Tag Archives: advice

Providing Audio Feedback on Students’ Writing

By Sritama Chatterjee, a third-year PhD student in Literature at the University of Pittsburgh

Due to the shift to online learning because of COVID-19, one of the things that I miss about teaching are the corridor conversations with students, before and after a class, and listening to their fears about an impending Chemistry exam, their excitement about an upcoming Taylor Swift album or the joys when their favorite team has won the Superbowl. It made space for knowing the students on a more personal level and who they are as human beings without overstepping boundaries. However, the shift to an online medium made it necessary for us as instructors to reimagine how we make these connections with students.

For me, one way was through a shift from written feedback to audio feedback and an exploration of  what the medium of sound offered. In a pre-COVID world, I had tinkered with audio feedback, but still preferred written feedback because I was not too sure about the technical challenges: what if my microphone did not work? Did I need to install another piece of software? However, once I got over the initial difficulties, it was a smooth process. You can find technical advice for providing audio feedback on Blackboard, here, for Canvas, here, and how to record using the recording software Audacity, here.

One of the reasons I shifted to providing audio feedback was to convey the affect and tone of my feedback, as speaking can avoid a potential scope for misunderstanding. Students can hear the excitement  in my voice when I come across an idea in an essay that I think is really interesting.   I can also clearly communicate when an argument lacks evidence. It also allows me the space to create a more personal and meaningful connection with students. Often I ask a question to my students when I am particularly curious about why they have made a writing move in a specific way or what brings them to a topic or idea. Although there is no requirement on their end to respond to my comments/questions, I find that students write back to me in an email responding to my questions or set-up a time to talk to me and that these follow-up conversations often take us in directions that I did not anticipate.

Before providing audio feedback on a draft, I read the draft at least twice, making a mental note of two things: areas where the essay is already strong, so that I can provide examples of what the essay does well to take the argument one step further, and two instances of where the essay needs more work and in what ways. Once this is done, I record the feedback, addressing the students directly, as if I am in a conversation with the student, guiding the students through specific areas of revision and ending the feedback by inviting students to get in touch with me with questions or if they need to clarify something. I learned this conversational approach in audio feedback from Annette Vee’s piece on providing audio feedback, who takes written notes before recording.

Here are some things that I have found helpful for providing audio feedback:

I usually keep the feedback between three to four minutes for a 1200-word draft. Initially, it used to take me six to seven minutes and I found myself repeating the same things. However, with practice, I have grown out of this practice and find four minutes to be of optimum length. However this may vary depending on the pace of your feedback. Keeping a timer in front of you might be helpful. As a graduate worker, I am protective of my time and I ensure that I do not spend more than three hours providing feedback on a major assignment to twenty-two students (and this includes time for reading the assignment).

I use audio feedback only when I am providing feedback at a more conceptual level rather than structural or craft level, though I can imagine that audio feedback could incorporate both of these components. One could use audio feedback in a stand-alone manner or use it in combination with written feedback.

I quote specific page numbers, paragraphs and sentences while providing feedback so that it is always grounded in an idea and students are not lost about what I am referencing. Initially I was not referring to specific passages, but after listening to feedback from my students, I adapted accordingly and am now more direct about what I am talking about.

I try and keep things as spontaneous as possible. The pauses, “aaahs” and “ummm…” are very much part of the feedback.

From student feedback*, it seems that they appreciate audio feedback because of its clarity. For instance, one student wrote: “I really like the audio feedback! I think that a number of times when professors give comments on essays, the tone of what they are trying to say is lost, so the audio gets rid of the ambiguity.” Another student pointed out, “It was nice to hear from you in that way because it sounded like a conversation, which is a nice change from just seeing comments on my assignment.”

In the future, when I use audio feedback, I might make it optional for students to respond to the teacher’s comments, asking them to listen to the feedback first and then summarize their revision plan either in a written or audio form. Having pointed out some of the benefits of audio feedback and the ways in which students have responded to it, I will note that audio feedback might not work for students who are deaf or hard of hearing and as educators, it remains our work to make feedback more inclusive.

*Student permission has been taken to include comments in this piece.

