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2012 App Season Progress

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Hi! I'm new here, and was excited to find this forum! I just wrapped up an MA in English lit. and am now applying to English PhD programs for fall of 2012. I'm taking both the GRE and the lit. subject test in November--working full time, though, has made it a bit difficult to stay on a consistent study schedule. I was wondering if anyone had any advice/tricks that worked well for them? I'm averaging about 1-2 hours/day, but I'd like to up that a bit as the tests approach. I was also curious if anyone else was presenting at the PAMLA conference in CA in November--would be great to connect with folks before the conference begins. Thanks, and best of luck to everyone!

I just took the revised general test yesterday. I wouldn't waste my time studying obscure words because they really were not on there. I would focus on doing the actual questions in a verbal workbook or something of the sort. Expect in each verbal section (I had 3) 6 fill in the blank ranging from 1-3 word answer choices, followed by 5 reading comp questions (each passage really only having 1 maybe 2 questions on it), then 4 sentence equiv questions, and finally another set of 5 reading comp. Reading comp is a huge chunk on the general verbal.

Since you are taking both subject and general in November, I would recommend focusing more of your time on the subject test since that requires a lot more "knowledge" and less test prep skills. If you are studying 1-2 hours a night, I would focus about 1.5 on the subject and 30 minutes towards practice drills for the general. That is just my suggestion. I will be retaking the test in November. So close to the score I need, yet the scores were not good enough. I did have a VAST improvement from my last test, which makes me feel more confident...especially since I know what to expect. And do yourself a favor, look over the math practice so you aren't completely lost when it comes to those sections. I know those scores aren't important in the English field, but it will be helpful.

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so i've never been to a confrence, haven't been published, and have been out of school for a few years....definitely making me feel like what i'm applying with is inadequate.

Not necessarily. Though if you are a MA graduate, I'd be concerned about your lack of conferences/conference presentations. Applicants holding MA degrees are held to a higher standard than BA-only applicants, for obvious reasons: the former have had one to two years of graduate training and are expected to have a much more refined intellectual focus (though, to be honest, every successful applicant, BA or MA, has had a relatively narrow and refined focus).

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Not necessarily. Though if you are a MA graduate, I'd be concerned about your lack of conferences/conference presentations. Applicants holding MA degrees are held to a higher standard than BA-only applicants, for obvious reasons: the former have had one to two years of graduate training and are expected to have a much more refined intellectual focus (though, to be honest, every successful applicant, BA or MA, has had a relatively narrow and refined focus).

Does this ring true for international applicants applying with an MA, do you know? I've just finished my (one-year) UK MA, and whilst i've attended conferences, i haven't presented at any (and nor has anyone else i know!) I'm also the only person i'm aware of in the department (at least in my subfield) who's in the process of preparing papers for potential publication. I don't believe it's commonplace here in the UK for early-career researchers, i.e., MA students, to present at conferences and such as a matter of course. I would hope that if that were the case we'd have been made aware of it...

Maybe i'm deluded, i dunno.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that whereas a UK MA typically involves 7 months of study/coursework/classes and 3-4.5 (depending) months to write up the thesis, a US MA involves something like 8 or 9 months of study/coursework/classes, followed by a summer break (in which to prepare papers and present at conferences, maybe?), followed by 8 or 9 more months of coursework and then another summer of 3-4.5 months to write up the thesis. (is that right?)

I dunno.

But it's concerning that i may be expected to have done all this stuff that i hasn't even been on mine or anyone else's radar!

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Does this ring true for international applicants applying with an MA, do you know? I've just finished my (one-year) UK MA, and whilst i've attended conferences, i haven't presented at any (and nor has anyone else i know!) I'm also the only person i'm aware of in the department (at least in my subfield) who's in the process of preparing papers for potential publication. I don't believe it's commonplace here in the UK for early-career researchers, i.e., MA students, to present at conferences and such as a matter of course. I would hope that if that were the case we'd have been made aware of it...

Maybe i'm deluded, i dunno.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that whereas a UK MA typically involves 7 months of study/coursework/classes and 3-4.5 (depending) months to write up the thesis, a US MA involves something like 8 or 9 months of study/coursework/classes, followed by a summer break (in which to prepare papers and present at conferences, maybe?), followed by 8 or 9 more months of coursework and then another summer of 3-4.5 months to write up the thesis. (is that right?)

I dunno.

But it's concerning that i may be expected to have done all this stuff that i hasn't even been on mine or anyone else's radar!

You seem to be in good shape; I wouldn't be too worried. Attending conferences is good, as is having a potential publication. Remember that quality is always better than quantity (at least most of the time). Yes, there will be those extreme applicants with multiple conference papers and perhaps a publication or two who also have perfect grades, superb GRE scores, and LORs from top-line faculty. But these people are not the norm. I would imagine that admissions committees would be more concerned with how your MA program enriched and prepared you as a potential scholar than with how many conferences/presentations you have.

