Jump to content

Recommended Posts

Okay, I have a few assorted questions that I thought I'd group together here.

I'm sure there have been threads on some of these things (actually, I'm positive about some of them), but as most of my questions are fairly specific I thought I'd start a new thread. New threads are more fun, anyway! :D

First and foremost, in terms of researching programs and finding a good fit, I'm realizing I'm increasingly drawn towards schools that have multiple professors in my major areas. That's a no-brainer. However, even when I do, say, find a program that has 9 rather than 4 or 5 professors I really find interesting, how do I really go about getting information on them? I know I can check into what research they've done and what courses they've taught in recent years, but how do I get a sense of how often they take on grad student advisees or whether they'd rather work with a more or less focused incoming student?

I'm guessing this information is, by its inherently individual nature, most likely only garnered through asking either current students or the faculty themselves. I guess I could take a look at dissertation topics/advisors from recent years, but other than that I don't really know where to look. Though I guess that's something we wouldn't necessarily know at this point in the game, huh?

Finally, what are your takes on honors theses? I was SUPER close to doing one this year, had started research my sophomore year, talked to professors about advising me, and finally decided I didn't want to. A professor advised me not to do it, as I'll qualify for honors without it, we have a capstone requirement anyway, and I'd just be taking on way too much along with my applications this fall. My thesis topic fell WAY outside the interests I'll be including on my SoP, anyway, (as well as the interests of the dept faculty) and it just felt a little irrelevant at this point in the game. I'm not really asking for advice as to whether I should have gone with it. What's done is done. I would be interested to see, however, what people on here think about honors theses. Are they, say, on par with conference presentations--nice to have but not really necessary in terms of the app as a whole?

Edited by bdon19
Link to post
Share on other sites

I think you've got it right when you say that you probably would need to contact people to find out about specific professors (their style of advising, what kinds of students they work with, whether or not they often work with grads, etc.). Find a current student or two, or even better, just ask faculty directly; it has the added bonus of making you memorable and engaged-looking when you apply. You'll probably have a better chance of getting a response, as well, when you ask more concrete questions like, "Hi, my name is so-and-so, and I'm interested in X school and in some of the work you do in particular. Do you work with many of the grad students doing work in Y area?"

If you narrow down your pool enough and some of your schools are within driving distance, you could also consider visiting in person. I did this with two of my schools the first time around (the round in which I got into my MA program). I don't think this is a must, mind you, and some schools are more open to applicant visits than others. (Some prefer to only have accepted students visit, and that's when most will help defray some of the costs.)

As to your CV question, I say go for it. I have a section at the end of my CV called "relevant work experience" where I list things like my freelance editing and my experience working for a publishing company.

I've never heard much talk about honors theses, though this could be because I was an MA-holding applicant this last application cycle. They probably fall into the category of "things that can be talked up as evidence of an aptitude for graduate-level study and the kind of research one does in graduate school, but that aren't absolutely crucial to getting in."

Edited by runonsentence
Link to post
Share on other sites

Some light e-stalking should get you the info you need re: potential advising. For basic details about the program, the prof in question, and their availability, it's probably best to go through them directly (just don't ask anything clearly stated on the website). If you want to find out what working with a particular person might be like, then yes, grad students would be the best option -- although I wouldn't expect much dirt. Of course use tact when contacting these people; don't write "Dear Dr. Octopus, will you advise me? x bdon19" and similarly, don't like ask a grad student to rate Dr. O's douchiness on a scale of 1 to 10 or something. Strike up a conversation about the program, shared interests, and then maybe ask the target prof how the advising process is handled. I found most students and profs I contacted to be quite forthcoming about the program, but it wasn't until campus visits that I got to hear some of the negatives.

Also, keep in mind that many of the superstar academics don't really advise and / or are unavailable for advising due to their arena-rock style engagements. And watch out for those who are close to retiring (or death) as well.

