A Guide to Graduate Study in English
By Stephen Karian
This is my admittedly modest guide to graduate study in English. I list useful weblinks and helpful books and articles for students interested in pursuing graduate study, succeeding as a graduate student, and becoming a professional in the field. I have only begun to extend this guide beyond the graduate student experience.
The literature on professional development for graduate students and faculty is extensive and constantly growing. (That growth may well be a symptom of the insecurities created by a weak job market for Ph.D.s in many fields; see the first heading below.) I thought this brief guide would help a beginner navigate this material to gain practical advice. Another major need for this kind of guide is that this information is essential for success in graduate school and beyond, though it is not widely taught or shared. Each person must seek on one's own.
I have included very little here that is relevant to teaching. This is not because teaching is unimportant, but because most undergraduate and graduate students have little knowledge about other aspects of the profession and because most graduate programs directly train their students for teaching but don't help them become professionals in other areas.
Three caveats: 1) I include only books and articles that I am personally acquainted with; the absence of particular references may indicate my own ignorance or bad judgment. 2) These opinions are my own, and not necessarily those of Marquette University's English Department. 3) This is very much a work in progress.
(Most of the links to The Chronicle of Higher Education will work for Marquette users only; the exceptions are marked as "public".)
Intellectual abilities and motivations are necessary but not sufficient for making a career in academe. Anyone seeking a Ph.D. in English (and many other fields) needs to understand that the job market for tenure-track positions continues to be bad and that there are no certain signs of improvement for the near future. (Note that I refer to anyone seeking a Ph.D.; a Master's degree requires a shorter investment of time and by itself would not make one eligible for a tenure-track position.) Read these items to understand the obstacles between you and the tenure-track job of your dreams.
Keen is a professor at Washington and Lee University, and her website has a very useful and brief overview of the process of thinking about and applying to graduate school in English. West is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and his lengthy and detailed document compiles a lot of useful information and presents a lot of sound advice. He addresses nuts-and-bolts issues (taking the GRE, soliciting letters of recommendation, etc.), and provides a realistic assessment of academe. Highly recommended for anyone planning to apply to graduate school in English; start with this piece before moving on to Peters and the rest.
Peters, Robert L. Getting What You Came For: A Smart Student's Guide to Earning a Master's or a Ph.D. New York: Noonday, 1992. (Rev. ed. 1997)
I highly recommend this engaging, well-written book to undergraduates considering graduate school as well as to current graduate students in any area of study. Peters discusses: why you should or should not go to graduate school; the hurdles you will likely need to overcome; strategies for managing time; how to deal effectively with your advisor and thesis committee; and many other topics. This book is especially useful for its discussion of the graduate experience; perhaps the best chapter is on choosing a thesis adviser. Even if you're already in grad school, you should read the early chapters. (I have not read the 1997 edition.)
If you're already in graduate school and want a brief, useful list of suggestions as to how to succeed, then you should read Alonso's article. (Marquette users need to be on campus to access both weblinks.) Alonso also quotes a "dissertation contract" written by Robert A. Gross to help facilitate the adviser-advisee relationship. Gross's list appeared here in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 28 February 2002.
Goldsmith, John A., John Komlos, and Penny Schine Gold. The Chicago Guide to Your Academic Career: A Portable Mentor for Scholars from Graduate School through Tenure. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2001.
Three professors respond in rotating fashion to questions that cover a broad range of topics. The format literally allows for multiple voices and useful disagreements. This book is better than Peters for the later part of an academic's career (Peters is much better for graduate school), but the opening chapters are still helpful for graduate students.
Deneef, A. Leigh and Craufurd D. Goodwin, eds. The Academic's Handbook. 2nd ed. Durham: Duke UP, 1995. (3rd ed. 2006 with limited preview at Google Book Search)
This collection of essays usefully covers a wide range of topics related to the job market, teaching, research, and administration. The opening essay on the taxonomy of colleges and universities is especially helpful for those unfamiliar with the distinctions among different kinds of institutions of higher learning. (I have not consulted the 2006 edition.)
phds.org is a very useful website that ranks graduate programs in many fields and allows users to rank programs according to their own selected criteria. Click here to analyze rankings in English graduate programs.
Much of the data at phds.org is based on information gathered by the National Research Council in 2005-2006 for a study of doctoral programs in 2010 (click here to request a free copy of this report, and click here for a brief explanation of the methodology). The previous study, Research-Doctorate Programs in the United States: Continuity and Change, was published in 1995 based on 1993 data; click here to download the overall 1995 rankings for English doctoral programs.
phds.org also gathers data from the Survey of Earned Doctorates, a resource that I have not examined in depth.