I also echo lolopixie's sentiments: you'll probably be held to the same standard as a domestic applicant.

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The ironic thing about having a "clear focus" is that no one expects you to stick to it. They just want to make sure that you know how to go about defining a focus--can you recognize viable research?

A PhD student in my program (who came in with a masters) recently switched from Medieval to Modernist--no one cared or really noticed. He just changed his orals list and is now working with different professors.

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Reached out to my profs for LORs today. I pretty much had them lined up since it is second round and they all just told me to email them when I was ready, but I actually felt like I was making more progress emailing them. :)

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Reached out to my profs for LORs today. I pretty much had them lined up since it is second round and they all just told me to email them when I was ready, but I actually felt like I was making more progress emailing them. :)

That is so funny that you say that because I met with one of my LORs Tuesday and one today to "officially" ask and talk to them about my plans, etc., so I feel like I'm making process.

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The ironic thing about having a "clear focus" is that no one expects you to stick to it. They just want to make sure that you know how to go about defining a focus--can you recognize viable research?

This is killing me. How focused is focused supposed to be? Focused as in mention specific authors/works/critics? Do we need to explicitly discuss a very specific research question(s) and our hypotheses regarding said question(s)? Because if that is the case, I'm screwed.

I have an extremely broad/general area of interest (feminist theory/crit) and I'm not entirely sure exactly what direction I want to take it in. I realize I need to lie and make up some sort of direction (because, as noted, no one will notice if I don't stick to it once admitted) but the problem then becomes....how much bullshitting do I need to do? Or is it ok to have one overarching interest with no specified time period and discuss multiple different directions I might possibly go in?

Ugh. I guess this is more of a question for my LOR writers since they're professors and all, but I'd like to hear what other people are doing/have done (successfully).

Also, I realize some of you are thinking that if I don't know EXACTLY what it is I want to do, then I shouldn't be applying to PhD programs. That is why I'm applying to a number of MA programs as well. I'm definitely learning towards the MA so I can get the focus I know I need - but they all seem to want very specific SOPs as well.

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Also, I realize some of you are thinking that if I don't know EXACTLY what it is I want to do, then I shouldn't be applying to PhD programs. That is why I'm applying to a number of MA programs as well. I'm definitely learning towards the MA so I can get the focus I know I need - but they all seem to want very specific SOPs as well.

First of, if right now, you aren't willing to commit to what you will write your dissertation on (in 2-4 years) it does not mean you are less focused or motivated. It just means you're more honest with yourself. The point is demonstrating the ability to articulate avenues of research and investigation. You shouldn't just list interests, but you also shouldn't have a thesis.

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I was given the advice that you want to be somewhat focused, but not so focused that you sound like you already have everything figured out and there is nothing that school can teach/offer you.

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I just took the revised general test yesterday. I wouldn't waste my time studying obscure words because they really were not on there. I would focus on doing the actual questions in a verbal workbook or something of the sort. Expect in each verbal section (I had 3) 6 fill in the blank ranging from 1-3 word answer choices, followed by 5 reading comp questions (each passage really only having 1 maybe 2 questions on it), then 4 sentence equiv questions, and finally another set of 5 reading comp. Reading comp is a huge chunk on the general verbal.

Thanks for this bit of info! I am taking the revised general in 14 hours and 21 minutes... but who's counting? B)

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I've talked to one of my potential LORs and she gave me the devastating statement: I can write you a LOR but you're school is really small, has no doctorate placement history, and your profs are nobodys. I'm going to a start-up university and only have two grad faculty to ask for LOR and went back to my undergrad prof to ask for a LOR and guidance, and she pretty much told me I'm screwed! I've been studying like mad for the gen GRE I'm taking next week, but I feel sooo hopeless. And apathetic. I can kiss my dreams of top tier programs goodbye...

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Yikes. I feel hopeless for a different reason. I've talked to all three of my LORs, but I am taking the GRE (for a third time) on Friday, and I'm afraid it will be my Achilles heel. For whatever reason, I just cannot seem to do well on this damn test! I have never been a good test taker, and I'm afraid that a low score will knock me out of the first round before anyone even looks at my complete application. On top of that, I woke up today with what I think may be an ear infection, and I take the test on Friday. FML

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I think the hardest part about the new GRE is that we won't be able to find out our scores until Nov. that is like a knife in my side. I always walk away from a test thinking I did one thing, and finding out I did differently. I've been doing verbal practice questions during the day and vocab flash cards, and then math questions at night. in one of my classes, i haven't even been reading the books or essays for class, i've just been faking it b/c i spend the day cramming all the GRE stuff in my head. This will be my third time taking it as well, and I'm praying to God that I don't blow it; my future may be riding on this stupid test, as well as my conferences and writing sample to get into doctorate programs... because my MA won't be worth the paper it's written on... tear...

as for the ear infection, i say go to the doc, tell him to pump you full of something that doesn't make you sleepy or hallucinate, and keep studying! hopefully in march/april, we'll all be able to look back on this and remember how hard we worked to make it happen.