I had stuff on my CV that wasn't that pertinent to my major -- similar stuff to what you are considering. This seems common for the undergrad to grad shift, so unless it has no connection whatsoever, I'd put it on. I did read somewhere (I'm not sure where, but it was in a grad-prep book) that grad programs don't really expect undergrads to have much of a CV, so if it's filled with fluff, it's going to scream "desperate." That same text also suggested that once grad school begins, the CV should get wiped of anything remotely peripheral and should only document academic qualifications pertinent to your field.

If you can get honors without doing the thesis, that will save you a lot of trouble (I was under crazy pressure while writing mine). As long as the capstone has a research / thesis component that you can talk about in your applications; the only thing you'll be sacrificing is the ability to say "While conducting research for my honors thesis, I discovered that . . ." in your SOP. I played it up in my applications, but a thesis and an honors thesis aren't that different -- as long as you've done one or the other.

Edited by truckbasket
Link to post
Share on other sites

With regards to your first inquiry, I'm going to answer your question with a question. If there are two programs that have at least four professors you want to work with, barring something else, why aren't you applying to both programs anyway? Are there really that many programs that have 4 to 9 people you want to work with? Really evaluate what "finding a professor interesting" actually means and if it's really just "that random string of words that they put together on their faculty page sounds like fun," you might want to be a bit more critical about whether or not you actually want to count them as a professor you can work with. Things like whether or not a specific professor takes on a certain kind of grad student is information that you can glean once you get into a program--believe me, you'll run out of questions at those admitted students weekends rather quickly and these kinds of questions have much less of a chance of looking stalker-ish once you've been accepted. Chances are, even with "only" four professors that you can see yourself working with, at least one of them will be taking on grad students. Alternatively, if you do decide to ask grad students these questions, I would ask now, before the semester starts and (hopefully) before yet another wave of work washes over them.

With the C.V. stuff, I would agree with runonsentence's suggestion to create a "Related Work Experience" heading. I can't imagine that hurting your application at all.

And as for the honors thesis, I really have no opinion other than everyone I know who is in an English PhD program (including myself) did one and went about letting departments know about it in different ways. Some people used a chapter or some significant segment of it for their writing sample. I mentioned that I wrote one on my C.V. but only because I presented that work at a conference. My writing sample ended up being something completely different and unrelated to my honors thesis. Others didn't bother mentioning that they did one at all. Doing one doesn't hurt but not doing one doesn't seem to detract too much (if anything) either.

Link to post
Share on other sites

diehtc0ke, you bring up a good point. I haven't finished doing my research into professors of interest yet, which is why the numbers are skewed a bit high. In addition, I have two secondary fields of interest that I've been including in my list, as my SoP will be addressing those as well. I think that, with my particular interests, some professors that aren't necessarily in my field per se might end up being interested in my research, so I don't want to eliminate them from my list just yet. When narrowing down my list and eliminating those which had *only* four or five professors I might be interested in working with, my real criteria was which schools had the highest number of faculty in my top field as compared to the secondary ones. For instance, some schools might have had three or four who did really cool research on the development of the novel but focused on the 19th-c. rather than the 18th, which is my area, so I'm not as interested.

In any case, I think I am going to go with your advice on not seeming stalker-ish and e-mailing faculty with too many questions at this point. I will probably try and contact a few more current students about the programs I'm more iffy about (it definitely saved me the $65 for one school already), but as for the others I'm going to go with my gut instinct that they will be decent fits for me, though some more than others.

Regarding the honors thesis, I'm wondering (from what I've read around these boards) whether a lot of other schools have different sorts of requirements regarding them. They're definitely not required at my school, and nobody's done one in English for the past ten years or so. I had desperately wanted to do one starting sophomore year, but after a really eye-opening talk with a professor realized I probably would be doing it just for the prestige factor and not because it was something I really wanted to do. I really lacked the resources to do the proper research and decided my year would be best spent honing my skills (as well as my writing sample) and taking more independent study courses. Unfortunately, I don't actually do my capstone project until the spring, where we take a required seminar course, but I don't really feel like it will adversely affect my application. Really, I think it might help me to be less pressured!

