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Graduate School Advice


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#1 amy g.

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Posted 21 October 2017 - 11:04 AM

Just when I have a break between kids working on college applications, I realize that we need a timeline to prepare for my oldest for graduate school applications. My initial research feels overwhelming but I suspect that like most things, once I understand the big picture it will be as simple as just doing the next thing.

I would welcome any advice from people who have BTDT.

A little background-she will graduate after the 2018 fall semester from a good public university with a degree in English and a minor in Ancient Greek. She will be finished with her honors thesis this spring. She should have a GPA of 3.8 or higher. She has taken one graduate English class and there is a professor at her school who is referencing the research she did in that class in a presentation he is giving.

So I think we need to look at starting graduate school fall of 2019. I know that she needs to start studying for the GRE. If she has accommodations for special needs, how do you go about requesting additional time for testing?

She has good relationships with her professors, so I don't think she needs to worry about how to get letters of recommendation. I told her to get advice from them about where to apply.

When she was choosing the school where she is now, he first priority was going where she has a support network. She is living with a friend she has known all of her life. My sister lives close by. My sister-in-law teaches in the English department there. She would be happy staying there for graduate school, but I know she can't count on being accepted. I think this time around, she has to be open to going someplace where she doesn't know a soul.

Our middle daughter is at a school that is really not challenging her academically, but she is happy because her creative and her social needs are being met. That would be the very definition of misery for my oldest. While she isn't interested in prestige, she is happiest when she is being challenged.

It isn't working to start with her area of interest because (largely due to homeschooling) she is interested in everything.

Maybe I need to work backwards and start with when completed applications are due then find a testing date.

I'd appreciate any advice on how to make this process as painless as possible.
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#2 Matryoshka

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Posted 21 October 2017 - 11:11 AM

Hope you don't mind if I :bigear:

 

My dd is a bit behind yours; she'll be graduating either a year from this spring (2019) or the following fall - which depends on whether she decides to do a semester abroad.

 

This is a bit earlier than I was expecting (4 full years would have been spring 2019, but she had lots of DE).  She just asked me when she should start thinking about applying for grad school, and I had no ideas other than to tell her to talk to her advisor (and she hasn't even figured out who that is since she just transferred there this fall).  I'd even forgotten all about the GRE till you mentioned it!  Dh and I both stopped after our bachelor's.  So, I'd love to know what the process and timeline is!  Thanks for asking the question. :)

 

Oh, and now that you mention it, this dd does have the ability to ask for accommodations for testing, but she's never used them.  But maybe she should for the GRE?  So I'm also interested in hearing about that...


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#3 Dotwithaperiod

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Posted 21 October 2017 - 11:46 AM

My son went thru the process last year, but I wasn't as involved in it as I was for his undergrad... I think he began by taking the GRE in the summer before his senior year. Seems like you can take it several times a year, and have it sent to a choice of schools. Again, once it's taken schools will start sending the student endless emails/mailers. There's also subject GREs that may be needed. Then he asked his profs if they'd write letters. I'm fairly certain applications at most were due in December, and then acceptances/rejections began a few weeks later. Some school apps wanted official transcripts, others took copies. The letters would often say, sure! You're accepted but it will be a few more weeks before we decide to fund you. It was basically finalized by late March/early April, except the one school DS really wanted... They accepted him but fiddled around until just a few weeks before school started to finally say he was fully funded and had a stipend. That's basically NOT the way to do it, lol, and basically was due to the department head being laid back or clueless. He turned down a great offer in NYC on the chance for it, and it really caused much anguish for his dad and me, and left us in scary limbo land all summer.

Edited by Dotwithaperiod, 21 October 2017 - 11:51 AM.


#4 Carol in Cal.

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Posted 21 October 2017 - 12:30 PM

I don't know much yet, but for starters:

 

When she is getting advice about where to apply, she should pay attention to mentions of 'fully funded' programs or not.  Fully funded means that she can likely get TA or research jobs to pay for her education expenses.

 

Additionally, those experiences are helpful resume builders.

 

And,

 

It's common for kids to be advised that if they are serious about graduate work they should be exposed to a different faculty for each degree.  So a fallback of staying at the undergrad college is discouraged.


