Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Grad School Possibilities: The Process Begins


I finished my MA thesis this past semester, and handed it in on Dec. 1st. I have to say that overall, though I'm very satisifed with my thesis committee, my general experience as an MA student was not satisfactory.

Now that I'm beginning to think about PhD programs seriously, to pick and choose what schools to apply to, and most importantly, to begin thinking about my writing sample, I realize just how lacking my program was.

For example:

On the MA website, they list four "concentrations." These concentrations sound sophisticated and relevant.

1. Literature, Modernity, and the Contemporary
2. Theoretical Constructs
3. Cultural, Transcultural, and Global Studies
4. Writing Practices: Poetics, Rhetorics, and Technologies

However, no one ever discussed these "concentrations" with me, nor was I asked to choose one. Now that I'm trying to figure out what my area of interest will be, I realize that I am at an accute disadvantage. I must first really focus my interests, read more in my subject area, and write or rewrite something in that field for my writing sample. And that something has to be amazing.

But this whole concentration business is really just the tip of the iceberg. I did a combined BA/MA program, but was never oriented as an MA student. In fact, I NEVER MET THE MA ADVISOR FACE TO FACE, THE ENTIRE TWO YEARS IN THE PROGRAM. How is this possible? She had me call her for advisement the first 2 semesters, and the second two semesters she had the graduate secretary give me cpns for the courses, SANS ADVISEMENT.

I read an article recently that told students applying to grad school to 'beware' of programs that admit MA students in order to fund their PhD students. And I certainly think that is what happened to me. I found out today that the graduate student organization in english is actually open to MA students, but I was never told this, and actually I was prohibited from taking part in any elections or meetings.

The one event that I believe speaks most clearly to the overall neglect and general shittiness of the MA student program occured the day I handed in my MA thesis, Dec. 1st.

The graduate secretary (the only staff member who actually HELPED ME and gave me much needed information) told me a week before the thesis was due that I had to have the MA Advisor sign my submittal form, in addition to my director and second reader. I immediately emailed the MA Advisor, and even though thanksgiving break hadn't begun yet, she was already away on vacation. She told me that she would be "too busy" Mon, Nov. 30, to sign the form, but that she'd sign it tues (the day it was due). My committee signed the form before break, like responsible people.

On Dec. 1st I went to the graduate secretary's office, and she told me that the MA Advisor was in her office, and that she hadn't signed the form yet (this is at 12:30 pm). I walked over to her office. The door was open, the chair was pushed away from the desk, but she wasn't there. So I waited for about 15 minutes. Then the graduate secretary peeked out her door, realized I was still waiting and asked "She's still not back? Ok, we're going to go find her." So there I was, following the graduate secretary around the third floor, searching for the MA advisor. Finally Brenda (the secretary) finds her in the copy room and tells her that she forgot to sign the form. She said to Brenda, "Ok! I'll do it in a minute. I'm busy and I can't stop right now." So we return to Brenda's office (which is diagonal from the copy room), and wait another 20 minutes (during which we had a really interesting conversation about "rice cookers"--apparently the best tool with which to make mashed potatoes). Finally Brenda exclaims "This is ridiculous! I'm so sorry!" and leaves the office to find her again. Apparently, the advisor had left the copy room and entered A MEETING. Brenda had to bring her the form and had to make her sign it in the meeting.

There are only two periods of time in which the MA advisor must attend to her students: the week or two weeks of advisement, and the day the thesis is handed in. This advisor abandoned her advisement responsibilities, simply letting me register for whatever I wanted, and was barely available on the day the thesis was due (or the week before). And she doesn't even know who I am.

I'm wondering if I should write a general letter to the Dean of Graduate Studies. There are only about 2, sometimes 3 students completing MA theses a semester, so is it really so much to ask--that we simply are not neglected?

Just to be clear: I am not a crappy student. On the contrary, in order to be admitted into the BA/MA program (supposedly) one must display academic maturity and have a GPA in the major of at least a 3.5. My undergrad GPA was a 3.77, my grad GPA was a 4.0, and my GPA within the major was a 3.99. I was on the Dean's List for 9 semesters, presented at an undergrad conference, was nominated for the Chancellor's Award twice, and received the Vivian C. Hopkins Scholarship Award in 2009, given to one English Major who displays excellence in scholarship (this is the 'big' undergraduate award of the year). I know several professors liked me and thought I had a good deal of potential.


Academic resentments aside--now the process begins. My list of schools is quite small right now, and contains some highly competitive programs that I probably won't get into.

Duke (literature)
UC Berkeley
University of Maryland
Penn State
SUNY Buffalo

My grades are good enough (I believe) to get me over the first hurdle in the application process. I read an article by a professor who works in admissions of PhD students, and she said that there are normally 300-400 applicants, and that all but 100 are eliminated first if they do not meet the minimum GPA and GRE scores (unless their recommendations are amazing). The remaining 100 are judged based on the recommendations and writing samples, and their potential 'fit' with the dept.

So what can I do right now? Study for the GRE's, and start to think about my area of interest and writing sample.

I believe I could cull an excellent sample from my MA thesis, one that shows original thought and scholarly potential. However, it is a bit removed from what I *think* will be my subject area (18th century american) as it is about biopolitics, race, landscape & hurricane katrina.


So far I've found some great online resources:

vade mecum

and a few others I can't remember. Also, there are relevant livejournal communities, including one for the gre in lit. The other is a lounge for english people, a spinoff of 'who got in.'

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