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I'm not even wasting my time with the math. I really need to get my verbal up. And I've already told myself that if my ear is still hurting tomorrow morning, I'm canceling my classes (I teach) and going to the doctor!

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I've talked to one of my potential LORs and she gave me the devastating statement: I can write you a LOR but you're school is really small, has no doctorate placement history, and your profs are nobodys. I'm going to a start-up university and only have two grad faculty to ask for LOR and went back to my undergrad prof to ask for a LOR and guidance, and she pretty much told me I'm screwed! I've been studying like mad for the gen GRE I'm taking next week, but I feel sooo hopeless. And apathetic. I can kiss my dreams of top tier programs goodbye...

In meeting with the humanities division chair the other day about graduate school (who also serves as an English professor; I currently have her this term), I likewise received sobering advice. I kept on mentioning top-tier programs (Berkeley, Stanford, Cornell, etc); she kept on recommending middle-tier (but still respectable) programs. When I asked about Cornell, she said something along the lines of "I don't know if you'd ever get in there. Maybe."

My current institution has apparently placed students into great programs such as UC Irvine (which I would love to attend), but that information may be deceptive: only one person probably got into that school, and it was probably some time ago.

The division chair seemed confident enough in my abilities to encourage me to attend graduate school, but it looks as if I've been aiming too high! :wacko: Her advice coalesced with what some of you have heretofore stated: I should apply to one or two "top" schools, but I should more heavily weight my applications toward middle-tier programs and include at least one funded MA.

I'm fine with not attending an Ivy. UC Irvine and the like are still highly competitive and respectable programs. I realized long ago that my undergraduate university's reputation would be a hindrance rather than a help. But I'm confident that I can overcome that, at least to a degree. ^_^

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In meeting with the humanities division chair the other day about graduate school (who also serves as an English professor; I currently have her this term), I likewise received sobering advice. I kept on mentioning top-tier programs (Berkeley, Stanford, Cornell, etc); she kept on recommending middle-tier (but still respectable) programs. When I asked about Cornell, she said something along the lines of "I don't know if you'd ever get in there. Maybe."

My current institution has apparently placed students into great programs such as UC Irvine (which I would love to attend), but that information may be deceptive: only one person probably got into that school, and it was probably some time ago.

The division chair seemed confident enough in my abilities to encourage me to attend graduate school, but it looks as if I've been aiming too high! :wacko: Her advice coalesced with what some of you have heretofore stated: I should apply to one or two "top" schools, but I should more heavily weight my applications toward middle-tier programs and include at least one funded MA.

I'm fine with not attending an Ivy. UC Irvine and the like are still highly competitive and respectable programs. I realized long ago that my undergraduate university's reputation would be a hindrance rather than a help. But I'm confident that I can overcome that, at least to a degree. ^_^

I've been advised that generally, regardless of where you go as undergrad, that you should have a good spread of schools. I tried to even mine out so that I tried for a few top tier, but focused more on fit rather than rank.

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A real option, that sadly no one talks about, is transferring.

I've become close with a professor of mine who is guiding me through the app process. He has advised me to essentially avoid anything outside of the top 20 because otherwise the investment of time isn't worth it career-wise.

He explained his own path: after a masters at a mid-level school, he attended a top 40ish program. He quickly looked around and realized that in basically every school you can find the new hires are coming out of the top 20. There are enough PhDs coming out of the top 20s to fill every job in the country--and even if you can find anecdotal evidence of preference for non-top 20 schools, it's just anecdotal. It's not reality. So from his top 40ish program he put together a new app and got into Stanford.

The moral, as he put it: better to waste a year (or years) and finally emerge with a phd that means something than come out of a middling school and adjunct for the rest of your life.

Second moral: get to where you want to be! If your school has no cred or recognition, FINE, then trade up to a place that has some, and then trade up again. Get to where you should be!

Latte: If you are confident that you have the potential to be a major scholar than don't let your undergrad keep you out of a major school. And don't be seduced by thinking that fit matters more than the school. You will change significantly during your PhD and what your "fit" is will change too. Many of my profs who all went to top 20 programs have said that they didn't end working with the person they assumed (and wrote in their statement) they would.

