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Dear 2015 Applicants, Here is What the 2014ers Learned This Year That Might Help You


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Great advice all around. This has probably been mentioned elsewhere (I've never really gone on/used GradCafe, at least the forums) but I'll mention it anyway, especially for current undergrads who are waiting to apply/on the fence:

 

Take at least a year off after graduation to do "something else," preferably outside of an academic environment. Again, your professors, advisers, parents, friends, other close contacts, etc will likely have told you this, but that extra year really does help. Take on projects, jobs, or hobbies outside of your intellectual fields of interest, or even something 'non-intellectual' - but still productive! - altogether. I spent last summer visiting family abroad before coming back home to work as a proofreader/editor for a pharmaceutical company, where I still am at the moment. (I probably got a bit lucky because I also have a science background, and that apparently made me 'appealing' to the recruiter who found me.) Proofreading is hardly a glorious job, but it's a good skill to have and the pay is decent. On a related note: saving money helps!

 

The most important aspect of this experience, however, has been getting to know not only people from all sorts of backgrounds - English/humanities, medical, legal, regulatory, business/marketing - but also the overall corporate structure. Even a glimpse of how the world outside of the academy really works can be 'enlightening' in both the positive and negative senses of the word. And I found that non-academic perspective to be very helpful in my approach to the application process: it made me a better communicator (face-to-face, on the phone, via e-mail, etc), exposed me to professionalism (and sometimes lack thereof) in the 'workplace,' and gave me more time to explore/read about fields/pursue activities outside of my personal interests. This proofreading job also convinced me, ironically, that I couldn't stay here forever, for logistical and personal reasons. 

 

As for applying to schools after senior year - it's still stressful, to be sure, but not as stressful as juggling applications with undergrad responsibilities. Keep close and regular contact with professors whom you want to write your rec letters (e-mail, call, or even drop by during office hours if you're still in the area). They'll understand.

 

Long story short: Take some time off for yourself after undergrad. It really helps.

 

Best of luck, fall 2014 applicants and beyond!

I have to weigh in here.

A. Probably doesn’t need to be said but here it is – take all advice with a grain of salt.  Shotgun advice misses and hits.

B. The year off advice is regurgitated a lot. Good intentions there (exploring the world of possibilities / getting experience) but don’t fool yourself. I’m from a city with a deflated economy; my peers, as awesome as they are, struggle to get local jobs with their humanities degree. Not everyone can afford the social and economic risks associated with relocating.

A year off is a luxury. If you can, do it – enjoy yourself. Read. Work. Swim, whatever. But don’t fool yourself thinking that a year off is something you ought to struggle through.  And don’t fool yourself that you should consider it “time for yourself”.

As a matter of fact, I think we should all be developing coping strategies for the stress and work load that we will eventually face.

So that’s my advice. Figure out how much you can take. Figure out how to take more. Don’t burn out.

 

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Take a list of questions with you.  There was a great thread on this back when I applied, and I took this and asked them of the DGS when meeting with her, grad students I met there, and some here with

I saw a thread like this on another section of GradCafe and thought it was a wonderful idea. Let’s leave some advice to help out all of the candidates next year as they suffer through the PhD applicat

I actually created an entirely new email address for my PhD applications so I wouldn't have to experience the stress of panicking with each new message. I highly recommend it.

I'm 22, a baby just coming out of undergrad, and I'm starting to get INCREDIBLY nervous about jumping straight into a Ph.D. program! I keep wondering whether I should have done a M.A. first or, even more, whether I should have done a gap-year like the advice in the above forum posts very smartly suggested, but I've made my decision and I have to deal with it, so now I'll try to justify it to myself and to you 2015ers who bravely want to do the same thing I'm embarking on! My professors all advised me with some words of wisdom and comfort about going straight on, so, 2015ers, I'll tell you why they (and hopefully me, eventually, once I get some confidence) think that moving straight on might not be such a bad idea for some people:

 

1. You're still in "school mode," so you might have more motivation to continue in that mindset, and you won't need to reset yourself once you're back in an academic setting.

 

2. The job market is bad in ANY and EVERY field, (I know, no shit, sherlock), so it might be more trouble than it's worth to find a temporary year-long job, and it might not even be financially the best thing in the grand scheme of your life. Especially if you have student loans, the chance to defer makes grad school the better potential option financially.

 

3. (1+2 were my professors, but this one's mine!) If you're dead serious about this, if you KNOW you want a Ph.D/M.A, why put off the inevitable? I know being an English professor is the only thing I'll ever wake up every day wanting to do, so, for me, doing a year of something else just wastes time and delays the life I want. Every minute I'm not reading or writing feels . . . like I'm not being ME.

 

TL;DR: If you feel burnt out, if you need more time to work on your applications, if you need to feel more sure that a graduate degree is what you want, take a year off! Heck, even if you think it would make you happy to travel or something before more school for no other reason than you feel like it, DO IT!!! But, if you're feeling like anything besides graduate school would be a waste of time, don't feel like you HAVE to take a year off simply because that's the best path for someone else. Now, for all I know I could be full of crap and an idiot for starting a program so young and admittedly from such a sheltered little life, but only time will tell if you should listen to my advice, dear 2015ers :P

Edited by rachelann1991
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  • 8 months later...

Hi All! I'm emerging from the fog of new motherhood to add to the wisdom in this thread. I know that some of you plan on having kids while in grad school. If you do, make that a priority when deciding among programs. Find out what each university offers its grad students for parental leave and talk to students with kids to learn more about the departmental culture surrounding families.

Some universities offer no guaranteed parental leave for grad students; others offer too little. For example, I believe UIUC only offers two weeks. At two weeks, I could barely walk around the block, breastfeeding wasn't established, and I was zombie. Even if you aren't giving birth or if you are adopting, two weeks just isn't enough time to figure out a routine (I use the term routine lightly since there is no real routine with infants, but there can be a solid routine between partners).

