intextrovert Posted April 19, 2009 Share Posted April 19, 2009 Anyone read that Joan Didion essay "On Self-Respect"? Where she says that after she was not elected to Phi Beta Kappa, "I lost the conviction that lights would always turn green for me, the pleasant certainty that those rather passive virtues which had won me approval as a child automatically guaranteed me not only Phi Beta Kappa keys but happiness, honor, and the love of a good man"? Well, I did get elected to Phi Beta Kappa, but I had that moment last year after being rejected by nine English PhD programs (one, UT Austin, was the only one that was a waitlist and then rejection). I graduated from a prestigious liberal arts school at the top of my class in 2007, with a 3.82 overall/4.0 English major GPA, won some awards in English and for writing, was a peer tutor, studied French here and in Paris, wrote an honors thesis that won some awards at my college; as for the GRE, I have a 800V and 740M, 5.5AW, and 680 Lit Subject Test. I get the feeling - especially looking around this site, full of truly impressive candidates who nevertheless received a long line of straight rejections, often several years in a row - that a lot of PhD applicants are like me, used to excelling, and sort of floored when the doors don't open, despite feeling deserving. It is humbling, and discouraging, and sort of hard to figure out where to go next. But maybe it's not so bad to shed faith in "passive virtues," so I really want to be more active in the process this time. The problem is that information about what is actually required to gain admission is so nebulous - so I'm asking you all for help! I have a few theories about why I was unsuccessful last time, aside from the fact that the programs are unimaginably competitive. I would really appreciate anyone telling me which parts they think are right, which are wrong, which are good ideas, which are bad ideas, how to go about fixing those problems, whether I missed anything - anyone who knows anything about it! 1. I applied to only schools in the top 25 or so on the US News lists. One of my advisors told me that it's not really worth it to go through the whole process in a school that's not in the top tier, since the job market out of grad school is so absurd that you won't even be in the running for a tenure-track position if you didn't get your PhD from a truly top program. I'm barely able to think about job markets yet, but I just have that feeling that, though inexact, those rankings do have to correlate with quality, don't they? And I want to be inspired during grad school, work with the best! Nevertheless, I'm thinking of expanding a bit this year - dropping a few absolute-top programs and adding a few in the 30-range. Is this wise? What do you think of my prof's advice? Rankings? 2. I didn't make any contacts at the schools where I applied - just sent 'em off. I get the feeling that's a big mistake. Everyone now keeps saying, "make contacts! Make contacts!" But what kind of contact, exactly? I went to visit a few schools a few weeks ago, chatted with the profs I think I'd be interested in studying with. They were great, gave me info on the programs, etc. - but what else can I do? Did anyone actually establish ongoing contact? What did you talk/write about? I see faculty who have written some interesting things, but don't know what to say. "Hey, great article - I'm interested in the same things!" It just seems unnatural, and networking was never my forte. How do you do that? 3. My writing sample. Here's something I'm worried about: as I said, I went to a prestigious liberal arts school. I wrote an honors thesis that my profs were impressed with, but I'm realizing that even though I do mention a few scholars and allude to some theory, it's mostly just close reading. But that was really all my school emphasized - we had a theory course, but weren't really encouraged to incorporate that much of it. Now, I don't LIKE that. I'm fascinated by theory, and want to be engaged in the discourse. But that's part of what I want to get from grad school: knowledge of that stuff, how to use it, etc. With a few exceptions, I don't know the big dogs in my areas of interest. How much theory and knowledge of current scholars in your area do you think schools expect you to have? Is your writing sample well-immersed in the discourse, or more naked? Am I handicapped because my school didn't emphasize that? How can I research/fix that? 4. I had no idea how to write a statement of purpose. Along with my writing sample, I'm going to spend a lot of time on it this summer. But it's a similar question: how specific are you in what you want to study? Do you list scholars, faculty you want to work with? How many, and how in-depth? Do you write different ones for different programs? 5. I'm a Modernist. Interested in all of it, but have tended to focus on American in the work I've done. Am I wrong in thinking that this is one of the most competitive within an already competitive field? 6. I had no teaching experience. I know this probably doesn't matter that much - but do you think it is at all a plus that I've been teaching senior English this past year, and will be next year, at an academically rigorous private school? 7. My GRE Analytical Writing was a 5.5, not a 6.0. Does that matter to tippy-top programs? I know my verbal and math are fine, and I think 680 (91st percentile) in the Lit Subject Test is okay. But I never hear about AW, and I know most applicants have a 6.0. I've won awards for my writing, and I just hate those standardized things! I just want them to read my stuff to see if I can write, not listen to the GRE people. I get paranoid about that stuff, cutoffs and first-round eliminations and whatnot. Thank you all so much in advance - this is my first post, and it seems like a great group of people on this board. I really appreciate contact with people who know something about it all, or are at least in the same boat! Sorry for the egregious length of this post. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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
Already have an account? Sign in here.Sign In Now