“IN A PINCH I’D RECOMMEND THE BIBLE FOR DUMMIES TO STUDY FOR THE GRE SUBJECT EXAM.”
|GW English Alum
Christina Katopodis, who recently graduated with a degree in English from GW, did a lot of thinking and planning before entering the English PhD program at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. She taught at a community college in Florida, took editing jobs, and generally thought about whether an advanced degree in English, and a job teaching literature, meant enough to her to put up with the uncertainties of a bad job market. Here’s her advice to current GW English majors who might be drawn in the same direction:
Before you start submitting PhD applications, think first about how much you want it and what you want to do with a PhD in English, the Classics or Comparative Literature. I knew that I would be happy as long as I would be teaching somewhere, even a small college in the middle of nowhere. Not all doctoral students go into academia, some go into publishing, work at writing centers, or take administrative positions. If you love it, if it is a part of who you are and you can imagine yourself doing it anywhere and being happy, then put everything into it, don’t let rejection phase you, and keep going until you’re in – with funding – and you’re doing what you love.
As for the nitty gritty of applying to schools:
Make it into the top 90 percent. The GRES is a dying requirement but if you must take it, I recommend reading your way through the Norton Anthologies and reviewing your notes from the British or American survey courses you took to complete the English major. I read books like Jane Austen’s Persuasion and D. H. Lawrence’s Rainbow for fun on the side and happened to get a relevant Jane Austen question. I still have never read a Bible from front to back but it’s an important text regardless of your religious views, so in a pinch I’d recommend The Bible for Dummies to study for the GRES.
Christina was helped in all of this by her GW professors:
Dr. Gil Harris encouraged us to respond to each other in class discussion rather than interrupt the flow of conversation with a new unrelated idea. Dr. Tony Lopez made dense theory palatable and showed us how to use it and bend it to build our own arguments. Most of all, I remember the contagious enthusiasm with which Professors Jonathan Hsy, Jenny Green-Lewis, and Kim Moreland taught their subjects.
And what’s life in grad school in New York City like?
The image of the bleary-eyed graduate student huddled in the library for days with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich isn’t too far from the truth. It’s a lot of work but with some decent time management it’s doable. I go out occasionally to see an off-Broadway show or have a beer with other students in my cohort and compare notes, and I have time to train for a half marathon. Many students in Manhattan take longer to graduate due to the cost of living in the city and balancing coursework with teaching or working another job.
Christina encourages current students thinking about grad school to email her (firstname.lastname@example.org) about the challenges of getting an advanced literature degree. At bottom, she says, it’s all about the semi-colon:
The semicolon represents the ability to stop and the will to continue. The ellipses we imagine following our graduations will one day be changed to commas in our life stories. We all grew up thinking we were special but the harsh reality is that not everyone can be special. Realizing that you have the power to turn a period into a semicolon and to make the choice to keep going in the direction of your dreams distinguishes you from others and will increase your chances of achieving your goals and becoming the person you want to be.