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#5 J-rap

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Posted 21 October 2017 - 12:32 PM

My dd too is applying for grad schools, though with her it's a little different because she graduated from college two years ago, taking a hiatus to teach overseas.  Now she's applying with the goal of getting applications in in December.

 

Her biggest problem is that she's interested in pursuing two paths that are very different from each other.  But, she feels she really needs to just get on with everything!  (She felt like her teaching experience was putting off real life, in a way.)  I'm helping her explore different grad programs (both in the U.S. and in Europe), but otherwise don't expect to be involved in the process, other than being a sounding board.

 

ETA:  I realized I didn't really have any advice at all!  Just commiserating mostly.  :)  


Edited by J-rap, 21 October 2017 - 12:33 PM.

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#6 jdahlquist

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Posted 21 October 2017 - 12:45 PM

Why is she wanting to go to graduate school?  (For professional training, to qualify for a particular type of job, to become an academic, etc?)  Will she be applying to MA programs? MS programs? PhD programs?  Not all schools and not all programs require the GRE.  Some require other standardized testing, some do not require any.   Unlike applying for undergraduate admissions (which is usually handled as a general admissions issue) admissions to graduate programs are usually handled at the departmental level and will vary widely depending on the type of program and size of programs she is considering.   

 

For the most part, applying to grad school will be her task, and she should work closely with her current professors in that process.  As J-Rap said, you will mostly serve as a sounding board.  


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#7 amy g.

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Posted 21 October 2017 - 12:52 PM



"It's common for kids to be advised that if they are serious about graduate work they should be exposed to a different faculty for each degree. So a fallback of staying at the undergrad college is discouraged."

This is what I have always thought!

I went to the same school where Dd is now. I vividly remember the day my roommate got her graduate school rejection from our university. She was an English department superstar so it felt like a real betrayal to her.

The reason given was exactly what you said. She would end up a better scholar getting degrees from different places. In the end, I think they were right.

Because of that experience, I never looked at Dd going to graduate school where she is as even a remote option.

But last semester, when she took a graduate course, there were students there who had also gotten their undergraduate degree at that school so sometimes it must happen.

I just had a long talk with her, and she is open to schools in any location, so that opens up the all possibilities.
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#8 amy g.

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Posted 21 October 2017 - 01:07 PM

She wants a PhD to continue doing research and to publish and to teach. Academics are what she was born for.

She just said that the other honors students are always complaining about missing the football game or having too much reading to go out. She says she feels like she is the only one enjoying herself because her idea of the perfect weekend is a big stack of library books. In fact, she might not want to stay where she is now for graduate school if she could go someplace "harder". That would be even more fun.

We are well aware of how difficult to is to get a tenured position and how low paying those can be. As I mentioned, her aunt is a professor at that university. We are not concerned about those issues.

The reason that I will be more involved than just a sounding board is due to her special needs. We are used to working together and she welcomes my help. This is very different from the relationship I have with my neurotypical adult kids.
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#9 JFSinIL

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Posted 21 October 2017 - 01:09 PM

I highly recommend she do as much of the planning and grunt work as possible.  I also highly recommend picking a different school for grad work. My MA is from UCLA - I made a point of NOT applying there (was already hearing much the same stuff from a certain professor in supposedly different courses) as I needed to work with/for different professors.  It came down to NYU and Northwestern for my doctoral program...I went to the one with the better financial aid and a slot in the grad dorm  (I was too timid to try and find my own lodgings in the Big Bad City of NY).

 

Why is she going on to grad school?  Is it needed for her career path?  Would taking a year or two to work first make sense?  I took a year off between grad degrees while I aged off my folk's tax forms, so I could get more aid myself as a Starving Grad Student ;-)

 

- Ha!  You were posting as I wrote this!  Just read your most recent post. 

 

 


Edited by JFSinIL, 21 October 2017 - 01:11 PM.


#10 wintermom

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Posted 21 October 2017 - 01:10 PM

Isn't graduate school more about working with the specific professor(s) and their line of research than the specific school? That's what it was for myself, my dh, and all the grad students I met. In Canada, you apply to the faculty and the professor you'd like to work with. If the professor is willing to take you on, and you have the pre-requisites, you're accepted. Then TAs and RAs are provided by the faculty and/or your advising professor.  This may be more for grad studies with a thesis, as opposed to non-thesis. 


Edited by wintermom, 21 October 2017 - 01:12 PM.

