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Deciding between Rhet/Comp and Literature tracks


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Hi everyone. I will soon be applying to MA programs, but I cannot decide which track I should pursue. As an undergrad, I have taken courses across the entire English field, from digital humanities, to renaissance and early modern lit. I have also been working in a writing center and have conducted two research projects which I presented at regional and national WC conferences. I have enjoyed each branch of research equally. When I consider which one I should pursue if graduate study, I usually lean toward whichever field in which I am currently working on a project. For example, during the WC projects, I was excitedly researching Rhet/Comp programs and considering R/C as a career path. But this semester I took a research heavy literature course and became more interested in research lit faculties. 

 

I know a few sub fields I would be interested in, but I am having trouble really deciding which to go for. I have heard that Rhet/Comp has a stronger job market right now, but I won't finish a PhD for 6 or 7 years, so I suspect things might change between now and then. How did you all go about deciding which field to pursue? What are some other resources I can look into to get a better feel for what a career in each field will be like?

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I'm not familiar with Rhet/Comp but I suggest you don't choose a path based on employment potential. It will more than likely be tough either way and there's no way to predict where the money is going to be by the time you finish. Pick what excites you the most.

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29 minutes ago, WildeThing said:

I'm not familiar with Rhet/Comp but I suggest you don't choose a path based on employment potential. It will more than likely be tough either way and there's no way to predict where the money is going to be by the time you finish. Pick what excites you the most.

Yes, you will undoubtedly encounter a few different perspectives in academia and even here on GC, but I completely second WildeThing on this. There is good reason to decry the state of the humanities right now, and good reason for many to say that the jobs are gone and won't be replaced...but if it turns out that you can't get a job in academia, few alt-ac options are going to particularly care if your specialization was on rhet/comp, Victorian literature, or Polynesian pygmy pamphlets. The Ph.D. in English will be what they see.

Again, many will disagree with this, and I can't deny that there's some merit to trying to anticipate where the jobs will be...but six or seven years of chasing an elusive market sounds a lot less enjoyable than six or seven years chasing your interests. But YMMV.

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@Wyatt's TerpsOf the professor's I have talked to, those in literature fields tend to give the same advice you have given here. They tell me to pursue what I am interested in and to make sure that I am passionate about what I plan to study. The rhetoric/composition professors have tended to tell me that the jobs are in R/C. That always seems to be their number 1 reason why I should go R/C instead of literature. Anyway, just an interesting observation. Thanks for your input. You always give solid advice, and I appreciate your time.

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1 hour ago, Cotton Joe said:

The rhetoric/composition professors have tended to tell me that the jobs are in R/C. That always seems to be their number 1 reason why I should go R/C instead of literature.

This is sad and irresponsible. If RC professors across the country recruit people to the field because of the slightly better job market at a fast enough rate, and if more PhD programs in RC start up, the job market advantage will shrink. RC as a field should not sell itself as "kind of like literature, but with jobs". The two fields are different enough in terms of research for that to not make sense. 

As others have said, you should choose the field with the most interesting research according to you. But one advantage of choosing RC is that you can still read literature and literary criticism on your own time. Running a writing center or a writing program usually requires degrees in RC, and those experiences can't be encapsulated in just reading about them. If you're into collaborative research, then RC is probably the better choice, likewise if you like the idea of doing research projects that include IRBs.

Edited by Romanista
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2 hours ago, Cotton Joe said:

The rhetoric/composition professors have tended to tell me that the jobs are in R/C. That always seems to be their number 1 reason why I should go R/C instead of literature. Anyway, just an interesting observation. 

one of my primary mentors has always emphasized the fact that rhet/comp is an easier field to get hired in (although easier =/= easy), but only because a lot of grad students in our english program seem somewhat unaware of this. in fact, she was absolutely horrified when a grad assistant who has repeatedly stated he has no interest in teaching writing at all and considers himself exclusively a "lit person" said he's thinking about going into rhet/comp JUST for the job market advantage. that is, frankly, bananas.

if all other things are equal, the job market is a factor worth considering, but it is certainly NOT a reason to go into r/c alone. it's really a different field with different kinds of work going on. i personally think one of the best ways to get a feeling for a discipline is attending conferences; you can hear about some of the most current work being done with opportunities to ask questions, socialize, and network. it might be helpful to see which ones are coming up in your area.

