New Directions: Preparing for Graduate Study in English

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As the graduate school advisor for the English department, Assistant Professor Scott Newstok has advice for all students interested in pursuing post-graduate studies in the fields of Literature or Creative Writing, not just graduating seniors.  “It′s never too early to begin reflecting upon what you might do with skills you have developed in writing, analysis, and interpretation throughout your courses here at Rhodes,” he states.  In conjunction with several of his colleagues from the English department, Professor Newstok recently facilitated an information session for students considering graduate studies in English.  At this meeting of English majors, minors, and faculty, professors and students alike shared tips for pursuing post-graduate study in their discipline.

Firstly, Newstok pointed out that applying to graduate school is not a “monolithic” activity;  students should not apply to graduate programs simply because they have enjoyed undergraduate English courses thus far.  As Newstok and his colleagues acknowledged, graduate study that is not intended as professional training can prove to be quite costly.  Professors encouraged students to know their reasons for pursuing graduate study which, as Newstok noted, requires both “self-reflection” and “self-scrutiny.”

During the session, several professors also recommended that students consider taking time off between completing an undergraduate degree and embarking on their post-graduate path.  Faculty spoke from experience, explaining that a respite of a year or longer allows students to enjoy time away from the academic realm before engaging in intense and extended scholarly work at the graduate level; a break from academia also affords time for students to organize and strengthen their graduate applications.  Jessica Maxwell, a Rhodes alumna and current adjunct instructor in the English department, took advantage of her time off after graduating to compile the most impressive application packet possible.  Maxwell went on to enroll in a PhD program at The George Washington University where she is currently completing her dissertation.  Professors mitigated student worries by assuring that Rhodes department faculty would not forget English majors and minors after graduation; professors are able and willing to write letters of recommendation for students who choose to postpone their post-graduate work as well as for those who matriculate directly into Master’s and Doctoral programs. 

Assistant Professor Judith Haas provided insight on specific gap year opportunities.  Haas, who serves as Rhodes’ Co-director of Post-graduate Fellowships, discussed the Watson Fellowship and the Luce Scholarship in particular.  These competitive programs provide funding for a wide range of year-long international projects that college graduates design and undertake according to their personal interests and goals.  Students can learn more about these post-graduate opportunities and others like them on the Rhodes website (http://www.rhodes.edu/academics/1116.asp).

During the information session, Senior English majors Michael James Gossett and Jessica Comola contributed knowledge they have gained while applying to graduate programs.  As Creative Writing majors with concentrations in Poetry, Gossett and Comola both hope to enroll in top MFA programs.  Gossett encouraged students to start the research and application process early in order to have ample time to figure out what they hope to find in a graduate program.  Likewise, Comola advised her peers to do their research.  She also encouraged them to speak with Rhodes faculty as well as alumni currently enrolled in graduate programs and to contact the offices of graduate programs directly with specific questions.

For more information on graduate study in English contact Professor Newstok (newstoks@rhodes.edu).  Additionally, take a final bit of advice from Professor Newstok and explore the wealth of insightful resources available on the internet for prospective graduate students.  He highlights, in particular, the English department homepages at Washington & Lee University and the University of Iowa, both of which proffer extensive information on the graduate school application process.  For students interested in studying Creative Writing at the graduate level, The Atlantic Monthly website provides pertinent information including recent rankings of MFA programs.

Joel Iwaskiewicz ’10