Link to post
Share on other sites
Unfortunately, I don't actually do my capstone project until the spring, where we take a required seminar course, but I don't really feel like it will adversely affect my application. Really, I think it might help me to be less pressured!

As far as your capstone project goes, I would think it could be something worth mentioning briefly in an SoP, though only, of course, if it is very clearly related to your proposed area of graduate study and research OR would enable you to defend your ability to satisfy the rigors of graduate work. I say this predominantly due to your remarks about not writing a thesis, which is unfortunately something that a substantial number of applicants with whom you'll technically be in competition (a general term, I realize) will have written upon receiving their B.A. Some undergraduate schools require one, others offer the opportunity to write one (though with less of a daunting sense surrounding undertaking such a project); regardless of initial motivation, as far as I know it is pretty common for undergraduates to complete a thesis (whether written for departmental honors or not). **As usual, anyone that can refute this is encouraged to do so--I don't want to offer misconceived advice, but am pretty positive I'm not too inaccurate in my opinions on this.** IF the capstone project will end up involving a process like researching for a thesis paper, etc., it could possibly be useful given the lack of thesis.

Also, please don't take my comments regarding your choice not to write a thesis the wrong way. Most seniors in my English department last year didn't write one, and those that did were divided in how they felt about it after turning it in (in terms of how useful the entire endeavor seemed based on how plans for the future developed for each person). For you specifically, it seems that with the number of other achievements you get to list that are in the same vein as a thesis, your overall "application package" won't have some huge void due to not completing a thesis per se. I'd bet that less undergraduates write one than I probably would assume (and suggest in my above paragraph), and it's additionally worth remembering that if a thesis wasn't successful or accepted by a department and/or doesn't relate to the area of concentration an applicant states he or she wants to study in graduate school, having simply written one doesn't add much to an application or c.v. People that wrote a thesis only to have it receive a barely-passing final mark will probably not talk about the mere fact that they wrote one in any part of their application...I would assume...at least...

A tactic I've found pretty helpful so far while doing my own research into specific faculty members is looking each one up on JSTOR or MLA. Usually, particularly when he or she is slightly older and thus has had time to write a fair amount on his/her area and concentration, at least one essay will be available, though sometimes a search only gives reviews as results. If you're able to access the essay(s), definitely read whatever you can that's available. Just because a faculty member's area of specialized study appears to match yours doesn't necessarily mean that he or she would be the best person under whom to work and study. Perhaps theory comes into play and the argument(s) one faculty member proposes in every essay you find written by him/her is made through a critical lens with which you find fundamental flaws or otherwise don't see as a valuable perspective specifically concerning your own interests?

Such a decision could only be made by applicants with enough background in their fields to discern whether an idea posited by a faculty member (who on the surface seems like the perfect mentor whose guidance would only be beneficial) is one that both A. pervades his or her writing and thus way of approaching literature to some extent, and B. very obviously clashes with what they intend to pursue during graduate studies.

However, JSTOR is useful in a positive way, of course, when you come across an essay that confirms a certain faculty member's alignment with your own personal methods of analysis, interpretation, etc., in how it expresses an idea or argument that you find to be the epitome of everything you now believe in (or something to that effect).

Yay electronic databases...

Link to post
Share on other sites

I probably would be doing it just for the prestige factor and not because it was something I really wanted to do.

First, I think not deciding to do an honors thesis your sophomore year was probably smart. It would be an incredibly special student who would have the proper skills to pull off such a big project at that stage in her education.

Now, for my second question/comment, I'm not trying to sound mean or belittling, just honest. If you don't really want to do an honors thesis, why do you want to go to grad school? If spending a significant chunk of time researching, thinking about, writing a thesis--that is, eating, sleeping, and drinking a project--doesn't appeal to you, then grad school might not be for you. I often think that doing a thesis is a good thing because it gives an undergrad a little taste of what grad school is like. While an undergraduate honors thesis is in almost all cases nothing the same as a graduate project, it can give you the clearest idea of the kind of...let's say, elbow grease that will go into your graduate level work. If you really, really hate working on an undergrad thesis, then graduate work will probably destroy you. Anyway, what I'm getting at is that going into grad school (and academe generally) is like being a career artist or musician: if it's not something you desire completely, if it's not something you'd be working on in your spare time without any other reason than you loooooove it, you probably shouldn't do it. And that doesn't mean reading, it means researching and writing at a very deep (or high, or whatever) level.