Edited by WellSpring

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Two, I agree with your use of the word "deceptive" when describing the students who came before you... i just found out I'm actually going to be the second person to GRADUATE from our English MA program... and yes, my professors have said things like ,"don't waste your money applying, i didn't even apply to Ivy schools" and "you have to spread yourself out, you need to apply to less competitive programs" besides these comments being really discouraging, I wish they had been upfront when i stepped into their office saying, "hi, is this school a good fit? i want to get my MA and apply to doctorate programs, specifically top tier and fully funded programs." My problem is that my university doesn't have a reputation to be a hindrance. the lack of established rigor, placement history, and the fact my current professors are nobodys is what's killing me.

Wellspring, It has been suggested to me by several faculty members outside my program that I either transfer and quit this MA cold (i start my thesis in Jan) or finish this program and get out, worthless MA in hand, and go get a second MA from a better school to use to try and get into a top 20 doctorate program. It is hard to acknowledge the wasted time, and money, at this small and lackluster program, but I learned a lot: if they can't show you statistics on paper, don't believe a word they say. placement with out proof is lies!

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Haru,

I sympathize with your anxiety--I feel it too. But on the flip side, think of the time that could end up wasted if we get on the market with lackluster (or less than stellar) Phds. Are article submissions aren't read, we don't get interviews, major presses won't publish our monographs. That's wasted time.

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Haru,

I sympathize with your anxiety--I feel it too. But on the flip side, think of the time that could end up wasted if we get on the market with lackluster (or less than stellar) Phds. Are article submissions aren't read, we don't get interviews, major presses won't publish our monographs. That's wasted time.

Once again, WellSpring, we will just have to agree to disagree as I have heard nothing but the contrary to what you have said.

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A real option, that sadly no one talks about, is transferring.

I should have transferred to a certain school nearby (which I will not name, for sake of anonymity), which usually admits strong transfer students from my school. I'm positive that I would have gotten in had I considered the option earlier. I'm a junior now, though, and it seems foolish to transfer for only a few semesters. Plus, I've established relationships with some of my professors, and it would be difficult to do that all over again. I need letters of recommendation, haha.

I realize you are talking about transferring from a MA or PhD program, but I figured I'd offer some thoughts regarding my undergrad institution.

I've become close with a professor of mine who is guiding me through the app process. He has advised me to essentially avoid anything outside of the top 20 because otherwise the investment of time isn't worth it career-wise.

He explained his own path: after a masters at a mid-level school, he attended a top 40ish program. He quickly looked around and realized that in basically every school you can find the new hires are coming out of the top 20. There are enough PhDs coming out of the top 20s to fill every job in the country--and even if you can find anecdotal evidence of preference for non-top 20 schools, it's just anecdotal. It's not reality. So from his top 40ish program he put together a new app and got into Stanford.

I agree with you to a degree. I certainly won't waste my time applying to very low-ranked schools. I think "top-20 or bust" is a bit too reductive: UC Irvine is outside (though just barely) the "Top 20," and some of their graduates have gotten tenure-track positions at Ivy-league schools. Granted, I'm not hellbent on getting a position at a well-known university, let alone an Ivy. I can honestly say that I wish to pursue a PhD simply for the inherent value of so doing.

I'd say anything in the bottom half rank-wise, more or less, is a waste of time. I am personally limiting my applications to programs within the top 50 or so. I'm thinking like 1-2 top 20 programs, 4-5 #21-#50 programs, and one or two funded MA programs.

I realize that getting accepted at a program in the top 50 is still a monumentally difficult task. I feel like I am a strong enough student to at least have a good shot. If I don't get accepted, I'll just work for a year and apply the next round. ^_^

The moral, as he put it: better to waste a year (or years) and finally emerge with a phd that means something than come out of a middling school and adjunct for the rest of your life.

Second moral: get to where you want to be! If your school has no cred or recognition, FINE, then trade up to a place that has some, and then trade up again. Get to where you should be!

Latte: If you are confident that you have the potential to be a major scholar than don't let your undergrad keep you out of a major school. And don't be seduced by thinking that fit matters more than the school. You will change significantly during your PhD and what your "fit" is will change too. Many of my profs who all went to top 20 programs have said that they didn't end working with the person they assumed (and wrote in their statement) they would.

I disagree slightly. Fit is certainly important. But I do agree that the school you attend matters a great deal: the name follows you throughout your life. It is indeed possible to overcome one's background, but those people are usually "top-20" material to begin with, even if they didn't attend one of those programs. :P

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But I do agree that the school you attend matters a great deal: the name follows you throughout your life. It is indeed possible to overcome one's background, but those people are usually "top-20" material to begin with, even if they didn't attend one of those programs. :P

I agree with you on this statement, the problem is that I'd like to give myself a break; I'm tired of overcoming adversity and my back ground. I've been doing it all my life, and I really just need a break. I've been told by so many people I'm top twenty material, but at the end of the day, I really haven't accomplished anything worth writing home about.

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