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Hey all,

 

I'm a graduate student from Spain (English philology). Next year I will be studying an MA in Intercultural Communication in the U.S. on a Fulbright Grant. When I finish I am hoping to get into a top PhD program for Literature. That said, as I come from a different academic background, I am worried that my profile might not fit what some of these programs are looking for. For example, my GRE results are pretty bad (161 Verbal, 155 Quant, 4.0 Writing - no excuses but I didn't have much chance to study and thought the Quantitative was more important than it is so I dedicated too much time for it).

I was hoping that maybe someone could give me some insight on whether I have any chance of getting into the top programs (Stanford, Princeton, etc.) with my profile and what sort of things I should be looking at rounding out and improving to have a better chance?

For a fuller picture of what my profile actually is: I have a BA in English Studies (not sure what my GPA would be, but it's 8.65/10 in our system) and by the time I apply I would have an MA in English Studies (probably a higher GPA, more like 9+/10) and would be completing an MA in the U.S (do programs even take in candidates with multiple MAs?) The U.S MA will have me as an assistant for year before teaching in the second. I do not have any publications but I am sending abstracts in the hope of getting something published by the time I apply (although a lot of PhD programs take in people with BAs, so I assume publications aren't computed much). I have given some talks in conferences here and have chaired a session and will chair a session at a convention in the U.S next year - also helped with the organizing of some local conferences but I don't know if that is considered an achievement in the U.S. Beyond that I interned as a TA in a local high school for a year and co-founded a student organization at the Uni.

That's basically it. Any help on figuring out what aspects of my CV I should be highlighting, obfuscating or improving in the time I have until I start applying would be great as I am very unfamiliar with how American Unis evaluate prospects. Right now I'm focusing on hitting the CFP trail and hoping to get conference talks and (better yet) articles published but perhaps I should be focusing on something else?

Thank you very much in advance, I hope to be able to help some of you out if you ever consider applying to Spain.

P.S

I've read that a lot of you are e-mailing professors before applying. May I ask what sort of things you're asking them? Are you asking them to supervise your thesis? It seems very awkward to me to contact professors as a prospective student and though it would be awesome to get feedback from them, I don't know what I would even ask. Incidentally, do you think that the question I've asked above about what aspects to focus on improving is one that programs would answer? My guess is no but I'm perceiving that some programs are more open to helping out than others.

 

Edited by WildeThing
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Nobody can tell you if you'll get into program x, y, z, especially on an anonymous forum. How many degrees you have, your GRE scores, etc matters very little (though, given some free time, I would get that verbal up to 165+). Effectively, what matters is getting your application in front of a decision-maker, and having the kind of writing sample that they would want to make the right decision on. The reason people email professors beforehand is to shore up some interest in their CV, i.e. to up their chances of getting their application in front of a decision-maker. A strong GPA, strong GRE, prestigious academic affiliations, and LORs from known entities also help. It's good that you have a Fulbright. The final decision will rest on how much the committee likes your writing sample, which depends on how good it is and also on how interested the committee is in the kind of theoretical approaches/methodologies/periods/writers/whatever that you do. 

Publications aren't expected, and I'm not sure how useful they would be to you in your position anyway. Keep presenting at conferences. If you want advice on your profile/chances, you're best off making friends with faculty at your US institution and asking them to look over your materials, or asking for their advice once they've seen some original work from you. Also, some of your diction is weird. Like, "obfuscating" here

what aspects of my CV I should be highlighting, obfuscating or improving

is out of place. I suspect it will improve in an immersive environment, but it's something to be mindful of.

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Hi WildeThing,

Most of the things you mention are not determinants (although it's really good you have them, you seem like a good candidate). A verbal of 161 if you are Spanish-dominant is phenomenal.

You need a writing sample and statement that show you have promise as a researcher. And possibly also a teacher (although I have little idea what a degree in Intercultural communications entails). As ExpDelay said, you need to align yourself with a department or prof.

BTW, 'obfuscating' is properly used in my opinion, your command of the English language is impressive, assuming you are Spanish-dominant.

PM me if you want to discuss any details. I went through this process last year, but I'm in the Spanish department so might not know too much that can help you.

Un saludo

 

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9 hours ago, xolo said:

BTW, 'obfuscating' is properly used in my opinion, your command of the English language is impressive, assuming you are Spanish-dominant.

 

I hate quibbling -- I really, really do -- but I agree with @ExponentialDecay that "obfuscating" is incorrectly used in that context. "Obscuring" may fly, but the connotations of "obfuscating" are negative, which really doesn't apply when discussing one's c.v.