Tips for Writing a Dissertation or Capstone Project

Writing a doctoral dissertation or a capstone project for a master’s program can be one of the most challenging and intensive parts of earning a graduate degree. This already difficult task has been heavily exacerbated by major global events, such as the Covid pandemic, systemic racism, and visa restrictions on international students. Members of the Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Humanities (CSGSH) share some practical tips and advice for working on and completing a dissertation or capstone project that can help graduate students complete their projects during these challenging times.

 

Didem Uca, Assistant Professor of German Studies, Emory University

DONE IS GOOD

Every semester before finals week at my undergraduate alma mater, Bryn Mawr College, we hung to-do lists on our dorm room doors with the phrase “DONE IS GOOD” and gleefully cheered each other on as we checked each item off. Once I reached ABD status in my Ph.D. program, I learned a different saying with a similar sentiment: “A good dissertation is a done dissertation. A great dissertation is a published dissertation. A perfect dissertation is neither.” If you are in a book field, you have to accept that you may not be able to accomplish everything in the dissertation that you hope to accomplish in the version that will eventually be published as a monograph. There are multiple reasons why this might be the case––perhaps you and your committee do not share in that vision; perhaps there are archival materials that you are unable to access due to COVID; or perhaps you simply are running out of time, funding, or patience. But pragmatism wins out over perfection. Done is good.

Backwards Create a Realistic Schedule and Set SMART Goals

Speaking of to-do lists, when you are working on a project that is bigger than anything you have ever completed before and that spans several years, it may be overwhelming to figure out your timeline and path to completion. Speak with your advisor and recent graduates or other students ahead of you in your program to make sure you understand what the precise dissertation or thesis requirements are for your program. Then, open your virtual or paper calendar or planner and begin to schedule your timeline working back from the date when you want to (or must) defend. The following example of an ABD beginning work on their dissertation illustrates this process: If you will run out of funding on June 1, 2023, you will likely need to defend, and in some cases, deposit your dissertation in time for the spring graduation deadline, which may be as early as April. You already have a dissertation outline and have reviewed relevant literature for your prospectus and have one chapter drafted based on a conference paper. After speaking with your advisor, you have learned that you are expected to write 4 chapters, an introduction, and a conclusion, and the three most recent graduates of your program wrote between 250-300 pages.

Using this information, begin to create SMART––Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound––goals to fulfill these requirements in time for your anticipated defense date. Make sure to account for the time it will take for your committee members to read and offer feedback on your work and any other academic and life obligations, such as needing to travel to an archive before working on a chapter, teaching service, or taking a week off before your wedding. Be realistic, build in extra time for the unexpected, and continue updating and revising your SMART goals throughout the process.

Gamify Writing––and Write Every Day

If you think you hate writing, may I suggest that you actually hate the anxiety of not writing? The mere thought of opening a blank document or returning to a particularly vexing paragraph can be paralyzing, and thus, we often choose to focus our energies on everything but writing. For me, this included reading Joan Bolker’s classic Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day, in which she advises dissertators to “Do some work on your thesis every day, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes. (“Every day” is more important than how much time you spend, or how many pages you produce, or what quality of work you produce on any particular day.)” This advice was transformative at a time when I was plagued by writing––or, more precisely, not writing––anxiety and intense guilt. So I followed Bolker’s advice and began writing. For the first few weeks, guided by my SMART goals and completion schedule, I began to write 150 new words every day. I increased this amount to 200, 250, 500, 750…until I was reliably writing 1500-2000 words a day, managing to add 200 new pages to my dissertation in the final four months before my defense. Anything you write today is something you will not have to write tomorrow or two months from now. Future you will thank you for your diligence. If this abstract gamification strategy isn’t effective, consider that, like all living creatures, you are not above bribery; give yourself rewards for meeting your daily benchmark, such as, as soon as I finish my 350 words for today, I can watch the next episode of The Great. Speaking of which, I have to go work on my book proposal so that I can watch Sarah Cooper’s special on Netflix.

 

Amir Hussain, Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature, Emory University

I have three pieces of advice to offer.

First, think about and seek agreement about what kind of dissertation project you aim to do.