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#11 Corraleno

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Posted 21 October 2017 - 02:10 PM

It isn't working to start with her area of interest because (largely due to homeschooling) she is interested in everything.
 

 

Can you clarify what you mean by the above? Having more than one research interest is OK, but not having any specific research interests isn't going to work for grad school apps.

 

For research-based grad programs she needs to have an idea of what she wants to research. Even if it eventually changes once she's there, she still needs to provide a Statement of Purpose with her application listing specific research interests, and she needs to identify specific professors she would want to work with at each school she applies to. She should research the profs (read their CVs and some of their publications) so each application can be tailored to that institution and those profs, and she wants to make sure that she's not selecting someone who will be retiring soon or going on sabbatical when she's applying, because they will be much less likely to accept new grad students.

 

Grad school applications are very different from undergrad apps, because decisions are made by the department, and it is often up to the specific profs who are named in the application to decide who they want to take on each year. So it can seem even more random than undergrad applications, because you can end up with a super highly qualified student rejected from a school that should be an easy match, just because the prof who shares the student's research interests isn't taking any new students that year.

 

She should check out the forums on GradCafe to get a good idea of what the process is like. 

 

 


Edited by Corraleno, 21 October 2017 - 02:11 PM.

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#12 Catwoman

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Posted 21 October 2017 - 02:57 PM

She wants a PhD to continue doing research and to publish and to teach. Academics are what she was born for.
She just said that the other honors students are always complaining about missing the football game or having too much reading to go out. She says she feels like she is the only one enjoying herself because her idea of the perfect weekend is a big stack of library books. In fact, she might not want to stay where she is now for graduate school if she could go someplace "harder". That would be even more fun.
We are well aware of how difficult to is to get a tenured position and how low paying those can be. As I mentioned, her aunt is a professor at that university. We are not concerned about those issues.
The reason that I will be more involved than just a sounding board is due to her special needs. We are used to working together and she welcomes my help. This is very different from the relationship I have with my neurotypical adult kids.


Since she already knows she wants to do research and teach, I would think staying at the current university might benefit her in the long run because the longer she is there, the more influential people (faculty and administrators) she will meet, so wouldn't that give her an edge when it was time to apply for a full time teaching position -- especially if she can get accepted as a teaching assistant while she's a graduate student?

I have no experience with this, so please don't think I'm trying to give you any advice. It's just something I'm wondering about. :)
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#13 amy g.

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Posted 21 October 2017 - 03:14 PM

I feel like she has a resistance to specializing and it may be due to how her brain works. She takes 12 seemingly unrelated topics and wants to incorporate them into a paper. But they are actually the topics for 12 different papers. In the end though, she takes the reader on a journey connecting all of the dots. She sees in patterns so she sees how things are related in ways that most neurotypical brains do not.

Because if this, I think she is afraid of putting herself in a box, but we know she is going to have to choose a specialty.

Here are some concrete examples. Her first 2 years, she wrote quite a bit about the interrelatedness of text and images. She was accepted into a graphic novel program, but in the end chose her university based on the libraries.

When she was invited to take a graduate class on poetics. She had to present to the dean why she should be allowed to take it. She reasoning was, "Because all I know about poetry is what I have read on Wikipedia." That translates to, "I want to learn all there is about all there is, and this is one more step in achieving that goal."

During the class, she noticed that writers use different punctuation when they are describing a human walking versus riding on horseback. She was invited to present this paper at a conference and my sister went to hear her. She said the other professors were mouthing "OMG!" and "She is brilliant!" During the presentation. Afterwards they said that for every other paper, they could see how this presenter was restating previous research and that one was extending previous research but Dd's work was completely original.

She used to rant about how awful the librarians at her school are because they would tell her, "We might be able to help you if you could narrow the topic a little." In her head, she was screaming, "Why would I narrow my topic when I want to find more not less!"


She works best with a certain kind of teacher, and she found one who thinks more like she does. When she emails him with these issues the librarians can't help her with, he emails back, "Order this book, and look up this person." And it was exactly what she needed but didn't know how to ask for in a manner that anyone else could understand. Interestingly, he is a self described generalist who had to choose Wordsworth and Scott even though he didn't want to choose at all.

So she decided she wanted to work with him for her honors thesis. So she looked at his CV and picked a topic that he was an expert on but that she didn't know anything about just so the school would assign her to the person she enjoys working with.