Another source of information is US News and World Report, which publishes their oft-maligned rankings each year around April. The magazine has recently begun to publish these rankings in a separate publication entitled America's Best Graduate Schools. These lists are usually limited to the top 25 programs in the country, but the online 2009 list contains 104 programs.
As with all numerical rankings of this sort, you should take this information with a grain of salt. It is impossible to quantify intellectual status. Still, reputation matters a great deal in academe—don't believe anyone who tells you otherwise.
I'm always surprised that so many novice academics in English do not think about the importance of building a personal library of books that will be essential for the rest of their careers. Here I recommend only essential reference works for scholars in nearly any subfield of literary study. Reference works, more than monographs or essay collections, are most worth the expense of purchase since you will return to them over and over again. You should also work to build a library of important books within your own particular subfield.
The essential vade mecum for literary study is James L. Harner's Literary Research Guide: An Annotated Listing of Reference Sources in English Literary Studies, 5th ed. (New York: MLA, 2008). Harner indexes and evaluates over a thousand reference sources, and his book should be the starting point of any serious research project. This edition will probably be the last one to be printed, as Harner has now adapted his guide for the web.
Other books that you should own and have near at hand: a good collegiate level dictionary; The MLA Handbook and/or The Chicago Manual of Style; The Oxford Companion to English Literature and/or The Oxford Companion to American Literature; M. H. Abrams's Glossary of Literary Terms and/or Harmon and Holman's Handbook to Literature; the Bible (ideally an annotated edition such as The New Oxford Annotated Bible); and a guide to classical mythology (I have Edward Tripp's Meridian Handbook of Classical Mythology). You should also try to get a handy guidebook for literary theory, though the best ones are often expensive, such as The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism (link works for Marquette users only) and The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Literary Theory. Anyone who works with poetry (and perhaps even if you don't) should try to acquire The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics.
Madsen, David. Successful Dissertations and Theses: A Guide to Graduate Student Research from Proposal to Completion. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1992.
I found this book especially helpful for its advice on locating a topic and writing a proposal (see Chapters 3 and 4). Much of Madsen's discussion derives from examples in the social sciences, but it is nonetheless quite useful for those working in English.
Sternberg, David. How to Complete and Survive a Doctoral Dissertation. New York: St. Martin's P, 1981. (limited preview at Google Book Search)
Sternberg is very good on developing structure and effective work habits in order to remain productive on such a long-term project as a dissertation.
Bolker, Joan. Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis. New York: Holt, 1998. (limited preview at Google Book Search)
In contrast to Sternberg's practical advice, Bolker's discussion is focused more on the psychological angles involved with writing and revising, as well as working with the adviser. Bolker and Sternberg should be seen as complementary.
Becker, Howard S. and Pamela Richards. Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1986. (2nd ed. 2007 with limited preview at Google Book Search)
Don't let the title fool you: Becker's book is useful for writers in any academic field, especially when he addresses the many self-defeating mechanisms that intellectuals tend to employ.
In this section, I attempt to focus first on publications in journal articles, then on adapting a dissertation to a book, then on the broader world of scholarly (book) publication.
When trying to publish in journals, you should first acquaint yourself with many journals in your subfield to assess their specialties and preferences. That is, browse and read recent issues of the relevant journals, and get to know them well so that you can describe how one is distinct from another. You should also examine how selective they are by going to the MLA Directory of Periodicals to determine how many submissions they receive per year compared to how many essays they publish. To reach the MLA Directory of Periodicals, go to the MLA International Bibliography (link works for Marquette users only), and click on "Search," then "Directory of Periodicals," and type in the name of the journal in the title field.
You should also consult recent issues of the journal to find out if they contain "Editor's Notes" that specifically discuss the editorial process and the kinds of articles the journal is looking to publish. In 2001, PMLA included a series of editorial columns by Carlos J. Alonso about the prospects of publishing in the journal; they appear in vol. 116, nos. 1, 2, and 3 (JSTOR; for Marquette users, these links work only while on campus).
Pasco's answer is: it depends. He rightly notes the significant investment of time and effort required to adapt a good seminar paper for publication. Graduate students who have not yet tried to publish their research (or who have not yet succeeded in doing so) should read this article. Important quotation: "publication requires not just good work but also the humility to accept appropriate suggestions, the courage to reject wrong-headed commentary, and, especially, the persistence and courage to continue trying" (235-36).