There are many different kinds of dissertation projects that one can theoretically do. But not every dissertation project can be done without the aspects and planning that so often precede the actual dissertation writing, such as the prospectus, language training, archives you may need to visit or approvals you may need to have to conduct your research, and committee support. While a traditional dissertation is typically conceived of as one large project with chapters that are in some way or other organically related, there are many discussions about traditional dissertations and discussions on other innovative configurations for the dissertation. So it is crucial that you, your advisor, and your committee are on the same page about the kind of dissertation you want to do, are expected to do based on previous discussions or on disciplinary training, and would be departmentally permitted to do. Seek input from your advisor and committee on this with the prospectus and throughout the project. And while it is possible that your project may develop as you work on it, there should still be a reasonable consensus and clarity about what kind of project you are working on and why.

Second, keep in touch with your advisor regularly

Your advisor is not merely the main key between you and graduating with a Ph.D. degree. Rather, your advisor is your main and most vital source of help throughout your degree. Ideally, this help should come in many forms: input on your trajectory during the doctoral program, honest but supportive feedback on your dissertation and on application materials, and institutional guidance. It is crucial to get input on your work at crucial junctures, such as between ending one chapter and starting another, or on materials that you submit as part of your applications for fellowships or for jobs. If you are not receiving critical feedback on your work, be sure to ask for it. On the other hand, if you need more encouragement, it is fine to ask for that, too. Regardless, keep in touch with your advisor and avoid long stretches of time without any communication. This way, not only will your advisor know what you are working on, but you will also know if you are staying on track or if you need more feedback and assistance.

Third, take your time with the dissertation.

The authors of The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy argue that the rapid pace in academia and in contemporary society is not conducive for the long form of research and scholarly writing. Their view applies directly to dissertators as well, who are often interrupted by competing demands and pressures to publish their work quickly. But being slow and deliberate with the long process of research, writing, and revision can allow dissertators to get sufficient feedback from an advisor or committee, to revise, to produce stronger work, and to aim for quality over quantity. And on a related note, taking your time on a dissertation relates to how one thinks of graduate school more broadly. Applying for dissertation funding or teaching opportunities during this crucial stage can allow you to spend this time now to write and get feedback during your graduate school years.

 

Viana Anette Hara, Ph.D. student in Romance Languages, University of Oregon

On Taking Care of Yourself

I have no idea the amount of mental, physical, and emotional energy that the ultimate goal of writing a dissertation requires. I remember attending a workshop on how to initiate your dissertation by organizing material, choosing your project’s topic, and the importance of communication with your advisor—all of these are crucial steps. However, it was not mentioned that physical and mental health are pivotal to accomplish this goal and that life also happens. 

While writing my master’s degree thesis, my beloved dog of 16 years old died. I was already stressed, physically, and mentally. This event caused me great sadness, and I hit a wall on my thesis. Life can happen to all of us in many ways. So what do you do when you are mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted? And, what do you do when life happens while you are writing a thesis or dissertation?

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to these questions, but I’d like to share with you some humble suggestions that worked for me and could work for you:

Seek help: It is vital to have a support system, whether it is a family member or someone you trust, or a healthcare professional. Seek help. It is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign that you are human, and not only a graduate student. 

Sleep: Sometimes, there is so much to do and not enough time to sleep. But remember that sleep is essential for brain function. Rest makes a difference in mental, emotional, and physical states.

Eat: I am not referring to a diet, but instead, to the mindfulness of nourishing your body. The act of eating away from distraction, including your dissertation is important. Focus on taking care of your body by fueling it with food.

Walk: The act of walking helps the body physically and mentally, and you are moving. It lightens the mood, and it helps support sleep. It is not a strenuous exercise, and it can be done anywhere.

Meditate: I was very skeptical about meditating, but it helped me greatly–physically, emotionally, and cognitively. It is not really about quieting your mind. After all, we are graduate students. We are always thinking. Instead, it is observing those thoughts calmly while being aware and connecting to your body. Great ideas can flourish unconsciously in meditation.

Do it all over again: There is no formula to deal with life’s curveball. Making a habit of these small practices could help you while writing a dissertation or thesis, which you can carry over in other life stages.

 

Ari Wolf 

I’d like to offer some suggestions regarding the MFA thesis project. I completed my MFA in Creative Writing last year with relative ease of mind, and I hope you can learn from whatever small fragments of wisdom I picked up along the way.

First of all, start early.