The project is on Ann Radcliffe and detective novels and kitch and paintings and I don't even know what all else.

So my point is that she would have been just as happy with a different topic.

I'm going to start having her rule some subject areas out. She told me today that she is pretty sure she doesn't want American Literature. So that is step one. I asked today if she was considering poetics. She said, "Maybe" so I'll keep looking for ones she knows she doesn't want.

I know this is all completely backward and she should know what she wants to study and choose professors and programs based on how closely they match, but the truth is she finds everything interesting. That is the part that I blame homeschooling for.
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#14 amy g.

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Posted 21 October 2017 - 03:17 PM

Since she already knows she wants to do research and teach, I would think staying at the current university might benefit her in the long run because the longer she is there, the more influential people (faculty and administrators) she will meet, so wouldn't that give her an edge when it was time to apply for a full time teaching position -- especially if she can get accepted as a teaching assistant while she's a graduate student?

I have no experience with this, so please don't think I'm trying to give you any advice. It's just something I'm wondering about. :)


I do want her to do some teaching, maybe before graduating. She said that she doesn't think her school has a program for undergraduate TAs but that doesn't mean she can't convince someone to let her do it. So it is on her list to start planting the seed that she should be allowed to be the first.
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#15 Catwoman

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Posted 21 October 2017 - 03:19 PM

I do want her to do some teaching, maybe before graduating. She said that she doesn't think her school has a program for undergraduate TAs but that doesn't mean she can't convince someone to let her do it. So it is on her list to start planting the seed that she should be allowed to be the first.


It sounds like if anyone can do it, she can!

She sounds like such a fun and interesting person!
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#16 amy g.

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Posted 21 October 2017 - 03:26 PM

It sounds like if anyone can do it, she can!

She sounds like such a fun and interesting person!


Awww... Thanks! I'm pretty partial to her.
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#17 Corraleno

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Posted 21 October 2017 - 05:57 PM

During the class, she noticed that writers use different punctuation when they are describing a human walking versus riding on horseback. She was invited to present this paper at a conference and my sister went to hear her. She said the other professors were mouthing "OMG!" and "She is brilliant!" During the presentation. Afterwards they said that for every other paper, they could see how this presenter was restating previous research and that one was extending previous research but Dd's work was completely original.
 

 

That is SO cool!!! I'm so glad she has a prof at her current school who "gets" her and will help her with her thesis. Having a really interesting and original thesis, plus a letter from this prof explaining the way she thinks and works, will help frame her research interests as genuinely original/wide-ranging/interdisciplinary versus just looking like an undergrad who doesn't have any real plan or focus.

 

I think your idea of first figuring out which areas she's not interested, in order to narrow things down a bit, is a really good one. Is she attending many conferences? That can be a good way to see/hear/meet lots of professors from lots of different schools, to see what kinds of research they are doing and find people she might click with. 

 

If she wants a career in academia, especially teaching at the college level, she should aim for the highest-ranked PhD program she can get into, because that's one area where the prestige of the program has a major impact on job prospects. 

 

Good luck to her, she sounds like an extremely bright kid with really interesting and original ideas, and I bet she will go far!


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#18 jdahlquist

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Posted 22 October 2017 - 12:33 AM

Since she already knows she wants to do research and teach, I would think staying at the current university might benefit her in the long run because the longer she is there, the more influential people (faculty and administrators) she will meet, so wouldn't that give her an edge when it was time to apply for a full time teaching position -- especially if she can get accepted as a teaching assistant while she's a graduate student?

I have no experience with this, so please don't think I'm trying to give you any advice. It's just something I'm wondering about. :)

Usually this is not the case.  There can be certain situations where it makes sense to do a graduate degree at the same university where you have done an undergraduate degree--it is a very large school and you are exposed to a different set of professors as a graduate student than an undergrad, you are getting a graduate degree in a different field from your undergrad, or you are interested in a highly specialized area and your undergrad is from the top school in that area of specialization. It can make sense to do an undergrad and a master's degree at on school and then a PhD at another school or a masters degree and PhD at the same school (but different than the undergrad).  In general, graduate students have little interaction with administrators; a wide-range of scholarly contacts will be much more beneficial.  