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I mean, I'm genuinely not trying to be shady, I'm just letting OP know as one ESL international student to another: most successful international applicants to these highly prestigious places will have verbal scores commensurate with domestic students' and a written command of the language that is indistinguishable from a native's. And I don't mean Brits. I mean Italians, Germans, Indians, Russians, Japanese. As such, an impressive GRE score for any applicant, regardless of their mother tongue, begins with 165, and small nuances in diction and punctuation will be noticed, and the degree to which they will be excused depends, of course, on the other application materials, because they're not the most important aspect of the application, for sure. But it's something to keep in mind. One receives this kind of optimistic advice from American students trying to be helpful, but unfortunately, these students don't sit on admissions committees, advise theses, or employ RAs.

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Thanks for the responses. I think 'obscuring' was probably the better term.

From your responses I see that I should definitely re-take the GRE then.

Two more questions, ExponentialDecay. You mentioned that you don't publications would be helpful but conferences would be? I would have thought that the opposite would be true. Could you elaborate on that? Also, you say that contacting professors helps get your CV in front of decision-makers. Could you elaborate on that, too? I mean, won't they see my application either way? I guess I understand that if they're familiar with me it could help but I'm not sure what you could tell them other than asking them if your topic is one they would be interested in directing. Is that what you meant?

Ultimately what I can glean from your comments is that the writing sample and SOP are the key things to focus on. I guess making the most out of them will vary school by school.

I suppose what I was also getting at is trying to see whether those of you who have been accepted have found that having x or y helped get some attention or tip the scales in your favor.

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1 hour ago, WildeThing said:

You mentioned that you don't publications would be helpful but conferences would be? I would have thought that the opposite would be true. Could you elaborate on that?

Hey WildeThing! Almost nobody entering a PhD program in English has published their scholarly work (and I'm guessing this is true across the humanities more generally). The expectation is that your thinking and your work will improve exponentially in the PhD program; the work you're doing beforehand isn't expected to be professional / publishable. It's conceivable that some admissions committees would be impressed with an applicant who has published a good paper in a good journal; but it's also a mild possibility that some admissions committees would interpret your having published as a sign that you already feel your work is where you want it to be (and thus that you'd be less flexible as a student, etc.). Conference presentations demonstrate that you're committed to academic work and that you're motivated to learn more and to professionalize.

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34 minutes ago, allplaideverything said:

committees would interpret your having published as a sign that you already feel your work is where you want it to be (and thus that you'd be less flexible as a student, etc.). Conference presentations demonstrate that you're committed to academic work and that you're motivated to learn more and to professionalize.

Is this a real thing? My MA professors have actively encouraged me to publish so that I can up my chances of getting into a fully funded PhD program. I feel like presenting in the humanities is much easier than getting published (at least from what i've noticed). So getting published would be more in your favor, right?

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It did cross my mind that perhaps programs see someone who was published as being more advanced in their academic career and thus would prefer a candidate who required more guidance. I don't know if this is the case but generally I would have assume that getting published would reflect positively rather than negatively.

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I mean, take my comments with however much salt you want. But I think publishing before you're really doing *great* work is risky for lots of reasons--and if you think you're already doing *great* work before even starting a PhD, either you're a genius who probably doesn't need my advice, or you might have an inaccurate idea of the kind of work being done in literary crit / scholarship. Read the top journals in your sub-field, pay attention to the mastery, knowledge, and range of references the authors demonstrate, and look them up and see where they are in their careers. If you think your work is comparable to what you're reading in the top journals, then hey, go for it! But be aware that it's not at all guaranteed to help you get in, some admissions committees might think you're getting ahead of yourself in a less than attractive way, and your ideas about the issues, concepts, and texts you're writing about now will absolutely change during your PhD program, and the best case scenario is that you publish in a great journal and hiring committees will be asking you about this article you don't at all agree with anymore 6-7-8 years from now.

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6 hours ago, WildeThing said:

Thanks for the responses. I think 'obscuring' was probably the better term.

From your responses I see that I should definitely re-take the GRE then.

Two more questions, ExponentialDecay. You mentioned that you don't publications would be helpful but conferences would be? I would have thought that the opposite would be true. Could you elaborate on that? Also, you say that contacting professors helps get your CV in front of decision-makers. Could you elaborate on that, too? I mean, won't they see my application either way? I guess I understand that if they're familiar with me it could help but I'm not sure what you could tell them other than asking them if your topic is one they would be interested in directing. Is that what you meant?

Ultimately what I can glean from your comments is that the writing sample and SOP are the key things to focus on. I guess making the most out of them will vary school by school.

I suppose what I was also getting at is trying to see whether those of you who have been accepted have found that having x or y helped get some attention or tip the scales in your favor.

No problem.