If you begin writing your MFA thesis during your final year, you are probably going to find yourself far more crunched for time than you expect to be due to one small problem–human inclination to change our minds. Every single person I was in the Master’s program with changed our minds at least two or three times about the topic of our thesis, and often also the genre, timeline, and basically every other significant detail. This is to be expected, but these are not the kinds of questions you want to be asking yourself while going into your final month of your second-to-last semester of your MFA program. These are the kinds of questions to be asking yourself in your third-to-last semester of your MFA program, and to resolve over summer break. That way, when it comes time for you to write your thesis, you can actually write your thesis, instead of spending that time and brainpower trying to make decisions about who is going to narrate your story, and by the way are you going to write a memoir or a hybrid work? 

Second, and this is advice I learned the hard way, keep a separate draft for just yourself, and show this draft to no one.

Look, every class you take in graduate school is an academic class. Your advisor is not G-D, she is a professor, and it is her job to help you with your writing. Listen to what she is telling you. However, if you have only just written the last thirty pages of your draft, and by the way you decided on nonfiction after all, and so you are literally editing stories about your parents and sister…you need a spare draft. Trust me. Mark up the draft you hand in to your professor, make the edits your Thesis Advisor and Reader asked you to make, but hold a draft back for yourself. That way when you inevitably change your mind about story or direction later on, you can refer back to the original copy without finding yourself drawn astray by your need to make the grade. It is necessary to make whatever edits your professors require of you, in order to earn a healthy GPA. It is not necessary to edit your life’s work based on someone else’s feedback that you accept under the duress of GPAs and graduate school aspirations.

Finally, do not kill your darlings, move them.

Whenever I sit down to write a long paper, I keep two documents. One document is my working  draft of my paper. The other document is my “extra” draft, which has every line I wrote and loved but don’t quite have a place for. This is good advice whether you are working on a book or a Literature paper. Write your essay, but hold onto the ‘extra’ you love but can’t use right now. You might come back to it later in your paper, or you might use it to write a different paper altogether. But don’t throw away your words just because you don’t know how to use them quite yet.

Everyone take care, and don’t take this all too seriously.

Tips for Conference Presentations

Presenting at a conference as a graduate student can be intimidating and stressful, but a crucial part of your graduate school experience! As conference season rolls around, members of the CSGSH committee offer a compilation of presentation tips for graduate students preparing to present in humanities conferences. Whether this is your first time presenting or you are a seasoned presenter, these tips can help improve your presentation. We have divided the list into tips for before, during, and after presenting.

 

Before the Presentation

Allot yourself enough time to begin preparing well in advance of the conference, as there are a lot of things that need to come together by the presentation day.

 

When presenting from a seminar paper, you should plan on revising it to make it effective as an oral presentation. An unedited seminar paper rarely has the level of signposting required for an oral presentation.

 

Similarly, it is not recommended to present from an outline containing just key words or to speak impromptu. Withstanding extensive public speaking experience and nerves of steel, it is recommended that you create a carefully edited script.

 

When editing a written work for an oral presentation, it can help if most sentences are two lines long or shorter. Good punctuation can ensure that a five-line sentence remains coherent in writing, but in speech it can be hard to follow. Leaving really long sentences in a script before can mean losing your place while reading, or giving words the wrong intonation as read, which makes the ideas harder to follow.

 

If you are using a PowerPoint or a Prezi, avoid overloading with too much text, which can distract your audience. You want the audience focusing on you, not your slides. Here are some helpful tips for slides. (Also, mark the slide transitions in your script, if you are using slides.) Too much text also relates to accessibility.

 

Consider guidelines for accessible conference presentations. The Society for Disability Studies presents accessibility guidelines here. A disability accessibility specialist offers tips here. And the Web Accessibility Initiative offers many accessibility tips here.

 

Practice reading your presentation aloud. It is a truism that one double-spaced page takes about two minutes to read at an unhurried pace, so ten pages would make up a twenty-minute talk. But really, sometimes ten pages ends up taking eighteen minutes or sometimes twenty-two minutes, to read aloud. So, once your script says what you want it to say, read it aloud as many times as you can, making quick notes as you go (and editing afterward), until it sounds right. Some sentences that look fine on the page do not sound quite right when spoken.