 

I would encourage her to start some in-depth talks with the professors at her current school; given that her aunt teaches there, this should be fairly easy for her to do.  They will be familiar with her strengths and be able to provide opinions of which grad school programs are a good match for her talents and interests.  They will also know some about the politics of the different programs and what would be a good match for her personality.  Also, they will be familiar with the job prospects that students leaving various graduate programs have and be able to steer her toward schools with employment prospects in line with her career goals.  


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#19 Mainer

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Posted 22 October 2017 - 09:40 AM

After going through 7 years of grad school with my DH, the final year being pure hell as he applied to every assistant professor position that he was qualified for (I recall about 80 applications), I hesitate to recommend a PhD to anyone. Your family is already in the academic world, though, so you know the ins and outs. With a degree in English, she probably knows how competitive it is to get a teaching job in English as opposed to computer science, for example. 

 

I would also prioritize a fully funded program. If she's not fully funded, then they don't care enough about her and they just want her tuition. Even with a fully funded program, it often feels like universities are using TAs as cheap labor (a yearly salary of $20,000 or so). Big universities have thousands of undergraduates, all needing to take Intro to English courses, and it's a lot cheaper to pay a TA than a PhD to teach these courses. 

 

My DH now has what I'm convinced is PTSD from the job application/interview/dissertation year. It was awful. He went from being a happy go lucky, confident person into an anxious wreck! The uncertainty of the PhD is really difficult. Your daughter might like to start reading the Chronicle of Higher Education forums now, before she's in grad school. They talk about everything from the job search (some people are still hunting for a job many years post-PhD), balancing teaching with life, etc. It's a really good forum, like this one, but about academia :)

 

I know I sound negative, but even now that DH has a job, he's teaching 3 or 4 courses per semester, and has no time for research since he can barely keep up with the demands of his teaching, and he's not willing to do sub-par teaching. Perhaps the life of a professor is good, but the life of an assistant professor or lecturer is often the opposite.

 

Edited to add: DH was also a superstar in his grad program. He was the only one of his cohort to get all As (easily!) in the courses, and everyone expected him to easily conquer the job hunt. It didn't exactly turn out that way.


Edited by Mainer, 22 October 2017 - 09:42 AM.

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#20 regentrude

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Posted 22 October 2017 - 03:32 PM

Since she already knows she wants to do research and teach, I would think staying at the current university might benefit her in the long run because the longer she is there, the more influential people (faculty and administrators) she will meet, so wouldn't that give her an edge when it was time to apply for a full time teaching position -- especially if she can get accepted as a teaching assistant while she's a graduate student?

 

No, staying at the same institution for undergraduate and graduate work is often seen as a negative

 

During a six year graduate school program, you get to know faculty pretty well, no need to spend ten years at the same college. Also, the edge for applying for jobs comes from knowing people in many different places. The faculty at your grad institution can write you letters of recommendation, but they cannot pull strings to get you an academic job. Competition is fierce.

 

It is fairly typical that graduate students work as teaching assistants, and I would encourage the OP to look for a college that offers this, especially in a humanities discipline where that may not be par for the course (in sciences, PhDs are usually fully funded)


Edited by regentrude, 22 October 2017 - 03:32 PM.

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#21 regentrude

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Posted 22 October 2017 - 03:37 PM

Does she want to use her Ancient Greek? Does this offer her a unique angle for her research work? 

She should look at graduate programs and see what types of research is done at various institutions. She does not need to know what exactly she wants to study, but if, say, she were interested in influences of Greek culture on British literature , she needs to make sure the department has a faculty member who does research in the field. 

Narrowing down an area where she would be interested in research is one way to begin the grad school search.


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#22 wintermom

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Posted 22 October 2017 - 07:43 PM

She works best with a certain kind of teacher, and she found one who thinks more like she does. 

 

This is an excellent place to start.  If she can, she should try to speak with a couple grad students who are or have worked with this prof. It's a really blessing to find an advisor who supports their students. She may be dependent on this person for 4+ years. It's a long time. 



#23 amy g.

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Posted 22 October 2017 - 07:44 PM

I'm so appreciative of everyone's input and advice.

I know the insight about career prospects is spot on. It just isn't our concern for this particular child. We just want her to to reach her full potential in spite of her learning differences. We don't have some career or financial end game in mind.

I have to share my WTM story about the Ancient Greek.