Again, I'm not trying to be a jerk. You do sound like you're a very together applicant, and I'm sure you've thought about all of this ad nauseum. Your responses and comments are always thoughtful, smart, and reasonable. But if you still don't really want to do an honors thesis except for a prestige factor, rethink what grad school means to you.

If this is an issue of you still really wanting to do the thesis for the thesis' sake now, your senior year, but worrying you don't have enough time with applications and everything else... Well, there's no shame in putting off the applications a year and finishing your senior year sane and with a great piece of research under your belt. In fact, I'd counsel everyone on these boards who is trying to apply straight out of undergrad to consider the same. It will make for a better application and graduate experience in about 96% of cases.

Phew. Tough love over. Sorry, bdon, and everyone else I may have freaked out or offended.

Edited by Phil Sparrow
Link to post
Share on other sites
If this is an issue of you still really wanting to do the thesis for the thesis' sake now, your senior year, but worrying you don't have enough time with applications and everything else... Well, there's no shame in putting off the applications a year and finishing your senior year sane and with a great piece of research under your belt. In fact, I'd counsel everyone on these boards who is trying to apply straight out of undergrad to consider the same. It will make for a better application and graduate experience in about 96% of cases.

This is the best advice that will appear on this website. I began my senior year with the intention of applying to graduate programs that fall (had I applied successfully I'd be starting my first days at graduate school right about now). It took realizing (in mid-October) that I quite plainly was sure to get a bouquet of rejections if I went through with my original plan. The extra year I'm now taking in between undergraduate and (hopefully) graduate studies is THE BEST idea I could have had proposed to me last fall; my extremely thorough and comprehensive research and preparations this summer alone have shown me just how UNprepared I really was last year, and I'm relieved I saved myself a shower of rejections that would have been unnecessarily psychologically damaging and probably hurt my preparations for this upcoming round of applications.

Also, after lifting that weight off my back, I managed to earn the two highest GPAs of my undergrad "career" during the fall and spring semesters of my senior year. I wrote a thesis that won first place at a campus scholarship conference at which I presented it (and which I'm still expanding to incorporate the various material I didn't get to include the first time around, all of which I accumulated given the copious extra TIME I had to do really in-depth research and editing after postponing all the applications).

One way to look at it (which two or three of my professors mentioned to me as I struggled for a week or so to decide whether or not to take the year off they all recommended) is to think about the fact that as you submit applications while still a senior, you're working on getting all your app material ready while simultaneously taking a 3-5 class load each term, probably, and also possibly completing a thesis, and if you go to my undergrad school you're studying for the comprehensive exam every senior has to take within his or her major in order to graduate that tests everything covered in major-classes taken since freshmen year...yeah... But think about it. Who are the applicants with which you'll be competing for spots at graduate programs?

...Well, a significant portion of them will be post-undergraduate 22-24 year-olds who have had a year or two completely devoid of everything I just listed. Academic work will likely have been developed and pursued by many of the applicants that you'll be judged against during the time spent not in school when they all had time to work, sleep, AND do the academic studies that they WANT to do---not random elective coursework that they have no choice but to do.

You'll be so glad if you end up deciding to do this. And finally, what Phil Sparrow outlined regarding your first post about the honors thesis issue...that's pretty much what I was hoping to imply in my last post but see that I failed next to his simple explanation.

The truth is painful, especially for graduate school applicants. However, I think perhaps your feelings of not wanting to write a thesis might have been connected more with the subject you'd be studying rather than the actual research and writing processes themselves. I'm going solely off this statement you wrote in the original post:

My thesis topic fell WAY outside the interests I'll be including on my SoP, anyway, (as well as the interests of the dept faculty) and it just felt a little irrelevant at this point in the game.