 

Once the script sounds right, practice it with any A/V you will be using. That practice may bring forward technical issues you might not otherwise anticipate, giving you an opportunity to smooth these issues out. Then practice leaving extra space to say hello to the audience, to thank the panel organizer, and to offer any background that the audience might need (i.e. remarks that prepare and engage them). It is more than okay to write these extemporaneous-sounding remarks into the presentation script, if it will keep you on track. Ideally, try to practice in front of colleagues/department-mates. Practicing in front of a partner or friend can also work. Have someone time you as you read.

 

When it comes to A/V, prepare for the unexpected. What will you do if your laptop battery fails? What if your phone dies, and you lose your presentation notes? We live in a high-tech world, but sometimes technology can fail. Make a checklist of your materials and check it both before you leave home to travel to the conference, and before you enter the room to give your presentation. Have a video adapter for your machine (and expect that one of your co-presenters may need to use yours).

 

If you can, try to meet up with your co-presenters before the presentation, even if just for a 15-minute coffee to say hello. Meeting beforehand can really help organize the panel, and getting to know everyone’s work can make connections between the panel’s ideas during the presentation.

 

Bring business cards with you. You never know who might ask a great question or offer an idea post-session. Having your contact information handy allows you to take advantage of the connections you might make.

 

Plan what you will wear with your presentation in mind. For example, if you know you will be standing for your presentation, consider what shoes you will wear to be comfortable.

 

If you are nervous and have someone you know at your presentation, ask them to sit where you can see them. Sometimes, it is nice to be able to locate a familiar face as you look around the room at your audience.

 

Consider bringing a snack to eat an hour or so before your presentation, so you have something in your stomach.

 

Most of the time, you will have been asked beforehand for a bio, but if not, bring a short, succinct bio that a moderator can read during the speaker introductions.

 

During the Presentation

Get to the room where your presentation is as soon as you are able, and double-check your tech. Give yourself time to get organized and take some deep breaths.

 

Bring a bottle of water and take some sips during your presentation, even if you are not thirsty. This helps avoid a dry throat while talking.

 

Start by catching the audience’s attention and make a connection. This can be accomplished by reading a quote from the primary material that sets the stage, conducting a quick poll that gets them involved, or by sharing what led you to study your topic. Make it personal and make it pithy!

 

Signpost your argument with easy-to-follow language so that your audience stays with you throughout the presentation. Your introduction should prime the audience for what is to come (i.e. “In this paper, I draw on X and Y to argue that Z…”) and the structure of your presentation should be verbalized. Words like “first,” “next,” “furthermore,” “however,” and “finally” are your friends!

 

While the script you have prepared will keep you organized and ensure that your language is precise, make sure to read slowly and make eye contact with the audience. Notes in your script to “pause,” “slow down,” and “look up” make this easier.

 

Bring a couple printed copies of your presentation slides for accessibility.

 

Speak to the audience in front of you, not to your college professor and not to your high school English teacher.

 

Be respectful of your colleagues’ and the audience members’ time. This is essential conference etiquette and ensures that there will be time for discussion. Having the script that you have practiced reading aloud and timed beforehand keeps you within your allotted time.

 

One useful gesture is when you are exploring a new idea in the presentation, to say so and tell the audience that you would welcome their suggestions during the Q&A. This gives them an opportunity to demonstrate their expertise, and to help you refine your idea.

 

It is okay to ad lib if you want to point out a connection between your presentation and someone who has presented before you.

 

Do not sweat the Q&A. More often than not, you will get genuinely helpful, encouraging, and generous feedback that will help you work toward the next stage of the project. It is okay to take a second to think about your response before answering an audience member’s question. If you do not know what someone is referring to, you can always ask them to clarify or to restate their question. There may be audience members who seem to be there with the sole purpose of tearing down you and your co-panelists’ work, but this does not reflect on your presentation. And, keep in mind, that even a seemingly “hostile” question can indicate a gap in or a useful addition to your research that you had not considered and could become something that you follow-up on after the conference.

 

Take notes during your fellow presenters’ presentations. This will help you to make connections between your presentations and come up with questions.

 

Here is an essential part: be confident that you have something important to offer. You were accepted to your panel, to the conference, to the convention. No small feat. You have already convinced the panelists and the organizers that you belong. So, you do.

 

Don’t forget to have fun! If you are having fun, your audience will be too.

