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American Studies v. English Literature


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I'm not quite sure how to articulate this without sounded sacrilegious.

As an undergraduate, I studied English literature and philosophy. As you fellow literature and philosophy buffs know, it was a terrific and fruitful experience! Still, I am a bit torn about graduate school. During my undergraduate years, I presupposed that whichever subject(s) I chose to study, I would still go to graduate school. With that in mind, and before I truly developed an academic passion for my subjects, the simple logic was to immerse myself in the humanities as an undergraduate before I go on to graduate school to study something outside of the humanities. It was inevitable, though, that I would reach a point in academia where I may have to part with either English and (or) philosophy as I make my way into graduate school.

I applied to several graduate schools over the course of my last year as an undergraduate, and I am fortunate to say that I was accepted into all of them. I have spent more than enough time narrowing my decision, but I am still having some trouble finalizing it. My three choices include: English literature, American studies, or (the contrary) management of technology and engineering. Since I am posting in the humanities section, I wouldn't be surprise to receive an overwhelming amount of feedback that is devoid of the last option; however, I think it's something to seriously consider. As I said before, I'm uncertain about abandoning my study of literature, and I have also considered becoming a professor of literature or philosophy as a career. Yet, if I ultimately decide to not earn my PhD, I do not know which degree (English or American studies) can be more marketable. After all, both subjects are very similar, and I will be honing in on similar skills with each. It is that logic that leads me to believe that both degrees are practically synonymous.

I suppose I need to be less ambiguous when I use the word 'marketable' before one can adequately respond to that question. I have an array of career interests, ranging from book publishing, public service, governmental sects, business, etc. I know that each degree will be able to point me in those directions, but which one do you think will be a better fit for my career alternatives to academia? If they are one in the same, should I simply just go to (a) the university that is the most affordable, or (B) the university that can provide me with better networking and connections?

For the record, I applied to a management of technology and engineering program because technology and computers have always been a hobby of mine, and I strongly believe that it has the potential to transcend into a career. I think we can objectively agree that this program, a division of business management and engineering courses, is one that can provide me with great career and financial security. A number of publications have rated this field among the top career choices regardless of any economic status, in point of fact.

Thank you for reading this post. I'm sure I have blogged on the topic superfluously. I have reached the point where I need to finalize a decision very soon. I would rather not spend the rest of my summer fretting over graduate school. Any advice would be much appreciated.

Thank you!

Albert

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I would gravitate towards technology. Your English background is superb for the development scene because often people in technology lack that foundation and their products suffer because of it. I can only imagine how much better a certain operating system would be if error messages actually were written in English instead of geek speak. There are many more examples of this, and your background in this is definitely marketable as I see it.

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I'd agree with Jaxie. I would kill for a more marketable skill than the ability to study and teach literature (I love it, but still).

You can always continue to study lit in your own time, and maybe your grad program would even let you sit in on a class or two.

If the tech route has great career opportunities etc while the phd is seriously a crapshoot.. as long as you could be happy doing either thing, I'd say youd be crazy to forfeit the option that actually has jobs and growth rather than the one that is such a crapshoot.

plus, if it's any consolation, literature at the grad level is a completely different horse than undergrad.. its possible you might not even like it.

good luck

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Another vote for the technology degree.

If you do go for the humanities degree (assuming that both choices are funded--if not, there's your decision made for you) an English degree likely be more marketable within the academy, simply because there are many more English classes and English departments than there are American studies classes and departments. Interdisciplinary degrees and degrees that end in 'studies' may have great teaching and research models, but that doesn't necessarily translate into good fits with traditional programs, or the appearance of that fit to search committees.

But seriously, get the technology degree.

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While tech is more marketable, you have to go with what you love. (Then again, many people love living above the poverty line more than they love English Lit., so whatchagonnado!) I could not imagine putting the kind of time and energy that I do now into a subject I wasn't absolutely obsessed with. Without passion, you're likely to burn out halfway through (possibly incurring a large chunk of debt, or at least missing out on the opportunity to make some real money, along the way).

As for American Studies degrees, be careful. Race and gender studies markets are flooded with scholars, and the R1s just keep cranking out these degrees, in order to fill grad courses and exploit cheap teaching labor. (Although I have no idea what you want to study, at my institution AS is code for "colored folk" or "womenfolk," so I feel this piece of advice may indeed be helpful.) If you're not into ethnic/racial/sexual/gender studies, I'm not sure why you wouldn't go for the more specialized degree in English. The days of being able to consider yourself a generalist in academe are long gone. You will certainly be at a disadvantage if you are applying to English departments with an AS degree, if all of your competitors have degrees that are specific to the discipline.

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If you're not into ethnic/racial/sexual/gender studies, I'm not sure why you wouldn't go for the more specialized degree in English. The days of being able to consider yourself a generalist in academe are long gone. You will certainly be at a disadvantage if you are applying to English departments with an AS degree, if all of your competitors have degrees that are specific to the discipline.

I wonder if that's true though, I mean, if there is a push within the humanities for greater interdisciplinarity (which I think there is, at least to some degree), then doesn't choosing a focus within a program that allows you to cross boundaries (literary and cultural, visual culture and literature, etc.) a positive aspect. Naturally, I think it comes back to how well you guide your coursework and research - you need to carve out your own niche, but I think the days of it being limited to a race or gender studies if you do an American Studies PhD are over. In fact, it seems to me that many programs are moving away from such distinctions in favor of a transnational approach that greatly expands and blurs the lines between these demarcations. Maybe I'm totally off base, but I don't believe someone with an English PhD focused on say Modernist literature is in any more marketable than someone with an American Studies PhD who displays a record of working within a specific frame (as above, that could be the intersection of literature and film, but perhaps with a focus on Modernist texts and their presentation in visual culture). I think it counterintuitive that if you have a focus, but choose an American Studies program over an English program to ensure greater freedom in what you can explore that you'll in some way be punished for that.