I had a momentary blip and forgot that you will have 2 MAs by the time of application. In that case, trying to get a publication out can be beneficial. Here's the thing: submitting an article to a journal and hoping for the best is harming no one. But, it's a long, laborious process with an uncertain outcome which moreover isn't imperative for your application. Conference presentations, on the other hand, are much more immediate and easy to achieve, but they are still a good line on your CV that characterizes you as a serious, proactive student who does work that is original and complex enough to be presentable to the community - i.e. most of the stuff that a publication in a journal would communicate. @allplaideverything got a little dark there, but they're right that publications aren't strictly required for a successful application, and whilst I doubt you'd get blacklisted for publishing in a reputable journal, you have to wonder about the utility of publishing in a second-rate one. Another thing to consider is if the research you're thinking of publishing is something you want to continue and perfect, in which case you're better off continuing and perfecting it and finally publishing a better piece. If you have publishable research, by all means send it off then forget about it. Peer review is great for telling you how you compare to publishable works and where you're falling short.

Yes, if they know your name, it would most probably help. Another way to achieve that, however, is to have a letter from a scholar they know or to have the scholar they know introduce you to them, which works a lot better, but that depends on whether you know such a scholar and they are willing to vouch for you. This is particularly important if you have noticeable flaws in your application. Asking them if they're willing to direct your topic (and also if they're taking students this year) is actually the single most important thing you could ask, because it will save you $$$ in fees for a doomed application if the answer is no. I mean, it's not strictly required for you to contact professors, so if you don't want to, don't.

In the end, a lot of factors will influence these outcomes, including factors outside of your control, like other applicants in your pool, how many students with your interests are already in the department, whether your PI is taking advisees that year, who's retiring/sabbaticaling/undergoing a sexual harassment suit that will get them fired, department/university-wide politics, etc. You'll get a lot of different answers re "what tipped the scales", but most of those will be gut feelings, because nobody knows for sure why they got in or didn't. Your best bet is to have a strong application and to get in with more senior people who know the topology of your field well enough to warn you of any landmines.

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11 hours ago, BlackRosePhD said:

Is this a real thing? My MA professors have actively encouraged me to publish so that I can up my chances of getting into a fully funded PhD program. I feel like presenting in the humanities is much easier than getting published (at least from what i've noticed). So getting published would be more in your favor, right?

You'll notice the qualifications allplaid made in his suggestion. 

12 hours ago, allplaideverything said:

It's conceivable that some admissions committees would be impressed with an applicant who has published a good paper in a good journal; but it's also a mild possibility that some admissions committees would interpret your having published as a sign that you already feel your work is where you want it to be (and thus that you'd be less flexible as a student, etc.). 

It's conceivable...it's a mild possibility. I think that's about right. Having a publication under your belt probably won't adversely affect your application, but I see the logic behind the claim that it might. Another possibility is that publishing might irk some of those professors who cringe at the thought of premature professionalization. While their numbers are dwindling as more recognize it's no longer viable for graduate students not to publish, some remain. 

But more likely than either of these two options is that "publication" won't have any effect on your application at all. I put "publication" in scare quotes because, frankly, 99% of PhD applicants claiming to have a publication have something that doesn't count for beans by the standards of the profession. A publication in ELHSEL, or one of the big, period-specific journals "counts" as a publication; an essay in The Sigma Tau Delta Review does not. When an admissions committee sees an applicant list an essay in the latter on his or her CV, they might think it's "nice," but it really won't count for much more than that.

So if you can get published in a major journal, great. If not, don't work yourself to death trying to get published in Southwest Louisiana Tech Community College Journal of Arts just so you can claim you have a publication. Because no one will care. 

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On 17/5/2016 at 6:07 AM, Wyatt's Terps said:

I hate quibbling -- I really, really do -- but I agree with @ExponentialDecay that "obfuscating" is incorrectly used in that context. "Obscuring" may fly, but the connotations of "obfuscating" are negative, which really doesn't apply when discussing one's c.v.

Ha Ha. Tell a bunch of comp/rhet and English PhD students something about a weird word, NOT! I do not, however, think a comment made on an Internet message board requires scolding and warning since that is obviously not application material.

 

Edited by xolo
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17 hours ago, xolo said:

Ha Ha. Tell a bunch of comp/rhet and English PhD students something about a weird word, NOT! I do not, however, think a comment made on an Internet message board requires scolding and warning since that is obviously not application material.

 

I am not scolding anyone, not by appearance and not by intent. I am letting OP know that his diction is weird because I am trying to help. I used that as an example - I saw one or two more in, yes, a ~500 word post. Getting shades of meaning right is the hardest thing about learning a language to fluency. It's not a judgment of anyone's character; it's just a reality of being ESL. The slight tinge of condescension from peers and sometimes professors, that you're a foreigner and don't know any better, is also a reality of being ESL. You are probably right that OP is better off hearing the same thing from a professor commenting on his formal writing, but hey, in the case he finds it useful, it's no skin off my back. I am sure OP is an adult person and does not need you to get offended on his behalf.

Edited by ExponentialDecay
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