 

After the Presentation

Get together with your co-panelists. You have enough in common with them to be on the same panel, so try to have a meal together during the conference. They may even become your most treasured collaborators.

 

Take time after the conference to reflect on what you have learned during the conference, as well as to reflect on how your presentation panel went. There are many connections, materials, and new resources that you have probably learned about from your panel and during the conference, so do not forget to follow-up on these notes.

 

Remember, we are all learning and refining our arguments. Conferences are a great place to get ideas for further avenues of research. Pursue these threads after the conference is over so that you can further your project ideas.

 

–List contributed by Ariadne Wolf, Didem Uca, Kristina Reardon, Amir Hussain, Gerard Holmes, and Kayla Forrest

Tips for Applying to PhD Programs in the Humanities

As application season gets going, CSGSH members offer advice to prospective doctoral students on applying to PhD programs:


As someone who just completed my Ph.D. in Germanic Languages and Literatures, I can offer three pieces of advice for people considering applying for graduate programs in the humanities. The first is quite basic: dig deep and make sure that a Ph.D. in your discipline is really what you want to do. This might sound obvious, but feeling energized and excited by your field of study is incredibly important and, considering the immense workload and stress that you will face for the next 5–7 years, will sometimes be the one thing that holds you steady on the path towards graduation.


Second, seek out graduate programs where there are multiple faculty with whom you would like to work rather than just one faculty member. Having this deep bench will make getting through coursework much more meaningful and enjoyable; in later stages, you will have to select additional members for your exam and dissertation committees, so having a team composed of other supportive mentors in your department and affiliated programs will be crucial for your success. Furthermore, so much can change in the long course of a doctoral program, so giving yourself the option of working with multiple people in your department can provide a safety net if, for example, your intended advisor retires before you are finished.

Third, research what recent alumni of each program have done since graduating. If you are thinking of pursuing an alt-ac path, but all the former graduate students in a particular program are leading more traditional careers, it might not be the best fit for you. Usually a department’s website will feature alumni or news sections where you can learn about their post-doctoral lives. You might even be able to reach out to former students and ask about their experiences in the program.  — Didem Uca, Visiting Assistant Professor of German at Colgate University


On funding:

Look at the pay rate for TAs and GAs and determine if you’d be able to survive in that area on a certain salary. I was awarded a presidential fellowship from one university I really wanted to attend—but cost of living was so high in that city that the award didn’t even cover half of my living expenses. Meanwhile, another university offered me a regular TAship in a more rural area, and it turned out that the TAship paid twice what the presidential fellowship offered. So while the presidential fellowship sounded nicer and excited me at first, I made the pragmatic decision to take the TAship at the more rural university. Now that I’ve graduated, I’m really glad I did. Really dig into the numbers to see if it even makes sense to apply to a university before you decide where to send your applications.

On your academic experience:

I’ve always been of the belief that graduate school is what you make of it. Attending the most prestigious program does not guarantee you learn more or get a job. That’s on you. So choose a place where you can envision yourself doing your best work. For me, that meant attending a program closer to home. But I knew that about myself, and I was a well-supported, happy grad student with a sense of work-life balance as a result. I got to help my sister plan her wedding and attend my little brother’s track meets on the weekends. I’d have been so unhappy if I hadn’t been able to do all that. Maybe there’s a city you’ve always wanted to live in, or a place that seems just idyllic to you. Pursue universities that genuinely excite you in locations where you’d be happy to live. This is 5-7 years of your life, after all.

On job training:

Look for programs that offer you strong opportunities to teach and to get involved with a few aspects of university work while you are a graduate student, regardless of your field of study. I was grateful that, during my time at both universities where I pursued graduate work, I had the chance to work on a GAship at a writing center, in student affairs, with summer high school programs, and with a fellowships office in addition to getting the traditional time to teach. The truth is that the job market is very challenging no matter what your field of study is, and it’s probably not a good idea to try to choose a field, sub-speciality, or even university based on whether or not you think you can break through in the job market. Instead, look for the place where you can get the most diverse work experiences so that you build skills that extend beyond research and teaching to open a wide range of university-related careers to you. Professor is not the only university role that provides job satisfaction, personal fulfillment, or the ability to support students. You might be surprised at how much you might like certain jobs on campus! And it’s been my experience that, especially at offices that don’t typically have a lot of graduate student engagement, staff are eager to support graduate students who want to explore career opportunities across campus.  — Kristina Reardon, Associate Director of the Center for Writing at the College of the Holy Cross


First off, I’d like to echo some of the advice provided by my colleagues in this piece: make sure this is what you want to do with the next 5-7 years of your life, figure out if the financial situation of income/location of school works out for you, and pick the schools that have the most faculty in your field.