Budd, Louis J. "On Writing Scholarly Articles." The Academic's Handbook. 2nd ed. Ed. A. Leigh Deneef and Craufurd D. Goodwin. Durham: Duke UP, 1995. 249-62.
This brief discussion has a great deal of practical advice, and Budd's notes contain references for further reading.
This essay offers practical advice on how to respond to revise and resubmit letters from academic journals.
This essay explains how to interpret a somewhat vague letter from a journal editor.
The essays in this collection are reprinted from the journal Scholarly Publishing, and they discuss the distinctions between the thesis and the book and how to get from the former to the latter. (I have not read the revised 2003 edition.)
Germano, William. From Dissertation to Book. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2005.
As the former publishing director at Routledge, Germano knows a lot about how to publish and market academic work. This brief book is mainly helpful for its advice about the conceptual processes involved with adapting a dissertation to a book.
Luey, Beth. Handbook for Academic Authors. 3rd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995. (limited preview at Google Book Search for the 4th ed.)
Luey covers the gamut from journal articles to monographs to anthologies to textbooks. The discussion of each facet of scholarly publishing is thus abbreviated, but she includes much useful advice on each topic and lists references for further reading. (I have not read the 4th edition.)
Germano, William. Getting It Published: A Guide for Scholars and Anyone Else Serious about Serious Books. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2001. (limited preview at Google Book Search for the 2nd ed.)
This book is a storehouse of intelligent, practical advice presented in an engaging way. Very highly recommended. (I have not read the 2nd edition.)
If you're looking for suggestions about delivering an upcoming conference paper, start with this entertaining list of dos and don'ts. Peters in Getting What You Came For also has suggestions for the scholarly presentation.
Three related discussions on how to chair a conference panel, present a paper, and be a commentator.
Heiberger, Mary Morris and Julia Miller Vick, eds. The Academic Job Search Handbook. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1996. (limited preview at Google Book Search for the 4th edition)
I found this book to be an excellent resource when I was on the job market. Read the whole thing through, and then reread those sections that are immediately applicable to your current situation. I have not examined the third edition (2001). Marquette's library has an online version of the second edition. The authors (and others) write an ongoing series of columns for the series "Career Talk" in The Chronicle of Higher Education (Jennifer S. Furlong has replaced Mary Morris Heiberger, who died in 2003).
The MLA Guide to the Job Search: A Handbook for Departments and for PhDs and PhD Candidates in English and Foreign Languages. New York: MLA, 1996.
This is a useful collection of essays, though I did not find it as helpful as The Academic Job Search Handbook.
In these first person articles, Dennis Baron, a professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, writes about the job search from the perspective of the department doing the hiring. For those unfamiliar with the process of hiring, these articles are very illuminating and should be read before going on the job market.
The title says it all. Moore weighs the pros and cons of going on the market or waiting another year.
All of these articles offer helpful advice for their respective topics.
A valuable set of professional suggestions for those in graduate school or at an early stage in their careers.
Goodwin, Craufurd D. "Some Tips on Getting Tenure." The Academic's Handbook. 2nd ed. Ed. A. Leigh Deneef and Craufurd D. Goodwin. Durham: Duke UP, 1995. 150-57.
A brief, useful discussion of the tenure process.
Baron continued his "behind the scenes" series of articles with this group on the promotion and tenure process. Portions of The Chicago Guide to Your Academic Career and essays in The Academic's Handbook are also useful for understanding how promotion and tenure works.
How to choose external reviewers for your tenure case.
Tips on preparing your tenure file.
Confused about professional academic jargon and acronyms? Don't know what "ABD" stands for? What exactly is a "dossier"? The authors provide a glossary series for the academic novice who might be too embarrassed to ask what seem like na•ve questions.
This website is maintained by Mary McKinney, an academic career coach. I don't know anything about her services, and so I am not endorsing her in any way. But she provides a useful list of books that relate to the professional aspects of academe, including many that I don't list here, such as Emily Toth's Ms. Mentor's Impeccable Advice for Women in Academia.
This website offers a free email newsletter (past issues are archived on the website) and links to other relevant resources. The newsletter discusses both motivational issues and conceptual strategies for finishing the dissertation. This website is maintained by the company MentorCoach; again, I know nothing about their services and am not endorsing the company in any way.
I recommend browsing academe's trade journal, which tracks important news stories related to higher education and includes helpful "first person" essays about succeeding as a graduate student and as a professor. Unless you are connecting via an institutional subscription, you will need a subscriber's username and password to access some of the articles.
Last updated: November 8, 2010