I'm curious, though, as to why you couldn't change your topic at any point once you saw that the first subject you'd picked was no longer relevant or even worth researching... I'm not trying to accuse you of anything at all, and clearly I don't know where you go to school and what its policy is regarding theses work. I'm just surprised the faculty wouldn't allow any changes to be made after your sophomore year. My thesis endeavors didn't even commence until about the end of November my senior year (as in, that's when I found an advisor, who helped me narrow a topic when I sat down and said "Shakespeare. Yep.").

Link to post
Share on other sites

Now, for my second question/comment, I'm not trying to sound mean or belittling, just honest. If you don't really want to do an honors thesis, why do you want to go to grad school? If spending a significant chunk of time researching, thinking about, writing a thesis--that is, eating, sleeping, and drinking a project--doesn't appeal to you, then grad school might not be for you. I often think that doing a thesis is a good thing because it gives an undergrad a little taste of what grad school is like. While an undergraduate honors thesis is in almost all cases nothing the same as a graduate project, it can give you the clearest idea of the kind of...let's say, elbow grease that will go into your graduate level work. If you really, really hate working on an undergrad thesis, then graduate work will probably destroy you. Anyway, what I'm getting at is that going into grad school (and academe generally) is like being a career artist or musician: if it's not something you desire completely, if it's not something you'd be working on in your spare time without any other reason than you loooooove it, you probably shouldn't do it. And that doesn't mean reading, it means researching and writing at a very deep (or high, or whatever) level.

I hope I don't come across as overly defensive here, but I just want to make sure I've thoroughly explained my rationale (as at this point there is nothing anyone could do to talk me back into writing the thesis).

In terms of the thesis itself, it's definitely not that I can't stomach doing the work. I wasn't planning on writing this my sophomore year, but I did come up with the initial idea during a tutorial I took at the end of the year, during which I first started thinking about grad school. I stopped thinking about it for a while, then, after my tutorial's professor was replaced with a new TT professor, and I spent the year cultivating a relationship with her. By the spring, I was ready to approach the new professor with my project, and I spent spring break writing a project prospectus and getting my research together. I came into my meeting with her carrying two huge binders, an outline, and the prospectus. She sat me down, and said, "Bdon19, I want you to make me a promise. Put this stuff under your bed and don't think about it until after this year is over. You'll change your mind, I promise."

So, instead, I threw my efforts into ensuring, course-wise, that I was ready for grad school. I took three upper-level seminar courses in English, two in the primary areas I was considering as my sub-field. I did come out of the term satisfied that I had chosen the right primary and secondary sub-fields. Additionally, I revised a seminar paper I'd written the previous term and won a departmental award (the only one offered for critical essays) for said paper.

I have no doubt that I would have thoroughly enjoyed writing the honors thesis. Every so often I have a little pang of regret, thinking about the tons of research sitting around that hasn't yet been put to use. However, I still think my professor's advice is quite valid. My capstone seminar will require me to write a 40 page paper anyway, whereas, if I did the thesis, I'd have to write somewhere around 150 pages. Sure, that would be fabulous experience, but I just don't think it's necessary at this point in my education. I don't think any grad program will fault me for not writing a masters-level thesis, coming out of undergrad. NOT doing the thesis frees up my schedule to do a number of independent study courses, for which I'll be able to get exposure to some things I think will prepare me better for grad school than the thesis would. For instance, I haven't taken a theory course, as my department isn't very theory-oriented and a course hasn't been offered for over two years. I'm doing an independent study in theory this fall, which I think ultimately makes more sense.

Additionally, I guess I may not have been clear about what I mean by "prestige factor." Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure my professor actually used the phrase "pretension factor". At my school, the honors thesis really does nothing but qualify you for honors at graduation. Since I already qualify for honors in course, this will really do nothing for me. I'll still get my "magna" read off next to my name at graduation, and I'll just have the title of my capstone paper rather than my thesis listed under my name in the program at commencement.

