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What would be a good Specialization?


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I am trying to narrow down where I want to apply and what route to take.

What are your opinions on specializations? Should one go for the various periods? What do you think of any of the following: Old and Middle English, Renaissance/Early Modern English, Restoration and Eighteenth Century British, etc or go into Rhetoric and Composition/Rhetoric and Textual Studies, New Media and Professional Writing, Literary Theory or Linguistics)

I know I just listed a vast array and I am not suggesting I am suited for all of them; however, I have had classes at the graduate level in most of them. What would you choose?

I realize this is based upon an opinion and preference - so I am just asking to know what other people think.

Thanks!

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The only "good" specialization is the one you are extremely passionate about. It's kind of a silly question, because what you should know before applying is that in graduate school (and presumably for the rest of your life after graduate school), you will eat/sleep/breathe your specialization. Of course, there are opportunities to diverge, but the core of your learning and research will be the period/genre/authors you focus on in graduate school. Don't choose something based on someone else's opinion-- choose it based on how much you love a particular topic. In terms of picking a specialization, anything else is a very, very distant second in terms of importance. In fact, the only reason to apply to graduate school, in my opinion, is to immerse yourself to (nearly) the point of exhaustion in a specialization. Are you willing to do this with every one of those proposed fields? There are certainly broader ways to define a specialization (gender studies or theory in general can take literature from many periods) but they are nonetheless rigorously connected to basic passion for a particular discourse. Knowing what you love, what you are willing to allow overtake your professional career, will also help you in your applications.

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Yeah, I know it was a silly question. And, I could delve passionately into any one of those things I listed. (Some more than others, yes.)

As I have grown in academia I am think I am becoming more disenfranchised with a lot of aspects of literary theory though. Don't get me started!

I wouldn't choose something based on a post. I am just curious as to how others feel about them.

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the earlier you go the less competition you have to deal with. as others have said, it's a pretty terrible idea to pick a specialty on the basis of what you think will get you in programs, but it's still something to keep in mind. i'm in early american and from what i heard from my professors around 10 other people are going to be fighting me for spots in programs. engaging with material that's perceived as difficult will get you far and is also often the most rewarding. that said, a lot of people i know who are smarter and more talented than i am work in 20th century, so who knows. i don't know what aspects you wanted to deal with in each of the time periods you selected, but i've been advised that working in religion is an excellent idea that improves your job prospects and (in my opinion) makes you a well informed critic. best of luck picking a specialty it's a tough choice but you have a great list to select from.

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What do you think of any of the following: Old and Middle English, Renaissance/Early Modern English, Restoration and Eighteenth Century British, etc or go into Rhetoric and Composition/Rhetoric and Textual Studies, New Media and Professional Writing, Literary Theory or Linguistics)

I think you've named almost every period. While this is a common dilemma, you really do have the make the decision yourself, and I'm not sure that asking us what we think would be at all helpful. Perhaps some better questions might be:

1. What period have you had the most training/background/previous work in? If you lack strong language preparation, for example, you might want to re-think applying as a medievalist.

2. What period is your writing sample in? What about the bulk of your recommenders?

3. What QUESTIONS are you interested in pursuing? What methodological approaches? Certain periods might suggest themselves if you can narrow down the issues/methods that most interest you.

My apologies if my speculations are incorrect: however, if you're trying to figure out which period would be EASIER to apply for....well, that's a far more muddled question, and will vary from program to program. (Some programs take their top X number of applicants, regardless of period. Other have rigid slots for certain field, while still others might have an over-saturation of a certain field and not accept any applicants for that field that year). Unless you know the application process from the inside at each of your schools, this is a dangerous guessing game. While it is generally true that the earlier fields are easier to enter, I'd qualify this by suggesting that one should go where one is best suited. I'd hazard a guess that ANY program (even one with rigid field slots) would be more likely to accept a strong modernist than a so-so medievalist.

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I wonder whether literature programs really do have rigid slots corresponding to periods/genres, seeing as there's no real way they can hold people to what they say in their SOPs regarding fields of interest. People's interests can change in grad school, and presumably the committees know this. But for admission purposes, mentioning interest in an under-represented field would undoubtedly be eye-catching. Which makes it seem even more tempting to present yourself as interested in such a field for the purposes of the application, as another poster mentioned. Not that I'm advocating it, but still...

I'm just weighing in because this is something I'm having trouble with as I prepare my applications for lit PhDs. I'm interested in a lot of 20th and 21st century authors/ideas, but this is an over-saturated period, so I'm wondering if, unless I mention a very specific (and preferably original) aspect/question I'm interested in, this might work against me. I realize it's always important to be as specific as humanly possible in the SOPs, but it seems like this is even more critical for people interested in more popular fields (and perhaps less important for those interested in under-represented ones). Do other people agree?

I'm just wondering how much energy to put into coming up with a specific/original area of inquiry, given that committees, in the end, cannot hold applicants to what they say they intend to study in their SOPs.

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bespectacled:

I'm speculating here, though with the benefit of some experience. I think that the desireability of a very specific SoP is less so that the program will know EXACTLY what you want to study (half of grad students tend to change their mind anyway, as you noted), but rather that the program wants to know that you can show commanding knowledge of one field, consider the current conversations, and demonstrate a proposal that outlines your own contributions. Even if you change your mind, they want to know that you're capable of basically writing that prospectus, passing orals, and cranking out a 200-300 page dissertation within 5 years, get hired, and do your alma mater proud. It isn't so much the EXACT field, but your ability to situate yourself within one that really matters.

That's part of why I don't advocate switching for the sake of entering an "easier" field...unless you can truly posit yourself as a semi-expect (even though we know all--ad-comms included--that this is largely posturing) and write a strong sample to match. Some can...but they tend to be few and far in between.

As for whether or not programs do have rigid slots...as I've tried to stress, this varies drastically from program to program, not to mention year by year as ad-com committees change, even at the same program. In short, I think several do. It might vary by a student or two, but they do try to "spread around the goods." And while students do change, changes go both ways, usually influenced by the program's particular strengths and weakness (and students whose interest change too much might leave)...so the numbers end up more-or-less working out in the end. There are also numerous political issues that you have no control over (in part depending on whose on ad-comm, what sorts of horse-trading has occurred in past years, who pissed off whom) that influence flexibility as well as the composition of the "slots."

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