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R/C PhD here, with a couple of very hire-able specializations, so take this all as biased:

There is no question that R/C programs have better outcomes on the job market, and have for the last 5-10 years, though it should be noted that much of that hiring is either in comp studies (literally the teaching of writing) or in tech comm/business writing, so if those don't appeal to you, or you can't think of ways to do research in those areas, than you aren't really much better off than if you just get an English degree. That said, I know a number of people who have straddled the two fields, doing work on discourse communities, or looking at lit in the comp classroom, or doing DH work. The key is to make sure that you are taking enough work in pedagogy/practical professionalization, that you can talk about your teaching ability, as even the English/Lit tenure jobs require the ability to teach FYC these days if you aren't at an R1 (and even then...)

So, the truth is that if you are looking at an MA I highly recommend going R/C. A much higher percentage of our MA programs are fully or partially funded, and most come with opportunities to teach your own classes or work in writing centers (two areas that offer both research opportunities and jobs). You won't get a tenured job with an MA, but it will give you enough experience to know if R/C is something you would consider pursuing, without costing much out of pocket, and, if you opt to go into a lit PhD after, you will be a more competitive candidate both for the PhD and on the job market with that experience. We all read much of the same theorists anyway (they won't admit it, but Derrida is one of ours).

You can also look at programs like UMich's english ed, where you take a mix of classes from literacy, R/C, English, etc.

The other thing I'll say is to start looking at the journals in the field. CCC is doing some really good stuff now that Alexander is the editor, while the Rhetoric-style journals will give you a good look at theory (so much fucking Burke!). Stuff like Computers and Composition and Kairos will show you the cool digital work being done (the biggest growth area). Others can recommend Lit journals, as I don't read them.

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  • 4 weeks later...

To me, this seems like an okay problem to have. Many English programs blend lit and rhet/comp. I am running into the problem that many rhet/comp PhD programs require an outrageous number of lit classes (5 or 6 sometimes) to complete the core requirements. Lit is a huge weakness of mine and I am struggling to find programs that have no (or very limited) lit requirements. 

Although you ultimately need to pick a specialization, your attitude about being open to lit and rhet/comp will probably be a benefit.

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Yes, required lit courses is a very important thing to consider. I'm in a similar boat as you, @Wooshkuh. I don't want to take any lit classes because, frankly, I don't feel well-versed enough -- my undergraduate degree was strictly rhet/comp and my MA (though technically an English degree) allows me to strictly study rhet/comp. So, basically, I've never studied literature formally beyond high school. 

My school's PhD program does require a lit theory class, but they don't require you to take literature courses unless you want to/it fits with your research. I value that in a program (one that doesn't force you to take a blend if you know what you really want), so I'm also using that as a determining factor when I apply to PhD programs next year. Definitely makes sense for me, too! 

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12 hours ago, klader said:

Yes, required lit courses is a very important thing to consider. I'm in a similar boat as you, @Wooshkuh. I don't want to take any lit classes because, frankly, I don't feel well-versed enough -- my undergraduate degree was strictly rhet/comp and my MA (though technically an English degree) allows me to strictly study rhet/comp. So, basically, I've never studied literature formally beyond high school. 

My school's PhD program does require a lit theory class, but they don't require you to take literature courses unless you want to/it fits with your research. I value that in a program (one that doesn't force you to take a blend if you know what you really want), so I'm also using that as a determining factor when I apply to PhD programs next year. Definitely makes sense for me, too! 

I wouldn't let a lit theory course discourage anyone from an R/C program. We share a lot of theory with lit (they completely stole some of their guys from us).

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Oh, yes, @bhr and @Wooshkuh

It wasn't clear in my post, but I meant that the one lit theory requirement is very fair since it does introduce you to other theories yet doesn't force you take literature classes. There is indeed is a lot of overlap vis-à-vis theory! 

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On 1/14/2017 at 8:47 AM, klader said:

Yes, required lit courses is a very important thing to consider. I'm in a similar boat as you, @Wooshkuh. I don't want to take any lit classes because, frankly, I don't feel well-versed enough -- my undergraduate degree was strictly rhet/comp and my MA (though technically an English degree) allows me to strictly study rhet/comp. So, basically, I've never studied literature formally beyond high school. 

My school's PhD program does require a lit theory class, but they don't require you to take literature courses unless you want to/it fits with your research. I value that in a program (one that doesn't force you to take a blend if you know what you really want), so I'm also using that as a determining factor when I apply to PhD programs next year. Definitely makes sense for me, too! 

I think I'd be okay with one lit class. I took a lit theory class during my undergrad and it was really challenging for me though. 

I'm just really aware of my weaknesses. My MA program required one lit elective and I struggled to get an A. I just couldn't think or write papers in a way that the lit prof expected me to. In the end, I survived the class (and earned an A), but the effort (and risk of receiving a B ) , wasn't worth it to me. 

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