I know I might be putting all my eggs in one basket applying to primarily top-20 PhD programs while still finishing up my undergrad. I'm not completely averse to taking a year off if this application cycle doesn't work in my favor, but I'd much rather give it a shot now and just wait and see what happens!

Sorry if I sound overly defensive! I do really appreciate your feedback, which is really why I asked in the first place. I don't know if, perhaps, it is just wishful thinking on my part that the honors thesis isn't necessary. It's so hard to tell where I'm going to fall compared to the rest of the applicant pool. I'm constantly going back and forth between thinking I'll be just fine to freaking out that I'm just kidding myself. This whole thing is really so rough! Thanks to everyone who provided me with constructive comments. I do really love GradCafe!

Link to post
Share on other sites

One last bit of advice that could be useful is perhaps to think about applying to M.A. programs at any of the schools in which you're interested that seem to place some sort of emphasis on undergraduate research. I doubt any will use the terms "thesis" or "honors thesis," but it's possible to read closely into something a school includes on its website that attempts to list things in which undergraduates (or applicants with just a B.A.) hoping to apply there should have already gained even without earning a master's degree yet and getting real graduate work experience.

My institution has only very recently begun to make real efforts toward strengthening its undergraduate research opportunities, but interestingly is already a school at which it is very easy both to pursue independent research and to find a faculty member who wants to mentor you during the research process (it would be more difficult to find a professor that didn't want to help). Interested students that actively attempt to set up their projects never have problems designing an appropriate independent study for a semester research paper/project, but the current problem is that little to no publicity exists that offers even the basic idea of an independent research study to students, which is the initial matter to be improved. Some students don't ever try to pursue undergraduate research simply because they aren't aware that they can. I'm helping my thesis advisor start to build a web page that will outline in detail every possible relevant issue/question/answer that goes along with undergraduate research ("What is JSTOR?" "What's the difference between APA and MLA?" "How and when do I use footnotes?" "Who are the major theorists that I need to look up if I'm interested in Marxist theory?", etc.).

I digress...for no reason...le sigh. Insomnia dissolves the barrier between the thoughts worthwhile to share after thinking them and the thoughts not interesting to anyone but one's self and better kept unspoken. My thoughts are all consequently acknowledged as uninteresting to everyone else but me, yet still vomited out uncontrollably into my computer for a reason I have yet to discern.

Anyway, bdon19, my essential point was lost somewhere in the fluff and haze I managed to stuff into this post. It basically is just the suggestion to try your best and figure out if any of the programs for which you're now planning to apply as a hopeful Ph.D. candidate make any subtle remark in their guidelines/advice/FAQ, etc., or silently establish an implication that its admitted applicants will be those with a very substantial background in research. If there are any like this (I would guess there'd be at least one), apply to that school's M.A. program instead.

One thing applicants for Ph.D. programs have to keep in mind is that the adcom is only going to admit people about whom there are literally NO doubts or hesitations, obviously primarily among the faculty. These schools can't afford to admit applicants that can't prove their preparedness for a multiple-year research endeavor (i.e., the dissertation). This is one reason getting a master's can really be beneficial in some cases; it is a pretty self-explanatory signifier that an applicant has been exposed to the work expected of Ph.D. candidates. Applicants only holding a B.A. and looking to enter Ph.D. programs have to try extra extra EXTRA hard to prove their capability to the adcoms and faculty.

Thus, I would assume that an applicant's ability to claim the completion of an undergraduate thesis is something that 1) means very different things for B.A.-holders coming from different schools. Some English departments, like yours, bdon19, demand 150 pages, while others give a range of 60-80 for a research project that at the end of the day will sound the same as the first school's project. Both are technically honors theses, both were completed as an undergraduate, both could even be focusing on the same period or area or theory or whatever. The adcoms at all graduate programs will not be reading the full version of either honors thesis, however; they'll read excerpts from each that total around the same number of pages.