When she was in first grade, I read the first edition of TWTM. I read Black Ships Before Troy and most of the other book recommendations out loud to her.

I remember reading Black Ships in the car. We got to the restaurant and she begged me to bring the book in and keep reading while we waited for food. I was a little embarrassed and tried to keep my voice quiet, so the gore wouldn't ruin the other diners' dinner.

The next year, she sewed a Odysseus costume out of burlap to wear when she was giving a book talk to her Girl Scout troop. You should have seen the other girls' eyes glaze over.

Friends asked why I was reading her such weird books. I explained that the idea was to become familiar and hopefully in love with good literature so that when she was older she would read them in the original. My dad said, dismissingly, "The original is in Greek". Thanks, Dad. I'm aware of that.

Later she read other translations. I remember when the movie Troy came out. Her professor aunt called and asked her to remind her of what was changed from the book.

Then, our dairy cow died when Dh was out of town. Dd worked all day in the sun to bury her. She said, "It wasn't too bad because I found a new translation of The Iliad on Audiable to listen to when I was digging."


So when her university required 3 semesters of foreign language, I wasn't shocked when she chose Greek. But I was looking forward to the end of her 3rd semester. Then she decided she wanted to take 2 more semesters "because that is when you get to translate Homer." You hear that, Dad?

I just keep flashing on that day in the restaurant reading out loud to her and my hope for her future which is her reality today.

So, I can totally see her wanting to incorporate both the Greek and British Lit into her field of study.

In addition, she feels like not being able to read French is holding back her learning, so she wants to work on that next.

The whole process is starting to feel more doable. I'm just going to keep taking the next step. Thanks for talking me off the ledge.
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#24 elegantlion

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Posted 22 October 2017 - 10:10 PM

I'm in the history field and currently applying to graduate schools. This is what I've done. 

 

  • spent the last year or so researching schools and professors. I have some very specific restraints and interests, so finding the right fit has been a challenge.
  • understand what the application process looks like, what are the deadlines, what tests or papers are required. 
  • plan to take the GRE far enough ahead of time to take it again if necessary. I just took mine this weekend knowing I wouldn't have the budget or time to take it again as application deadlines are coming up January 1 for the fall 2018
  • look for funded programs. In the history field, funded MAs can be scarce. Some school outright list it on their websites that they do not fund master's only students, but will fund PhD or MA/PhD students. Some do not list on their website, but it is their practice. 
  • build your CV - I've perused a number of graduate student CVs and borrowed a copy of a friends to help with formatting. Since I currently have no publications and only two conference presentations, my CV will look vastly different than a professors
  • look for teaching opportunities as an undergrad. Does the writing center have tutors? I work in our Academic Support Center as a supplemental instructor (like group tutoring). By the time I graduate in the spring, I'll have done this for five semesters for the same class (Ancient and Medieval Civilization) . 
  • make sure a department/professor is taking students in your discipline. I had to cross my top choice school off the list after meeting the professor at a conference and have her say they were not taking students in my field because of retirements and budget cuts. I had a very short pity party. 
  • I have attended conferences from small and fairly local to regional to a fairly narrow-focused one that gathers the top names in our field to speak and attend. My advisor has taught me the subtle techniques of networking a room, especially during the social hour. I have gone out of my comfort zone to meet people and ask questions. This gets you in the heart of current scholarship while showing you what and how graduate level students present on. My first conference showed me how narrow those topics really can be. I heard one student present on a medieval cloak of a king. It was riveting and I used her research as a source for a paper the next semester. 
  • Understand the end game. As stated above, the PhD market is brutal, at least in our field. I'm probably going to stop at my Master's. If I were younger, I'd fight for that PhD and academic position. 
  • A gap year or more between undergrad and graduate study is not a bad idea. I know several people who have done  for any number of reasons. I have a small window to attend and not feel like I'm neglecting other responsibilities otherwise I would consider a year off. Like a gap year in high school, however, that year needs to show growth and productivity. 
  • You need cheerleaders that can encourage and mentor you through the process. I feel like I'm supported by my department. I've been steered toward opportunities because it will 1. help my graduate school applications and 2. it will help me better succeed in grad school. 

 

The process to me is tedious. I need full funding to attend and I probably won't have that information until April. I've noticed my grey hair is increasingly exponentially. Who knows what it will look like next year. 


  • amy g., Corraleno and wintermom like this