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what, specifically, should we look into beyond the faculty profiles and major faculty publications?

Probably best respond to this later as I'm pretty scrambled; and I'm sure many of the more successful voices will speak up far more eloquently. One thing that I did was to talk to students, as well as faculty, to try and establish a sense of how the school wants to be seen within the field (ie. some schools cling to the traditional academe vibe, whereas other lean more toward a slicker, more dynamic approach). Trust me, the students will be quite forthcoming with the honest details (although they may be mixed), and most that I corresponded with provided me with some great insider tips. Combine that with trends and current discussions in your particular discipline, and you can potentially inject a rhetorical technique that you otherwise would not be able to employ. For example, one student told me that the department "were straight suckers for interdiscplinarity," and I was able to really emphasize that aspect of my presentation (I do interdisciplinary research). Again, I only did this with about three of my twelve apps, and I haven't heard back from those three yet.

Also, if you haven't seen it already, there's an "infamous" SOP on the Berkeley website from somebody applying for a history program. I'm not sure I would use it as any kind of model, but it's worth looking at simply because it is a fantastic piece of writing. The graduate division posted it for reference, but to be honest, I think it's more for departmental bragging rights than anything as that particular student is clearly very talented.

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