BUT the applicant whose SoP or other application component describes the research it took to write 150 pages successfully will eventually be differentiated from the one whose 70-page honors thesis logistically just doesn't sit on the same plane as the longer project.

That all being said, bdon19, it sounds like your capstone project will involve some type of research itself...(?) So, despite that it's a shorter undertaking than an honors thesis would have been for you, the adcoms won't know that when they hear about the work you did do. Thus, if the capstone does entail significant research, talk about it in a way that doesn't reduce it to work that is just "similar" to the work done for a thesis. From your description offered to them, adcoms should consider your capstone project's research aspect as having required the same amount of mental effort and hours to complete as an honors thesis would (just don't use your school's criteria for an HT when explaining all of this, I suppose I'm saying).

If your capstone project won't lead to this idea being realistically useful, you'll definitely want to determine which programs offer M.A. funding and apply to those at the very least in addition to the Ph.D. programs to which you're planning on submitting applications. If it looks as though you aren't going to be able to claim any prominent undergraduate research work done at all, I would be wary of applying to Ph.D. programs. That "lack" in your application doesn't at all indicate your lesser capabilities or insufficient preparedness for an M.A. program, if not one for Ph.D. candidates as well; however, it does make the applicants that do describe undergraduate research in their applications, in addition to the applicants with their master's degrees, of course, appear to be more likely to succeed in their graduate studies (at least on paper).

This is probably inordinately confusing, for which I apologize; obviously I'm hoping for responses pointing out anything I've explained poorly or even stated fundamentally incorrectly. I only want to straighten out the inevitably tangled and thorny branches of this briar patch of a post....

Edited by ThePoorHangedFool
Link to post
Share on other sites

Regarding the honors thesis, I'm wondering (from what I've read around these boards) whether a lot of other schools have different sorts of requirements regarding them.

This is both an answer to your query as well as a question in itself -

At my school there was a difference between graduating with honors (being part of the honors program from day one as a freshman) and graduating specifically with honors ("departmental distinction") in English/whatever your major was. As a distinction candidate in English, one of the requirements was to EITHER i) write a thesis or ii) take a 6000-level proseminar/graduate level course with the PhD students. I opted to take the course (in which I got an A) due to the fact that I was already taking 15 hours of advanced-level, writing-intensive English and Poli Sci classes. I also knew the professor - I had taken him in undergrad - and the class (Modern Rhetorical Theory in case you're interested) was based almost entirely on discussion/participation with one short paper at the end (ironically, it was the least writing/research-intensive of all 6 classes I took that semester).

So no, at my undergrad institution, the thesis was not required.

As for the question, how do y'all think my choice to take a graduate-level class holds up to having a thesis? Keeping in mind that the professor who taught it will be writing one of my recommendations (and therefore will be able to directly comment on my ability to handle graduate-level work), do you think this holds up at all in the eyes of an adcomm to the experience gained from having written a thesis? Unfortunately, I have no interest in rhet/comp and therefore can't really use the class as a major factor in my SoP/research interests, though I plan to make use of it somehow.

I'm interested to hear both your thoughts on how this looks to an adcomm as well as whether any of the rest of you had this option as an undergrad.

Edited by clairecate
Link to post
Share on other sites
As for the question, how do y'all think my choice to take a graduate-level class holds up to having a thesis? Keeping in mind that the professor who taught it will be writing one of my recommendations (and therefore will be able to directly comment on my ability to handle graduate-level work), do you think this holds up at all in the eyes of an adcomm to the experience gained from having written a thesis? Unfortunately, I have no interest in rhet/comp and therefore can't really use the class as a major factor in my SoP/research interests, though I plan to make use of it somehow.

This is an interesting situation, primarily because you say the graduate-level course in which you did very well isn't what you're interested in pursuing once in grad school at all. I don't want to sound overly negative about this, but will nonetheless give you my opinion about how this could put you at a disadvantage.

