Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Grad school dreamin'

I've decided to use this blog to chronicle my quest for a PhD in literature, which started about a year ago with the end of my first class in Russian novels and the beginning of my formal study of Russian language. I've come to realize over the last year that an interest in Russian isn't necessarily a big plus for the world's best programs in English literature, but, as my intended field of study is verisimilitude in the novel, I'm just going to have to make a case for its relevance.

But to begin at the beginning, I graduated from Harvard, oh, well nigh on three years ago now, with a degree in History and Literature, a thesis on the interplay between economic and religious discourse in Milton, and no idea what I wanted to do with any of it. So I became every middle class parent's nightmare. I got a strange job as a financial aid officer at an obscure little school at the edge of the Boston suburbs. The job itself wasn't as strange as the fact that I was filling it, actually. I've never been particularly good with the maths. Then my husband accepted a job in San Diego, and I found a place at the University of California campus here, teaching graduate students how to fill out fellowship applications. The fact that everyone but me was doing interesting, cool research began to annoy me, as did my lack of a faculty parking permit. I decided to take a class to relieve my boredom--which it did, and more.

I'd originally decided to avoid the academic path through the dark woods because it seemed like one of cartoons where the lost kid asks a scarecrow which path he needs to take to get back to the village, and the scarecrow points to the one littered with broken down cars and corpses instead of the one where the sun shines and happy chipmunks gambol in the green meadows. The academic job market is the stuff of legend, and not particularly happy legend, either. Grad students pass around these spook stories at whatever the grad student equivalent of campfires is. "So and so was a Rhodes scholar and published a book before he qualified AND he still didn't find a job, except for the one teaching that creepy sheikh's kids Shakespeare plays in the UAE, AND NO ONE EVER HEARD FROM HIM AGAIN." So, yeah, I think "trepidation" pretty much summed up my response to the prospect of graduate school and the ensuing job search.

But here's the thing: I'm good at this. I like to read, and write about what I read, and I flatter myself that my various prizes for research and writing aren't all flukes. (Just some of them.) I've done some thinking about the worst case scenario, and it looks something like this: I spend the next six years of my life doing something I really like to do. At the end of it, the best thing I can get is a lectureship at some obscure college, sans fame, sans tenure, sans anything but my writing and, of course, a huge teaching load. Doesn't sound so bad. At the moment, some of my days consist of reviewing documents and creating spreadsheets, and waking up at 6am for the privilege. I've been around professors, and let me tell you something about professors, tenured or not: they tend to live into pickled old age because they have flexible jobs with few demands on their time, other than what they voluntarily impose on themselves. I, too, would like to live into pickled old age, with nothing to do but think and read and teach and write nice recommendation letters for people who want them.

So, in addition to learning Russian, I applied to graduate schools this fall. To wit:

Princeton (Comparative Literature)
Stanford (English)
UCSD (Literature)
Berkeley (English)
Northwestern (English)
U-Chicago (English)*
Harvard (English)
Yale (English)

*It's possible I've applied to U-Chicago. My advisor flaked, and continues to flake, on the recommendation letter.

I'm going to put the full copy of my statement of purpose (without edits for those schools that only wanted to hear 1000 words from me) soon, and link to it here.

A quick word about what I will and won't put on this blog. My husband, who's older and wiser than I am, has warned me on at least 4,356 separate occasions that I shouldn't put anything on the Internet...well, ever. On the other hand, the libertarian parts of my personality cry out for transparency in all things, even things that could hurt me, and, frankly, I'm one of those people who really needs to broadcast her thoughts. Earlier incarnations of my blogs have led to my getting bizarre hate mail from Zadie Smith and a fourth-rate artiste who probably pronounces it that way. And I still haven't learned my lesson, so it seems unlikely that I ever will.

Posted by Shannon Chamberlain @ 8:46 AM :: (0) comments

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

I'm working on it

In the meantime, go amuse yourselves here.

Posted by Shannon Chamberlain @ 10:42 AM :: (0) comments