Being an international student (Canadian doing a PhD in the US), I will offer a few tips for international students considering a PhD in the US. First, makes sure to start the required immigration paperwork ahead of time. Bureaucracy can be slow and daunting and the last thing you want is to show up a few days late to your PhD in a foreign country. Second, research and consider the political climate in the area of your school. While most times college towns are welcoming to foreigners, it is always a good idea to know what to expect from the city off-campus. A good way to do this is to reach out to your potential advisor and current graduate students at your institution to find out how welcoming the town might be. Third, ensuring that your potential school has a good International Student support system can go a long way. These offices are of great assistance with several obstacles that are particular to the international student experience. One of the activities I enjoyed the most upon my arrival at the University of Kansas was the international student orientation, where we were able to interact with peers across the disciplines in the same situation. International Student services might also provide advice on immigration status to ensure that students remain in legal status throughout their academic program according to enrollment requirements of their visa. 
Andrés Rabinovich, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Kansas


Expect (and prepare) to spend a lot of time writing and revising the Statement of Purpose, as this is a crucial part of the application for PhD programs and sets the tone for how you and your application comes across. This is time well-spent, as it’s your chance to share your academic interests, tell your story, explain in your own voice what you want or plan to do in graduate school, and share your project ideas. You are not setting your dissertation topic in stone by identifying your interests and questions in the Statement but you are showing the broader areas or questions that your interests—which are evolving, and will continue to evolve during graduate studies—fall into and how or why you came to them.

Try to see the Statement of Purpose as a way to define, integrate and focus your application. Be forthright in your interests and your project ideas—it is one of the few places in the application where you get to “speak” directly to your readers. And make sure to get feedback well before you submit it. Ask professors—who know your work, who you have taken classes from, or who have advised you. Professors will have the best insight into how to improve your Statement of Purpose, so implement their suggestions!

Finally, prepare for the possibility that it may take more than one round of applications to be admitted into the program of your choice, or into the one that suits your circumstances. This happened to me. The first time that I had applied to PhD programs, I secured one admittance—and while it was to a British university of my choice, the admittance came with no guaranteed funding and only the prospect of applying for funding in future years. I decided to apply again the following year to try once more into different funded programs, rather than to pursue a degree without knowing how/if the funding would pan out year after year. It was during the second application round that I found the program where I am completing my PhD degree. Shoring up your patience for the application process will help you get through these kinds of high’s and low’s.  — Amir Hussain, PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at Emory University


1. Start having a backup plan for your post-PhD life, including the possibility of not working in the academy, as you are applying. Start putting it in practice the first year. The job market might turn around – anything is possible – but the current slump is ten years along and still getting worse. Even well-intentioned faculty advisors may have little experience with, or interest in, professional sectors outside the academy. Your experience in graduate school can be enriched by getting to know people who do public-facing scholarship, serve on nonprofit boards, and otherwise have experience that can help you prepare for work beyond the academy.

2. If a program lacks a piece of infrastructure you think it needs, you can create that infrastructure. If no one is talking about how to prepare for non-academic jobs, and you want to know more about that, convene a working group on the topic. If a department’s guest speakers don’t represent the discourses taking place among graduate students, graduate students can start a speaker series that does. (This helps you stand out in the department, and signals to potential employers, down the road, that you are an active and engaged colleague.) Some departments have designated funding for such purposes.

3. You can do it with a family. Yes, even with children. It’s extra work, and you will probably need to take any extra paid work that comes your way. But having obligatory commitments outside of your department can be a helpful reality check. Whether you have a family or not, having meaningful things to do outside of teaching and lit crit – and, as much as you will hopefully grow close with your cohort, with people who are not in graduate school – will keep you grounded.  — Gerard Holmes, PhD candidate in English at the University of Maryland