Obviously adcoms want to admit applicants who they feel are most likely to succeed at their schools, and both previous graduate-level courses taken and substantial research experience gained (usually in relation to a thesis) as an undergraduate are ways for applicants to demonstrate their ability to go above and beyond standard expectations (though of course there are factors that create exceptions to how effective either thing will be in helping applicants impress adcoms, too many to go into here). You opted for the graduate-level course and did very well in it, but from your description it doesn't honestly sound like a course that reflects the work level of many courses in graduate school (I could very well be utterly mistaken about this, and realize that just as in undergraduate programs, there are classes in grad school of varying degrees of difficulty and work load in every department). Furthermore, you say that it was a class that isn't related to what you want to do as a higher-level student. That, to me, is the main reason the course might not stand out as much as it otherwise could.

Because you don't have a thesis behind you to talk about and use as a type of proof that you're able to complete more in-depth research and writing projects, I would advise making sure your writing sample(s) are very, very strong and, if a possibility, a shorter research paper that you did well on in a field-relevant class would be useful. Definitely make sure, as well, that you cover all areas when describing your experience in the graduate course you took. It will obviously be impressive to adcoms that you got an A in it, but you probably want to briefly explain the type of work you were required to do in it in your SoP. Best would be if you were able to talk about the class in a way that shows that despite your plan not to continue your studies in that subject or field, you still gained experience doing the same type of work you hope to do as a grad student focused in Literature studies.

Link to post
Share on other sites

However, even when I do, say, find a program that has 9 rather than 4 or 5 professors I really find interesting, how do I really go about getting information on them? I know I can check into what research they've done and what courses they've taught in recent years, but how do I get a sense of how often they take on grad student advisees or whether they'd rather work with a more or less focused incoming student?

In my program, it's understood that, with the exception of those nearing retirement, the profs all take grad students on, so students are essentially the ones who choose who they work with, and not vice versa. My program is pretty student-centered, so maybe this isn't the norm? (Though I hope it is!) I'd be interested in hearing others' experiences with this.

Finally, what are your takes on honors theses? Are they, say, on par with conference presentations--nice to have but not really necessary in terms of the app as a whole?

Just another opinion to add to the sea of them, but I think that your rationale for not doing a thesis (and for doing the capstone and theory-based independent study) makes a lot of sense. You've clearly thought a lot about the way you've structured your last year of undergrad work, and adcoms will appreciate that.

One more thing ... RE: PhD/MA dilemma: If your mentors are behind you, and you know you want to do a doctorate, then I say focus on kick-ass doctoral programs this time around just like you've planned. Sure, it's a gamble, but reapplying isn't the end of the world, and you can certainly consider MAs then. You're clearly focused and thoughtful, so don't let this anxiety-inducing process make you second guess yourself ;)

Link to post
Share on other sites

One more thing ... RE: PhD/MA dilemma: If your mentors are behind you, and you know you want to do a doctorate, then I say focus on kick-ass doctoral programs this time around just like you've planned. Sure, it's a gamble, but reapplying isn't the end of the world, and you can certainly consider MAs then. You're clearly focused and thoughtful, so don't let this anxiety-inducing process make you second guess yourself ;)

That's exactly what I'm doing. I think I'll apply to one M.A. program, so, if it were to happen that I didn't get accepted into any doctoral programs but did get into the M.A. program, I'll have an option of whether or not to do the M.A. or to just take the year off and re-apply.

P.S. Regarding my own previous question and a number of others that have come up in this thread and elsewhere, after taking nearly a week off of thinking about all this stuff (to get in some hardcore GRE prep), I'm thinking that maybe some of us (myself included--myself foremost, even!) spend too much time worrying about what we HAVEN'T done. Instead, I think maybe the focus should be on what kinds of things we have done that will impress adcoms. No two applicants are the same, and we have no way of knowing what might make us stand out. So let's focus on making ourselves shine, no matter what our shortcomings might be!

...I don't where this Little Miss Optimism attitude is coming from. Maybe from excessive caffeine. Or the fact that the GRE is two days away. Something like that. :blink:

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.