Now, if a university doesn't offer much or any leave, the department could be very welcoming and accommodating. The opposite is true too. That's why it's also important to talk to grad student parents. In my experience, they (I guess we!) are incredibly honest about their experiences.

When I was choosing my program, I asked all of these questions in large orientation meeting, to the DGS in small meetings, to my potential advisors, etc. No one revoked my offer or stopped trying to recruit me once they learned of my plans. The more grad students who ask these questions, the more programs have to face that their recruits are people who want and need accommodations. I'm so happy I did this because I ended up at a program that (partially because of policy, culture, and timing) gave me three months of parental leave. Plus, I rearranged my teaching load, so I don't have to teach until September. My independent study professor has three kids herself and is incredibly supportive, so I get to bring my daughter to our meetings. This means that we don't have to figure out childcare until the fall, and I don't lose my stipend, access to the library, or benefits. So, if you want to have ze babies while a grad student, definitely do your research while you're selecting a program!

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Great advice as always, Proflorax! As an older student with a wife and no kids, the "baby" question is always relevant. We have no specific plans in that regard at this point, but if I do get accepted somewhere, I will be sure to add this to my list of questions.

 

Speaking of "list of questions," what is the general post-acceptance process? Maybe this is the wrong thread to ask such a thing, but...do you typically email a bunch of questions to the DGS? Do you prepare a list of questions to discuss in person? I'm a little curious (and cart-before-horsing, I might add...)

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I've been lurking here for awhile but now the anxiety is just munching away at my intestines too much for me to stay on the sidelines any longer.

 

On the topic that Wyatt's Torch brought up about "post-acceptance process," is there a right way to respond to an acceptance e-mail? Beyond, thanks I'm excited? I just got accepted to MSU today and no word on funding yet and I honestly am not ready to force questions on the DGS or talk to other students right now. Is it totally inappropriate to say thanks, I need a moment to process and I likely will have questions later? (This is what a draft response e-mail says so far at least  ;) )

 

Also 1,000,000 apologies for asking this in probably the wrong place. I'm very very very ready to just be accepted, be rejected, and be out of limbo :D  as many of us are, of course!

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I've been lurking here for awhile but now the anxiety is just munching away at my intestines too much for me to stay on the sidelines any longer.

 

On the topic that Wyatt's Torch brought up about "post-acceptance process," is there a right way to respond to an acceptance e-mail? Beyond, thanks I'm excited? I just got accepted to MSU today and no word on funding yet and I honestly am not ready to force questions on the DGS or talk to other students right now. Is it totally inappropriate to say thanks, I need a moment to process and I likely will have questions later? (This is what a draft response e-mail says so far at least  ;) )

 

Also 1,000,000 apologies for asking this in probably the wrong place. I'm very very very ready to just be accepted, be rejected, and be out of limbo :D  as many of us are, of course!

I got the same email today. :) I responded by thanking them and letting them know that I would probably have questions down the road. Nothing elaborate, mostly just a quick confirmation so they knew I recieved the message and was excited to hear from them.

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Congrats on your acceptance  :) I'm glad to know that how I was thinking of responding is basically normal haha

 

I know I'm an English major (and a 28 y/o adult), I swear I have at least semi-good communication skills and I can understand, evaluate, and respond to the rhetorical situation as necessary, but there's something about e-mailing professors that always gets to me. During my MA program I used to have one of my fellow grads proof my e-mails for me (one time he actually caught a typo, so that was a good system). 

 

Anyway, I appreciate the help!

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Congrats on your acceptance  :) I'm glad to know that how I was thinking of responding is basically normal haha

 

I know I'm an English major (and a 28 y/o adult), I swear I have at least semi-good communication skills and I can understand, evaluate, and respond to the rhetorical situation as necessary, but there's something about e-mailing professors that always gets to me. During my MA program I used to have one of my fellow grads proof my e-mails for me (one time he actually caught a typo, so that was a good system). 

 

Anyway, I appreciate the help!

 

I had a professor make fun of me once for addressing all of my emails "Dear Professor..."

I don't even know what is appropriate anymore.

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I had a professor make fun of me once for addressing all of my emails "Dear Professor..."

I don't even know what is appropriate anymore.

 

I hope it was only a gentle mocking and nothing too serious! 

 

As someone who has received student e-mails with no initial address, no sign off/signature, and all sorts of weird stuff in the body, choosing "dear professor" has to be a reasonable way to start an email to a professor!

 

I have spent way too much time stressing about this as well though  :(

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Congrats on your acceptance  :) I'm glad to know that how I was thinking of responding is basically normal haha

 

I know I'm an English major (and a 28 y/o adult), I swear I have at least semi-good communication skills and I can understand, evaluate, and respond to the rhetorical situation as necessary, but there's something about e-mailing professors that always gets to me. During my MA program I used to have one of my fellow grads proof my e-mails for me (one time he actually caught a typo, so that was a good system). 

 

Anyway, I appreciate the help!

 

Tell me about it, I used to angst for days about how to write simple emails to my professors and lecturers -in fact, I still do, as my emails to my LORs bear embarrassing evidence of

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For all of us who have agonized over professor emails, this provided me at least some solace (or at least a good chuckle):

http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1047

 

Very true haha I've managed to whittle my time down from 1.3 days to about 45 minutes, so I think I'm making some progress there!

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  • 5 weeks later...

I actually created an entirely new email address for my PhD applications so I wouldn't have to experience the stress of panicking with each new message. I highly recommend it.

 

I should have said this months ago: thank you so, so much for this. This is one of the smartest tips I've gotten in this process.

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