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Departments in transition?


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So my question is about Johns Hopkins' English program specifically, but I would appreciate any advice/relevant info. I got an email from the DGS there letting me know, for visit-scheduling purposes, that three faculty members (out of 12) are leaving after this year. That seems like quite a few people to lose, and also makes me wonder a little bit if there's some reason why they're leaving (though I know it could very well just be normal turnover + coincidence). I've asked some of my current profs about it and have gotten very mixed responses -- all have still recommended Hopkins very enthusiastically, but have also implied that this might be an uncomfortable transition time and that I should tread carefully in my decision-making and also ask lots and lots of questions.

What kinds of things do I ask, though? And how can I do that super tactfully, just in case there is something happening that I'm not aware of? Is this a normal thing for a department to be going through, or are my concerns legitimate? Has anyone had a similar experience?

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That message unnerved me. I won't be able to make it to visit weekend so I can't find out in person what's going on, but I'll be interested to see what you unearth. The professor I spoke with about it thought it was strange, but didn't have any insight.

If you take a look at the website, I also noticed that there seem to be only 2 second-year graduate students in the department--I'd be curious to figure out what happened there as well.

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Ask WHY those people are leaving. If they're retiring, that's one thing, but if they're leaving due to the atmosphere in the department, that is definitely something you want to know. And be sure to ask the graduate students as well as the profs, as they might be willing to be a bit more candid. There was a department I was interested in and a professor mentioned something similar to me about them being "in transition." I later found out that that meant two professors left -- and it was because of tensions in the department.

Another possibility is that there is a change in the availability of funding/grants: Are they changing the structure of their funding packages? Has the department's budget changed? (The last one I'd phrase more tactfully, of course). Also, if there are financial changes happening, how will that affect the future of the department? The program I mentioned above had additionally had budget issues, which caused tensions between them and the Graduate School. While they seem to be out of the woods for the moment, the fact that they'd been having such struggles meant that they had to admit fewer students this year -- all of which would certainly affect the graduate experience there, I would think.

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in the other direction, NYU's faculty seems to be on the rise (or so they say). they've increased their faculty significantly over the past few years, poaching Peter Nicholls (from Sussex), Lisa Gitelman (from Harvard), Thomas Augst (from University of Minnesota) among a few others.

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If you can't share I understand, and you may not even know, but any chance you could say which three are leaving? Just curious.

(aka I got rejected there and want to make myself feel better by saying "oh, my poi(s) are leaving, that's why")

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What kinds of things do I ask, though? And how can I do that super tactfully, just in case there is something happening that I'm not aware of?

Perhaps try asking if the department will be doing any hiring (or if it is currently?), especially senior hires (tenured profs). This is an absolutely valid question for any program, but the way they answer it may give you some idea of what kinds of changes are happening. Of course, if they are making some new hires, that might be a good sign. If not....well, it may be very difficult to decipher. Personally, I think it's good that they are being forthcoming with the information as I've heard of some programs that really guard that kind of news from prospectives and admits, which is kind of cruel.

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i've heard similar things about yale. i was admitted to the humanities center at hopkins and visited last week - really loved the program. there are incredible faculty members in that department, and in the germans & romance language depts. the humanities center is very interdisciplinary, so it encourages its students to use the resources of other departments and to work with faculty in other departments. i don't know if the hopkins english program is at all similar, but if so, there are some really amazing people at hopkins and you should consider them as well.

alas, i've decided to turn down hopkins, but best of luck to those who do attend.

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