I guess I should explain how I have tried to ensure that I am marketable. My BA is in English and German Studies with a history minor. Did a fellowship year in a center for Gender Studies. Then I moved back to English, working on a MA in English literatures and literary theory with the intention of entering an AS program in 2010. My thought process is that I have a strong enough background in English and will continue working largely with literature (as it is connected to other media or disciplines), but that work is best suited to be done within an AS program.

So basically, I'm either bias, hopeful, or spot on. I guess I won't be able to confirm that last possibility for another decade or so, but what do you think?

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*The usual caveat that this is all based on my own limited sense of what's going on, and I'm just a junior as everyone else here applies as usual.

I think that interdisciplinary projects are still largely based out of traditional departments. While there is a lot of support for interdisciplinarity, it gets played out in grad programs and in colloborations between established professors, not in institutional structures or undergraduate classes. So while having an interdisciplinary background may make your research record look more appealing to a search committee, and qualify you to teach some interesting grad seminars or supervise interD PhD students, it may cause people to question your 'fit', and make you appear unprepared to run discipline-specific undergraduate classes. Given that it is possible (more difficult, but possible) to do interdisciplinary research with a traditional PhD, the only real benefit seems to be on the graduate instruction side. And if you end up at a research school, you'll teach a grad seminar once every what, two or three years or so, and 4-6 undergrad classes each year? I'm willing to bet that most universities have more trouble covering their discipline-specific 200, 300, and 400 level courses than they do getting willing instructors for grad seminars.

That's all to say that I think a Lit PhD with an interdisciplinary research track record would be much more marketable than an Interdisciplinary or 'Studies' PhD with a lit background.

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>>>As for American Studies degrees, be careful. Race and gender studies markets are flooded with scholars, and the R1s just keep cranking out these degrees, in order to fill grad courses and exploit cheap teaching labor. (Although I have no idea what you want to study, at my institution AS is code for "colored folk" or "womenfolk," so I feel this piece of advice may indeed be helpful.)<<<<

Uh, Minnesotan, what is your institution where this "code" applies??? Just curious...Because in all the research I did before applying to (and getting into) several Am Studies programs I didn't find this to be completely true...thanks!

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Jasper summed up much of my reasoning. I did an interdisciplinary MA before making the tough choice to pick one discipline for my PhD and stick with it. I knew I would be more marketable if I had a well-established "home base" from which -- once I got hired -- I could strike out and do my cross-disciplinary work. Even within most of the general Humanities departments across the country, they hire mainly people from the disciplines, and they do so for a reason: those are the people with the best teaching and research experience in their particular field. They took their classes in that field, they passed their comps in that field, they developed courses in that field, and a goodly number of grad school colleagues worked in that very same field.

That's not to say an American Studies degree is by default any less rigorous than any other degree; I'm merely saying that the course of studies is more generalized, and new hires are often brought in to fill very specific niches.

As for GoodGuy, digging for personal information, I'll be the first to admit that my statement about AmSt being code for ethnic and gender studies isn't "completely true." To say that every last person who occupies this (inter?)discipline is studying one of these topics would be unsupportable. However, to imply that A) the majority of the AmSt folks I've spoken with, at my institution and others, have studied race or gender, and that B) this opinion is commonly held among humanities scholars regarding what work AS departments do (with whatever positive or negative connotations that carries -- I was only concerned with issues of marketability in my original post) is quite supportable. If you don't believe me, ask around.

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I was thinking about this topic and remembered a recent job search for an American Lit prof held at my former school. All three of the candidates who made it to the campus interviews had a traditional PhD and wider ranging research interests. We hired someone with a traditional degree who is now cheerfully publishing on music, TV, politics, pop culture, etc. I know that the plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data', but it does confirm my view.

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Thanks for the feedback, everyone! I just want to clarify that I do not intend on going straight into a doctoral program. In point of fact, I was admitted into Fordham University's MA English program.

American studies has been eliminated from my options. Sorry, AmSt people, but I turned it down once in undergrad and that leads me to believe that I shouldn't pursue it at the graduate level. So, I am down to two choices: An MA in English, or an MS in engineering and management of technology. Am I to really assume, based on things that I have read on the web, that an English MA is not viable in terms of employability, or is the MA a respectable degree amongst the employers? If you answer the ladder, I would like to know why. Fordham's tuition is $1,190 per credit, and if I am about to amass a debt that is more than double of the MS degree, I would like some exterior confidence.

Thanks again, everyone. I'm glad I found this forum.

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If you answer the ladder, I would like to know why.

I answered the footstool, but it didn't respond. ;)

What do you want to do with the MA in English? There are specific circumstances in which it could make a lot of sense, like if you were a high school teacher improving your credentials, or were looking at government jobs where grad degrees up your pay. It'll make you stand out from the crowd somewhat. But I know a lot of people with humanities and social science MAs who are working the same desk jobs as the people with BAs. Maybe the experience was worth it, maybe not. But an English MA is certainly NOT a degree that will boost your job prospects in general, and it is absolutely not a degree to go into debt for. Have you figured out ways of funding it?

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