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Specializing and the MA

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I've seen and heard a lot of mixed responses about how much a student can expect to specialize during an MA (in Literature).  I'm sure this varies from program to program as well.  Can those already in or past their MA care to elaborate on their experiences?  I'm trying to create a realistic picture.

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I was not formally expected to "declare" any kind of specialization in my MA program and I don't think many if any programs would ask that of their students. I think it's certainly helpful to have an "academic identity" (interests) around which you do your work, which I did with early modern literature (that I stated was my interest in my application). But I was also told to explore as much as possible in an MA because you never know what new topics might spark your interest or alter your thinking about your core research significantly.

All my exploration ended up being a little problematic for me because I'm now very interested in contemporary cultural studies, which I haven't found to be too relevant to my early modern interests. This is apparently not too big of an issue, however, as many programs also expect some fluidity in their incoming cohort's interests. 

In short, don't pigeonhole yourself at this stage but think of your MA as an early stage in refining your academic interests. You should definitely come to a point before your Ph.D. applications, however, where you're able to clearly articulate at least the core of your research interest and say why it's relevant, what you think you have to contribute etc. etc. 

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I don't have much to add to 1Q84's points, other than to say that his experience mirrors my own (bearing in mind that I'm currently in situ and he has gone through the whole thing). I entered as an "early modernist" and I'm generally thought of as an early modernist. As it happens, this semester I will be deepening the work I did on the same material that formed the basis of my WS. In other words, I will be specializing even more (by happy accident, really). That isn't to say that I'm not going to change my long-term research focus -- I very well might -- but one is generally categorized upon entry to a Master's program, and by the time you are ready to apply for a Ph.D. program (if that's what you plan to do), you should have a specific research project in mind...at least for the sake of getting in to a Ph.D. program, that is. Even then, once you are in that program you can change your focus and no one is going to kick you out.


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